The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall. Illustrated by Barbara Cooney. The Ox-Cart Man. What I love about this story is the historical review of what families had to do in order to live back not too many generations ago: plant what you eat, wear, and …
I asked Lane once if he would like to get up and go to the gym or go do something else. He said, “That’s like asking me if I want to go do torture or go eat dinner.” He said he would rather pull out tree stumps than go to the gym. THAT is saying something! He really doesn’t enjoy going to the gym to work out, but he does it because he loves me (because I have to exercise to help maintain my health) and also because he knows he needs to exercise. But he’d much rather work outside in the yard–even if it means pulling up tree stumps.
We had dozens of trees in our yard when we moved in some time ago, and over the years Lane has removed many of them. The most challenging trees to remove were the Aspen trees–the beautiful kind that have interlocking roots and that spring up everywhere. So unless you kill the root system, they will keep repopulating whatever space they inhabit. We had to get some very powerful (dangerous!) root killer and paint it on each stump of each tree we cut down in order to finally get rid of that system. Now, we love Aspens! Just not in our yard, where you can’t run and play in the grass (or mow) because of all the trees sprouting up, poking into your feet, and tripping you up.
Today I got up late because I started feeling sick yesterday. I got up, determined to put my best foot forward in an expression of faith. But when I got on the treadmill, I felt like I was going to pass out. I sat on the exercise bike and after a few minutes, that was all I could do. While I was exercising those few minutes, I was thinking about the habit of exercise (and how so many other good habits in life) require discipline that feeds upon itself and becomes delicious once it is established, but isn’t always delicious in the process of establishing. It’s like planting a tree when you want to eat fruit! You have to plant it, water it, fertilize it, weed around it, dig around it, and wait. And then after so many years you will finally get some fruit (around 8 years for a standard apple tree, while another source says fruit trees range from 5 to 15 for a tree from seed–that isn’t from a bare root).
That’s a long time to wait for fruit!
If I had to wait 8 years for any of the benefits of exercise to come, I would have given up a long time ago!
One weakness, one week at a time
And then there is the part of life where we have to remove trees that are dead or dying or simply are in the way of where we need to go and what we want to accomplish. I read an article this week about a young woman for whom it took 7 years to be ready to serve a mission. Talk about perseverance! In “Working Out Weaknesses, Sketching Out Faith,” E. Tracy Williams shares how she had to work on learning to study, to lose weight, to overcome difficult challenges, and to wait patiently. Her bishop told her, “My door is always open. We can work on it together! One weakness, one week at a time:”
“During those years, I strived to come closer to Christ and apply His teachings in my life. As challenges came, His Atonement became real to me. I relied on the power, comfort, and strength He gave me through His Atonement when my best friend passed away, when our family lost our home, and when I got into a car accident. When circumstances caused me to lose many of my friends, I fell into depression, but the Savior pulled me out. My Friday nights with friends were replaced with working out at the gym and studying about the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
I love getting to read stories like that in the Ensign magazine (free online) because they help me keep motivated. I am reminded that life is about work. My body, mind, and spirit were made to think, to problem-solve, to exercise, to work, to prepare, to share, to love, to forgive, to create. It is all a form of work. While it is all good, but it doesn’t come naturally (in most cases for me, that is). It requires determination. Pick a goal and work toward it. Get up and try. Take a step. Don’t stay in bed. Press forward. Somedays this is how I feel about work: “UGH.” 🙃
Health has been a challenge for me my whole life, but I’ve had lots of promises that if I get down on my knees and pray and then get up and exercise my faith to take a step, the strength I need will be there. Some days when I am sick, I feel discouraged. I want to have day after day of good health and good sleep! But life isn’t like that. I know God hasn’t forgotten me or gone back on his promises. I just have to be patient and keep trying. One day at a time, one little step at a time.
Direction, not speed
Yesterday I was so happy, because my goal this week was to get back to running 5K, with at least 3 runs, and yesterday was my second run and I walked .1 miles, ran 3.1 miles (first 2 miles at 6 mph pace, 3rd mile plus at 5.0 mph, then ran at 7.0 mph for .2 miles), then walked as my cool down for 5 minutes. (TMI, sorry, but this is bit of a personal log for me 🏃♀️). I really am excited to be starting on my path towards running a half marathon. Today I truly was excited to run another 5K and try to keep my pace up, but it wasn’t to be.
And now I’m back in bed.
