Friday, November 18, 2011


Our bodies were designed to move.

I never used to realize this. I think as a child and teenager, I was naturally inclined to run and jump and play sports. I was "active" without thinking about it and without realizing how good it was for me.

But after that, until a few years ago when I decided to ride in the annual Bike MS event, I didn't think much about exercise unless it was in the I-never-have-time-and-don't-really-enjoy-it-anyway context. So I went through my days working or teaching or nursing babies or taking care of household obligations, never realizing I was missing out on something. Big.

When I committed to the ride, a 150 mile bike ride over two days to raise money for the National MS Society, I knew I'd have to train to be able to accomplish such a feat of endurance. Ben was two-and-a-half and Abby was a baby, but they were both old enough to go into the rec center's play school program, so I began taking indoor cycling classes there.

And I finally understood what all those exercise fanatics had been talking about through the years.

After the first class, as sore as I was after, I was hooked. Addicted. Compelled to return. On many afternoons, I walked into class stressed--sometimes frustrated with my kids, sometimes angry with myself, confounded by a problem and spinning circles in my mind trying to figure out. In that hour class, though, as my body became fully engaged in pushing pedals and climbing hypothetical mountains, my mind was unleashed to process the problem d'jour. And most days, I left calm, renewed of purpose and spirit. The ability to get lost in the lyrics and rhythm of the music while pushing through self-imposed limitations left me free to recognize my mistakes, identify the source of conflict, and make a plan.

When I began teaching the classes, I lost some of this mental space because I became the one responsible for cuing the drills, keeping time, and pacing the class. But even then, I left class feeling better. Sweating is both a physical and emotional catharsis, I think.

I've branched out of the cycling room this month into a variety of other classes--Zumba, Pilates/Yoga, a ballet-based strength class--and I feel that same rush of possibility I felt when I first pedaled a spin bike. It's good to be the student again, and to push my body in new ways. I'm reminded that physically challenging myself does more than make my body stronger. It makes my mind stronger. It makes my spirit stronger. It lends perspective to every other aspect of life.

I think God made us this way.

There's a reason research shows exercise helps not just the health of the heart and lungs and muscles but the brain and mental health, too. When we cease to use, to challenge, to push our bodies, I wonder if we sacrifice one of the vehicles through which God reveals himself to us.

Jesus was the Word made flesh. To enter our reality, to draw us to himself, to accomplish the redemption of the world, he assumed our anatomy. When Jesus hungered and thirsted in the desert, when he stayed up all night praying, when he carried his cross, when his back was beaten, when his flesh was pierced--those events were every bit as spiritual as they were physical.

The body is more than mere bones and nerves and muscle and skin. Our body, our flesh, is the vessel through which our spirit experiences the world. Through our physical body, we give. Through our physical body we receive. Through our physical body, we come to understand Love.

To live fully, we must move.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two Perfect Minutes

Sitting on my lap in the same yellow rocking chair in which I rocked him as a baby, Ben read me the book he brought home from school: Henry and Mudge and the Forever Sea. The series of books, written in simple yet lovely language for the early reader, chronicle the adventures of a young boy and his giant, drooly pup, Mudge.

These books have been Ben's favorite since we discovered them at the library over the summer. Now that we have our own giant dog, Merlot, Ben understands the canine nonchalance of Mudge, who--in the midst of Henry's escapades--remains faithful to his doggy nature: eating, sleeping, licking, snuggling, and maintaining a gentle loyalty to his boy. These behaviors usually appear in contrast to the activities of the humans in the story, to subtle comic effect. The humor is never lost on Ben.

So last night before bed, we're in the chair together, and I'm marveling at the ease and fluency with which he reads this book that at one time would have been challenging, when Ben reaches a page where Henry and his father are making sand castles at the beach. The author narrarates their contributions: Henry's father made the towers, Henry made the moats, and Mudge, true to form, makes a bed and goes to sleep. 

Something about this line tickled Ben's sensibilities, causing him to chuckle, then giggle, and then laugh, uncontrollably. Delight consumed his little face, which turned crimson from breathlessness. I couldn't help but laugh along, watching his eyes turn up with exuberance. When he finally pulled himself together and turned the page, he fell into another fit of laughter at the sight of Henry's dad's rubber lobster on top of the sand castle, poised like a flag. This time, he giggled so hard he doubled over, rocking back and forth in hysterics. 

It was two of my favorite minutes of parenting. Ever.

To witness him reading, to contemplate the growth that has occurred in six years, to see him connect so strongly with this sweet story, and to share in the joy of all his skills and experiences converging in complete understanding--it was the kind of moment I wish I could bottle to pull out on days when my soul needs some joy. 

More and more lately, I find myself watching this little boy with wonder. Parenting, at times, is like slowly unwrapping a gift in which I discover, little by little, how thoughtfully and purposefully these little people were given, and how perfectly they fulfill the desires of my heart. 

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