I’ve fallen, and I’ll eventually get up

It couldn’t have been the women’s retreat over a month ago. It probably wasn’t the day trip over Spring Break.  Or the hours of tutoring. Or teaching two classes. Or two recent back-to-back road trips. Or the fact that I haven’t found a free hour in the past month to do any blogging.  No, not one of those things slammed me to the floor.  In fact I was standing up straight and moving around freely even through this weekend’s musical that went way past my bedtime and through the day-long festivities yesterday at our church. Not only that, I woke up today, planned two classes, graded some papers, taught on my feet for two hours and then gave a private lesson before coming home at 5 and making a double-batch of caramel corn. I had two loads of laundry folded and the ironing board set out when I finally admitted that I could do no more.  I grabbed an ice pack and found my way to the floor.

I stayed there icing through the news, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy.  Then, I switched to heat for The Voice.  The ache was deep in my hips, sacrum, and sacroiliac joints. Nothing was dulling the edge.  Glass of wine?  Tried it.  No help.  Then, although I have been committed for over a year to no NSAIDS or other pain meds, I finally caved around 8:30 and took 400 mg of Ibuprofen.  An hour later I took 400 mg more.

I put myself in bed and willed myself to sleep.  No chance.  It’s been a while since my pain, which usually fluctuates between and 3 and a 6 out of 10, has climbed the scale up to what I would call an 8.  I’m calling it an 8 because I can still move — slowly and with audible involuntary groans — from standing to sitting to lying, but I can’t stay in any of those positions for very long before I determine to try yet another strategy.

Around 11:45pm, I climbed into the tried and true epsom salt and baking soda bath.  The deep ache persisted.  I stayed there for more than 30 minutes, trying to give the magic a chance to work.  Finally, I admitted one more defeat, crawled out of the tub less than gracefully, dressed, ate a banana, and thought to myself, “Have you found a limit, then?”

Just yesterday, a good friend said to me, “You need to find some time to rest.” My husband, bless his heart, also gently reminds me and then lets me figure it out. He knows that I want to seem ‘normal’, even if temporarily.  The longer stretches I have of doing well, the more I question the validity of my limitations. When I begin to doubt my limitations, I attempt to accomplish even more.  It’s a vicious cycle.

Anyone with a vague diagnosis or an invisible illness will tell you that we are our biggest skeptics.  Although we may have very difficult days, characterized by extreme fatigue, insistent pain, or a rash that erupts (right on my face, thank you very much), we also have days, weeks, and sometimes up to a month or more, when the symptoms seem not so noticeable.  We begin to question ourselves, “Surely, you aren’t really as sick as you think; certainly you can see one more student and sit through a play on a Saturday night. Toughen up a little.” It’s as though our worst symptom is amnesia — the forgetting of the consequences that come from forgetting.

When I forget to pace myself, I may do alright for a few days, or a week or a month. However, if I keep forgetting, I will eventually get a reminder. I’ve had many over the last month. When I sleep for over 10 hours in a row, that’s a reminder that I’m depleted and I probably need to take a few slow days.  When I get a psoriasis or eczema breakout, that’s a reminder. I call it the ‘slow simmer’. The symptoms are beginning to bubble up, and if I don’t turn down the heat, they are going to reach a full boil. When I notice that I have to take stairs one foot at a time, I’m probably too far down the path to avoid the crash. Yesterday, when my friend, who has noticed my pace, gently nudged my memory, I said, “Yes, if I don’t willingly take a break, it will be thrust upon me.” And in a very speedy fulfillment of prophecy, here I am.

It’s been over four years now that I’ve been living in this strange reality — the reality that was named, and then unnamed,… That’s part of the struggle, too.  I don’t know what to call this ‘thing’ that I have.  People ask me. Often. And I give some kind of mumbled reply about autoimmunity blah blah arthritis blah blah eyes blah blah skin blah blah.  By then they are more confused then I am.  They don’t understand, because neither do I, why I choose not to eat gluten or dairy if I don’t really notice a difference when I do.  If I try to explain that no, I don’t drink coffee because it cancels my homeopathic medicines, again, I just hear myself sounding like the teacher in the old “Peanuts” cartoons. Blah, blah, blah.

