Getting to Why…

The thing about the last day of the year is that it is filled with possibilities.  What will this next year hold?  Who will I meet? What will be the biggest mountains and the smallest ones? How will I approach Scripture and prayer and silence and exercise?  What will be my rhythm of rest and activity?  Who can I reach for Jesus?  What books will I read?  What trips will I take — most of those are scheduled, so now I can look forward to them!  There are so many possibilities.

Last year I chose the phrase “Slow Down” as a marker for my year and lived into that as best as I could through many things which might have looked on the outside as if I had actually sped up.  

But within, I had slowed the pace.  I slowed down prayer. I slowed down my pattern of devotion reading in Scripture.  I set up a weekly connection with a good friend to grow, challenge one another, and pray.  I took some prayer retreats which were life-altering.  And did a 30-day yoga practice at the start of the year. So, actually, it worked.  

One friend, doubting this, gave me a bar of soap at Christmas that came in this packaging:  

I loved the sloth and that it says: “NEXT YEAR slow down .”  

This friend’s thoughts had been echoed by others.

When one group here heard that I had gotten up too quickly to step forward to speak at an event in England last summer, that I had somehow caught my feet on my chair and backpack strap, and had slammed down onto the floor, injuring my right arm, they texted me the admonition to “Stay with Your Feet!” That was another way of saying, “Brian, Slow Down!”  

So this new year holds promise. No matter what challenges might await, each day holds promise.  

And each day we can choose how we will live into that promise. And each year we can choose how to take another step forward.

Karen, my wife, and I were noticing that toward the end of December Costco had put their stationary bikes and their treadmills on sale and moved them to the front of the store to catch those folks making exercise resolutions.  

Indeed there were as many as 10 different eating plans in the book section to catch those wanting to shed some December pounds.

We can start the year determined to make changes happen, but I find we need more than just the thought– “I’m going to exercise now.” We need a much deeper motivation, even deeper than, “I just bought this treadmill for $1000 and I need to use it.”  Or “I joined the gym, and am paying for membership, soooo…”  Gyms count on you not coming to fulfill that membership.  It is more difficult to end a subscription than to begin one.  

If you want great reading on how to make those resolutions happen, check our Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage.”

As I approach this new year, the person that comes to mind first is Karen, my wife of more than 37 years, whom I have known for 40. She is one person I know who knows how to live life with a vision of what she wants to see happen held in front of her.  

Sure this is goal-setting, but she has never gone about that in a prescribed way.  Instead, Karen gets a vision for what she would like to see happen, and because of the clarity of that vision, that picture, that why simply does it.  

If you want a health coach, nutrition counselor, exercise coach, wellness advisor, spiritual director, stamping or painting or quilting or Spanish instructor, talk to Karen!

When Karen gets interested in something, she researches it, gets books on it and learns everything she can about it and becomes excellent at it.  She has done this with the personality inventory called the Enneagram, She has kept moving with this one for way over 20 years and it has impacted every area of our life.  She is brilliant in helping people sort out their approaches to life! Ask me, she has helped me plenty. 

Our children joke that when they have anything going on in their bodies — a headache, sore throat, stomach ache, hurting back, or another sickness — that their mom will often take their hand and press in a certain place and ask, “How does that feel?”  

“Ow!” will usually be their response, for she has located the pressure point in the body registering the energy that’s stopped up.  She can do that for she has also researched eastern approaches to medicine and is simply remarkable with how she can help diagnose and assist others in healing. This is the renaissance woman I get to be married to.  

It was years before our kids had married or had children of their own. Two of them were still in college and one was still living at home when she said to me one day, “I am going to start working out more, for I want to be able to get down on the floor and play with our grandchildren.”

“Grandchildren?”  I laughed.  “Karen. Seriously.  None of our girls are even married,” was probably how I responded.

It was years before any grandkids would be arriving and she was thinking ahead to that time after they came and had grown to the point that she would be able to get down and play with them.  This was similar to how I felt when she began putting aside toys, books and games and puzzles in a box labeling it “For our Grandchildren,” again, that was when all our girls were yet young.  Perhaps all women do this?  It is incredible.     

