How my fiancé used basketball to revolutionize my understanding of life rhythms

Rhythms can be really helpful. Going to sleep at the same time each night, eating a healthy breakfast every day, reading your Bible daily, etc., can all lead towards having a joyful and satisfying life.

The problem is, rhythms often get upset. You can order your life just perfectly, but throw in a malfunctioning immune system, a life of ministry, and say, oh, wedding planning, and all your healthy rhythms you’ve tried so hard to create can get thrown off so quickly.

The pastor at church on Sunday was talking about idols. I turned to my fiancé, Mike, afterwards and said, “I think my biggest idol can often be trying to find perfect life rhythms.” My parents taught me discipline from a young age and it’s helped me tremendously. I was the kid that asked my mom if I could take a nap because I wasn’t about to let my older siblings throw off my schedule and make me turn into a whiny mess. I know from experience that when my rhythms are good, I am generally a happier person.

But lately, my quest for getting my rhythms right has stripped me of joy rather than fostered it. I get hyper-focused on “doing life just right” that the reality of my imperfections and life’s uncertainties smack me around and suck me dry. For example, on Wednesday I had a great day. I was full of energy, did a normal days work, got to the gym, had a quiet time, and did some creative writing with Mike. In my mind, it was a perfect day! But Thursday, the fatigue from fibromyalgia hit like a grenade and I could hardly do anything. I couldn’t even get off the couch to cook my food or take my meds. So much for rhythm. Joy evaporated.

After we recounted our experiences at church that morning, Mike, as he often does, started talking about basketball. “You know, good basketball players know rhythm very well. But great basketball players know how to surpass rhythm.” My glossy eyes suddenly grew sharply focused. Come again? “A good basketball player knows the text-book position to place their bodies such that their chances are high of making a shot. But a great player knows how to work with whatever situation they are in and make a shot, especially when their rhythm is upset. Steph Curry was a good player. He did everything to the right rhythm. But then due to a growth spurt and a frustrating summer of transition, he had to learn how to play when all his normal rhythms were thrown off. Now he is a great player.” (Note: I am no basketball expert, and I probably mis-quoted something, but you get the gist.)

I sat across from Mike with my eyes wide and mind blown. Finding good life rhythms has carried me for a long way. And I believe the ability to find them is indeed a gift from God. But now I need him to take me from being a good player to a great one. I need God to help me learn to observe that which I couldn’t before when my rhythm gets upset. I need him to show me how to still make great shots when interruptions come, when fatigue sets in, when meetings get rescheduled. And I need him to help me remember that it’s not the life rhythm that actually gives me joy. No, those are there as guides to help me see the creator of all life a little more clearly. But the rhythms themselves will always fail me at one point or another.

Perhaps all this upsetting of rhythm is not the end of all joy but the beginning of making me into a better player.

“The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” – Mark 2:27

The Strength of Gentleness

I started pool physical therapy again today. It’s always a little humbling being in the pool with about seven other sixty to ninety-year-old ladies. When you’re slowly moving your leg back and forth while you hold onto a rail, or doing slow bicycle reps while being held up by a floaty, you certainly don’t feel like Michael Phelps.

Everything in our culture says that intensity is the mark of an admirable person. It’s the driven entrepreneurs, the busiest mothers, the sleepless students, the buff athletes that get our respect. We want to be strong and we think that means we must operate at our highest capacity at every minute of every day.

But I have learned that you can’t get stronger if you aren’t disciplined enough to be gentle. I remember I could never grow as a musician because every time the music said, “diminuendo,” I still looked like I was trying to swing a baseball bat. Sometimes it takes more strength to hold back than it does to be aggressive. I will pay hundreds of dollars to find the massage therapist that knows how to be gentle enough not to cause me another flare up. And I will continue to spend my two hours a week with all the older women in the pool because I know that that kind of gentle movement is what will make me strong enough to keep swimming laps by the time I am their age.

It is the same in leadership. I have trained myself to think that if I am not operating at 100% capacity, then I must be weak or not doing my job correctly. If I don’t work at my to-do list with a high intensity of focus and effort, than surely I am failing. Steve Hayner (former president of InterVarsity, in the book “Joy in the Journey”), journals as he’s dying of cancer, “I have much less of a desire to ‘seize the day’ and a greater desire to welcome it.” I resonate with this so much. Perhaps my twenties were about seizing. I led with intensity, drivenness, and full focus. I wonder what it would be like if my thirties were characterized instead by contemplation, wisdom, waiting, compassion, and joyful welcome.

