Next ChapterS

A while ago someone suggested that I change the title of my blog since I was already in the Next Chapter — I should get settled and live in it. I thought about that, and I almost changed it.  But, you know, I am beginning to think that life is a series of next chapters.  I know, I know, this is not a new metaphor.  I’ve even used it before in this blog (My Life is a [fairly] Open Book)!  I wouldn’t want to overuse it, but I’m thinking, if it’s a good metaphor, it’s a good metaphor, right?

I love books. My idea of bliss is a day with no commitments, a steady rain, a warm cuppa in one hand, and a satisfying book in the other.  I love to get lost in story, to meet characters, to see their crises, and to watch them resolve — or not. And why do I like this?  I mean, most of the books that I read are not true….

I’m wondering if it has something to do with wondering about my own story.  I mean I am many, many chapters into this book, but I have no idea what is coming next.  The Author keeps creating plot twists and introducing new characters.  And then, just when I think we have moved on from one plot line, there it is again!  And characters that I thought I’d left way back in chapter thirteen or fourteen show up in chapter forty-seven — and they have changed!!

In books there may be plot twists, but they are confined within a boundary of 200 or 300 or, ok, 700 pages.  If I keep reading long enough, I will find out what happens in the end. 

That’s going to happen in my own story, too, I know…but I’m not very anxious to get to the end. So, even though I’d like some closure, I don’t really want closure.  You know what I mean?

I don’t know about you, but there are a few books I have read over and over again, even though I know how they are going to end!  What’s up with that?  It’s the same way with movies!  I will never get tired of watching Sweet Home Alabama or The Shawshank Redemption. Never.

Yet there are many chapters in my own story that I wouldn’t want to think about again, let alone  see again.  I think it’s safe to say that middle school is one of those chapters. Now, I wouldn’t reliving the births of each of my babies again — really, I’m serious.  What scenes those were — true miracles right from my own pages. I wouldn’t mind rewriting a few chapters, though, especially those where I was cranky, or selfish, or just plain mean. But the pages in life’s book only turn one way.

So, I moved to Michigan over a year ago to start a new chapter.  Am I still in the same one? I have no idea, I can’t make out the page numbers.  I am enjoying the story. The characters continue to amaze me.  The plot has its ups and down and even a few twists and turns to keep it interesting.

So, maybe I should change the title after all.  I could call it Kristin’s Next ChapterS. Nah, I’ll stick with what I’ve got.

Jeremiah 29:11 Rathje Revised Version

For I know what’s on the next page, and it’s nothing to be afraid of,

I’ve been planning good things for you, and the end of the story has already been written.

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Midnight Stream of Conciousness

It’s the busiest week of the whole summer — thirty-one hours at the agency, five hours of private tutoring, a job change over the weekend, then a cross-country trip to get the girls settled into their first apartment.  So why am I up at 1:00 am? Probably because it’s the busiest week of the whole summer — thirty-one hours at the agency, five hours of private tutoring, a job change over the weekend, then a cross-country trip to get the girls settled into their first apartment.

It’s exciting!  So much is happening!  But, guys, I really need some sleep!

Just one week ago I accepted an adjunct position to teach developmental composition and reading right here on our little campus by the river.  How much quainter could it be than walking down the path to the same classroom building where I studied English thirty years ago to teach down the hallway from one of my most esteemed professors?  It’s the stuff of dreams.

And the girls —  moving into an apartment together in Boston, each with a new adventure and all types of possibility. We’re loading up their belongings and helping them set up their next chapter one week from today!

We’re just off a weekend trip to see one son, his wife, and their precious daughter, and still smiling from a phone conversation with the other son earlier this evening. My husband is knee-deep in welcome week and loving the challenges and opportunities of his position.  We are living in the land of answered prayer.  So, why am I not sleeping?

It’s partly my fault.  I wasn’t going to take a 6pm student today, but I did.  That meant I didn’t get home until 7:30.  Then I ate dinner, talked to the family, watched some Netflix, and settled down to read around 10.  I read just one chapter, really, just one.  I turned out the light, tried to get comfortable, and willed myself to sleep.

