Heather Denniston is a 20 year chiropractor and wellness enthusiast. She has spoken across the country and coaches and consults on a life that is WELL, FIT, and FED. Admittedly fallible, a terrible driver and pretty grumpy in the mornings, Heather's approach to "First Steps" is to humbly come along side her clients and walk with them step by step to personal bests. Read more about her on www.wellfitandfed.com.
I was eleven when I was demoted for the first time. I was a gymnast, and due to the possession of an unbridled “can-do” attitude, I was completely convinced I was going to be brilliant! Not like Olympics great, but really, really good. So when Peter, my long-haired hippie coach, informed me I would be stepping up to the next level I was elated. I knew what this move would mean. I would be working out with the girls who were in it “for serious”. Not because their mother’s made them do gymnastics or their friends were in gymnastics, but because they wanted to be excellent gymnasts. I was psyched. New burgundy leotard colors separated us from the “chaff” and special areas in the changing rooms were informally held for us. The coaching was intense and the hours of commitment went from three to twelve a week. I loved it. I immersed myself in the effort of challenging my body beyond perceived limits, being part of a team and attempting skills I had previously thought unobtainable.
Four weeks into my new status I was pulled aside after practice. I was told I was not meeting base skills and that my coaches may have made a mistake moving me up. Peter actually said, "Wouldn't you rather be a big fish in a small pond, than a tiny fish in a big pond?” (I can roll my eyes at that now.) All I heard was You. Are. Not. Good. Enough.
I would have to step back down to my previous level. At that moment, the wind flew out of me like someone hit me in the stomach with a bag of hammers. My dreams of the podium, as cliché and trite as it sounds, were dashed. In the glow of acute disappointment, I did not have the objectivity to stand back and realize the lesson God was teaching me. With my leotard stuffed angrily in my bag and thrown over my shoulder, staring back at the doors of the gym, I was at a crossroads. I could let this disappointment define me and spend time focusing on the loss or I could turn and look forward shouting “If not this, then what’s next? Bring it!”
The "you're a sucky gymnast" experience was not my first disappointment, but it was my first disappointment related to the shortcomings in my physical abilities. My body would not be able to keep up with where my mind wanted to go. Peter was right. I wanted to be a serious, competitive kick-butt gymnast, but my body (growing like a Mastiff puppy) and my innate gymnastic abilities (limited at best) were lagging in the rear. Thirty plus years later, His lesson is crystal clear. God might gently hone character traits early that He is going to need to call on later. He will prepare us. He will provide opportunities to develop valuable skills. In 1996, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a progressive arthritic condition. Explained simply, Ankylosing Spondylitis is an autoimmune condition that slowly stiffens your spine until your joints eventually lock together. It was the "Mother Ship” of situations where I would be forced to face imminent physical limitations. A Face-Off that was less devastating because of skills honed early. A honing process that started, of course, with the end of my gymnastics career.
As I was coming to terms with my likely future, I learned that if you have one autoimmune disorder there are often others right behind it. So, as it goes, I was diagnosed with Osteoarthritis, Raynaud's, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, and IBS all before my fortieth birthday. My latest addition to the collection is Sjogren’s. I can no longer count my diagnoses on just one hand.
God designed me as a human who loves to be physically active, yet He has placed significant barriers in that pursuit. I used to love running, volleyball, and basketball, but these activities now cause me significant pain. Every morning I get up with stiff and achy joints. Daily I have to assess what is going to be “doable”. I am given a choice: focus on the “can’t”, or focus on the “can.” I choose to focus on the “can.”
You cannot know what God is preparing you for or what He has in store, only that He knows you and has a specific plan. Through every trial and every difficulty, He will put to use what you learn. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Each “gym” door that closes in your life is an opportunity to yell “Fantastic! What do I get to learn this time Lord!”
Over the years of adjusting to my restrictions, I have had the opportunity to endeavor in activities I might never have tried, such as competitive inline skating, weight training, and yoga. I can focus on these today, and if tomorrow I can't, I will find something new. There is purpose in His re-directions. John 15:1-2 tells us, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
Can you think of a time earlier in your life where God was preparing you for adversity down the road?
How did you respond?