Danger! Danger! Danger!

One dichotomy of thinking that I have clung to in various ways for most of my life is a bit embarrassing to admit:

If I am thin, I am valuable; if I am fat, I am detestable.

This belief led to a certain degree of self-loathing in my adolescent and young adult years and then propelled me into the disordered thinking and distorted body image that supported an eating disorder and remnants of one for much longer than I would care to admit.

‘Thin’ as defined by me has meant a variety of things. Its worst definition was a denial of self — a refusal to care for my needs in favor of controlling my body to attain and maintain a particular size.  Over the years, the definition morphed into something more socially acceptable — a particular dress size, for instance, that could be maintained through regular exercise, an aversion to excess, and a more private critical eye that was still always trying to find a way to weigh just a little bit less.

‘Fat’ as defined by me has meant anything over a particular number on a scale, laziness, apathy, and a refusal to take charge of one’s life.  I had been ‘fat’ in my younger years.  I didn’t like myself then, and I wasn’t going back.  I had control over my body.  Fat people were simply ‘less than’ me.

See why I am embarrassed?  I had put myself into a category, ‘thin people’, and, in so doing, had positioned myself in opposition to those outside of that category.  Now, in my defense, this was not conscious.  I would have never admitted this out loud.  I pride myself in treating people fairly, not judging a book by its cover, but looking on the inside to find value and worth.

But, I’m admitting here that I have been a hypocrite. And, as with almost every other judgment I have made in my life, my judgment of ‘non-thin’ people has had more to do with what is inside of me than what is inside of them.

I know this because in the last three and a half years that I have been dealing with health issues, I have been slowly putting on weight.  It’s now up to twenty pounds.  My clothing size has changed.  The number on the scale has exceeded my ‘safe number’.  I don’t like how I look.  I don’t like how I feel.

I’ve been trying to accept it.  I have bought some new clothes.  I have done a lot of self-talk.  I have continued to exercise.  I have continued to watch what I eat.  I keep telling myself, “this is not a failure; it is a disease.” Or, “you don’t have control over this, you will have to adapt.”

So last week when I went to see my doctor, I said, “My weight keeps climbing.  It edged up again this time, didn’t it?”  I think inside I was hoping she would say, “you don’t have control over this, you will have to adapt, it’s part of the disease.” But do you know what she said?  She said, “I want you to keep track of everything you eat for a while, so that I can see what is causing this.”

Gasp. You mean it’s something I am doing? I might be able to control this?

Danger! Danger! Danger!  All the alerts are going off in my head.  Keeping track of what I eat was a gateway to anorexia over thirty years ago.  Each day I tried to eat less and write down less. If I write down what I eat now, I will fall back into this disorder.  I can’t do that!  I have to let myself eat whatever I want.

Did you hear the dichotomy? Either I eat whatever I want, or I will have an eating disorder. It’s simply not true, but this is challenging territory.

Can I be attentive to what I eat without being restrictive? Can I assess what I am eating without the pressure to trim down? Can I trim down without dieting? Am I comfortable allowing my doctor to see everything I eat (or don’t eat)?  Am I willing to let her speak into this?

Before I could go too far down the rabbit hole, I blurted out in her office, “I used to be anorexic….” Phew! I got it out.  “Well,” she said, “we don’t want to get anywhere close to that, but we do want to make sure that what you are eating has a healthy ratio of fat to protein to carbohydrate.”

I didn’t initially want to follow her directions.  And then, I wanted too badly to follow her directions.  I started thinking, “well, I could lose those twenty pounds and get back into all of my old clothes….” That’s all it takes for me, really.  Just a quick thought and I am off and restricting.  Quietly.  In private.  Hiding my plans from others who might want to stand in my way.

For the first three days I recorded what I ate quietly on my phone app without telling anyone.  And, of course, I limited what I was eating so as to ‘eat less’ than the prescribed number on the app. Sigh.

