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A slow creak breaks the silence in the house as I climb up the narrow, wooden stairs to my parents’ attic. The heavy door to the attic lays overhead, and it opens to so many memories. As I push it open and hook the string around the handle, I feel the humid air immediately plaster onto my face. I begin searching for some clothes I want to donate and other boxes I want to move to my future home with my fiancé.

The previous week, in the silence of my car, radio off, all I could picture as I thought about how desperately I miss my dad’s voice, was a small shoe box I wasn’t sure I even still owned. I had designated this box as special, and I used it for all my cards and letters from family. I do not even remember what shoes came inside, but the box was white with multi-colored polk-a-dots, a pink handle and pink clasps that snapped shut. As I sorted through my boxes in the attic, I hadn’t expected to find the shoe box, but there it was. The memories immediately washed over me like a tidal wave.

As Huntington’s Disease has progressed in my father’s body, I increasingly long to know what is still in his mind. I   often find myself thinking how much I miss the man I grew up with. Those words are the hardest to think, let alone to admit and type. Where is the man I grew up with, the man who sang along to every oldies song as we cruised around in his old red Thunderbird. Though his inhibitions have changed and his outward body doesn’t work the way he wants it to, I know so much more is going on than he can express. I can just feel it so deeply.

I see this whenever he sees my uncle Mark, his brother who was the first diagnosed with HD. Every time my dad sees Mark, he makes a b-line to greet him. The affiliation was especially noticeable to me at my cousin’s wedding last month. It is in those moments I know my Dad is and always will be my Dad. He is there. He needs to be understood. And though I miss the laughter and the smile that used to be so often on his face, that man still exists in a very real way.

I saw a glimpse of that also as we listened to Blues Brothers music and other oldies with another Uncle and Aunt and my mom. I saw my dad laugh and smile for the first time in an extremely long time. And I was thankful.

And then there are these letters, letters from 1993 and 1994, when I was just seven and eight years old. These letters he wrote on his work trips, especially to Texas, and one from a boy scout camp. His written words meant so much to me then, but I never knew how much I would appreciate them now. I would never imagine how desperate a daughter could be for her father’s words and to know who he is inside. Not past tense, still is. And who he ALWAYS will be, because the lessons he taught me are there at all times.

The words from one letter really brought that home to me:

Please keep me in your prayers and I will keep praying for you.

He meant those words so sincerely.

Dad, I have and will always pray for you. You not only were my hero growing up, you still are. You have always been such a quiet-spoken man. Until now, though, I never knew the strength of your words. Thank you. Then. Now. Always. I love you. Every day is Father’s Day to me, because you are always in my heart. The letters you once wrote that little girl are still the words I cling to because I will always have those moments. I will have your written words in my heart even when your hand fails to allow you to write.

 

 

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Nothing can prepare you for that moment. dad-edit

The moment your mom calls and tells you one of your greatest heroes is diagnosed with a fatal disease. At first, the words don’t even sink in. For months, they don’t sink in.

You cannot prepare for it because no journey is ever the same. Not one single person experiences the diagnosis in the same way and not one diagnosis is the same in any one person.

Not only was my Dad, my hero, diagnosed with a fatal disease but with a genetic brain disorder. The implications of which have absolutely no end. A disease that behaves so vastly differently in each person who possesses it, indeed, a disease that will affect two of my heroes, my parents.

Huntington’s Disease, the reason my eyes release a flood of tears every time I hear the lyrics of Phil Wickham’s song “You’re Beautiful:”

When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing
You’re beautiful

I long to feel that hope on days like this.

As I sit here in the near dark, candles lit, replaying the actions of the day in my head, I try to process my emotions of the last four to six months. These last months in which I have finally had to face the emotions I have been suppressing for two years. Today was hard. Really hard.

“I can’t,” he said.

Words I don’t remember coming out of my Dad’s mouth often, if ever. Yet he uttered those words today…more than once. And he dropped the left hand that was holding dumbbells for bench press not once, but twice.

As much as our family fights the “I can’t” feelings, the urge to give in to thoughts of what the future might be, of what the present might become, yet Huntington’s Disease will look you in the eye and force you to face it.

