Late last week I was at the gym, doing my thing. There was only one other lady there in the section I was in. (I absolutely LOVE it when the gym is pretty much empty. It’s the best!) Another gal came and asked her if she was using a certain piece of equipment and the other lady said she wasn’t. “Unfortunately,” the lady said under her breath but loud enough for me to hear. She must have known that I heard her as well so she elaborated. She proceeded to tell me she had injured herself awhile ago and that the doctor had instructed her not to engage in any heavy lifting. This was really devastating to her since it was a big part of her routine. She said she had shown up to the gym to at least do stretches and whatever floor work she could. She couldn’t just sit around doing nothing. It wasn’t what she was used to but at least it was something. I encouraged her and said that it was good that she had at least chosen to show up. That a step forward is still forward, even if it’s a little bit. At least it was something. To which she agreed.
I proceeded to tell her that I had injured myself at the gym not too long ago. I had lifted weights over my head to work my shoulders and in that exact moment I felt a sharp pain through my shoulder blades and neck. I wasn’t lifting anything out of the ordinary that I normally wouldn’t lift. It wasn’t too heavy. I knew it was because I had failed to properly warm up and stretch. Something that I absolutely hate doing. I’d rather just get right to the work out. I knew it was my fault but it still sucked. Mostly because in that moment I knew my workout would have to be modified until I was better. Which I also hate. I gave myself a couple of days off to rest my body completely and then I worked out what I COULD rather than focusing on what I COUDLN’T. Like I said earlier, progress is progress, no matter how seemingly small or slow etc. It all adds up. It’s all significant in the end.
It reminds me of a movie I’ve watched numerous times. “Cinderella Man” is a true story about a successful professional boxer who falls on hard times during the Great Depression. If you ever need to feel encouraged and inspired, watch it. (If you haven’t watched it yet…*spoiler alert*!)
When Jimmy Braddock goes from being a popular successful boxer to barely being able to make ends meet once the depression hits, he finds himself without a whole lot of options. Boxing is all he knows. But now him and his wife have had to sell everything they have just to be able to keep their kids (alot of families during the great depression would send their kids away to live with family members who were better suited to care for them when things got really bad.) Jimmy is still boxing but now he’s fighting on the little strength he has left, on poor nutrition from lack of food and he hasn’t told anybody but he’s also fighting injured. During a match, he throws a right hook and makes contact but he breaks his hand in the process. The one thing he had going for him is now gone. It’s impossible for him to fight anymore with a broken hand. He has to resort to what many did in those days, standing in a long unemployment line, waiting and desperately hoping to be picked for a full days work. To increase his chances of getting picked, his wife paints his bright white cast with black shoe polish so his broken hand won’t be so noticeable. It seems to have done the trick. Today is his lucky day. He gets picked for work.
Jimmy becomes one of the lucky ones and gets regular hours working down at the docks. Loading and unloading giant, heavy bags of whatever is coming in that day. In order to keep up with the pace and to keep his job, he has to use his left hand while his right hand heels. He does this for quite some time. It’s hard work. It’s humbling work. But he does it. He’s thankful he can at least keep his family together.
A while later, his friend/manager comes to pay him a visit and tells him he’s arranged a match for him. It’s a pretty substantial pile of cash for a man like him and it’s understood by everyone involved that Jimmy is going to lose the fight. He’s simply filling in for someone else. It’s to be his final match. Something to end a career on. To go out with a bang. With what they’re paying him, Jimmy is more than happy to oblige.
On the night of the fight, Jimmy is in good spirits. He knows he has nothing to lose. He’s expected to lose. Except…he doesn’t. He actually surprises everybody, himself included and WINS. When his manager asks him afterwards how he did that, Jimmy shrugs and says that all that time working down at the docks with his right arm in a cast, it forced him to use his left. Over time not only was his right arm able to heal properly and get stronger but his left hand, which was always his weaker hand had the opportunity to get stronger as well. So when he stepped in the ring he had fully healed and was able to come out swinging…with BOTH fists. And that’s not even the end of the story. It gets even better so I’ll let you go watch it and get inspired by it.
I’d be willing to bet that Jimmy would not have picked certain situations for himself that he went through. It must have been so humiliating for him to stand in line, begging for work. It must have been so humbling working down at the docks just to make ends meet. Even though it was just for a season, but he wouldn’t have known that at the time. He couldn’t have known that this “Great Depression” season of his life was actually being used to strengthen him, to give him rest so he could heal properly and eventually go on to win the fight!
I know this feeling all too well. I think we all do. Fighting injured. Having to keep up and show up in life even though you’re bruised, bloody and broken because life has beaten the crap out of you. Laying on the ground, covered in your own mess and through blurred vision you see the referee stand over you about to call it. You have till the count of three to decide whether or not you’re really out of the game.
