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.

 

 

Bag Ladies

I know a lot of really strong women. For example, I know a woman who, right now, is caring for her husband who earlier this week had a tumor removed from his brain and was sent home from the hospital less than 48 hours post-op.  And it’s not like she was just sitting around eating bonbons and resting up for this very taxing time in her life.  No, this comes on the heels of more than a couple decades of married life, raising children, working full time, and navigating the everyday stressors that all of us face.

Another woman I know is married to a high-level professional.  She gracefully carries the responsibilities that come with being the wife of someone in his position while also being mindful of the needs of her aging mother, her married daughter, and her young adult son.  For as long as I’ve known her, she has been ‘on-call’ for one crisis or another, yet she still thinks to make me gluten-free snacks, to collaborate on planning a women’s retreat that she won’t even be able to attend, to volunteer at a family business every week, and to listen to and encourage those around her.

This whole blog could be example after example of the women I’ve been blessed to know over the years.  I picture them smartly dressed, sitting in the drivers’ seats of their cars, hands at 10 and 2, looking from side to side and straight ahead, driving toward their destinations ever mindful of oncoming traffic. They see a familiar person standing on the edge of the road, so they stop to offer a ride. They notice a friend’s mailbox overflowing, and they stop and carry its contents to the door with a smile before heading back on their way. They fit in a full day of work, a quick stop at the grocery, a phone call to a child or a parent, and a workout before heading home to start a load of laundry and transport something edible from the fridge to the table. They are on the move, and they are happy to be.  They enjoy their lives. They want to be available to the people they love.  They enjoy feeling connected.

Each of these women looks so swift and efficient that you might not notice the bag on her back, strapped on tightly so that she can keep moving. What’s in the bag? Information, mostly.  The knowledge that her husband is really stressed about a situation at work.  The thought that her daughter is trying to navigate school and work and finances as a young adult.  The nagging feeling that she hasn’t seen her parents in a few months. The grocery list.  Her son’s recent injury and his need for a medical consult. The name of the plumber who has to be called. The way the cashier looked at her. The situation her friend told her about last Tuesday. Her retirement fund. The shoes that need to be polished. The need to make a dentist appointment. A work deadline.

The bag has been pretty full for a while, but she still seems to be able to heft it around. She hasn’t missed a day of work. The fridge has been well-stocked.  Every kid has been picked up and dropped off at the appropriate place and time.

But then something gives.  A diagnosis.  An accident.  An argument.  A crisis.

It doesn’t quite fit in the bag, but she jostles some things around, does some squishing, and keeps stepping, because this is the moment she’s been training for. Her people need her, so she doubles down and powers through. She manages even more than she ever thought possible. For months. Yeah, her face might look a little more drawn. Her words might be a little clipped, but people understand. Look at the stress that she’s under.  She’s a rock, isn’t she? Look at all she’s managing.

But in a subtle moment, when she isn’t even aware that the crisis has begun to subside, comes the need to shift the weight. She’s exhausted, finally. She has been carrying too much for too long. She’s got to sit down, loosen the straps, and look inside the bag.

It’s a time for inventory really.  At a time when she doesn’t really have the time for an inventory. No matter. It’s mandatory.  So, she looks.  She places her hands on each item. She sets them out around the room. As she surveys the array, she determines that a few things can go in the trash. She can’t even remember putting them in the bag.  Some items can be filed under nostalgia, some under forgiven, some under to be discussed, and others under been there, done that.   

But some items need to be held for a little while. They need to be wept over. They need to be introduced to a few trusted friends who will appreciate their significance and meaning. They need to be processed, repackaged, and perhaps finally put on a shelf– maybe a shelf of remembrance, maybe a shelf for trophies.

And way at the bottom of the bag, she might find one or two very heavy items that need to simply be placed on an altar — offered up to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than she could ever imagine doing or asking someone else to do.

Just a few items make it back into the bag, and as she straps it back on, she feels so much lighter. But before she rushes back out the door, back into the driver seat, back onto the highway that was her life, she pauses. She gives thanks for the moment to pause, for the opportunity to turn, for the offer of support. Then, she walks on.