There is a time for intensity. But there is also a time for gentleness. Both are necessary to make you strong.

Changing my Internal Questions

“What did I do wrong? How can I avoid this happening in the future?” These are the questions I subconsciously ask myself every time I have a flare-up of pain or anxiety.

I have been trained to ask these questions from a young age whenever pain comes along. Hmm…maybe I shouldn’t experiment with my dad’s razor blade on my knuckles or spray bug spray in my eyes or stand behind my brother as he swings a baseball bat (ahem…not saying I did any of these things of course :)).  Learning from my mistakes can prevent a lot of future pain, and these are great questions to help me do so.

But the problem is, when the pain is chronic and the reason for the pain often mysterious, these are no longer good questions. Instead of producing solutions that help me learn, these questions just lead to unfounded guilt, frustration from a lack of control, and more anxiety in trying to find answers that I will never have.  I need to change my internal questions.

Last week, after finding myself stuck in this vexing pattern of repeatedly questioning what I was doing wrong every time my face flared red and my stomach bloated or panic ensued, I turned to God and asked him what questions I should ask instead.

His answer surprised me: “When a flare-up happens, ask instead: ‘How is this an opportunity for me to find more grace, support, or affection today?'”

Yesterday I woke up with a 9 out of 10 pain in my neck such that it felt like there were thirty rubber bands stretching to the point of snapping every few minutes. I tried to practice what I learned in prayer and opened my hands and said “Ok, Lord, I guess you have a lot of grace to give me today.” I was able to go to the copy store, plan a few meetings, teach fifty student leaders, and laugh on the phone with my fiance, not because the pain subsided in any way, but because I was able to live in the joy of receiving. I took one moment at a time and told myself, “If I need to go cry, scream, or drop all of my work, it’s ok. I can do so at any point. God’s grace is enough. If I see someone who can help me, I am going to ask. And if there is a grace God wants to give me as I work today, I am ready to receive it.” Sure enough, his graces were sweet and joy characterized my day as much as pain.

My spiritual director, Steve Stuckey, was the first one to introduce me to the concept of changing my internal questions. Here are a few others that we worked on together that have been really helpful to me. Instead of asking simply, “Did I get my to-do list done? Was I successful? Did I please everyone?” I can ask:

  • How did I see beauty today?
  • How did I lead like myself today?
  • How did I enjoy God’s gifts, creation, or people today?
  • What do I get to enjoy today?
  • How do I get to play today?

What internal questions have helped you walk more fully in the love and grace of God?

Body Image and the Power of Memory

Body Image and the Power of Memory

“It was a simple procedure. I have no idea why it is causing you so much pain still.”

When I heard these words from a UCLA doctor yesterday, I found myself suddenly sobbing. It was a simple procedure. The pain would most likely end in a couple days. Why was I weeping?

Memories sirened through my mind like children’s flash cards: The bewildered face of the doctor who performed the “simple procedure” to test for stomach pain four years ago that first sent my muscles into shock. The couch that I laid face down on for weeks while working because I didn’t know yet how to manage the pain radiating through my piriformis muscles. The cushion I found in my mom’s closet that became as embarrassingly necessary as undergarments. The medal from the half marathon I had run the day before that would get buried in my closet as a stinging reminder that that would be my last run.

I looked back at the red spot on my face. Why did I agree to this? The dermatologist told me it could be painful for a couple days and then be over with. But I know pain doesn’t know how to turn itself off in me. Why did I take such a foolish risk?

Because it too was a reminder. Every morning for the last three years, when I looked into the mirror and saw the glowing red mark on my face, I remembered that something was wrong. Something in my immune system was malfunctioning enough to cause a portion of my cheek to turn ugly red. It was the one visible mark of an invisible illness. The mark reminded me I actually have no control over the healing of my body. And I wanted it to go away.

I spent last night thumbing through the scriptures, trying to find my story in its pages. I searched for something about body image or healing or pain. But instead I was drawn to the image of the temple.

Pages and pages are dedicated to describing the splendor of the temple. It’s vastness, it’s statues, it’s gold, it’s detail. One thing I know is true: God cares about beauty.

I flipped to Haggai 2:3: “Who among you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Doesn’t it appear as nothing to you?”

Another thing I know to be true: God cares about memory.

Through this seemingly mundane process of deciding if I wanted to treat the spot on my face, the word that has kept coming to mind to describe God’s character is: “validating.” He hasn’t rebuked me as shallow for caring about my appearance. He hasn’t dismissed the effect its had on my mental health as the painful memories surface.

