Month: May 2021

Leave the Old

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One who is ill must not wish to do the work of a well man; let him compensate by moderation and patience, and not injure his health.   ~   St. Ignatius of Loyola

 

          Work From Home took effect once more last week, and by the look of things, we could be in for the long haul as Covid cases surge out of control.

          At work, back in March, we were put on a new schedule and it was very demanding. I could barely move from my seat and within a month, I felt and saw its effects. Then came April and a return to my work place. I coped better not having to stare at a screen so much – but the relief was short-lived. When a close contact at work contracted Covid, I was forced into quarantine and soon, our workplace was shut down once more. It made everything so much tougher and that new schedule sure didn’t help things.

           May was a repeat of April in some ways. After another brief time at work, Covid began to overwhelm our nation and soon, we had to shift back to WFH which began last week. After experiencing the fallout from that unforgiving schedule, I knew this time I didn’t want to repeat some mistakes. The awful schedule was going to stay – but I needed to make firm changes to how I handled the workload. I needed to deliver yet manage my health and sanity too.

          We had a short break a week into May and for the very first time, I didn’t touch a single work-related task for those few days. Although travel restrictions meant we could not even go on family drives, not even peeking at my work files and folders gave me such a deep and joyful rest. That short holiday was like a romp in a sunny flower field. There was so much fun with the family. Even the most simple joys delighted me no end. Although I still cooked and cleaned, everything was done at a calm and leisurely pace.

          Around this time, Someone began to remind me about all the little lessons I had learned about coping and living and being happy. 

If today is the best I can make it, the lifetime will take care of itself. If this hour, right now had kitty petting, dinner cooking and book reading in it, and the next had a bubble bath and a call to my mom, and the next had painting with a cup of tea, an old movie and a walk in the woods, if I put all those hours together, what a lovely Red Letter life that would make.   ~  Susan Branch, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams.

          Reflecting on this deliberate layering of my day hour-by-hour, I felt led to another life-lesson:

That the time for me to be completely involved and absorbed in one specific thing for hours at a time had passed. More than 2 decades of such commitment had taken so much out of me and I was no longer able to maintain that level of work.

          But neither was this the time to completely shut down and let go. We cannot afford for me to retire early. Neither do I have the luxury of getting more help with running the home. Somehow, I have to still continue working long hours, running the home and still take care of myself.

It was now time to incorporate a bit of everything into a day, whispered a small voice within me. Time to shut out work when it has overstayed its welcome, to firmly ignore the endless beeping of the phone as my superiors text orders and instructions all hours of the day, pushing deadlines on us even at night.

To instead make my day a collage, of not just the tough things which just have to be done, but also of things which sweeten the hours and bring me peace and delight.

          When that dawned on me, it was like light suddenly pooling bright in my mind. I should not wait to live only on weekends or on holidays.

It was time to fight to really live each and every day.

          So, I returned to work after that short break, determined to take charge of my life, to take it back from that terrible schedule first. From Monday till Wednesday last week, I interspersed formal work with work around the home. I began the day very early with my laptop and files and ear plugs stuffed into my ears – but I made sure to get up and move around every few minutes and not become a slave to the laptop. I spent more time in our garden than I ever did before. Granted, it was never much to begin with in the first place. But I learned what so many others have long known – that having even a simple garden routine was a discipline that wrought a lot of good. It was good for my body and certainly good for my soul. A hidden strength and serenity always follows a good  commune with the winds and the sun, the trees and the flowers.

          Those 3 days of the work week passed and I was so pleased with myself. I felt strong and in control. My work schedule had not changed and yet, I had gotten so much done and still felt good.

          Then, came Thursday, Friday, and everything changed. Since March, those have never been good days. A ton of reports is always due on Friday so Thursday is a day to slog. I found myself struggling. On Thursday, I made a lame attempt to be in the garden. On Friday, I just couldn’t.

         It wasn’t that I had fallen off the track or gone back to my old killing ways; I could see no other better way to do things.

          I was disappointed. It was so important to me to learn to work differently and to stay on this new course. So many things were tied in to that. If I failed yet again, then there was little chance to hold on to my job, to win back my health and happiness.

          I wondered if there was something I should have done or not done in order to have lived those days better.

          Just before I fell asleep on Friday, I asked God to speak to me. If there was something that needed to be changed and could be changed, I needed God to lay it out clear and straight for me because all I saw was a hard, high wall in front of me.

          As always, God’s reply was the last thing I expected.

One who is ill must not wish to do the work of a well man; let him compensate by moderation and patience, and not injure his health.   ~   St. Ignatius of Loyola

          The moment I read that quote, I backed away from it.

I was not ill.

That was not the quote for me.

          But those words pursued me gently and silently, like a little friend who loves you and who knows what you need even if you could not admit it to your own self.

