Reserving and Expanding

It’s a season of reserving: my energy, my resources, my health.  My own body thinks it feels counter-intuitive to rest more in the summer.  People are swimming, going to sporting events and concerts. The sun is out and typically people feel more free.

Again, I’m learning to sink my patterns to my own body, rather than mainstream culture.  And I’m wondering about new ways that I might be able to be more active in the winter, when others decide to stay inside.

One of the early lessons to learn in chronic illness is to reserve your energy, to use it on the things or people most important to you before you run out of energy for the day.  It’s a hard reality to keep coming back to-especially in my 20’s.

But after years of learning to reserve my energy-it’s all bottled up.  And yes, I have given to others in these past several years, and yet there’s more.  There’s more I want to say, do, experience.  I feel that my youth does not match the severity of my illness.

And that lends itself to these awkward growing pains.   The tension of letting myself dream and asking myself questions like, “What do you want?” and also being willing to let go. And let go again. And let go again. And still having the courage to wake up in the morning wanting to have fun, not just manage an illness.

Yet, it’s also a season of expanding. Of a new job. Soon to be a new home. Of investing time in new friendships. Learning more about mold toxicity and what I need to be aware of. Letting others help me.  Empowering others so that they can begin to understand what I’m going through.

What I continue to be amazed about, even in these days of fatigue and nausea from detox reactions is that my body tells me all I need to know.  Of course I need help from doctors and friends-but my body tells me all I need to know.

The key is to listen–and have the courage to listen to those quiet whispers day after day after day. Your body tells you that you’re reaching your limit or that it’s time to take a risk.  It tells you if you need to reserve or expand.

The truth is: My body doesn’t lie. And on the hard days of chronic illness it would feel better to be ignorant of this fact.  But the more I learn to lean into the tension, I more I learn to appreciate all my body has to say.

Those years of severe inflammation was the communication of an autoimmune disorder.  My body was trying to alert me to the fact that my body was beginning to attack itself. My brain fog alerts me of chemicals and mold. My fatigue was a result of severely depleted thyroid and adrenal glands.  All this was hard information to swallow-yet my body doesn’t lie.

Yet, so much gratitude exists in a clear mind, a strong body, sleeping eight hours per night and waking up rested.  My body is communicating, “You are on your way toward health. Be thankful for each moment. Pay attention. Beautiful things are happening right now.”

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In order to listen we must be still.  In order to be still, we must accept ourselves.  As we accept ourselves, we have the capacity to build this self-awareness.  And out of this self-awareness and love comes compassion.

Be compassionate towards your body-in all it’s resilience and limitation. As we accept all that our body has to say, we will be able to listen to others.  We will be able to accept them as they are- in all their resilience and limitation.

We will learn to reserve and expand together, honoring each others needs and celebrating the milestones.  This kind of relating is hard work and yet I think it’s possible.

But first we must be still.  We cannot relate authentically if we do not first do the hard work of listening to and accepting ourselves. I’m learning to do this better and better every day.  Some days get pretty ugly, yet the outcome is worth it.

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The Summer of Damp Buildings

I go into a damp building, and then I leave three minutes later. My head already clogged, my emotions dampened, even though the exposure was slight. As I walk back to the car, I have a decision to make—do I let go or do I cling to the emotion of disappointment?

Learning about the complexities of my illness is an every day endeavor. Nothing gives the invitation of self-awareness quite like chronic illness does. My emotions laid raw, because my life is indeed changing. I so want to hold onto this activist life of my past, but I can’t go into many of the building where the poor or the marginalized inhabit. Many churches, schools, and non-profits are housed in buildings that are often older and ones that I unfortunately cannot tolerate. What do I do?

I’m thankful to say that I’ve found the contemplative path. One that brings me back to this every day decision of letting ego—of seeing my ego for what it is, and letting it go. I’m both needed and not needed, and that is freeing.

My decisions are often simpler now. I’m friends with people who see my gifts and accept my limitations, ones who stick with me when a new symptom appears and I don’t know what to do. I’m friends with people who don’t lather on sunscreen around me, and who will meet in a building that’s suitable for me. I’m friends with people I practice yoga with, because we all are growing in self-awareness together—trying to bring a little more light to this world by going inward.

I eat simply. I rest often. I read poetry and I teach kids who live with a lifelong limitation too, in the form of dyslexia. Mostly I interact with people one-on-one. I read the latest research on Hashimoto’s to take care of myself as best as I can, and try to include others in this process.

The sentence that has seemed to find me these past few weeks is,

“Your greatest work of activism will be in relentlessly caring for yourself.”

