There’s a giant group (2,000+ fairly local people) who hold 3-day weekend spiritual retreats a couple of times a year; I’ve been a part of that group since the weekend after my Melanoma surgery, something like fifteen years ago.  My first time at that retreat was and continues to be a major force in my own spiritual formation – I would not be the same me, had I not gone that first time.

From time to time, I get a call asking if I want to be on (volunteer) staff for the retreat this time around.  Sometimes I say yes; just about as often I turn the offer down, mostly because it’s a bit of a commitment and if you know me, you know I tend to have a lot of commitments all the time.  Since I don’t want to offer my half-effort, I only sign on when I can fully offer myself.

Truth:  sometimes I say no because I am legit over-committed in the moment.  Sometimes I say no because I’m tired or overwhelmed at the time of the call, and while I always stop to pray before the YES, I don’t always involve God in the decision for the NO.  For the record, that’s not the way following Jesus is supposed to work.  (And I’m aiming to do better on that front, the next time the call comes!)

Regardless of my lack of total faithfulness on this front, I continue to get invited to participate.  (Note:  the actual following of Christ is an abundantly merciful and gracious experience; if your experience of following Him hasn’t washed you over in mercy and grace, if your experience is harsh and filled with condemnation and demands for perfection, maybe you’re following a person or somebody’s idea and not actually Christ.)  I am home today resting up after one such weekend, filled to overflowing from what I gave, so full of gratitude that it’s leaking out of me at every turn.

Today I am freshly reminded that we NEED to serve and help others, if we want to experience all the great stuff God wants to give us.  I’ve known this for a long time.  I watched my parents modeling it as I grew up.  My 12-step journey hammered into me that failing to take what I’ve been given and give it to others is a step backward for me – a step away from health and joy and freedom and a step toward the forces that left me needing the 12 steps.  My biggest spiritual gift is teaching; I have discovered countless times that until I give of myself by teaching others a concept or a technique or whatever, I am missing a level of understanding of that thing.  Teaching something ALWAYS clarifies it for me, shows me deeper things about it, ties it in to other stuff I know, and clears away some of my insecurity or tentativeness about that thing.  I get it best when I give it away.

I guess that’s another “God’s economy” thing, this business of the necessity to give if one wants to fully receive.  By human logic, seeking, taking, and focusing harder on what one wants would seem to be the most efficient path forward.  I am so grateful that God’s economy doesn’t work like human logic, aren’t you?

My encouragement to you:  if life isn’t working for you, if you can’t get what you need, if you can’t figure out what the heck God wants from you:  start giving and stop looking so hard for that thing you need.  It’s probably hidden inside the giving.

My pastor wrote a pretty cool manifesto that is a good place to start, if you’re interested but unsure how to get going.  It can be found here.

 

If you linked to this blog through Facebook and want to tell me/ask me something about what I’ve written here, please leave your comment below.  I’m away from Facebook for the month of May 2017 and I won’t know you asked or said something if you post it over there until I return in June.  

a reluctant adventure

Posted: April 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

I’m revving up to step off into a little “adventure” that is not so much of my own choosing as a path I feel I’m being led down.  I am not excited about it.  I don’t want to do it at all.  I have tried pretending to myself that I can just ignore the leading, but it’s pretty persistent.  I have looked for ways to work around it, but I just keep getting brought back to it.

So, I guess I’ll do it.  I have moved from “hell no, let’s not even discuss the possibility” to kicking and screaming to passive resistance and now I’m at “okay fine, whatever, I’ll do it.”  I’d rather not, except for the simple truth that generally when I’m being led like this and I choose to yield to the leading, I don’t regret it in the end.  Scratch that – not generally.  ALWAYS.  I have never, ever regretted following when I’m being led in this fashion, but I have frequently regretted being a stubborn turd.  So here I am.

Here’s the deal:  for the month of May I am shutting off three things that are potentially escapism, numbing agents, addictive in nature, or just flat distractions.  It’s not forever.  It’s one month.  I’ve been having arguments in my head with things people around me have been saying about two of these three things (the other one, there is no argument, it is flat out evil in my life).  I’m tired of having arguments in my head; the other people don’t hear them anyway, and until I test my hypothesis, I can’t know whether I’m right.

Oh.  What are the three things, you’re wondering?

Facebook.

Netflix.

Sugar.

It’s easy to know the sugar needs to go.  I’ve done enough dietary experimentation to understand that for me, sugar is poison – a powerfully addictive substance that hijacks my self-control to a level that is horrifying, when I really look into it.  I’ve gotten off it more than once, but right now I’m back in the full sugar swing, because addiction is like that.  Time to shut it back off.  When I shut it off, the loss of its power over me feels like a literal changing of who I am.  Why do I let it back?  Well, the 12-step community doesn’t call addiction “cunning, baffling, and powerful” for nothing.

Netflix – that’s a medium-sized argument.  Yes, we “binge” our way through series.  No, I don’t live my life around it.  I used to be a very extreme TV addict; I feel like that is broken completely off for me.  Nonetheless…could I be using my time better, especially now with the weather improving?  Probably.  No harm in taking a month away from the TV screen (and at our house, it’s Netflix/Amazon Prime or nothing – we have no other form of TV available – and yes, I’m including Amazon Prime viewing in the ban for the month as well).

