Just a little Crabby

I’ve been a little crabby lately.  I’m not new to this experience. In fact, my high school senior class voted me ‘moodiest’.  Yeah, nice of them; I know.

When I was a child, I was often scolded for crying too much, laughing too loud, and pouting too long.  I felt things — excessively.   I stomped, I slammed, I wailed, I jumped up and down, I yelled, and I screamed.

Most of these emotions were the response to the every day experiences of a kid — if my brothers picked on me or I didn’t get my way, I often cried to my mother, wailing about the injustices of life. If I got a good grade or a new pair of jeans, I likely beamed from ear to ear and informed everyone in my immediate vicinity.  If something was funny — I laughed. Loudly.  (I think my laugh will have its own blog post one day; I’m not sure I can contain it in one little sentence or paragraph.)

Anyway, early on I established myself as an emoter.  As time went by, I learned that not everyone is fond of such demonstrations of feelings, so I tried to contain them.  Really, I did.  I tried to bridle my tongue.  I tried to put the best construction on everything.  I tried to look at the bright side.  And guys, I have succeeded from time to time. I have; ask anyone!

But when the rubber hits the road, I am what I am.  And sometimes, friends, it ain’t pretty.

In fact, over the years, as I’ve mentioned in this blog, I have engaged in therapy to work through my feelings about all the events of life.  I wasn’t just sitting at home sipping tea when the idea popped into my head, “You know, I think I will go see a counselor and examine my feelings.”  No, it looked more like sobbing into a pillow feeling hopeless, yelling irrationally at a family member, or locking myself in the bathroom to rearrange a cupboard when we really needed to get in the car because we were expected at a social engagement.  I’ve gone to therapy because my feelings and my inability to appropriately process them mandated a change.

During a couple of those periods, my health care professionals suggested that I try taking anti-depressants.  Indeed, many members of my family have struggled with depression over the generations; I am a bit pre-disposed.  And, to be honest, these medications served their purpose for a period of time.  The first time, I only used them for about a year, if I recall.  Recently, I have been taking a low-dose of zoloft for about seven years. I like to think that this medication has dialed my emotions back a little and has allowed me to manage some very difficult periods.

Some people don’t like to talk about such things, but I think we’ve already established here that very few topics are off limits for me.  I don’t think taking zoloft is any more taboo than taking amoxicillin. They are both pharmaceuticals that work with the chemistry of the body to affect change. I’ve taken plenty of amoxicillin in my day; I’ve also taken zoloft.

On my current quest toward wellness, I have fallen out of love with traditional medicine, particularly the pharmaceutical industry.  (That’s a topic for another blog post.) I have found the most benefit for my personal maladies in less conventional methods –dietary choices, exercise such as yoga, pilates, and swimming, visceral physical therapy, nutritional supplements, and homeopathic remedies.   I took the risk of eliminating my biologic and anti-inflammatory medications at my doctor’s suggestion and found that my symptoms, after a period of adjustment, were no worse without them.   So together we decided that I would take the next step and gradually and cautiously reduce my anti-depressant dosage.

When I first eliminated my anti-inflammatory medication, I was pretty miserable.  My body, used to having that drug, rebelled when it was deprived.  My pain levels increased predictably.  My fatigue also increased.  My doctors warned me this would happen.  I expected two to three months of adjustment, and that’s about what I got. Eventually my body adapted and created its own response to the pain.  Now, several months later, my pain is at the level it was while on the medication.

So I don’t know why I didn’t expect a similar transition period when weaning off zoloft. Maybe because I was on a low dose to begin with.  Maybe because I am taking three months to totally remove it from my system.  Maybe because my life is so much different now than when I first started taking it so many years ago.  I expected to gently slide through the transition with little to no difficulty.  And truly, the first three weeks were pretty easy.  However, I’m no doctor, but I can tell you that the levels of zoloft in my blood are lower this week than they were last week.

I’m quicker to the snap.  I’m edgy.  I’m surly.  I’m easily irritated and slow to recover.

It’s to be expected.  So why do I judge myself so harshly for this?  I didn’t judge myself when my pain increased; why do I judge myself when my irritability increases.  After all, both changes are a response to a chemical change — a withdrawal from medication.

I want so badly to have a good attitude about all of this.  I want to be able to smile in the face of adversity.  I want to be understanding when Verizon can’t figure out my technical issues after an hour each on live chat, the telephone, and direct message. I want to laugh, loudly and often.  I want to smile, genuinely.  But guys, I’m a little (ok, a lot) crabby at the moment.  It is what it is.  This too shall pass.