28 “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.

Matthew 11

A Study in Contrasts

We’re back in the states.  After seven days in South Africa, we spent about twenty-four hours traveling to Michigan.  We got home, unpacked our suitcases, started laundry, and tried to re-acclimate ourselves to our former lives before reality struck this morning.

Several hours later, I’ve already taught three sections of students and interacted with a number of people who wondered, “Well, how was your trip?”  I’m really glad they asked, because as I answered people, I began to learn what impact this trip to South Africa has had on me.

It became rather clear early in the journey that our purpose, or at least my purpose, was to be an observer.  This was a new role for me.  Often I am a leader, presenter, director, and planner.  This past week, I was a follower, listener, observer, and receiver. In this role, I was free to take in South African culture, to hear the stories of a variety of people, to let go of responsibility, and to bear witness to the contrast between my life in the United States and the lives of the people I met in South Africa.

First of all, although I often think I need more, I recognize now how much I have in contrast with many of the people I saw.  For example, I complained at the beginning of my semester because the classroom where I teach didn’t come equipped with dry erase markers or an eraser, even though it did come equipped with a computer, projection, and wifi.  I easily purchased a pack of markers and an eraser for less than $5, a textbook was provided to me, and I am paid a fair salary to teach under 25 students in each of my three classes.  In contrast, my colleagues in South Africa have no internet in their classrooms at all — not even dial-up.  They have a few mostly outdated textbooks, worn posters on the walls, drying up markers, and classrooms crammed with up to 40 students — and that was in a kindergarten class!  And guys, despite the fact that they earn very little, they aren’t complaining.  They are teaching and learning.  The instructors are engaging their students.  The students take pride in their work.

Yes, the contrast was palpable.

It was also evident in the ways that I noticed people interacting with one another. Each time people see each other during the day, they greet one another, “Good morning!  How are you?” Even if they have seen each other several times, they still  formally greet one another before they move on in conversation.  This was a challenge for me!  I am known to jump right in with “Hey, did you get my email?” For a week, I practiced acknowledging the person in front of me instead of the task that he or she could perform for me.  The simple practice of speaking a greeting shifted my perspective.  That, plus the fact that I had no real responsibilities, allowed me to see people and listen more carefully than I am typically apt to do.

In fact, I noticed today, here in Michigan, that I was looking at people in the eyes a bit more, listening a little more intently, worrying a little less about getting to the next task on my list.  I hope it lasts.

The third difference I will note today is the energetic spirit I saw in the people of South Africa — particularly the black South Africans.  Apartheid ended a number of years ago, but the differences and division between whites and blacks could not be more obvious. In one week’s time I noticed that black South Africans have less — less status, less power, less money, and less opportunity than the white South Africans.  Yet they do not seem defeated.  Their spirit propels them to walk great distances along red clay paths — rain or shine — to work and to school.  They sit up tall in their classrooms, raise their hands high, and open their mouths to sing as they work, whether their tasks are menial or meaningful. Rather than seeming angry or sad, they exude joy!  Their worship was filled with dancing, clapping, and even marching! They smiled, laughed, and played with one another — despite their seeming disadvantage.  I was struck by this.  I have not experienced the kind of disadvantage that all of them have experienced.  I have led a life of plenty.  I have not gone one day without food, clothing, or shelter in my fifty years of life.  I have had every opportunity for education, employment, and entertainment that I have ever desired.  Yet I am often discouraged, stressed, and even angry about what I don’t have.

So, you know what’s coming, don’t you?  I opened my Bible study today and turned to the reading in Psalm 37.  (I really can’t make this stuff up.) When I read the words, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart,” I pictured my new South African  friends smiling, clapping, and dancing — delighting themselves in the Lord.  They are happy and celebrating the fact that they have Him, regardless of the things that they don’t have.

I can learn a lot from these people.  I think I have begun to.

