To see the world in a grain of sand

I always enjoyed watching documentaries, even those really cheaply made ones for science or social studies that my teachers subjected us to in school.  I remember bonding with my father on weekend nights over documentaries borrowed from the library, especially ones about the World Wars and Winston Churchill.  From ancient mummies to recent scientific discoveries; from the bottom of Challenger Deep to the edges of the universe; from one edge of Earth to the other; from the monsters of prehistoric life to the world’s current circle of life…the documentaries I devoured, supplemented by side dishes sampled from reading material found in both our home library and the public one, opened my mind and my imagination under my father’s careful tutelage.

Perhaps the fact that the bond I made with my father over documentaries is why they were the only thing that kept me sane in the weeks and months following his death three years ago.  There was something inherently comforting about curling up with my laptop and Walking with Dinosaurs or another David Attenborough wildlife special, or watching all matter of man-made probes explore the depths of the oceans and the farthest reaches of space and everything in between.  I might have been lying in emotional wreckage, but somehow I was still learning. I might have been feeling very small and alone, but somehow that didn’t stop me from exploring as much as I could from where I was stuck at home.

You’re probably thinking that the last thing anyone would want to do when feeling this way would be watching documentaries that highlight man’s seemingly inconsequential place in the grander scheme of terrestrial nature, let alone in the entire universe.  But somehow, being pulled back into the world of documentaries during my grieving period gave me a sense of belonging, a sense of place during a phase of my life that felt like it had neither time or space.  Catching so many glimpses of the universe — a montage of all of creation passing before my tired eyes each night — reminded me that there is so much to live for, if only to discover for myself one small part of what appeared on the screen.  It reminded me there was so much to move on for, even when it felt like I couldn’t leave the warm cocoon of a past life that included my father’s living presence.

I’m in another phase of documentary-watching now, because I’m in emotional recovery mode again.  This time around, I’ve come to the conclusion that whale documentaries are always sad somehow; that cloning a woolly mammoth and giving it a surrogate elephant mother might end up being a fuzzier but equally terrifying version of Jurassic Park; and that I will never be able to decide between which I’d rather do: explore the fathoms below or the cosmos above.

Maybe that last bit is what’s important.  I can’t decide, because deep down I know right where I am is where I am meant to be:  both feet firmly on the ground, in the middle of the ordinary world where I can grow and learn and come to a better understanding of myself in this infinite tapestry of creation.

Now, bring me that horizon.

Last week, God asked me to put my money where my mouth is.

I’ve expended many a keystroke on this blog writing about wanting to follow Him and becoming a better Catholic, a better daughter of God, in the middle of the ordinary world. Being somebody with a record of talking big but hardly ever acting on what I say, I’m not really surprised that I was finally challenged to prove it in a pretty big way.

I won’t get into details about what went down. Not every story has to be told in a visceral fashion in order for its lessons to be made clear. What I can say is that of all the hard choices I’ve had to make, this was the hardest…and of all those, this was the only one that wasn’t made for only my own good.

God challenged me not only to fly out of a nest, but also to let another person do the same thing – both with no strings attached to the ground of human wants and desires, because that’s how we end up flying in circles instead of into the horizon.

If we’re flying in circles, we’re not following God…and for somebody with faith, that’s a big deal.  As CS Lewis once wrote, “To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere.”  Being a woman of faith, I am confident in God and I trust in His wisdom when it comes to the unknown.  As long as I walk in His wake, even into the unknown my path is certain.

But of course I am only human, and of course that means I have questions about this, even though it was a decision I executed in certainty after much consideration and long deliberation.

Was the choice I made the right one?

Buried somewhere in this hurt, is there hope?

Upon what branch will I alight when this next leg of migration is over?

Being a woman of faith, I know I can question God and somewhere, somehow, He will give me the answers I seek.  I feel a quiet peace now in my heart; small though it may be where it lies in the very centre of myself, it is there and it will grow. My heart might be wrapped up in sadness for now, but one day it will be wrapped up in joy again. And no matter where my next nest will be, as long as I follow God’s call on the wind I will be one step closer to Home.

The Pachyderm on my Bathroom Floor

I’ve been going to the gym for a few months, and as of now I’m one month in to an intensive training-and-nutrition program that has me there every day, Monday to Friday.  Every time I set foot inside the gym, I ask myself the same question:  When did I become a gym rat?

I have always struggled with my weight and my body image.  I’ve never been slender (just varying degrees of overweight) and I’ve never been willowy (because at five-foot-none that’s literally a tall order).  Although my university years were full of grabbing meals of convenience as I went from one class to another or between work and campus, as well as eating my feelings everywhere in between, I was surprisingly at a plateau with my weight during that time.

But when my life slowed down after I took my office job, though, the numbers on the scale began to fluctuate.  They’d go up for a couple of days, then they’d come back down.  I continued to walk everywhere, regardless of the weather, and ran whenever I could, and even though my weight didn’t fully stabilize again at least it never yo-yo’d more than a couple of pounds up and down.