I must let go of how I view my external world and how I hoped it would change when I healed enough to venture out of my home. But this vision is coming crashing down. I don’t truly decide if I can hang out in a group, what events I can attend, where an event is held, if I will need to leave once I show up.

My body tells me, and I listen. I take a deep breath and learn to let go.

I’m learning to develop a healing vision that my act of letting go isn’t just about me and my healing. It somehow touches the world. I will never know how me leaving a building before an event even begins to protect my body blesses the world. But that’s not the point.

It has taken years for me to experience that letting go doesn’t have to mean loneliness and isolation. For solitude is not separation. My solitude that I cultivate as I let go invites me to experience Oneness. I don’t have to be physically present at an event to experience connection. The Divine can be found as I let go—as I don’t resist the depths I was made to enter.

And yet, there are many times I resist letting go, and I sense separation. I have created an illusion that I’m on the outside. Sure, that’s how it feels. No doubt about it.

But the more I practice yoga, meditation, and centering prayer, the more I see that letting go in real life becomes a bit easier. I practice daily letting go on my yoga mat and in centering prayer—but the results come in my active life.

My own life that quickly shows me my judgment, anger, and resentment. But there always exists an invitation to perceive differently. That I’m always connected to love. That there are bounds of creativity within me, even when brain fog makes it hard to believe that there is a creative bone in my body.

I will enter plenty of damp buildings in my life. And I will leave, hopefully knowing that I’m not truly alone. Maybe even daring to believe that I can even give love from my absence as well as my presence.

Cancelled Plans

I have cancelled many plans the last six weeks or so.  Late spring is a temperamental season for my body.  Some days I have energy, other days I don’t.  Some days the pollen and mold counts are high, and I’m doing everything I can to make it through the work day, just to rest enough to hopefully still keep my commitment to yoga.  Some days my students are more trying, zapping my energy faster.  Some days I react to a damp building, and some days I’m going into a situation where I know I will have some sort of reaction.

 

And I go back to the word that’s so hard to say sometimes: No.

No, a word that swims against the cultural norm.

No, a word that a 27 year old shouldn’t have to say so much.

No, a word I often say with tears in my eyes.

 

No, a word I am learning to befriend.

No, a word that helps me pay attention to myself day after day.

No, a word that isn’t a threat, but an opportunity to shed some of my “shoulds.”

No, a word that my friends know how to accept well.

 

Recently, I received the gift of acceptance from a friend.  She is getting married next month and I had to cancel attending her bridal shower because I just needed to rest that day.  On top of that, she stopped over on her lunch break for a quick cup of tea and to open her gifts.  Before she left she made sure to say, “You know, if you can’t attend my wedding because you’re not feeling well, it’s okay.  I know you care about me.”

My friend knows me well enough that she realizes that attending her wedding could be difficult for me.  But my saying no at times doesn’t threaten her.  She accepts it in stride and she knows that many times I say No, I really want to say Yes.

Friendship actually is about presence and absence.  About get-togethers and cancelled plans.  About silence and conversation.  As I’ve adjusted to a lifestyle that’s sustainable for a life with chronic illness, I’m still enough to grasp the nuances of relationships and the commitment of friends.  I know that my silence and the times I have to say no, actually do add something to a friendship. The times where I’m confined to my bed, unable to be with people, has allowed me to re-imagine how I can communicate my care and concern without actually being present much of the time.

The kindness and acceptance of others helps me in turn to be kind to myself.  I’m hoping over time to see cancelled plans as an opportunity to sink even deeper into stillness, to honor myself by resting, and by doing these things, bringing more peace to myself and my relationships.

Below is a picture of a walk I took with Cash last weekend, when I basically cleared my schedule for the weekend in order to read, rest and walk.  He was one happy camper!

 

On Cutting Back and Simplifying

Last Wednesday I started a cleanse.  Most people set a New Year’s resolution to change their diet, but my birthday is in January and so I never do that.  February is a good month for me, and this year I waited until after Valentine’s Day!

Some people ask me, “Why do you do this when you cut so many foods out anyway?”

And my answer is, “I want my body to function as optimally as possible.”

Because I have a chronic illness, this takes a lot of work.  Throughout the year, I reintroduce new foods to see if my body can handle it.  Then some coconut milk ice cream, tortilla chips and popcorn slip in.  To many people these little changes are no big deal.  And yet for me, it’s helpful when these foods are purged for a complete month out of the year, for my body to reset.

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It’s helpful to eat very simply again: meats, vegetables, soups, healthy fats and minimal fruit.  No baking. Eating out less often.  Declining some people’s invitations.

I used to think these decisions felt like “missing out.”  Now my body’s wisdom just tells me that simplifying is what it really wants.  And the benefits of the cleanse can be felt within a few days: less brain fog, deeper, more restful sleep, greater concentration, and more energy.  And if I’m honest, these are the gifts I truly long for.