I remember when my boys left. The way everything happened, I was so many emotions rolled into one. It was like getting sucker punched. I never saw it coming. It’s been almost 3 years already and I still remember how it felt. So deeply hurt, confused, helpless, depressed and so enraged I felt like I could have kicked in the front door. The worst part was that I still had to get up and go to work, to church, run everyday errands etc. I couldn’t afford to have a full mental breakdown. (Those came in spurts, in private, over time.) I still had to show up when everything on the inside of me wanted to just punch everyone and everything in the throat and curl up in a ball and cry simultaneously. In the beginning my mom even came over and cleaned my house for me because I had no motivation. I didn’t want to do anything. I was numb. The empty house, the silence, was deafening. My boys were the centre of my world. My reason for getting out of bed. And now they weren’t there. That paired with the verbal, emotional and mental abuse that came along with it for over 2 years. It took every ounce of strength I had to make it through each day. But every day, I showed up. However I could. I had my music. My writing. Work was a bittersweet distraction. And in the back of my mind I knew I didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me quit.
Earlier this year, I experienced another kind of heart break. It was also devastating for me. I think mostly because of everything I had already been through up to that point. My heart was already so sensitive and paper thin that it hit me harder than it probably should have. For the first time in 5 years, for a split second, I had really let my guard down. I had promised that I would never find myself in that position again. But here I was. After the last couple of years of working so hard to heal and get back on my feet, emotionally speaking, I found myself right back at square one. All of a sudden it brought back those familiar feelings of rejection, heartbreak and loneliness. That dreaded feeling of “not being enough.” But I had to remind myself that that was a lie. I had to remind myself, I’ve been through worse than this. I’m tougher than this. If I made it through the last couple of years, I can handle anything.
So, again, every day, I showed up however I could. Even in the smallest ways. I’ve poured myself into my music and writing. I was thankful, again, for the distraction that work provided. The gym has become a place to not only improve myself physically and emotionally but it’s also a place to blow off steam. Sometimes, choosing to put a smile on your face, choosing joy when you walk out your front door is a huge step in and of itself. And hope. There is always hope. Forward is forward no matter how small it may seem at the time.
It’s been a really long road the last couple of years to finally get to the place I’m at today. To be in a place of acceptance. Even if I don’t necessarily like the outcome in that moment. To try and see the bigger picture. What if certain things don’t work out the way I want because God has something else in mind. What is this season trying to teach me? What if this season is preparing me for something I’ve been praying for? That single strand of hope that something bigger or better could be just around the corner can keep even the most discouraged person hanging on for dear life. That final ounce of strength to pull yourself up. Also, (and here’s something to think about) whether we realize it or not, we’re being watched as to how we deal with and handle hard times. Our example matters. Something I have to remind myself of on a regular basis. Someone could be watching you thinking, ‘if you they can do it, so can I.’
Another person who knew this all too well was the Apostle Paul. This guy was beaten down and experienced more hardships than any of his peers at the time. But he knew his purpose was more important than sitting and complaining about it. He used it as a teaching tool to encourage others in their own fight. He sums up his life by saying:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”~ 2 Timothy 4:7
This journey is a marathon, not a sprint. And sometimes it’s a bloody difficult one, to say the least. You have to be a fighter! Not everyone will cross the finish line running, both hands up in the air…like they just don’t care. Some of us will walk across. Some of us will limp. Some others will even crawl or drag themselves across. The important thing is NOT so much how we cross the finish line, it is that we DO cross the finish line.
I recognize that this season is being used to make me stronger. To harden me to life’s difficulties. Sometimes in order to get the answer to our prayers we gotta toughen up a little. Or we gotta go through changes that will allow us access and give us the guts to live in our purpose. Something that we wouldn’t have been able to handle otherwise.
The same goes for you too. Seasons in your life might feel like a set back but it could actually be setting you up for a come back! Working out your weaknesses. Turning them into strengths. Giving you the rest you didn’t even know you needed so you can come back better than ever! Or giving you the time to work on that one thing you’ve been complaining you “never have time” for. That hobby that you can make a game plan for to turn it into a career. To get those creative juices flowing and produce your best work yet! That relationship or friendship that needs more focus so you can really appreciate each other again. Or just being thankful and taking stock of what you DO have. Taking inventory of your life and making the necessary adjustments that your future self will thank you for.
I know it might not always feel like it but those “Great Depression” seasons in life can actually be the exact thing that you never knew you always needed. It can work FOR you, if you let it. Keep fighting!
“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein.