Making Up for Lost Time

During all my years of soldiering — of butt-kicking and name-taking — I was in constant motion, often simultaneously cooking, doing laundry, answering email, talking on the phone, and granting or denying permission to one of my children.  I got a lot done.  It seems that I was able to keep a clean house, feed a family, teach hundreds of students, and arrive most places fully-clothed for quite a few years. The down side? Very little time to reflect — very little time to examine options, consider outcomes, or feel.

I’m making up for lost time. Obviously.

In days of yore (Why, sonny, when I was your age…), I looked at the myriad obligations of the members of my family, the limited functions of two vehicles, and the tight schedules my husband and I kept, and I quickly formulated and executed a plan that accommodated everyone.  I planned my work and worked my plan.  “Here’s what’s happening today,” I would say, “You two will come with me to school.  After school, while you are at practice, I will get groceries. I’ll be back to pick you up.  When we get home, you’ll unload and put away groceries while I cook dinner.  Meanwhile, Dad will take you (other child)  to your different school.  He’ll go to work then pick you up after your practice, stop by Walgreens to fill your prescription, then meet us back here.  We will eat at exactly 5:30 because then, Dad has a meeting, I have parent-teacher conferences, two of you have homework to do, and the third one has to be at a study session on the other side of town.”  I would hit the start button and the plan would be executed.

Nowhere was there time for contemplation, negotiation, or revision.  We were in “go” mode.  In some ways, it was necessary for the season of life we were in with three kids in high school all at the same time, however, I think it could’ve been handled differently.  I think I could’ve let some stuff go.  I could’ve slowed down, allowed the kids to eat cereal for dinner more often, and let my laundry pile up.  I could’ve valued processing over producing. Contemplating over completing.

So, yeah, I’m making up for lost time.

I’m currently reading three books.  One is a book I am reading with my Bible study gals, Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way.  Another was given to me by my physical therapist/counselor/friend, Doing Well at Being Sick by Wendy Wallace.  I also picked up Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.  Why am I telling you this?  Well, it’s interesting to me that I have time to read three books, for one thing.  Also, I notice that I am interacting with these books, writing notes in the margins, going back to my notes, and thinking about what the books are saying to me. And, third, I am intrigued by the fact that these three books are speaking to each other.  It’s like they are three friends that said to one another, “Hey, guys, Kristin’s been still for quite a while now.  She might finally be able to hear us.”

And what are they saying?  Well, it’s not really shocking, because they are saying the same things that I have been discovering, thinking, speaking, and writing about for the past three and a half years.  However, I think what’s interesting is that I am noticing.  I am processing. I am digesting. I am not more interested in completing these books than I am in connecting with them.  I am not compelled to finish them; I am drawn to understand the meaning they have for me.

And really, the meaning is this — my soldiering is done. Even though I’m tempted almost every day to go back to that life, I am no longer capable.  God, in His mercy, has chosen a better way for me.  He has allowed limitations in my life — real physical limitations — that stop me from soldiering so that I can live a life that reflects, that feels, and that makes space for others. Because on my own, I wouldn’t have stopped soldiering, guys.  I would’ve keep right on kicking butts and taking names.  God had something better for me. Yes, you heard me right.  My “broken” life, my life with the limitations of chronic illness, is a higher quality life than my “un-broken” life.  In fact, my “broken” life is more whole than the “unbroken” one was.

It’s a paradox, to be sure. God is often paradoxical, isn’t He?  His brokenness makes us whole.  By His wounds we are healed. He turns our mourning into dancing. He doesn’t always make sense, but today I’m not going to question Him. I’ll just thank Him.

I Peter 2:24

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

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.

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.

One of those days….

Did you ever have one of those days?  I had one this week.

It actually started the night before.  My husband was out of town, so I stayed up a little too late watching Netflix and crocheting.  Yes, I know, I am a rebel. Full disclosure — I was also sipping wine.

I set my alarm for 7am when I crawled into bed around 11:30pm because I had a physical therapy appointment the next morning at 8:15 about thirty minutes away from my home. (No, I don’t need more time to get ready.  My PT knows that I roll out of bed, fix my tea, and then drive to her.  I don’t always even comb my hair.)

When my alarm went off, I groaned, creakily rolled out of bed and realized that since my husband was not home, I would have to be the one to take the dog out for his morning duties.  That accomplished, I came back in and got dressed.  (Yes, of course I took my dog outside, on a college campus, in my pajamas. The students don’t even point and laugh any more.)