Facebook?  I don’t know.  I feel like all the arguments for that are “outside” of me.  I don’t feel that rush of competitive, threatening jealousy or insecure one-upsmanship that so many refer to when talking about Facebook land.  I am not sucked in by the wasting-your-life baloney that is available there – it doesn’t seem that hard to me to just scroll on by the crap to get to the good stuff.  I have great connections with people I care about, who are no longer within easy visiting distance.  I have wonderful sources there of folks I only marginally know who regularly provide links for fascinating, excellent articles.  I have the ability to know some things I can pray for folks on my feed, just by watching the nature of their posts.  Do I ever “waste time” on Facebook?  Heck yeah.  But what I waste time on there is no worse than the time-wasters I would choose in another format.

Aaaaaanyway.  I’m arguing.  And the point is not to argue.  The point is to follow the lead.  So I’ve only got a few more days before my month off.  On a funny note, I’m attending a women’s retreat later this week that will effectively knock me off of Facebook and Netflix four days early (will I come home Sunday night and check out Facebook one last time before the adventure commences?  Seems likely to me.)

If this post reads as some stupid “humble brag”…that’s not the intent.  Trying to keep it real here.  It makes sense to me to document ahead of time where I am on it, so that I can compare notes later to see what the journey was like.  For sure I am no spiritual giant for doing this – a spiritual giant would not be arguing and pouting on her way out the door, am I right?

I’ll let you know how it goes.  I have no ban on blogging, and I’m guessing with those other things cut out, I may find more time to write.  Meanwhile, we’re not there yet.  One more week to go!

We were practicing a specific kind of intercessory prayer, listening to God and waiting to get a word or a picture for one person at a time.  It was my turn – the group was praying over me.  Someone got a picture:  the energizer bunny.

I felt relief as I immediately knew what that was about.  God sees me!  He is talking to me, telling me that He knows me, that I am enough, that I don’t have to keep trying so hard.  He is pleased with my desire to serve, but that doesn’t have to define my every moment.  I can let go of scrambling to do, do, do.  I can slow down.

Then, amidst my relief, another voice.  The person who got the picture for me added their thoughts.  I was going to become more active, more productive.  I was going to be like someone else we both knew, someone who goes, goes, goes all the time.  My activity was going to be ratcheted up.

The idea scratched in my ears like nails on a chalkboard.  It made me more tired than I already was.  I went home and went straight to bed, asking God, “Didn’t I hear you right?”  How could I do MORE?  The idea of needing to do more made me want to quit altogether.

I continued to pray about that over time; when my freak-out was over, I was able to hear Him assuring me.  I had heard Him right.

Still, I didn’t really know how to slow down.  I kind of worked on it, but it continued to be somehow just beyond my grasp in the many months since that prayer session.

One great thing about God is He keeps on talking, when we don’t get it the first time.

I got sick a couple of weeks ago – the kind of sick that presses me down on the bed and holds me there, captive.  I was down for the count for three days; on the fourth, I woke up feeling better and thought the storm was over.  I jumped out of bed at 5 AM and proceeded to hustle around my house, getting stuff done, thrilled with the recovery.  After five hours of hustle, I crashed, landing back in bed and cancelling an important meeting I should have attended, could have attended if I had just not leaped into SuperKaren mode that morning.

That set me back so hard that for the following seven days,  each day I had to stop in the afternoon, quit everything I was doing, and just go home for long naps, sleeping a deep sleep that is a thing from my past, beyond my reach at night anymore.  The naps were not optional.  It was discouraging.  I felt like I was NEVER going to be well and whole again.

In the midst of this struggle, I was emailing with my chiro/functional medicine practitioner.  I told her about feeling so much better and then crashing again.  She had urged me already to slow down.  I confessed that I don’t know how to slow down.  I expressed my surprise at this revelation.

Then she used a word that made me cry.  You are convalescing, she said.  You haven’t been well for two years.  I’ve seen your excitement as you are healing, and it is good, but this isn’t going away in a period of weeks.  It will take months.  You have to slow down.  You have to focus on being, not doing.  I know you can do it.  I read her thoughts, shocked, and wept.  All this time I’ve wanted my MD to pay attention, listen, help me…and now someone is doing that, and in the moment it was kind of devastating.

Convalescing?  That’s what I’m doing?  I’m a vocabulary girl; I was sure I knew what that word meant, but I spent some time studying it around the internet anyway.  It speaks to slowing down, separating oneself from the hurry of the getting-stuff-done world.  Once upon a time, people who were healing were sent away to quiet locations to convalesce, for weeks or months at a time.  Set aside to rest, take walks, create art, sit by bodies of water and do nothing.  I read about this and a great longing stretched out in me.  Oh, how I’d love to be tucked away somewhere like that!

