Two-stepping in Austin this past March was when I first noticed the dull uncomfortable feeling in my right knee. By April, I stopped running because it had become painful. And by the middle of May, I had an appointment to go see an orthopedic sports medicine doctor who specializes in running injuries. My motivation to get this checked out was not only because I love to be active but also because of an upcoming trip to Tanzania that includes climbing Mt. Kilimanjoro. How could I walk up a mountain 19,340-feet tall if I couldn’t make it 3.6-miles from my apartment, around the park and back without pain?
Houston, we have a problem.
The doctor twisted and turned and poked my knee – OUCH! – ultimately sending me to physical therapy. Immediately upon arriving at physical therapy two days later, the physical therapist dude had me squat down on my good leg to see of what I was capable under normal, healthy circumstances and then asked me to do the same on the right side.
“Ahh, there’s the problem,” he said with complete confidence after about 3-minutes.
It was as if someone flashed a Vegas-style neon sign that only he could read, and there was no doubt that I had a problem. It was a problem caused by a bad habit, and that the process over the next couple of months to fix this would mean creating new habits.
How did one leg get so crooked? Why is it that those tendons hurt so much? What made it so week and unstable? And how is it that I managed to run consistently for years with this never before being a problem?
It just didn’t make sense because I couldn’t see it. But physical therapist dude could. Instantly. The problem was obvious. I had been running, playing tennis, walking, dancing and going to my cardio/weights class probably for months and making it worse. Squat by squat, step by step, spin by spin, I was morphing my perfectly good knee into a crooked mess.
It’s funny how bad habits begin. I think of those in my life that aren’t associated with my bad knee, wondering where and why and how did they first start? Sometimes it’s clear. It’s embarrassingly clear. So embarrassing that there’s no way I’d ever make it public on a blog. Some have been around to haunt me for decades. Some are newer, perhaps those I picked up in new life circumstances or because of new frustrations. Some, well, I’m not sure where they started, but they must have at some point because I can remember a time when they weren’t a problem. You know exactly what I mean, and you’re probably just as “oh geez, please don’t ask me about that,” as I am.
(It’s OK. I think that it’s normal. Or at least let’s go with that thought so we all don’t feel crazy.)
The more terrifying part of these habits is that they are probably as blazingly obvious to those all around us as my crooked knee was to physical therapist dude. When I run and hit a tennis ball and two-step, my eyes are not looking down. They’re looking ahead, focused on the ball or looking at my dance partner. Why would I look down? I’m run into enough things with my clumsy self. I don’t need more of a reason to do that. And even if I were looking down, I couldn’t see my knee like someone else could. I never even considered the idea that it was striking crooked.
Yet now that I’ve been told, it’s all that I see. I even spent $5.99+tax on a full-length mirror in which to do my physical therapy homework to make sure that my leg is straight. The twice I’ve been allowed to run 10-minutes, I looked down every few seconds to make sure we were “all good.”
The two times I’ve been to physical therapy these past few weeks, I find myself saying, “but that feels funny.” I’m quickly reminded by physical therapist dude that “it’s suppose to – you’re muscles are learning a new habit.” New?! Excuse me, I ran for a decade plus regularly without such problems. This shouldn’t be new.
But it is. And it’s a problem. The healthy normal was infested by the unhealthy normal and must return to the healthy normal again for me to walk or do any fun activities without pain. So why does this whole process have to feel so…well, not normal?
It’s an awkward and painful process because bad habits are created slowly when we compromise something for a short cut, laziness or a “little” thing that doesn’t seem like such a big bad sinful mess. Perhaps my knee problem was caused because my IT band was a little tight so I subconsciously compensated by shifting how my leg hit the ground? Perhaps, if I had noticed and did something about that, the bad habit would have never developed? But it did, and now the new normal hurts.
Recently, I’ve noticed that two habits – good ones – in my life had become “things that I use to do.” I caught myself talking about these things as if I still do them and felt fake, never admitting that out loud. They’re habits that hug my heart, outflows of who I was made to be. But fear and laziness got the best of me. I let those fears and that laziness grow into imaginary monsters that I believed were true. I let them overcome my thoughts and time until the habits had disappeared.
And I don’t like that. I don’t like me who I am without these things in my life. I told a few people about these two things and my desire to return to my normal, and the response was similar to when physical therapist dude looked at my knee, “duh.”
But it’s a good “ouch” feeling. Noticing the problem is important, and returning to the old normal feels uncomfortable. But it’s good. I want a new normal. A better normal. The best normal that there could be for me.
I often blog and speak about writing a better story, and if you’ve read previous blogs, you know I got that line from Donald Miller, so I’m not taking credit for the phrasing. But the idea isn’t new. Since Adam and Eve were created, God has been desperately attempting for us to RSVP “yes” to His invitation to write the best story ever. He desires us to feel full of life. He desires us to trust him with the big stuff and find peace. One of my favorite things that Jesus says (although, c’mon, it’s a little weird to rank what is said by the God who created and is master of the universe, don’t you think?) is that He came to give us life and life to the full. It’s true. He came because he loves so seriously ridiculously that He’d do anything to get our attention. It’s pretty awesome, if you think about it; read a Bible. It’s in John 10:10. It’s in a parable. He wants good things for us. The response to this invitation is where it might get a little uncomfortable, but it’s always wroth it.