Down and Halfway Up: Thoughts on Strength


The problem with strength is that we have to break down first to acquire it. And then, when it comes, it sneaks into us in minuscule, microscopic measure, so teeny and so tiny it’s impossible to see for a very long time. And the problem with needing strength, of course, is that we’re terribly weak when we’re the most desperate for it.

FYI, this is not the system I would create if I were elected God. Then again, I insist most days on being reclusive and introverty and I’m usually no good to anyone after 8pm or before 7am so I’ve decided not to run for God at this time, and we’ll just have to put up with the crappy way of acquiring strength a little longer.

I have two pairs of workout pants, neither of which holds my stretch marks to my satisfaction. I lift my arms above my head in weight lifting class, and the pants shift down a smidge with every lift. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position — physical or financial — to justify new pants yet, and so we endure, my pants and I. We are what we are; a little immodest, occasionally inappropriate, and socially questionable.

I’m the new girl in class, and, traditionally, as a matter of deep conviction, am not a fan of lifting weights. We sometimes go through periods of significant doubt and questioning, though, and I’m in transition now. I think… I think I might be starting to like it.

It’s just that every time I go to class, it’s a spiritual experience. Always at the same point. Always when I’m starting to sweat just a little. Always when I begin to breathe with an edge of panic. The class becomes harder than I can handle. Harder than what I’m accustomed to doing. And then my instructor, Bryanna, with her pants that never shift, has us hold our weights down, arms extended, and lift them halfway up. And push them down. And lift them halfway up. And push them down. And lift them halfway up. It’s impossible, and through it all, to the rhythm of the music, she says, “Down and halfway up. Down and halfway up. Down and halfway up.” And I think this is just like life.

This is just like life, this down and halfway up. And just like parenting. And being married. And being human. And muddling through. And making magic out of madness. And building things that matter.

We spend a good part of our time down and halfway up. And then down and halfway up. And then down and halfway up. We think when we’re down that we’re failing. We think when we’re halfway up that we’re not quite enough. But we’re wrong which we learned yesterday is an awesome thing to be. WE ARE WRONG about the downs and the halfways. We are wrong AND AWESOME because when we’re down and halfway up, we’re doing the hard work. We’re doing the barely breathing work. We’re doing the sweaty work. We are breaking down. And it’s OK. We’re right where we’re supposed to be. Down and halfway up is both exhausting and necessary.

If you’re down today, friend, or if you’re struggling to make it halfway up, barely hanging in there, know this: you are building strength. You are. You are building strength the only way possible… in minuscule, microscopic measure. And it’s OK.


image credit “Old Dumbbell Fitness Equipment” by Kittikun Atsawintarangkul via

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17 responses to “Down and Halfway Up: Thoughts on Strength”

  1. I know I’m way late to comment on this post, but I happened to read it today, and I happened to need it today, too. This weekend featured A) mold in the air conditioning, B) roaches and camel crickets (if you don’t know what they are BE GRATEFUL) scared out of the basement into the upstairs by the fan intended to dry out the mold, C) showing up to a potluck at my in-laws with not enough main dish for everyone, and D)me losing it and crying/screaming at my kids and the universe in general multiple times.

    Which, now that I think about it, is pretty much how I react to working out. So this must be making me stronger, and if it happens again–God forbid (no, seriously, please get with the forbidding, Lord)–I may handle it better. At least, that’s how it went with the working out. (*Back before the third child, when I actually did that.)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this insight…back in March. And I’m so glad to have found your blog–it frequently has me shaking in silent laughter in front of my computer (because out-loud laughter attracts flocks of curious preschoolers who will then notice that I’m doing something-not-about-them and try to fix it).

  2. OH my word. How do you do this? Find the words and the connections in the mundane. Down, that’s what I feel like all the time and never halfway up. How do you survive these years with How? My girls turned one today and all I want is for them all to be in school so I can seriously do anything at all (like pee by myself) and I know I will shoot myself when they are all in school and miss them like crazy, but honestly there is a reason why I am a middle school teacher and not an elementary school teacher.
    And then I’m so jealous of you meeting Rachel because I want to read her book and even though I don’t read her blog very often that particular section is well read, that whole submission thing and the discussion of it in marriage when you have two very different roles in life (especially right now).
    And now I’m rambling because it’s way past time for me to be in bed even though this is my normal bed time these days.
    I hope someday I can look back on these days and see the strength.