I was still processing this when the next wave of input came from another source.  I’m giving a talk later this month at a women’s event about the importance for Christ-followers of regular study.  I previewed that talk last week in front of a team of about twenty women, sharing my journey with lots of specifics about the various ways I study.  I was/am excited to give this talk, since study is my jam.

Then it was time for them to give me feedback.  Collectively the room liked a lot about what I shared.  Collectively they all also said stuff that boiled down to:  HOLY COW WOMAN, you are overwhelming!  You need to let “normal” people know that they don’t need to do alllll those things that you do!  You’ll scare people into not trying, if they think they have to live up to that much!

Uhhh…oh.  Really?  The funny thing was that when I’d been asked to give this talk, even though study is my jam, I had worried a bit that what I do might not be enough.

My long-time prayer and accountability partner was in that group of ladies.  She took me aside later.  “No wonder you’re tired all the time, if that’s what you’re doing!”  She urged me to slow down, to stop filling every spare second with effort.  To stop doing so much and practice just being.  Maybe this is why I don’t sleep so well, she noted.  Maybe this is the source of my busy “working dreams” that leave me waking up exhausted from all the fruitless “effort” therein.  She has gone on to urge me since then:  rest matters.  You have to rest.  She’s wonderfully relentless – when I say I will try, she reminds me, laughing, that Yoda says, “There is no try, there is only do!”

That same day of the meeting, my daughter Julia let me know that my busyness had shown up in her dream.  My granddaughter was sick and struggling; in her dream, Julia was arranging to keep her home from school to heal.  In her dream, I was gruff.  She’s just a preschooler, but I was adamant:  she’s big enough to be in school.  She doesn’t need time to heal.  Don’t keep her home.  We chuckled together about it, and Julia noted that in real life while I am terribly hard on myself, I always give everyone else permission – rest!  Slow down!  You don’t have to do all that!

Yeah, it was just a dream, but by this point I was clear:  God and I are having a conversation.  I need to be listening.

Aaaaannnnd He’s not done talking yet.  One of my favorite bloggers is Dr. Kelly Flanagan, a psychologist with gentle, brilliant insight whose writing speaks deeply to me.  He released a book in March, and I pounced on it.  It is called “Loveable:  Embracing What Is Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life.”  I’m reading it on my lunch breaks at work.

That gets awkward, for this reason:  the book makes me weep.  I open it up, I read his gentle, loving words, and the tears just run down my face.  The basic message is simple – you are enough.  You don’t have to try so hard.  I have had so much healing on this front already that I kind of thought I had arrived; my daily tears when I crack the book open tell me that I’m nowhere near arrived.  I’m drinking in his words like water in a desert, filled with gratitude but also perpetually shocked at my own continued vulnerability on this point.  I haven’t thought that I was trying to “earn” anything with my doing.  But I’ve been wrong on that point.  This much is clear.

I’m breaking a rule of appropriate sharing by opening this all up while I’m in the middle of it.  The problem isn’t solved.  I haven’t yet regained my grasp on rest.  I’m trying to figure it out – trying to let go.  Trying to let God open up the place in me that locked the concept away.  I’m sharing because I’m not the only “getting stuff done” person stuck on the hamster wheel and trying to remember how to rest.  If you’re in the struggle with me:  I’m praying for you.  Pray for me.  We can do this.  God wants us to get it, which means we can, and we will.

 

modern medicine thoughts

Posted: March 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

There are good and bad things about growing up in a small town/rural area; one of the big blessings from it for me was having a small-town doctor.  While I had a few different docs from age zero to 40-ish (one retired during my childhood, when I got married the first time I changed from “my” family doctor to “his” much nicer one, and later I changed to a local clinic doctor who would see me at 7:30 AM so I didn’t have to miss work), the consistency of my medical care over most of my life was a wondrous thing, which I didn’t understand or really appreciate until my choice to move away from that rural setting eventually demanded a change.

For awhile I drove back from my home in the Quad Cities to my small-town clinic when I needed medical care.  It seemed silly to drive 45 minutes each way to do this (and ironic, as I knew so many people from that town drove 45 minutes each way to get to the Quad Cities to see non-small-town doctors!) but the business of finding a new doctor was daunting.  Too much “adulting” for me.  I just kept putting it off.  I asked my favorite nurse practitioner at that clinic how I was supposed to find a doctor, now that I had moved.  He advised me to visit the emergency room of my nearest hospital during off-peak hours and ask the nurses, who would tell me “which ones were not assholes.”  It sounded like a smart plan, but you know, I’m an introvert.  I didn’t do it.

Then I moved to Chicago, and finding a doctor was a non issue.  No income, no insurance, and I’m a tiny dot in the sea of humanity in one of the world’s biggest cities?  Yeah, I can’t navigate that.  When I ended up too sick avoid seeking medical treatment, I had my own Cook County Hospital adventure, which gave me a new perspective on healthcare and poverty – but that’s a blog – or a book! – for another day.