Then, the details started marching through my mind — Don’t forget to book a hotel.  When are you going to give that student feedback on his essay?  Will you have time to put the package in the mail on Friday, or will it have to wait until Saturday? Oh, but Saturday is already booked, then again, so is Sunday.  It’s ok, you’ll have time to complete the syllabus before Monday morning.  You’ll have all the details ironed out for the first class.  Seriously, you’ve taught this stuff dozens of times.  You’ve got this.  But, wait, what are you wearing tomorrow? Will you have time to get gas?  Shouldn’t you be sleeping right now? 

After almost an hour of that, I got up, booked the hotel, managed some email, and read a little more.  Guys, I read pamphlets about safety on campus, and Title IX…  Surely that should put me to sleep, right?

I wandered back to bed, tucked myself in, closed my eyes, got in my most comfortable position, and then my eyes popped open insistently.

Seriously?

Well, you could blog, you know.  I mean, it’s been over a week.  Don’t you want to process all the things that are happening right now?  Document them? Give them an outlet?  You know you’ll sleep a lot better after you do. 

I’m trying to sleep here.

You could write about the fact that it’s the busiest week of the summer and here you are up in the middle of the night. 

Sigh. Alright, I’m coming, I’m coming.

It’s not terrible to be up in the middle of the night.  I’ve had a moment to recognize how blessed we are. I’m thinking I’ll wander back to bed now and give it another try.

Psalm 4:8

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Answered prayers left and right

Does God answer prayer?  Yes.

How do I know?  Because I have been writing down my prayers since November 17, 2014 and I have evidence of things asked and answered.

On November 29 I prayed that two family members would resolve their issues with one another — issues that were prohibiting them from even being in each other’s presence for any amount of time.  In fact, I didn’t just pray that prayer on November 29 — I prayed it over and over and over. On December 22 I asked that these two would turn to each other. On March 30 I asked that God would breathe new life into their relationship.  How did God answer that prayer?  He turned arguments into agreements. He turned yelling into laughter.  He turned suspicion into trust.  He turned avoidance into partnership. He answered my prayer beyond what I could ask or imagine.  I was hoping for a truce; He provided an alliance.

I’ve also been praying consistently that I would find the right kind and the right amount of employment in light of my current health status. On February 26 I asked God to put me and keep me on His path.  On March 30 I prayed that God would show me how much to do and when. On April 21 I prayed that He would help me find my rhythm. On April 22 I asked that God would give me the wisdom to live within the boundaries He has set for me. On May 7 I prayed that He would grant me discernment in my work and in my family. On May 28 I asked that God would give me His pace and direct me to His work.  On June 6 I asked for the physical strength to do the things that He is calling me to. On June 30 I prayed for God’s pace and His way for me.  Lately I have been asking over and over for God to show me how to best use my time in ways that give honor to him.

Let’s digress for a moment to remind ourselves that since April I have been experimenting with employment.  After my ‘time of refreshing’ last fall — a period of time where my health was fairly well-managed, I took a position doing what I love to do — working with children.  For over four months I have been learning and growing along side some exceptionally professional coworkers and some inspiring students at an agency that does intensive instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic.  But, if I’m going to be honest, the pace has been a little much.  It might have been ok if I hadn’t taken on about a half-dozen students outside of work,  but I just love those students — the ones I meet in libraries and their homes. They are adults, mostly, and some high school students, who need one-on-one coaching in writing and English. Interacting with them feeds me.  I have loved working both at the agency and through my tutoring service, but I have also been exhausted — too depleted to offer much to my family.  Hence, the prayers.

“Show me what you want me to do!” “Teach me how to pace myself.” “How much is enough?” “How much is too much?” “How can my gifts be best put to use?”

I had determined that as we moved into fall, I would reduce my hours at the agency and continue working with six to eight students on my own each week.  That sounded like a workable plan.  And then, amidst all those prayers and cries, came an email offering a direction I wasn’t expecting. It threw me a little.