And that’s OK. On the days when I am sick or not accomplishing my goal, I am comforted in remembering that it is the direction and not the speed that matters in working on weaknesses or working towards goals. Patience and gentleness with myself and my need to pause or slow down are what God gives me. That’s where I am today. He says it’s OK to slow down as long as my direction is correct. He wants to help me get where we both want me to go. I love having God as my traveling companion, so I will keep praying for his help while I take life one step at a time, one hour, one day, one week and one weakness at a time.
It’s the end of a wonderful wedding weekend. My nephew David married his beautiful, kind Beth yesterday, and we had a family shower at our home on Friday. Thursday I got to take some bridal photos of her in the Provo Historic Courthouse. What a fun location …
When I got home from my mission, I ran a 5K. I had never been a runner. But my oldest brother was, and I wanted to shed some of the weight I’d gained on my mission, and he bought me my first pair of running shoes. Then I went to Salt Lake and ran in the Ouelessebougou 5K.
I felt triumphant! (I wore that race shirt for years.)
Fast forward about 20 years, when we had 7 children, ages 13 to 15 months old. I had wanted, for all of those years, to be a regular exerciser. I had wanted to run. But it felt nigh unto impossible to exercise while always having 3 children who didn’t want to exercise with me. I could not seem to find a way or the self-discipline to make it happen. And my husband didn’t know how much I needed it to happen.
Until I had a nervous breakdown.
Then we both understood that exercise was critical in my life for maintaining balance.
And so I began walking on a treadmill with a babysitter in the house for 20-45 minutes, just depending.
So that was nearly 8 years ago. These days I am running 3 miles on an almost weekly basis. (I run or walk or bike varying amounts the other days, just depending on who I’m with, what time I started, etc.)
I know that 3 miles to a marathoner is a warm-up, and that 8 years is a long time to take to work up to 3 miles. But it’s a true milestone for me. I got here by persevering: first, simply trying to keep exercising on a regular basis. Then my goal became more regularly. Then it was to overcome the set-backs of periods of illness or scheduling conflicts. Then I started running. First my goal was a mile. Then I tried to go just a little further, even if it was simple .1 mile more, a day at a time.
Now when my goal for the day is 3 miles, I think, “If I run 3 miles, I’m about half-way to being able to run a 10K. I can do this.”
Last week, when I was feeling so happy that I ran 3 miles again (in hot weather–it’s the first time I’ve ever had sweat run down from my hair into my eyes!), I thought how, if you want to do something hard (and good), you simply begin by doing it once. (And I was remembering the days when it was so hard to get any exercise in, and feeling grateful.)
If you have done it once, you know you can do it again.
And if you know you can do it again, you will, if you choose to.
It’s that whole “that which we persist in doing…” thing. And that “small and simple” thing.
It’s the same with anything we want to be or do when we nurture others: If we kept our voice softer in response to a family member who was angry, we can do it again. If we got up to have family scriptures in the morning earlier than we did when we didn’t have it, we can do it again. If we chose to eat something that was wholesome instead of something of lesser value, we can do it again. If we took the time to tuck a child into bed patiently and listen to their concerns, even when we were so tired we wanted to cry, we can do it again. If we chose to turn off the TV and open up a good book, we can do it again.
We don’t need to sell ourselves short, and neither do we need to be perfectionistic. (For me, this is hard to remember!) We can simply pick something–one thing–that day and be a little better at it. I know it’s a true principle.
President Hinckley said it better than I can: “…Each of us can do a little better than we have been doing. We can be a little more kind. We can be a little more merciful. We can be a little more forgiving. We can put behind us our weaknesses of the past, and go forth with new energy and increased resolution to improve the world about us, in our homes, in our places of employment, in our social activities.
“We have work to do, you and I, so very much of it. Let us roll up our sleeves and get at it, with a new commitment, putting our trust in the Lord.
“We can do it, if we will be prayerful and faithful. We can do better than we have ever done before.
“The Church needs your strength. It needs your love and loyalty and devotion. It needs a little more of your time and energy.
“I am not asking anyone to give more at the expense of his or her employer. We have an obligation to be men and women of absolute honesty and integrity in the service of those who employ us.
“I am not asking anyone to do so at the expense of your families. The Lord will hold you responsible for your children. But I am suggesting that we spend a little less time in idleness, in the fruitless pursuit of watching some inane and empty television programs. Time so utilized can be put to better advantage, and the consequences will be wonderful. Of that I do not hesitate to assure you” (“We Have a Work to Do,” April 1993 General Conference).
Happy Doing a Little Bit Better Today,