When I moved back  to the Quad Cities and immediately had severe fatigue issues that were sending me home to go to bed for the night as early as 3 PM some days, my boss sent me to HIS doctor, who got me through that passage, but I didn’t end up making that doctor mine, so I was still just kind of out there floating.  I had discovered Express Care, which would see me without an appointment during regular business hours.  Maybe I didn’t NEED a “regular” doctor.  Maybe this was enough to meet my healthcare needs for now.

The docs at the Express Care did not like my stance on this.  They probed me each time I was in their office on this subject.  “You need to have your own physician.”  I ignored this, since they had no power to enforce it.

Getting married changed my attitude.  Now it wasn’t MY OWN health about which I was thinking/refusing to think.  Now my concern was G.  I work with seniors.  I know that almost without exception, the men die first.  I got this amazing man so late in life, and I want to maximize the window of our time together.  I need him healthy.  I knew he’d basically never had decent health care to speak of in his 46 years of life, and I worried about what might be going on, undetected, in his body.  Very soon after we married, with the help of the docs at the Express Care I found a medical practice in the area that was accepting patients and signed us both up – a female doc for me and a male doc for G, both in the same office.  I can’t describe to you how responsible and very adult I felt, that day when we walked in together for our first annual physicals with our new docs.

All of the above is just background info to my point for today, which is the strange arrangement of my healthcare “package” as it exists.  I’ve been thinking about it almost round-the-clock this last week or so of being sick.  I have 3 separate medical/health solutions in my life right now.

Once upon a time, my “regular” doctor’s office would have been at the center of that, at least.  But I can’t see my “regular” doctor on less than 2 months’ notice.  So she’s not really “my doctor” in the way I want.  She is the lady who sees me once a year for the annual physical.  She orders expensive testing like mammograms and colonoscopies and full blood panels.  No matter what I tell her about how I’m feeling/problems I am having – arthritis that won’t let me up out of my chair, fatigue that won’t let me function normally in life, whatever – she tells me basically that I’ll have to live with it.  She’s a very pretty young doctor and is super smiley, warm and nice while she sends me back out into the world, unhelped, but at least thoroughly tested for cancer.  I have come to see her as my “cancer detection” doctor, since I can’t see that she has concern about anything else for me, and I assume if cancer ever turns up, she will promptly send me somewhere else to manage that.  She is not going to enjoy my next annual physical, in which I am going to tell her about how I tried to leave her this past year but couldn’t find an MD functional medicine practitioner who is on my insurance plan, but how a wonderful chiropractor is solving all the problems she has so smilingly dismissed these last couple of years.  I’m going to have that hard conversation because she owed me better than I’ve gotten, and she needs to be a better doctor going forward, and how can she get better if no one points these things out?

The second part of my health solution strategy is that Express Care.  I really appreciate those folks.  Being seen without an appointment has helped me to not miss work on many occasions.  They are friendly and nice and the place is clean.  They are part of the same mammoth hospital system as my “regular” doc, so my health information is passed easily between those two offices.  The only bummer for me is that I’ve come to see Express Care as sort of a prescription-writing vending machine.  No health solution is almost ever discussed there except what scrips are being written – I am told basically here are your symptoms, so here are your scrips and sent on my way (though there was one exception around this time last year, when the doc there gave me some pretty severe resting instructions while drawing a Sharpie circle around my infection and ordering me to get myself directly to the ER if the infection got outside the circle).

And then there is the wonderful new third part of my health solution strategy – my chiropractor/functional health practitioner.  We’ve only been at it for less than six months, but she is actually helping me.  Actually addressing my issues.  Bringing my arthritis pain down so I can exercise again.  Reducing my fatigue so I can function like a normal human being on 8 hours of sleep, not 10.  Changing my monthly menstrual cycle from a tornado I could barely get through to a minor inconvenience – the thing it was B.K. (Before Kids).  Taking my PMS that left me feeling massive sensory overload/ready to murder the world 1-3 days a month and just lifting it away – gone – POOF – no more PMS!  Blowing away my mental fog, returning me to clarity.  You understand, I didn’t even ASK her about any of these things except the fatigue.  I had no expectation any of the other stuff would/could ever change.  It just keeps happening.

I can’t help but note the difference in how I am seen.  At the first two places, it’s an in-and-out as quickly as possible deal, and I know why.  I work in health care.  I read industry stuff almost every day of my life, thanks to my boss.  I know the pressures that are driving those docs to see me quickly and to get me well on as little funding as possible.

Then there’s my chiro.  I had to fill out a nearly 30-page background on my health before we could even start.  She performed a 1.5 hour interview with me on our first meeting, going over that document and asking question after question to pull more information out.  Before I see her for our regular appointments, I have to fill out and turn in a health update with her – it’s like 4 pages or something – describing in detail how I’ve been, which symptoms are better/worse and by what degree, and including exactly everything I have eaten for the past two days as well.  The document also pushes me to ask her questions.  We spend my appointments going over my answers, with her asking question after question and making copious notes as I talk.

She doesn’t only look at my symptoms.  We talk about stress management, exercise, diet.  She skillfully coaches me on my attitudes and assumptions.  As she makes her supplement recommendations for me, she talks through each one – what is in it, why that is appropriate for me, what I can expect from it.  She directs me to documentation to back up everything she says.  Invariably as she looks at what I have eaten in the past two days, she sees changes I need to make and she communicates those clearly.

