A Return to Best Practices, A Re-visit DRAFT

Early in my journey with chronic illness, I wrote this piece as I was just figuring out all the factors that contribute to my wellness. This past Monday, I posted this piece, a commitment to adjusting some behaviors that had morphed during Covid. What follows is a piece I wrote in August of 2019, further evidence that in order to stay well, I must continue to return to my best practices.

Early in this blog, much of my content was about my ongoing journey through chronic illness — pain, fatigue, and issues with my eyes and skin. I don’t write about it much any more, because most of my symptoms have leveled out; I don’t often have a crisis. Sure, pain is still present every day; yes, my eyes can give me challenges from time to time; and, of course, my skin continues to be my first alert system. However, for the most part, I have found a new rhythm that sustains my health and has even allowed me to work full-time and enjoy life outside of work. (Read my latest health update from March here.)

In fact, I’ve been in this rhythm so long, that I can forget how miserable I was just a few years ago — when I had to limit myself to 1-2 activities a day, when I frequently found myself doubled over in pain or lying on the bathroom floor waiting to throw up, when I had to lie down for a while in the morning and in the afternoon due to extreme fatigue. Yeah, it was really that bad, so now when I work 40 hour weeks for months in a row, occasionally meet friends for dinner after work, or travel two weekends in a row, and suffer no consequences, I can get a little amnesia — the kind of amnesia that leads me to push the limits.

For the past month, I have been pushing the limits. We have had out of town visitors at least four times and have attended two family reunions, one wedding, one dance lesson, and at least two dinner dates with friends. No problem. I was feeling fine. Yes, I had to go to bed early a couple times, but I recovered quickly. I was able to keep writing most mornings, do yoga, go for walks, and still manage my regular household tasks like groceries, laundry, and cooking. I didn’t miss work or cancel any plans.

But this past week, I kicked it up a notch — I threw all caution to the wind.

After church last Sunday, my husband and I shopped for a few hours while we waited for new tires to be installed on our car. Monday, we met after work to grab a quick bite before cheering on our son in a local 5k; we even hung out with him for a while afterward. Tuesday, I attended my end-of-summer staff party complete with Chipotle and trivia. Wednesday, I met an old friend from high school for a quick reunion. Thursday, I ate out, played, and laughed with my son and godson. What a fun week!

And it might have been ok, if I hadn’t missed my last PT appointment or skipped my chiropractor for three weeks running, if I hadn’t been up later than usual every single night, if I hadn’t omitted yoga four days in a row, if I hadn’t had the corn chips with my Chipotle, if I hadn’t had two slices of pizza (all that gluten and dairy) at work on Wednesday, or if I hadn’t said, “sure Ethiopian food will be fine.”

People often ask me, “What do you notice when you avoid gluten and dairy?” or “Does yoga really help you?” or “Really, a chiropractor makes a big difference?” or “That PT sounds weird, are you sure it works?”

I typically say something like, “I’m not sure what does what, but I know that when I do all the things, I feel good enough to live my life. When I don’t do the things, I’m on the couch or in the bed.”

After a month of rich living, I abandoned my good practices for a week, and when I woke up Friday morning, I felt rough — my head hurt, my eyes were begging to be closed, I was nauseous, and I really thought I wouldn’t make it through my work day. I allowed myself an extra 30 minutes in bed, then begged the hot shower for transformation.

I dragged myself to work, mentally marking the four-hour countdown to lunch hour when I would finally see the chiropractor. It was a particularly challenging morning at work — complete with schedule changes, atypical student behavior, and two parent meetings –but I did my best and made it to lunch time.

I willed myself to drive to the chiropractor, rubbing my aching neck and fight back nausea. I was miserable. “Please, Jesus, let this adjustment at least alleviate this headache.” The chiropractor may have said, “wow” a couple of times as he moved up and down my spine putting each piece back in its assigned location, and he may have said, “well, that should make a difference” as we heard the pop of my sacroiliac joint jumping back into place. I can’t remember exactly what happened, because he then applied acupressure to two spots right below my eyes and then two spots on my forehead and the pain of my headache was instantly cut in half. I was astounded and relieved.

