Expect the Unexpected

If today was any indication, living in Ann Arbor is going to be all about being still and expecting the unexpected. 

This,  my first day in Ann Arbor, was our 24th wedding anniversary.  My husband treated me to breakfast out at a quaint coffee shop near our new home.  A couple of eggs, some potatoes, and bacon joined a great cup of coffee to make me a very content wife.  We finished so that we could get back to the house to meet the movers who said they would arrive around 11:30 or noon.  While we were still in the car, the moving coordinator called to say it would be more like 1:00-1:30.  No problem, we would take the dog for a walk in the mean time. 

So, we enjoyed a leisurely walk near the river and returned in time to make a coffee run before the movers would arrive.  The second coffee shop of the day did not disappoint — excellent coffee and a delicious gluten-free brownie!  We got back to the house and received a call from the movers announcing that it would be another hour “or so.”  We decided to relax and rest until they got to there.  

While we were resting, one of my husband’s coworkers arrived with a cooler full of food — chicken, ribs, brisket, beans, veggies, and champagne — to help us celebrate our anniversary!  Since the movers had still not arrived, we invited them in to chat for a while. While we visited, the phone rang again. The movers had arrived at our destination, but were not able to maneuver the narrow drive back to our house.  They would have to reload our possessions onto a smaller truck tonight and deliver them tomorrow morning!  

So, we took another walk, on a different side of the river.  We returned home and ate some of the delicious food that had been delivered earlier and enjoyed chatting with one another.  

I forgot to mention that due to construction the power in our building had been out since early in the morning.  We had spent the whole day in the house with no TV, no Internet, and no lights.   We had spent the whole day talking to one another. 

We took the third walk of the day to pick up our mail.  We ran into people that my husband has been working with and chatted with them.  We returned home and talked some more. 

This day was nothing like i planned.  I expected that we would be directing movers and unloading boxes the entire day of our anniversary.  Instead, we spent the day sharing coffee, walks, and talks.  Am I disappointed?  Nope.  

One day when Jesus was teaching the masses, the disciples suggested that the people had been there long enough and that Jesus should send them away so that they could find themselves something to eat.  Jesus did something they didn’t expect.  He suggested that they feed the crowds themselves.  With five loaves and two fish, they were able to feed 5,000 people, with tons of food leftover.  They weren’t expecting that at all!  Were they disappointed?  Nope. 

Perhaps one of the lessons I will be learning this year is to be still enough to watch what God is doing instead of trying to do so much myself.  Because we weren’t busy with the move today, we had time to talk to several of my husband’s coworkers, but more importantly, we had time, after eleven months apart, to talk to one another on the anniversary of the day that we committed to walk together  “’til death do us part.”  I think I am going to like being here, being still here, that is. 

And tomorrow, the movers will come….or not.  I’m just going to watch and see what happens. 

Turning the Page

I really want to get to the next chapter!  However, I want to make sure that I have read every last word in the chapter I’m in, so I don’t miss one little detail.  

Tens years ago we had no idea that this chapter would be ten years long!  We left a pretty great life in lower Michigan with three elementary school-aged children to go to the seminary. It’s a four-year program.  We figured we would be in St. Louis for four years.  Right?   

Well, when the four years were over, my husband received his first call to a congregation right here in St. Louis. So, we bought a house and settled in for the long haul!   We found favorite restaurants, and running spots, and dry cleaners, and grocery stores. Over the past ten years we have made life-long friends.  We have raised our children.  

A year ago, when my husband was offered the position in Ann Arbor, he had to move quickly. They wanted him on campus for the start of school, which was  two weeks away!  The congregation he was serving had a farewell, he had many lunches and coffees with close friends, and he hit the road. Over the year he has made several trips back to St. Louis, often interacting with the people that he has already said goodbye to. 

I have had a very different experience.  I’ve known I am going to leave for almost a year now. I have had the support of my fabulous Monday night small group.  I have had the opportunity to walk with my students through this transition.  I have been able to participate in the hiring of my replacement.  I have been able to set up my medical team in Ann Arbor.  I have been able to clean through the house, getting rid of things that we will no longer need or want in our new place. My staff has said their farewells to me.  I have had countless goodbye lunches with friends.  I have had final visits with my hair stylist and my doctors. I think I am ready. 

