As I have written before, God used recent physical therapy as a very loud way in which to communicate with me.  I was wary of His methods and wasn’t always prepared for what He had to say.

After shoulder surgery, I spent the last several weeks traveling to and from the p/t office.  This is a great thing, except one part – the dreaded arm bike.

Before surgery, I never knew there was such a thing as an arm bike.  A nifty piece of equipment, but they could not have put it in a worse spot in the p/t room.  Stuck in a corner!

I have the attention span of a gnat, and sitting and staring at a business-beige wall drives me to the brink of my ever-loving sanity! This cumbersome task is anticipated as much as dental work or repairing an ingrown toenail.

Here is a photo of the arm bike and the corner I was put in multiple times a week.

arm bike

The highlight was watching a squirrel run past the window – which looked out onto a parking lot of lonely cars.  Ug.

One day, I walked in wanting this “time out,” as it feels, to be over with as quick as possible.  I blew past my physical therapist and plopped myself down on the pleather seat.  He walked up and smiled.  I squeezed a half-grin out and said, Ten minutes, right?

Yep, he answered looking down at his clipboard.  He programmed the bike and off I went spinning my arms.

Knowing we’re both looking for results, that particular day I thought, Hey, he wants results?  I’ll give him results! I tucked my head down, shut my eyes tight and spun spun spun.  I pedaled with my arms as fast as I could.

Within no time at all my biceps were burning.  The whizzing and whirling of the arm bike revved high, and I bet my arms could have run a 10 minute mile at their speed.

My face grew red and hot and sweat quickly beaded on the nap of my neck, trickling down my back.  I was a madman on that thing.  Unstoppable. Huffing and puffing I flew (figuratively speaking on this stationary arm bike).  I really gave it my all-in-one giant moment of effort.

When I thought my heart would burst from beating, I opened my eyes and looked at the clock on the arm bike, just knowing I had to be almost done by the drama I produced.

One minute, seventeen seconds.

What!?!?!  That had to be wrong. There is absolutely no way I had only spun for one minute, seventeen seconds!  I was sweating profusely, short of breath, arms burning, heart pounding. Discouragement fell on me like a ton of bricks.

Just then, God spoke to me.  His words nearly made me topple off the arm bike.

He told me that this emotional episode is much like how I handle matters of the heart.  I am so results-oriented, I tend to blow through the exercise of walking through life to get to a particular finish line faster so I can move on to the next race.

I look obedient.  I do the “right” things like pray and practice behavior modification for my sinful ways.  But, my heart isn’t necessarily engaged all the time. Okay, it’s not engaged.

He showed me that, just like having to sit on that infuriating arm bike – shoved in the corner – for a full ten minutes, sometimes there are seasons in life that simply must be lived for the duration they are meant to take.  I want to fast forward what makes me miserable, like forgiving someone, waiting on God for an answer, and practicing self-control.  With those things, I simply want to go through the motions on the outside and make myself believe there has been change on the inside.

My recovering arm received no benefit from overworking it in a fraction of the time I was supposed to be exercising it.  The ten minutes have a reason for being there.  It’s to slowly, fully stretch the muscles, tendons and scar tissue in a healthy way that will lead to a full range of motion again.

The same goes for seasons when God puts us in the corner of life to sit through an uncomfortable, and even miserable season of growing, stretching, and perhaps discipline, so our hearts can have full range of motion and emotion so we will, in the end, be drawn closer to Him and look more like His Son.

When we blow through the five stages of grief, or the steps of forgiveness, or a season of His loving discipline, to simply check them off our list – we fool no one.  Not God.  Not ourselves.  Not others.  We just make a lot of unnecessary drama and hurt ourselves in the process.

The other day, my younger son said to me regarding the large, shedding oak trees in our yard during this season of weather’s change, Why can’t all the leaves just fall at once?  Why does it have to take so long, because then we have to keep coming out here over and over again raking them up?

Good question!  I answered, Because if the leaves all fell at once, it would be an overwhelming job.  I know it’s frustrating to have to do the same job again and again, but if they came down at once, they’d be so thick we wouldn’t even know where to begin.  It’s actually better to do this in phases, because then this huge task is manageable and the grass beneath them won’t be smothered and die.

I love the connection between the dreaded arm bike and the dreaded leaf-raking.  Both are big jobs overall, broken down into smaller, more manageable parts that don’t exasperate us – rather they leave us feeling like we actually accomplished something and are stronger for it as we stand back and survey the results.

While driving up to our home this weekend after a trip to the store, I noticed our older son taking his turn with the leaves.  Our neighbor stopped to chat during his walk, and with a smile, he said to me, Don’t you just want to shake ’em?  Don’t you just want to give these trees a good shake so all the leaves will fall already?  I look at all you’ve done, but then I look up (glancing up at the trees) and see so much more still there.

