Empty Spaces

My old-school planner. I don’t do digital calendars. I have to write things down. I am pretty sure I was supposed to be born in another era with typewriters, leather books and feather pens with ink wells.  

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. 

~Etty Hillesum


Patience is not my virtue. I realize this and I’ve always known it was not my strong suit (even more so since becoming a parent) but now that I am learning to live with a chronic illness, it has become something that I am forced to be – at least in some ways, believe it or not. Throughout this journey there have been so many days, months and years that I have just had to wait…for answers, for more tests, for test results, for an accurate diagnosis, for the right doctor, for treatment, for the pain to leave, for strength just to get out of bed in the morning and for the energy to accomplish anything at all. Waiting, waiting and more waiting. I deal with it and have gradually gotten used to it, but it is not something that comes naturally to me.

Before Lyme, I was a “Type A” person – probably to a fault. I never sat down. I was always go-go-go and my day planner was my best friend. I went from activity to activity and “To Do List” to the next “To Do List” as I scrawled another activity or list in the box before the week had even begun. When my parents came to visit several years ago, I remember my mom asking me many times, “Will you please just stop and sit down for one minute?” Putting my feet up was something I didn’t have time for. I had dishes to wash, laundry to fold, play-dates to get to, projects to tackle, carpets to vacuum and baby girls to bathe. Life was a constant whirl of activity. At the time, it seemed completely normal for me to fall into bed totally drained from being on my feet for 9-12 hours straight or more. I didn’t think twice about it. I was a young, stay at home mom with a lot on my plate as I tried to juggle two girls in diapers, working from home with a scrapbooking business, church commitments, MOPS commitments, etc. Not to mention taking care of a big house and yard, pets, my husband and usually last and always least – myself. Busyness was my way of life. I organized and scheduled almost every second of our lives. I thought it was what I was “supposed” to do. And since it fit my ultra organized personality, that’s just what I did. I hardly said no to anything that I got asked to do and I gladly took on as much as I could. I did enjoy most of what I was doing, I just didn’t schedule many breaks into my week. My day planner rarely had any days without an activity or responsibilities and usually the only thing that could keep me from those was if one of my girls was sick.

A couple of years ago when the first symptoms of Lyme barely started creeping up on me, I continued this lovely routine going. I knew something wasn’t right with my body but I didn’t have time to get sick. I didn’t have the patience to lie around and give my body time to even attempt to fight an infection. I wanted a quick-fix or a magic pill so that I could get on with my life but all that did was create a monster. My immune system just couldn’t handle the symptoms anymore and it shut down, so I got worse even faster.  To be honest, even after having terrible symptoms for so long – going through 15 rounds of IV treatments and countless joint and kidney injections and taking a million supplements and herbal “remedies” I am just now learning how to adapt to my slower and weaker body.

Change is hard and I have struggled with being patient with myself and my body. This year I have made sure not to schedule anything the day after an activity and I try hard not to have more than one “big thing” in a single day. For example, leading worship, singing and playing guitar is something that I feel called to do and I hate that my body physically limits me from serving. But I am learning that if I intentionally rest the week before my scheduled weekend and the Monday after that weekend, I can do it.  I know it doesn’t seem like much, but some weekends include hours of rehearsals back to back with services and then more rehearsal and services the next morning. It can total 10-12 hours that I am mostly standing (physically draining for me), concentrating (mentally tiring) and singing my heart out (spiritually fulfilling and exhausting at the same time). I have slowly been able to work some things that I love to do back into my schedule again after feeling like a hermit for quite a while. I am learning how to schedule and organize more intentionally, making sure to carve out time for rest.

It sounds pretty dramatic and I know not everyone has the luxury of doing it, but these in-between times – these “empty spaces” on my planner are the reason I am able to do any of the other important and fulfilling things written on the other days. The in-between days and/or nights help me to refresh and restore my body. It is also like a little breather for my mind and my heart. I can refocus my thoughts and get refueled spiritually as well. I don’t do much but rest and cuddle with my little one – who only has a few more months before she starts Kindergarten. (!!!)  So, I’m not ashamed that I am a home-body these days and I am realizing just how necessary it is on multiple levels – not just physically. I really wish I had been scheduling these types of days into my calendar even before I got sick. I think we all could use more “empty spaces” on our calendars.

I’d love to hear if anyone has similar experiences with “down time” or if you have had any realizations about over scheduling or just wanting more alone time for yourself and how you make that happen. What does your calendar look like for the month of May? I hope you have a few empty spaces! :)

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering. ~Winnie-the-Pooh’s Little Instruction Book

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For Better. For Worse. Forever.

