Whirling at my Normal Fast Pace
The keys whirred, tap, tap, tap, rapidly as I cranked out a research paper as my right knee jittered up and down nervously. I had so much work to get done before the end of my Junior year, and tonight I had to put on my heels and head to the theater with my roommate. Tomorrow, I would leave for one of the most intense weekends of the year- Big Bro Big Sis Camp.
Big Brother Big Sister Camp
Camp was always a stressor for all involved, since the kids from Cabrini Green weren’t used to having the boundaries they so craved, and it was our job all weekend to have power-packed fun and reinforce boundaries every five minutes.
Now, all the kids came from difficult situations, but mine stood out for her feistiness and fire. She shone. In a way, she reminded me of myself. Yet, you know something is up when the other Big Brothers and Sisters come around you and pat you on the back in pity.
That’s just what normally happened at camp for me. Last year, I even had other Big Brothers and Sisters, who I know were committed to the ministry, encourage me to consider that just maybe I should not continue with my little sister.
Yet, she had chosen me as her sister- she had just come up to me at dinner one evening and asked me to be her Big Sister. And, I loved her- I didn’t want any other little sister.
Just after I’d been encouraged to fire her as my little sister, I’d witnessed the bounding 11-year-old who wanted to be just like her Momma run into her apartment to see her Mom, who told me loudly in her hearing, “I wish she’d just go outside like her brothers,” who were probably involved in drugs outside, “She’s such a baby- I can’t stand her.”
No way was I going to miss camp with her. It’s too important.
Typing Away, Downing my Tea
With thoughts of gearing up for camp pressing into my crammed mental space, I typed furiously to try to finish my paper in time. I really hadn’t done much with my roommate as friends, and I needed to finish quick to be ready to enjoy some time with her before the end of the semester.
By my furious fingers and jittery knee, you might think the tea in front of me was loaded with caffeine. Yet, it was sheer adrenaline pumping through my veins. The same adrenaline had led me to give up caffiene early in college due to insomnia.
Absent-minded-professor style, I remembered the tea in front of me. I didn’t want to forget it and let it cool, since I liked it hot. I picked up the cup and downed it.
And then I stopped.
“God, I think most people sip their tea slowly and enjoy it. I don’t do that- I just gulp it down.”
I felt God impress on my heart, “Child, that’s how you drink your life.”
“God, could you please teach me how to sip it slowly and enjoy it- like good tea?”
I sensed Him assure me He would. After noting these reflections in my journal, which was now full, I put it aside noting that I’d need to pull out a new one next time. Then the keys went aflame again.
My Break- Pun Intended
Noticing my mental state begin to fog, and beginning to nod off, I tried to reassure myself that normal people do take breaks when they are working. So, I laid down on my back on the floor and pumped out some back strengthening excercises.
“58, 59, 60. Great! Break over; back to work.”
Some kind of a break, huh? Looking back over a span of over 10 years now, I think I was still so unsettled with giving myself a break that my motive was more to wake myself up than to actually give myself a rest.
In an uncanny way, though, this was the start of a real break for me. It literally broke me.
That night, I had a very difficult time walking across Chicago in heels with my roommate. I assured myself that back injuries are normal for me and that I will just push through this one like all the rest. There’s no way I could give up Big Bro Big Sis camp.
This one wasn’t like all the rest. It was a new animal all it’s own. I would later find out it was a severe back sprain- and one that reoccurred often for a number of years. I couldn’t walk at Big Bro Big Sis camp- when I did, it was hunched way over and ended in me collapsing. I don’t know how God got me through that with my little sister.
I Needed to Be Humbled
Returning from camp, I was in an entirely new world- one I was not comfortable with at all. I had always been the strong one. I had felt I had to be for my family, but even more, I had an incorrect belief that it was the Christian thing to do. We are to serve, right?
On mission trips I was the one to run up and help others fling their 70 lb bags around, the one to mix concrete with shovels, buckets, and raw materials on the ground with my friends while most of the “strong guys” wimped out on painting projects.
I’d grown up with big brother and a neighborhood of boys. I didn’t want anyone to think I was less or could do less because I was a girl. Everything I did set out to prove that was true. Since I was 3, drawing a picture for my mom, I remember setting out to prove that I could make a picture just as good as my older brother could. This had followed me into young adulthood.
I was proud. Flagrantly self-relient.
Forced into Dependence
I found myself unable to get down the hall to the bathroom without help. My roommate had to roll me in my office chair down the hall to the bathroom. My floormates used my chair to get me down the elevator, out of the dorm, and up to the curb to get me into a car to go to the Dr. and then the pharmacy.
I got out of the car at the pharmacy terrified. I didn’t know how I’d make it to the back of the building to get to the pharmacy part of Walgreens. I suddenly felt indignant for all the elderly people that had to somehow make it back there for the things they needed. This was one of the few things I had to shuffle through on my own for some time.
I needed others to help me. This repulsed me. I felt guilty. I didn’t want to put anyone out, but there was no way around it. I had to borrow laptops to write my final papers in bed. My parents had to come and pack up all my stuff for the end of the year.
That summer was my internship in China. I couldn’t carry any of my own bags- let alone help anyone else. At the training in California, I retreated to my room from what felt to me to be a pep rally. I wasn’t up for a pep rally.
I was in a stage of my life where I was slipping into a pretty severe burnout. I would run on smoke my senior year and take a little over a year after college to recover from it, but at that point, I just felt spent. I didn’t feel young and vigorous. I felt really, really old, but I was only 21.
