Divine Intervention

After a weekend away, I started my morning slowly — putting some things away, thinking through the tasks of today, and generally shuffling around avoiding my Bible study time.  Why was I avoiding it?  No particular reason.  Just out of the flow.

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in several days again.  A few things got in my way — an appointment here, a symptom flare-up there, a weekend trip to see the in-laws. And I find that when I get out of the routine, it is a little difficult for me to jump back in.  It’s like merging into traffic.  I’ve got to find an opening and just move in.

So, finally I did.  As I mentioned last week, I am studying the book of Hosea with my Bible study battalion.  The book is all about God choosing us, even though we are bent on pursuing other ‘gods’.  He didn’t choose us once, but He chooses us continuously.  It’s not over and over again, but perpetual choosing.  Even though we are perpetually wandering, perpetually looking around at all the shiny objects, perpetually taking our focus off of Him.

He is The. Faithful. Love. of our lives.  Period.

So, small example — He loves me and is faithful to me even though I was inconsistent in my Bible study and daydreamed during church yesterday.  (I’m telling you, this pastor’s wife is far less than ideal.) He’s so faithful that today when I picked up my Bible study, He had the page turned to a huge example.

(I know I’ve written before about how, in some ways, I am thankful for the health issues that I have.  Although I am often uncomfortable, fatigued, and frustrated with running from one doctor to the next, I have been granted an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and enter this new chapter.  In fact, I’ve been slowed down so much that I can do nothing else but sit in amazement at His provision during this time.)

The Big Example — the very first words on my devotion today, I kid you not:

Therefore, this is what I will do:

I will block her way with thorns;

I will enclose her with a wall,

So that she cannot find her paths. Hosea 2:6

Now of course, this passage is talking about Gomer, the unfaithful wife who wandered off to other men.  It is also about Israel, who wandered off to worship other gods.  However, it is also about me.  That’s how the Bible works.  It is, as it says, “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.”  And those words this morning cut through my foggy stupor to say, “Hello, Kristin, are you ready to sit down and hear this story about how I loved you enough to block your way with thorns so that you couldn’t continue to follow your butt-kicking, name-taking paths? Are you ready to hear again how much I love you and that I am able to keep you in this pattern of life so that you will make time to fit me into your routine?”

I mean, yes. Yes, I am ready. If I didn’t get caught by that scripture, I would’ve gotten caught by the first question that the author posed,

Can you think of any ‘thorns’ that God may have put in your path to slow you down and make you think twice about something you were doing? 

Maybe some people can get slowed down by hearing a song on the radio, listening to a sermon, or having a good talk with a friend over coffee.  Me?  I need industrial strength slowing down.  I wasn’t about to turn around of my own volition.  I had to be stopped dead in my path by the thorns of chronic illness.  I had to be relocated to a different home, state, and lifestyle.  I needed a re-boot.  Or should I say a re-built hard drive.  I needed a next chapter. 

And because He loved me, He gave it to me. And just like Gomer, even though I have been pursued and claimed, even though I have been given a new identity, I still sometimes try to go back to my old soldiering ways.  I mean, I’m still human.  And He knows that.  So, he perpetually pursues me and reminds me that He has called me by name and that I am His.

Jeremiah 31:3

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Yes, yes you have.

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

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

Hi, honey, I’m Home, Part 2, a clarification

I want to correct a little theology from yesterday.  I believe I said that God had immobilized me through my autoimmune disease.  That really makes it seem like He intended for me to have this disease.  I’m not sure about that.  In fact, I am sure that God created all things in His image — whole, healthy, sinless, perfect.  I am fairly confident that illness — all illness — is a result of sin.  I don’t understand it, that’s a fact, but I believe that God desires for all people to be well and whole.  In fact, I believe that one day I will be — on this side of eternity or the other.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because this morning,  during my self-imposed three-day-weekend of rest, I opened my Bible study for the second day in a row and read these words:

Remember that most of what God does is invisible — totally outside our realm of observation or understanding.  We cannot base our faith on what He appears to be doing or how dramatically He answers our prayers — because faith founded on God’s apparent actions is not faith at all (Moore, Whispers of Hope, 112).