I dressed, made my smoothie, a cup of super strong black tea, and my special morning green tea laced with lemon, cinnamon, and honey.  Since it was nearing time to leave, I crated the dog and started shuttling my parade of beverages out to the car.  I put a water bottle and my black tea in the cup holders.  Then, I wedged my smoothie behind my purse on the passenger seat.  My green tea?  I set it on the floor of the driver’s side for ‘just a moment’ while I ran back to close the door.

I know you see what’s coming…and this is only the beginning.

I shut the door, ran back to the car, and climbed in, forgetting that I had placed my tea on the floor thirty seconds earlier.  My size 9s kicked the dainty little cup and dumped six ounces of sticky mess onto the floor.  Since I was now running short on time, I reached in the back seat and grabbed the sheet we use to protect the seat from golden retriever hair.  I shoved it onto the driver’s side floor and proceeded to my appointment.

When I arrived at the physical therapy office after my thirty minute drive, the office manager greeted me with, “I have you down for 9:15.” “Oh, ok, mind if I hang out here for an hour?” “Not at all.”

I pushed away the thoughts of an extra hour of sleep or drinking my beverages at home and found a seat on the couch in the waiting room.  I checked my emails, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then set my phone beside me on the couch and grabbed a magazine.  When the magazine, a local healthy living piece, suggested that my ground was ready to plant peas and spinach, I leaned over to get a pen out of my purse to make a note.  Just then I heard a swoosh-clunk and realized that my phone had slid down the space next to the cushion on the couch.

I slid my arm down the same space and realized that I couldn’t reach my phone to retrieve it.  I stood up to remove the cushion to get better access only to find that the cushion wasn’t the removable kind.  I got on my hands and knees to reach under the couch only to find that the bottom fabric was taut and secure.  After another attempt to fit my arm down the crack, I looked over at the office manager — yes, the same one who had informed me that I was an hour early — and asked her for a little help.

Together we examined the couch.  We reached into the couch.  We tipped the couch forward.  We tipped the couch backward.  Finally we discovered a small tear in the underlining of the couch.  If we tipped the couch backward then lifted one end higher than the other, we could coax my phone to the opening and free it.  Mission accomplished. Phone freed.

But wait, there’s more.

I drove directly from my appointment to cast my vote in the presidential primary.  That took a grand total of ten minutes — no complications.  Phew.  So, I drove home to clean the tea out of the car.  Just as I entered campus, my car informed me that I had forgotten to get gas.  It was gasping on the remaining fumes.  So, I turned around and drove back out to get gas, then returned home to deal with the sticky mess.

The sheet I had shoved under my feet was one of those cheap microfiber ones, so it hadn’t really absorbed anything. It had just provided a barrier between my shoes and the mess.  I grabbed a towel and started wiping up the goop when suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my low back.  I slowly rose to standing to assess the situation.  “Come on, I gotta clean up this mess!  I don’t have time for an injury!”  In fact, I didn’t just want to clean up the tea, I wanted to wipe down the interior of the car, maybe run a vacuum, then put a clean sheet on the back seat.

After all, a student was coming to walk Chester with me, and the Dean requires that we take him off campus to walk, so we were going to have to take my car, and I didn’t want this student to see the evidence of my carelessness.  I walked around a bit, grabbed the vacuum and a wet soapy wash cloth and went back to finish the job.  By the time I was finished, the car, good ol’ Suze Cruze, was looking quite snappy — at least on the inside.

However, after maneuvering a couch and cleaning out a car, my body was experiencing some post-traumatic stress and pain.  I had fifteen minutes until the student would arrive, so I iced.  Then we walked. Then I iced some more.

Then I tutored.  Then I iced.  Then I tutored.  Then I iced.

I’m happy to say that the following day my chiropractor was able to put everything back where it belonged.  I wish I could say that he also was able to repair the disfunction in my brain that misunderstood my appointment time, forgot about the tea, neglected putting my phone in the pocket in my purse that was especially designed just for phones, and overlooked an empty gas tank. I mean, he’s a chiropractor, not a miracle worker.

I’m also happy to say that I was able to laugh my way through all of this.  I hope I made you laugh a little bit, too.

Proverbs 3:4

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

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.

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.

In 2003, Christine Miserandino explained chronic illness to a friend in terms that are now widely referred to as The Spoon Theory, see it here.  Since that time, people like me, who have chronic illness, have been thankful to have a way to convey tangibly what it feels like to be totally depleted, or “out of spoons”.