He’s taken me back, like the Israelites, to the memory of the former “temple.” He’s shown himself to be with me in the sadness of recognizing what has been damaged and lost.

I don’t know if he will get rid of the red mark and now pain on my face. I don’t really know how to heal from the painful memories that have just sprung back to life. But I have suspicion he is bringing them up because he is about to do a new thing.

At least, that seems to be his track record.

“In just a little while…this house will be more glorious than its predecessor.”- Haggai 2: 6,9


Note: The image is what I envision the remains of the temple to look like (even though this picture was taken in Turkey. :))

Why I keep scrolling

Why I keep scrolling

 

I did today what I always tell myself not to do. I wasted several hours scrolling through “WebMD”, asking as many possible versions of the same question over and over again: “How long will this…? What to expect when…? When will the meds start working…?”

Somehow I always fall into it’s trap, knowing full well that everything I find always makes me more anxious and afraid than before I turned to my seductive friend known as the G0ogle search bar.

I, like everyone else it seems, have been super sick this winter. First a cold, then strep, then sinus infection…all of which makes my normally over-worked muscles want to just give up on functioning all together.

As I scroll through the web, I realize it’s not reading about everyone else’s sad stories and the potential that my cough could mean I have a broken bone or cancer or will die tomorrow (which is somehow what the internet tells me every time I have any symptom of any kind…hmm.) that I think will actually help me cope. No, what I really want, is to know my future. I want to know at exactly what point I will wake up and suddenly feel well again. I want to know when I can have a social life again and feel productive and happy.

Somehow I have the same habits when it comes to world news. I waste hours scrolling through my news feed and reading articles, hoping…for something. But I don’t even think it’s good news I’m searching for (though that would be nice). I am searching for something that will tell me what to do and how to live in a time when the marginalized are more and more oppressed, and those in power seem to get it less and less. I want something to tell me that if I just do steps 1, 2, and 3 then my life will be meaningful and I will have just a little more control in this domineering world.

I love the disciple Thomas’ honesty when he says in John 14, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

And Jesus replies, “I am the way.” Earlier in the conversation he says, “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.”

Why is that so hard to do?

In a couple weeks it will have been exactly six years since the chronic pain began. How many times have I prayed, “God, just tell me how long it it will last and then I will be able to get through it.” In retrospect, I am really glad he never told me. I would never have been able to get through the last six years if I knew just how many flare ups and new symptoms would have occurred since the beginning.

Like Thomas, I often wish Jesus would just give me the step by step road map of my life. But he never does. Instead, he promises that he himself is the way.

I don’t actually need some internet prediction of how much longer I, or the world, will be in pain. What I really need, is trust. I need more trust that God will show us how to lead in such a time as this. I need more trust that he can and will take away this highly irritating cough and headache, as trifling as it may seem.  And I need more trust that, even if nothing circumstantially ever changes, that he is beside us and guiding us until that sweet moment that we get to be where he is forever.

So, alas, I will stop scrolling through websites hoping to know my future or the future of this world, and turn again to my closest friend and ask him to help me trust him, once again.

When you can’t have your (wedding) cake and eat it too

“You make…wine, which cheers people’s hearts, along with oil, which makes the face shine, and bread, which sustains the human heart.” – Psalm 104:15

I have a love/hate relationship with this verse. I hate it because it describes the things that I can’t have. Wine and bread will send my muscles into shock, and oil doesn’t make my face shine – it just aggravates the annoying rash I’ve had on my face since the fibromyalgia began.

Up until this point, fibromyalgia hasn’t gotten too much in the way of having fun with wedding planning. Dress shopping was a little more limited because I had to factor in the heaviness of the dress and if my muscles can handle it, and as we started our registry, instead of looking for the nicest pots and pans, I looked for the lightest weight ones. None of that has really bothered me.

But tonight we started talking about catering. And I found myself suddenly in tears. Why? Because every time I go to a wedding or a holiday party or a birthday celebration I have to prepare myself to fast. Of course I look forward to being with people and socializing or whatever else we’re doing, but when the food gets served my mind starts racing, “What child can I go play with right now to distract myself? Maybe I’ll go use the restroom for a while so I don’t have to smell the chocolate…Somebody please engage me in a riveting conversation right now. Oh God…get me through this quickly.”  On the outside of course I smile and say “Oh don’t even sweat it. That’s just my annoying diet. I’m used to it.” But the truth is, I’m never used to it. It stings every time. Food is a constant reminder that something is wrong. That I am not as I was meant to be. That I can never be fully a part of the celebration.

And the thought of having to have that experience on one of the most joyous occasions of my life – my wedding day – just made me crumble.