I walked to my car promising the doctor (and myself) that I’d return on my regular schedule. I drove back to work, where my office manager met me with a Whole Foods delivery — warm goodness without gluten or dairy or corn. I sat at my laptop with an ice cold Coke and my roasted chicken and vegetables and began to feel well again.

It was a quick turnaround — unlike the systemic flares from just a few years ago that would take 24 to 48 hours, this one lasted only about six hours. Just long enough to scare me straight.

All during those six hours I was picturing the tile of the bathroom floor and imagining myself packed in ice on the couch. I had forgotten those realities, but they showed up to remind me to return to my best practices.

I made a home-cooked meal on Friday night — roasted pork cutlets with rice and sautéed fresh vegetables and then slept for nine hours. I started Saturday with writing, yoga, and oatmeal before heading to a 90-minute structural medicine appointment where the practitioner moved all the muscles and ligaments to support the chiropractor’s work. I spent the afternoon doing food prep — making Kristin-friendly muffins and cutting up veggies and melon– and organizing my office. I finished the evening with three episodes of Queer Eye because it’s wholesome and friendly and hopeful.

I’m writing this on Sunday morning, and I’ve already journaled, done yoga, and am writing now to remember — that the full life that I enjoy is a gift. In a little while, I will head to church where I will give thanks for this gift– this physical restoration that is a mere shadow of the more complete restoration that has been happening inside. I will give thanks for both, and I will continue to return to all of my best practices.

Addendum: It’s now Monday morning. Yesterday on our drive to church, my husband and I started filling our day with visits and errands, and chores. We had quite a list, so we both agreed to “see how it goes.” By the end of church and a congregational meeting, I had decided I needed to see a doctor; I had symptoms that suggested an infection. So, we drove to our practice’s walk-in clinic to have me checked out. No infection, just more evidence of inflammation–I needed more than twenty-four hours to recover, apparently.

So, we scrapped our plans, came home to nutritious leftovers, an hour at the puzzle, a nap, and two episodes of The Great British Baking Show — yes, we’ve pulled out all the stops! In a little while, I will start my week with a trip to the physical therapist for the final “laying on of hands” in this series.

I am so thankful for my current health and this journey I’ve been on — a journey that tangibly shows me the value of self-care, a journey that allows me to do my best and gives me grace to recover when I’ve gone off the rails, a journey that reminds me to return to my best practices.

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

John 1:6

Re-member, a Re-visit

Click the arrow to hear me read this post.

First published in May of 2019, this post recounts a message I heard the last time I visited my daughter’s church in Boston. Though I haven’t been able to visit in almost two years, I know that throughout the pandemic, they have been elbow-deep, putting their scarred hands to good use, in caring for their community and re-member-ing the body of Christ. What a beautiful work of reconciliation — seeking to serve and draw together those who have been torn apart by the world by offering them the love of Christ. May we go and do likewise.

I was sitting in a church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts with a community I’ve visited several times before — a group of broken people who gather each week to hear the message that they are beloved of God — every one of them.

They come in dresses and jeans, sweatpants and suits, walking unassisted or rolling in wheelchairs, a mismatched gathering of ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Their journeys are varied, but all have found their way to a humble basement where the love is palpable. Smiles and hugs are offered to all who enter — whether they arrive early, on time, or halfway through the service. Strangers and friends slide over to make room.

Songs are sung in English and Spanish simultaneously. Prayers are written in traditional and modern forms, side by side. I am invited to “pray and sing using language that is meaningful” for me. The voices join in a beautiful cacophony.

A children’s message is delivered to the two children present, and since they are timid to come forward, two grown men make the first move, and sit at the feet of the woman giving the message, and everyone participates. “Does anyone know how to say ‘I love you’ in a different language,” she asks. And the adults in the room respond in Spanish, French, German, Basque, and sign language.

