10 Lessons from Weakness

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My journals and Facebook have been reminding me that around this time a few years ago I was finally coming out of an extended time of illness. It was a challenging time of weakness for me. God taught me many lessons but as time has brought distance from that period of life I feel some of things I have learned slipping away. Some of my old habits are returning. These notes have been sitting in my drafts folder for a while so it seemed a good time to dust them off, refresh my memory, and hit the publish button.

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The weekend that we made the decision not to pursue adoption I was very sick. I couldn’t keep food down for 3 days. I was completely drained. I assumed that my physical symptoms were a result of the emotional distress I was feeling. A month later were were visiting my family in Philadelphia for Christmas. I spent the entire week of our visit sick with various symptoms – most of which involved being unable to eat and completely drained of energy. On our drive home I called my doctor and that started a cycle of sickness – doctor visits – a round of antibiotics – a brief respite – sickness again. Over the following two years I had various strange symptoms that didn’t fit any particular diagnosis.

For a period of about 18 month my “episodes” happened pretty frequently. They disturbed my sleep and left me drained for days. They were unpredictable. Some days my energy was so low that I could do only the bare minimum around the house, spending hours in bed sleeping. Interacting with people was draining.

It was a challenging time. I was often frustrated by my lack of energy and ability to “get things done.” I spent a lot of time at home alone while my husband took the kids to church, birthday parties, and family get togethers. I spent a lot of time sleeping. I spent a lot of time watching Netflix marathons.

Here are some things I learned:

1. I learned to say “no.”

This was so hard! I was used to doing and helping. I was used to being at every church or family gathering. I was used to being at every practice and ball game my kids had. But I just physically couldn’t do everything anymore. So…

2. I learned to evaluate my energy and personality in order to say “yes” to the things that really brought me joy.

I took a good look at my priorities and realized that it was good for me to focus on the main things that God was calling me to: being a wife and mother and homeschooling our boys. After those things I had a limited amount of time and energy.

I figured some things out about myself. Even though I enjoy being social and like conversing with people I am really an introvert who needs time to recharge my batteries in between social events. I need some space and quiet time in my schedule. These are not negative qualities that I should be ashamed of and power through in order to “serve more.” This is the way God made me, and he had a reason for making me this way.

3. I learned to let go of the guilt of feeling I “should” do things.

I can’t do everything. I can’t solve all the problems. As I learned to find joy and satisfaction in the things that I felt God was calling me to do I felt the guilt receding. I now see the word “should” as a sign for me to take a step back and evaluate if I am doing something out of love and joy or out of guilt and obligation.

4. I learned to let other people step up and do things.

I tend to just naturally take charge. I am learning to temper that a little. I learned to sit quietly and let other people speak up. I learned that things don’t always have to be done my way.

5. I learned to let myself rest.

Rest is hard. It feels self-indulgent. It feels lazy. But it is necessary. Regular bed times, naps if I needed them, a few minutes to sip tea and read a book, saying no to going somewhere in order to veg in front of the tv, making time to take a relaxing bath – these were all things that I started to allow myself to do.

6. I learned to ask for what I needed.

Oh man, this went against my nature! I learned to be honest with Aaron about how I was feeling and what I needed. Sometimes I woke him up in the middle of the night because I needed him to hold my hand. Sometimes I asked him to make dinner so that I could go lay down. I learned to ask friends to pray for me and to be honest with them about how I was feeling.

7. I learned to listen to and take care of my body.

Every day was a surprise. I never knew if I was going to wake up feeling good and full of energy or sick and dragging. I learned to pay attention to what my body was telling me, did I need more rest? nutritious food? a walk in the sun?

8. I learned how to nourish and care for myself.

This is very connected to learning to listen and take care of my body. I learned that without energy I cannot serve my family and friends and even the greater world very effectively. Good fuel for my body was important. I learned to pay attention to what I was eating and be more disciplined about choosing food that would provide good energy. Good rest was important. I made myself get enough sleep by setting a certain time of night that screens went off and having a night time routine that helped my body shut down. I realized that I function best on 8 hours of sleep and I need to be disciplined about getting that sleep.

9. I learned how important it is to have joy and patience no matter what my circumstance.

This is so hard! And believe me, I have so much more to learn in this area. This is not a lesson I can check off as completed. I know many people who have had longer and more intense chronic illnesses than what I had and their continued perseverance and joy are an inspiration to me. There were some mornings when the complicated process it took to get myself up and going just seemed depressing and overwhelming and I learned in those moments that I could choose what I looked at. I could focus on the depression and all the things I was not able to do, or I could focus on gifts and joys that God had for me that day. Believe me, this did not come easily for me, I am a complainer by nature. On the days that I remembered that God was sovereign over my situation and present with my I was able to have joy and patience, even if I barely made it out of bed.

10. I learned that God loved me.

In the early morning hours when my symptoms dragged me from sleep, I felt God’s love. On the days when I had no energy to give to my children, I felt God’s love. On the days when my house was a mess and I didn’t know what to make for dinner and I had to cancel plans and commitments I had made, I felt God’s love. I felt His love in the practical help of my husband and the caring calls of friends. I felt His love when I had nothing to give, nothing to accomplish, and no strength of my own. It was not easy for me to accept God’s love when I didn’t feel I was earning it. But, ultimately, that is exactly how God loves me whether I can acknowledge it or not.

I tend to fear discomfort or hardship. I prefer comfort and safety. Yet I have clearly felt God’s presence in my weakest times and in the times of hardship in the lives of my friends. I know that there will be more difficult times in my life and I hope that I will remember the lessons I learned. If I forget, feel free to remind me.