Romans 8:18

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing

with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Advertisements

Experimentation

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to participate in an experiment.  After two years of limited part-time employment, I am gearing up for the next level of engagement.

As you may be aware, from 2005 to 2014 I was a full-time teacher and administrator at a small private high school in St. Louis, MO.  For at least seven of those years I was a very hard-charging,  responsible faculty member who worked long hours both at school and at home.  I managed that position while being married to a seminary student turned mission-planting pastor and parenting three teenagers.  It was a very busy life full of challenges and rewards.

When chronic illness started to impact my effectiveness in that position, my husband and I began to watch and pray for God to open a path to something different.  This blog began when God answered our prayers and transplanted us in Ann Arbor where he has been serving as the Dean of Students at a small Christian university for the past three years.

When I joined him two years ago, I rested for six months and then began to experiment with different levels of employment.  I started with occasional private tutoring.  I added a summer ‘internship’ at an educational agency before transitioning to adjunct instruction coupled with private tutoring.  I’ve been doing well for the past year balancing those two positions.  I have taught a few hours a week in the classroom while supporting several private students that I meet in homes, in libraries, or in coffee shops.  I’ve loved this combination.  So, I’m continuing it this fall — at the next level.

Starting next Monday I will have three sections of college composition. (All the writing instructors in the room just gasped.) Now, to be fair, two of those sections are small at just 12-13 students each.  The third section is a more average-sized class of twenty-one. So, do your math and you will find that I am going to have 46 composition students.  That’s a solid load.  Most English teachers would say, “That’s fabulous!  What a joy to have forty-six writing students!” (My last year in St. Louis, a staffing issue created a situation where I had about 80 writing students!)  And, indeed, I am thrilled.  I am also thrilled that entering my second year as a private tutor, I have a solid student base that easily yields 8-10 hours of tutoring per week.  God has indeed engineered a sweet gig for me.

However, I am a little anxious. My health is more stable than it has been in close to four years.  With the help of my medical team I have eliminated biologic and anti-inflammatory medications.  That’s right; I take nothing for pain!  I am also currently weaning off the anti-depressants that I started taking seven or eight years ago.  I walk, do Pilates, practice yoga, and get in the water regularly. I see a physical therapist and a chiropractor,  avoid gluten and dairy, and am following my doctor’s instructions for taking homeopathic and nutritional remedies. I’m doing all the things, yet I still have a measure of pain in my hips, neck, and back.  I still have psoriasis. I still have chronic eye issues. I still get knocked down if I do too much.

So how much is too much?

That’s why this fall is an experiment.  Can I teach forty-six students in the classroom and meet with a handful outside of the classroom without spending every weekend in bed? Will I still fit in exercise? physical therapy? time with friends?  time with family? What will happen if something unexpected pops up — an out-of-state emergency, a family crisis, a family celebration? I don’t know.  Have I created a schedule that allows for these variables?  We’ll see.

I do know that the success of this semester is more likely if I continue to practice the disciplines that I have re-discovered in this time of stillness — Bible study, blogging, prayer.   It seems I struggle to fit them in, when in truth, they are the most impactful moments of my day.  Writing the prayer reminders on my mirror and my fridge is a help, but I still need to choose to act on those prompts and actually pray. My devotional materials sit out in plain sight, but I have to move toward them and take the time to engage each day.  My blog is constantly percolating in my mind and begging to be let out through my fingers, and when I allow it the space and time, I become aware of all that God is working inside of me.  When I do these three things — prayer, Bible study, and blogging — I feel centered and purposeful.  I feel at peace.

So, on Monday, I’ll step feebly forth.  I won’t try to kick any butts or take any names, I will just show up and see what God has in store in this next chapter.

Luke 12:32

“Do not be afraid, little flock,

for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

A glimpse at autoimmunity

Almost five weeks ago I decided I should call my eye doctor.  I have recurring HSV (herpes) in my left eye, and I was sensing that a flare was brewing.  Since we were supposed to leave on vacation at the end of the week, I thought I should be seen by my cornea specialist before we left town.  He agreed.

He examined my eyes and said I looked ‘normal’ and should be fine on my vacation.  I exhaled,  thanked him for fitting me into his schedule, then went to see my integrative medicine specialist.  She, too, said I looked pretty good, but thought I could be doing even better.  She prescribed a supplement that would work on the cellular level to address the cause of my autoimmune difficulties.  Feeling hopeful, I  thanked her  and went to the chiropractor.