Then, I told my husband about the app.  Now I am telling you.  I am not going to believe the dichotomy any longer.  I have value and purpose regardless of a number on a scale or a dress size.  My weight does not define me.  I can watch what I eat without being restrictive.

I can evolve past this dichotomous thinking.  God has so much more for me.

Romans 12:2

 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

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.

Low batt. p.3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 12:9

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

Low batt., pt. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 11:28-30

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

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

Let it simmer

So today is a ‘let it simmer’ kind of day.  You know what I mean?

I rolled out of bed rather reluctantly, muttering under my breath something about, “I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired…” I made my smoothie and my tea.  I got in the car and drove to the physical therapist.  When she asked me how I was doing, I admitted that I was feeling frustrated, defeated, and maybe even hopeless.

In her gentle physical therapy whisperer way, she put her hands on me, played an audio recording that spoke directly to my need, and spoke directly to my body, soul, and spirit.

Her words, and the words on the recording, reminded me that I had just celebrated in this blog yesterday the fact that I have been blessed by this illness. Blessed to pause.  Blessed to process.  And, as I see in the first paragraph I wrote above, I have been blessed with a home,  a rather comfortable bed,  tea,  the luxury of a smoothie every morning,  a vehicle, and the privilege of going to physical therapy once a week.

And not just any physical therapy — a physical therapy session wherein my therapist speaks Biblical words of truth into my life.

And it’s not oppressive. Or preachy.  Or false.  It is true.

How do I know it’s true?  Because as I am lying on the table, feeling her hands on my head, hearing her utter simple words of truth, I feel tears — soft, quiet, tears — dripping down my face.

She’s known me for two months, yet God’s spirit inhabiting her could see the need in my spirit and speak directly to me.  I don’t even remember what she said to tell you the truth.  All I know is that in those moments on that table I was reminded that He loves me, He pursues me, and He will heal me.

Yeah, I’m just gonna let that simmer for a bit today.

Psalm 107:43

Let the one who is wise heed these things
    and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

Struggling Still

So, I’ve been sitting here with my laptop open for quite a while now.  I’ve finished my Bible study.  I’ve responded to several student emails.  I’ve looked at and managed my calendar for the week. But I’m not feeling inspired to write anything.

I have this problem.  I want to be authentic — to not sound cheesy, or preachy, or packaged in any way.  I want what comes out of my fingers to be a genuine reflection of where I’m at.  And, to be honest, ‘where I’m at’ is in my pajamas, sitting on a futon in my office, covered in warmed flaxseed pillows with my dog squished up next to me.  It’s a pretty good life, actually, but it’s not much to write about.

Yet, I’ve committed to writing more.  So, I’m going to write.  And then, for the most part, I’m going to spend my day being still.

I still struggle with this — with stillness, that is.  In my former life, I didn’t have very many times of stillness.  Days, weeks, months, and years, were full of activity — of doing, going, achieving, completing, accomplishing.  So, sitting here halfway through a Monday morning , still dressed in the same clothes I slept in with no intention of changing anytime soon, still seems odd.

I’m telling you, my Missouri friends would not recognize me.  I had a colleague who used to say, “I wish I understood how you get so much done.”  Me, too, friend, me, too.  I’ve said before on this blog how by this time of day in my former life I would’ve showered, put dinner in the crock pot, transported three or four kids to their various schools, tidied my classroom, reviewed my lesson plans, met with a family and their child to craft an educational contract, set up an appointment to observe a teacher, tracked down two delinquent students in the hallway, taught one section of composition, attended chapel, and managed any number of other administrative tasks.

Today? I’ve played my turn in about ten games of Words with Friends, started a load of laundry, finished last night’s dishes, drank some tea and a smoothie, heated some flaxseed pillows, sat down next to my dog, completed my Bible study, and sent some emails.

The rest of my day includes some lesson planning for the upcoming semester and editing a short paper for a student. Period. Ok, fine, I will try to do some Pilates. But seriously, I’m not doing anything else.  I’m not leaving the house.  At all.

