January 5, 2015

Hi, my name is Kristin.  It’s January 5th and I don’t have a job.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that about a year ago, my health professionals recommended that once I moved to Ann Arbor, after 21 years of parenting, teaching, and managing the lives of many around me, often to the detriment of my own, I should take at least six months to rest and recover.  I had been diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis in the spring of 2013 and had, by necessity, kept pushing through life’s demands.  I was exhausted, but I thought surely six months was too long.  Wouldn’t three months be ok? No, I should start with six and twelve was not out of the question.

The idea of ‘doing nothing’ for six to twelve months was very foreign to me.  First of all, we are not independently wealthy.  We always, it seems, have ‘just enough’.   We don’t have a ton saved up for retirement, we have bills to pay every month, and we are still supporting two of our children.  Why would I think, as the wife of a pastor, that I could take six, let alone, twelve months off from work? Second of all, I have been (except for about a year during adolescence when I sat in a recliner eating chips and reading books) for most of my life a type AAA personality.  I do things.  Lots of things. How was I supposed to sit around for all those months doing nothing? Shouldn’t I pursue my PhD now that I am living in a town with the exact program that I have always wanted?  Shouldn’t I transfer my teaching credentials back to Michigan and get a job in an underserved population?  Guys, I could have a job today that would wipe out our kids’ student debt and afford us a second vehicle in no time.  But the doctors, and my husband, and my children, and my friends, all said, “you really need to take a break.”

Ok, fine. I will take a break, but only until January 5.  By then I am going back to work.

Um, guys, I’m sitting in my pajamas at 9:20 AM, and it’s January 5.

My plans for today?  Blogging, exercise, dropping off another load at Salvation Army, drinking tea, and resting.

Why? Well, I don’t think it’s time yet.  I keep poking myself with a fork, but I don’t seem quite done.

First of all, my health is still evolving.  I am doing SO. MUCH. BETTER.  But there are still questions.  For instance, last week my newest doctor, who practices Integrative Medicine, called with some lab results.  Apparently I have had mono at some time — can’t tell when, but I definitely have had mono.  What? And also, my cortisol levels are low.  What does that mean?  Well, one theory suggests that prolonged periods of stress can lead to abnormal cortisol production — too much or too little cortisol.  Too little cortisol can cause the following: brain fog, fatigue, inflammation…. Yeah.  Let’s not unpack all of that right now because then I would have to admit that all my butt-kicking and name-taking had potentially caused the state of chronic fatigue that I have been in for over two years.  Moving right along.

Second of all, I am learning lots of new ways of being.  My quest for better health has caused me to adopt some new routines — new ways of eating, exercising, relaxing, interacting with others, and being still.  All of this takes time.  Right now, in my recovery, the pay off is worth the time.

And, I am actually using my skill set and gift mix to earn a little cash.  A little.  I am doing some editing for a variety of people, mostly students, which is feeding my need to interact with others in a coaching role.  I feel useful and appreciated.  I have also been approved to be a grader for the Educational Testing Service — reading standardized test writing responses and evaluating test items.  I am waiting on the paperwork for that.  I have also registered for a tutoring service that matches tutors with students.  I am expecting to see a little activity from this in the next couple of weeks as students get into the semester.  All of these things I can do at my leisure, when I am able, not on a schedule.

Further, because I am not working in a full-time capacity, I am much more present for the people who matter most to me — my husband, my kids, my new granddaughter (!!), my extended family, and my friends.  For a very long time, all of these people have received my leftovers.  That is not how I want to spend my life.  I want to be able to answer texts from my kids, go out for coffee with my husband, go to Bible study with my girls, and take a road trip to see a baby if I want to.

Lastly and most significantly, I am moving slowly enough right now that I am noticing God’s work in my life. When I was moving at blinding speed, I didn’t always pay attention to His subtle and not-so-subtle messages to me.  But here’s the thing, when I start my morning in His Word each day, I am always amazed at its relevance.  I wasn’t taking the time for that before.  I was running my life, thank you very much.

So, I’m unemployed on January 5.  I’m not exactly sure what’s next, kids, but I am good with that for now. I am coming to terms with the fact that I am not writing this next chapter. 