When I say something like “God has immobilized me,” I am implying that I know what God was thinking and that I am sure that He is the one who ‘afflicted’ me with this illness.  I don’t know that.  Here’s what I do know.  Three years ago I began having symptoms that slowed me down, made me uncomfortable, and eventually put me in bed for large chunks of time. For about the first two years of that discomfort I tried to fight back.  I was angry, complaining, and searching for a fix to my problem.  (And, guys, I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t still welcome a fix to this problem.) But about a year ago, I shifted gears. God had provided a way for me to be still in this illness — he allowed me some time off from work and busyness.  In that stillness, He inserted time for me to write.  He inserted friends who included me in Bible study and prayer.  He provided resources that spoke directly to my need. He entered into my illness with me.

Now, I am not implying that He could not have entered into my busyness in a different way.  Not at all.  I am saying that once I was slowed down, for whatever reason, I was able to more clearly see His involvement in my life.  For that reason, I am thankful for my autoimmune disease.  I don’t love my autoimmune disease, but I am thankful for it.  And I believe that God will continue to work in this and all circumstances. I have no idea what He has planned, but I am confident that His plans are exponentially better than mine.

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,…

Hi, honey, I’m home!

Really, I’m home.  I wasn’t supposed to be.  I was supposed to be in the car with my husband driving to St. Louis for a wedding.  But I’m sitting in a chair, in my pajamas, amid papers, books, and empty glasses and cups.

I overdid it.

I know, I know.  You saw this coming from a mile away.  Who did I think I was, agreeing to work so many hours and travel three weekends in a row?

A friend asked me yesterday when I planned to leave for my trip.  When I told her I wasn’t going, she looked shocked.  I get it.  From the outside I look fine.  Really.  It is only inside my house where I collapse in pajamas and let the fatigue and pain rise to the surface.  It’s the weirdest thing.

Each morning, when my alarm goes off, I have to convince myself to get out of bed.  It can take anywhere from five to twenty minutes.  (This is shocking to my husband who used to comment on how fast I leapt out of bed in the morning proclaiming, “Let’s go running!) Once I drag myself to my feet, the first few steps look like those of a double amputee trying out prosthetics for the first time — wobbly, jerky, and uncoordinated.  By the time I make it to the bathroom, my steps are getting smoother.  After a shower, a smoothie, and a cup of green tea, I have been magically transformed into the semblance of a professional educator.  I am dressed, my hair is combed, I have even put on makeup.

After the 15 minute drive to work, the second cup of tea — strong and black — is starting to work and I am energized and looking forward to my day.  Before I know it, I have worked with four students for an hour each and it is time for my lunch.  Typically I walk across the street to the mall, take a lap, get a second cup of strong black tea, and make my way back to work.

Amazingly, I have the clarity of mind to work with three or four more students before I clock out and stumble my way to the car.  Typically it is driven by a family member — partly because we are sharing a car, but partly because no one knows for sure if I will remember how to get home after a seven to eight hour work day.

Once inside my house, I shed professional attire and don one of two standards — pajamas or yoga pants.  If I have any steam left at all, I make myself go on a walk.  If I am totally depleted, I collapse with an ice pack on the couch. Dinner?  Totally optional.  By 5pm I care very little about food or drink.  I am mostly into the staring portion of my day where I play Words With Friends, ‘like’ Facebook posts, and watch junk television.

If I have any cognitive functioning left, I might read…but nothing too heady…mostly young adult fiction or Jodi Picoult.

Finally, I surrender to sleep, setting the alarm to start the process over again the next day.

That is my life with autoimmune disease.  It is very different from the life I once lived. It is frustrating, because the person inside of me still wants to take road trips to St. Louis, to hang out with friends in the evening, to go to the movies, to play cards, and to regularly hit the gym.

And I can still do all of those things, but not if I work full time.  That is the exchange.  I can either work full time and do nothing else, or I can agree to work only part-time and maintain some semblance of normalcy outside of work.

I already knew this, of course, even before this summer working experiment.  But I needed to see it again.

When I took six months off from work, I started feeling pretty well!  I was working out, taking care of myself, and interacting with friends.  I started to think I had just been exhausted and that I would be fine getting back to my old routines.  That is the trick of this invisible illness.  You can forget that you have it.  You even start to feel a bit like a baby because you put limits on yourself that don’t seem necessary to those looking on — “What do you mean you have to sit down for a little while?”  “You can’t go grocery shopping and out to the movies on the same day?” “You look just fine to me!”

A person with autoimmune disease has to trust herself and stand up for herself even when it doesn’t make sense to others.  Yes, I do have to sit, or lie, down for a while. No, I don’t like to plan two outings on the same day.  Yes, I do look fine, but you can’t see how I feel.

And right now, I feel exhausted.  So, I am home.