I know, I know.  Three docs in one day.  I try to schedule them this way because I don’t like going to the doctor, so if I have to go, I want to do them back-to-back and get it over with.

The chiropractor, too, said I looked good.  He adjusted my sacroiliac joint, my back, and my neck and sent me to “have a great vacation!”  I was all set.  I had the blessing of my docs; in two short days we would be on our way.

Because we were going to be gone for two weeks, I had three students to see that afternoon. Halfway through the second session, my student looked at me and said, “what’s wrong with your eye?”  Now, my eyes are typically a little red, so I wasn’t terribly alarmed, but he is a fourteen year old boy, so the fact that he noticed anything outside of himself was a little remarkable.  I went to the restroom and noticed that indeed my left eye was quite red and, as a matter of fact, somewhat painful.

This is how things go sometimes in the world of autoimmunity.  Just when you think you are doing fine, you aren’t.

The next morning I called Kellogg Eye Center and explained, yes, I was just seen yesterday, but a lot has changed in twenty-four hours.  My eye is flaming red and I can’t really open it when I’m outside because of the pain I am experiencing.  They got me right in.

It wasn’t HSV.  No.  It was a new malady — episcleritis, the inflammation of the lining of the eye.  The doctor thought that 800mg of ibuprofen three times a day should do the trick.  I balked at this because I have been off all anti-inflammatory meds and pain meds for several months.  However, she pressed me and said that it wouldn’t likely go away without them.

It took most of the weekend visiting with our granddaughter before my eye was feeling mostly better.  It was still a bit red, but I was determined to enjoy our vacation.  Yes, I had to wear glasses instead of contacts, but over the past four years that has become a fairly regular practice due to the herpes.

Feeling hopeful, we set off for our next location, Northport, MI.  The first two days there were fine. I kept taking my ibuprofen while we visited with friends and family in this beautiful area of Michigan.  However, the third morning, I woke around 5am with intense pain in my eye and through the upper left portion of my head.  I took my medication.  I applied a warm compress.  I stood in a warm shower.  Nothing gave me relief.  After a series of phone calls, my husband drove me forty minutes to see the nearest cornea specialist.

They got me right in!  In fact, within one hour I was seen by two doctors who agreed that I needed to be on prednisone — in both oral and eye drop form.  Because of my HSV, they also increased my anti-viral meds to prevent  an HSV flare.  I would have to come back the next day to make sure this treatment was working.

It worked well!  I got relief from the intense pain within the first hour!  The following day the doctor didn’t even recognize me because I had been so transformed from a writhing mass of pain into a functioning human.  Since episcleritis is so insidious, the treatment involves a very slow taper away from the prednisone. That is why, five weeks later, I am still on it.

Now let me tell you the blessings of prednisone.  I have had a significant increase in energy.  I enjoyed our vacation immensely!  What typically wears me out seemed routine. I not only enjoyed the beach and visiting with friends and family, I also had the energy to read late into the night.  Not only that, but within about a week of starting the prednisone, I was virtually pain free!  No eye pain, no hip pain, no neck pain. No pain! Anyone who lives with chronic illness will tell you that being pain-free is not really even a goal.  We have come to terms with the fact that we are going to have a certain level of pain at all times.  Being virtually pain-free for the last four weeks has been a blessing I never would have expected.

Prednisone does have its drawbacks though.  For one, especially in the beginning when the doses are high, sleep is difficult.  Some nights I barely slept at all.  Fortunately, I was not working during this time, so if I stayed up all night reading or putting together a puzzle, I could walk around zombie-like the next day with very little consequence.  Secondly, while on prednisone, people tend to put on weight.  Since autoimmune disease often leads to weight gain on its own, this additional challenge was not welcome.  I had been very disciplined to lose about six pounds over about four months only to have half of it come right back on.  Three pounds doesn’t sound like much, but my body takes it off very slowly.  Finally, prednisone regimens usually involve a decrease in dosage over time, so eventually, some of the benefits wear off.

Translation — I’m now on a mere fraction of the original dose.  I’m sleeping more easily, but the pain in my joints is starting to creep back in.  Not only that, I’m a little nervous that the episcleritis will come back.  Yesterday morning I woke with that familiar headache in the upper left portion of my head.  I took my meds and it mostly went away, but I wonder what will happen when I am off prednisone completely.