This week has proved to be two of the most difficult days I have had training my Father. His fighting spirit has always been evident and his quiet determination has guided more people than he knows.

Over the last few weeks, however, he has gone through a medication change. And that change hasn’t gone well. Even though we don’t talk about it, my mom and I both have had to face what the future holds. And it’s terrifying. (I love you, Mom, always in my heart, I hope you know that.)

I don’t talk much about this to anyone. There are five or less people I speak candidly with regarding my Dad and Huntington’s Disease. However, the thoughts are present every day. And every time I train my Dad I fight back tears or wandering thoughts. Some sessions more than others.  And mostly I do what I’m sure my Dad is doing, force myself to focus on how to conquer this disease in every way we can.

This is something I usually keep to myself. I don’t want pity for my Dad or for myself. I don’t want people’s “everything happens for a reason” or “praying for you” or “just remember what your Dad can do.” Although these things are all good thoughts and I’m not unthankful for them, I am not seeking them as a response. I desire something more than that from this.

Better outcomes for his future. Better outcomes for the future of my family who will ALL be faced by a 50/50 chance of having this disease. And more education about what HD is and how you can help.

Huntington’s Disease is a horrifying diagnosis – a genetic brain disorder that will affect absolutely everything a person does, thinks, feels, and how they will die. That word…death. I despise every piece of educational material that describes HD as an “ugly death.” And there are many of those.

And still, words of hope reach me today through gift two clients gave me. This gift was given to me just an hour before I would struggle through this session with Dad. Neither of us knew just how much I would need it.

As seen in the picture, it’s a coloring Bible. As I turned to the page where my favorite verse is written, I happened to flip a page too far to this verse:bible-edit

“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sign, it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us hi Holy Spirit.”

So next time you see someone with Huntington’s Disease (or any such diagnosis), approach them and their families with empathy not pity, not sympathy, but empathy. Your stares speak volumes, your silence will speak volumes, and your negligence will speak volumes.

Do not let that be the voice those who are affected by HD hear. Look beneath the surface, there is always more going on in someone’s life than you realize. Come alongside each of them and LIVE. Huntington’s Disease may have no bodily cure and only experimental treatments in the medical realm, but there is plenty we can do in the form of education, walking with one another, and reaching out a helping hand.

Follow the example my Dad has always given, persevere and do everything within your power to fight and be the good in the world.

Swim Pretty

Girl Edit Water rushes over her tight silicone swim cap, the one she wore for her years on the Roosevelt middle school swim team. The aqua cap still squeezes tightly around her skull with the white Speedo logo showing clearly on each side. Everything drains to complete silence under the splash and immediate whir of the water. Enveloped in silence and peace, her hands glide across the tiles lining the cement floor of the pool.

As water pockets itself between her ears and the cap, she kicks up to the surface, gliding one hand after the other gently along the surface of the water. An arc of water frames her face as she tucks her chin to shoulder, swallowing in a deep breath of air. Muscles tighten and therapeutically release. Every ounce of her headache quickly fades from existence. Ribs lengthen with every stroke, hip flexors contract and relax with every kick, and with every breath she releases all her cares.

When one’s greatest passion and hobby becomes one’s career, passion is often easily lost. About a year and a half ago, I left my salary career in Sioux Falls, SD, which I had received right out of college. There, I was utilizing my major in Communications: Journalism and even my minor in Music: Performance. Yet, when I was finally finding joy in this town after cutting out negativity and moving forward from naïve life choices, I decided to move back home.

Although I had a rather large sum of reasons for moving, the two major reasons were to spend time with my family (particularly as my dad had been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease) and to pursue my dream to ignite the same passion in others that I had discovered for myself: lifting. I will never regret this decision or its timing. I have never doubted that I made the right choice, regardless of my own self doubt of my talent, skills, or even failures.

Quite literally, one song was the last deciding factor in my decision. And this song, very perfectly, speaks about water:

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

Throughout my newfound position in life, I have had numerous tumultuous experiences. Being a personal trainer and a business owner, does not guarantee that every day feels full of sunshine.