Psalm 37: 23-24

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way;

though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong.

 

Shifting Gears

Once upon a time, a middle-aged woman took a break from work to rest and assess some health issues.  For six months, she barely worked at all.  Instead, she cultivated friendships, attended Bible study, exercised, read, wrote, and rested.  For another six months, she gradually eased back into the working world. Through trial and error she learned what amount of work was enough and what was too much.

Or did she?

I’m entering my third year here at the little house by the river. That first fall I had so much time on my hands!  My house was so clean and uncluttered! I prepared meals fairly regularly. I took time for coffee and lunches with friends. I traveled to see family regularly.  I exercised several days a week.  I started most days with Bible study and blogging.  It was a lovely season.

I’ll admit I was a little bored.

I’m not bored any more.

My new challenge is to offer myself grace when my house is cluttered and in need of a deep cleaning, when my husband and I have to scrounge through the fridge to find leftovers — again, when I turn down one more offer to meet a friend for coffee, when it’s been weeks months since I’ve seen some of my family, when I miss a full week of exercise, or when I’ve failed to make time for daily Bible study and prayer.  Because, honestly, this has become the norm for the moment.

I know it’s just a moment.  I agreed to a heavier course load for a semester — not forever.  We are taking two international trips in the next four months, but then we probably won’t go anywhere again for years!  It’s a season, just like many other seasons we have weathered.  It’s just for a moment, but in the moments, it feels overwhelming.

So, instead of taking time to pause, reflect, and pray, I spend those moments online ordering travel pillows and earplugs.  In place of going to the gym, I fit in an appointment for immunizations.  Rather than meeting friends for coffee, I spend the morning grading papers and preparing for the next class.  When I could take a day trip to visit family, I find myself on the couch recovering from another hectic week.

It’s a season, I tell myself. Yet life is made up of seasons, is it not?  Do I wait for the next season, when I’ll presumably have more time, to fit in the disciplines and pleasures I love so well?  Or do I adapt so that I can taste them even in this season?

Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

I’m in the sixth week of this semester.  So far — yes, it’s Tuesday — I’ve managed to start my week off with worship, connections at church, a completed stack, time with my husband, a couple of prepared meals, an hour of Pilates, a physical therapy session, and, this morning, an hour of Bible study, reflection, prayer, and blogging.  Ahhhh. Now, see, isn’t that lovely?  Why don’t I keep this rhythm every day? Every week?

Well, because I am human.  I am bound to be buried in the to-dos very shortly.  After all, I am not only planning for tomorrow’s classes and grading yesterday’s papers, I am also preparing my students for the fact that I will be gone for a week.  As if that weren’t enough, I’ve also planned to see seven private students this week and travel to see our granddaughter this weekend.

As my husband would say, “Every bit of it is good stuff!” I love being in the classroom!  I love reading student writing! Watching students learn is what feeds me!  And, certainly, squishing that little granddaughter is second to no other activity in my life!

Yet, I remind myself, if I want to be able to do all of the stuff that I love, I must take time to oxygenate myself first. I can’t be an effective wife, mother, friend, or teacher, if I let myself get completely depleted.  And that’s what happens when I neglect my personal disciplines and my social interactions.  Let’s be honest — the messy house isn’t gonna kill anyone. And, truly, there’s enough cereal and chunky soup in the kitchen; no one is going to starve.

I’m learning, guys.  Something has to give.  If I want to teach more and — gasp — travel, I’ve got to shift my expectations of myself.  In the past, I’ve sacrificed self-care in order to maintain an orderly house and the appearance that all is well.  What I’m learning is that being truly well is less about appearances and more about my daily disciplines and meaningful connections.

Hang in there with me folks, I’m shifting gears and trying to enjoy the journey.

I Timothy 4:8

 

 

Can you keep it all straight?

Do you want to know how God works?  I am going to try to give you a glimpse at the way he weaves the stories of his people together.