So, why am I writing about this at 1 o’clock in the morning? Because that’s what I have. Writing continues to be the way that I think through all of this and try to find the meaning.  And yes, I realize, I just have to go back a post or two to the last time I wrote about how blessed I am that God has provided this season of slowness, that He has allowed me time and space to be aware, to be available, to just be.  But just like every other gift I’ve been given, sometimes I don’t appreciate fully it.  I want to take it back to the store and see what I can exchange it for.  I think I’m going to find something better, you know?

If I go just a few posts further back, I will be reminded of the drawbacks of soldiering. Just typing that word calls me out, doesn’t it?  I don’t even want to go back to the first paragraph I wrote here today, because that’s what I’ve been trying to do — go back to my soldiering ways.

If I don’t stop writing here, I’ll start drawing parallels to the ancient Israelites…and it’s already 1:15 am and I’m already at over a thousand words.  So, go ahead and draw your own conclusions. By now, I’m sure you’re way ahead of me.

As for me, I repent. I’ll try to get some rest. And then I’ll probably cancel my tutoring for tomorrow.  Because sometimes even retired soldiers need a little R ‘n’ R.

Matthew 11:28

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

 

 

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.”

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.

Thoughts on a Sabbath

I’m sitting at the corner table in The Common Cup, the coffee house located in the basement of the church building where our congregation meets.  I often sit here in the mornings when my husband, a pastor, preaches two services on a Sunday morning. I like the dedicated time to think, grade papers, or write before I go upstairs for the second service.  The baristas brew me an extra strong pot of English Breakfast and I sip on it while I sit listening to quiet worship music and working on whatever is in front of me.

Today, I don’t really have any work.  I finished teaching a summer course on Friday.  I don’t start teaching again for almost a full month.  Yes, I have plans and syllabi to write.  Yes, I have grade books to set up. I have plenty of work for the week ahead of me, but today I am resting.  I am resting from duties to spend my day blogging, reading, puzzling, and breathing.

I highly recommend it — this kind of resting.  I do realize that many of you have determined to observe a Sabbath every week.  You regularly take a day to turn away from work to rest for a full day.  I mean, it’s Biblical.  However, it’s been a difficult concept for me to wrap my brain around.  For a long time, the concept of Sabbath felt like an obligation rather than an opportunity.  I have felt guilty for not taking a Sabbath rather than thankful to have one.

Perhaps you can relate.  My husband and I have long been church workers.  Making Sunday a Sabbath is a challenge for church workers.  How do you find rest on a day when you have a sermon to preach, lessons to present, needs to respond to, and expectations to meet?  Some church workers manage to do it; I’ve never gotten the hang of it.

Or, perhaps your weeks are so full with work and family obligations that taking a full day to rest simply seems impossible.  So many of my weekend days have been crammed full of grocery shopping, laundry, house keeping, errand running, and catching up.  Some of you manage to do all of those tasks and still find room for a Sabbath rest; again, I haven’t really figured it out.

Even now, when I am no longer working full time, I still struggle to keep a day completely free from ‘work’.  I usually slip in a little bit of grading, a little bit of editing, a smidge of house work, or a trip to the grocery store.

However, one thing my chronic illness has taught me is this — our bodies (at least my body) need time to recover, time to heal, time to restore, time to prepare for what is next.  If I power through, if I fail to rest, fail to take consistent breaks, my body often shuts itself down and mandates a day or two of bed rest.  This has happened over and over again; I am starting to get the message.  If I preemptively take a Sabbath, as God’s Word has recommended, then I don’t crash as often.

Not only do our bodies need consistent breaks from work, but also our minds, our spirits, our souls. On Friday, after five weeks of teaching a composition class, I got caught in a rain storm — twice.  I was soaked to the skin, but I was determined to run a few errands before I went home.  I was tired before I started, but I pressed on. I stopped at four different places before I considered going home.  I was hungry.  I was exhausted.  I was cranky.  Instead of taking consistent rest during the five weeks of teaching, I had tutored; I had taken weekend trips;  I had pushed myself to my limits.  Later Friday night when my husband got home from a business trip, I really wanted to welcome him back, but my fatigued, depleted spirit was edgy.  My tone was sharp.  My glance was surly.

We expect a lot from ourselves.  We push ourselves to do just one more thing — one more email, one more errand, one more social engagement.  But guys, what we really need so that we can more fully experience our lives — fully engage with the people in front of us, fully care for the people we love, fully attend to our work — is regular time to recover.

It’s funny, I was writing this post this morning at church.  I saw my computer draining of battery, but I thought, I can probably finish before it runs out.  I couldn’t.  My screen went black, so I had to rest from my blog about resting.

