The other day as I roamed through the magazine section of Borders bookshop, I came across a fitness magazine called Oxygen. Emblazoned across the cover were the following headlines: "Higher, Rounder, Tighter: Three weeks to Rock-Hard Glutes!" "Is Your Salad Making You Fat?" "Drop a dress size by Jan. 1" "Six Moves to a Sexier V-Taper" That last one had me confused until I flipped through the magazine and discovered that the "v-taper" is the shape that extremely fit bodies have from shoulders to waist. But what drew my attention most acutely was the line at the very top of the front cover: "The Truth about Abs: Why Crunches are Never Enough." What is the truth about abs? I wondered to myself as I sucked in my stomach and looked around to see if anyone was checking out my 12 pack abs.
I will not tell a lie. I bought the magazine. I have read most of it. I have learned a lot about pills that bring about drastic weight loss in 12 weeks. I have learned the names of companies that specialize in clothing for women with curvaceous derrieres. I have marveled at the amazing shapes on these amazingly sculpted women who win fitness, aerobics, and "figure" competitions. Yes, there is a new sport simply called, "Figure." I have taken comfort in the fact that not one of these little vixens is older than 36 years old, and most are under 33 years of age. I want to see what they look like at 40 after having two kids. Not one of them is listed as being more than 5' 6" tall. I want to know what other 5'10" forty year old homeschooling moms look like; there are none in this issue of Oxygen. There never seem to be many of us in these fitness magazines. Perhaps I should start my own publication...
Anyway, the woman on the cover fits the standard profile of the typical fitness cover model: blonde hair, bleached teeth, french manicure, and she can't possible be more than 5'2" tall weighing in at all of 110 pounds. I must admit to being both sickened and awed by the fact that she had a baby only six months before the photo was taken. And of course, she would be the one who is the focus of the article on why crunches are never enough to keep the old six-pack in order. What are her goals? "Having fun with my family, building my business and working on my six-pack." Well, good for her.
In the article, Cynthia tells her readers to do five different exercises that work on the entire abdominal region. Crunches, side crunches, planks, v-ups, and scissors will tone those muscles. Cardiovascular exercise will burn off the fat. And a diet of egg whites, oatmeal, small salads, chicken, fish, and steamed vegetables is enough to have the abs I've always dreamed of. So what on earth am I supposed to do with the stash of fun-size Snicker bars, the packs of green apple Mentos, and the Rocky Road ice cream I've got stored away for a rainy day?
As I read the descriptions of the five ab-tightening exercises, one phrase was repeated in some form in each of them. "Do one more set to failure." "Do as many sets as possible." "Do three sets for a max number of reps to fatigue per set." "Do three sets on both sides until failure." In other words, keep doing the reps until the muscle fails or until total fatigue sets in. Until not another lift or crunch is possible. Break the muscle down so that in healing it is strengthened.
If that is true, then my spirit, my soul, and my heart must be pretty strong right about now. These past ten days have been a series of life exercises until failure, total fatigue. Football practice twice per week for one child. Horseback riding for the other. Church activities for all of us. Plus all the usual: cooking, cleaning, dog training, keeping the critters at bay (I'll have to write about the recent invasion of the sugar ants some other time.), laundry, extended family care, all the usual suspects. Failure has set in. I can do no more heavy lifting.
On Wednesdays the kids and I go uptown to an awesome noontime church service. We listen to a truly gifted Bible teacher expound on the truths of Scripture and follow that with an excellent lunch prepared by chefs in the church kitchen. When I opened my journal to take notes on her talk today at noon - appropriately themed around the need to hear God speak in the silence - I noted that I hadn't written in my journal since Sunday. For me, that is both heart-breaking and life-draining. No wonder I feel such mental muscle failure. No wonder I feel so empty and so weak, so weary and heavy-laden, so hungry and thirsty. I haven't taken any time this week to rest from the working out, to feast on the Bread of Life, to digest what I have ingested, to reflect on the Light that has shone so brightly into my life for so long. Spiritual and emotional muscle failure are inevitable when I don't take time to journal my thoughts, questions, and experiences.
I came home from church around 2 PM, made myself a cup of coffee, and shut myself in my study room for a while. Pen in hand, heart aflutter, mind at play. I wrote. I spilled over and out onto the pages of my trusty journal. And I remembered the ab-crunching advice. Keep doing reps until fatigue and failure set in. It is in weakening the muscle that growth comes. It is in tearing it down, literally tearing the muscle fibers then allowing them to heal, that sculpting occurs. I wrote some more. I asked myself more questions. I prayed. I thought. I looked out the window. I flipped through that fitness magazine. I embraced the weakness, and in so doing, I felt stronger.
The apostle Paul wrote a very similar article to the church of Corinth nearly 2000 years ago. Actually, it was a letter, not an article. This verse is found in the twelfth chapter of the second letter he wrote to that group of believers. "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
While I cannot say that I have yet learned to be content with weaknesses or any of the other hardships listed in that verse, I can say this: I know that it is in my weakness, in my failure, in my overwhelmedness that I grow strong. It is in the times of exhaustion, powerlessness, and disappointment that I am forced to draw upon the truths of the God I believe in, to rely on His words of peace, joy, and courage for the strength to keep on lifting the burdens that life drops at my feet. It is at moments like the ones I am living through this week - maximum time in the great outdoors to get Maya to poop anywhere but on the carpet, maximum time on the phone, the internet, and in the company of friends and family who are in need, maximum time peering over my children's shoulders into math textbooks and writing assignments, and maximum laundry folding - that failure seems to be my only option.
But I take heart: if what Cynthia, the tight-bodied former National Aerobics Champion, says is true, then I can expect a six-pack of patience, grace, gratitude, joy, courage, and commitment to be fully developed and bikini ready in just six weeks!