Picture this:

  • In the 1980s I went to college with a guy named Randy who would later go to the Seminary.  At the Seminary he would meet a man named Mandla Khumalo; both would become pastors — one serving in Michigan, one serving in South Africa. Randy and his wife, Jen, would found a mission outreach to Muslims in the Detroit area and then begin a church near Ann Arbor.  Mandla and his wife, Lindiwe, would plant a church and later a school in South Africa.  
  •  Before Randy and Mandla even met, Mandla was invited,through connections that I’m quite sure I don’t fully understand, to a mission festival in Arlington Heights, IL where he met Pastor David Maier and his wife Pat. Pastor Maier encouraged Mandla to go to Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  There, Mandla met Randy.  In 1989, Manda  founded St. Peter Confessional Church in Middleburg, South Africa. When St. Peter’s first church building was finished, he invited Pastor Maier to South Africa to dedicate it.
  • In the 1980s I met my husband, John.  We served in Lutheran schools and  congregations before heading to Seminary in 2004.  There, we became involved with a missional church — Crave Coffeehouse.  While serving there, we met a young couple, Drew and Lindsey, who were also on a missional path.
  • Drew and Lindsey met in Guatamala in 2006.  Lindsey was doing long-term mission work there, as a nurse.  Drew was there as a short-term missionary. They fell in love; they got married.  They moved to St. Louis, MO where Drew went to the Seminary and Lindsey completed her studies and became a nurse practitioner.  They also welcomed their first child, who John baptized. They worshipped and served with us at Crave until John was called to Concordia Ann Arbor.
  • At Concordia Ann Arbor, John became friends with Dave Maier.  They became partners in mission as their goals and paths often overlapped. One day, John invited Drew to come to Michigan to meet Dave.  The three couldn’t believe how much they had in common — how much vision they shared.
  •  When I moved to Michigan, I was introduced to Pat Maier who quickly became a dear and close friend (remember this?). Pat and Dave often worshiped at Randy and Jen’s church; John and I worshiped there often, too!  We three couples shared a Christmas Eve and a Maundy Thursday. In fact, we were joined by Drew and Lindsey for a Mother’s Day right before Drew and Lindsey moved to South Africa to serve with Pastor Khumalo.
  • Are you getting all this?
  • You see, right before that Mother’s Day, Dave and Pat, Randy, Drew, and a few others traveled to Middleburg, South Africa to explore possibilities for further collaboration between the Michigan District, St. Peter, and Concordia University.  While there, Drew, who has a business background, saw both the need for his expertise and for Lindsey’s medical knowledge.  Several conversations and some fundraising later, and they were packing their bags and moving.
  • The following fall, Randy took a position at Concordia as the Director of Campus Ministries.  Last summer, he took several students to South Africa so that they could complete internships at the school that Pastor Khumalo founded, as part of St. Peter’s now extensive ministries, in 2006.
  • Drew and Lindsey have visited us two more times at Concordia to share with the students here, to foster partnerships, and to renew our friendship. Last March, Dave and Pat, Randy and Jen, Drew and Lindsey, and John and I all shared dinner again.
  • And guys, guess what?  Two weeks from today, John and I will be in Middleburg, South Africa to help Pastor Khumalo and Lindiwe and Drew and Lindsey celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of St. Peter!  And, while we are there, we are expecting Lindsey to give birth to their second child, who John might have the opportunity to baptize!
  • It is beyond my comprehension — all of it.  I can’t keep the details of my own life straight, but God has orchestrated the lives of all of us — all of us — into a beautiful cohesive story that expresses his love for all people.  Nothing we have done has made us worthy of this honor — in fact, many things I have done should exclude me from these privileges.  Nevertheless, God is gracious to include us in His story.  He makes His story our story.

I can’t wait to share with you the next few pages of this chapter.

Psalm 107:2

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe

Confessions of a Job Searcher

Since we are talking threads, I should probably address my obsession with working.  Many times in this blog I have discussed my thoughts on working and searching for jobs.  I love to work.  When I’m not working, I like to search for jobs. Ok, I’ll admit it — even when I am working I like to search for jobs.