April 12, 2003
My husband and I have an anniversary coming up. It has been nine years of marriage and ten years of togetherness. It has been better and worse than I ever thought marriage could be. We have had struggles and trials that have made us question everything. There have been moments when we fully realize that what we went through the first several years of our marriage probably would have made a lot of people give up. When we explain just a fraction of what we battled during the first years of marriage, some have made it clear that they wouldn’t have blamed us if we had called it quits.
But we didn’t. We persevered. Even on days when neither of us wanted to, we CHOSE to love. We chose to stay. We chose to fight for our marriage. It was nothing we did on our own, of course. I truly believe God gave us the strength to continue in hope. He surrounded us with strong believers who wanted our marriage to succeed, who loved on us, prayed over us and mentored us. We would not be where we are today if God had not brought specific people into our lives at exactly the right time. And I don’t think it’s hard to see that He has fully blessed us for being faithful to Him and to our love. He has blessed our marriage in ways I can’t describe in words. It is not perfect nor will it ever be, but we have found that the past couple of years have been better and more fulfilling than we ever believed marriage could be. Instead of a “seven-year itch,” our seventh year of marriage was when God came in and cleared away so much of the debris that had been weighing our marriage down. We feel more love for each other than the day we got married. Because of how much we have been through together our love is deeper, richer and more meaningful than I believe it would have been had we not walked through the valleys.
I am not writing this out of pride but actually out of a deep and personal humility. On this month of my anniversary, I want everyone to know the meaning behind the obligatory Facebook anniversary “status.” I don’t want anyone to think everything is perfect, that we have it all together and then possibly get discouraged about their own marriage. Marriage is so hard and it takes work – a lot of work. But it is worth it. I hope to encourage couples to keep going – no matter how long you’ve been married. Fight for each other. Don’t let the enemy win. It will never be a fairy tale but God has big plans. And it will be more than anything you could have ever dreamed on your own.
Marriage has brought out the worst in my husband and I at times. But it seems like our culture wants us to keep that hush-hush and put on a pretty, fake facade. We definitely felt this way for years. We tried to keep our “junk” hidden – where the problems grew and festered, only getting worse and worse. It is not a topic that people freely bring up. It is so hard to be vulnerable – even with your own spouse. But we started attending a church where we learned how to do life differently – especially when it comes to relationships. We sought counseling. We were mentored and we grew. We learned about how important the word “grace” is. And we started giving it more and getting it more. I know that if we hadn’t gotten to this point in our marriage, the current season of life we are in would have been significantly worse.
So, here’s to love that lasts and marriages that are full of God’s unending grace. Grace that fills up the dark and empty spaces that we don’t know what to do with. Grace that gives us renewed love for one another every single day. Here is just a fraction of my thankfulness…
I am thankful for a husband who walks with me in my darkness. He finishes my sentences when I can’t find the words. He sees the pain in my eyes when no one else notices. He is my best friend. He finds optimism when I can only see negative. He worries about me. . . constantly. He holds me when the pain is too much to bear and lets me cry my frustrations out on him. When I’m talking to friends, he whispers the word I am looking for when my brain cannot do it for me. He is always scanning my face for what my body might be enduring at any given moment. He lets “it” go so that the argument will go away too. He reads my every movement. He listens to my complaints. He makes Lyme jokes when we are with friends to get the 800 pound gorilla out of the room. He remembers for me when my memory has faded. He vacuums for me when he knows my body needs to rest. When I can only think of “relapse,” and “permanent damage” he talks about “remission” and “new treatments.” He gives me hope. He prays healing over the disease. He lets me sleep in. He makes me coffee and breakfast. He is not upset if dinner is not ready when he gets home and we have to order out. He puts up with my mood swings and my days of self loathing. He takes the girls to school because he knows how hard mornings are for me. He leaves work to be with me during IV treatments and sits for hours because he knows I’m scared – even if I said I wasn’t. Before falling asleep, he tells me to wake him up if I need anything, even if I just need to talk.
This is love. Real – Tough – Messy – Powerful – Life giving – Peace giving – Grace giving – Forgiving – Uplifting – LOVE.
Thank you, Ryan for your love, patience and your dedication to our marriage. Thank you for fighting so hard when many things were stacked up against us to fail. Thank you for enduring this “in sickness” season of our marriage along with me with so much grace. I could never do it without you. I love you.
Happy 9 years. To us.

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