And why am I struggling with this?  This is the new reality that was Hand-crafted for me.  This is the Next Chapter I’ve been blessed with.  It’s not boring. It’s not unsatisfying.  In fact, it is exactly what the Doctor ordered to put me back on the path to health.

Yet the do-er in my still sometimes feels like I should be accomplishing something, checking more off my list, making a difference, proving my worth. There it is. Something in me (and in you?) tells me that I don’t have worth unless I have accomplished something in my day. My value is in direct proportion to all the things I have managed to complete.  But ladies and gentlemen, that is a lie.  It’s a lie that I chose to believe for a long time.  And I believed it really well.  So well that I denied myself the opportunity to be still and recover from all the doing.  So, really, (wink, wink) I’m making up for lost time.

Do yourself a favor today.  Remind yourself that your worth is not based on what you do.  It is based on Whose you are. You have been purchased at a great price.  Your value is unfathomable.  Sit down for a minute and fathom that.  Drink it in for a moment while you are being still.

I Corinthians 6:19-20

 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your bodies.

It takes a team

One thread of this blog since its inception is my journey through healing.  In the summer of 2012, I noticed that my elbows hurt.  The first health professional I saw thought I had tennis elbow — even though I didn’t play tennis or do any other repetitive motion activity other than swiping my iPad. That fall I began to feel tired — reeeeeeeally tired.  As a full-time mom, teacher, school administrator, and basically busy person, I had no time to be tired.  I went to a second health professional who did some blood tests and told me I was fine.

Since I knew I wasn’t fine, I kept pushing and investigating until I landed in a rheumatology office where I was given the diagnosis — psoriatic arthritis.  By then I wasn’t just tired — I was achy and struggling with psoriasis, too. Over the next 18 months I was treated with a series of medications in an attempt to find the one that would allow me to feel the best with the least side effects. I also experimented with acupuncture, massage, and nutritional interventions. All the while, I was still working full time and preparing for a major move, my youngest daughter’s graduation from high school and my oldest daughter’s graduation from college.

Then we moved.  And, if you have been following this blog, you know I committed to some time of rest and recovery.

While resting and recovering, I saw new medical professionals who said I did NOT, in fact, have psoriatic arthritis, but probably fibromyalgia.  These doctors discontinued some of the meds I was on and suggested that I insert more exercise into my life including cardio (I was already walking and doing Pilates). I resisted the fibro diagnosis, got a gym membership, and started building my team.

Now, 3.5 years after my initial symptoms and 1.5 years after moving to Michigan, I am still on the path to healing, but I am not alone.  I have assembled quite a little network of professionals who are believing with me that my health can improve and, indeed, that my entire sense of well-being might be restored.  Let me introduce my team.

Rev. John Rathje, aka my dear husband, is chief executive in charge of encouragement.  From the beginning, he has believed my invisible symptoms are real, has accompanied me to appointments whenever I have asked, has heated flax seed pillows, purchased ice packs, rubbed sore muscles, and supported my couch sitting. He also makes sure to remind me not to push too hard or do too much.

Rev. William Gatz is chief executive in charge of intercession. Since the moment he heard of my diagnosis he has prayed daily for my complete recovery.  If you know Pastor Gatz, you know this is serious business. He is a leader in prayer and intercession, especially prayer related to healing.  He also recommended that I read How Can I ask God for Physical Healing, which challenged some of my thoughts and affirmed others.

Dr. Mary Greiner, D.O. and Integrative Medicine Specialist, is the hub of my medical team.  She spends a great amount of time listening to me.  She takes a varied approach that includes, but is not limited to, pharmacology, homeopathy, nutrition, physical therapy, and lifestyle. Most importantly she believes that I can experience a better quality of life than I have now and she is willing to walk with me until I get there.