I remember sitting in my hotel room wondering how on earth I’d make it through that summer. I’d only just begun walking any distance. Everything was pep-rally tone, and I couldn’t breath in it. They had placed me at the school with the longest walking distance in a subtropical region during monsoon season. I was to be on the 5th story of the hotel, walking 3-6 miles per day to teach my classes in 100 degree weather with 90 some odd percent humidity.
I was at the end of myself terrified.
In the hotel room I frantically dialed the number of my best friend’s mom. She had led many a mission trip to Ukraine- all of which were intensely demanding physically- but she had some very difficult physical limitations. I waited in panic, fearing she might not answer the phone on this, one of my last chances to call anyone before flying overseas and having limited contact occassionally only by email with anyone.
“How did you make it through all of those trips, Mary?”
“There’s no easy answer. I just had to take it moment by moment. Not even day by day- that’s often too much. Just take it moment by moment, depending on God for each one, and He will get you though it.”
The prospect as I hung up was somehow less terrifyingly terrifying.
Yet, by the end of the summer, I realized that it had worked. God had helped me depend on Him moment by moment, and He had gotten me through.
As the trip leader debriefed with me, she cautioned me about my perfectionism and challenged me with the reality that it is okay to need. It is okay to depend on others. I shouldn’t feel guilty- in fact:
I am robbing other people of a blessing when I don’t let them serve me.
God was Teaching me an Important Lesson about Rest
It was vital for me to learn at that point to be served. I needed desperately to be humbled. Those lessons were indespensible. Yet, God was impressing on me another important reality that I wouldn’t fully realize until the end of the summer.
I knew He was somehow teaching me to sip life slowly and enjoy it.
Throughout the summer, as I depended on God to help me depend on Him, He kept bringing me back to Psalm 23:1-3:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
3 He restores my soul.
He had instilled an image in my head years before about what it truly meant for a shepherd to make a sheep lie down. Through a Psalm 23 study James MacDonald , I learned that when a little lamb would keep running away, the shepherd, knowing the many dangers to an unprotected lamb, would gently take the little lamb in his arms, put his hands on it’s little leg, and quietly break it. He would then carry the lamb on his shoulders until the lamb was healed. After that, the lamb turned sheep would never leave his side.
This was not altogether as shocking to me as the first time I had heard the James MacDonald series. Between listening to it in high school and this point in college, I had taken the class “Violence and Grace in Novel” with my favorite professor, Rosalie deRosset.
I had realized in this class that God is not up there pointing a finger when I make a mistake. He is also not being merciful when life is going along with ease and merriment and wrathful when the road is marked with pain and trial. My view of Him had been too small, too human. God’s mercy and His wrath are not somehow separate in Himself. He is Love and He is Just completely at the same time. Sometimes His very mercy to us is something that brings pain at the time.
These things were in my mind as I meditated on Psalm 23 and contemplated how it applied to me that summer. I could see how God had made me to lie down in a sense, but I just kept wondering:
“Where are my still waters?”
How was my soul to be restored not just from this injury but also from years of insomnia and building burnout? I certainly didn’t have a break in activity at that point.
Still waters to me would be like a trip to Florida on the beach for 2 weeks swimming and doing little else. I could imagine still waters being taking the summer or even the next semester off. That wasn’t my story, though.
I found my still waters to be something very different. Sipping life slowly and enjoying it didn’t necessarily mean would be slow.
Bringing it Home
After I arrived home in the week or so between the trip and my move back to Chicago for my senior year, I took some time to reflect.
All summer I’d been writing in a new journal, but somehow I found myself flipping back through the one I’d finished in the fury of typing during my Spring semester. I turned to the end and realized what I’d felt all along.
Being Broken had been a Gracious Answer to Prayer
All summer, I’d been trying to piece together what God was teaching me about how to sip life slowly and enjoy it, how He makes me to lie down in green pastures, and how He leads me beside still waters.
I hadn’t realized until that point that the very day I asked God to teach me to sip life slowly and enjoy it was the day that I had injured my back.
I realized then what I had felt all summer long. I had been broken for my good. God was teaching me to depend- on Him and His body. He was teaching me to rest and enjoy life by enjoying Him, even in its flurry. It was a lesson I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Disclaimer: I think it’s important to add a disclaimer here. I do not think that most people’s injuries or pain in life are an act of God. Honestly, I believe pain entered the world as a result of man’s choice to rebel against God and reject Him as King. He made the world perfect, without pain and suffering and longs to and will restore it to that condition. Yet, He didn’t make us robots so He could push a button on our shoulder and we repeat, “I love you, God.” He let us choose to love Him or not. Our rejection of Him and His direction for how to live life is the root of pain, suffering, and death. Many of the sorrows we face are just very sad results of living in a fallen world that rejects God. And God grieves with us over it and through our pain.
In this situation, though, I believe very strongly that God had allowed me to be broken to teach me something that I might not have begun to learn otherwise. The fruit in my life of having been broken was tremendous. I had asked God to teach me something critical about life. He taught me so much more.
Why I Need These Lessons Now
As I embark on a somewhat different stage of life for me, I need these lessons all the more. After my last post in the early summer, I had some surgeries that led me through a more physically painful time of life than I’ve faced yet. While I can honestly say it has been a very good summer, it certainly stopped my writing on here for a time.
I started a blog series offline that I am super excited about and hope to finish and post in the next months, but that has inhibited me from posting, too.
In the mean time, I’m trying to write content for and film an extensive video course, promote that course, create a company, make a website for my company, and- a separate project-write pitches and the first 3 chapters for 3 books. (Most of this I have to learn how to do as I go, since I don’t know much about sales, having a business, videography, website design…)And, by the way, this is my night job- my day job primarily consists of being a Mommy to my splendid, rambunctious boys and a wife to my stellar, hard-working husband. So, yes, I need these lessons all over again.