One year ago today, we were waking up in San Diego—our first morning here after returning from an almost-two-year tour in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain. Even one year later, I’m absolutely still processing the experiencing of going and coming and what it has meant to all of us: Steve, the kids, and me. I thought I would share some of my noticings from this last year, as it has been a season of extended recovery for me and mine. If nothing else, I’d love for this post to offer you permission to rest and recover and care for yourself if you are in any kind of season of stress or disorientation or change.
Here are 10 things our re-entry from the Middle East has taught me:
1. THE BODY NEVER LIES: When our bodies are dragging, trudgy, exhausted, and hurting, this is an indication that we need to take it easy. The body will tell us things that our mind has not yet figured out. Our body will give us hints about how we’re REALLY doing. Pain, chronic fatigue, lack of energy . . . these are all signs that we need to heed.
Questions to consider: Is my body trying to tell me something? Am I listening to my body or ignoring it?
2. THE BRAIN NEVER LIES: Since we’ve returned from Bahrain, I’ve left every door on my van open in the Marshalls parking lot, I’ve put the coffee pot full of coffee away into the cabinet with the mugs, and I’ve thrown dirty laundry into the recycling bin. These are just minor indications that my system was overloaded, preoccupied with the task of re-entry. Like our bodies, our brain can also give us needed information. Our brain reacts when we are under stress, especially prolonged stress.
Questions to consider: Is my brain trying to tell me something? Am I regularly forgetful, disoriented, fuzzy, or generally unable to concentrate or remember anything?
3. WE NEED GUIDES: If you resonate with #1 and/or #2 above, then I would suggest incorporating a “guide” of some kind into your life. Heck, even if you don’t see #1 or #2 happening in your life, I would still encourage you to seek out a guide. A guide is someone who can help you process, make sense of your experiences, help you identify how you’re really doing. This could be a therapist, a spiritual director, the right pastor, even. Ultimately, this is someone who will validate your emotions and experiences and not try to talk you out of them or over-spiritualize them (for example, if you would just pray, God would rescue you from your anxiety and exhaustion = not helpful). Guides keep us from getting stuck or help us get unstuck. I’m not sure I’d be able to get out of bed without the nurturing and clarifying presence of the guides in my life. It feels needy to need help. Oh, well. Let’s get it anyway!
Questions to consider: Is there a trained professional in my life who I could call on for help? What is standing in the way of me reaching out to a guide?
4. WE NEED PEERS: Peers are people we allow to see us when we are in a mess. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, a lot of us instinctively tend to hide what’s really going on. Supportive, nurturing, empathetic peers can tolerate the mess, the wandering. They can allow us to come to our own conclusions without needing to fix our situation. They can just sit in the room with us and breathe. They are the people we text when we need extra prayer or validation or just simply to be seen right where we are. I don’t believe that going through life with God and a therapist is enough. I think we also need the presence of peers—people who we allow to see us in need, people who we allow to be there with us and for us. (For more on this, read my last post).
Questions to consider: Is there anyone in my life who really knows what’s going on in my soul? Am I hiding from people? Do I allow anyone in my life to see me in need?
5. THE SQUEEZE CAN CLARIFY OUR PRIORITIES: Because I have been chronically tired this last year and really lacking in extra energy, I have had to bring in the borders of my life in order to function. I couldn’t take on as much as I would have liked. I just didn’t have the capacity. While this was, at times, a frustration, more than anything it was clarifying. Over and over I had to choose what mattered most to me, and it was helpful to see what I chose: a small tribe of people I dearly love and trust, my family, being home, creating. I’m not sure I’ve actually done much else in the last year. Certainly, with three small children, this is plenty. But it’s been really interesting to see what I’ve held onto and what I’ve let go of. I think it’s good every once in awhile to have to choose and to see what it is we tend toward when our capacities are diminished.
Questions to consider: For this season, what do I need to hold onto? What do I need to let go of?
