I always had a lot of colds and sinus infections growing up, stubborn sinus infections that took a few weeks to knock down. A favorite book of mine as a child was A Child’s Garden of Verses. Reading this book and learning about the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, I learned that Stevenson had been a sickly child and had to stay in more often than play outside. I wasn’t sickly, but I got sick often enough that I missed a lot of lovely spring and fall days and felt like maybe Stevenson would understand my frustration. One year when we went for a week in the mountains, I was sick the whole time. Being sick is lame. That’s my official opinion and you can quote me on it. After having chronic bronchitis for two consecutive winters as a teenager, I was treated for a weird and not particularly serious immune deficiency (IgG Subclass Deficiency, if you want to look it up). And you know what? I got better. No more bronchitis, and only a couple of sinus infections a year.
While my family has never been particularly athletic (except for my great-grandmother, whose shortness I inherited but not her skill at sports), they’ve always been pretty tough. My dad runs 4-5 miles a day, my mom has always been surprisingly strong, and we used to call my granddad the Energizer Bunny (like from the battery commercials) because he seemed to never get tired. Although I did get some of my mom’s physical strength, when I get sick or my endurance runs low, I feel like I’m being cheated out of my genetic inheritance.
Freshman year in college, I had to take the dreaded, required “Concepts of Fitness and Health.” The two options were running and swimming. Since I’d been swimming since I was a wee babe, and running was seriously the most miserable thing ever, I took swimming. Only, I suddenly found that I couldn’t swim for very long without getting completely out of breath and feeling like it was all I could do to just tread water. Curse your sudden betrayal, swimming pool, you had always been my friend! I didn’t know what was wrong but I tried, and I guess the teacher felt some sympathy (I did really well in all the written assignments) and I finished with an A-. The following summer, I found out I had asthma, explaining why swimming was suddenly so difficult.
I have always loved hiking, and in late high school, I discovered I really enjoyed climbing, too. They were ways I could do physical activity, be outdoors, and build my strength without triggering asthma. I got some Five Fingers Shoes to hike and climb in. Toward the end of college, I found that the more I walked and the more time I spent on an elliptical machine, the better my breathing got, until I stopped using daily medication for it. I was feeling pretty good about myself and pushing myself harder and harder, not allowing myself to feel weak, until I fainted at the gym shortly after graduation. I spent the whole summer feeling lightheaded and dizzy and fearing I would faint again, until the doctors finally said I had orthostatic hypotension and gave me daily medication to raise my blood pressure. I was really afraid that if I pushed myself, I might faint again. I stopped going to the gym, and I moved to Wales to get my Master’s degree. After I’d been there a week, I got a cold, that turned into a sinus infection that didn’t really go away, that turned into bronchitis. I felt like I’d come full circle. I discovered that running in my Five Fingers was not as uncomfortable as running in regular shoes, but I couldn’t run for more than a couple minutes. I resigned myself to this limitation and didn’t try often. When I moved back to the US and back in with my parents, I put on my Fives and took advantage of the dry weather and nearby cemeteries, walking with bursts of jogging several times a week. One day, I started running and kept going; when I stopped and checked my watch, it had been 7 minutes. The next week, I jogged for 11 minutes; the next, for 14. When the weather got too cold, I went to the gym to use the treadmill, telling myself I wasn’t going to push myself so hard this time, that I was going to listen to my body, and aim for 30 minutes without stopping. I ran for 15, 20, 25, until a couple weeks ago I finally reached 30. Yeah, I went slow, but I kept going, and I did it without using an inhaler.
And now, I have a sinus infection. Nobody’s perfect. Our bodies are limited. But I can tell you, when I reached that 30-minute-mark, and I didn’t feel like I was going to die, I praised God. After 20 years of feeling physically inferior, it was a huge gift to make that slow 30-minute jog. I have never been seriously ill, so I can’t comment on that. What I can comment on is feeling like somehow, intrinsically, constantly, you can’t do. I felt like that…but I did something that, just a few months ago, I couldn’t fathom doing. I know I’ll never be an athlete, and I don’t intend to be one. I do intend to strive constantly to surpass my personal best, and to be able to manage my health without frequent doctor’s visits (props to doctors, though, because they’re awesome). I want to be healthy enough for God to use my life in whatever way he sees best.
My life – not just my physical health – has been a series of “I can’ts” and “I would never’s” that God utterly reversed. I hope that continues, and I hope that by sharing it I can encourage you to believe that he makes all things possible. Have faith!