2018: The year of “Balance”

Earlier this year on Epiphany Sunday, I drew my personal “star word” for 2018. I first heard of this practice from another RevGal, Rev. Marci Glass. (You can read more about it here.) For the last several years, I’ve chosen a word and used it for reflection. Just as God guided the Magi to the Christ Child, so God guides me.

This year, my word was “Balance.” My initial reaction was “very funny, God.” My second thought was, “ooohhhh, OUCH.”

This year has completely been about Balance. Balance about my health. About my family’s changing needs. About my adjustment to the day-to-day professional challenges of being a hospice chaplain. About wanting to be an advocate in the public arena. About leadership in a national non-profit. About choosing when to write and what to write about.

Balance.

You can call it “chance” that I ended up with that word. But I suspect that the Spirit knew what I needed to see hanging over my desk, day in, day out.  Do I have it all figured out? Am I now a truly “balanced” person? Well, no. But I can honestly say that I know now when I am out-of-balance and have to stop and get my equilibrium.

Recently, I made a decision to step back from a leadership role. There were many reasons, but the bottom line was that I recognized how out-of-balance the stress from that role was for me personally and spiritually. I’m not someone who backs down from a challenge! (If you know me at all, you’ve figured that out.) The health challenges of my body got my attention. The emotional stress reinforced it was the right decision. Self-care is sometimes very, very hard and I am too stubborn for my own good. (I write more about this here…)

I returned to the words of a song by Carolyn McDade which reminded me why I was out of balance. I was taking on more than God had called me to do.

“No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.”

It’s not selfish to make choices for your own growth and self-care. It’s not irresponsible to say “no, I’m sorry, I can’t” to a request for a very good and meaningful cause. It’s not impossible to admit you can’t handle the toxic situation you stumbled into rather blindly. And most of all, it’s not a bad thing to fulfill your obligations – until you simply can’t do it any more.

And, beloved, when you find that “sweet spot” — that place of Balance — it is very, very good. Just the way we are Created to be.

 

Reflections on Rehab

bannister
Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar, via Wylio

I blogged recently about my feat of great UNcoordination, and tearing my medial meniscus. How I learned to stop trying to “walk it off” and actually get medical attention.

I know. Radical.

Well, the lesson has been a slow (and yes, painful) process of learning to listen.

Listen to my body.
Listen to my pain threshold.
Listen to the instructions on when to take my medications.
Listen to the Spirit as I make decisions about when and where I will spend my energy and my time.

I’ve had to keep my sense of humor. Me and my #achybreakyknee are making progress as I follow through on my home exercises. (And a HUGE shout out to Sport and Spine Rehab of Rockville for caring about my rehab and treatment as much as their care of pro athletes and fitness buffs!)

But there’s something else I’ve realized in a personal way, a reality that anyone with a chronic health condition already knows. (And I’ve been slow on the uptake!) It’s simply this: Being healthy is a lot cheaper than being sick. Doctor’s appointments, co-pays, medical equipment, prescriptions, procedures… it all adds up!

I am grateful for good health insurance that covers a lot of the cost of my care. But it is expensive. It eats into the little bits of extra cash that we might spend on “fun” things. An office visit co-pay is the cost of going out for dinner (a cheap dinner, mind you.) The cost of a prescription would fill my car with gasoline. And so it goes.

People with chronic illnesses have to count the cost, in every way: in time, money, physical activity and emotional energy. We lose patience with people who offer platitudes. (Seriously. “I’m praying for you” means nothing unless your prayers are sincere and tuned in to my current state.) It bears repeating that chronic illnesses are not  usually the fault of the person who has them. Genes, environmental factors, access to care, and sometimes, dumb luck may mean that one person has a chronic condition, and one person does not. A simple tumble on my patio resulted in my injury. Imagine what I might be going through if the incident had been a car accident or on-the-job injury!

In the midst of all of my personal challenges, which are minimal compared to the issues that many of my patients and their families face, I know God is present. I know the love of the Divine. I know the gifts of humor, of self-care, of compassionate Presence, of close friends and advisors who ‘get me’. I feel God’s mercy every day.

And I also know that there are many who struggle alone. And if I were Empress of the Universe, I’d fix that.

For now, I’ll settle for electing officials who want every citizen to receive high quality and affordable health care. That means I’m a caring person who would not wish others to suffer when there are treatments, physicians, therapists, prescriptions, and rehab options available to them — if only they had access through affordable and comprehensive health insurance.

I’ll keep advocating for all of us. Because — you are beloved. And so am I. And we are worth it.

Self-care (A review for the stubborn one)

I am learning how badly I am following my own teaching on “self care.” I wrote recently about a bad fall that I had on our patio, which left me bruised and with a swollen and painful knee. While I did follow basic first aid practices (ice, rest, elevation, anti-inflammatories), I did not take any time off from work. I soldiered through the week. I limped around. I dealt with joint pain and referred pain from limping.

I am stubborn.

In addition, there have been some intense situations (unrelated to family and friends) which have also taken a lot of my emotional and spiritual energy. It’s not just the news and following a hurricane, it’s the little nasty micro-aggressions. The insulting emails. All of my usual self care strategies weren’t working and I couldn’t turn “off” my reactions. My coping mechanism of choice was to veg on the couch. Not very productive nor self-restoring.

Fortunately, this week I had a long chat with my spiritual director who reminded me of the song by Rabbi Sofer and Rev. Carolyn McDade: (words found here)

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

At first, it didn’t set well with me. Isn’t that contrary to the expectations of a pastor to serve others? What about Philippians 2 where we are reminded to  “…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”? What about Luke 9 where we are exhorted by Jesus, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me”?

Balance. It’s about balance!

YES.  I am called to serve sacrificially. Every penny I make is not to be spent on myself. All of my time and talents are not for my own pleasure. But neither are they all to be given away and not meet the needs of those who depend on me. If I deplete myself on other tasks and obligations, and am not aware of my own emotional and physical exhaustion, how can I then look out for others’ interests?

Short answer: I can’t!

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Time after time, I have encouraged parents of young children to take time to refresh themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically. I have exhorted them to trade off on childcare and household chores, and if one parent is at home, have made the point that the stay-at-home parent is not the other’s personal servant. [Translation: pick up your own dirty clothes, do loads of laundry, wash dishes, take the kids and care for them. Because you both have “evening shift” responsibilities when the “day shift” is done!]

Yet I find myself, an empty nester, worn out and hard-pressed to respond to the things I need to do for my own health. Simple things like creating things with my hands, reading, baking, or enjoying nature. It didn’t help that we’ve had heavy rains all week so I couldn’t really get outside. But I wasn’t cultivating anything on the inside.

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Why was I stuck in some self-destructive patterns? I asked myself some hard questions, and maybe they will be helpful for you:

  • what am I doing that is not really my responsibility to do?
  • who am I trying to please (besides God?)
  • who is draining my spirits rather than building them back up?
  • where am I spending my time that is not the best use of my God-given gifts?
  • what activities would help renew my love and compassion for others?
  • what excuses am I giving to avoid tasks I need to do?

It’s a process. It’s an ongoing challenge to balance my desire to be God’s person vs pleasing all people. It’s allowing God to work within my brokenness, rather than going to pieces trying to fix it all myself. And it’s recognizing when I am beyond my threshold and need to simply… rest.

Serve God? Serve others?

Absolutely!! But only within the limits of my own brokenness. Let’s repeat that phrase one more time:

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

image: Serve within the limits of your brokenness
image (c) Rev. Deb Vaughn; may use with permission