We were away this past weekend at a basketball tournament in Chicago, and, having used all of my spoons, I shared the analogy with my husband.  I told the story, as best I could remember it, and he said, “Hm. I like the analogy.  I get how spoons can carry, or hold, energy.”  Yesterday I was talking with my daughter after almost two days of trying to replenish my store of spoons.  She was trying to understand how a whirlwind trip to Chicago took me out of commission for most of two days.  My husband prompted me to share the spoon theory with her.  I did.  She said, “so can you store up spoons in advance?” I replied, “No.  You can loan some out from the future, but you’ve got to pay them back.  That’s what I’m doing now.”

So, if you got this far  without clicking on the link above, you are probably scratching your head and trying to decide whether or not you are going to continue reading this cryptic post or if you are just going to close the window.  If you clicked and saw the page-long “spoon theory” you might have said, “Well, I’m not gonna read all that and this blog post.” I know.  That’s why in the past three or four years I have only shared the spoon theory a half a dozen times.  It’s an effective analogy, yes.  But it takes some explaining.

So, I was going through my motions this morning thinking to myself, “is there a more accessible way to convey how I am feeling?” I mean, people with chronic invisible illness find themselves in this position rather often.  People look at us and think, “She looks alright to me!” They don’t understand when we “can’t” stay to watch the second round of games in the tournament because we have to go sleep.  They don’t understand why we make plans always “tentatively” because we might feel like crap on that day. They wonder why we didn’t make it to Bible study in the morning, but we were able to teach a class in the afternoon.

Maybe we could think of it in terms of limited battery life. We all carry devices around with us wherever we go, don’t we?  They all rely on batteries.  To make sure that our devices are functional all day long, we plug them in every night at our bedside.  Some of us have chargers in our cars.  In many public places — airports, malls, libraries –we can now find charging stations.  We push our devices to their limits.  They get depleted; we have to plug them back in or they will be rendered useless.

Most people have internal “batteries” that can keep them running for twelve to fourteen hours with a minimal recharge sometime during the day.  They might be up and out the door before seven, sipping a cuppa joe on the way to work.  They might need a brief pause around 10 o’clock and some kind of a lunch break, but then they are good to go for the rest of the day.  They might even have enough battery life left to get dinner with friends or attend a play or a concert in the evening. In fact, they can keep up this pace day after day and even get away on the weekend occasionally without fully depleting their battery life.

Not me.  Not any of us with chronic illness.  Our batteries have been rendered less effective.  I might have up to eight hours of battery life per day.  If I start off at 7 am and don’t take a break, I will almost certainly be done and in my pajamas at 3 pm.  So, I don’t usually function that way.  I use 20% of my battery, then I sit down and try to ‘re-charge’.  I may get 5-10% back if I sit down, put my feet up, have a cup of tea, or close my eyes.  In that way, I s-t-r-e-t-c-h eight hours of battery life into twelve to fourteen hours of wakefulness, if not usefulness.

Occasionally, I throw all caution to the wind and decide that I am going to take a chance, push my battery to the limits, attend a basketball tournament out of state, and suffer the consequences.  That’s what I did this last weekend.  I had already had a pretty busy week — I had tutored twelve hours, taught the first two classes of the semester, arranged for doggy care, done laundry, tidied the house, purchased new jeans, and packed — before we woke at 5:30am to prepare for a journey to Chicago that would begin at 7am.  We arrived in Chicago around 11am CST, found the gym, got some lunch, then watched two basketball games.  Of course we “sat” at the top of the student section, so, because they stood for the whole two games, we stood for the whole two games.  All of this was a physical drain on my batteries.  And then there was the emotional drain.  All emotion drains battery life — positive and negative.  While at this tournament, I saw many former students and some former colleagues.  There was so much hugging and smiling!  I loved it, but it drained me.  By the time we headed back to the hotel at 5pm, I was done.  I put on my pajamas, crawled in bed, and began to read student papers.  (Yes, I realize that I said I was done and then I continued to do more — I’m telling you, I threw caution to the wind!) My husband and the others went out to get food.  When he got back, I had barely enough energy to chew.  I ate my dinner, then fell asleep before one episode of “Modern Family” could play out.

Then I slept for TWELVE HOURS.

We got up at 8:30am, grabbed a quick breakfast and headed back to the gym for more reunions, more hugging, more standing, more yelling, and more cheering — four games worth!  Then, at 9:30pm, we started the trek home. Since my husband was driving the van following two charter busses full of students, I wanted to stay awake to keep him awake and alert.  So, we drank caffeine at 10pm and chugged along.  It was like I had purchased an external battery pack. I was wide awake on purpose.  We blared music and sang.  We talked and laughed.  Finally, at 2:15am, we arrived home.  Of course I couldn’t go straight to sleep. I had to run out that external battery, which was, of course, disposable, not renewable.

