When doing good prevents you from doing best

(Or why “sharpening your saw” is so important — no matter what your “saw” might be)

I had noticed that my skin just below my left eyebrow remained red long after the imprint of my goggles faded each morning. It also itched.

“Chlorine,” I thought, quick to conclude my skin was reacting to the chemicals in the gym’s pool. After all, I had patches on my hands, chest, and arms that routinely reacted to exposure to that water. Only extreme diligence to neutralize the chlorine and moisturize my skin enabled me to continue my swim regimen.

I swim five days a week, ranging anywhere from 5 minutes to 1 1/2 hours in the pool. Because the chemicals in the pool are so harsh, I’ve created solutions that allow me to swim as desired relatively unscathed. These include a homemade vitamin C spray to neutralize chlorine, a vinegar/ alcohol concoction to keep my ears clean and dry, and a shampoo and conditioner combo that remove chlorine and protect my hair.

I routinely rinse both my Lycra swim cap and suit as well as my goggles. But while I hang out the swimwear to dry each day, I’ve simply tucked my goggles into my bag after a morning swim. The next time I swim, I would grab the goggles and go.

I have been wearing the same pair of goggles for almost four years. They fit my head and don’t leak. Two crucial criteria. They also don’t melt inside a hot car. Also important.

Apparently, I never look at my goggles; I merely look through them as I swim.

Here’s why

I count the seconds between awakening and entering the pool. If I can wake up before my alarm sounds at 4 a.m., all the better. I complete my morning tasks as quickly as I can. The faster I get those done, the faster I get to the pool.

When I arrive at the gym, I quickly find a stack of two lockers, place one gym bag in the top locker, hang my dress clothes from the locker, and put my other bag in the bottom locker, along with my swimsuit cover-up and my glasses. (See the emphasis?)

Wearing flip flops, I then grab my robe, towel, shower bag, and water bottle and head toward the pool. As I walk, I blindly reach into my shower bag to get my goggles and the swim cap. I don’t want to waste a second on land that I might get to spend in the pool.

I hurriedly put my shower bag, robe, and towel on a bench, scouting out the lane situation as I do. I then grab a lane, sit on the side of the pool to don my cap, and put on my goggles. I stand in the water for a second or two, take a deep breath, and plunge beneath the water for what is both the most shocking and most exhilarating moment of my day.

The water is chilly against my skin, but I power through the chill, loving the Darth Vader-like sound I make as I breathe into the water, my legs propelling me forward before my arms take their first stroke. Shock and awe. I am alive.

Once my swim is finished, I rinse the goggles in the shower, return them to the shower bag, and there they remain until the next swim morning when I again, sight unseen, merely accept that these correctly sized and non-leaking, car-heat-defying goggles are worthy of wear.

More shock and less awe

One day this past week, my husband and I decided we needed to trade vehicles. That meant transferring all my gym paraphernalia to his vehicle, and as I moved my bags, my goggles fell onto the floor. And instead of looking through them, I looked at them, as if for the first time (in four years).

I was shocked and horrified!

The interior gasket surrounding the goggle lenses was covered in mildew. It also was creeping onto the lenses themselves.

I think I’ve found the cause of the red and itchy skin just below my eyebrow…

I know. Gross.

I should have known. My “eyesight” while wearing these goggles has been deteriorating for months. I mean, I walk into the pool area without my glasses and am perfectly able to see which lanes have swimmers and which do not. I can read the time on the clock on the wall. I can recognize people.

But once I don my goggles and start swimming, I can’t see much. I can’t read the clocks on the wall. Sometimes I can’t see the other swimmer sharing my lane. Secretly, I’ve given nicknames to the other swimmers — due more to my “goggle blindness” than to their deserving such a title. For instance, I call one woman “Prius,” because I can’t see her until I’m beside her. (A Toyota Prius is so quiet you can’t hear it approaching. This is the swim and sight version of that stealth.)

If I’m sharing a lane and I think I’ve seen a swimmer exit, leaving a lane empty, I want to move into that empty lane. But I can’t see if the lane is empty. I’ve resorted to asking other people if a lane is empty, saying “I’m blind without my glasses” when, really, “I’m blind in my goggles.”

The old goggles in all their mildewed glory. Or not.

In with the new

I tossed my mildewed goggles once I’d captured my disgust in photos. Today I wore a new pair that I’d been carrying in my gym bag for six months or more. The change in my goggle vision was amazing.

I could see!

Now I can tell which lanes are populated with swimmers and which are not. I see that the water is bright and beautiful. The pool has lights! The water is clear, not cloudy. Who knew?

What’s more, the red, itchy place under my left eyebrow disappeared almost immediately.

It’s amazing how blind I have been to this developing problem. The mildew didn’t grow overnight. I might have prevented it by simply hanging my goggles along with my swimsuit and towel each day to air dry. Even if I hadn’t dried them properly, I might have seen the nascent mildew growth and salvaged the goggles — or stopped wearing them sooner — if I had taken the time to see.

Had I stopped rushing for a moment, had I taken the time to look at my goggles rather than merely look through them…

What’s funny is that I’ve been carrying a spare pair of goggles — new with tags — in my gym bag for half a year. I had the equipment at hand, ready to replace my elderly goggles, but I was waiting for the gaskets to leak not louse.

Wait for it…

I knew there was a message for me in here somewhere… I was doing a lot that was good. Taking care of my skin and hair? Good. Rinsing my suit and cap and goggles? Again, good. Swimming? A lot? Really good!

But to risk my eye health by wearing goggles I didn’t regularly inspect? Not so good.

This was a tool I used to enable me to see underwater, to protect my eyes from the chlorine. Yet this “tool” became a hindrance to seeing and became a liability, a danger to the very thing it was to protect.

It was my fault for not taking care of the tool properly.

Like my rush to get to the swimming pool each weekday, my rush to get things done at work, after work, and on the weekends sometimes threatens my ability to take care of my tool (my mind, my creativity, my craft,…)

I’m fairly faithful at leaving work at 5 each day — but I sometimes arrive more than an hour early, often skip my lunch break, and otherwise jeopardize sharpening my saw, as Stephen Covey would say, or taking care of my tool.

“If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed.”

Ecclesiastes 10:10; English Standard Version

I was blinded to the deterioration of my goggles because of busyness. Though I was busy with good things, I missed being busy with important things.

If you have followed my blogging with any regularity, you’ve noticed that I haven’t been regular of late. My goal for 2019 was to post every week. I haven’t even managed a post every month. Usually, I could tell you that I’ve been writing — just not posting. But that is not true.

Well, I write for work, and I’m quite good at writing long “Sara Do” and grocery lists on the weekends, but that isn’t quite the same.

Like my morning routine to get into the pool as quickly as I can, I’m busy with good things, but I haven’t been busy with the best things — those activities that sharpen my saw, aim toward a higher, longer-term goal, that of writing a book (or something!) that will change the world in some way.

Like seeing through my goggles instead of looking at them on occasion, I’ve been looking past my skills and desires as a writer instead of looking at those skills and desires, intent on using them as God intended. To reflect on His goodness, His joy, His provision — and to encourage my readers to do the same.

I’m air drying that new pair of goggles, by the way, and looking at them each afternoon before putting them inside a little case to keep them safe and sound — and mildew-free! — until I put them to use the next swim day.

Now to figure out how to best care for my gift of writing…

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