Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Staying Fit

Being back in the United States has not been so good for my physical health. To put it bluntly, I've packed on the weight. I'm not obese, at least not yet, but I'm certainly carrying more than I did a year ago and more than I would like to. I won't blame it on Coca-cola or McDonalds. Yes, those temptations do exist and indulging in them (with moderation, I believe) has helped to add the pounds. But ultimately they cannot be blamed for the choices I make about my lifestyle. The simple fact is that the American way of life is not conducive to staying in shape. Whereas I used to walk a lot and ride public transport to get around, now I almost always end up driving the car. (I have walked or biked to our local grocery store at times, but when it's 108 outside, that's not a very pleasant undertaking.) I eat more than I need to because it's there and it tastes good. So I haven't achieved a healthy, balanced lifestyle as I had wanted. It's not the government or society's job to fix this inbalance. I need to be responsible for myself.

I think that much of this will naturally correct itself after we return to our work overseas. I'll be back into walking again and the availability of calorie-laden foods will diminish. But this year has made me aware that I'm not getting any younger and I need to be disciplined in maintaining this body, just as I need to be disciplined in maintaining my spiritual health. I think that this can be taken to an extreme, where the body becomes an object of worship and longevity becomes the goal of life, forgetting that no matter what we do these bodies of ours are temporary and our eternal home is not in this life. I have not been guilty of this. I'm much more guilty of neglecting the body, which Scripture refers to as God's temple. I've treated it carelessly and I am now understanding that by doing so I have dishonored God.

I want to honor God with my whole life, including the body he's given me. I cannot set the number of my days--that's in his hands. But I can determine to maintain my health so that I can live those days to the fullest for his glory. With this in mind I have begun an exercise regime. It sounds quite impressive when you say it that way: "exercise regime." In fact my plan is quite simple. I want to start the day with 30-40 minutes of exercise, utilizing the Wii Fit that we recently acquired. This program provides a helpful framework to keep me accountable as well as providing activities that I can do right in my own home. Once we relocate I want to augment that with time cycling, hiking or other activities. I started my morning workout a couple weeks ago and I already feel better physically, even though it has not yet made a significant dent in my waistline. (Why is weight so much harder to remove than it is to add?) I've got a long way to go, but it feels good to have started on the journey.

A admire a friend of mine, who although in his 70's remains very active around his home, building and creating things. In addition, his health has enabled him to travel overseas regularly, where God is using him to do some great things. I hope that when I reach that age, should God grant me that, to be as active as he is. But it won't happen if I don't maintain my health along the way.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Memento Mori

Yesterday I passed another milestone. On June 24 my Grandma, Maxine Carmichael passed away after 87 years on this earth. On June 30 we said good-bye to her at her funeral and laid her body to rest in the earth outside the small town of Kimball, Nebraska. Her body joins that of her husband, who passed away 21 years ago. My mother’s parents have also both moved beyond this life, so I am now without grandparents. Last year my favorite great-aunt also passed away, the last of her generation in that family.

I’m glad I was able to attend the funeral for my Grandma Carmichael. For various reasons I had not been able to attend the last three funerals: those of my mother’s parents and my great-aunt Fern. In fact the only funeral I had attended prior to this was that of my Grandpa Carmichael. It was good to be present to say good-bye to her, at least indirectly, and to allow the grief to come naturally. There was a sense of closure that I never had with my other set of grandparents. I was also able to see most of my cousins, aunts and uncles, most of whom I had not seen since my grandfather passed away. It’s sad that we see each other only at times like this, but the reality is that we live far apart and have never been particularly close. As we drove away from Kimball that day I realized that there is a strong likelihood I will never visit Kimball again. There simply isn’t any compelling reason to draw me there.

Funerals are difficult for us as Americans because they confront us with the reality of death. As a society we try very hard to ignore this reality. We try to extend our lives as long as possible through various means. We deny the existence of death until we can no longer avoid it. I don’t think this is only an American weakness. Many cultures, especially modern Western ones, don’t handle death well. Part of this comes from the dominant Western materialistic worldview that doesn’t believe in anything beyond this material world. In that worldview, death is a frightening thing because it means the complete cessation of being. It’s not a pleasant thing to contemplate.

In earlier centuries European cultures also addressed death more directly. The church in the medieval period used the phrase “Memento Mori” to remind people that they must eventually die and, therefore, should live their lives with this in mind. This is an important bit of wisdom that we have largely lost in our modern culture. We deny the reality of death and because of that we don’t live our lives with the end in mind. We live as though life will go on in the current manner forever. But how would our priorities change, how would our lifestyles be different if we lived every day with the knowledge that this life is but a passing vapor, as Scripture tells us? What would it look like if we lived in the light of eternity? Some books and speakers have dared to remind us of this. Our pastor used a long rope with one inch taped in red. He told us that the red part represented this life—just a short blip. The rest of the rope symbolized eternity, the life beyond this life. If we live believing that the “blip” is the only reality, we will miss out on the opportunities, the wonders and the joy that could be ours in the rest of eternity. But if we live for eternity even during this life, we will place our time, energy and resources into those things that will have eternal value.

Attending my grandmother’s funeral strengthened for me the recognition that I’m not getting any younger. I’m not complaining about this, though I do at times miss some of the aspects of being younger. I’m aware that my life too is passing—and doing so fairly quickly. I could choose to lament this and try to hold on to my youth as long as possible. I certainly don’t think we are wrong to try to take good care of our bodies for the period of this life. But no matter what I do to stay healthy, I will one day finish this race. And when I do I want to enter eternity with the knowledge that I invested my time and energy during this life in the things that will last for the life to come.

Memento Mori