Over the years, my oldest daughter has often come to me for advice with a Scenario A and a Scenario B — which option should she choose?  She spends time telling me the pros and cons of each alternative and then I usually say something like, “Is there a third option?”   In the last couple of years, she has started to say the same thing to me.  When I say “Should I A or B?” She will say, “What’s the third option?”

In all my prayers, I was thinking I had the answer.  I knew the current situation, A, was too much; I had determined the alternative, B, would likely solve the problem.  And then, God provided C.

I didn’t know what to do, so I enlisted the battalion and my husband in prayer and dialogue. I tried to stick with option B — my solution.  I really did.  But then I started seeing scenarios in my head that weren’t there before.  I started imagining myself in option C.  I started seeing how option C would provide a pace that I could live with while still providing the interactions that feed me.  I started to see the barriers that I thought existed evaporate.

This morning I told my husband my plan to move toward option C.  A few hours later I sat down at my computer to take some steps in that direction, but as I did so, I shot out a text to the battalion saying that I was moving forward but inviting God to step in and block the way.  It was at that moment that I paused to do my Bible study.  I am not making this up: the theme of today was to ‘not put God to the test’.

He has provided an answer to my prayers.  He has affirmed it through my husband and my prayer support.  Why would I invite him to step in and block the way? Do I need more proof?  Why? Because my faith is small.  Even after He blew my socks off with the answer to my prayers for the family situation.  Even after he provided over and above what was expected in financial aid for our daughter.  Even after he provided a job for our other daughter — one that she didn’t even apply for, doing exactly what she wants to do, in the major city where she wants to live. Even after all that, I still have a very small faith.

He answered my prayer.  He gave me a gift.  I shall say thank you and receive the gift. I won’t second-guess it or put God to the test.  I will trust that this answer is His.

Ephesians 3:20-21

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen

Thanks, guys!

I met two remarkable people this week. Two remarkable seventeen-year-olds, actually. Two remarkable seventeen-year-old boys.  In fact, I think I met them both on the same day.  Yes, I am sure it was on the same day.

One, let’s call him Allan, I met in the morning.  I was at work, and he was my last student of the morning.  I had never worked with him before, so I introduced myself and tried to initiate our hour-long lesson.  I held up a card with a word on it for him to read, and he interrupted me, “before we get started, let me just explain that since the tumor I only have about an 85 degree range of vision.”

Wait, what?

“Ah, yes, I replied,” remembering a staff briefing from about a week earlier, “tell me about that.”

“Well, ever since they removed my brain tumor, I can only see things from here to here,” he said, showing me with his hands, “so, when you hold the card, if you could put it almost directly in front of me, that would be great.”

Yes, he’s seventeen.

During our fifty-five minutes together, he joked with me, showed me CAT scan images of ‘before’ and ‘after’ and, remarkably, read, imaged, and spelled many, many words.  it was his seventeenth birthday that day and he was looking forward to spending the rest of his day with his best friend and his family.  His love for them oozed out of his pores. When we finished, he said, “Thank you.”

I met the second remarkable seventeen-year-old boy that same day in the afternoon at a local library.  It was our first ACT Test prep session.  He found me in a little study room just as I was noticing a voicemail from his father.  He sat down across from me as I listened to the message that told me that this young man, let’s call him Robert, has a life-threatening liver disease and is on the transplant list.  He sometimes gets tired, his dad told me, so I should push him, but be aware that he may not have the stamina of a ‘normal’ seventeen year old. I should give him homework, but I should know in advance that if he doesn’t do it, it’s not because he is apathetic, but because he gets worn out.

I ended the call and looked across the table at Robert who was sheepishly rolling his eyes.  “Will you tell me if you get tired?”

“Yes, but I’ll be fine.”

“Ok, let’s get started.”  For an hour we worked through ACT English test questions.  I told him my best strategies and my hottest tips.  He took detailed notes, asked questions, and leaned in with me for the whole session.  He shared with me that before last March he was a typical healthy teenager.  Then, suddenly, he was hospitalized for a week, treated with medication, and put on a liver transplant list.  This was not even six months ago!  And yet he’s sitting with me, preparing for the September ACT, applying to Michigan State University, and planning for his future.  When we finished, I gave him an assignment to do before I see him next week.  He wrote it down, asked some clarifying questions, then said, “Thank you, this helps a lot.”