I went to worship.  I chatted with friends after.  My husband and I stopped at the grocery on the way home. (Insert eye roll here.) We ate some lunch, then I worked on my puzzle while listening to a book on tape.

Since it was time for my afternoon tea, I grabbed my laptop, moved outside to the patio, and sat in my reclining lawn chair to finish my musings.  It’s after 4pm and I truly have rested from work most of the day (if you overlook the groceries). My aspirations for the rest of the day?  Right now they include staying on this lawn chair a little longer.  I haven’t thought beyond that.

I could get used to this.

Leviticus 23:3

“‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.

Creativity

Just under two years ago, as I said goodbye to teaching in St. Louis so that I could move to Michigan with my husband, I imagined that I would take four to six months to rest and recover and then I would find a job and get back to some kind of ‘normal’ life.  My limited view couldn’t see what God had planned for me.  I couldn’t imagine how He would allow me to experiment with different types and levels of employment so that I could see for myself what would be fulfilling, draining, energizing, depleting… I couldn’t envision a life where I would have so much freedom to learn and grow.  I couldn’t see how He could provide for us financially, so He had to show me.

In the past two years I have worked for Reuters as an election agent, tutored students in English, writing, reading, study skills and test preparation, participated in intensive reading and writing instruction, edited everything from a young adult novel to a Master’s thesis on cancer-treating drugs, scored standardized math assessments, and taught college-level writing and literature courses.

And though that sounds like a lot, I’ve had the luxury of making new friends, participating in a regular Bible study, joining a new church family, working out consistently at a local gym, reading dozens of books, visiting family across the state, exploring Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti with my husband, and providing a refuge for my daughters as they navigated some difficult life situations.  Not only that, I’ve had time to experiment with medical strategies — discarding some, embracing others — to find ways to feel better both physically and emotionally.

Much of that journey has been chronicled in this blog. I think I started writing imagining that I would arrive at a destination — that I would someday get to “The Next Chapter.” However, I think the theme of this chapter is learning to live in the process, to trust that God knows what is coming next and He is preparing me for it. I’m learning to not look too far ahead, but to enjoy each moment.

This morning, I was supposed to be doing some online scoring, but ETS contacted me and said that due to reduced volume, I was not needed and would still receive half of my pay for the morning.  So, I stayed in bed reading a great book a little longer than usual.  I got up, straightened the kitchen, made my tea, and picked up my old faithful devotional, Whispers of Hope by Beth Moore.  After having set it down for a while to study Hosea and Breathe, I turned to the first page to start my third journey through this book.

Was I surprised that the message applied directly to my life? Not really.  I’m starting to expect it.  I no longer get stunned when I see a message like this: “What God is doing in your life right now may not make sense to you, but it’s not because He’s nonsensical.  It’s because He’s creative…In His wisdom God knew [His creation] was good because He knew what was coming next.  He knows what’s coming next for you…Give God room to be completely creative.”

Two years ago, I had no idea what was coming next.  It was pure obedience (plus exhaustion and a touch of desperation) to move here with no plan. Granted, He had made it quite obvious that we should take this leap of faith by providing a position that was custom-crafted for my husband in Michigan, which we both call home, but still, for a chronic planner and do-er, it was a totally new experience.

What God was doing in our lives did not make sense to me, but it wasn’t because He was nonsensical.  It was because He had a creative response to my self-destructive soldiering ways. He had information that was beyond my scope.  He knew what was coming next. And in my exhaustion, I was willing to allow him the room to be completely creative.

Guess how creative He is — He’s giving me the opportunity to teach high school students from across the country and around the world this summer at the University of Michigan. I’ll get to speak into their writing process and, hopefully, into their lives.  He’s allowing me to lead three sections of writing at Concordia in the fall — a three-minute walk from my kitchen to my classroom. And – gasp – He’s orchestrated an opportunity for my husband and me to chaperone a group of students to Israel for two weeks in January!

Could I have imagined all of that two short years ago? Not in a million years.  I was picturing myself shelving books at the public library. Not that that would’ve been a bad gig; perhaps that’ll be the next Next Chapter.  For now, I’m pretty content in this chapter and grateful to its Author.

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.”

 

 

 

Catch phrases

Jennifer Rothschild in her Bible study on the book of Hosea pointed out for me that I am ‘bent on turning’ away from God and going my own way.  Now, Priscilla Shirer has called me to “resist the urge to continue”.  Let me see if I can unpack what this phrase means to me.