That is not my wiring!  But, she is remarkable like this.  

But this was her desire to get down on the floor and out of that desire, that spoken intention, that vision for the future, which in my mind was a decade or more away, she began to pursue it.  If I asked her after that, “Why do you exercise like you do?”

She would have responded:  “I want to be able to get down on the floor and play with our grandchildren.”  

Sure there was a number goal, weight wise for a while, and that number chases her time and again, but the bottom line was not a number but a picture, a desire, a hope and this gave that goal of hers a “why.”  

Karen always knew why she left at 5 in the morning to go lift weights.  She always knew why she went swimming, began doing yoga every day, walked marathons, etc.  She had this one, crystal-clear goal in mind:  playing with little kids someday.  

Our first granddaughter, Antonia Fadia, was born in 2012.  And since then our kids have added four more — Theo, Josie, Gregory, and Bridget.  Each one of them is unique and delightful in their own way, and they are learning and some of them already know, that their Grammy (or Momou as some call her) will get down on the floor and play.  Indeed, of course, we both will.  I am as committed to staying in shape and to health as she is, but she gave me the picture, the “why” behind those actions.  

Karen is an unstoppable force of beauty.

She has held onto this dream. But this has not been without challenges.  The thing that has astounded me as I have walked alongside this wonder woman is how tenacious she is.  And I believe this is because of the kind of desire this is, the kind of “why” that this dream of loving on these grandkids is to her.  

So, during these years she spent most of one year suffering from intense back spasms and gut pain that reduced her to using a walker or cane part of the year.  Another year, a shoulder injury that left her immobilized, in physical therapy for months. Another, she had eye surgery that pulled her from some forms of exercise.  And in still another, she came down with a massive skin rash that kept her out of the pool and reduced her ability to do yoga. I think many of us would have given up.  

For Karen, each of these created a new area to study and learn, a new place to learn more about how the body holds pain, where and why, how muscles work, how to heal the skin, and how the methylation cycle works in her cells!  

She worked around the challenges and in some ways simply used them to step more firmly toward the overarching goal:  “I want to be able to get down on the floor and play with my grandchildren.”  

It is this huge WHY that keeps her going.  As she approaches each year, this is still the strong beat that continues on.  

In looking at her, no matter what we might desire to see produced in our hearts and minds this new year, we must establish that WHY of the desire or goal.  What’s that deeper motivation that isn’t about a change of shape, the loss of weight, a change in diet, but about how that changed life might have a deeper impact on others.  

Our lives are not unto us but unto this world.  We are here for our growth and transformation, and in that, to become people who love, and love well, and as such to impact this world.    

So, what growth does this year ask of you?  How would you like to change in this year?  What would you like to see come forth from the soil of your life?  

I often ask people as they look at the New Year to choose a word or phrase or because of the influence of a new family, a color, which they want to live in, look for, establish in their lives in all that that “color” means.  Sometimes just to have something to return to, like my phrase “slow down” from last year can help keep us on task, focused.     

We have this new family coming into our church community and the mom recently wrote this to me: 

“I wanted to share something from my children. A lot of the time the children and I will talk in colors, tastes or smells. It’s how we describe a thing, or try to convey an emotion or feeling so that we can understand one another in a deeper way. They said you reminded them of the Color Yellow and of Daffodils and Tulips. They also wanted to make sure that I shared a song with you, as they think this song fits you.” 

This touched me immensely.  

I’d like nothing more than to be remembered as bright yellow, for me that color means joy or a flower like a daffodil!  I have often thought these earthly bodies are more like bulbs than anything else, so that seemed fitting!  And that song by Pharrell Williams is a favorite — Karen and I have danced around the living room to that one!  

But there is more there as this mom is teaching her kids to identify feelings as color as touch as taste.  She is teaching them the broad range of feelings by doing this.  What a gift! She is giving them a way to communicate in pictures.  They will be able to pick a color for this year.

So, what phrase, what word, what color will you live into this year?  How might you like to see your life change?  And what’s the why?  What’s the deeper thing you seek to experience and move into?

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