In between appointments, I can email her as often as needed and she always answers quickly.  She supplies web links for further study as she answers my questions.  When I got home from the Express Care this past Friday morning with my pile of scrips, I emailed her immediately and she was quick to adjust some of my supplements accordingly, and to send me more tips for getting through.

The bummer about my chiro is she’s not on my insurance – she doesn’t DO insurance, preferring to invest her time in clients rather than fighting about funds.  She spells out up front in the first, free appointment what her time costs and the ways that she will work to reduce cost on supplements.  I know what it costs to see her, and what it costs to have a phone appointment with her by 15-minute increments, and that the emails are free, no matter how many.  I know what it costs to have her read labs, even.  She’s not cheap.  We are middle income (at the “middle” of the middle) people, and it takes some intention for us to manage the cost.  My supplements that are changing my life are $6 a day – while I’ve never been a smoker, for years I’ve wondered how people who smoke a pack a day come up with the money to do that, and now I’m figuring it out daily for a way better reason.  $6 a day for supplements, plus the cost of our appointments.  It’s not thousands of dollars, but it’s somewhere between most and all of our margin much of the time.  G and I both consider my return to health to be worth the cost, and we live inside the luxury and privilege of being able to make such a choice – a point for which I never fail to be grateful.

The supplements she’s giving me are all natural stuff from a highly reputable company.  Plants.  I read the documentation on them and I feel sorry for all the ladies across history who knew about which flowers and plants helped cure with things and got called “witches” doing “magic” because of it.  These plants are giving my life back to me.  My chiro would I think for sure have been called a witch in dark days past.

At this point I’m not ready to just kick traditional medicine to the curb.  It helps me.  It bailed me out of not breathing on Friday morning, and that was a big deal.  I just think if we did a whole lot more of what my chiro is doing, we’d overall be so much healthier that it would change the way the rest of medicine would work.  I think it would bring costs down and rescue people from the cycle of taking a medicine for their illness, and then a medicine to deal with the side effects of their medicine, and then another medicine to deal with the side effects from that one, ad nauseam.  I think while $6 a day is a lot of money for some of us, it’s not much money compared to some of the scrips people are figuring out how to pay for so that they can live.

So for me, I’ll keep cobbling these three pieces together, because I am DONE being a passive consumer, where it comes to my health care.  I will be seen, I will be heard, I will NOT be dismissed and sent on my way, told that I “just have to live with” something.  I THOUGHT it wasn’t true, and I was right.

Something to chew on, if you’re being told you have to “just live with” whatever is dragging you down.

“I’m sorry to hear that things have worsened for you and can’t emphasize enough how important self-care will be at this time. Please focus on proper hydration as well.”

These were the closing lines on the most recent email from my chiropractor/functional medicine practitioner.  This was not the first time in the conversation that she’d zeroed in on that term:  self-care.  It had been her opening answer upon hearing that I’d been suddenly taken down by some kind of wicked respiratory illness.

Self-care.  Yup, I know.  Hydration.  Mmm hmm.  Wednesday through Friday of this week, my three activities included sleep, rest, and putting fluids into my body.  Self care.  Hydration.  I’ve got this.  No problem.

There were more particulars in the conversation – supplements she can order that will help me heal faster, and also some very pointed dietary advice.  It was all great stuff, but when it came on Wednesday, we were in one of those little uncomfortable financial pockets of running out of funds before running out of week (happily, those pockets are fewer and further between than they used to be, but sadly, I still choose my way into that hard spot more than I ought to do).  Payday would be Friday.  No ordering supplements, no buying any groceries before that.  I made notes from her email about the food we needed to get.  And I asked her to get those supplements ordered Friday morning, when there would be funds on the debit card once more.  Meanwhile, I’d muddle through.

Muddling through landed me in the Express Care unit on Friday morning after a night of struggling to breathe.  The helpful docs there gave me my first-ever breathing treatment right there in the office after listening to my chest and measuring my oxygen with the little finger-tip thingy.  They sent me home with prescriptions for more albuterol to follow up that first breathing treatment, and also scrips for two of my least favorite drugs:  augmentin (antibiotics) and prednisone (steroids).  I have objected so strenuously so many times to prednisone in that office that I guess my file must have a note in it – the doc was quick to be soothing as she prescribed it, noting that it’s a “very low dose.”  As G drove me home from that appointment, I was both grateful that these things would likely give me my breath back and filled with dread at how the antibiotics would undo the work I’ve put in with probiotics for my gut health.  But breathing’s not optional.  Do it, get through it Karen.  Don’t be a whiner.  