Marcy Boughton, MS PT, is the physical therapy whisperer who is subtly coercing my body into healing itself. She has manipulated my skull, my spine, my organs, my limbs, and, I dare say, my mind. The woman is filled with the spirit of God — Biblical truth oozes from her as she applies her hands to my body.  It is really quite miraculous. I have never experienced anything like it. Once a week I spend an hour on her table and leave feeling energized and supported. Marcy recommended that I read Dr. Gary Kaplan’s Total Recovery which is reshaping the way I think about health and the human body.

Dr. Greg Peroff, DC, is the chiropractic support member of this team.  He continually reminds my sacroiliac joint of where it is supposed to hang out and keeps my head screwed on straight. Like the others, he is committed to my overall well-being and applauds me as I walk down this path.

Of course I have other players — my eye doctor who treats the ocular herpes that resulted from my time on biologic medicines, my former therapist who walked with me before and during my diagnosis and helped me begin to see that my pursuit of health is not merely medical, but also psychological and spiritual, and a great team of family and friends. Soon I will be recruiting an acupuncturist and a massage therapist to round out this crew.

When I write it all down it seems a little excessive and somewhat selfish to need so many people. That is, when I look at it with my natural mind. My natural mind wants to be self-sufficient and to soldier through any difficulty without the support of anyone else.  I want to kick butts and take names.

Good thing I also have the mind of Christ that reminds me that butt-kicking and name-taking contributed to me being in this position in the first place. The mind of Christ reminds me that God connects us with others for a variety of reasons. This team is supporting me, yes, and perhaps, in some way, I am also blessing them.

I didn’t choose the path of chronic illness, but I am choosing the path to wellness — body, soul, and spirit. I am turning away from thinking with my natural mind, and turning toward the mind of Christ. Moment by moment, I am turning.

I Corinthians 2:14, 16

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Try Waiting in Silence

I don’t usually know what I am going to write about before I sit down.  Today’s no exception.  I find the time in my day and then sit down at my desk.  I read a devotion and then start moving my fingers over the keys.  Today, my devotional book, Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope, which I am reading through for the second time, directed me to Psalm 62.  I read the Psalm and then turned to what Beth had written about it.  About half way through her page, she told me to go back to scripture and read aloud verses 1-2 and 5-8.  If you are so inclined, you could read them aloud right now:

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Since, as of yesterday, I am getting back to writing my blog, perhaps this verse is a fitting reminder of where I started eighteen months ago. I had just committed to taking six months to be still and wait.  I, a self-proclaimed butt-kicking, name-taking soldier, had agreed to put down my weapons for a season in order to recover from some battle wounds.

In fact, if you recall, my injuries had rendered me useless to the soldiering business.  I hadn’t surrendered willingly, but had been pulled from battle per executive order.  I would like to say I left kicking and screaming, but in reality, by the time that I was summoned from my position, I was too exhausted to utter much more than a whimper of acknowledgement.

I was plunked down in this little house by the river with a laptop, my Bible, and nothing but time. If you’ve been reading with me for the past eighteen months, you know that my journey to recovery has been slow and circuitous. I have made progress in fits and starts, proving, time and again, that I am no longer fit for battle.

Nor was I ever intended to be. I wasn’t called to fight or conquer or even defend.  I was called to wait in silence.  I was called to run to my refuge, seek my shelter, and find my salvation in the Rock.

Now, it might seem that seeking shelter means taking myself out of the war entirely.  Not true.  I can enjoy shelter in the midst of chaos, in the midst of trial, in the midst of downright warfare.  I won’t be oblivious to the turmoil that surrounds me, but I will be safe, secure, and held.

For a very long time, I thought it was my job to keep peace, to quiet cries, and to overcome the enemy.  And, boy did I try.  And fail.  In fact, I would say that my efforts to fight battles that were not mine actually caused more harm than good — to myself and others because the battles were not mine; the war is already won.

That’s why I have permission to wait in silence.   If I am busy soldiering on, I miss the action.  But if I watch and wait, I “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).  How do I know this? Because I’ve been seeing it.

I wonder if in your stillness you are seeing it to….