6. TO EVERY TIME THERE IS A SEASON: Oh how I love Ecclesiastes 3. It just helps us make sense out of this crazy life. I see that there are times in life when we strike out into the world, when we are taken on wild adventures. And then, there are also times when we are brought into a refuge or a haven and are given the opportunity (if we will take it) to recover. The key here is to embrace the season instead of resisting it, which is so hard to do. I don’t love feeling tired, but I can see that my diminished capacity over this last year has taught me a lot about my priorities, self-care, and nurturing what matters most to me.
Questions to consider: What does this season of your life look like? Is it a time for rest, recovery, turning inward? Or is it a time for striking out? Can we allow for times to change, seasons to shift?
7. THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY A TIME FOR LIFE-CHANGING DECISIONS: Our sense of stress can make things feel urgent that aren’t necessarily. We must make a decision about our marriage. We must make a decision about whether or not to have another child. We must make a decision about remodeling the kitchen. Sometimes, there are decisions in front of us that—no matter if it’s a good time or not—must be made. But, where possible, I’ve found it’s better to let things ride a bit if I can, to not assume immediately that they are urgent matters. Our systems are already stressed and overloaded, which means that we probably won’t make the soundest decision in that state.
Questions to consider: Is this the right time? Is this an urgent matter? Do I HAVE TO make a decision about this right now or is it something that could wait until I have a bit more perspective and peace?
8. SELF COMPASSION AND SELF CARE LEAD TO RECOVERY; PUSHING AND PUNISHING DO NOT: We just absolutely have to get this. I am person who tends to get overwhelmed. When overwhelmed, I can turn on myself for not being able to handle more, accomplish more, recover more quickly, etc, etc, etc. I tend to go to the “shoulds” and I tend to compare myself to how I perceive other people are handling life. This is not going to work. It only leads to self contempt, which keeps us stuck stuck stuck. Recovery is about taking the radical stance that we need to carve out some breathing room for ourselves, treating ourselves as we would a dear friend.
Questions to consider: Do I believe that pushing myself will help me recover faster? Am I punishing myself for not being more like HER or HIM over there? Am I actively seeking out breathing room?
9. WORK WITH YOUR HANDS SOMEHOW: You’ll read more about this in Breathing Room, but I have read article after article, study after study, that shows our brains are calmed (and depression and anxiety can even be lessened in some cases) when we work with our hands. Gardening, painting, sculpting, working on cars, sewing, knitting, arranging flowers, writing. Working with our hands calms our brains somehow and also gives us a sense of perceivable accomplishment. All good. Last fall I got the opportunity to spend a large chunk of time writing. This was one of the most therapeutic things that happened in the last year—a place to go and process, create, play, craft, and produce. This brought structure and focus to a season that lacked both. I consider it a grace that God allowed the timing of Breathing Room. It was a salvation of sorts to me.
Questions to consider: How can I get my hands moving in order to help my brain and body recover? Is there a particular hobby or craft that I might enjoy, even just for a season?
10. BEAUTY HEALS. PERIOD.: In this last year, Steve and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary and Steve turned 40, two celebration-worthy milestones. For both occasions we took a trip. For our anniversary we went to the beautiful Northern California areas of Carmel and Monterey and we soaked in the fog and the wild mystery of that coastline. We walked and walked and walked and we ate delicious food and we rested. We allowed ourselves to be healed through our senses. In December, for Steve’s birthday, we went to Napa and—again—we were met with this magical charm of the wine country at Christmas and our jaws just dropped open with awe and wonder and breath. I can’t describe it any other way. It was just healing to be places that were so naturally beautiful. On both those trips we met up with dear friends who we just talk and talk and talk with and that was also a key component of healing. If life is stifling, I so recommend some time in beauty—especially the profound restoration of natural beauty. I have to say, too, that even the small moments of beauty can add up. Making a fire in our fireplace has been something that continually brings me such great joy.
Questions to consider: What do my eyes find beautiful? How can I get regular doses of that beauty? Where do I go to breathe? How can I get there more often?
Thanks for making this journey with me, friends. Around the world and back again. With love to you today,