“Oops!… I Did It Again”*

Part of the work of the next few months is a re-setting of my mind because of the re-setting that has happened in my body.  For most of my adult life I have gone until I can’t go ‘no more’.  Then I collapse, and get up the next day and start over.  That isn’t going to work any more.

My experience with my new body (I will refrain from speaking for all people with autoimmune disease) is that I have to be preventative.  I eat certain foods so that I won’t have a flare.  I take certain vitamins and supplements so that my body will respond better to stress.  I do Pilates to help my body maintain flexibility.  I rest midday so that I can go out for dinner later.  I have to anticipate the effects of my actions on my body.

But I get amnesia.

I had a pretty lousy flare in April/May.  This isn’t too surprising since I was preparing for a move, finishing a school year, anticipating one daughter’s high school graduation and the other daughter’s college graduation, saying goodbye to many friends, etc.  Stressors incite flares.  Life, even ordinary life, is stressful.  April and May were a bit over the top.

June and July were lovely.  I was at home, on my own pace, packing a box or two a day, resting at various times throughout the day, eating well, exercising well, reading, doing puzzles, and seeing friends.

So I forgot what happens when I do too much.

I think I wanted to believe that it wouldn’t happen again.  I mean, we were in the physical process of moving for about ten days and I felt fine.  When I got tired, I took a little break.  On the actual move day, I had to take a few more breaks than usual, but still, no flare.

Ten days in Ann Arbor, unpacking, socializing, running errands, taking breaks, exercising, and I was feeling just fine.  In fact, so fine, that I felt like the old me!

So, on Wednesday, when I went out for my walk with Chester, I actually ran a bit.   I haven’t run in quite a while.  And it felt great.  I was cautious.  But, I ran.  

Then on Thursday, I woke up, wrote my blog, drank my tea, and then pretended I was the old me for about two hours — cleaned and vacuumed out the car, washed three windows inside and out, vacuumed our little house front to back, and Swiffered the kitchen and dining room.

And then it happened.

It wasn’t like my batteries wore down or something.  It was like someone unplugged me.  I hit the bed and knew I had gone too far.  It wasn’t even noon.

We had a guest arriving at 1.  My husband wanted me to meet some staff members at 4:30.  And a new friend was coming in the evening to learn the ropes of Chester-sitting so that we can go on a trip this weekend.

Yes, you read that right.  We are going on a trip this weekend.  Our oldest is getting his MBA tomorrow in Cincinnati and we are moving our daughter from Chicago to Ann Arbor on Sunday.

And I’m unplugged.

When I woke this morning, I discovered that my reserve battery had charged a little in my sleep, so I tidied the guest room for the overnight guest who is coming on Sunday. (Are you hearing all this?) And re-made the bed for our friend who is staying with Chester.

I’m not getting it, am I?

Do I really need another smack-down in order to learn how to pace myself and take breaks?  Why is it that doing is so satisfying to me?  Why am I not content with being? 

I believe I have received grace this morning, because I don’t feel as poorly as I did last evening.  So, I am going to slow down, acknowledge that God is God and I am not.  Do a little Pilates.  Breathe.  Put my feet up.  Read.  Drink my kale-berry-banana-flax smoothie.  And try, really try, to be still. 

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10.

 

 

 

 

*Spears, Brittney.  “Oops!… I Did It Again.” Oops!…I Did It Again. Jive, 2000.

(This citation is for my former students who know that you have to give credit where credit is due.)

 

 

 

 

 

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I come for healing

Nestled beside the Huron (my beautiful Huron) is a small school called Concordia University. You can see the chapel amid the trees in the photo. The school was started in the 1960s by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, mainly to prepare young people for service in the church. The chapel sits in the heart of its campus. Christ is at the heart of its mission.  

And we get to be here!

I have lived here before, as a student, back in the ’80s. The place is familiar, to be sure, but the experience is brand new. I came as a teenager before. Now, I come as an empty-nester. Big difference.  

One thing is the same, though.  I am here to heal.  

This time I am coming to heal from several hectic years topped off with a diagnosis of autoimmune disease. Last time I came after an overwhelming freshman year of college topped off with an eating disorder. Both times, God intervened and brought me to this place to heal.  

I still can’t explain the process to myself, or anyone else, of how I left a Big Ten university in the middle of Michigan in 1985 to pay more at a small private college in Ann Arbor, but I know it saved my life. My physical and my spiritual life.  It put me on a path to wellness. 

The other day when I was walking along the Huron, and I glanced across and saw the chapel, something clicked in my mind. Last year, we were not looking to move back to Michigan. My husband was not looking for a higher ed position. But God used his people to step into our situation and bring us here to Concordia. And I am, again,  on a path to wellness.  