Two seventeen-year-old boys, who have each learned the frailty of life at a very young age, spent an hour with me one day this week.  They followed my directions, they shared their stories, they smiled and laughed with me, then they thanked me. And here I am four days later thinking about them.  They think helped them, but really they inspired me.

If these two boys, who each know what it feels like to endure a life-threatening illness, can embody hope and resilience, then surely I, who have seen many more years of life and much-less dramatic illness, can, too. These boys weren’t wringing their hands and crying, “Woe is me!” No, they were acknowledging the reality of their circumstances and arming themselves for what lies ahead. Surely they have great parents, but certainly they are remarkable young men.

Thanks, guys.

I Timothy 4:12

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

Finding Balance

In April of this year I started an experiment.  After almost ten months (gasp!) of not reporting to an employer, I took a gamble and accepted a position that would get close to full-time for several months. Four months later, I am nearing the end of the ‘busy season’ at the agency I am working for, and I am ready to report some findings.

  • I love working. I love being around other people, even if they are all approximately half my age. I love the joking, the camaraderie, the sense of belonging.  I love having a regular schedule — I get to work at a certain time, I set up my area, I greet my students, I work through the program, I send them on their way.  I like learning from my colleagues and from my students. Yes, I am the oldest employee at our office, but I am continually learning new things — new strategies that work with students, new ways of thinking about instruction, and even the latest slang terms (FYI, according to a student ‘whip’ means ‘to drive’).
  • Working is good for me.  On days that I work, I move more, I laugh more, I think more, and I interact more.  All of these ‘mores’ make me feel better. While I am working, I very rarely notice any symptoms of my illness.  I focus on my students and the task at hand, not on the pain in my hip or the inflammation in my joints.
  • After a certain point, the number of hours I work is inversely related to the number of hours that I can effectively interact with my family.  (Did you see that? I think I did math!) In other words, the more I work, the less mental energy I have left to communicate with, love on, and support my immediate family members.  I haven’t quite found the threshold at which this inverse relationship occurs.  I suspect that if I keep my work hours around 20-25 per week, I will still be able to hold real conversations, answer the phone at 7pm, and occasionally chat over dinner.  I have learned that after 40 hours, 35 hours, or even 32 hours of interaction with students, my ability to be available to my people after 6pm is dramatically limited.
  • In order to keep working, I have to schedule in time for exercise — not just a leisurely walk a couple of days a week after work, but real exercise. At the gym. Weights. Cardio. Pilates. All of it. When I realized how much I would be working this summer, I put a hold on my gym membership from April 15-August 15.  My theory was that the weather would be nice, so I would be walking. I could do Pilates at home.  Yeah, yeah.  Good intentions.  I have certainly gone for many walks this summer.  In fact, on my lunch hour at work, I often eat while walking.  I usually walk for close to 45 minutes during my one-hour break.  That’s good, but it’s not enough.  I need to do Pilates more consistently, not just once or twice a week.  I need to get back in the pool to decrease my inflammation and increase my mobility.  It’s got to be part of the schedule.  Starting August 15, it will be.
  • Family and friends are more important than working.  I am going to have to be disciplined enough to limit my hours so that I don’t sacrifice a chat on the phone with my sister, catching up with my daughters or sons over Skype, or spending the afternoon at a family reunion.  I asked for Wednesday mornings off starting after Labor Day so that I can get my weekly time with my Bible study battalion. I plan to reserve every Friday afternoon for walkabout with the husband.  Skyping and phone chats will be scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Working reshapes my time for blogging.  Before I started working, I blogged every morning while enjoying my morning beverages.  This summer I have blogged whenever I have found time to spare.  For the fall?  Well, I am hoping to find a new rhythm that will include work, exercise, Bible study, family and friends, and blogging.  Because all of these things add up to a healthy and happy me.
  • And those other things that have to be done in life — cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc?  I am finding that they aren’t that important and that they happen when they truly need to happen.