G spent his day off on Friday making a big batch of the bone broth my doc had recommended so strongly and nursing me through a day when every cough included chest pains that brought me to tears.  I took my meds and ate the oranges he’d picked up (eat your Vitamin C, don’t drink it! is the repeated cry of my doc).  I sipped soup and hot water, slept as much as I could, and rested.  Self care.  Hydration.  I’ve got this.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling like a new person.  My breath had returned to me enough that I had been able to lie down for part of the night – sleeping sitting up is just not the same quality of rest, is it?  As I drove G to work, I looked forward to a day up and off the couch.  I had a meeting to go to around lunchtime – I could probably get some stuff done before it was time to leave.  Back home I happily dove into just that:  getting stuff done.  I wasn’t working like a madwoman, but I was definitely in “productive mode.”  At 10 AM when I whisked out the door to run a couple of errands on the way to my meeting, I felt great about how much work I had accomplished.

Then, it caught up with me.

Sitting in the car, I was overcome with a wave of exhaustion and some dizziness.  Uhh.  What was that?!  I decided to just remain calm and stay on course.  My first errand was at work – a small task that needed to be done and couldn’t wait for Monday.  I sat at my desk, feeling like all the energy in my body was dripping down and out of me through my toes, peering at the computer monitor and racking my brain.  What’s the name of the file I’m looking for?  What’s the name?  What’s the name?  This was a little “nothing” task I was doing – something I do about a hundred of every day of the week.  And it was kicking my butt.  Finding the file and making the document was hard – so hard that for awhile I thought maybe just wasn’t going to get it done.  What is going on?

That was when I realized I was not going to make it to my meeting.

It was when I realized I’d been pushing myself pretty hard from 5 to 10 AM.  That I’d put in an admirable half-day of work, which was probably NOT falling under the definition of “self care” for someone who the very day before had been gasping for breath and in tears from the pain of every cough.

Oh.  Yeah.  That’s not self-care I guess, is it?

This is why my doc talks to me like this.  It’s why she says these things over and over, so gently and diplomatically but also so relentlessly.

This is how I backed myself into the terrible corner of adrenal fatigue in the first place – this utter lack of comprehension regarding the importance of self-care.  This belief that what defines me is that I’m a “highly productive person” who “gets stuff done.”

When she says this stuff, it’s not some canned speech.  It’s another piece in her customized, very-much-paying-attention-to-the-patient approach.  She says these things because I need to hear – AND LISTEN TO – these things.

Self-care – or more specifically my lack of practicing it – kicked my butt yesterday.  It landed me back in bed for hours.  My mom texted me that I should rest – that when my dad had this, he was sick for a month, and I thought well of course he was.  He’s not a bit better at self-care than I am.  I am a highly productive child of two highly productive parents.  We get stuff done.  We’ve very smart about a lot of things.  Self care is maybe not on that list of “a lot of things.”

For today, I will focus on figuring out what self-care looks like.  I don’t WANT to do this, because part of me process the term “self-care” as those words that are dreaded in the 12-step community:  “selfish and self-centered.”  I’m working to untangle that knot in my thinking, because actually it is NOT selfish to take decent care of the body that God gave me.  Wrecking my health because I’m a stubborn idiot would be selfish.  Slowing my healing because I need to feel like I’m getting stuff done would be self-centered in a way that is a special kind of stupid.  Today, I will remind myself to take the superhero suit off and just BE, and let God teach me what is going on here.

For a pretty good student, I’m not much of a quick learner on this business of self-care.  But I’m not giving up.

on forgetting how to rest

Posted: March 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

One of the very first things that attracted me to G was how hard he worked, and how cheerfully – he’s a great worker.  He only knows how to give everything he’s got – he doesn’t conserve energy throughout his day by hanging back a bit where he may, and he can’t fathom saying the words, “That is not my job.”  He is this walking explosion of willing servanthood, and that caught my eye big time.  This wonderful trait has proven true at home, not just at work – the guy is serious about getting stuff done.

But unlike many hard workers, he also knows how to rest.  G is really, really good at rest.  When it’s time to rest, he’s in full chillaxin’ mode.  He takes the biblical instruction for Sabbath rest very seriously.  His Sabbath is on Saturday; left to his own devices, he luxuriates into rest that day.  Since he works every other weekend, he is intentional in making his day off through the week a substitute Sabbath.  G knows about rest.

The whole “rest” gig – the Sabbath – is one of the ways I struggle to practice being a Jewish wife.  I mean, I know that Sabbath is not ONLY a Jewish thing.  But how many Christians do you know that are serious about an actual day of real rest?  Certainly it’s not a thing I have felt strongly admonished to in a lifetime of working out what it means to follow Christ.  While it’s not a thing that NEVER has come up as I’ve studied and been taught, it sure doesn’t come up much.

None of that is to blame my lack of ability to rest on the church or on any of my spiritual leaders – that would be total bull puckey.  I’ve read the scripture, I HAVE heard/read some instruction on the subject.  I am without excuse, where teaching is concerned.

I can’t mark the spot where I started forgetting how to rest.  I know that once upon a time, I was good at it.  And then there was a passage where I “rested” too much – though it wasn’t so much rest as the inertia of depression.  Then there was massive, sweeping change in my life – a total rewrite of my script and even of who I have understood myself to be.  Then I got productive.  And more productive.  And MORE productive.  I was an efficient multi-tasking machine, astonishing myself and others at what I could pile into a day.  Even then, I was still fitting some rest in there – maybe not an intentional once-a-week thing, but some.