But am I?  Every once in a while, a flood of emotion comes to the surface.  This has been a great chapter. It’s had its conflict and resolution. It’s had a mix of characters.  It’s had plot twists.  What if the next chapter is a little boring? Or has no connection to what has been happening in my story?  What if the plot doesn’t build? What if the main character has a crisis? What if she doesn’t know how to handle that crisis?

Be still.  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I know, I know.  Be Still.  

Come….and rest

So, what does this rest, this being still, look like?  I have no idea. 

Right now we are 48 hours from the arrival of the moving truck, surrounded by boxes (both full and empty) with a to-do list that is slowly dwindling down.  Additionally, we are preparing to move our youngest daughter from St. Louis to Ann Arbor to Washington, DC all within the next three weeks.  After that, we will move our oldest daughter from Chicago to Ann Arbor to Philadelphia by the beginning of September.  

All this talk of being still is really just talk for now.  In the next 48 hours we will close up shop in St. Louis, allow the movers to pack our lives into a truck, and begin our drive to Ann Arbor.  The truck will meet us there 48 hours later and we will unpack our possessions and rearrange them in a different, smaller space. 

You see, we aren’t just relocating.  We are becoming empty nesters, too!  For the first time in almost 22 years, we will be a couple living alone (with a dog, of course).  And, we will be living alone together after living apart for eleven months!  It’s almost like getting married all over again! He has adapted to life in Ann Arbor and his new, very demanding, position there.  I have adapted to life without him in St. Louis.  

We are changing from a large, three-level home in the city to a small, one-level home on a college campus.  (Yes, on a college campus. I can see a dorm from my dining room window!) We have been separated by 500 miles for the past year; we will now rarely be separated by more than several hundred feet! (He walks three minutes down a sidewalk to get to work!)

If I were to do what is comfortable for me, I would already have a job lined up.  I would have a start date, and tasks to complete before that start date.  I would zoom into Ann Arbor, get the place set up, and rush into a routine that would leave little time for interaction with my husband, let alone the emotional processing that comes with relocating, sending your baby off to college, and leaving a career and friends after ten years!

My diagnosis has given me an excuse to be still.  However, it’s not difficult to see God’s hand in the re-setting of my mind that has come as a result of my diagnosis.  He’s been trying to get me to re-set for quite some time, I think.  I have just stubbornly forged onward, ignoring my feelings, ignoring my heart, even ignoring the people who are closest to me. 

I’ve seen Jesus’ words in Matthew many times over the years, but they still speak straight to my heart, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  I am not sure at all what several months of resting looks like, or if I will be able to fully settle in.  But, the glimpse I have had over the summer — the ability to hear better, to feel more, to think more clearly and calmly — inspires me to give it my best shot.  

I am trusting that his “yoke is easy, and [his] burden is light” and that I “will find rest for [my] soul.”  Ahhh….doesn’t that sound lovely?  Rest for my soul. 

 

A word about paychecks…

I have always loved to work.  I love to be doing; we’ve established that.  I like the feeling that I am meeting a need.  I like the satisfaction of a job well-done.  But let’s be honest for just a moment — paychecks are nice. 

I’ve been paid to babysit, to drop a fry basket into a vat of boiling oil, to stuff envelopes, to mystery shop, to write devotions, to teach, to proctor tests, and even to walk door-to-door asking ‘how many people live in the house, what is their ethnicity and employment status’.  I’ve been paid everything from fifty cents an hour to a respectable salary with benefits for me and my family.  

It’s an exchange, isn’t it?  The worker does a task; the employer pays a wage.  That wage provides the means for the worker to pay for food, housing, clothing, and other necessities.  It provides a means for the worker to save for the future.  It allows the worker to bless others.  

But there is more.  Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, I try to tie that wage to my worth.  If I am earning, then I have value.  The more I earn, the more value I have.  I am worth something when I am working and making a wage.

