The Essential, re-visit

This post, first written in September of 2016 and polished just a bit in 2019, resonates with Monday’s post, Body Signals, and its message of balance and self-care.

I rushed into yoga this morning, grabbed my mat, found a place on the already crowded floor, and assumed the position — lying  flat on my back. The instructor likes us to begin supine. We spend several moments listening to our breath and quieting our minds.

I noticed right away that my mind was a little extra frantic this morning. I heard her voice in the background saying, “Quiet your mind….Connect to the breath…” but I heard my mind saying, “But…but…but…what about the bills that need to be paid? What about the fact that I did such a mediocre job teaching yesterday? What about the election? What about our children?”

“Connect to the breath.  If it’s helpful, repeat to yourself, ‘inhale, exhale’.”

Sometimes at this stage of the yoga class, the instructor will say, “Set a purpose for your practice today.  What is your intention?  What would you like to focus on?” I typically pick a prayer that I want to repeat over and over again.  Usually it is something like “Thank you.” or “Heal me.”  I repeat this phrase over and over again while I breathe.  It’s my attempt — albeit often feeble — to turn my focus away from myself — my body, my pain, my worries, my agenda — and aim it in the direction of God.

Today, when I noticed that extra layer of anxiety, I asked myself, “What is going on? Why are you so amped up?”

“Hmmm,” I answered. “Could it be that you have made yourself so busy that you haven’t been spending time in prayer and Bible study? Again?”

“Mmm-hmmm.”

I was totally busted.  As much as I ‘set my intention’ for life — my intention to be balanced, my intention to take time for self-care, my intention to put God first — I get caught in the immediate and forget the Essential.

The immediate screams out for me — the email from the student, the phone call from my husband, the laundry, the grading, the projects.  And, you know, the essential sits quietly on the sofa, sipping tea, waiting for me to realize that it’s sitting right there, waiting for me.

The immediate whines and begs, grabbing onto my arm and dragging me down. The essential says, “You know, you always feel better after we spend time together. I feed you. I listen. I care. I nurture.”

Yes, You do. You were patient enough today to wait for me while I did my yoga, went to the chiropractor, prepared for tomorrow’s class, and made myself some lunch.  And then, when I finally sat next to You on the couch and picked up the book You’ve been holding out to me, the first chapter said, “The Sabbath is a basic unit of Christian time, a day the Church, too, tries to devote to reverence of God and rest from toil.”  It’s like You couldn’t wait to blurt it out — You had to speak while you had my attention. I chuckled to myself, put that book aside and opened my devotion to the page that said, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Yes, yes.  \It is Yours, is it not?  It is not mine to worry about. I don’t have to be frantic. I can take the time to ‘devote reverence to [You] and rest from toil’.  I can. I must. It’s essential.

Mark 6:31

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

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