When we first arrived overseas, I was desperate for a means of managing my stress level. Words are hardly adequate to describe how much my world had changed. Outside of having my husband and child with me (Elijah was 5 months old), everything around me was completely different from what I had ever known. Immersed in a strange, new culture, eating strange, new food, and trying to learn a strange, new language was only the tip of the iceberg. I had SO many questions, but could hardly communicate at all.
More than anything else, I needed personal space – someplace that belonged only to me. In Asia, the idea of personal space is non-existent. Crowds of people are everywhere. In our small one-stoplight town, people pointed at, crowded around, and laughed at us everywhere we went. Even our small on-campus apartment was no reprieve – our househelper lived with us, our neighbors were always coming over, even our shower was crowded with lizards seeking a mosquito snack. …. As a means of survival, I began to get up early to go for a run several mornings each week. We were living in a stifling, hot, tropical climate, so leaving later than 7 am meant sure misery. Going out early meant that the streets were much less crowded, allowing me to move comfortably and without being noticed. I am not a fast runner, but I was usually well past the people before they could identify me as a foreigner and make a scene. I would pound the pavement in those early morning hours, blasting praise music and asking Father to give me a heart for these people.
At that point, my focus was not so much on the exercise, but rather on its “side effects.” Yes, the exercise was good for me, but what I NEEDED was time and space to myself. With no gym or otherwise quiet spot to go to, running became my rest. As long as I kept moving, I could remove myself from the culture that overwhelmed me. As the years passed and our location changed, this routine held. Getting up early and pushing myself through another run set me up for a much more productive day than I would have otherwise had. The time alone was precious. As our family grew and the demands of motherhood with it, I looked forward to time away to feed myself on sermons or music or praying. I would return home before the kids awoke, ready to face the day.
I began to notice that I really LIKED exercise at times when I couldn’t do it. At times we would travel for weeks at a stretch, and being in a new city or a tropical climate where the heat and humidity were enough to send you into heat stroke, I would not be able to exercise as I was used to doing. On those mornings, my legs would ache to get moving, yet I was forced to wait until we were back home to do what I was learning to like. Not only was my body restless, but I found that my moods were more unpredictable than normal and I felt sluggish and lazy. Beginning each day with exercise started things off in a way that it made me much more likely to be disciplined in other areas of my life, too.
About this time, there was tons of research coming out about the value of endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals that are released into our blood after a hard bout of exercise. I remember reading those articles and thinking to myself, “Yes, that is true! That is how I feel after I exercise, too!” The effect of endorphins is powerful. As one who has struggled since high school with periods of depression, even being on medicine at one time, the idea of an “exercise high” that is long-lasting, free, and helps boost my metabolism sounds like a win/win/win to me! This strengthened my resolve to continue getting up and getting out in the mornings.
There was a time when Nate and Noah were both little that I was struggling with getting enough rest at night and also spending time with Jesus in the mornings. Rather than getting up early to have my quiet time and exercise, I switched my workout time to the afternoons when the boys were napping. This freed up my mornings for quality time with Him, but two or three o’clock in the afternoon is the body’s natural down time, so I found myself always fighting against my natural tendency to rest or be quiet. On most days I could push myself, but it was much less enjoyable. I also found myself getting frustrated when I had to take two showers a day. I am a shower-first-thing-in-the-morning kinda girl and also a shower-right-after-I-workout kinda girl, too! This seemed like a colossal waste of time and hot water, not to mention the time it took to get dressed and do my hair and make-up AGAIN. Fed up with feeling like I was never fitting in everything that I needed to do in a day, I committed to going to bed early and getting up early so I could fit in both QT and exercise without short-changing myself or my family.
This has been the best decision I ever made! It has been much easier than I ever expected. Part of this, I think, is because I am naturally not a night owl. I like to sleep, and I NEED consistent, quality sleep. Since I was very young, I have enjoyed being up early in the morning, sipping on coffee, reading, and preparing for my day. Even in college, I never stayed up past 11 because I always had to get up early to teach an aerobics class before heading off to my academic classes. When my boys were much younger I would stay up late telling myself that this was finally “my time.” On close examination, I found that though I was attempting to get meaningful things done, the truth was my brain and body were tired, and I would be much wiser to go to bed and then get up earlier in the mornings to do those things. It took a while to get my body completely transitioned, but it has been SO worth it. During the week I go to bed between 10 and 10:30 and get up about 5. This allows me at least two hours of quiet in the mornings before anyone is allowed to be up with me. I can fit in two cups of coffee, a thorough quiet time, and an un-hurried workout before I hear the sound of little feet:)