This is nothing new.  Before the internet, even when I was not in the market for a job, I would comb the classifieds every Sunday,  just to see what was out there.  Once the Internet showed up, I took up job hunting as a hobby.  It’s weird; I know.

Yes, I hunted for jobs even when I was fully and happily employed prior to my diagnosis.  Yes, I continued my search even when I was sick and working full-time.  I mean, you never know what’s out there, right?  I’ve mentioned on this page how hard it was for me the first few months of this next chapter not to apply for jobs while I was ‘being still’.

You may be under the impression, if you are a regular reader, that since I have found my niche through Wyzant tutoring and my adjunct teaching that I have ceased searching and that I am done applying to jobs. Ha-ha. No.  I’m still at it.  In fact, Wyzant was made for me — each day new ‘jobs’ are posted, and I can choose to apply to these jobs or not.  For instance, this morning I have ‘applied’ to work with three or four different students already.  One 10th grader in a nearby town needs an English tutor; I replied to the post, sharing my interest, availability, and qualifications so that the parent knows that I’m out here, willing to help.  A young professional whose first language is not English has posted that she would like online speaking practice; ok, I’ll give that a shot. Why not?

Additionally, I routinely check Indeed, an online job search site, for positions in my area.  And, yes, ok, I’ll admit it — I still check Craigslist job postings, too.  Why?  I have plenty of work!  Well, you never know what’s out there, unless you look!

I guess it’s a hobby? Or maybe it’s an indicator.  Maybe it’s some sign that I’m not yet settled.  I don’t know.  Analyze it if you want.  Meanwhile, I’ll be over here filling out an application to be a freelance editor or completing the requirements to renew my Michigan Teacher Certification. I mean, you never know, maybe I’ll head back to the classroom.

Nevermind that it’s  10:45 am and I’m still on the couch in my pajamas.  A girl can dream, can’t she?

Psalm 90:17

Let the favor of the Lord be upon us,

and establish the work of our hands.

Reviewing Observations

Last June I resigned my full-time teaching/school administrator position to relocate to Michigan from Missouri.  I did this because a) I love my husband; and  b) I have a life-style changing auto-immune disease. I took six months off from work and have been gradually introducing more and more work into my life since January. I’m almost a year into this grand experiment, and  I’m eady to review some of my observations.

After the initial dust settled from our cross-country move, I spent a significant amount of time on the couch watching Netflix, in my bed resting, at the gym exercising, and on my computer blogging.  I really needed that time to recover after over 20 years of parenting, schooling, and working at or above my human capacity.  It was lovely — I had time to make friends, I began to listen to my body, I reconnected with my love for writing. It was healing physically, yes, and also emotionally.  For the first time in twenty-two years, my husband and I were living alone, enjoying a slower pace, and sucking up every minute of it.

But, I couldn’t quite rest easily because I didn’t have any students in my life. I know, I know –over the past umpteen years I have fussed and fumed about the menagerie of kids that have sat across the table from me — they are egocentric, they don’t meet deadlines, and, indeed, they smell bad.  But, you know, I love them. I can’t seem to get enough of them.  Something magical exists within each of us — an innate ability to learn, to process, to interact and be changed — that will never cease to take my breath away.  I had to have students back in my life.

It started with just one guy — a graduate student who needed help on his dissertation.  What a joy that was!  I got to have a text-based conversation with him about educational practices and how they impact learning!  That taste just whetted my appetite, so I moved onto a retired writing instructor who had written a novel and just wanted a final proof for grammar and punctuation errors.  That led me to set up a profile on an online service connecting teachers with students for one-on-one assistance.  In six months I have logged over 120 hours with almost twenty different students ranging from sixth graders to graduate students.  I’ve worked on research papers, vocabulary lessons, dissertations, speeches, and test preparation.  Each lesson is different, each student a challenge.