So, the experiment has been good.  Yes, I have had some rough days.  Yes, I have cried some tears of exhaustion and frustration.  Yes, I have missed out on some opportunities.  However, I have made some great friends, I have learned so much, and I have been able to recognize some of my limitations and make a plan to adapt my schedule accordingly.  So now, onto the next phase of the experiment.

Psalm 25:4

Show me Your ways, O Lord,

Teach me Your paths;

Guide me in Your truth and teach me.

Praying for healing, pt. 2

A week ago I wrote about a book that had been given to me by a trusted pastoral — How Can I Ask God for Healing? When I left you, I was headed to that pastor’s house to return the book.  I read all the way there and still had about 100 pages to go when we walked into his house.  I handed the book to him and said, “I want to return this to you; you can see by the book mark how far I made it.” He said I could keep it longer to finish it.  I replied, “Doesn’t somebody else need it?”  He said, “I only loan this copy out to special people; I would really like you to finish it.”

Well, what do you say so an octogenarian pastor whose speciality is prayer?  Do you tell him, “No thanks, I’m good.” And, to be honest, by that time, I had kind of become attached to the book, I did want to read the ‘rest of the story’.  So, I thanked him and brought the book back home.

While we were in his presence, he pulled me aside and shared several stories of how prayer had changed the lives of people he had been working with.  He wasn’t trying to build his argument; he was simply sharing his awe at the power of God.  I was reminded of his rich history in ministry and of the authority he has in terms of spiritual things.

This week I finished the book.  This morning I turned back to the introduction and started reading again.

(Note to my children and any former students, this is a prime example of my favorite saying, “Anybody can change.”)

Here is the journey so far:

I have an autoimmune disease — or at least something that looks like one. For the last three years I have struggled with extreme fatigue, psoriasis, joint pain, inflammation, and eye irritation.  These symptoms limit my life and have caused us to make major life adjustments — change in careers, relocation to a much smaller home, significant financial decisions, and numerous lifestyle changes including diet, exercise, social life, etc.

Some positive things have come from this situation. We move much more slowly; I have experienced significant emotional and spiritual healing;  I have been freed to write again, which brings so much value to my life. We have praised God in this disease for the ways He has used it to alter some patterns that have needed to be altered for years.

But the truth remains, I do have a disease. Why wouldn’t I ask God for healing?  Let me clarify by saying that I have prayed for healing.  It is a regular prayer of mine that God would heal my body, mind, and spirit.  In fact, shortly after my symptoms started, we gathered many trusted members of our faith community to pray over me.  As I look back and remember all those hands on me and tears rolling down my cheeks, I picture myself hoping God would heal me, but actually feeling that these prayers were step one in accepting the fact that things were going to be different from now on.

Let me further clarify by saying that my husband is a faithful man of prayer; I doubt that a day has gone by in the last three years that he has not asked for my complete healing.  He, and our pastor friend, and probably my mother.

Me, I regularly pray that God would heal my body, mind, and spirit, while at the same time accepting the fact that I am walking in a new reality. And I want to affirm that accepting reality is, by its own right, rather healthy.  Acknowledging that my symptoms are real and not fabrications of my mind has been a struggle in itself.  I really do have limitations even though it may not appear from the outside that I do.  Saying out loud, in the presence of others, that I “can’t” do things has been a monumental step in this new chapter. Is it possible for me to know that I have a disease while at the same time praying for and believing God to heal me?  I think that is the conflict of the moment.

So, as per usual, I read my Bible study this morning.  Joshua and the Israelites marching around Jericho seven days in a row, because God said so, and making the walls “come a-tumbling down”.  As I was reading it, a page from How Can I Ask God for Physical Healing popped onto my brain screen– it’s actually a chart, two pages long, of all the healing stories in the Bible.  Shriveled hands, blindness, leprosy, paralysis, fever, death — all healed because Jesus said so.

Again, I know God can heal me, at His word.  Do I trust Him enough to ask boldly and believe that He will? Or will I continue to pray, “Well, if you want to, it’d be great if you took away this disease.”

I’ll keep you posted.

And the prayer, offered in faith, will make the sick person well;

The Lord will raise them up.

James 5:15