Uh-oh.  What happens when I resign my position and decide to be still for a period of several months. I won’t be working.  I won’t be getting paid.  I will be being still.  This could present a little problem in the inner workings of my psyche. 

Over the years, my husband and I have been in every state of employment — we have both worked, he has worked, I have worked.  For a few months, neither of us was employed full-time.  We have made very little and we have made substantial salaries.  But one thing remains, we have always had just about exactly what we needed at the moment.  We have always had appropriate housing, vehicles that work, food for our family, clothing that looks respectable, the ability to give gifts to others, and the means to take modest vacations.

Just before our first daughter was born, I was teaching full-time in a residential facility for emotionally impaired children.  My husband was finishing his hours of supervision to get his license in counseling. I was definitely the primary wage-earner.  Yet, we agreed that I would resign my position one week before her due date so that I could be a stay-at-home mom.  We made this decision even though he had not yet secured a full-time position.  It was a step of faith.  I don’t remember our families saying much about it, but they must have thought we had lost our minds!  We didn’t have a lot saved, either. In fact, on the day she was born, my husband came to visit me in the hospital.  He had about five dollars in his pocket, not much in the checking account, and no idea how he was going to get groceries before I got home.  He stopped by the counseling office where he was doing his supervision, checked his mailbox, and found over $500 in pay that had been delayed due to insurance! In 1992 that was plenty to get groceries, pay some bills, put some money in savings, and buy his new daughter a bow to wear home from the hospital.  During those months before he had a full-time position,  we were blessed over and over by the generosity of others and God’s provision that often came just in time.  It grew our faith and reminded us that all things are provided through Him.

Even a paycheck.  Yup.  That money that someone gives me in exchange for a task I complete is not really a measure of my worth. It is God’s way of providing for me.  He has given me gifts, he plugs me into positions, he provides for my needs.  He declares my worth.

Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 10: 29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”   

Did you see that? I am of far more value than many sparrows.  I am of far more value than a pay check.  My value is found in Christ.  Yours, too.  And you can’t measure that with a paycheck. 

 

My Life is a [fairly] open book

My Life Story

Chapter 1: The forceps delivery should have been the first clue. Or, I always gotta try to make things just a little more difficult.

Chapter 2: Life with my my brothers, and our older, more mature sister.  Or, man, I wish I was as cool as she is, but I guess these guys are ok. 

Chapter 3: School: my comfort zone. Or, the beginning of doing and achieving as a way to self-acceptance. 

Chapter 4: The neighborhood. Or, Lord of the Flies meets Gilligan’s Island meets Sesame Street.

Chapter 5: Divorce disrupts. Or, Commence with the tumultuous teens. Or, How to torture a stepfather.  Or, Could you have done this when I wasn’t in puberty??

Chapter 6: Middle School: the petri dish of hormones. Or, star student meets klutzy adolescent and cries for three years. 

Chapter 7: High School: oh, the drama! Or, Middle School, part 2. 

Chapter 8: A couple of colleges. Or, Getting lost at the university, and finding the small college. Or, Eating Disorders: Not recommended for humans. 

Chapter 9: I love to work! Or, From babysitting to McDonald’s to group homes to classrooms and beyond. 

Chapter 10: Love and marriage: finding my handsome prince!   Or, It started with a lemon drop. 

Chapter 11: Learning to be a teacher. Or, The Know-it-all discovers she doesn’t know it all. 

Chapter 12: Parenthood: the early years. Or, The Know-it-all discovers she doesn’t know it all, part 2. 

Chapter 13: Graduate School? At my age? Or, Finding my Passion.  Or, Really, I get to do this?

Chapter 14: We’re leaving Michigan?! Or, Adventure at Seminary! Or, Traumatizing the Children! Or, Life in the Armpit! Or, Seriously, St. Louis is really this humid all the time? 

Chapter 15: The Sugar-momma years. Or, The teaching degree finally pays off. Or, From Public High School to Parochial High School. Or, Home at Last!