One who is ill…

          I am not sick and I will not pretend to be. But for years, I have pushed and battered my body in the mistaken belief that I didn’t deserve any better. While others took breaks and rested, I listened to voices I should have instead shut out, and forced myself to go on working. I worked because I loved to work hard but I also worked to make life easy for others, believing that when you suffer in life, you have to try and keep others from suffering the same. While that might be true and good in many respects, it is not an absolute. In my case, unfortunately, I ended up spoiling some people into believing that I would always be there to pick up the pieces for them. That they could drop things on a whim and yet count on me to finish their job and watch the house, so to speak, while they took time off for hobbies and holidays and rest and rejuvenation.

One who is ill…

          A couple of years back, when it became apparent that something was going very wrong inside me, I tried to get help. I thought it would pass but it didn’t. For a while, meds and herbs helped but soon it was clear that something had been started and my body was set on a path it would not turn away from. Now, I can no longer spend hours scrubbing and cleaning and polishing the house, then, find an extra pair of legs to run after the kids and later, do a good amount of cooking. I will be 49 this year but in a couple of months, I’ll know if I am in menopause. I’m not even 50 but so much has changed within me, little of the old remains. When I compare photographs of myself now and from 10 years before, the deterioration is painful to see.

One who is ill must not wish to do the work of a well man; let him compensate by moderation and patience…

                  There’s something in the Bible about how Love pursues, and those words of St. Ignatius did just that. Wherever I turned, whatever I did, those words from the quote never left me. Soon, I stopped turning my heart away and quietened myself and lay my head upon Jesus’ lap. What do you ask of me, Lord?  

…compensate by moderation and patience…

          There is no point in getting upset over the passing of the old days when I seemed to have endless amounts of energy. I have already mourned that. It is now time to accept the inevitable and move on to learning to do things differently. While I cannot keep to the old pace, I can still do so many things – in fact, I can do a lot – just slower and differently.

          A bit of everything in a day. Work. Gardening. Laundry. Cooking. Cleaning. Teaching the kids. Not for long hours like before but in short spurts. Bit by bit. Or brick by brick as Linda Raha wrote in her beautiful, compelling post.

        …compensate by moderation and patience…

          My Jesus is calling me to gentle living. Even in the midst of the roaring seas that life is now in this country, He is leading the way down a different path, one whose turns and bends I am less familiar with. He wants me to learn that gentle living is not just when I’m on a break or during weekends but that He calls me to it every single day.

          Even if on some days work will not allow me this, I must somehow learn to take back some hours each day to move in God’s meadows. 

          I must learn to let my body teach me how to work. To listen to it as I seldom have before, for more than anything, the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. It makes no sense to punish or mistreat this sacred vessel.

          My step will be hesitant and unsure along these new roads. There will be Thursdays and Fridays. I will trip and fall.

          But slowly, by moderation and patience, in adhering to the new discipline of keeping things simple, I will make my way to new meadows.

          And leave the old behind.

 

Something Beyond the Bend

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He alone can see what lies beyond the bend.   ~   He by Richard Mullen

 

          At what should have been the start of a cheery week, we heard the sudden announcement that we are going into full lockdown yet again for a month. No dining out. No travelling beyond district lines. For us, that meant no trips to the city, no quiet moments in the church there, no forays to the garden centres – our newfound delight.

          But we comforted ourselves that at least, living in a huge district, we could still stuff everyone into the car and take our sunset drives out of town but still be within district boundaries. We had begun that practice about 2 months ago and all of us enjoyed that hour out of the house, driving along quiet country routes, the big sky purpling, making ready for its night. We’d set out with hearts full of thorns and along the way, drop each one by the wild wayside, returning with our spirits calmed and in order.

          Then, the government hit us with a 3-person cap on the number of people in a car – even if it’s from the same family. So, there went our drives too.

          I could feel my heart drying up around the edges. We had relatively simple needs as a family. With the pandemic worsening by the day in our country plus in a few others as well, we’ve given up all hope of a family holiday for the next 1 to 2 years. But we found that it’s something we could live with. With thanksgiving planted firmly into the soil of our hearts, we found that we could be happy in other ways. There were other joys for every one taken away from us.

          But to come home yesterday after one such happy, country-drive and to hear that even those little replacements had been snatched away is a blow that takes time to recover from. It is cruel because yet again, we are paying the price for the recklessness of others. While we have followed the rules, kept as safe as can be and kept others safe too, too many haven’t done the same.

          In the end, everyone gets punished.

          I retreated into myself to try and come to terms with this development. As I searched for God’s word which I may have missed, I remembered that for the past day or so, snippets of an old hymn had been sung into my inner ear.

He can turn the tides
And calm the angry sea.
He alone decides
Who writes a symphony.
He lights ev’ry star
That makes our darkness bright.
He keeps watch all through
Each long and lonely night.

          So, I sang the hymn in my head, tracing my heart over its lyrics, trying to find God’s voice in it for me.

He’ll always say, “I forgive.”

          I groaned a little. I wanted answers. I wanted comfort. Not another exhortation to forgive heaven knows who. The fact that I wasn’t angry with anyone made it harder to figure out who God wanted me to forgive.