I’ve spent significant white space in this blog discussing my ‘soldiering years’ — my long period of working hard and believing that I was tackling all of life’s challenges on my own, thank you very much. Although I was rescued from that life of self-sufficiency by my chronic illness, the pattern of striving is deep in my DNA and hard to leave behind.  I still try to turn back to that old way of living, filling my days with work and achievement in order to –let me be completely honest –fool myself into thinking I have some kind of control over my life.  Even though I have been given this opportunity to live a life that has a slower pace, fewer demands, and plenty of time to take care of myself, connect with God, and care for the people around me, I still am bent on turning to what I know best — soldiering.

Now, sure, it looks a little different than it once did.  Instead of power walking down the hall in an a-line skirt and power heels intimidating poor little freshmen into tucking in their shirts and getting to class on time, I now sit at my desk in sweats and a t-shirt grading papers, finding new students, and applying (yes, it’s true) to even more teaching gigs. However, the underlying drive is the same — it’s a need to be busy, to prove my worth, to make myself useful, to be in control.

It’s a rhythm that has felt comfortable to me for quite a while.  Although I don’t always like working as hard as I do, the rhythm makes me feel safe.  It assures me.  It’s a way I’ve come to know.

Priscilla Shirer in Breathe: Making Room for the Sabbath, reminded me that the Israelites, too, had found a rhythm that was familiar during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt.  They had worked hard and long under the fearsome watch of the taskmaster.  They had labored in the heat with very little rest for their whole lives.  You might think it would be easy to leave it all behind and live according to the commands that God gave to them, but old habits die hard.   Perhaps one of the hardest challenges for the Israelites, and for me, was believing that God would provide for all of their needs even if they took time to rest.

Shirer points out the manna example.  God provided the Israelites with enough manna for each day — their ‘daily bread’. They were to collect only what they would eat that day, and not try to store up extra.  They were to trust that the next day He would provide again.  But you know, they hadn’t had plenty to eat in a long time, so they figured it would be wasteful to throw the extra away.  They kept it and woke up the next day to find it rotten and worm-infested.  They were given a double portion on the sixth day so that they could observe the sabbath on the seventh, but you know some of those Israelites still went out on the sabbath looking for manna.  You guessed it — they didn’t find any.  They didn’t find any because they didn’t need any;  God had already provided it.

Those dumb Israelites.

Cricket — cricket.

Yeah, I’m dumb, too.

All that time I was soldiering away, God had already provided for all our needs.  Even though I might like to think that I somehow made the life of my family healthier, stronger, or more provided-for, I was really in all my soldiering making our experience as a family worse. I was overlooking God’s provision.  I was failing to take a sabbath. I was forgetting to turn to Him with all my needs.  And even though sometimes I got a glimpse at what was happening, I couldn’t resist the urge to continue.  My pattern was comfortable.  It felt safe. Putting down my weapons, falling to my knees, and admitting my helplessness before God was, at that time, out of the question.

It’s still tempting for me to think that admitting my helplessness before God is out of the question.  But guys, the past couple of weeks have begun to shift my thinking — is it out of the question for me to not admit my helplessness before God?

It’s got to be.

It’s got to be out of the question for me to think that I can possibly work hard enough to make myself useful, to prove my own worth, or to be in control.  It’s got to be beyond my imagination that I would think that I know more than God or that I am above the need for a sabbath. It’s got to be completely ludicrous for me to believe for one minute that I can do anything at all that God hasn’t already done for me.

It’s got to be.

And yet, I’m bent on turning…turning back to that old life, that old comfortable way. I’m just like the Israelites.  So, when I see myself turning, and you know, I almost always do, I’ve got an opportunity to resist the urge to continue.  I can stop dead in my tracks as I’m heading back to Egypt.  I can say to myself, “Really? You wanna go back there?”

I can admit to myself that all my soldiering was a facade for a frightened little girl who didn’t believe that her Father had gladly given her the kingdom.  But He has, guys, He has given us His kingdom. Let’s resist the urge to continue.

Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Marginally Speaking

Sometimes when God nudges us to make a change, we make that change and then slowly over time notice the benefits.  Other times, God gives us an immediate indicator that we are heading in the right direction.  That happened for me this week.