  3. (in a tiny, quiet voice, so as not to disturb anyone with my personal failings, but wanting you to know that your words lifted me up, not all the way up to halfway, but UP at least a little and I’m so thankful today)…
    I’ve felt I was losing my battle with depression (we’ve been at war for years, and it’s exhausting) especially these last couple weeks I just couldn’t seem to get back up. I’ve been DOWN and struggling and losing faith that I would ever be able to find normal again. The housework gets behind, the kids have far too much screen time every day, and every step I take forward feels like I’ve slipped 10 steps backward. And yet, your words today reminded me that I am building strength, and the continued struggle IS worth it, even if I’m still sliding deeper into the hole, because by building strength SOMEDAY I will be strong enough to start moving up…and someday maybe I’ll make it all the way back to half-way up. It’s like you tied a little balloon around my heart, not enough to lift me off the ground, but enough to lessen the pull downward, and that’s a huge relief today. Thank you.

  4. Thank-you for this post:) Very timely and it is always always good to be able to get a fresh perspective on a long day!

  5. THANK YOU! I am down today– down and out with me sick and kids sick. And it feels like it is never going to get better. And then I read your post and it all makes sense. So, thank you for reminding me that every step in life has a reason, even when that “step” is sitting on the couch watching cartoons and drinking gallons of gatorade.

  6. Two words: Yoga pants. That extra band that can fold almost to the bottom of your bra covers a multitude of . . . well, you know.

  7. This puts me in mind of the poem Halfway Down the Stairs. (Maybe Down and Halfway where we’re meant to be, like halfway to the stars.)

    Halfway down the stairs
    is a stair
    where i sit.
    there isn’t any
    other stair
    quite like
    i’m not at the bottom,
    i’m not at the top;
    so this is the stair
    I always

    Halfway up the stairs
    Isn’t up
    And it isn’t down.
    It isn’t in the nursery,
    It isn’t in town.
    And all sorts of funny thoughts
    Run round my head.
    It isn’t really
    It’s somewhere else

  8. First, go you! And yes, those shifty pants can be disheartening, I’m glad you’ve made peace with yours. I am not there yet with mine, which is why I’m not ready to return to yoga.

    Thank you once again for keeping it real. It’s one of those days here where my only two goals today are to keep everyone alive until dad gets home and to not yell switch mid-yell back to a nice voice and not yell any more today. Your words today helped me remember that this isn’t even an emergency today, just an intense day.

    Down and halfway up. Yes. Okay. Whew. Big girl panties pulled up, I’m goin’ in!

  9. EXACTLY! I love how you put this. It isn’t just about weight lifting, but about how we sometimes get “down” on ourselves for even being down or halfway up. But we are getting stronger when we experience the downs – instead of faking being always positive and “up”. I have been thinking of this all evening and then I read your post 🙂 Thanks for sharing. PS – have your read the book “Bright-sided”? There were some things that I really liked about this book and other things that I didn’t really agree with, but in the end this book made me think more about just listening to people instead of trying to help pull them up from their down’s and halfway up’s. Thanks again!

  10. Good for you for sticking to it! When you’re ready for new pants, you need these: They have a nice high waist (like, all the way up to the belly button), and they have enough compression to help hold things in without preventing you from breathing. Plus, they’re cheap, and they last. I’ve had mine for over a year and wear and wash them all the time (at least once a week if not more), and they’ve held up great. They are my favorite workout pants. You deserve good pants! 🙂 They might have them at the Lincoln City outlet for cheaper if you find yourself out that way.

    Also, I liked the deeper meaning of your post very much, once I got past my need to tell you about the awesome pants. 🙂

    • I concur on the Old Navy compression pants. I got electric blue capris on clearance and black at regular price. I even wear the black without anything over top despite their tight fit – they’re that amazing. (Can’t manage electric blue tho, gotta wear black shorts over those.)

      As always, thanks for the insight and encouragement. <3

  11. Due to health problems I can’t weightlift anymore. I LOVE lifting weights, did it for 26 years, rarely missed a workout.

    Longer shirt will cover up shifting pant problem.

    Also, my favourite muscle-head gym went bankrupt. Argh. I don’t want to go to no sissy gym.

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