But in these moments at the pool in the last few months, I have recalled my roots both in life and in my work. As I walk into that old, dank, paint chipped room with a small, shallow, quiet pool – I am reminded of who I am. The water delivers recollections of the gifts I have in this life. The water is my new safe haven. No one is there judging my form, I am not analyzing the rate of my strokes or what I have to accomplish or whether I am good enough. Everything suddenly just simply exists.

My middle school swim team memories come rushing back to mind as I remember constantly making excuses to get out the pool and not finish a lap. Making excuses for foot cramps and tummy aches. I remember how the old me would never lift ten pounds, let alone 300+ pounds. As the water surrounds me, so does this feeling of peace. And this safe haven tells me it is okay for lifting to remain a safe haven, as well. With this safe place, I remember why I absolutely adore what I am able to do on a daily basis, that it’s not a career or making a living, it is life – for me and my clients/friends. This peace reminds me to maintain persistence, but not to lose passion. The water reminds me to be confident in solitude and in the noise of this world.

An elderly woman with a beautiful smile approached me after my swim today, and kindly said, “You swim so pretty.” I could not stop smiling, I knew I may look like I swim “pretty” because I have joy there. Keep the joy in your actions and it will manifest itself in a beautiful life. Everything is truly is simple or as complicated as you choose to make it.

Thus, today and every day as we dive into the waters of life, when the waves surround us, keep reaching forward and swim pretty.

No Ordinary Moments 2

Wonderment. Marvel. Awe.

We reach an age when we lose the ability to take in the world. We strive to hold on to what we have and to gain even 0622151709more. Appreciation slips through our fingers like sand drifting out with the tide. We go and go until we start to reach this point we call “burn out.” Flailing our arms, struggling to grasp hold of something, some sort of rest and appreciation. But we have lost the natural ability for those things.

The emotions that come naturally to children as they gaze up at the sky and see clouds resembling recently discovered real-life objects. As they look at the water swirling and giggle in delight, feeling it run over their toes. When they look through the dark night sky, their eyes lighting up at the sight of sparkling stars.

We lose that in the city lights, the buzz of cars driving by, the flurry of the windshield wipers on a rainy day. Eyes peeled trying to peer through the raindrops to reach our destination on time. The raindrops we used to splash through and snowflakes we used to catch on our tongues. We see rain and snow and obsess over the ways in which it will interrupt our perfectly planned travel time, arranged specifically to carry out our jam packed schedules.

Yesterday, I failed a 325lb deadlift. Since then, I have been mulling over where I went wrong, beating myself up for not being stronger and better. Instead of enjoying what my body can do, I look for all the holes in my training. We post lifts and meet results riddled with a myriad of disclaimers and excuses. Statuses full of self-defenses with proclamations of, “Good, but___,” such as, “Good, but nowhere near where I want to be.” Deep down, we hope for approval, search for words of affirmation, and long for shallow accolades.

We neglect our gift – the gift to be, to do, to grow, and to marvel. We take for granted our time and the time of people we meet. Treating others as visitors and passers-by. A person is no longer 3-D, just a “like” on Facebook or Instagram, some “follower” or “friend.” We have stopped sharing our lives in person, as part of each others’ lives – as participants not just commentators.

Yet every second of each day is a wonderment in its own right. We should excuse less and express more. “Like” less band love on people, things, and moments more. Consume less and appreciate what exists more. This lifestyle has nothing to do with settling, it’s about paying attention to the details in what we have been given and not just what we are pursuing.

There is a power of expression in everything occurring around us. Do not dismiss it as the natural course of things. Do not lose it in the greed for more and the love of self-loathing dressed in the guise of humility. Breathe it in.

Right where I want to be – wonderment, marvel, awe.

Lifting to Live

She wraps each finger individually, pressing her hands firmly into the ridges as her hands grip the cold steel bar. Back arched, shoulders dug deep into the bench, feet rooted into the ground, back set to bear the weight. Chalked grip and wrapped wrists, she lifts the bar off the rack. Gulping a deep breath of air, setting it tightly into the depths of her stomach as the energy from that breath pulses into her whole body.

“Start, press, rack,” the judge yells out the signals.