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Ooops

You know how just yesterday I was talking about ‘reintroducing foods’ and doing it cautiously?  Well, yeah, that’s a good idea.  I wrote that blog yesterday morning, and by last night, my husband’s birthday, I had ordered three entrees, two appetizers, and two orders of naan from a local Indian restaurant and had purchased two bottles of red wine to go with it.  For the first time in over two weeks, I did not worry about what I was eating — I thoroughly enjoyed that food and let me just say, it was delicious!

However, when I woke at 3:30 feeling a little “rough around the edges”, I rethought my choices and decided to do be a bit more cautious today.

We had vegetable pakora, lamb saag, bhindi masala, yum, yum, yummy.  None of it is bad in itself, but after almost two weeks with little more than rice, vegetables, chicken, fish, broth, and more recently fruit, potatoes, and eggs, it was a bit of a leap. Combine that with maybe one too many glasses of cabernet and you’ve got a tired, dehydrated, stiff, achey girl who wishes she would’ve eaten more of the basmati rice and drank more ice water instead of that last glass of wine.

So, what do you do when you fall off the horse, you get right back on.

This morning I started with the juice of half a lemon in hot water with one teaspoon cinnamon and two tablespoons honey — a new addition that is purported to decrease inflammation.  Then I had my UltraInflam shake mixed with one banana and a handful of frozen berries before I met a friend to go walking for an hour.  After our walk, we each had a cup of green tea before I headed back home.

Lunch was two eggs over easy with a half cup of rice.  Right now I am on my second cup of black tea.  I’m still not feeling great, but hopefully a day or two of discipline will restore me back to the energetic self I wrote about yesterday.

All of life is like that, isn’t it.  We have good intentions, we walk down a straight path for a while, but then we slip off the path into the rough and it feels, well, … rough.

So, here’s to getting back on the horse, and back on the path.  Here’s to a fresh start, a new day, a clean slate.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail; they are new every morning.

Great is Your faithfulness.

Cry out!

 When the righteous cry for help,

the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Psalm 34:17

That’s it?  We just call out for help and we’re delivered? Seriously? I think so.  I’ve been running a little experiment.  I spent a significant time on this earth trying to figure out my own problems — my own troubles.  Ummm….after analyzing the data it appears that my attempts to ‘figure out my own problems’ have resulted in actually making the problems — the troubles — grow in significance. Yeah.

So, you want a concrete example, huh?  Well, let me see what I’ve got.

My freshman year of college, I felt life spiraling out of control — I had broken up with a long-term boyfriend, I was putting on weight, and, most importantly,  I didn’t know who I was in the sea of faces who looked like they had it all together, knew exactly who they were, and knew exactly where they were going.  So, I cried out for help, right? Nope. I took matters into my own hands.  I embarked on a strict regimen of diet and exercise that would get my life “back under control” and “solve all my problems”.  It worked, right? Nope. Oh yeah, I lost weight.  A lot of weight.  I got all kinds of accolades for being “so skinny”.  But that didn’t make me feel better, it just put me under more pressure to maintain my skeletal self.  I hadn’t solved my problems, I had buried my ‘self’ even deeper under more issues.

In fact, it wasn’t until the weight of all that pressure and confusion almost crushed me that I cried out, “Help!” As God would have it, I cried out in the presence of a nurse on my college’s campus and “just like that” I was being delivered.  Her phone call, a friend’s transport to an appointment, a season of therapy and re-learning, and I was on the path to discovering who I am and what God has for me.  It might have been easier if I would have cried out to God a little earlier.  But here’s the thing, God uses “all things”.

Since that time in the mid 1980s I have shared my story so often that I feel like the whole world must know it by now.  Certainly many of you who are reading this right now are saying, “Yeah, yeah, the anorexia bit…blah, blah, blah.”  But I won’t ever stop telling this story. Ever.  Because every time I tell it, someone comes to me later and says, “Really, you had an eating disorder? Can I talk to you?”  “How did you recover?”  “What is life like now?”  “Would you mind reaching out to my daughter/sister/friend/cousin?”  God uses “all things”.

Just today I woke up to find a message from a former student.  She had interviewed me during her senior year for a film project on eating disorders.  She’s been struggling through her freshman year of college — trying to figure out who she is.  She remembered my story and wanted to let me know.  She said, “sharing your story with me has inspired me and has let me know that everything will be all right.” Yup, it will, my dear.  But, don’t do what I did, cry out for help, now!   You will be delivered.