If you read my recent post, Margin, you know that I decided, while reading Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath, to turn off my phone from 8pm to 8am every day. I made that decision just two days ago while sitting right here on this futon doing my Bible study. I blogged about it then went through my day.  I got home Tuesday night, played all my turns on Words With Friends, checked Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then turned off my phone a bit before 8.

I wasn’t quite ready to go to bed, so I sat next to my husband on the couch, crocheting and watching “Bizarre Foods” (I only recommend watching this show if you would like to curb your after dinner eating — yuck!).  We watched and laughed at its ridiculousness.  Then, I crawled into bed and, as usual, settled in to read.

Typically after an evening of watching TV and constantly checking my phone, I can read for thirty to sixty minutes before falling asleep.  Not Tuesday.  Nope.  I got into my comfortable position, opened my book and made it through two or three pages before I had to surrender to sleep.  I slept hard.

Then, I woke up around 7:15am.  Usually, the first thirty to sixty minutes of my day are spent in bed checking email, messages, Facebook, etc.  But it was 7:15, and I had made a commitment to keep the phone off until 8am, so I crawled out of bed, showered, made my breakfast beverages, and dressed for a day of Bible study, teaching and tutoring.  Around 8,  I checked messages, emails, etc. I noticed that I had missed a call, so I messaged the friend who had rang me, talked to my husband for a few minutes before he left for work, then settled in to prepare for Bible study.

The phone rang.  The same friend called to explain why she had called — to talk through the fact that her day was not going the way that she had planned.   She’d had an interruption that was causing her to spend an extra two hours on the road to retrieve an item that had been left on our campus.  I commiserated with her then hung up to go back to my Bible study about margins.

I started reading then thought to myself, “You’re dressed.”  Yes, that’s right, I was dressed and ready to leave for Bible study and I didn’t have to leave for another 30 or 40 minutes. I turned back to my reading.

“You know, you could  get that item and meet your friend half way.” That one wasn’t me.

How do I know?  Because I argued back, “but I’m supposed to be at Bible study in half in hour.”  I went back to my reading.

“What would happen if you were late?”

“Well, I’m always late.” Yes, I picked up my phone, made arrangements, and started driving.

So, here’s my analysis of what happened.  If I had not decided to add in a margin to my life — some white space — by turning off my phone from 8p to 8a, I might have still been lying in bed when the friend called.  I would not have been dressed. I would have been reading Facebook posts and playing WWF.  I wouldn’t have had the space in my day to drive twenty minutes to help her out.  But, I did make that decision.  I did put the margin in my life.

And the very next morning after making that decision, God provided a tangible reward — an opportunity to use that same time, the time I’d been filling up, to help a friend.

You might think that my friend is the only one who benefitted. Not true.  The whole time I was driving I was thinking to myself, “Really?  You’re gonna respond to my decision that quickly? You want to affirm this decision that strongly?”  I was flabbergasted. I was stunned to notice God working in my life in such a way.

And here’s the nugget, guys.  I noticed because I wasn’t face-down into my phone. Yes, this is hugely convicting and embarrassing.  I have spent far too much time in my phone.  I’ve known this.  I just didn’t want to make a change.

And, I’ve got to be real honest here and say that it’s been just as hard as I thought it would be.  After 8pm last night, I kept mentally reaching for my phone to check for messages, see if everyone was ok, or if I’d missed anything.  I had to continue to remind myself that I had already turned it off for the night and that everyone would be ok without me for twelve hours.

The hardest part, however, wasn’t the lack of checking in, it was the awareness of all the thoughts I have routinely shoved down by occupying myself with my phone.  With my phone turned off, lots of ugliness creeps to the surface — regrets and questions about how I have parented/continue to parent, worries about finances, personal insecurities, and all sorts of stuff I have chosen not to think about.  With my phone down, I can not ignore these nagging concerns.  I am forced to look them in the face.  It’s not pleasant, guys, to look at all that stuff.  It makes me feel yucky.  I don’t like feeling yucky.

Last night after I put my book down, I closed my eyes because I thought I was ready for sleep. I was tired, but as I lie there trying to sleep, the ugliness started playing out on my mind screen.  “Ugh,” I thought, “why!?!?!?”  I felt overwhelmed.  In desperation I said to God, “Is this real?  Is my memory real? Please replace these images with what is true!”