It’s about that weight in her hands, that heavy feeling digging her back even deeper into the bench. The weight that bears down above while she’s flat on her back. It’s that analogy for life.

Pushing off whatever burden pressing on you in life when you’re down. You don’t stop. You don’t let it crush you. The weight comes down, you control the rate, setting yourself against the burden as it presses against you…and you don’t stop there. You push back. You conquer, you get stronger, you don’t give in no matter how much heavier each set gets. And you get better. Every time.

It’s the world of powerlifting. We choose to take the weight, to pick it up, bury it, push it, rise up with it on our backs. People ask what future powerlifting will give you. They wonder what possible benefit powerlifting brings to your career, your goals, your purpose.

Life. That’s what.chalk

Motivation, drive, determination, and perseverance. An unwillingness to settle for the mediocre. A desire to pursue your worth. A discovery of what you’re made of and who you can overcome – yourself.

You learn to take the pain, deal with it, improve yourself, and become stronger than you ever thought possible. Taking the impossible that life gives you, translating it into that bar in your hands. Whether it’s choosing to pick it up off the ground and bury it. Taking it on your back and choosing to set your body against it and stand back up. Or taking the weight lying on your back, pushing it back up, and rising in triumph.

It’s the community. When you ask for a lift off, a spotter, someone to give you feedback on what you can improve. People who are driven. Who have learned to persevere no matter what life hands them. They stand up for you, not against you. They yell for you, not at you. They support you not only physically but mentally, even emotionally. With each rep, telling you to commit to it, put energy into it, to own it and overcome.

Try to take fame or money to the grave – you’ll fail. But this you can do, be better than yesterday, every day. There are bad lifting days. Days when the same 300lbs that felt easy a week ago feels like 600lbs. But you learn to take every day in stride. And you conquer yourself in that moment. To lift up those around you to push through the pain, the struggle, the self doubt, fear of failure, and weaknesses. People will forget what you said, your records will be broken by others, but they won’t forget how you made them feel. The seeds you plant, the inspiration and encouragement you feed into others could change a life. Your life lets those around you know they can handle whatever comes against them, and more.

One powerlifter, mentor, coach said to me “Extreme Aggression. Extreme Calm. They are worthless without each other.”

And that’s a lesson you can take into the rest of life. A lesson that will carry into future generations. Because we all have bad days, but we all must learn to push back and conquer. To stand up no matter how heavy the weight feels. To be relentless.

Powerlifting. Forget mediocrity, know your worth, and go after the impossible.

impossible

Stand Up

The walls are up. Bricks carefully…thoroughly…layered with cement. Standing about 20 feet thick, built after the battle, chips where others tried to tear it down, ladders where they tried to climb over….and footprints of those who succeeded, but left. The spots where they entered were quickly covered up and the barriers reinforced. A wall to protect one. A wall to keep out the wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, to ward off enemies, to stand against the opposition. The wall built around one thing – Me.

These past few months, the wall came down bit by bit. A wall I built to deal with life’s battles, some battles close friends know about and some that no one knows. Battles of all types: physical, mental, emotional.

Over the years, I had built a calloused approach to relationships and emotions….a wall of sarcastic pessimism. But that wall started to come down in the heat of emotions and under the potential of relationships. After four years of turmoil, I was moving from a place where I had finally become comfortable. I had finally made amazing friends, people I really cared for, a church I loved, a job that had changed my life, and memories. As the moving date approached, I was confronted with a mixture of joy and sorrow.

Since I moved, finances have been drowning me and others have had to pick up the slack before it all falls apart. Relationships, and promises, have been formed and broken. This blow hurts even worse when you’re not someone who easily allows people into your life anymore, at all. And I began to feel deep regret for making the choice to let certain people break down my wall. I’ve been regretting the risk. Asking myself daily if I made a mistake, where God wants me, what I can do to save this life.

I’ve been working hard, but not as hard as I could be. I’ve been trying to be grateful for my absolutely amazing family, friends, and opportunities, but remaining selfish. Taking naps to shut down. I smile brightly in public and cry in private, like so many of us do.

But today was different. I woke up from a nap with one thought:

I haven’t been drug through hell in this life to quit now. My family hasn’t stood by for me to ignore them and take them for granted.brick My feet may feel, but I had asked God to take me into deep waters, trusting Him to hold me up. I had lost sight of that.