Chapter 16: Parenthood 2.0: teenagers.  Or, I admit it; I know nothing!

Chapter 17: Sending them off. Or, They make me so proud! Or, I miss them so much! Or, My children/My friends. 

Chapter 17: Illness: Redefining Life.  Or, Well, this sucks.  Or, Slowing down.  Or, Ok, Ok, I hear you!

Chapter 18: Back to Michigan?! Or, Really? Or, Going Home! Or, Starting over? At our age? 

Chapter 19 ___________________

 

The next chapter?  No idea.  Perhaps I will call the next chapter, “Being Still.”  But you never know, maybe this time of being still will yield something far more title-worthy.  That’s how life works.  As you enter a chapter, you think you know where it’s going, but the Author often has often added plot twists.  As I enter this chapter, I am excited, and anxious. I feel like I am climbing the initial hill on a roller coaster…it’s quiet and calm right now, but I hear a subtle clicking that reminds me that a ride is coming! 

The movers come in four days.  Am I ready? I doubt it.  But, I hear a voice saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  He is the author.  He knows what is coming.  He has written the rest of the story.  I hear it has a good ending. 

Invisibly Ill, and being still

In my first entry on this blog, I mentioned that my doctor’s had advised me to take some time off to rest.  Some of you who know me might be thinking, “Well, shoot, you look fine to me.”  Let’s talk about that for a moment. 

People who have autoimmune diseases have a unique experience: although they may look fine, they are sometimes debilitatingly ill. In addition to feeling horrible, they have the added burden of people questioning the validity of their illness, or worse, accusing them of hypochondria. I have been extremely blessed to have very supportive people in my life, but many do not have this experience. [There are other invisible illnesses. However, since this blog is my experience, I will write about how my disease, psoriatic arthritis, affects me.  I am learning that everyone’s experience is unique.]

If you didn’t know me prior to 2012, you might see me on the street and think I am an average middle-aged woman, and in most ways I am.  In fact, even if you knew me before 2012, you might not notice that much has changed– I’ve gotten a little older, a little grayer, a little rounder, but overall, I look the same.  However, my life has changed dramatically.  

Some things you may notice.  

  • I wear glasses more than not now.  When I was 15 I replaced my Coke-bottle bottom glasses with contacts and I never went back. However, many autoimmune diseases, including mine, come with chronic dry eyes which make contact lens wearing difficult.  Additionally, I am on immunosuppressant drugs. These drugs allowed me to develop ocular herpes. Ocular herpes can recur, especially in people who wear contacts.  So, glasses.  
  • I walk more slowly, and sometimes with an altered gait. I am especially slow when I first stand up.  Stairs are a challenge.  I used to run 5-6 days a week.  In fact, I completed two half-marathons after the age of 40, the second one in under two hours! Chronic pain in my hips and back along with chronic fatigue have halted my running career.  I now aim to walk 2-3 miles a day, 4 or more days a week. I can do this if I am careful about the other things that fill my day. 
  • I look wiped out, like I haven’t slept or like I’ve been sick.  I am wiped out.  My body is constantly fighting inflammation.  I sometimes crawl into bed before 6 pm.  This can add to my joint pain, but I sometimes physically don’t have the steam to do much more than lie down. 

What you probably won’t notice. 

  • I sometimes can’t remember your name, or the four-digit code for our house alarm that we’ve had for six years, or my social security number that I memorized in high school.  Chronic fatigue causes the brain to forget things. 
  • Joints throughout my body — fingers, hands, feet, hips, knees, elbows, shoulders — not only hurt, but also seem to be radiating heat.  It feels like I am constantly bathing in IcyHot. 
  • I sometimes just feel like crying — not necessarily from pain, or sadness, or fatigue, but maybe from all of those.  
  • I do have psoriasis, mostly in places you can’t see.  

All of this is exacerbated by stress, weather, environment, and fatigue.  Things that help include an altered diet (gluten- and dairy-free, lots of veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, etc.),  Pilates, walking, medication, supplements, acupuncture, massage, and rest, plenty of rest.  

