Why I Want to be Whole

It is true for all of us, every day of our lives, but this last year I have been faced each day, each moment, with a very clear choice:  grow or die.

The option to just take the despairing route almost always feels easier (and certainly justified) in the moment, just as reaching towards healing usually feels impossible.  It’s like facing the choice of climbing stairs or going down a slide.  The slide is easier and feels better at the moment.  Every moment on the slide makes it harder to stop or go back up.  And the stairs are work.  But… the stairs are the only way to the place I actually want to go.

 

 

One of the things I have had to do, in order to heal, is close myself off from so much other pain – the pain of my friends, the pain of people I meet, and the pain of different injustices in the world.  I don’t have the emotional resources to empathize.

I was considering this more carefully as I was thinking briefly about the border situation in the US: parents trying to move towards a better life, and having their children taken away from them.  I had to stop myself, before I even got to the question, “What is really going on here?”  Because I can’t take it right now, the extra pain of considering that will undo me.

But I do NOT want to be a person who refuses to empathize, who will not look at the world around her for fear of seeing the pain.  I don’t want to be someone who denies reality because I prefer to believe a comfortable fiction.

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I love the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (literally, “repair of the world”, alternatively, “construction for eternity” according to Wikipedia).  That work is something I want to be a part of.  Somewhere in my soul is a deep conviction that I am here to make change in the world; to make this world a better place.  I know this.  (I believe this about you, too, by the way.)  Over the course of this last year I have received so many encouragements and affirmations in this area.  Some have been intentional, and some have just been offhand comments, but I have grabbed them and held on to them with all of my might, so that I am feeding the hope that climbing these stairs will be worth it.  I have a small glimpse of how broken the world is – and a small glimpse of how glorious it could be.  I want to work with individuals to help them become more whole in every area of their lives.  I want to face systems of injustice and come up with new, creative ways of living.  Each encounter with brokenness makes me all the more determined to be whole – to chase and pursue healing with all that I have – so that I can do the most I possibly can to share that healing with the world.

 

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Self Care

As I write about the things that have helped this year, it could arguably all be classed under self care.  Over the years, I’ve watched people work themselves until their bodies quit under the emotional strain.  I recognize these tendencies in myself, and know how easy it can be to do when your work is something you are passionate about.  So I have resolved to learn about and practice good self-care over the last few years.  I’ll be no good to myself or anyone else if I work myself to death.

I couldn’t eat the day Beatrix died.  I didn’t feel like I could eat the next day, either…  but I knew that for my heart and brain to deal with reality, I would need fuel.  So I made myself eat something – I managed to get down some rye toast.  And since then it has been a daily fight to put nourishing food in my body.  To come up with the energy to prepare it…  when I would much rather just consume a bag of chips.

I’ve went for massages occasionally.  This is a ridiculous extravagance to me.  But when there is nothing I can do to alleviate the emotional pain – at least I can get relief for some of the ways this pain is showing up in my muscles.

Self-care has meant going outside, and moving my body.  I go for lots of walks.  This usually has the dual benefit of getting me some exercise and having some time in nature.  My friend Dave says that after just 15 seconds among trees, your brain chemistry (and emotional state) is changed for the better.  (And he has a masters degree that has to do with our interaction with the natural world, so I believe him…  In this area, anyway. 😉 )

Sleep has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember.  And I know that getting a good sleep can be a major factor in mental health – so again, I have worked hard over the years to have good “sleep hygiene” (basically, a regular going-to-bed routine that doesn’t include screens, I don’t work in the place where I sleep, and a regular bedtime).  Going to bed early and not being tempted to stay up doing nothing is the hardest part… but so important this year, because I just stay up late and get melancholy, miserable, weepy, and because I’m tired I just sink and sink.

And grace:  recognizing that there are days when I. just. can’t.  Not beating myself up when I’m too tired to make the initial effort, to do the thing that will make me feel better.  To receive forgiveness, pick myself up and try again on the days when I use maladaptive coping methods.

These things are all difficult because they have little or no immediate benefit or results.  And it has been so much harder because of our nomadic lifestyle this year.  But little by little by little, I have been able to see the way that working to take care of myself in these very basic ways has paid off.

Social Strategies

In addition to strong boundaries, I have come up with some strategies to help protect myself in social gatherings.

You know the kind – where there aren’t enough people for you to just be unknown, but more than the 1 or 2 that would be easy to hang out with.  Office parties, weddings, funerals, church,…   (Sidenote:  I think this is a big reason why church is so hard for people who are going through something hard.)