Last week, we visited our son’s church where the guest pastor said the words, “God will sometimes immobilize you in order to circumcise your heart.”  I wrote those words down.  My journey over the last three years has been all about recognizing that I had been moving so fast, kicking butts and taking names, that I had been failing to turn to God as my strength.  I’m not mad that He loved me enough to take all my strength — to immobilize me —  so that I would reconnect with Him.  But, old habits die hard; I will probably need to learn this lesson over time.

2 Corinthians 12:9

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Testing….Testing…

I feel like I am conducting an experiment.

Just three years ago I was entering the home stretch of the school year, assigning literary analyses, grading stacks of papers, preparing students for finals, and organizing thoughts for the end of year faculty meetings.  I easily worked fifty hours a week between teaching, preparing, grading, and other responsibilities. My husband was pastoring an inner city campus ministry church; he easily worked sixty to seventy hours each week. Two our children were in college; one of them had just enlisted in the Army and was preparing to leave.  The youngest was entering her junior year and all the craziness that that holds.

I burned the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle; I had no reason to expect that that would change.

I closed out the school year, cleaned out my classroom, inventoried department materials, attended meetings, and started my summer projects — reading, gardening, lesson planning for the next year, etc.  My pace was slower, but definitely still purposeful.

I’d been doing Zumba a couple of nights a week and running three to five miles, three to five days each week.  I was in decent shape for a fortysomething and anticipated running 5Ks for the foreseeable future.  I used to joke that I would keep running until I won my age group — even if that meant into my eighties.

Somewhere in the middle of all that summer activity, my elbows started to ache — both of them. I already routinely saw a sports medicine doc because of pain I’d had in my hip since my twenties.  He said I probably had tennis elbow. Tennis elbow?  I don’t play tennis, but ok.  Maybe it’s from all the time I spend playing games on my iPad.  No big deal. I kept stepping.

Later that fall I went to see my general practitioner.  I was tired.  So tired.  Maybe I had mono? Or was anemic? I was just dragging!  She ran blood work and reported that I was just perfect — nothing wrong with me at all.

So, why was I still dragging?  And, you know, it wasn’t just my elbows, my hips were really bothering me. And my back. And, now that you mention it, my eyes.

The doctor said I was tired, maybe depressed. And that, my friends, will cost you $35.

That whole fall I felt pretty crappy, so finally, on a hunch, I called the rheumatologist that had treated my daughter for a bizarre, but related, health issue the year before. I described to him my symptoms and he shared my concern.  To make this story a little bit shorter, let me just say that six weeks later I was in his partner’s office.

I’ve written about this a lot in this blog, I know.  If you’ve been following, you know that I’ve had a variety of diagnoses, none of which I am fully comfortable with.  What I tell most people who ask is that I have ‘autoimmune disease’.  I think my doctors say I have psoriasis, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and who knows what else. Whatever. The story is that I get tired — really tired.  I ache most of the time. My eyes and skin periodically ‘flare’ up and make life a little more irritating than usual.

And that, my friends is how I got to this stage in my life of conducting an experiment.  After ten years of working at full throttle, I stopped everything.  I took several months off from everything and have been slowly adding things back in.  My family and I are like a bunch of scientists observing ‘the subject’ — me — and noting changes.  “You seem more tired today; do you think it’s because you took those three extra students last week?”  “I’m having a flare; I think I will need to spend the afternoon in bed.” “You’re walking like you are in pain; have you been exercising?”

This week I am pushing the limits a bit.  I am clocking twenty-four hours at the agency and an additional ten hours of tutoring.  As I add each appointment I brace myself a bit.  Thirty-four hours of direct instruction followed by a whirlwind Friday night trip could put me in bed for all of Sunday, but it might not.  I might be ok. I might actually enjoy it! I’ve gotta take the risk.  I have to know what my new normal is.

For the next two months I will clock over forty hours each week. Each hour will be spent working one-on-one with a student. By the end of those two months I might be exhausted, and I may have a better handle on what kind of pace will work best for me and my family.  I hope so, but for now I gotta get back to my test.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not men.

Colossians 3:23

I’m wide awake!

Today’s episode is brought to you by insomnia.  Additional funding is provided by autoimmune disease.

Sigh.