This is another feature of autoimmunity — trying to find the right treatment balance when the body is always changing.  One drug will manage a particular symptom or set of symptoms but will also cause a series of side effects.  Sometimes another drug is prescribed to manage those side effects.  Many people, like me, choose to limit/eliminate pharmaceuticals because of those side effects.  We might try diet, exercise, homeopathic remedies, or treatments such as physical therapy or chiropractic care to manage our symptoms.  Sometimes our strategies work for a season or even years. Often, they fall short and we have to try different options.

It’s a journey to be sure.  It can be time-consuming, frustrating, plan-changing, and life-altering.  Sometimes I get angry that I am living with this disease, but mostly I have accepted this as my reality.  And, weirdly enough, I am often thankful for its impact on my life.

In the past four years I have experienced a multitude of negative symptoms, but I have also had the blessing of slowing down. Slowing down has afforded me the opportunity to pay better attention to the people around me, to read more, to write more, to think more, to enjoy more.  It’s weird, but it’s good.

 

Romans 8:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

In My Weakness…

Yesterday I was lying on a bed at my physical therapist’s office.  She takes over an hour with me every time I visit.  She finds me in the waiting room; she watches me stand; she watches me walk; she leads me to a room, then watches me sit.  She asks me how I am —  what are my presenting symptoms.  She listens.  She types what I say on her computer, compiling a record of my health and my progress. As I stand again, she assesses my posture and my spinal alignment. As I lie down, she feels my pulses and checks the position of my joints.  For over an hour her hands are on me.  She applies pressure to my skull, to my vertebrae, to my ribs, to my organs, to my back, to my hip.  And the whole while that her hands are on me, we are talking. We talk about family, about faith, about health, and about the body. We’ve been doing this since November.  More than any other practitioner I’ve ever met, this woman knows me.

Since the very first appointment with her, I have felt very comfortable in her presence. I feel like my body is being cared for, and even ministered to, every time I am on that table.  What’s more, is that my spirit seems to be ministered to as well.  Marcy, when she places her hands on me, says that she is ‘listening’ to my body.  I believe, after many hours on that table, that God uses that physical connection to forge a spiritual connection.  And through that spiritual connection, He often impresses His truth upon me. I have written about this before (hereherehere).  Perhaps because I am still for a complete hour, perhaps because Marcy creates an atmosphere of ‘listening’, or perhaps because I am so open and receptive to the possibility of healing, I receive from Him while I am lying on that table.

Yesterday, less than a week into my experiment of living without NSAIDs, I bundled up and drove thirty minutes across snow-covered roads because I believed that Marcy’s touch would be helpful.  I wasn’t wrong.

Somewhere during that hour on the bed, I was sharing with Marcy about some students I had been working with this week, and I heard myself saying, “You know, I feel like I do a lot of complaining about my pain, but the truth is, I wouldn’t have any of the opportunities I have right now, if I wasn’t in this current physical state.”  Right at that moment I remembered the words, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” Marcy didn’t say those words.  I didn’t say those words. I just remembered them.

Later yesterday, as I was driving home in my car, I remembered those words again, “my power is made perfect in weakness,” and I began to think of my low batt. analogy.  I love it when I am fully charged — I feel like I can conquer the world.  I charge through life in my power shoes, kicking butts and taking names.  In fact, try not to laugh, when I was in my prime, I jokingly told my students to refer to me as “the great and powerful Rathje”.  Ok, laugh.  We always did.

I don’t love being at low batt.  I don’t feel like I can conquer the world.  I have to sit down a lot.  I move slowly — very slowly this week. I cannot kick any butts or even remember many names.  Yet in this posture — this posture of sitting, lying, walking — I am able to see the opportunities that God is placing in front of me.  They aren’t glamorous.  They aren’t highly visible.  But they are life-changing.

This morning, I searched Biblegateway for the verse that had been on my mind all day yesterday.  I found it in this context:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I’ve been praying, pleading with God, way more than “three times,” that He would heal me, but I find myself saying, “Lord, please heal my body, but more importantly, change me.  Don’t let me go back to my soldiering ways. I would love to be free of pain, but only if I have fully learned everything that you want to teach me.”  The pain sucks, kids. It really does. Especially this week. But living a life that fully relies on me sucks even more. 

I’ll be over here on the couch, icing, and being thankful that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.

Icing

I’m sitting on the futon next to a sleeping golden retriever.  I’ve got an ice pack that I reposition on my back, then my hip, then my shoulder, then my neck.  It’s a little ironic that I’m applying ice to my body in the middle of a winter storm.

