Look Out For Mailboxes!

Palzewism # 14: My Learning Curve is a FlatLine!

One of the more interesting aspects of having Cerebral Palsy is the lack of Muscle Memory.  Muscle Memory is defined as “the ability to repeat a specific muscular movement with improved efficiency and accuracy that is acquired through practice and repetition” (Miriam Webster, www.merriam-webster.com ).  In layman terms this means that the more times we perform a task, the less conscious thought we must exert to perform it.  Many use the phrase “It’s just like riding a bike!”.

I never understood that because learning to ride a bike was slow and sometimes, quite painful, process.  I could not ride anything less than three wheels until I was 10 years old. In addition, I could not stop anything with two wheels until I was 12 years old!  

Those two years between were quite painful indeed.  When I started out, I had to make very sure the bike was heading in the right direction.  I could accelerate, but steering seemed a problem, as my right hand had a tendency of over-correcting whatever the left hand was trying to accomplish.  The result seemed like a slow-motion accident as my bicycle slowly veered toward a mailbox or a large bush or tree. Everyone, including me, could predict the outcome.  People would start yelling that I should turn the handlebars left and my brain agreed every single time. Neurons left my brain at regular intervals toward my left arm with the simplest of commands “Turn Left Or Die!”.  The messages did not matter in tone or frequency, because there simply wasn’t enough time. In most cases, the crash would occur in about ten seconds. In the average person, this is plenty of time to correct the situation.  

But this is not the case for a young boy with Cerebral Palsy.  In these situations, my brain and body decide it’s time to have a little chat that goes something like this:

10 Seconds

Brain: Ok, here’s the situation.  On your right is a large mailbox, white with just a hint of rust.  It is attached to a 4-foot wooden beam cemented in the ground. Now, given our present level of knowledge and experience, I have deduced that

  1. The mailbox will not be getting out of the way this time
  2. It is a permanent structure that can endure significantly more damage than your ninety eight pound body can deliver and
  3. This is really going to hurt!

So, I recommend at this time that you make a course correction to the left and center yourself parallel to the right side of the road.

BODY:  ….

9 seconds

Brain: In case I did not make it clear, you need to veer left in order to avoid damage to yourself and possibly me when you concuss into that large mailbox.

BODY: Mailbox?

8 Seconds

Brain: Yes, Mailbox!  Welcome to the conversation.  You should turn left to avoid the mailbox.

BODY: Left?

7 seconds

Brain:  I apologize.  I should have said your “other right”! Is that more helpful?

BODY: Left.

6 Seconds

Brain: Yes!  Good Boy! Turn the bike “Left” to avoid pain and death.

BODY: Left?

5 Seconds

Brain:  Give me a break! TURN LEFT NOW OR BE DESTROYED!

Body: Left! Right?

4 Seconds

Brain: Are you asking me if Left is the correct choice or if turning RIGHT would be a viable option?

BODY:  Yes

3 Seconds

Brain: Yes what?  I want you to Turn Left NOW!

Body: Left Now, Right?

2 Seconds

Brain: AAARGH!  If you damage me, I swear I’ll never speak to you again!

BODY: OK, Bye for now

1 Second

Brain ….

Body: Oh my, I seem to be headed to a rather large mailbox.  I should probably steer left and…


Now, that scenario continued to happen for about two years.  I often wonder if the neighbors thought I was a junior version of Don Quixote, tilting at mailboxes instead of windmills! But, the more I rode,  the frequency of that disaster would decrease from daily to weekly. Eventually, it stopped happening as my body “learned” how to handle that scenario.

There is a learning curve to every physical task, from walking a straight line to driving a car.  In the average person, those tasks are controlled by Muscle Memory. No matter how long it has been since you have engaged in an activity, your body remembers the repetitions of the event and carries on as if no time has passed.  In contrast, I have to learn a task anew every time a significant amount of time has passed. My wife has often said that is why she would rather drive because I have to learn to operate a vehicle all over again.

I have spent a large chunk of my life trying to control my muscles and some would argue that I have a very liberal definition of “control”.  One thing I have learned is to predict outcomes and handle expectations. For example, when a person wants to toss something to me, I inform them that I need to be notified three days in advance and in writing if they expect me to catch the item.  

Spiritual Muscle Memory

One muscle “task” that I have been learning to control is the use of my SPIRITUAL muscle.  As with my other muscles, this learning curve has often been a flat line.

As a school teacher, I have off every summer for three months.  My district doesn’t pay teachers over that time off, so my INCOME just becomes OUTGONE! More often than not, two weeks into the summer I begin to panic.  Will the money last or will it run out? What if we have a major expense? The doubts keep piling up. Now, I have been through this over 25 summers and never once had we had to skip a meal or lost a valuable possession for non-payment. We always catch up on our bills and even emergencies seem to take care of themselves. God has never abandoned us, not once! But I still tend to doubt every summer as if this is the first time this has ever happened to us.

If you look at the events in the Bible, there are several individuals and groups who seem to have the flat line learning curve. Many would see a miracle one day and doubt the next, as in the case with the Israelites and Moses. They were hungry, so they got Manna from heaven. After a while, they became complacent and demanded a variety on the menu! No matter how much God had provided for them, they always feared when the next shortage occurred.

John the Baptist started off preaching that the Messiah was coming soon and even identified Jesus as “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” in Matthew 3:1. But then in Matthew 11:3, he instructs his disciples to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” He knew for sure who the Messiah was, but then seemed to forget that fact later when his expectations of “Messiah” wasn’t matching up to how Jesus’s ministry was proceeding

Like our physical muscles, our spiritual muscles must be exercised in order to grow stronger.  

Spiritual Exercise

How do you increase your spiritual muscle memory?  Just like a human muscle, this requires exercise, which is just another term for repetition.   I suggest starting a prayer journal. A prayer journal is just like it sounds, a record of every prayer you send up to God. The trick is to place a check mark next to everyone that gets answered. Remember, even a “No” is an answer!  Shortly, you will see how “.. we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

After a short time, you will begin to see all the “mailboxes” you have avoided.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, help us to always remember your goodness and grace that you have poured out upon us.  Help our Spiritual Muscles strengthen until they are so powerful, we can accomplish all things through you! Amen!!

3 thoughts on “Look Out For Mailboxes!

  1. Love the blog Ken. A prayer journal is a great idea, thanks!


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