In 2014 I took a two-week holiday at the tail end of an Alberta winter, during which my only walking was pretty much from the front door to my boyfriend’s Jeep.  I came back from it feeling rather proud of myself for having not fallen into bad eating habits that used to plague my holidays, but the moment I stepped on my scale I realised – pretty much for the first time – the connection between eating and exercising…because I ballooned.

I’ve ballooned before.  After my first break-up as a teenager, a few midnight snacks of Ben & Jerry’s over a couple of months very nearly ruined my prom plans.  (To this day, I refuse to have any Ben & Jerry’s anywhere in the house.)  Two years of working in a pizza shop while studying full-time had undone pretty much all of what I’d accomplished during one summer of basic training in the Canadian Forces (and that’s a story for another day).  But I hadn’t had a major ballooning for a few years, and when I saw the scale after that particular holiday I have to say that I cried.

The simple change to my routine – driving everywhere and hardly walking – had been enough to make me put on ten pounds.  Ten pounds that I’ve been struggling to shed ever since April 2014.  Ten pounds that discourage me beyond belief whenever I’ve gone clothes shopping in the last year.  Ten pounds that have made me extremely self-conscious in my best dress at more than one wedding between then and now.

I’ve always known my relationship with food resembles one of co-dependency, and my relationship with exercise has always been fair-weather.  I’ve tried a whole range of things to lose weight but nothing has ever really lasted.

Everyone who’s had a weight issue will tell you that it took a huge kick to spur them into action.  I was no different.  I was sitting in the examination room at the clinic, listening to my doctor tell me the results of the blood test she’d ordered two weeks before.  The original problem had been a long, worrying bout of amenorrhea, which had started two months after packing on those ten pounds.   Now, there were other problems – problems like the phrases “borderline pre-diabetic” and “at risk of high cholesterol.”  She wasn’t throwing these out as warnings.  She was telling me what my blood had just told her.  Then she pulled out a chart and showed me where I fell in terms of BMI.  I had never considered it before – had never classified myself as such before – but I was just over the “obesity” marker.

I’d heard those terms before, applied to various older relatives including my parents.  There were other things in the family history that she said could come about if I wasn’t careful:  hypertension, joint weakness and failure, blood clots, weak cardiovascular system.  “You’re too sedentary,” she told me as she wrote on her Rx pad.  “You have to change that right away.”

I walked out of there with two prescriptions:  one for a medication that would end the amenorrhea, and another for supervised exercise.   And that’s when I became a gym rat.

I’m not at the gym to train for mud marathons or colour runs.  I’m not at the gym to look good naked.  I’m not at the gym to fit into a single-digit size.

I’m at the gym because I have no desire to continue being a statistic for obesity and weight-related health issues.  I’m at the gym because paying for membership, a trainer, and a nutritionist is way cheaper than paying for medications and equipment for the rest of my life. I’m at the gym because I want to be healthy enough not only to have children, but to raise them and see them grow up to have families of their own.

I’m at the gym because I know the kind of life I deserve.  I owe it to myself to make sure I’m around to make it happen, and I won’t let my current weight weigh me down.

I have heard You calling in the night

Last Sunday’s readings at Mass included the one about Samuel waking up in the middle of the night because he heard somebody calling out his name. It took a while before Eli figured out it was God’s voice in the night and once he explained this, Samuel knew how to answer The Lord. The readings last week also included the passage from the Gospel of John where John not only recognises that Christ is passing by, but proclaims it with such certainty that disciples immediately follow in His wake.

This past week has been a time of deep introspection for me — a week of constant soul-searching, praying, and demanding to know what exactly is expected of me. I’ve come to realise a great many things about myself and my life so far, and have come to better understand the role of certain events in the grander scheme of things.

I am not like John and the disciples who immediately recognised Christ as he passed by on the road. I am more like Samuel who woke up in darkness and was unable to recognise the voice of God without help. It is true that I have found God in my darkest moments, but it was only through retrospect and guidance that I was able to see that it was Him calling through those long shadows.

Once I realised this and truly began to listen — this Friday at my desk job, of all places — some answers came to me in swift and resonating succession, not unlike the hammer blows a blacksmith rains down upon an anvil when forging a new tool.

A hammer has the dual ability to destroy and to create, depending on the conditions in which it is wielded. When I was not listening to The Lord, His words broke me open and His call was hollow in my ears. When I listen to Him now, those words — the very same words, for His message has not changed — took all those pieces and started banging them back together.

I am not entirely mended, and I will always be a little broken. But I trust in God’s wisdom and grace enough to trust that the chinks and dents will be straightened, the tears will be mended, and the holes will be patched over. In darkness and in light, The Lord is working on me so that I will be ready to be a part of something greater than my own self. Because, as somebody so very dear to me once wrote to me in a time of darkness,

“In one way or another we are all tools of God. Our talents determine how He comes through us into the world — the musician becomes His instrument; the artist becomes His paintbrush; the writer becomes His pen. But sometimes we are called to spread His Gospel and sanctify daily life in ways that require us to be like swords in His hands. And because we are swords that He draws at a moment’s notice, He hammers and bends and tempers us in His divine forge; makes sure we are always sharpened; and always keeps His hand upon us.”