I’ve been blessed to overcome much more than this. Why stop now? Another day, another barrier, that’s how we get strong, by shattering the barriers. By standing up when we get knocked down.

As I stress and struggle, as I lose people who I thought would be in my life longer, one thought has been in the back of my mind:

All over the world, people are hurting like me, no, even MORE and with more legitimate reason than me. I was not created to mope, to mourn loss, to wallow in self-pity and doubt.

One thing we can be sure of in life, it will be hard.

But we are promised something even greater, it will be worth it.

Loneliness is a choice. We choose if we surround ourselves with quality people. We choose whether we let minor flaws, lack of effort, and fear of loss separate us from those people. And we choose to create a joyful, grateful existence. We are surrounded by people we CAN trust, who are always there, who go unappreciated. We choose whether we see them and appreciate them. Loneliness and defeat are not dictated by circumstances, but by our choices in how we deal with them, and even more by the attitude we carry through life. There is always a bright side, but we have to choose the path where the sun shines. It’s work, get over it.

So as I have been attempting to build up the wall around me yet again, this time it will have a door – both for coming and going. Because we are not called to sit inside a wall of self-protection and self-service. Be selective in who you let in, yes. But more than that, step outside the wall, look for who you can love on, serve with your hands, lead with your feet, and let your actions speak louder than words. And stand up. Choose to be unstoppable.

unstoppable

I used resistance bands and/or luggage for some of these. einstein

Repeat 3x

  • 25 Jump Squats
  • 20 Hammer Curls
  • 15 Tricep Extensions
  • 30 Jumping Jacks

Repeat 3x

  • 60 seconds Jump Rope
  • 20 Front Raises
  • 15 Resistance Band Pull Aparts
  • 10 Each Side Lunges

Repeat 3x

  • 25 Jump Squats
  • 20 Rows
  • 15 Side Raises
  • 10 Jump Lunges

This one is a bit of a lengthy routine. This can be altered by only doing each round one time. I called it the Freaky Five Hundred atdetermined the time.

Round 1 – repeat 4x

  • 25 push-ups
  • 25 crunches
  • 25 squats

Jump rope 2 minutes

Round 2 – repeat 4x

  • 25 inverted push-ups
  • 25 sit-ups
  • 25 jump squats

Jump rope 2 minutes

Round 3 – repeat 4x

  • 25 dips
  • 25 side plank dips
  • 25 sumo squats

Jump rope 2 minutes

Round 5 – repeat 4x

  • 25 push-ups
  • 25 side crunches each side
  • 25 lunges

Jump rope – 2 minutes

Round 6 – repeat 4x

  • 25 diamond push-ups
  • 25 v-ups
  • 25 side lunges

Jump rope 2 minutes

 

setbackSome of these movements can easily be completed with resistance bands. I used resistance bands and my luggage, once again, as I was in a hotel room in a developing country.

Repeat this 4 times and follow with Ab Routine

  • 20 Pendulum Lunges each side
  • 20 Bicep Curls
  • 20 Tricep Kickbacks (can substitute dips)
  • 20 Donkey Kicks
  • 20 Lat Spread (with resistance band)
  • 20 Side Lunges each
  • 20 Lateral Raises each (with resistance band)

Ab Routine – repeat 3 times

  • 25 oblique crunches
  • 15 leg raises
  • 25 regular crunches
  • 30 second plank

Again, this can be modified with number of repetitions for each round or reducing difficulty of movements, such as doing push-ups on your knees. Enjoy!

Round 1 – repeat 2-3x

  • 25 push-ups
  • 25 sit-ups (could substitute planks for 30 seconds)
  • 25 squats

Jump rope 1 minute

Round 2 – repeat 2-3x

  • 25 inverted push-ups (feet propped on a higher object, could also do wall push-ups)
  • 25 oblique crunches
  • 25 sumo squats

Jump rope 1 minute

Round 3 – Repeat Round 1, 2-3x

Jump rope 1 minute

Round 4 – Repeat Round 2, 2-3x

Jump rope 1 minute
success