Before the lesson on the arm bike, followed by a short, but metaphorically meaty, discussion about tending the seasons of our trees, I just smiled.  I understood his point, but no, I really don’t want to shake the trees.  Our family’s life can’t handle an enormous, overwhelming task right now. But, we can tackle this monster in steps over time.  Otherwise, and we’ve been here before with these trees when the kids were much younger and time was very limited, we’d look out on a yard knee-high in daunting leaves and be instantly discouraged to the point of quitting.

I’m learning that about seasons of life, too.  God sees the bigger picture of our lives, which our ultimate goal is to look more like His Son.  But, a feat that vast doesn’t happen in one fail swoop.  It happens over the course of moments, days, weeks, months and years.  It is lifelong.  Rather than Him being a God who sits on His throne with a long checklist of achievements we tirelessly try to accomplish, He breaks His purpose for us down into bite-sized pieces we can digest one at a time.

There is no possible way I could have accomplished the physical results of 7 weeks on that frustrating arm bike in one 10-minute stretch.  Our bodies simply don’t work that way.

Neither do our hearts.

God can, and has, healed my heart many times in a moment of His grace and mercy.  But, that has come from the culmination of Him growing, pruning and nurturing my heart to prepare it for a season where healing, forgiveness, tenderness, love, maturing, and strengthening are ready to be harvested.  It is a culmination of the same moments, days, weeks, months and sometimes years of letting Him in and allowing Him to stretch us, challenge us, push us to goals we never would be able to accomplish left to our own human nature.  Our hearts simply don’t work that way.

I’m in a few seasons of discomfort – but’s that’s good!  I feel His hand of grace and mercy, but I also feel Him pressing me on to new places – an adventure that doesn’t allow any baggage.  He’s teaching me the important things to carry with me, and what needs to be left behind.  And for the first time in my life, I’m okay with that.

I’ve tossed the to-do list of the intangibles of the heart, as well as what I define as success in the effort.  Instead of resisting His work in my life, I can settle into seasons that before would have left me in a puddle of tears or frustrated beyond measure.  I would have fought Him all the way and tried relentlessly to change the path – hoping it would still lead me to where He wants me to be.

Now, after many, many sessions on the arm bike (which I still can’t stand) and the ever-present reminder of falling leaves outside my window, dare I say I welcome the seasons that make me wait on God and His timing.  After all, only He truly knows our hearts and when their harvest is ready.

He is such a good God.  He waits patiently on us, understanding our frailty, and sets His watch by His perfect timing – not our earthly clocks.  He knows if He pushes results too soon, our harvest will be unripe – tasteless, hardened and unusable.  If He waits too long, our harvest becomes too ripe and begins to rot by way of discouragement and doubt if God is ever going to finish the task of the season.  He comes at just the right time and gives us a nod and says Now you’re ready.

There are some areas of my life I am desperate to hear those words.  But, if I’m gut-wrenchingly honest with myself, I know I’m not yet ready. That doesn’t mean small steps of progress aren’t being made.  And every time one is taken in the right direction, so small I don’t even notice it, like the slow increasing of my range of motion in my shoulder, God is so kind to point it out.  It’s like He taps me on the shoulder and says with a smile, I see progress – and it’s good.

However patiently we feel we must wait on God, who is holy and faithful, He is infinitely more patient with us in our human nature.  I am embracing the idea of avoiding a massive shakedown like our trees, or a superficial burnout like my shoulder on the arm bike, and I rest in Truth that God is working all things good for me.

Here are Scriptures that help me embrace seasons of life:

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. ~ Psalm 46:10

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

… (We) will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. ~ Isaiah 61:3

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ~ Psalm 139:23-24

But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart for all generations. ~Psalm 33:11

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! ~ Isaiah 30: 18

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. ~ Psalm 34:18

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. ~ Psalm 51:10

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. ~ Philippians 4:13

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. ~ Psalm 51:17

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.  ~ Psalm 27:13-14

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  ~ God, Isaiah 43:18-19

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~ Ephesians 2:10

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. ~ Psalm 103:14

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 1:6

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1

The pursuit of healing

With my 7th lifetime surgery now behind me, the 4th in the last 5 years, I turn my attention toward physical therapy in hopes to be back to normal – only better.  I love my physical therapists, but am annoyed at the inconvenience it is to stop everything multiple times a week and go.  I don’t say anything out loud, because I am grateful for healthcare and that I am on the other side of surgery, but inside I throw a fit at how laborious and irrelevant this process feels.