I can hear the snowish-rain and rainish-snow pelting our concrete roof.  I’m happy that I made the decision to cancel this afternoon’s tutoring sessions in a neighboring town.  I really wasn’t up to the drive, or the sitting at a table for three and a half hours, or the critical thinking that would’ve had to happen during those hours.

The weather was my excuse, but it would’ve been just as legitimate to call off on account of my physical state.

And here I am again, writing about this invisible illness that tries and tries to steal my joy.

It’s not going to win, ultimately, but my body and I are in a wrestling match right now.

Just over three years ago I got my first diagnosis — psoriatic arthritis — and I did what I thought I was supposed to do: I took the medication.  I can’t even tell you all the different things that I have tried — whatever is the standard regimen for these types of things — some kind of pills, then another kind, some injections, and finally, the latest strategy prescription NSAIDs.  I’ve been on diclofenac (Voltarin) for a couple of years now.  It was managing my pain pretty well, actually. I would say that while on this drug, an average day meant consistent pain levels of 2-3 on a scale of 1 to 10.  Bad days might surge up to a 5, but not usually higher than that.  A five is manageable.  It slows you down, but you can still function.  It drains the battery, but you still get some limited functioning.

Well, as part of my quest for health, I read a book called Total Recovery, by Dr. Gary Kaplan, a doctor at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine, and an associate professor at Georgetown University.   I’ve mentioned this book before in this blog.  It has really challenged my ideas about medical practice and the use of pharmaceuticals.  Dr. Kaplan cites research that shows that although NSAIDs are useful in the short-term, their long-term use can actually lead to an increased experience of pain. My doctor, who, as I’ve mentioned, takes a holistic approach to health, which includes, but is not limited to,  medicine, homeopathy, nutrition, exercise, and physical therapy, also voiced concern regarding my use of NSAIDs and their long term impact on my digestive tract.  The whole team — my doctor, my physical therapist, and my chiropractor — all shared this concern.  So, under my doctor’s guidance, and with the encouragement of the team, I first cut my dosage of diclofenac from 150 mg/day to 100 mg/day and then to 50 mg/day.

After several months on that dose, I accidentally forgot to take my meds last Sunday night.  The team and I had been planning for me to discontinue diclofenac completely at about this time anyway, so I took that as my cue and haven’t had any type of anti-inflammatory or pain medication since Saturday.   Hence, the ice.

Kaplan’s theory, based on his clinical experience, is that after a long, pain-filled couple of months without NSAIDs, my body’s endorphin system will kick back in and the pain will go away (Kaplan 43).  Hence, the wrestling match.

It’s Wednesday.  I have only been without this medication for three days. My pain for the past two has been well above 5.  Let’s say it’s a 7.  Seven drains the battery much more quickly than 5 does.  It’s like having all your apps open, the wifi roaming to find a signal, bluetooth on, and the screen light on high.  I don’t last long.  Exhausted,  I try to sleep, but I can’t get comfortable.  The majority of my pain is in my right shoulder/upper arm and  my right hip,  but that pain likes to travel to my low back, my neck, my left elbow, my feet, my eyes, and anywhere else it can find a place to reside.  No sleeping position is comfortable.

Kaplan says that if your body doesn’t get enough rest, your experience of pain is greater. Yeah, I know.

So, I’m trying to look on the bright side.  I make my own work schedule.  I can lie down in the middle of the day if I feel like it.  I’m getting to see a lot more Jimmy Fallon than usual. And maybe, just maybe, this decision will eventually lead to less pain and a better quality of life.

That, my friends, is my prayer.

Psalm 103: 2-5

Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 

 

A Juror and some witnesses

So I’m at home taking a break between two cultural geography classes for which I was asked to share my experience of serving on a federal jury for a case in which Monsanto was awarded one billion, yes billion, dollars.  The class is examining food security and has been exploring the impact of genetic modifications on our food supply.

You know how these things happen — the instructor was having a casual conversation with my husband who off-handedly mentioned that I had served on this case and the rest is history.

In preparation for meeting with these two classes, I reviewed a couple articles regarding the case. Here’s one. I also watched a video that the instructor had assigned her students to watch. Here’s the video. As I read and watched, I did some reflecting and realized that while I walked into the trial without a lot of knowledge or bias on the topic, I clearly have some now.  I was praying that I wouldn’t let too much of that bias show through to the students, but I am afraid I did.

I enjoyed the conversation with this class of about twenty, but I left feeling a little icky.  Did I say anything that wasn’t true? No.  But did I maintain objectivity or put the best construction on the information that I have? No.