For over three years in the 1980s I felt held at Concordia while I sorted out the issues of my eating disorder. It was an emotionally chaotic time, to be sure, but I felt held — held by Christian friends who saw me, held by faculty who noticed and cared for me, held by the school nurse who pointed me toward help, and held, ultimately, by God.  

So, coming back to Concordia feels secure, safe, comforting.  Again, I feel held.  I’ve only been here a week, but I feel at peace.  Knowing the healing I experienced here in the ’80s gives me great hope.  I am looking forward to healing again.  I am believing God’s words through Jeremiah that “[God] will heal [me] and will let [me] enjoy abundant peace and security” Jeremiah 33:6.  

Certainly I don’t think this healing can only happen at Concordia. Or next to the Huron River.  But I do believe that healing comes only through God.  And that, for me, He has done that here at Concordia.  I am here for healing. 

The River

Do you see that view?  I can see that every day on my walk with Chester.  It is just down the street at Gallup Park.  Although I am in a city, I can take a short walk and totally escape from people, pressures, reality.  This is where I get to live.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I miss St. Louis — my friends, my house, the smell of the brewery, Forest Park, LaFayette Square.  It will always be very dear to me.

But, you know, I think I am going to like Ann Arbor.  In the past week, as we have settled, I have begun to develop some routines — Pilates, morning tea, blogging, five minutes of stillness, and a daily walk by the Huron River.  This walk is a pause from reality.  Inside Gallup Park, I don’t notice the sounds of the city.  I am engulfed in the smell of water, flowers, freshness — pure Michigan.  I see ducks, geese, and such a wide variety of people doing exactly what I am doing — breathing.

I lose track of time.  I forget agendas.  I relax.  Guys, it’s like being still!

I can hear some grumblers saying, “I bet you won’t be walking there in January!”  Good point. I haven’t quite forgotten what Michigan winters are like.  They are cold, to be sure.  But I also remember that they are stunningly beautiful.  So, I wonder if I will still venture out, like a real Michigander —  clad in boots, parka, hat, and gloves — to see what this view looks like fifty degrees cooler.  I hope so!

In the mean time, I am going to continue my routine — Pilates, tea, blogging, five minutes of stillness, and my daily walk by the river.  Because I have noticed that there, He “extends peace to [me] like a river” Isaiah 66:12.

Being Still 0, Doing 1

It’s gonna take some time for me to learn how to be still.  I had a few small victories yesterday, but overall, I was pretty focused on accomplishing the tasks on my to-do list.  And, you guessed it, I skipped the part about being sad and crying over my losses.  

So, let’s focus on the victories first: ten minutes of Pilates (this really helps with my joint pain and flexibility), a one-hour walk beside the Huron River (simply beautiful), dinner with old friends, wine with new friends, Law and Order, and blogging.  To me, this all classifies as being still.  I am aware, however, that there are levels of stillness that I am not tapping into; I am not there yet.  It’s going to take some time. 

So, in the area of doing — I organized over one hundred books in the office, I cleared out half the boxes in our daughters’ room, I ran to the grocery store.  It always feels so good to me to have something tangible to demonstrate how I spent my day.  My husband came home for lunch and I was practically giddy with excitement when I showed him my progress; I was like a little child!  

It’s going to take some major shift for me to let go of doing and hold on to being.  I will give myself some slack because our truck arrived three days ago and it takes some doing to settle in.  But, I want to start today to practice being still.  And I think I mean lying down, awake, doing absolutely nothing.  I think I am going to try for five minutes.  No phone.  No Words with Friends. No book.  No TV.  No music.  Just stillness.  Five minutes.  I think that is what I can handle.  

Being the do-er that I am, I am not even going to pray during that time. Even prayer can become, for me, doing. So prayer can be on my checklist, but not part of my stillness.  I am telling you, I am one stubborn girl.  Change is going to have to be intentional.  

I think I have sent the message to myself and the people around me, chiefly my family, but also my students, that what I do, what you do, translates into value.  The more I do, the more value I have.  The more impressive my actions, the more impressive me.  

This flies in the face of everything I have learned about God, and more specifically Jesus.  He loves me.  Period.  He values me.  Period.  More than many sparrows.  This is not conditional love or value.  It is love and value that reflects His character, not my performance.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.  Whoever believes. Period.  

That’s what my five minutes of stillness will be used for today.  I will be still and believe, for five minutes, that He is God, and that He loves and values me. Wanna join? 

 

 

 

The simple things

Yes, we are living on campus.  Don’t worry, I think I am going to love it.  

