hard things, recovery, and the pace of grace

hard things, recovery, and the pace of grace

“Mommy, why do we hike if it’s so hard for you?” (Maggie, age 6, on a hike in Montana this summer)

September 1st marks my fifth anniversary of being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  Today’s post is about MS, but it’s about life too because many themes on this journey for me apply wholistically.  Themes on this journey over the years include fighting back, embracing limits, learning how to see again, and moving at the pace of grace. Today, I hope that this will resonate with you as I invite you to consider what the pace of grace looks like within the boundaries and responsibilities that have been given to you. 

This summer, we were on an 11 week Sabbatical (because my church is incredible!), and we got to choose where to travel, so my loving husband asked me about a year in advance where I’d like to go.  My answer is always a resounding “out West” for multiple reasons, from “that’s where we met” to the scenery and the intense mountains to be in awe of and climb.  

A little known fact for many is that I had NO desire to climb a mountain until my MS diagnosis.  The diagnosis spurred a fighting back mentality and a grabbing at everything I can do sort of desire within me.  And it’s been good – doing hard things with my body has made me braver about doing other hard things.  Bravery and grit grow through practice.    

And yet….while it’s been good, it’s also gotten harder and has exposed my weaknesses more and more with each year.  It makes my husband and I more and more “one flesh”…there is something about oneness that only comes through suffering or hardship…and I think that’s intentional on the Lord’s part…  {I digress and will hit this another time}.   

Fighting back is good and needed.  

Embracing limits for my good and God’s glory is also good – and desperately needed.  

So, it shouldn’t have been surprising that going at the “pace of grace” became a theme as the summer began – a theme that we learned through imperfect practice.  I learned a lot about what that meant and about believing what I often say, “limits are a grace to be received.”

On one particular hike, we made the kiddos slow down. They would often end up an hour or so ahead of us with our friends who were with us, and Ryan would hang back with me as I went at a snail’s pace focusing on making my leg lift.   (*side note:  you’re thinking, “but we see you wear heels at church?!  You look fine!”  Yes, but one true thing doesn’t negate another true thing. The reasons are a story for another time).  

So, this one day, on this 8-mile hike, we told the kids, “you have to remain with us.”  That meant they had to take breaks often and for longer than they needed.  We’ve discovered that it takes around 20 minutes of resting and cooling off to get to a recovery point where I can walk decently enough (especially when it’s hot outside).  And, if it’s a long hike, we’re stopping about every 20 minutes for a 5-25 minute recovery period for me.  Yep, you read that right.  Sometimes the breaks are longer than the amount of time we just spent hiking.

Here’s the thing.  I can’t rush recovery. I’ve tried.  There’s literally nothing that can make my recovery faster than just waiting – and waiting with a calmed and quieted heart, not a fretting heart.  My foot and leg start to drag, and it gets to the point where I can’t make them lift anymore.  No amount of willpower works, and believe me, I’ve got the willpower to crawl hand and knees on rocks and gravel when I can’t walk (so sometimes Ryan carries me, but that’s not a manageable long-term solution).  

If I don’t stop to recover sufficiently, I simply won’t make it.  Even my crawling will fail.  

Isn’t this the journey of life?  Charles Spurgeon said, “Rest time is not waste time…in the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.”  I’ve read another author who talked about how there’s a tribe who physically stops everything to sit still so that their souls can catch up with their bodies.  

Whew. The soul is catching up with the body. We are complicated and interconnected beings – you and I – disease or no disease.  Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves are all intricately connected.  No wonder keeping a peaceful heart while waiting helps my physical body relax and recover better.

What a gift to our kids!  At least, after I got over my guilt of making them slow down and they realized that we weren’t withholding something good from them. 

They got to stop and see.  

Stop and listen.  

Stop and put someone else’s needs first.  

We were united in the waiting, in the wonder of the life booming around us, and in the little things.  Ryan and I invited their souls into the pace of grace, into waiting and watching, into eliminating hurry, and into the opportunity to see someone else’s needs.  

It was on this hike that Maggie asked why we hike if it’s hard for me.  I never got to fully answer her because the heat and the hike had worn out my mind and body in the moment of her thoughtful inquiry…but I think she got to see and savor the answer as we waited.  As she watched mom choose to do something that was clearly difficult; she watched dad stay beside and support mom every single moment; she watched what it looked like and felt like to rest and recover with me, and she watched creation shout the glories of God in all his creativity and power and beauty.  

Often the best answers to our questions aren’t something that can be articulated with mere words.  

Can I ask you a question or two?  Because this isn’t just for me…

Where do you need to recover?  

How can you create and guard space for your mind, heart, and body?  

What limits is God inviting you to receive?  

What could it look like to work from rest and not work for rest?  

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