I do not have chronic insomnia.  I just can’t sleep sometimes.  I remember once when I was a little girl, probably only 11 or 12 years old, I was at summer camp and I couldn’t sleep.  I woke up my counselor (thoughtful, I know) and told her I couldn’t sleep.  She said, “That’s ok, just lie still so that your body can rest.”  I remember being frustrated as I “tried to rest” for what seemed like hours.  Since then, I occasionally am awake in the middle of the night.  Sometimes it’s because I have something on my mind.  On a few rare and blessed occasions I have been almost propelled out of bed by the need to write.  That’s exciting!  I wake up out of a sound sleep with an idea and I can’t seem to get to the keyboard fast enough. In those moments I have written lyrics, letters to my children, poetry, and yes, even blogs.

Tonight is not one of those nights.  Tonight I did wake up out of a sound sleep, but not with an intense desire to write.  Actually, I had an intense desire to go back to sleep.  It was 1:45am when I first looked at the clock.  Now it is 3:45.  I really did try to “just lie still so that my body could rest.”  I tried that for the first hour.  Then I got up and had a snack.  That sometimes helps.  My kids like to tell the story that when they were growing up they could always tell if I’d been up in the night because there would be a box of graham crackers sitting on the kitchen counter.  Graham crackers are magical sleep medicine — it’s true.  Since I’ve been gluten-free, I’ve had to resort to other snacks.  Tonight I actually toasted a gluten-free waffle.  I ate it, read some Facebook posts and went back to bed.  Again, I tried to “just lie still,” to no avail.

I finally said, “God, is there something you want to talk to me about?”  I was still for several minutes.  Cricket, cricket. “Ok, well, let me know if you change your mind.”

This wouldn’t have been a big deal a week ago.  If I was up in the middle of the night any time in the last eight months, I would just sleep late the next day.  No big deal.  But, guys, I am now a working girl!  The past two days I have had eight hours of training each day.  Both days I came home, put on pajamas, ate dinner, watched TV and went to bed — exhausted!  So what am I doing up in the middle of the night!? I have no explanation.

But now that I am awake, my pain is keeping me from going back to sleep.  Since the weekend I have been having what I call a ‘flare’.  It is mild. Some flares have put me in bed for a few days.  This one is not to that level.  Those around me can’t even really tell that my symptoms have escalated.  As with most autoimmune diseases, my symptoms are mostly invisible to others.  I have psoriasis — but not in places that you can see.  I have eye irritation — but even eye doctors say that my eyes look fine.  I have joint pain — but xrays reveal no inflammation or damage.  I have the sensation throughout my body that I have been dipped in IcyHot.  Finally, I have fatigue.

But I can’t sleep.

Sigh.

I think I’ll go try again.  I will lie down, say a prayer, close my eyes and wait for sleep.  If it comes, I will rejoice.  If it doesn’t, I will grab a book and read for a while.  I know that eventually I will sleep.

Psalm 127:2

…He grants sleep to those He loves.

The Tough Cookie Crumbles

In my former job, I was often called upon to mete out justice — all teachers are.  It falls upon all school staff to make sure that students follow the rules: wear the uniform appropriately, keep your hands to yourselves, respect others, abide by the honor code, etc. Any of my students would tell you that if I saw a shirt untucked, I would address it.  If a student was eating in the hallway, I would take their food and throw it in the trash.  If two students began a verbal exchange that threatened to escalate, I was quick to march them to the office to see the Dean of Students.  I was on it. I often joked that I actually worked for the FBI, teaching was merely my cover.

Perhaps the fact that I owned that responsibility so tightly contributed to my soldiering.  While teaching in the high school, I could quickly “put on” my Michelle Pfeiffer Dangerous Minds persona if I needed to “kick some butts and take some names”.  Tough times call for tough personas.  Truth is, that persona often clung to me a little longer than necessary.   I was in the business of “getting it done” for many years.  I was a tough cookie. As with anything else in life — being a tough cookie has its pros and cons.

Tough cookies don’t have a lot of time to be sensitive to the needs of others, but they can hold it together under extreme pressure.

Tough cookies don’t let their guard down very often, so they are often first to see when something isn’t quite right.

Tough cookies demand respect and often get it, but at what price?

Tough cookies are difficult to enjoy — they have to be dunked and dunked and dunked before they soften up enough to make them palatable.

Did I go too far?  Probably.

Here’s the thing…the past 2.5 years of dealing with health issues have put Michelle Pfeiffer on the shelf, probably permanently.  I don’t have enough energy for all that bravado.

The good news is that I am no longer in a position where I have to scrutinize the behavior of others.  I am no longer required to mete out justice.  I am now in a position where I can offer grace — a second chance.