Today, I schlepped in as always, with a smile, and breathed a big “here we go again” breath.  I made a point not to complain to the therapists because I am certain they’ve heard it all before. Yet, perhaps it’s the gray skies or drizzly rain or unusually cool temps that set me up, and for the first time I did complain.  Lying on my back on the hard, pleather table, staring at into the awful, harsh fluorescent lights above, while working out the exercises I was instructed to do, I said, “I just want the pain to finally stop.  I mean, I’ve been living with this pain in my shoulder for years and finally did something about it.  However now that the surgery is over, this p/t is making it hurt worse than ever.  I just want the pain to finally be gone.”

The therapist smiled and agreed in a nice way, though I’m sure I’m not the first or last to voice my frustration.

Then I began to think about this whole process and found a gap.  I asked her, “Why is it that when I am at home, I am able to do almost everything I could before – only a week out of surgery – and feel very little pain, but when I come here and do the exercises you instruct it really hurts?  I mean, I’m doing laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, making the bed, walking the dog, able to wash my own hair, etc.  I thought these were pretty good home therapy measures.  Don’t they count?”

Her answer was simple, but it explained a lot.  She said, “When you are doing your normal life at home, you stay in middle range of motion.”  She demonstrated some chores to show me that none of them require me to stretch my limits, literally.  They all stay within a pain-free zone, if you will.  “What we want is to push you to your limit.  That’s what’s going to give you full range of motion again.  What you are doing at home is fine, but you need these exercises to push you to your max to complete the healing.”

While I completed the circuit of exercises, I thought about what she said.  It made so much sense from a physical standpoint, but also from a spiritual one.

When something in our lives is injured, broken or hurting, either by someone else’s (un)intentional injury or our own emotionally degenerative heart, we approach the Master Healer for help.  What we are really asking for is a cure without any cost.  We want a broken heart mended, to have more patience, see our obvious purpose revealed, receive guidance and grow wiser – all without cost or discomfort to us. We think that as long as we admit there is a problem and want God’s help, poof!, it will be done and we get to move on with our lives.

Or, we don’t seek God’s help and try to go straight from hurting to healed in one fail swoop.  We think that what we are doing on our own is enough, when in reality we aren’t able to bring ourselves to where we need to be to be healed – because we simply can’t inflict pain on ourselves – even if it means it will make us better.  We stay stuck in the mid-range, comfortable zone.

Either scenario is not a prescription for ultimate healing.  If we allow God to work in our lives, we must be willing to count the cost of it being inconvenient; take longer than we’d like it to; pull us away from what we’d rather be doing in our flesh to where we need to be in our spirit; and be willing to be pushed to limits we didn’t know we had because we are so used to our mid-range comfort zone.

Trying to heal our hearts and lives on our own leaves scars, pain and unfinished business.  Trust me, after a very bad fall on our street in 2010, but seeking no medical help, my knee has an obvious scar and there is now (compliments of a recent xray – too little too late) a piece of my wrist bone floating in tissue that broke off in the fall that painfully catches my muscles and nerves.  I’ll always wonder what could’ve been a better outcome if I had just been humble enough to seek help.

I read today that a beautiful woman inside and out, full of potential, committed suicide in her quest to find love and attention.  I am so sad for her family and friends, and sad for her that she gave up trying to fix herself.  If only she could’ve sought healing through Jesus Christ who bore our afflictions, illnesses and failures for us on the cross.

He is right there, holding out His own scarred hand, offering us help.  He knows what we need and when we need it.  He is on our side.

Will I still grumble about having to make the next months of my life centered around p/t appointments?  Probably.  But, I will now go with a fresh perspective of a heart check, not just a shoulder check by asking myself these questions:

* Can I acknowledge there is something wrong?

* Am I willing to admit I need His help?

* Am I avoiding the work God wants to do in my life?

* Will I count the cost of my time, energy and emotions to allow God room to work?

* Will I not quit even if it is painful?

* Will I listen to God and follow His instructions?

* Can I accept the help He is trying to give me through prayer, His Word, or others?

The physical therapist is right on all counts.  I need her.  I need her to hold me accountable for showing up and putting forth the effort; to show me ways that I can work my shoulder back to its best; and accept her encouragement along the way.

The heart is much more involved.  The process is layered.  Sticky.  Complicated.  If we run away and hide, we hurt ourselves.  If we ignore the problem it will only get worse.  If we treat it halfway we will never know what our best could be.  If we let God in, daring Him with the deepest places of pain (like when the therapist stretches the joint that is healing in my shoulder), He will always work in our best interest.  His Word, the Bible, tells us so.  We can trust God because God is love.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love…

1 John 4:16

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.   Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, be we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.  Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in out time of need.

Hebrews 4:12-16

Trust in the LORD with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path. 

Proverbs 3:5-6

This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way it, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 

~ Jesus, John 10:10