I am a slow learner; you’ve figured that out by now.  That lesson was in the 1980s and I am learning it again now — in 2014.  When life started spiraling out of control several years ago, when I was in a new situation with tons of stressors and very few outlets, I was overwhelmed!  So, I cried out to God, right? Nope.  I soldiered up and worked harder, faster, longer, trying to work everything out on my own.

I’m beginning to realize that my strategy made my problems bigger — marital stress, family dysfunction, and guys, two medical professionals have hinted that my health issues may be the result of prolonged stress. There, I said it.

Why do I have to get to this point before I call out for help? He says, when we cry for help He delivers us.  Well, kids, I’m crying out for help — for my health, for my family, for our future.  And, I am confident of this He will deliver me.

Psalm 27:13

I remain confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord…

I am just a human, being, revisit

This post, written in July 2014 at the beginning of my quest to do less and be more, seems appropriate even in July 2019, at the end of a weekend where I hung out with my granddaughters, simply being.

Many have pointed out the irony of being called ‘human beings’ in a culture that is so focused on ‘doing’. We often find our worth, meaning, and identity through what we do. Strangers, upon meeting, ask one another, “so what do you do?”  The child comes home from school, and the parent asks, “what did you do today?”  The husband says to the wife, “what have you been doing?” It’s fine if what you did was close a million-dollar deal, get an A on a paper, or promote world peace, but not so great if what you did was file for bankruptcy, get in a fight with a friend, or simply change diapers all day. When we form our identity or measure our worth based on what we do, we may end up struggling with perfectionism, workaholism, and, in the absence of peak-performance, depression.

I must admit from the start, that in the world of doing, I have been an over-achiever. I stood at the starting line of adulthood declaring that I was going to win. I was the mom who, while holding a full-time teaching position, trained for and ran a half-marathon, baked cinnamon rolls and tortillas from scratch, clipped coupons, and made all my children’s clothes (just kidding on that last one). You get the point. I have got doing down. To a fault.

I often do when I don’t want to feel, or when I need to be in control, or when I am angry or afraid.  It is my way of avoiding the interior me — the human being.  

So when my health began to shift and I suddenly found myself unable to do all the things I like to do and started to be, it was pretty ugly. I began to be angry, and scared, and depressed, and worried, and sad, and bored. I didn’t like to be with me. I was downright whiny — and this momma has never done whiny!

My strategy to cope with this was, of course, to do something!  While I was struggling to manage all the responsibilities of my full-time-plus position as a teacher and administrator of a high school, I spent evenings and weekends applying for all kinds of jobs where I could do less! After about six months doing that, I got an interview and an offer to do, shockingly, more!  And then,….and then….a solution was provided! I didn’t have to do anything!  My husband was offered a position that relocated us to a new environment and provided me with some time to just be. And here we are.

Being.

A long time ago, a huge group of people was following Jesus around, so he walked up the side of a mountain and started speaking to them. He said, “You are the salt of the earth….you are the light of the world.”  He didn’t say “Be the salt of the earth.” Or, “be the light of the world.”  He said “you are“. The word ‘are’ is the present tense plural form of ‘be’ We are already the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our identify is not dependent on what we do. Our identity is firmly planted in Christ. We are His.

I enter this time of rest and be-ing chanting this mantra, “I am His. I am a human, being His.”

I will pray that you find some space to just be today, too.

Epilogue: Five years later, I’m still trying to find the balance between being and doing. I’m discovering in many areas of life that balance is not about choosing one option (i.e. being) over another (i.e. doing) but about finding ways to live in the tension of the existence of both. Our identity is based on who we are in Christ, and He calls us to do — to live our life — out of that truth. We can do great things because of who He has made us to be, which is really not as easy as it sounds, especially in a culture that values accomplishment and status. We can easily forget that the most important is already done; we quickly fall back into patterns of trying to do more to earn position, identity, or status. However, when we realize that our identity is based on who we are in Christ, we can freely do without the added pressure of earning our worth.

As I watched our granddaughters this weekend, I loved them every minute — when they were charming, when they were naughty, when they were sleeping, and when they were showing off. My love for them was not based on what they were doing; I am simply in love with their beings. As they grow, others may not be so kind, but the One who made them — and us — will love them through all the things that they do, while they learn who He has made them to be.

The same is true for you and me.

Be kind and compassionate to one another.”

Ephesians 4:32