So why didn’t I stop there?  While tutoring independently, I could still maintain my exercise regimen, still build friendships, still find time to rest.  Why did I have to push the limits and take on a job that will soon be at forty hours a week for the duration of the summer? Because I had to know. I had to know if I was imagining my limitations or if they were real.  Maybe I was just burnt out from teaching and sorely in need of a vacation.  Maybe I had imagined all my symptoms.  Surely I didn’t have that much pain, that much fatigue, that much stiffness.  How could a regular job be too difficult for me?

Because it is.  This week I worked thirty-two hours at the agency and an additional seven hours tutoring.  Not quite 40 hours, but it was a bit too much.  Yesterday, at the end of an eight-hour shift, I met some friends for drinks and dinner.  I called one of my friends by the wrong name — twice!  This is a friend I have known since the fall! I was mortified. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, but I was home before nine and crawled straight into bed — no reading, no television, no nothing.  I was entirely depleted.

This morning I woke up crabbily.  I can feel the inflammation through my body like an electric current.  It is as if I am electric blanket that has been turned up to ‘high’ —   I can feel all the wires as they heat up.  My lips are dry and tingling. My back and hips ache.  My eyes are screaming, “If you think you are going to put those contacts in, think again!”

Yup, it’s too much.  And, just to be sure, I am going to push it a little further.  This week will be a little lighter because of a trip I am taking for the second half of the week, but then I am certain I will be working over forty hours a week for the duration of the summer.  Why don’t I just walk away now?  Because I know me.  If I walk away right now, I will rest up for a few weeks then start thinking that perhaps I was imagining my fatigue, maybe I didn’t really have all that pain, maybe my symptoms weren’t real.

Nope, I’m not going to walk away right now.  I am going to finish the experiment all the way to the end to be sure I come to all the right conclusions. My hypothesis is that I am going to be utterly exhausted and ready to slow back down, but I’ve got to complete this experiment to be sure.

Psalm 103:8

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Living in the Tension

The tension is rising. How long will I last?

I’ve been working about twenty hours a week at the agency and an additional eight hours tutoring on my own. Just twenty-eight hours.  No big deal, especially when compared to what I had been doing before moving to Ann Arbor.  And, I’ve been holding my own.  Kind of.

My family has been helping with laundry, cleaning, and the care of the dog.  I cook dinner two or three times a week and expect that the other nights everyone can forage for their own sustenance, because I often have no interest in food at the end of the day.  I recommitted to walking and minimal Pilates this week when I noticed that my exercise life had all but disappeared. And, I’ll admit that a few symptoms are creeping back in.

It’s nothing serious — a little more fatigue, a little more stiffness, a mild rash on my face and some minimal psoriasis peeking out — nothing that anyone but I (and the people who live with me) will notice. But I’m only at twenty-eight hours.  ,

The agency is just beginning to show signs of the summer crank-up.  A co-worker showed me the “summer chart” yesterday with the names of all the students and instructors that will be crammed into our office suite starting in the next couple of weeks. It’s exciting–and intimidating.  We are going to increase our student and staff load exponentially by the middle of June.  I am expecting to be at full-time status in about three weeks.

Gulp.

I’ve been working from eight to noon, coming home, eating lunch, and resting for a few hours before I head back out to see my second round of students.  Then, when I get home the second time, I shed my clothes, get into pajamas, try to eat a little bit, watch a little television, catch up with Facebook and Words with Friends, then crawl to bed to read and sleep.

Wake up, repeat.

By the weekend I’m pretty wiped.  Last night I slept for ten hours. I am happy to say that it is going on eleven o’clock and I am still in my pajamas on this Saturday morning.

Now, as the work at the agency cranks up, the tutoring is going to slow down.  Many of my tutoring students are preparing for June exams, so they will not continue with me in the summer.  In fact, I think I will only have three or four weekly appointments once I hit full-time status, but do the math and you’ll see that I will be close to doubling my hours.

Yeah, I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, but I’m committed to the experiment.  By the end of summer I hope to know what the sweet spot is — how many hours of work is optimal?  My guess is right around twenty — just a little less than what I am doing right now.