Did you see that?  I didn’t shove the images down.  I held them up to God and asked for His reality check.  Why was I able to do that? Because I’ve put a margin into my life.  I’ve left some white space, expecting that He will step in and fill it.  I am acknowledging that the story I am writing is rough and needs the hand of the Master.  I need Him to speak into my life — to offer encouragement, correction, and guidance.  I haven’t been leaving room for that.  I’ve been writing all the way to the edge of the paper.

I’m a mere two days in, guys, but this change is so important that God is already dramatically stepping in.  It’s like He’s been standing by waiting for the opportunity.

 

I Samuel 3:10

“Speak for your servant is listening.”

 

 

Margin

I’m still behind on my new Bible study, Breathe: making room for sabbath by Priscilla Shirer, but I’m not feeling the need to rush.  I’m trying to drink in the ideas and let them tumble around inside my head for a little while.

What I’m tossing around today is the idea of boundaries. Priscilla Shirer uses the terms ‘margin’ and ‘boundary’ almost interchangeably.  The idea is to leave space in our lives — to not plan ourselves out to the edges.  When I think of the term ‘margin’ , as a writer, I think of the edge of the page.  My students are required to double-space their papers and to leave a one-inch margin around their text.  Why?  Well, for one thing, it makes the page look nice.  But more importantly is the fact that they are leaving room for me. They are leaving space on the page for me to engage with their ideas, to comment, “nice job!” or “I see what you mean!”  They are leaving a place for me to give guidance, “I am wondering if you could clarify this a bit for me” or “Say this more concisely.”  They are planning for the actuality that I will be joining them on this page.

So why don’t I apply this rule to my life?  Why, so often, do I plan my life right out to the edge of the paper, single-spaced, in 10 pt. font!  I’m not leaving room for anyone — not the people I pass throughout my day, not my kids, not my husband, not my own thoughts, not God.  Nope. I’m filling it up, often well ahead of time.  And I’m sitting here wondering if I do it so that I won’t have time for others, myself, or — gasp — God.

Let me pause for a minute and say that I have more freedom for boundaries in my life right now than I have had in a very long time.  I am only working part-time and much of that is scheduled by me.  We live in a very small home, which, except for the interior, is maintained by someone else.  The only other beings who live with me are my husband and my dog — both of whom are extremely low maintenance.  And still, still, I plan myself out to the edges of the page.  And, when I don’t have anything planned, I fill my time with activity — crocheting, television, Words With Friends, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  I don’t often let my mind be still.  And I’m starting to think I am doing this on purpose.

Why? Because when my mind is still, it wanders to things I don’t like it to think about — mistakes from the past, worries about the people I love, things I wish I could change. So, rather than looking those thoughts square in the face, I occupy myself, or at least my mind.  It’s a way of avoiding reality, I suppose.  But, you know, I think I am also avoiding something else.

By eliminating the margins in my life, I am eliminating the spaces where anyone else can enter in.  I’m making myself so busy that I have little time to chat with a friend, to phone my sister, or to pray. And by not leaving much room for these others to engage with my life, I am limiting their ability to encourage me and to guide me.

The first chapter in this Bible study challenged me to identify specific areas that I let have too much control over my time. I identified two — working and social media. Let me explain.

The nature of my work right now is that I teach one class at the college where we live — three days a week for fifty minutes.  That is very easy and do-able.  Yes, it is an English class, yes I have papers to grade, but it is very manageable.  However, in addition to that I am a private tutor/proofreader.  I have an online profile through which potential students can contact me at any hour day or night.  Sometimes I get a message at 9pm asking if I could proofread a 3-page document before midnight.  I also get requests all day long for in-person tutoring.  I can make my schedule as busy as I want it to be. I don’t always do a great job of maintaining a healthy boundary.

Social media is a great modern tool.  It allows us to connect with people around the world.  We can share photos, engage in political dialogue,  or promote causes we care about.  However…..we can also use it to fill in the white spaces in our lives.  If I’ve got five minutes to wait in a line, instead of noticing my surroundings, I often check email, text a friend, or post on Facebook.  If I’m in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, I play Words With Friends or read my Twitter feed.  If I’m sitting next to my husband on the couch at night, I usually have my phone in my hand — checking messages, playing games, reading posts.  I’m not allowing a margin that invites others to engage with me.