          Maybe I’m just imagining it, I told myself. Maybe, ‘I forgive’ isn’t for me.

          But those 2 little words wouldn’t leave me. Like the tinkle of a distant tiny~bell, they chimed quietly from afar through the following day. So, I sent up a quick prayer to forgive all who had hurt me. I pictured a couple of faces and figured, it must be one of them.

          A little deeper into the morning, my youngest child unexpectedly annoyed me with her schoolwork. I was sick and tired of having to tell her the same thing over and over and I felt that I needed to get really strict with her as it had gone on for too long. Working through the laundry with sharp, angry movements, I sifted through my options for action before I went to her.

          Then, more out of habit than any real obedience or humility, I turned it over to God. Tell me what to do, I shot my arrow in the direction of heaven – and promptly turned away.

I forgive

sang a voice in my ear. Blithely – and a tad cheekily.

          In an instant, in one swift second, all my anger evaporated! God wanted me to forgive her! I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe how fast my anger disappeared – and more so that the hymn in my ear was for something like this, something pretty minor in the grand scheme of things!

          Suddenly, the coming of the hymn, He, made sense. Getting annoyed with my child seemed such a trivial thing against everything else that was happening in our land. Yet, the angels had brought His voice and His word to me early. Because even as our country shook, God clearly didn’t want me drying myself out looking beyond our fence at whatever was beyond my control.

          A short while later, helping my child with her studies again, nary a trace of residual anger remained. Because of that, I had a little girl eager to learn from her mistakes.

          Sometime in the afternoon, on our final day of freedom before the lockdown took effect, I wondered how the year would end. Whatever we built seemed to be crumbling and breaking. Nothing seemed to last.

          Slowly, I became aware of the hymn, He, floating by once more. This time, it didn’t pause but like a lone traveller along a country road, it gently went on its way, leaving it to me to decide to follow it or not.

Who do I have to forgive now, I wondered.

          Curious, I reached out and opened my heart to its lines once more.

          This time, something else was laid upon my heart.

He alone can see
What lies beyond the bend.

3 Words

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          Just about 2 weeks ago, I became unexpectedly overwhelmed, reaching a cliff-edge I had not been quite so near in some time. Many times before, I have been overcome by exhaustion and a host of other emotions. But something was different this time. This time, part of me was calm and fully functional.

          But there was another part and that part of me was at the very edge of hysteria; I felt as if I wanted to just scream and scream till I was emptied of everything that had accumulated inside unseen. There was no rage or fury nor sorrow. None of that. Just an overpowering sense of being being filled to bursting with things that had no right being inside me.

          Thank God my husband walked into our bedroom just as that moment and I blurted out to him about how I was feeling. Very firmly and quickly, he told me I had pushed too much, that I needed to drop everything and rest. With that timely support in place, I did just that. Although it was just a little past 10pm and there were still some things to be seen to at home on a week night, I dropped everything, shut the door and picked up a book I had been reading since the beginning of the year, Barack Obama’s A Promised Land.

          The effect of that shutting down was instantaneous. Just a few lines in, a sudden inner quiet took hold of me. It was not due to anything on the page I had been reading – but I suspect just the fact that I had intentionally stepped away from something not quite right – saved me.

          In that moment of sudden quietening, I called out to my God.

Help me, Lord. I need help. 

          I was a workaholic and I needed to quit working the way I did and yet, not actually quit my job. But I didn’t know how. I had tried breaks. I had tried to not care as much. Nothing worked.

Help me, Lord. I need help. 

          Into that silence, I heard a male voice, with an American accent, speak at my ear.

Keep it simple

          Like a bolt of light, those 3 words pierced me.

Keep it simple

          I didn’t need anything more explained to me. Early in the year, I had heard a voice say to me, The time for work has ended. I wasn’t too sure what was meant. With each phase of lockdown we entered after that, I wondered if that end had come. Yet, it wasn’t so. Deep inside, I wondered if it meant that the old way of working had ended. But with the terrible crush of work that came in March, that too didn’t seem likely.

          Keep it simple suddenly made it clear. The world would go on the way it was going – it was I who needed to change my approach to work. The time to work as I had for more than 2 decades had ended. The endless 18-hour days, the vicious cycles I put myself through, the high intensity of perfection I pushed myself to – it had to go. It all had to go.

Keep it simple

          I went in to work the very next day and for the next 2 weeks with those 3 words firmly pinned to my heart. A clear stream began to trip and tumble within me. An exquisite sweetness began to light the edges of my spirit. Some days, I still came home very tired – but something had changed. It was a tiredness that was quickly healed by a day or two of good rest and sleep.

          In the past, none of that had worked for long.

          Today, I realised that the cliff-edge I had almost tottered over was that of irreversible burnout. Had I not been obedient to God’s voice through my husband, something could have happened that night 2 weeks ago.

         3 words sent from heaven had saved me.

Keep it simple