Ahhhh…..

Let’s look at all the places that God has provided for me to offer grace:

  • I’m a new grandmother — guys, all I have for that little girl is love and grace.
  • My new job is working with students who have failed and failed and failed.  They think they will never read and never be successful in school.  The strategies I am learning can and often do,  in a matter of weeks, result in improved reading and comprehension scores — often multiple grade levels! I get to watch kids get another chance at success!
  • I am the only mother living on a college campus — I have already had a few opportunities to walk students through decisions or to provide resources with no strings attached.
  • In all of the roles I’m in right now (including my new job) I am easily twenty years older than everyone else.  I am praying that the wisdom of those years will transform into grace in all my interchanges.

Dear Michelle Pfeiffer,

It’s been a good run.  I’ve appreciated borrowing your leather jacket; you can have it back now. This tough cookie has begun to crumble, I think I’ll be buying a few cardigans.

John 1:17

Now the law was given through Moses;

grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

January 5th-ish

Today is the day!  In less than two hours I will clock in at my new job!  I am excited, and nervous!  I’ve probably felt this way every time I have started a new job — and I’ve had plenty of them!  I’ve worked everywhere from a dress shop to McDonald’s to summer camp to pubic schools to day care centers to residential facilities.  I like to work. I also like change.  So, why am I nervous?  I have been thinking it’s because I don’t know how my body will handle the demands of consistent work after eight months or so of concentrating on improving my health.  But I got up this morning, had the parade of beverages, read my devotion and realized that this is an opportunity I haven’t had in a while. Now I’m a little more nervous than I was before!

Since 2005 I have been working at a Christian high school.  Almost all of my colleagues were Christian, and the majority of our students were, too!  In fact, daily prayer with our students was encouraged, each day started with a devotion read over the public address system, every day included twenty minutes for a chapel service or devotion, and issues of faith were freely discussed in our classrooms.  Our Christian beliefs were on display at every turn.

What a blessing, right?  Right!  It was an incredible privilege to work in an environment that was supportive of my faith and in which I could freely share my faith with my students.  However, it was also a bit of a safety zone.  My students and I, I believe, took this for granted.  It was a given.  We started most conversations on an even and familiar playing field. We knew, to some degree at least, where the other was coming from.  Conflicts were in the minutiae, not in the big ticket items.  Parents counted on that; so did we.

Here in Ann Arbor, which is, as a whole, a very diverse environment, we sit on a small Christian college campus that is very similar to the high school environment where I taught.  The majority of employees/faculty/staff are Christian and I would say that more than half of the students are, too.  So, again, we are operating in a somewhat predictable environment.

My tutoring experiences have allowed me to interact with students from a variety of backgrounds for one hour at a time. In the one hour that we are bent over my students’ school work or writing we spend very little time on personal matters–we joke a little, talk about sports, or share our plans for the weekend.  We don’t often have time for deeper conversations.  But today —  today I enter an unknown environment.

I have been in the office once.  Situated on the second floor of an office building on the south side of Ann Arbor, the learning center is very professional.  All employees are in business attire (khakis are only allowed if they ‘appear to be professionally laundered’), students and parents buzz to get in and are greeted at the door by an employee.  The waiting room is clean and orderly.  The rooms within the office suite are tastefully furnished and impeccably kept.

The employees I interacted with during my two-hour interview were very professional.  They taught us a strategy and then practiced it with us, coaching us in the ways that they would coach students.  I have no idea how many employees there are.  I have no idea what backgrounds they come from.  I don’t know what students and parents I will be working with.

I just know who I am.

This morning’s devotion said that when Peter referred to believers in his letter I Peter, he used the word lithos, which is the same word that was used for the stone that was rolled away from the tomb. Beth Moore, in this study, said, “Wouldn’t it be something if our lives became living stones exposing the empty tomb…what if people were convinced we worship a living Savior simply by watching the effervescent life of the Spirit within us?”

What if in this new environment, where we don’t start with morning devotions over the public address, where I don’t attend chapel with my students, where I don’t start every session with prayer, my students and their parents and my coworkers can still see evidence that I “worship a living Savior”.  What does that look like?

I don’t know.

So that is my prayer today.  My prayer is that I will not be focused on how my physical body is feeling but that I will face each student in front of me as a gift, that I will recognize the awesome opportunity I have been given, and that I will see God working in all of it.  Stay tuned.

2 Corinthians 2:14

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere.

Continue reading “January 5th-ish”