I found that out halfway through my sleep, if you can call it that.  Having depleted all of my own battery, and the external battery, my body didn’t even have enough energy to sleep.  It started to scream from the inside out — a burning sensation filled my gut, my joints ached.  No position was comfortable.  I thought I would have to run to the bathroom to be sick.

Have you ever run your phone battery down so low that the phone actually shuts off? When you first plug it in, you get that image of a battery with a thin red line showing the depravity of life you have allowed your phone to deplete to? Guys, I had a screaming red line.

For all of Sunday I whimpered, whined, and convalesced while my husband, dear man that he is, carried my charge cord around and kept plugging it in — he brought me scrambled eggs and toast, which I at first couldn’t even eat; he ran me an epsom salt bath, which I gladly soaked in for an hour; he brought me tea, and water, and ice; he watched a movie with me; he endured an emotional meltdown; he encouraged me to go to bed at 7:30pm.

Then I slept for TWELVE HOURS. AGAIN.

It’s now Tuesday morning, and I’m pretty sure my battery is at about 70%.  I’m gonna go amble off to the gym, hobble onto the treadmill for a few minutes, then sit in the jacuzzi.  After that ‘workout’, I will meet with three students and prepare for tomorrow’s class.  I hope I still have 15-20% left at 7:30pm so that I can sit in on a board meeting conference call.

But if not, I’ll just have to crawl into bed and sleep some more.  That’s the price of throwing caution to the wind when you have limited battery life.

Isaiah 40:29

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Just add this to the pot

So, do you know what simmering does?  It cooks slowly and gently so as not to damage.

Yesterday, a lot of ingredients were tossed into my brain.  I was thinking about pain and illness.  I was wondering about healing. I encountered the idea of spiritual warfare.  I read about pride, identity,  and temptation.  All of these ingredients were sitting there in my brain, and I didn’t know what to do with them.

Often, the recipe is clear — knead, bake, slice, serve. But yesterday, I had no idea what I was ‘making’.  Probably because I wasn’t intended to ‘make’ anything at all.  I felt the nudge to put the pot on simmer and walk away.

Sometimes I do this in our house.  I have a lovely crock pot that I fill with a pale chunk of pork or chicken, a couple tablespoons of slimy olive oil, some sea salt and other dry pungent spices.  I turn the dial to ‘simmer’, and I walk away.  It’s lazy cooking, yes, but’s it’s pretty effective.  Those ingredients, which look less than appetizing at the start, start to simmer, and as they do, they give off a pleasing aroma that fills my house and greets my husband when he walks into the house after a long day.

So, yesterday, as I was taking in some thoughts that were less than pleasing — pain, illness, temptation, spiritual warfare, pride, sin — instead of tossing them all into the trash, I decided to allow them to simmer for a while.  I mean, it couldn’t hurt.

While they were simmering, I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill for a half an hour or so.  Then, I submersed myself in the warm bubbling waters of the jacuzzi.  I showered, dressed, then drove to meet with two students in a neighboring town.

I drove home, ate some dinner, watched some television, crocheted, read, and went to bed.  And the ideas were still simmering.  I didn’t open the pot to stir.  I didn’t turn the heat up or down.  I just let them cook slowly and gently.

This morning, the battalion met to continue in our study of Hosea. I think I was hoping that I would be able to open the crock pot and see that all the ingredients were ‘done’ simmering.  That didn’t happen.

Instead, as they continued to simmer, I observed this sisterhood that I have been plunked down into.  I watched as they cared for one another — observing a swollen toe, praying for an ailing husband, applauding successful surgeries, and joining in to sing together.

Today’s topic was the idea that we often wander from God because we don’t truly know Him — really know His character and appreciate His love for us.  We acknowledged together that we are “prone to leave the God we love,” and learned together that this is because we know of God, but we don’t fully know Him.

Yet, in spite of our wandering ways, God continuously pursues us.  He puts obstacles in our self-destructive paths so that we will turn around and wander back toward Him.  Sometimes when we are redirected in this way, we get close enough to see His face beaming with love for usHis beloved.  And if we can get our eyes off the distracting shiny objects long enough, we can look into His eyes and see ourselves reflected there.  And that, my friends, is when we get a glimpse at our identity.  Not our estimation of ourselves in relationship to our peers, but our true identity as children loved by God.

I think I’ll let that simmer a little longer.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;

therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

Jeremiah 31: 3