How do I know this?  Because before I started to write today, I took a short detour to read my devotion. Ugh.  I winced when I read the words “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison.” I get so carried away when I stand in front of a classroom.  I guess it’s my inner showman or my attention-seeking inner middle child, but I just get super chatty when I have an audience of students. I don’t always filter everything that comes out of my mouth. Ok, ok, I may be over dramatizing — I mean, I didn’t kill anyone.  But I did season my words with cynicism and judgment.

I will acknowledge that judgment has its place in discussions of corporate greed and public health, however, I would feel a little better if I had built a discussion around evidence rather than emotion.

And, as God has designed it, I have a chance to try again — in just over an hour.  So, what will I do the same? What will I do differently?

  • I will still share that I have no regrets about awarding Monsanto the victory in this case.  The defendant, Pioneer Seed Company, knowingly and blatantly used proprietary information — we saw evidence of that in internal emails, videotaped interviews, and genetic data.
  • I will again state the fact that although I knew very little about Monsanto or genetically modified organisms prior to the 2012 trial, I am much more aware now. While I was truthfully unbiased going into the trial, I clearly have some strongly held opinions now.
  • I will share my suspicion that the dramatic increase in autoimmune diseases like the one that I am living with is correlated with the increased presence of GMOs in our food supply, but this time I will cite several studies by the National Institute of Health instead of just saying ‘it’s my suspicion’.  I will also reiterate that although diet is a factor in disease, so are other factors such as environment and genetics.
  • Instead of emphasizing the huge profits that Monsanto makes by dominating the GMO industry or its ironic involvement in both plant-killing endeavors (Round-up, etc.) and ‘fighting the world’s food shortage’, I will challenge the students to ask their own questions and find their own answers.  Who benefits from this science? Are companies like Monsanto really solving the world’s food crisis? Is there actually a food shortage or rather a disproportionate food distribution?  What long-term effects does genetic modification have on our food supply, our health, our economy, our environment?
  • And, I will again give them the permission and the charge to do something! More than anything I want to convey the idea to students that they are change-agents.  They are not prisoners of circumstance.  They have been gifted with intellect and opportunity to step into science, industry, and health in ways that have impact.
  • Further, I will encourage them to inspire change through their spending choices.  We all agreed this morning that it costs more financially to eat healthfully, at least in the short-term.  However, we pay more in the long-term — health-wise, financially, environmentally, and otherwise.  Their dollars have the collective power to inspire change.

Yes, if I am able to do all of that, I will walk away from this afternoon’s class feeling less-than-icky. I will feel like my time was well-spent. It’s gonna be a challenge to keep my tongue in check, but I owe it to these kids who are looking for footsteps to follow in.

Hebrews 12:1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

Marvel with me

No wallowing today. Period. I declare this a day of marvel.  Want to marvel with me?

First, I got out of bed after only 40 minutes of wakefulness today!  Woo-hoo!  And what did I find after I had maneuvered from horizontal to vertical?  A fresh blanket of snow reflecting a beautiful sunny day.

Second, having gone to bed without a lesson prepared for my 1pm class today, I woke to purposefulness, started with the end in mind, and prepared a process-oriented lesson that will allow my students some practice in critical analysis.

Third, while I was preparing this lesson, I heard from a couple of former students. One young man who I spent several years trying to convince of his giftedness shared a link to his recent appearance on an AOL sponsored webcast in which he brilliantly articulated the power of technology as a platform for young black voices (Here’s his link.); similarly a  young woman who was in my first high school class in Missouri shared her Christian maturity via social media. I get to know these brilliant young people!

Fourth, I found a forgotten gift card I received for Christmas and purchased two new pillows online.

Fifth, I discovered that a savings bond that we received as a wedding gift over twenty-five years ago will more than cover the cost of passports for me and my husband.

Six, I was offered a position teaching composition to high school students in a summer program at the University of Michigan.

Seven, I get to teach college students in just a couple of hours.

Eight, I get to work with two middle school students later today.

Nine, when I sat down to write, I first read a blog post by another former student. She reminded me that although I am prone to wander, my wandering never satisfies. Here’s her blog.

I read my devotion this morning and it reminded me that just as I have been blessed with following in the footsteps of many faithful believers, I am granted an opportunity to leave some footprints of my own.  I’d hate to spend all of those footprints on the path to wallowing.  So, I’m taking the opportunity, once again, to turn.

My life is rich. I am blessed. I’m just going to marvel at that today. Hope you’ll join me.