Somewhere along the way, though, I lost my grip on rest.  I am almost constitutionally incapable of a day of rest at this point.  When I get a day off, I fill it with tasks that I say are “restful for me.”  Things like organizing the basement, cooking a week’s worth of food, cleaning the garage, scrubbing walls and ceilings.  Sometimes I fit in things that might really count as rest – puttering around the yard, riding my bike, going for a walk, writing…but it’s hard for me to allow those things unless I also do the getting-stuff-done things as well.

I’m pondering all of this today because yesterday was my 3-month check-in with my chiro/functional medicine practitioner, whose help is giving my life back to me after fatigue had locked itself in to steal my life in increments of both 2 extra hours of sleep needed daily to function, and also a constant weariness that made me wish I was in bed basically every hour of the day that I was not.

When we meet, she requires me to turn in a several-page document that updates her on how I’ve been feeling and also what I’ve been eating in the past couple of days.  The bulk of our meeting is going over that document with me talking and her very actively listening, questioning, drawing more information out of me.

These meetings have been bubbly-happy on my part since I started seeing results within a couple of weeks of starting with her and continue to see remarkable improvement as we go.  Yesterday I noted that things I didn’t even ask her to address are being solved along the way – things I lacked the imagination to suppose could ever be different.

I was gushing along, telling her how amazing I feel, and also pushing in my questions.  I’m down from needing a 10-hour night of sleep to needing just 8 hours, but I wanted to know:  how soon until I can sometimes push that back to the occasional 6 hour night?  With G’s work schedule, we really must be in bed by 7 PM to get an 8 hour night, and that’s cramping my style.  I stay up a full extra hour one day a week – sometimes even two –  so that I can attend at least the beginning of evening events at church; when I do so, I pay for that one missed hour of sleep with fatigue for a day or even two afterward.  I’d like this to change.  When will it change?  I also let her know that I’m thrilled that my arthritis is so much less painful these days that I’m able to walk daily for exercise…but I want to get back to running.  I giddily told her I’m sure I will be running again very soon.

She let me bubble on a bit, celebrating my remarkable recovery with me, but soon she brought diplomatic redirection.  “Slow down there, Skippy,” was the content of her urging, though she said it much more professionally than that.  She reminded me, as she always does, about the need to be gentle with my recovering body.  To go slowly.  To allow for healing before bolting off into the next bit of busyness.

Those six-hour nights I want to be able to run on?  She kindly pointed out that these are the kinds of choices and attitudes that backed me into the corner of adrenal fatigue.  I need to choose differently.  I need to be wise.

My exuberance to get back to running?  She’d like me to hold off on that ’til the 6 month mark.  Give my body some more time to recover from what was almost two years of struggle.  Regroup first, and then go forward.

That stuff is hard to hear, partly because I seem to have folded getting-stuff-done into a defining personality trait for me.

But it is also a giant relief to get these instructions.  Part of what drives me is the expectations of others that I feel pressing in on me.  Many a loving, well-intentioned friend has urged me to basically buck up, buttercup both while I was in the morass of fatigue and especially now that I am doing better.  I make my apologies for needing to get home to bed, and from time to time it is made very clear to me:  others don’t get it.  They think I’m being inflexible or maybe lazy, I don’t know.  I get attempts at correction via gentle teasing, and I feel the pressure.  Why can’t I just muscle through and stay up late for cool events?  So I’m grateful for my doc, who insistently drags me back around to remember:  proper rest is a prescription for me right now.  It’s not really optional at all.

Now…if I can just start relearning what real rest (not just sleep) looks like.

 

The old testament first started getting hard for me when I pushed past the process of just clipping out the familiar stories taught in Sunday School and started to read the surrounding material.  I was a junior high Sunday School teacher, and I started noticing how the curriculum sometimes kept us within a carefully sculpted set of verses – and that the stuff before or after those verses contained material that was, to me, shocking.  I think the first of that was the business of God saying to His people at some battle that they were to kill every living thing – not just the soldiers, but even the women and (I think) children, and for sure all the animals.

I didn’t like the curated nature of my lesson plans; since my kids weren’t grade-schoolers and we were Southern Baptists (proud to be Bible students), I took the time to read that hard stuff with them too.  I didn’t want them to end up like me, a full-fledged adult who’d been in church since infancy, not knowing that there were parts of scripture that are downright confounding and upsetting.  I didn’t try to explain it away.  Oh, I’ve heard the explanations from Bible scholars, but to be honest a lot of those only work for me if I remain a level removed from the story – if I read it only as a story, if I consider it only intellectually.  If I don’t put myself in the shoes of the actual living human beings being asked to slaughter every living thing I encounter in a city – or in the shoes of the people who never met this God, and see the Israelites coming to kill me right now.

