In the spirit of learning from my lessons, let’s apply the last two blogs to my current reality.
Fact #1 – I can’t plan for everything.
Fact #2 – I’m not in control.
How do we live in the tension of recognizing these facts while living out our daily realities?
My current reality is this: I just returned from three weeks away from my home. I intentionally didn’t plan any work for this week — not even tutoring — because I knew I would need a week of recovery. Autoimmune disease is such that any stressor — good or bad — can cause a physiological response. Flying can cause a response. Eating a delicious Cuban sandwich on fresh – delicious – glutinous bread can cause a response. Working seven days in a row in an unfamiliar environment can cause a response. Seeing an old friend can cause a response. Taking a detour can cause a response. Eating sorbet — before or after lunch — if it is out of the routine, can cause a response. (Yes, in the past three weeks I have done all of those things.)
A ‘response’ can mean different things to different people. For me, a ‘response’ is typically any of the following — fatigue, eye inflammation, increase in pain or fatigue, or, if the stressors are cumulative or particularly intense, what I call a ‘knock down’. I got ‘knocked down’ a couple of times during the vacation. It’s really not pleasant. I usually get a pretty solid headache, gastrointestinal distress, systemic pain and fatigue, and usually, the symptoms are so intense that I can’t sleep.
In the past five years, I have been knocked down enough times that I recognize the feeling and have come to take these episodes as reminders that I am trying too hard, that I am doing too much, and that I have to be mindful. I used to feel frantic during a knock down; now I lean in. I fill a tub full of epsom salt water and slither in. I lie there for as long as I can with a cool cloth across my forehead. I drink a lot of water. I take a homeopathic remedy called nux vomica (as recommended by my doctor), and I rest. I eat healing foods — rice, popsicles, scrambled eggs — and I prop myself in front of something mindless on the television. A standard knock down takes about twenty-four hours of intentional recovery. Some have taken longer, some have resolved more quickly.
I fully anticipated a knock down during this week. So, I planned nothing. Well, not nothing. I planned things that would set me up for success in the coming weeks.
While stressors can lead to a ‘response’, intentionally proactive behaviors can build resilience, like money in the bank. They don’t prevent a knock down, but they do build my core strength so that the likelihood of a knock down is reduced and the recovery from one is perhaps shorter. What builds resilience for me? Well, a regular schedule, for one.
If I follow routines — get up at the same time every day, eat the same breakfast (gluten-free oatmeal with coconut oil and honey has been a recent trend), drink the same drinks (one green tea followed by one black tea), exercise, complete a task or two around the house, have one or two social interactions, and complete one or two professional tasks, all while taking periodic breaks throughout the day — I build resilience. If I am being proactive, I have to create my to-do list with this in mind. I have to ‘plan’ blank spaces into my day. Margin is essential.
Intentional reading and blogging are perhaps more important steps to building my resiliency than I give them credit for. Long ago, I learned to override feeling with doing. Because I didn’t want to feel pain or get lost in any type of emotion at all, I busied myself. That is a temporary fix, but feelings don’t go away. They get buried. Deeply buried. I have found that if I read a particular genre of books (I’ve referred to many of these types of writers in this blog — Ann Voskamp, Shauna Niequist, David Sedaris, Joan Didion, and the like), then I gain access to emotions that I long ago buried. While I am ‘hearing’ and feeling the stories of others, I recall my own stories and am able to attach meaning to them. The follow-up, of course, is this blog. If, in the wake of reading and reflecting, I sit down at my computer here in the quiet of my little house by the river, I give myself time to process the emotions that have been stirred up. For you teachers out there, the reading is the receptive portion of the lesson; the blogging is the expressive. I, like most students, need both in order for the lessons to have any hope of sticking. (And, like most students, I need repetition of most lessons in order to achieve mastery.)
How did I get the privilege of the time that enables a lifestyle with margin? that allows for reading and processing? The only explanation I have is that the One who has eyes to see me and who knows my needs better than I know my own, determined that because I would never plan this type of life for myself, He would plan it for me. I was living a life that powered through and led to an epic ‘knock down’. He saw it, and in compassion, He set me down into a new reality–one that allows for margin, one that allows for reflection, one that allows for healing. Which exposes the next lesson:
Fact #3 – I am held in the palm of His hand.
I am really trying to rest in this reality. Muscle memory makes me want to jump up and start doing so that I won’t have to feel the pain that has been exposed in the stillness of this chapter. However, the knowledge that comes through the power of the knock down coupled with the words of some key people that are speaking into my life right now remind me of the words of Elizabeth Elliot that Ann Voskamp quoted in The Broken Way :
…”out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.” [Voskamp follows with] The most crushing lie a life can hold on to is that life is supposed to avoid suffering, avoid loss, avoid anything that breaks. Loss is our very air; we, like the certain spring rains, are always falling toward the waiting earth…
I embrace the knock down because His hand is holding me and leading me to a better life in this next chapter.
Psalm 103: 13
The Lord is as kind to his followers as a father is to his children.