Psalm 71:17

Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

Beloved, regardless of wallowing

This must be anti-wallowing week!  What is it about February that induces the blues like no other month on the calendar? Yes, it’s cold.  Yes, it’s gray.  But, come on, it’s only 28 29 days.  How bad can it be?

Well, for an experienced wallower, it can be pretty bad, can’t it?

And I’ll admit, I’ve been a wallower this morning.  I woke around 8am.  I always feel the worst right when I wake up.  Every joint and muscle aches, and I feel somehow attached to my bed.  It typically takes me 30-60 minutes to convince myself that I will feel better once I get out from between the sheets.  Today it took closer to 90.  I didn’t have to stay in bed, but I chose to lie there, read Facebook, Twitter, and email, and take my turn on a dozen or more games of Words With Friends.

That, my friends, is professional-level wallowing.

I am not saying that to judge anyone out there with chronic illness — I know it’s rough, and I know that sometimes bed is where you need to be — I am just saying that for me, today, my first 90 minutes were spent wallowing.

It sounded something like this: “I don’t feel good. I ache. I’m tired. I’ll just lie here a few more minutes. I don’t have anywhere to go this morning anyway. My first appointment is at 3.  I need the rest. I’ll get up soon.”

Thank goodness I have a bladder. It recognized the situation and fired off a red alert.  “Emergency! Emergency! You need to get out of bed now!!”  I can always count on my bladder.  It forces me to pause in my wallowing.

Once I had taken care of the first order of business, I made my smoothie and my tea, and I sat down to my work for the day.  I was able to help a student on a couple of documents she needs to submit for a class and interact with a few friends on Facebook before I got a notification from a friend reminding me that my husband had given the message today at Concordia’s chapel service.

And then I was tempted to resume wallowing. “Seriously, Kristin, you couldn’t get yourself up and dressed in time for a 10:30 chapel service? What’s the matter with you?  You aren’t that sick!  Stop wallowing!”  You got it, my wallowing was perpetuating more wallowing!

And right then I had a choice — go down that path, or turn.

Today, I turned. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you will know that I was once again ‘shocked’ that my Bible study for today directly applied to this situation. The words “I’m sorry” jumped right off the page at me.  Of course there were many other words, but I think “I’m sorry” was bolded and in 24pt font.  And what am I sorry for?

I’m sorry that I have forgotten to be content in all circumstances.  I’m sorry that I have forgotten the blessing of this next chapter — yes, I am not the person I once was, but that gives me an opportunity to not be the person I once was. You know what I mean?

I am no longer functioning at my best when I leap out of bed at 5:30am to conquer the world and everyone in it for fourteen or more hours.  I am now at my best when I amble into my day at a slower pace, when I notice who is posting what on Facebook, when I am aware of what is happening in the world, when I can offer encouraging words to a graduate student I have never met face to face, when I can sit next to my dog, read a devotion, and reflect on the thoughts I am having and the way I am feeling.

I didn’t take the time for any of that in previous chapters. I was busy trying to achieve, trying to manage it all, trying to be perfect.

I needed to pause from my wallowing this morning to remember that I was not meant to be “be-perfect”; I was meant to be “beloved”.

I am beloved even when I wallow. I am beloved when I stop wallowing.  Nothing I do can change the fact that I am beloved.

Hebrews 13:5

be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Low batt. p.3

I know, I know…I started this whole thing because I thought the “Spoon Theory” was not readily accessible to those outside the world of chronic illness.  I remarked that it was “a lot to read” and now I’m on my third day of posting about my alternative metaphor.  *sigh*

If you’re sick of it by now, just close this window and move on with your day, because I am going to go ahead and examine a feature that my iPhone recently started offering me.  I’ve mentioned that my phone is not holding a charge very well (nor am I for that matter), so I frequently get a prompt to switch to “low power mode”.  This function is quite handy.  I might be out tutoring in some nearby library, when I check my texts in between students, and I realize that my phone, which the last time I checked had 80% battery, is suddenly down to 37%.  A dialog box pops up on my screen offering me the option of switching to “low power mode”.  Knowing that I won’t be home for another couple of hours, I readily accept my phone’s offer.  “Why, yes, I will switch to lower power mode, dear iPhone, thank you for asking.”

In fact, I am kind of wondering why my smart phone isn’t always in “low power mode”.  I mean, isn’t it smart-enough by now that it is able to do everything I need it to do while remaining in “low power mode”?

That is, after all, what I have been learning to do.