I tried to cheer myself up the “holy” way by saying, “well, of course God is my sustenance and it’s relationships that matter and, dude…I’m marrying the man of my dreams, what could make me happier? It’s good for me to fast because it makes me remember my dependance on God and will help me remember to care about the far more important things happening in our world right now. Really, Kelly don’t be so spoiled….”

But that’s not how God wanted to cheer me up. Instead he reminded me of Psalm 104. He invented wine and bread and oil (and chocolate cake and cinnamon rolls and sushi :)). He’s a genius! And you know what, he actually CARES about those things.

I love it. God cares about giving us tangible sensory stuff to help us celebrate. And I believe he cares about me getting to eat something as awesome as chocolate cake on my wedding day. Of course I know and he knows that the most important part of that celebration day will be giving honor to God, loving Mike, and honoring all the wonderful family and friends in our lives. BUT, God also cares about the little stuff. He found me a dress that’s light enough for me to dance in without pain. He’ll find us some tasty food that won’t destroy my stomach too. After all, his very first miracle was making sure guests had wine at their wedding. And his was the very best! And thankfully, I’m marrying the most empathetic, creative and caring man who is determined to find something that will help us feel celebratory that day. We will be just fine.

But even so, sometimes I have to release a few tears and say, “Papa, this is hard.”

While Still Figuring it Out: Peace with No Resolution

“While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream.” – Matthew 1: 20 (MSG)

I like Joseph. I get him. He’s the kind of guy that always wants to do the right thing. He’s a deliberator. A calculator. Probably in his head a lot. But he’s also sensitive. So sensitive to God’s promptings that he would change his whole life around because of a simple dream.

The scariest place to me is inside my own head.  I am a “6” on the Enneagram personality test. I.e. anxiety and paranoia will rule my life if I let them. If you have seen the movie “Inside Out”- I have all six of those little voices on the control pad at every hour of day, and then more so. I am so aware of how chaotic the inside of my head can get, that my life verse is Nehemiah 6:8 “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” And all my close friends know that about once a day they have to yell at me “Stop it!” like Bob Newhart,to keep me from spiraling down into all kinds of totally unlikely dark scenarios and from making ridiculous concluding leaps (This person didn’t respond to me…they clearly hate me. I have a sore throat…I’m going to die. I made a mistake…I’m going to get fired…etc, etc.)  It’s a terrifying place to be, really…in my head.

Over the last several years many counselors have helped me to know how to calm down and get out of my head, mainly by letting Jesus speak to each “part” of me (or every little character on the control pad of my brain, if you use the “Inside out” metaphor). And the more complex life’s problems and decisions get, the more energy it takes to calm them all down. But I have gotten rather good at it. I can go from an anxious wreck to totally at peace…usually after about twenty pages of journaling and prayer.

But recently God has taken me to a deeper place…to the realization that even “while I am still figuring it out” God is in control of my life. I have been asking if there can be peace even when there is no resolution… when one part of me is screaming for attention and the other part is yelling at it to stop being so annoying and another part just feels tired of having to counsel myself all the time.

I believe that kind of peace is possible. God promises it all throughout scripture. It’s what he means when he speaks of living water. It doesn’t stop even when things are still unresolved. He doesn’t stop being the Shepherd even when we are in the darkest valley (and believe me, when I am spiraling downwards inside my head it can totally feel like the darkest valley).

I am coming to place of acceptance with who I am. My tumultuous head may always feel tumultuous.  But there is something beautiful about how I am wired as well. I believe the redemptive side of all the worry is a sensitivity. A sensitivity to be able to filter through all kinds of thoughts and voices and distinguish what is actually of God and what isn’t. It’s a sensitivity like Joseph had to be able to pick up on something as small as a dream and know it is from the Lord and obey.

I am learning to not be frightened of my own fear. In fact, I can kind of expect it. Whenever a big decision, transition or problem comes along, I know all thirty or so of the “inner voices” in my head may start to get a little panicky. But I also don’t have to be afraid of them. Because the more I mature, the more God helps me pay attention to every part of me that may want to have a voice at the table. And the more he will help me “talk back” to each part and remind them that they are heard and that God is still sovereign.

So my peace is not dependent on resolution…though I know God is continually giving me ways to find resolution within myself. My peace can remain even in the chaos. Even while the fear is still present. And God has the power to transform my little chaotic “sheep- brain” into a beautiful sensitivity to the voice of the Shepherd.

May I be like Joseph, who, in a desire to do what is right, listens attentively and obeys the voice of the Spirit.