When my husband moved to Ann Arbor last fall, and I was still living in St. Louis, the university offered him a house on campus so that he wouldn’t have to purchase a home or rent an apartment during the interim. It’s a simple little place — three bedrooms, one bath, kitchen/dining on one end, living room on the other.  They put fresh paint and carpet throughout and temporarily furnished it for him. 

On our first visit, I walked through the place and thought to myself, “this could work.”  Our daughter walked through the place and said out loud, “this is horrible.” It could be perspective.  

In St. Louis we own a large two-story home with a finished basement.  That’s three levels of house to clean!  We loved it at the time that we purchased it, but I was healthy at that point — running several miles a day, working full-time, and full of energy.  For the last two years, it has been a genuine challenge to maintain the house and the yard around it.  In fact, before my husband was offered this position, we were actually looking for a small place that was all on one level. 

You heard me right.  We were looking for a place just like this!  The university does all the maintenance, so my husband can focus on his job.  They do the yard work.  They clear the snow.  We get to choose what we spend our energy on.  When I arrived on Sunday, I found that my husband had planted a small garden, so we can pick fresh tomatoes!  When the movers brought our things yesterday, we discovered that our adirondack chairs sit perfectly under the overhanging roof on the patio, so I can have my morning coffee outside with a view of this gorgeous campus.  

We were worried that everything wouldn’t fit, or that the things we brought might not work in this new place.  But we had surprise after surprise.  Our bedroom furniture fits perfectly, even Grandma’s little chair.  The guest bedroom houses all our daughters’ things while they are in transition. Our son’s futon fit in the office to provide a spot for overnight guests.  I’ve got a reading corner complete with picture books for any children that may visit. And, best of all, my puzzle table found a home just outside the office.  

My heavenly Father knew exactly what I needed, before I even asked him (Matthew 6).  This simple home is going to be very easy for me to maintain, so I will have energy to spend on the things that matter.  Meeting new friends, hanging out with my husband, and being still. 

 

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. 

A dog’s life.

During the course of this move, if I didn’t know how to feel, I looked at my dog.  

He has known something is up for about a year.  When my husband moved to Ann Arbor, my dog claimed the empty space in my bed.  He snuggled up close, keeping me warm and (in his mind, I’m sure) safe.  

Over the past month, he has followed me around the house as I have packed boxes, carried bags out to my car, and sold our furniture to strangers.  He has kept a close eye on me.  I have noticed.  In fact, if you’ve been in my house in the past year, you may have noticed I talk to dear Chester, the golden retriever, as much as I talk to any human.  If you follow me on Facebook, you have probably noticed that Chester is often featured in photos.  He plays a pretty important role in my life. 

This past week, Chester helped me understand the gravity of the transition we were experiencing.  You know me, I was busy doing, not feeling.  I had lists to check off, and tasks to complete.  I had no room for feelings.  But Chester did.  

When I was helping my daughter pack her room, he found a spot in the middle of my bed in the middle of my empty room and pouted.  When friends showed up to claim our mattress and box spring, he greeted them excitedly and followed them around the house.  When the truck was late arriving, he watched us watch out the window, and seemed worried.  As they carried our possessions out the door and placed them on the truck, he hid under the built-in desk in the office and pretended it wasn’t really happening.  Finally, when every last item was on the truck or in our car, he found a corner in our dining room, and curled up against the wall, as if declaring, “You can take all the stuff, but I am staying.”  I will admit, that was the most difficult moment.  

Before we got in the car, I gave him a double dose of Benadryl.  He really isn’t one for traveling, so I thought I would help him ‘pass the time’ in a more sedate fashion.  He wasn’t having it.  He parked himself between the bucket seats, breathing heavily between us for the full four-hour trip.  He wanted to watch exactly where we were going. “This ride is important,” he seemed to be screaming at me! The second leg of the trip was no different.  Even though he was clearly exhausted, he refused to sleep.  Instead, he kept constant vigil, peering out the windows and sniffing every surface at each pitstop.  

When we arrived at the new house, he investigated every corner while we unloaded the car.  He inspected each room before he was willing to get a drink, take a potty break, and curl up, at last, for a rest.  As I write tonight, he is zonked out. For today, he has accepted that he is here.  

I like to tell myself that everything is fine, that I am ready, that this move is great.  And, mostly, I think those things are true.  But Chester has reminded me that change is difficult.  It requires emotion, and grieving, and rapt attention.  To be honest, I am not always ready to deal with all of that.  I’d rather press on, keep moving, keep doing. 

When I move so fast, I miss not only the emotion, but the meaning.  I am like the people Jesus spoke about who were “ever hearing but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving.” So, God gives me a parable, a symbol, in the form of a dog.  He has provided my own personal object lesson.  So, when the movers come tomorrow and I don’t know how I am supposed to be feeling, I think I will look at my dog. 

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.