The pastor’s message reminds those present that the community as a whole experienced trauma not too many years ago when its main sanctuary was destroyed by fire. And, in this season of Easter, she tells the story of the traumatized disciples who had witnessed the death of their friend, their mentor, their leader. She reminds us that though we, like the disciples, have been traumatized, we have been loved.

Each broken person in the basement of the yet un-repaired building has been loved — held, watched, and supported through the healing.

She recalls Peter and the disciples shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, who, seeing that their lives of walking with Jesus in the flesh were over, resorted to muscle memory — throwing out nets and pulling in nothing.

After a long night of futility they return to the shore to find Jesus waiting on the beach. He tells these professional fishermen to throw their nets out on the other side of the boat — not the side that they’d been trained to throw out on, not the one they knew to be most fruitful, but a different side.

He was telling them, the pastor said, to try a different way. Don’t go back to what you were doing before; you’ve been changed. Do things a different way.

Don’t go back to what was; move forward into what is.

And the broken in the basement room — me among them — leaned in. Our scars are still visible. We are rebuilding strength, but the images of trauma remain. We long to be whole, to have our weak and jangling limbs strengthened. We long to walk, to even run.

The pastor cast her vision of restoration, of finishing the repairs of the sanctuary, of creating a space of healing for the community, of opening doors where others who are mismatched and broken can find love. She painted a picture of not going back to what was, but moving forward into what is.

And the broken in the room could see the image of doors flung open, of throngs flowing in, of scarred hands put to good use.

When the disciples tried the different way — throwing their nets on the unfamiliar side — they pulled in so many fish that the nets could barely hold them. They dragged their haul to where Jesus was waiting with a fire, ready to cook them breakfast after their long night. And while they were there, Jesus asked Peter, “do you love me?” Peter was offended — “you know that I love you!” And Jesus answered, and I’m paraphrasing here, “then don’t go back to your old life, man, you’ve been transformed. Spread the love that has been lavished upon you. Feed my sheep.”

The pastor held a loaf of bread in her hands and broke it in two saying, “Jesus said, this is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. Re-member me.”

In eating the bread and drinking the wine, we are not simply remembering that Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. We are not only nostalgic for the time that he walked on the earth. We are not just focusing on His work on the Cross. We are also joining in His work of putting His body back together, of restoring, of healing, of re-membering.

That’s the work of Jesus. He re-members the broken who He calls to re-member his broken body — to pull it back together — to open the doors to the broken, to offer them something to eat, and to invite them to join in the work of re-membering the broken.

It’s pretty simple, actually.

If you have been broken, and haven’t we all, remember that you have also been loved — even in that brokenness. You have been carried, and seen, and possibly even restored.

If you have, or if you are on the journey, lift your gaze. Don’t go back to what you were doing before, but look around. You are likely walking beside the wounded — those who are limping and gasping and longing to be seen and restored. They yearn to be re-membered. Open your arms to them, welcome them in. Feed His sheep.

We won’t all do this work in a building in Jamaica Plain — although I can imagine a thriving ministry growing out of those ashes. Some of us will use our broken bodies in our work places, in our cities, in our churches, and among our friends. The broken are all around us. Let’s do our best to feed His sheep and re-member His body.

You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful”

All Sons and Daughters, “Brokenness Aside”

How hard can it be? pt. 2

So, it seems like the turning would be the hardest part, doesn’t it?  If you are headed down a road of your own choosing, recognizing that you are going the wrong way and deciding to turn around should be the most difficult step, shouldn’t it?  I have not found that to be so.  I have found two other parts of repentance to be much more difficult — 1)  keeping my eyes from looking back, and 2) continually stepping forward.

Here’s the thing — walking down the road of my own choosing causes a ton of collateral damage.  You would think that once I realize this, I would want to turn quickly toward a path of safety and run just as fast as I can.  Not so.  I am drawn to looking back at all the wreckage.  I get lost in regret and what ifs.  I keep thinking, “Oh my gosh, why did I do that? Why couldn’t I see how much I was hurting myself and others?”  My eyes turn back and guess what happens next; my feet follow.  Just that quickly I have lost my way again.