I’ve known this for a while.  And, I’m a little hesitant to continue this paragraph because I know I am about to publicly commit to change. And change, my friends, is not always easy…especially when it relates to those behaviors that offer us some kind of protection from ourselves or the world around us.  I’m thinking that one change I can choose to make that will allow me a little more white space, a little more opportunity to engage with others, including my own thoughts and God, would be to put my phone down. Every night. From 8pm to 8am. There it is. In print. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it?  I think I’m going to actually turn it off during those times. Any messages I receive between 8p and 8a can wait. Right?

Are you like me?  Does a decision like this raise a little anxiety?  What if I get bored? What if someone needs me?   What if I miss something?  Yeah, the fact that I’m freaking out a little bit tells me that this decision is long overdue.   I’m feeling very resolute at 2:35 pm, but I have a feeling that I might feel a little uncomfortable around 8:15.  Nevertheless, I believe this is one small step God is calling me to in my quest for Sabbath.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Hebrews 12: 1b

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

Re-thinking Sabbath

Yesterday, after having missed two weeks of my Bible study, I returned. While I was gone, the battalion had finished the study on Hosea and had transitioned to Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath.  

I joined the study already in progress, so I’m a little behind.  I tried to skim and engage during yesterday’s gathering, but I kept feeling like I was missing out because I hadn’t read every word from the start.

So, today I sat down and turned to page one.

But before I tell you what I found, let me rewind a bit and tell you what I have thought about the sabbath during these first fifty years of my life.

Many of the women yesterday resonated with my first understanding of sabbath.  “Sabbath means going to church. Every Sunday. Without fail.” Going to church is an excellent practice.  I am all for gathering in community, hearing the word of God, uniting in prayer and song, and devoting a regular portion of my week to public worship.  However, sabbath is not church attendance. 

I have also understood sabbath to mean an absence of work. This has Biblical grounds, of course, and traditional significance.  Many people, for centuries, have observed the sabbath by refraining from work.  Again, I fully support this notion.  I think it is healthy and even godly to find a rhythm in which we regularly cease toiling.  However, the sabbath is about much more than just the absence of work. 

So, I’ve started my definition of sabbath by telling you what it is not. Why? Because that is where I am starting.  I am acknowledging that my previous understandings of this word were limited and not exactly what God modeled for us when He “rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.”  Nor do they line up with the heart of God behind the third commandment to “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”

I’m starting with what sabbath is not, deleting my previous notions to make room for a new understanding.  I am feeling a need to do this because the very word ‘sabbath’ is weighted for me.  It is weighted with feelings of obligation, neglect, and guilt.  Somewhere deep inside me is the belief that if I were a better Christian, I would trust God enough to take a whole day every week to rest in Him.  This belief is scripturally illustrated in the story of the Israelites who were told to gather manna six days out of the week.  God provided a double-portion for them on the sixth day so that they would not have to gather manna on the seventh day.  See, they didn’t have to work and still God provided.  Should I not learn from the Israelites and ‘go and do likewise’.

We have to be careful when we start down that path, because even in our attempts to do good, we can reduce sabbath to a rule or requirement.

Also planted deeply inside me is the belief that I am not healthy if I don’t give myself one day a week to rest and recover from my labors.  Haven’t you heard people say, “even God rested on the seventh day.”  They are intentionally, or unintentionally, suggesting that if I refuse to rest on the seventh day I am somehow elevating myself above God — “I don’t need rest.”

Well, of course I need rest.  And of course I should trust God.  But after reading the first sixteen pages of Priscilla Shirer’s study, I jotted down my response to a question and I surprised myself.  After leading me through the Genesis account and some thoughts from a Jewish scholar regarding the sabbath, the study asked me: “how is the concept of rest more than simply stopping an activity? How is rest a positive, created thing rather than a negative cessation of activity?” Before I knew what was happening I wrote: “It’s a destination rather than a requirement. It’s a capstone, not recovery.”

Whoa.

That’s the kind of stuff that will sit you down and make you think for a minute.  God created for six days straight, so that He could appreciate all that He had created on the seventh.  His rest was the capstone of His creation — the finale of his well-spent week. He put the sabbath in our commandments, not to require our worship, but to protect His rhythm.  Why? Because His rhythm is good. All that He created was good.

Why, oh why, do I push against what God has created to be good?  Because, as I learned in the book of Hosea, I am bent on turning….turning to my own ways, to what I believe to be best for me, rather that what God knows is best for me.

Are you bent on turning, too?  “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you His kingdom.” And in his kingdom, my friends, He has provided a sabbath rest.

Re-think it with me, won’t you?

 

Hebrews 4:9

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God

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.”