It is 1:45 a.m., technically morning, so I went ahead and read my Bible reading for today.  Matthew 8 recounts the stories of Jesus healing a man with leprosy, the Centurion’s servant, and many others. I have thought about this extensively.  Jesus healed many.  Will he heal me? Should I, like many Christians suggest, pray for that healing and ‘claim it’?  The prophet says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”  

You know, I am not sure I should pray for that.  You might think I am crazy.  You will look at my bulleted lists above and say, “why wouldn’t you want to be healed of that?”  

Not all illnesses are physical.  I am pretty convinced that my emotional/spiritual health is improving as my physical health has become limiting.  But wouldn’t Jesus want to restore all of me?  He will one day, for sure.  But perhaps he is using this illness, in this season, to cause me to be still.  So that I can know he is God in a way that I haven’t known before. 

Some blessings I have noticed in my illness:

  • I have an amazing husband who has never once doubted my symptoms, even when I have. 
  • I have friends, family, and coworkers who are supportive and who have helped and encouraged me.
  • Slowing down and being still makes me more accessible to the people in my life.  I hear more of what they have to say, even if I do sometimes forget it!
  • I am learning to be more sensitive to the needs of others and not to make assumptions.  I was feeling sorry for myself one day at a school function when a parent reached out to me and asked how I was doing.  Only after I had whined and complained did she share that she had terminal cancer.  I never would have guessed — she was always engaging and positive!

So, for now, I am content, even in this circumstance.  I know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). I do love Him.  So, I am going to continue to be still. 

 

 

Be still. Listen. Write.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Isn’t blogging doing something? I thought you were just trying to be.”  Ah, grasshopper, things are not always as they appear. 

From a very early age I have used writing to explore my thoughts and feelings, to access my inner self, my human being. I’m not sure how that started, but I can remember lying in my bed as a young girl with Bible in one hand and journal in the other. In fact, in the process of moving this time around I have found dozens of journals — cute little fabric bound books, battered spiral notebooks, and the latest, a Google doc. I have been journaling, on and off, my whole life.  So, really, blogging, is just opening this process of exploration to others. 

On the first day of this blog I admitted that I use doing to escape feeling.  I use writing to explore feeling.  When I am moving at top-speed, which is my comfort zone, I don’t take time to feel. Or to write. However, when I intentionally get up each morning, have my Bible reading, do a little Pilates, pour a cup of tea and spend an hour writing, I am taking the time to feel — to explore what is happening in my life, to think about it, to be honest with myself, and to dwell in the moment.   In sharing this process with you, I have discovered I am building in a layer of accountability — to be consistent, to follow a thread, to not avoid the tough stuff that comes up.  In fact, a few of you have responded to me in a variety of ways — this has been affirming, and thought-provoking, and humbling. 

I am not sure what got into me the other day, when I jumped through all the hoops to create a blog. Perhaps the knowledge that I am entering the unknown territory of being still prompted me to go back to my comfort zone — Bible in one hand, words in the other.  Perhaps I am just following the current blogging trend.  Perhaps, at my age, I don’t mind having my thoughts open to a wider audience. 

One thing I do know, as long as I have been using this practice of writing, I have found peace in the process.  I sense that I hear more from God, that I am more calm, that I am more centered.  So why do I get busy doing and abandon the process over and over again?  Will I do that this time?  Will I blog every day for one hundred days and then get a job and forget about my blog — about my Bible and words? About connecting to my inner being?  I don’t know.  

One thing I am learning is that I can’t not do something because I might not stick with it.  Today I woke up, got out of bed, read Matthew 7, brewed a cup of tea, and sat down to write. I am planning on doing something similar tomorrow. I pray that this season of somewhat forced being will allow me to embrace this practice more fully than I have before, to more completely and consistently connect with my interior self, and to listen more carefully to God. 

 Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” It’s that simple.  I don’t need to do a lot in the next several months.  But I do need to ask, seek, and knock.  What do you want me to do, Lord?  Right now the answer I am getting is, “Be still.  Listen.  Write.”  Ok.