I can lose hours of my time paging through the photo albums of poor choices and missed opportunities.  I mean, I can still lose sleep over the way I treated a childhood friend in 1972.  A terse word with a student can occupy my thoughts all evening.  I can make myself physically sick by rehashing parenting decisions and formulating ways to do things differently.   It’s as though I think I can rewind the movie, cut out the scenes I don’t like, and splice in a version of how I wish it would’ve played out.  But we can’t do that.  What happened happened. I can’t undo what I did, and I can’t undo what others did.  I can’t, but for some reason, my brain still wants to pretend as though I can.

And I think I know why. My mom and I were sitting side by side last week, watching the Olympics and lightly chatting.  I mean, I thought it was light chatting until she said something about getting lost in her regretful thoughts.  She said that she can spiral downward very quickly when she starts thinking about the mistakes she has made in her life, but when she feels herself doing that she says, “Get behind me, Satan!” I about jumped out of my rocking chair — she had hit the nail on the head!  If the enemy can get my eyes turned toward regret, my feet follow.  He just has to grab my chin and turn my gaze toward what I did wrong in 1983 or 1998 or 2004 and pretty soon my whole body has made its way back to a path of my own choosing and I am no longer aware of Jesus walking beside me.  I can’t hear his voice any more.  I don’t care to look into his eyes.  I am a soldier on a mission to make things right, and you’d better get out of my way.

But, guys, I can’t make things right.

It won’t work.

I can’t undo what’s been done.

And I’m not supposed to try.

In these moments, I need the second part of the clause, but, so often, I miss it.

I hear, “repent,” but I don’t seem to hear “believe the gospel.”  Or maybe I hear the words, but I don’t understand the message.  I mean, what is the gospel, after all?  It’s God’s commitment to me — He already knows that I am human, that I am bent on turning, and that I cannot of my own strength follow Him.  He knows that I am going to continually walk down a path of my own choosing, and yet He has promised to be with me wherever I go.  He doesn’t leave me or forsake me.  He has seen all my lousy decisions.  He has watched me ignore the people in front of me.  He has seen me choose myself over others time and time again.  And yet, He loves me.  He has patience with me.  He forgives me.  He continually chooses to walk beside me, to reveal himself to me, and to allow me the time and space to choose over and over again to turn away from my destructive path and toward His Way.

And that is not all.  He is in the business of redemption and restoration.  He takes the wreckage from my past and transforms it into beauty.  It’s beyond my comprehension.  I thought my parents’ divorce was the end of my life, but God used that experience to prepare me to be the wife of a divorced man and the mother of his child.  I don’t hold my husband’s past against him. It’s just part of his story, and now it’s part of mine.

In the mid-80s, I was anorexic.  My whole life revolved around reducing the amount of food I ate and thereby reducing the amount of me.  I was on a path of destruction that many never walk away from.  However, God, in his grace kept walking beside me, he kept talking to me, and before I knew it, I had turned around.  I was worried that I might have done irreparable damage to my body and that I would never have children, but my worries were for nothing, because God is in the business of redemption and restoration.  Not only did he restore my physical and emotional body, he has used my path to minister to others who have similar stories.

Time and time again, I’ve heard stories of people who have witnessed God transforming much greater disasters into stories of restoration. It is what God does.  He creates, he redeems, he restores.

Lately I’ve been spending way too much time in the photo albums of regret.  There is a time and a place to look back and grieve.  Sometimes we need to spend seasons in mourning.  However, when mourning turns into self-blame and punishment, it’s time to close the album for a bit.  It’s time to turn around, walk down the path that has been designed for me, listen to the voice of the One walking beside me, gaze into His eyes, and recognize that He is in the business of redemption and restoration.

God is faithful, and He will do it.

Psalm 30

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.