I didn’t question the character of God in those Sunday School classes where we covered that hard material.  I just warned my students:  don’t be arrogant.  Don’t suppose you have God all figured out.  As near as I can tell, He CANNOT be fully understood – not even close.  All I know is He is good, and I trust that we will understand this more on the other side.  But let’s not pretend that we understand every nuance of every story, every angle of His motivations.  Let’s not try to tie Him up with a pretty bow – He doesn’t fit in a box.  God is God.  He is big beyond our understanding, and not everything He does is going to make sense to those of use who are not infinite, not all-knowing, not all-seeing, not all-present.  

This has continued to challenge me in the years since, and was part of why I got downright scared for awhile last year on my first time around of listening through the Bible in a year.  There is some stuff in the old testament that is somewhere between difficult and impossible to digest, at least for me.  I listened, and I wondered if I was going to lose my ability to believe scripture at all.  It felt like a very dangerous thing I was doing, walking out on the edge at 50 years old to see if God’s Word could stand upon closer examination.

That’s what listening has been for me – a much closer examination.  I really THOUGHT all these years that I’d been reading and studying with great belief, but listening through has shown me how fully I kept myself distanced from many of the hard parts.  When I listen, I am inside the story.  I am standing beside the people, or I AM the people.  Maybe I’m God’s people, figuring out how to do what He asks.  Maybe I’m the other people, dealing with God’s people as they pass through my world.  I see it in color.  I feel the emotions.  I measure the complexity of the situations.  It’s not just a text.  It’s not an intellectual exercise.  It is actual living, breathing human beings, very different from me because of their time and culture, but also the same as me because of their humanity.  The reading is, in some parts, shattering.

I thought about all of this again this morning while I shoveled snow, listening in the book of Numbers as the business of “clean” vs. “unclean” is carefully delineated.  That’s another thing that is hard to understand.  I mean, some of it makes sense – it is basic hygiene and sanitation – public safety for people who didn’t have microscopes.  And some of it makes sense in a different way – instructing the people that they belong to God, and using some very vivid reminders of the importance of living according to this fact.  Some of it is instructional for how my own sin splashes around and hurts a ton of people around me, some of whom I notice, and others about whom I am utterly oblivious – how dangerous sin is.  There are a lot of angles that help in interpreting what God was doing there, but also there are hard spots.  Things that, as far as I can tell, will mostly lead to people treating each other in unkind, unfair ways, which doesn’t seem to jive with my own experience with the living God – I’ve never experienced an ounce of unkindness or unfairness from Him.

I navigate this with more peace now than I did the first listen in 2016.  Part of that is sticking with that first strategy I used when teaching the kids – using a baseline that God is good, and that I am simply not going to understand everything about what He’s up to.  Part of it is also the new relationship I have with scripture at going-on-15-months of a more aggressively intimate relationship with it through listening.  My view on God has not moved a bit, but while I haven’t lost my ability to believe scripture as a whole, for sure I perceive and interact differently with it now than I did when I started that project.  The way I process it is not the same.

Brian Hardin, the pastor who reads aloud on my Daily Audio Bible phone app has helped me with that.  You know the story where a woman gets brutally raped to death by a bunch of men, and her travelling companion (I don’t remember if he was her husband or her lover) cuts her body up into pieces and sends those pieces to what was then considered I think the 4 corners of the earth?  Brian Hardin helped me with that one.  He pointed out:  nowhere in the text is God dragged into this awful story.  This one made its way into the text because of the horror of it.  We know about it for the same reason you know who I mean when I say the name Jeffrey Dahmer.  It was current news, and it was so big and so terrible that it made it into the text.  I don’t have to try to extrapolate God-stuff from the shocking content of that story.  I can just let it be the story.  I can just note that gory, sickening things happened back then too – this is not new to our culture.  But I don’t have to fold this brutal tale into what defines me as a Christ-follower.

Brian is not always helpful.  There’s a bit in there somewhere (in Deuteronomy, maybe?) about what to do when a man thinks his wife is cheating.  The solution makes me shudder and leaves me asking God WHAT THE HECK IS THAT ABOUT every time I encounter it.  When I got to that passage while listening through this second time, I waited with anticipation, hoping that Brian would say something, anything that would make it less troubling for me.  He let it go without comment, to my disappointment.  But maybe that’s just fine – maybe I need to keep wrestling with God over the things that stand my hair on end or leave me protesting wildly.  God’s got better answers than Brian, am I right?  And also at 50 I also understand:  answers to questions is not the be-all, end-all that I once thought it was.

Someone – I think it was my pastor – said recently that we need to look at the old testament through the lens/filter of the new testament – that as we consider the character of God, we note that the life of Jesus Christ is the best and clearest picture for us of that character.  That helps me.  That makes me know that where God seems brutal or unfair in the first part of the book, I’m missing some pieces in my understanding, since that view doesn’t jive with the God I encounter in the new testament, which can be hard to take but not in that WHAT WAS THAT kind of way.

I don’t have some silly idea that if I keep slogging through this stuff I’m going to get it all figured out – I’m quite sure that my understanding won’t be complete until I’m beyond this world, in God’s presence, where I’m seeing not “as in the glass, darkly”…but with full revelation.

Meanwhile, the wrestling is good, and keeps getting better as I go.