Now, I pretty much always have a plan.  (A couple weeks ago we were at my parents’ house, and I suggested we all do the short hike up Star Creek.  My mom eyed me warily and asked, “Why?”  I was a little taken aback… “Um, Vitamin N(ature), exercise, um… quality time?”  You know, all the things implied.  But she knows me.  She thought I might have a secret agenda.  HA!  No mom, I’m an adult now.  I don’t have to trick adults into buying me ice cream by asking to go for a bike ride.)

Going into social events, I usually have a few people I specifically want to see, or some conversations I want to have.  It doesn’t mean I don’t spend time with other people, or that I don’t have unexpected conversations, or that things always go according to plan, but I plan to have meaningful interaction.

In this last season, it has been important to make sure that I have an out if I get too tired, or if it gets too hard.  (There was a specific church service that I really wanted to go to in September, but it meant that as soon as they announced the greeting-shake-hands time, I went and hid in the bathroom until it was over.  I mean, is there any more awkward and anxiety-inducing social event than greeting time at church?  Is this just me?)

Also in September, there was a wedding I really wanted to go to.  I knew there would be a lot of people there that I know a bit, but am not close to (these have been the hardest people to be with), and a few things about the wedding that would be particularly painful.  When we got there, we were at a table with a couple who we have been getting to know over the last few years, and who we like a lot.  They are wise, sensitive, and safe people.  So we just hung out with them for most of the time we were there.

One thing I know:  if you are already engaged in a conversation, other people (who might say difficult things) are less likely to come and start talking to you.  So this became a strategy for engagements that I wanted to go to, but knew would be a stretch:  ahead of time, I identify one or two people who will be there, that will be easy for me to hang out with.  (And aren’t crucial to the event, like the bride or the family of the bride.)  I haven’t even always stayed with these people, but knowing ahead of time that there is someone who can be an oasis has given me the courage to rejoin the land of the living.

Birthday Remembrances

Beatrix would have turned 3 today.

Mike’s sister put this together for the funeral, but due to technical difficulties, it didn’t show during the service.  I wanted to put it up here, but it took awhile to figure out how to post it on the blog, and it just seemed like strange timing.

I thought today would be appropriate, so we can remember together.

I’m off to the lake.

 

Planning for the Hard Days

I had a really incredible birthday.  Mike and I went for an all-day kayak trip, and it could not have been better – the distance we chose was challenging, the weather was nice but not too hot, and the wind was mostly at our backs on the return trip.  The next day I got to go see Walk off the Earth live.  With a friend.  For free.  I can’t say enough about what an incredible show they put on, and how awesome it was to see them live.  Watching their videos this year has made me laugh, renewed awe at what creativity can do, and given me some hope that I might be a person again someday.  And so, in the midst of fun songs, I found myself weeping with awe and gratitude to be 10 feet away from this live performance.  This celebration felt like a fitting way to mark the end of this season of intense grieving.

That said, we have some hard days coming up soon.  Next week is Beatrix’s birthday, and a few weeks later we will mark one year since her death.  We have been trying to figure out what we should do…  We know that we can’t just ignore these days; we can’t just pretend it is like any other day.  We have to get through the days, somehow.

I didn’t want to be on the move again until after her birthday.  There are such a variety of ways we could mark the day.  It felt weird to celebrate the day as a birthday – that would just be too sad.  I found a good, long kayak trip nearby that I am planning to do that day.  Mike is going to have lunch with a friend.  Then Mike suggested we get an ice cream cake (we LOVE ice cream cake).  And we have a dear friend nearby, whom we have a tradition of going for ice cream with, who is going to come help us eat it.

On the anniversary of her death, we are going to be on the move – in northern Ontario en route to Pennsylvania.  We have some friends there – who are due to have their own baby shortly after (their story is somewhat interwoven with ours; you can read more here).  Mike has played board games with him – both in real life and online.  He is a good friend: wise, kind, and sensitive.  We didn’t want to impose too much given that baby could come any day, and we wanted to be able to have our own space, so we splurged on a place nearby.  Its a really beautiful area, with lots of water.  So I’m going to (you guessed it) spend the day kayaking, and Mike is going to play games.  We’ll have something to do with our time, and be surrounded by beauty.

The next morning we’ll get up and move on – to be part of a DTS team debrief as they return from outreach.  And a few days after that, we’ll be arriving at our next temporary home in Pennsylvania.

I don’t know how we will feel when these days actually come – but we have tried, together, to figure out what it is we might need and make provisions for that.

Boundaries

There are days when I feel incredibly broken… and I am tempted to believe that this is just my life now – that only being capable of doing very little is the new normal.

But there are times when I stop and look back, and I try to consider myself objectively.  In those moments, I am amazed at how far I have come, and at the healing we have experienced in a relatively short time.  Some of the reasons for this are still outside my ability to explain, but there are a few ways of living that have helped along the way.  They are mostly habits that were already in place that have become all-important for me this year.

