For Mormons, the twice yearly conference is a chance to refocus on the gospel by taking time out from the normal hubbub of life to listen to 12 hours’ worth of talks by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I always look forward to it as a weekend to relax, to spend time with family, and to watch church in my pajamas while lying down on the basement floor.
Comfort food also seems to be a universal Conference tradition among Mormon families, and we spent the weekend indulging in chocolates and banana muffins while we watched. I also made a tri-tip roast on the grill. I’m getting better at that, and it’s a surprisingly easy cut of meat to cook. It also tastes wonderful with very little fuss (I use just salt and pepper). And they turn out beautifully picturesque. Unfortunately, we always seem to eat them up before remembering to take a picture.
Looking ahead to the good food and the family time, I was eager to relax and enjoy the weekend. Of course, no matter how you slice it, 12 hours of televised conference is a whole lot more tiring and cumbersome than just three hours of regular church. So, now that it’s over, I wouldn’t really say that I’m rested. But I’m certainly rejuvenated.
As always, I found that a couple of the talks seemed like they were just exactly what I needed to hear. Dieter Uchtdorf started the Saturday morning session talking about the busyness of our lives and the way that so many of us feel unfulfilled, even in the gospel. He’s capably visited this theme before. And, as he does so well, he was able to distill his council into just two pieces of advice: simplify and start where you are.
He said, “Sometimes we feel discouraged because we are not more of something: more spiritual, more respected, more intelligent, more healthy, more rich, more friendly, or more capable. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve. God created us to grow and progress. But remember, our weaknesses can help us to be humble and turn us to Christ, who will make weak things become strong.”
It’s been just over six weeks since the laparoscopic surgery to remove my gall bladder. That’s a simple procedure, and the recovery has been smooth. No complications, no infections, no hernias. Plus my health has been wonderful. I can eat and enjoy food more than ever before. It actually makes me realize that I was sick for the past two decades and didn’t realize it. All in all, I have no reason to complain.
But I’m not strong anymore.
For the past year, I’d been building up my strength with consistent, disciplined hard work. And I was getting pretty strong. In fact, the week of my sudden illness and surgery, I had planned on trying to test my strength by going for a personal best in the bench press. I might not have made it, and now I’ll never know. But just the fact that I was considering it is notable since I haven’t achieved a personal best in over 14 years!
Following the surgery, my body weakened dramatically from eating less, not exercising, and spending lots of time in bed. Not only am I now nowhere near the range of personal best, I’m probably the weakest I’ve been in my adult life. My 13-year-old daughter can lift more weight than I can.
That hurts. And not just because of my ego. It also changes the way that I interact with the world as a provider and protector of my family. A little while after the surgery, Wendy and I went to the grocery store to buy some snacks. When we walked down the chips and beer isle, there were three drunk men, each much older and smaller than me. They were being rowdy, which always puts me on edge. But instead of my normal response—bracing enthusiastically for the potential brawl—I just whispered to Wendy, “please pick some chips and let’s get out of here before there’s any trouble!”
We went back to the gym last week for the first time since the surgery. The results were so devastating that I left the gym crying and couldn’t stop for over an hour. When I complained about it on Facebook, I got an outpouring of uplifting support. One friend in particular—who I knew in junior high school but is now a plastic surgeon—chided me for pushing it too fast and then buoyed me up with careful encouragement: “Rick! Your body is deconditioned. This is 100% normal after surgery, especially abdominal surgery. You need not to be so hard on yourself. Start slow and build up. It took time to decondition, it’s going to take time to recondition.”
It was a great reminder, and it primed me for Elder Uchtdorf’s council: start where you are!
We went back to the gym twice this week. I walked on the treadmill at a pretty good pace, but didn’t jog yet. We did light weights on the first night and then we swam the second night. The swimming was particularly good. I got a great workout, felt like I challenged myself, and didn’t feel any strain or discomfort at my surgical puncture sites.
I’m not strong yet. It will probably be months and months before I am. But I’ve realized that this weakness is just like so many others I have and live with. I’m not as organized as I wish I were. I lose my temper. I still sometimes use swear words that I abhor. The list is pretty long.
For each of these all-too-familiar weaknesses, I know that I have a long way to go. But I can get a little better every day. And someday, if I work hard enough and exercise my faith, my weaknesses may actually become my strengths.
So too with my actual, physical strength. It’s not where it used to be. But I’m finally feeling okay about starting where I am.