So why am I moving forward with more? Because teaching feeds me. Yeah, I’m tired, but I got to celebrate with a ten-year-old who read ‘discombobulated’ this week. I got to read and discuss The Giver with an eleven-year-old who hasn’t read such a challenging book in his life! I got high-fives from a seven-year-old who spelled a whole bunch of words correctly.  I got to say “Bam!” when a police officer, who is studying for a test that will enable him to work for the DEA, remembered the three ways to punctuate two consecutive independent clauses.  I got to sit next to a Romanian immigrant and answer countless questions about English grammar and usage.

No, I didn’t get a ton of time to blog.  I didn’t make it to the gym.  My face hurts, and I’m pretty exhausted. But, guys, I got to watch people learn all. week. long. And the icing on the cake? I was learning right along with them. The last five months of working one-on-one with so many different students has taught me so much about language, but also so much about how people learn, and so much about what it means to me to be a teacher.

So, for the next few months, I am going to live in this tension.  Thanks, friends and family, for supporting me in my experiment. I know that my decision to live in the tension impacts you, too.

Psalm 90:17

Let the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us, and establish the work of our hands;

yes, establish the work of our hands.

The Little Sleep

Four weeks into the new job and I’m struggling to find my rhythm.  Maybe it’s because the first two weeks were full-time and the second two weeks have been part-time.  Maybe it’s because I continue to tutor outside of work in addition to the instruction that I do at work.  Or it could be the fact that I spent last weekend away from home.

Whatever the reason(s) I feel a little discombobulated. I get up early, go to work, then come home before lunch to take care of household stuff, do my Bible study, read, work on my puzzle, or more often than I care to admit — nap.

I’ve never really been a napper. I have found that if I fall asleep in the middle of the day, I like to knock out for a couple of hours.  The problem is that when I wake up, I am often excessively crabby and not fit for human interaction.  Or, my mid-day nap interferes with my night-time sleep. Many people have told me to master the ‘catnap’.  I’ve tried.  True, after 15-20 minutes of napping, I generally feel refreshed. If I get right up and start moving, I have that second wind that everyone talks about.  However, I don’t generally want to get up after just 15-20 minutes.  If I was tired enough to lie down, I want to get some serious sleep.

And lately, I have been tired enough to lie down.  In fact, while I was away last weekend, I took advantage of our free time to nap!  Other women did crafts, went for a walk, or even shopped.  Me? I was knocked out. When I woke up, since I was not at home with people who love me regardless of how crabby I get, I put on my best behavior and walked with my roommate to the nearest coffee spot.  We had a lovely cuppa before we returned for the last activity of the evening.  But you can probably guess how that worked out — yup, I was still awake at 1am!

So, I fell asleep on the couch the next evening, woke to go to work, plowed through the next couple of days, and then yesterday took another nap.  When I woke, I had dinner, took a walk with my husband, refrained from caffeine, but still found myself awake until almost midnight.

Maybe this is my new rhythm.  Maybe I have to learn to be flexible — sleeping when I can.

*********************************

You won’t believe what just happened.  I wrote the last line, crawled into bed, and then slept for an hour!

This is definitely a new rhythm for me.  I have not been one to stop in the middle of a task to take a phone call or talk to a friend, let alone to lie down for a nap! Remember me? I the one who has been a soldier — marching on to battle unknown foes, kicking butts and taking names.  I haven’t been the kind of person who would stop mid-stride, drop all my defenses, and — gasp — sleep!

I think I need to face the facts — I am becoming a napper.  All kinds of changes are happening over here.

I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me.

Psalm 3:5

Let me introduce you!

Wanna meet some of my kids?  Not my children. My students.  And, oh yeah, they aren’t all kids.