It’s scary to cut back at first.  I know that the first step is facing into how tired I actually am, even with all the improvements in my health.  There’s still fatigue there, and some days it’s still a lonely reality.  Yet healing does start with observing, noticing, and lingering with reality, in whatever form it chooses to be.

So for the next four weeks, I’m intentionally making room.  Making room to focus on myself, to be present in my fatigue, to celebrate healing and to say no.  I’m choosing to be more still, to move more slowly, to sink into yoga more deeply.

I thought that when I started this healing journey, that healing meant back to doing more.  It’s actually come to mean, making space for doing less.  Simplifying actually brings greater layers of wholeness into my life.

Autumn Reflection

I sat down in a coffee shop yesterday during a rainy afternoon.  I simply had time to be quiet, to reflect on this past year in various ways.  My predominant emotion as I scribbled several pages in my notebook was thankfulness.

My desire for stability is being heard and lived out as I step into each day.  I have almost worked at the Dyslexia Institute for a year (more than I’ve worked anywhere else since graduation!).  I have attended Dwelling Place for a year, and have been at my doctor for a little over a year.

These three facts seem simple enough, and yet they are meaningful to me. The past five years have been transition after transition, most of them completely unwanted.  And my prayer became more simple, “Let me rest and heal in a few places well.”

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I started out working just a few hours a week with 2 students and now I work with 9.  Monday through Thursday I spend the some of my time flipping through a tattered purple-covered book that helps me find words to plan my lessons for my students, and then time actually with them.

I still go to my doctor every two weeks for an IV. Sometimes I go more than that to pick up supplements.  The staff know my name, know that I like to watch the Food Network when I get my IV, and the nurse talks to me about what her next haircut should be.  I’ve probably spent around 30 hours at my doctor in the past year, and I’m thankful to say it’s a place where I can breathe a sigh of relief.  I am cared for well.

At Dwelling Place, I’ve joined a diverse community of people that prizes both liturgy and relationship, and tries to let diversity of thought and action linger.  Questions are honored and that truly is a gift.

I look forward to continuing to sink my roots deeper in these communities.

To continue appreciating the uniqueness of the people I meet on a daily basis.

“I’ve Learned That Everything Must Come in Stages”

I’ve been coming back to this thought lately.

As I continue to learn what it means to live with chronic illness, I am learning this particular dance of saying yes and no, of allowing myself be open to healing, but only in small pieces at a time.  The whole puzzle is too much to handle at once.

This summer as I moved twice and dealt with mold exposure, packing and unpacking received a big yes.

Writing and time with friends was minimal for awhile.  I had to be really careful of which buildings I went into.

I’ve increased my hours at work, and every week I check in with myself to see how I’m feeling.

Adding more work means I work later, and I do not go to many things at night.

I’ve craved solitude and reading time because of how crazy this summer was.  I’m devouring books, and yet probably soon, I will not want to read for awhile.

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Grieving and not being able to write for a few months, means that now, paradoxically, I have more things to say.

Although I still love watching college football, I slipped out last weekend to attend a book signing.

I still struggle with insomnia some nights, and I scrap my plans for the day and let myself take a nap.

The complexity and multi-layered-ness (I think I just made this word up!) of my life can be traced back to my yes and my no.

It can be traced back to my willingness to be observant, to let the pace of my life match the seasons.

As fall hits and moves us closer to winter, I feel the desire to “hibernate” more.  I want to read, to have slow mornings, to wrap myself in a blanket and drink some tea. I would rather stay home than go out. I want to be still and watch.

I want to feel the extent of my fatigue and let my body make my next decision rather than run myself ragged.

(This statement itself is a decade of growth in stages!)

I’m healing in stages. Not how I planned, or how I wanted, but I’m healing.  It always comes in stages.

Welcome Autumn

Assurance

Written by William Stafford

 

You will never be alone, you hear so deep

a sound when autumn comes.  Yellow

pulls across the hills and thrums,

or the silence after lightning before it says

its names-and then the clouds wide mouthed

apologies. You were aimed from birth:

you will never be alone. Rain

will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,

long aisles-you never heard so deep a sound,

moss on rock, and years.  You turn your head-

that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.

The whole wide word pours down.

 

 

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Little Ways of Summer’s Fortune

Last week, I quoted William Stafford’s poem and the more I read it, the more it continues to resonate with me.

“Wisdom is having the right things in your life and knowing why.”

As I’ve considered my summer, in some ways it feels like a big blur.  There have been many griefs: my grandmother dying a few weeks ago, moving an extra time, the exhaustion and wear and tear on my body.