The first one I want to talk about has to do with boundaries.  In particular, having to do with social expectation and interaction.

I walled myself off pretty closely for a few months.  I kept in regular contact with a very few trusted people, seeing them in person or talking on the phone so that I wasn’t isolated or lonely.  I didn’t go to gatherings or public places where I might run into someone I knew.  I kept in touch with most people through email: which I checked and answered when I was up to it.  I spent time only with people I knew were in a place to be sensitive to what I wanted to do or talk about, and didn’t need anything from me.

I needed to protect myself – I have been very fragile.  Many of the people we know are amazing, kind, generous, wonderful people.  We also interact with a lot of people who are less than whole, or who have their own needs and troubles.  (I’ve struggled with how to put this into words, but I expect that many of you will know what I mean.)  There is a kind of interaction where the other person is taking something – where they come with their own need or expectation and want me to meet it.  Someone needs me to receive or comfort them in a certain way.  Usually I have the emotional resources to either choose to give, or choose to respond in another way that handles that person with care.  But in a weak place, I’ll either just let them take what they need (out of an empty tank), or say something to get that person to back off (probably a hurtful thing).  Both of these reactions have a cost, and I haven’t wanted to pay it.

Another reason is the added anxiety that comes with social interactions – you have no idea what other people might say or do!  They might be engaging, insightful, and kind – or ignorant, complaining, and inappropriate.  Or anywhere on the spectrum in between.

Plus, as an introvert, social interaction is tiring for me, so I rationed it pretty carefully.

In December, I started expanding those boundaries slowly.  Every once in a while, I stretched too far and need some recovery time.  I’ve protected the boundaries fiercely, saying no to a lot of things I would normally want to do (and some things Mike really wanted me to do).  I’ve listened very carefully to what I feel I can or can’t do.  I’ve put off making plans or commitments until I think that I can follow through (I know myself, once I have said I will do something, I’m not likely to back off).

And I’ve seen huge change over the months in my desire and ability to be out with people.  We’ve had remarkably few interactions where people have said ridiculous things.  (I did just about yell at a woman I had just met – she kept asking questions about the details of “what happened.”  It wasn’t the questioning, but the total lack of kindness or compassion in any of the questions that really bothered me.  However, I remembered my deep respect for our mutual friends, and just kept quiet.  I’m counting that as a win.)

I’m still trying to guard my time pretty carefully.  There are a lot of amazing people on the West Coast, that I really want to spend time with.  But I know how desperately I need to rest and recover after the last few months of intensely pouring out – and I want to be energized heading into the next season.

Although I think boundaries are generally a good thing, I’m not a huge fan of living in a defensive position.  But for this season, to protect time and space for healing, it has served me well.

 

Long-term vision and short-term plans

We’ve come to some decisions about the next steps in our journey!

Long-term, we are planning to remain with YWAM Canada.  We have some vision for what we will do, but we are letting that develop slowly.  We are aware that launching into these ideas will be a significant challenge, and we know that our perseverance and hope are not up to these tasks yet.

We are planning to return to Rwanda at the beginning of next year – our visas expire in March 2019, so we will be spending some time in Rwanda before that.

In the meantime, we have been considering what to do.  Although we are not up to big challenges or responsibilities, we are able to serve someone else’s project for a while: to spend our days working and serving without having to carry the burden of vision and leadership.

We set out some major and minor parameters for what we wanted (meaningful service, opportunity for growth, and emotionally safe/healthy people we could work closely with as we continue to heal, a space of our own where we wouldn’t have to set up house, etc.), and then laid out the options as we saw them.  We asked questions and sought advice from people we trust.

And the outcome was somewhat unexpected!  We have good friends in Pennsylvania who have been working towards starting a church for several years.  In September, they will be launching… so we talked to them about coming in August and spending the fall and part of the winter helping them.

One of the hangups was housing – but someone from their sending church had a tiny house, and needed a place to put it – putting it in our friends’ driveway will give us a space of our own to be in, while still being nearby to do all the daily things we want to be available for.

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We also wanted to take this chance to see if there is anyone out there who would be interested in supporting us financially, especially over this next year.  As YWAMers, our income comes from people who are interested enough in what we do to give dollars towards it.  It is much easier to raise support towards a specific vision or project, and right now we are without those things.  Some of our previous supporters have been supporting us specifically because we have been working in Rwanda, and we want to release them with our blessing.  However, it is certainly much more expensive for us to be living in North America!  So: while one-time gifts are certainly welcome, we are hoping for people who will support us monthly for the next year or so, while we are serving through this transition time.

If you are interested, you can find practical information here.  If you have further questions, you can also feel free to contact us.

We are really looking forward to this next phase.  It feels good to have a decision made, to know that we will be staying in one place for a few months, and we are certainly excited to be working with people/a project we believe in!