The first student I tutored here in Ann Arbor we’ll call Krista.  Her mom reached out to me around Christmas.  Krista is a freshman with ADHD.  For those of you who know freshmen, that last sentence is a little redundant.  Krista and I initially met to study for her first high school final exams, and we have continued to meet to study and to write papers.   In fact, we recently spent several hours writing an essay comparing loss in Maus  and Night. We followed her teacher’s rubric, we got her thesis approved, we outlined, drafted, revised, and edited.  Then came the email from her mother.  “Krista got a D on her paper.  Thoughts?”  D? Are you kidding me?  I am an experienced teacher, a former English department chair, a former curriculum coordinator!  I walked with her through that paper, holding her hand!  She got a D?! For a moment I thought I had lost Krista as a client.  For over a week her mother didn’t reply to my emails other than one-word responses.  I understood.  She had hired me to help her child do better in English, not to help her earn a D!!  Yesterday, finally, she reached out and asked if I could help Krista with her next paper.  I was so relieved to get another chance!

About a month ago I was sitting on my couch in the evening when I received a tutoring request that went something like this, “I am a high school freshman.  I could use help in my English class.  Would you be willing to work with me.”  A freshman?  Sending his own email? Asking for help? We exchanged a half dozen emails and I met him that weekend.  He is the son of parents who immigrated from India.  In fact, last year, they went back to India for a year so that Saj (fictional name) could study there and experience the culture.  He is very bright.  Our first assignment was preparing a recitation and analytical speech about Oedipus.  We worked for a couple hours on this project –first planning, then writing and practicing.  Yesterday we spent an hour getting familiar with the new PSAT and SAT since Michigan just adopted these assessments after years of using the ACT.  He asked me for homework so that he can practice before I see him next week.

About six weeks ago a mother contacted me.  Her daughter is only in sixth grade, but she is very advanced and has always had an English tutor.  Would I be willing to write a curriculum for her — reading comprehension, writing, analysis, vocabulary, and grammar?  Well, sixth grade is a little young for me, and I would have to drive about twenty minutes to get to this student, but I agreed.  Again, she is Indian.  Her parents are highly educated, as are Saj’s.  And, I will admit, this girl is indeed, ‘very advanced’.  I show up every week with comprehension questions on the book we are reading together, The Book Thief.  I also give her questions about literary elements — irony, symbol, metaphor, narration, characterization.  I keep trying to find something she can’t answer.  I have not yet succeeded.  I’m not sure what she will study in high school — I’m using up all of my material!

I also have a couple adult students.  First is Cherise.  She is an RN who is studying to become an Advanced Practice Nurse.  She works in a pediatric clinic in Ypsilanti and is hoping to be the lead practitioner when her supervisor retires.  She has files of knowledge on nursing, but her writing skills are limited.  I wish I could videotape our sessions — she spends time explaining medical terminology to me; I spend time explaining sentence structure to her.  We are two middle aged women leaning over documents making a way to convey meaning.  She’s a quick study.  I show her parallel structure one time, she points it out in the next sentence.  I remind her that academic writing is in third person, she locates the personal pronouns she needs to delete.

My other adult is Carla.  She dropped out of high school to have a baby fourteen years ago.  She works in purchasing for a manufacturing plant in the area, but she wants a career change.  She wants to work in the criminal justice field.  A community college admitted her and she is taking a composition course online.  But she’s never written a paper before! We met to discuss her first paper, walking through sentence by sentence until she was comfortable with it.  We also discussed her next assignment — a research paper.  She lives thirty miles away, so we have only met once, but she emails me her documents and I make comments and ask questions in the margins.  I coach her — you need more research, make sure you are including your opinion, don’t forget to document your quotes.  She’s doing all this work in the evenings after working all day and while parenting a teenager.

And that’s not all.  There’s  a brother and sister I meet with weekly, a couple of students I met with just a couple of times each to do test prep, and twin sisters that I assisted with a huge research paper.  They contact me online, I meet them in libraries or at their homes.  For a moment or a season we are connected for a purpose.  Sometimes I think I am helping them, most of the time I think they are helping me.

That’s the kind of work I like to do — the kind where I feel privileged to show up and blessed when I leave.  May you have that kind of work to do, too.

Psalm 90:17

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;

establish the work of our hands for us —  yes, establish the work of our hands.