Alongside these griefs, there are little ways of fortune.  Wisdom tends to exist at every corner, especially on a winding road, the journey too big to grasp.  I’m learning too that wisdom often exists in the tears.

“Wisdom is having the right things in your life and knowing why.”

I have helpful, loyal friendships.  The abundance of summer for me has meant seeing and believing the richness in life lies in the people around me.  I’ve had people helping me pack, move, pack again, and bring me food in the midst of the craziness.  I’ve also just gotten coffee because I needed to get out of the house or ask a friend if I could borrow an ice cream maker.

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“Wisdom is having the right things in your life and knowing why.”

I have a sister who is a friend, and we can enjoy a beautiful museum after my grandma’s funeral, because we both knew that we needed to gaze into beauty for awhile, rather than just get up and drive home.

I have parents who let me make the best decisions for me regarding my health and what I can handle in the midst of moves and my grandma’s passing.

“Wisdom is having the right things in your life and knowing why.”

I trust my intuition more strongly.  I knew I needed to get of the house with mold.  I knew my body was getting sick.  It meant lost money and frustration, yet the desire to breathe in clean air won the day.

I have stayed working at an organization where I can personally learn and grow and also increase my workload.  I’m looking forward to celebrating my body’s resiliency this fall.  I’ve taken a drastic pay cut from previous jobs and yet this work environment is what I need, and it’s making me a more patient, loving person.

“Wisdom is having the right things in your life and knowing why.”

I keep meeting with a spiritual director, which helps to center me, to locate the Lord’s gentle voice even in my chaotic inner world.

I allow myself to cry and grieve illness & death, and the many ways in which “this is not the way it’s supposed to be.”

I watch the Olympics because I love to, and reacquaint myself with my kitchen as I make yummy soups.

What wisdom are you gleaning from the right things in your life? 

 

For One Who Is Exhausted

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When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,

Time takes on the strain until it breaks;

Then all the unattended stress falls in

On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

 

The light in the mind becomes dim.

Things you could take in your stride before

Now become laborsome events of will.

 

Weariness invades your spirit.

Gravity begins falling inside you,

Dragging down every bone.

 

The tide you never valued has gone out.

And you are marooned on unsure ground.

Something within you has closed down;

And you cannot push yourself back to life.

 

You have been forced to enter empty time.

The desire that drove you has relinquished.

There is nothing else to do now but rest

And patiently learn to receive the self

You have forsaken in the race of days.

 

At first your thinking will darken

And sadness take over like listless weather.

The flow on unwept tears will frighten you.

 

You have traveled too fast over false ground;

Now your soul has come to take you back.

 

Take refuge in your senses, open up

To all the small miracles you rushed through.

 

Become inclined to watch the way of rain

When it falls slow and free.

 

Imitate the habit of twilight,

Taking time to open the well of color

That fostered the brightness of day.

 

Draw alongside the silence of stone

Until its calmness can claim you.

Be excessively gentle with yourself.

 

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.

Learn to linger around someone of ease

Who feels they have all the time in the world.

 

Gradually, you will return to yourself,

Having learned a new respect for your heart

And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

 

-David Whyte, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Looking More Carefully

On Monday, I quoted Parker Palmer speaking about spring.  I absolutely loved the phrase:

“Look more carefully for the green stems of possibility…”

Honestly, this is a practice I’m working hard at right now.  Instead of just seeing the mud and rain of spring, I want to think towards, “What is slowly growing beneath the surface?”

In order to look more carefully, I need to move slower.  My attention needs to stay on one thing for longer.  I need to linger both with my dreams and what is more uncomfortable.  I tend to move away from what makes me feel “other.”

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The Lord keeps on gently calling towards maturity.  I can either choose to listen to His invitation or move away from it.  In February I read several books written by a feminist German theologian, that expanded my thoughts about the theology of our bodies.  I resonated so deeply with her writings, and now I’m answering the question, “What do I do with this feeling?”  This is a green stem of possibility.

I had a meeting with my boss last week in which we brainstormed so many different topics and directions.  But it looks as if I will be salaried by the fall, that all my hours can be clumped together, and this allows me to only work from one place.  This is a green stem of possibility.

I’m wondering what it looks like to continue practice spiritual direction, even as my class finishes in May.  I’m thinking about people who may want to enter into a relationship of spiritual direction or how I may be involved at Dwelling Place. This is a green stem of possibility.

I’m learning that possibility doesn’t just mean an upcoming opportunity.  Daily moment, by moment I have the opportunity to be in community with God and those around me.  This is an ever-abundant green stem of possibility.  I just need to say yes.

What green stems of possibility are you noticing in your life?