Cross Cultural Sisterhood

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Not long ago one of my new very best friends celebrated her one year wedding anniversary as well as her one year anniversary of living in the United States. She has had an eventful two years and she has always modeled grace and good nature even in the midst of much change. I am so grateful that God caused our paths to cross and brought us together. Her friendship has made my life rich and challenged me in many ways.

About a year and a half ago Aaron struck up a friendship with a young engineer from India who had been sent to our small town by his company. He lived across the street from our church and so had wandered over on a Sunday morning. He and Aaron started talking. He was friendly and outgoing and willing to let us ply him with American experiences and food. He spent a lot of time at our house hanging out, learning about American football while he taught Aaron about cricket. He spoke often of his wife. They had been married for just four months when he had to leave to come to the States and he was eagerly waiting her arrival. He spoke of her proudly and in glowing terms.

I was excited to meet her but also a bit nervous. It had been many years since I made cross cultural connections. I am a friendly person, but I am also a creature of habit, and meeting new people can sometimes cause some anxiety. I shouldn’t have worried. From day one my friend and I connected. She felt like a sister immediately.

Here are some things I have learned from my friend:

Hospitality and Generosity

I learned from my friend that the Indian culture is rich in hospitality. People are always welcome to come in, given delicious food, and given preference. There is no such thing as a quick visit. You sit, you relax, you talk, you stay. I had fallen into the American trap of “busyness.” My calendar was constantly full and time to just sit and visit with a friend seemed like a luxury. But she taught me that time taken to sit and visit is never time wasted. And not only is is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Hospitality in India is also giving the best of what you have; the best food, the seat of honor. That was uncomfortable for me at first. In my letting go of perfection I had prided myself on hospitality meaning that you can stop by and be welcome despite my mess and my bare pantry. Hospitality to me meant that you were welcome into my mess. Now I see hospitality as a combination of the two. Yes, there is a place where welcoming you into the reality of my mess is offering you a new level of friendship, but there is also a beauty to me valuing you enough to make an effort and go above and beyond to give you my best.

Selfless-ness

When my friend first arrived in the States we had lots of long conversations about our lives. We talked about jobs and marriage and family relationships. I will never forget when she said to me one day, “Many women in India serve their husbands because it is the cultural thing to do and required of them. But I serve my husband because I love him and because it is what God calls me to do.” I pride myself on being independent. I draw boundaries to protect me and my time. I am a natural introvert and value my “alone time.” I am married to a man who doesn’t really need me to do things for him, he can cook and clean and do his own laundry. I raise my kids to be independent and do things for themselves. Selfless-ness does not come naturally to me. Over and over again I watch my friend serve not only her husband but others around her. She serves with joy and willingness. I have never once heard her complain. Her example is encouraging me to stretch my selfless-ness muscle and find joy in serving.

Bravery

My friend married her man, moved across the world, went through the changes of a first pregnancy and childbirth and new motherhood far away from her home culture and family. That takes a special kind of bravery. I frequently make decisions based on my own comfort or safety. Straying from routine or predictability does not come naturally to me. My friend’s bravery is inspiring me to step out of my comfort zone in little ways. I see that doing things that may seem uncomfortable or scary can bring good things into my life.

I sometimes wonder why I am still living in this small southern town. I sometimes wonder if I am wasting my childhood experiences of cross cultural living by staying in this fairly homogeneous place. But through this friendship I see God’s preparation and orchestration. I know that God would have provided for my friend when she moved to the United States. But I am thankful that He used me to be part of that provision.

There is a lot of talk in America these days about building walls and putting America first and keeping people out. There seems to be a lot of fear and retreating to our own corners to be with people who are just like us. This makes me sad. This especially makes me sad when I see it among people in the church, the Body that is called to show unity to the world. God’s call to unity is radical, and should be an example of Christ’s love to the world, precisely because it is so challenging. It is not easy to build relationships with people who are different from us. It can be awkward and uncomfortable. It takes time and patience and a healthy dose of good humor and humility. But I can’t imagine my life without my friend. She has enriched my life and is challenging me to be a better person. And I firmly believe that as a culture and community we are enriched when we open our arms and extended welcome because I have seen it in my own life.

Five Minute Friday: Purpose

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On Friday’s I like to link up with a group of writers who take five minutes to simply sit and free write. No over thinking, no editing, no waiting for perfection before hitting publish.

Today’s Prompt: Purpose

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There is a lot of talk among women my age about “purpose.” I don’t know if the generations of women before us felt this way, but in this current internet age where we can be voyeurs into peoples lives via blogs, Instagram, and Facebook the sense of not having a larger purpose to fulfill seems to loom large. Just this past week in one of the Facebook groups I am in there were two different conversation threads started by women who felt like their lives were just ordinary and they weren’t doing anything meaningful.

Not too long ago I was crippled by the idea that I wasn’t living out my purpose for God in the way that He expected of me. My ordinary, safe, life seemed too simple and surely God wanted more from me.

The Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Meaning: what is your purpose?

And answers: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

How? How do we do this? There is no clear answer. We are all different and our lives and struggles are different. For me, I work hard to be present in the current moment. I try to do my best in the things that God has given me to do for today: schooling my children, loving my husband, working in our church office, being a reliable friend. I try to notice God’s presence in the most mundane and ordinary of moments; our breakfast conversation, the beauty of our neighborhood, even the moment when I am in the midst of dealing with sibling fights.

Ultimately my pre-occupation with my purpose led to anxiety and totally missing the joy and purpose that God had already given me. It’s not a mistake that He put me where I am and gave me the life I have. That knowledge brings freedom to enjoy life one moment at a time and trust that even my most mundane and ordinary of days will bring glory.

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