I mean, my battery regularly plummets from 80% down to 37% with very little forewarning.  So, I have found ways to conserve energy — to utilize my “low power mode”.  For instance, when I am teaching, I may start standing in the front of the room, but it won’t be long before I sit right among my students and lead a discussion from “among the ranks”.  We could say it’s brilliant teaching strategy, or just call it what it is — “low power mode”.

My “low power mode” extends beyond the classroom.  I’ve found a variety of ways to conserve energy so that I have it for all the things that are important to me.

  • I cook in large quantities (when I cook, which isn’t often) so that we can freeze portions for days that I’m spending my energy on something else.
  • I fold laundry while sitting in front of the television, and I take breaks if my arms get tired.
  • I take smaller, more frequent shopping trips so that I don’t often have to put away a whole kitchen’s worth of groceries at one time.
  • I also clean in spurts — wipe down the bathroom before I jump in the shower, vacuum right before company comes, and change the sheets when my husband is around to help re-make the bed.
  • My Christmas shopping took me quite a while this past year because I purchased one or two items at a time, often online while sitting on my couch.

These strategies allow an extended battery life.  Because I run on “low power mode”  I can blog, teach, and join friends for dinner all in one day.  I still may need to pause mid-afternoon and plug in for an hour or two of re-charging, but ultimately I can participate in the things that are important to me.

I know this is the strategy that works best for me, and yet, from time to time, I keep all the apps open, the screen up to full brightness, and the wifi searching for a signal. Sometimes I do this out of forgetfulness; other times, I’m just willingly taking the risk. Either way, I end up shutting down in the middle of something, wishing that I’d slowed down or plugged in sooner.

And then I have another chance to learn my lesson — another chance to function at “lower power mode” from the start; my iPhone should go and do likewise.

2 Corinthians 12:9

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Low batt., pt. 2

What good is a metaphor if you don’t extend it?

Have you ever had a phone that just won’t hold a charge?  I have one right now and it’s like a symbol for my life.  It used to hold a charge for quite a while — even if I was using seventeen apps all at the same time!  I could quickly shift from email to Words with Friends to Facebook to texting to Twitter to Google without draining the battery.  Not now.  Recently my phone battery has been draining quite quickly.  I’m constantly closing apps, dimming my brightness, turning off the wifi, and trying to find a charger.

And that, in a nutshell, is my life, ladies and gentlemen. Not too long ago, my own internal battery was charged almost all the time to 90-100%  I could jump out of bed at 5:25 am, shower, dress, put dinner in the crock pot, start a load of laundry, drop the kids at school, teach all day, attend a sporting event or run 4-5 miles, then go home, serve dinner, clean up, finish laundry, grade papers, and maybe even complete a few other tasks around the house.  Sure, by Friday, my battery was down to about 30%, but an early bedtime, a cup of coffee, and I was out the door running on Saturday morning.  Right back at it.

Now, on a really good day, I start at 85%.  Three to five activities will take me right back to zero, so I’ve got to choose wisely.  I can either go to the gym or go grocery shopping — not both.  I can teach one class and meet with three students on Wednesdays, but I better be ready to sleep in on Thursday.  If I want to have enough energy to go out to dinner at night, I had better sit on the couch recharging for an hour or two in the afternoon.

Depending on how low my battery is running, I may have to shut down some apps in order to have enough energy for the task at hand.  For instance, if I have to drive a long distance, I can’t necessarily also have a discussion at the same time.  If I have been grading papers and you stop to say hi to me in the library, I might not be able to access your name right away.  Yesterday, I started some eggs boiling, but started blogging before setting a timer.  My ‘egg boiling’ app totally shut off so that I could use my blogging app.  When I heard whistling coming from the kitchen, it never dawned on me that I might have some control over it.  I had totally shut down that part of my brain. It took eggs exploding all over my kitchen to remind me that I had started the process in the first place.

It’s Wednesday.  Three days after my return from the whirlwind trip that drained my whole battery plus a supplementary external battery.  I spent one whole day plugged into the wall.  Another day at half-batt, with frequent trips to the charging station.  For two days now I have been functioning at about 70%.  I’m returning to my responsibilities and trying not to do too much.  It’ll be a quick trip back to 0% if I’m not careful.

It’s been three and a half years with this less than optimal battery.  I’m trying to learn how to function at this new capacity, but soldiers aren’t used to limits.  I keep trying to report in for new orders, but the orders remain the same.

“Be still. Rest. I’ve got you in the palm of my hand.”

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”