The Terror of Rest

for Stacey and Ellie...

Every once in a while, I sense that God is asking me to write something to help me process stuff going on in my heart. I think this happens with writers and with people in general, but maybe it looks different for people depending on how they express themselves. For my husband, it’s with music. I remember my mother working in her garden, pulling weeds and nurturing roses and coaxing flowers to grow in sandy earth—this was her processing. She would come inside refreshed, resolved, rejuvenated. The scary thing for me is when God asks me to share it on this blog for all the world to read. Gulp…

Two and a half years ago, shortly before Kara died, in fact, I started having some health issues. Well, at the time, I didn’t know they were issues. I thought it was an isolated occurrence, but this occurrence turned into a recurrence, and after a year and a half, my husband Aaron urged me to make an appointment with my doctor. The earliest I could get was 6 months out. And I’m not kidding. The recurrences of this issue were becoming closer together and scarier—Aaron was having to take time off work to care for me, and we both realized we couldn’t continue living like this. So when January came around and I found myself in my doctor’s office, I didn’t even flinch when she listed off a series of tests she wanted to run to rule things out, including heart problems and cancer.

Some of you will read that and say, What? Cancer? Are you kidding me?! Why didn’t you say anything?! And I understand. The reason we didn’t say anything is because my doctor didn’t really think that cancer was a possibility—she just wanted to rule it out, which she did. Praise the Lord.

I ended up at a specialist’s office, laughing nervously and trying to answer her questions after filling out 15 pages of paperwork. It turns out the answer to a lot of her questions was yes, but the bigger surprise was that I hadn’t considered her questions in the first place—the constant neck pain, severe headaches every day, and light-headedness I was trying to ignore slash self medicate were actually migraines, which were causing my bigger, recurring issues. And the cause of the migraines? Stress. That’s it. Simply stress. I started therapy and medication right away with orders for specific exercises, stretches, and yoga.

So all of that has been going well, and physically I am doing So Much Better, but emotionally, I think there is something more going on that feels scary to deal with; yet I realize that to heal physically, I need to pursue emotional health as well.

My physical therapist says my body is in a state of survival, that somehow I’ve normalized a high intensity mode of living, my every muscle tense and my pulse racing. The funny thing is that I don’t feel stressed out or anxious. I don’t feel like I’m living this high-strung lifestyle. When other moms say things like, I don’t know how you get it all done or How do you find time for …? I don’t know what they’re talking about. As far as I can tell, my life is normal and having several things on the calendar for every day and every evening is usual. Then again, over the last couple of months as the therapy has started working and my body has started to calm down and I have started to notice pain and tension (!!!), I am also starting to wonder if maybe my life is a little too busy or hectic or something.

The logical thing was to talk to Caitlin. Ever the Bible scholar, she would surely have some answers. And she did. She suggested rest. Rest? Yes, rest. She uses the term, theology of rest, and talks about how on the seventh day, God rested—not because he needed to, but because he wanted us to—it is a gift. I thought, I rest! I get pleeeeenty of rest. I read, I watch tv, I even nap sometimes. But then Caitlin told me that resting means doing something that feels restful that you do without doing anything else, including checking your phone...for her it’s something like studying or reading a biography. It made me wonder about what I consider rest: Am I unwinding or am I withdrawing? Am I relaxing or am I escaping? Am I resting or am I surviving?

I turned 40 in March. Glorious 40! I thought constantly of how Kara had longed to turn 40 and how delighted she would be to usher me to that milestone. She would have had The Biggest Party Ever, while I hoped for a quiet celebration. My sisters arranged for Heather and Jill to take my babies for the while I spent the day at a fancy spa—their treat. After that pampering day of solitude, I walked upstairs to check into my fancy hotel room, Aaron’s gift to me. I ordered room service and champagne, and enjoyed my book until late hours of the night. The next day I felt like a different person.

Rest. I realized that Caitlin and my physical therapist were onto something.

Caitlin sent me a book, Buy a Cabin, by Robert L. Franck. I haven’t started it yet—I’m scared. I was also scared to start yoga. I said it was because I didn’t know how to find a good studio, so when a friend recommended a Christian yoga studio 3 minutes from my house, I felt like I didn’t have an excuse. I looked up the website and discovered they specialize in trauma yoga. I sent an overwhelming email telling them my story; I decided if I put them off with my silly email and didn’t get a reply, I wouldn’t go there. Instead, I got the kindest, most compassionate response inviting me to try their yoga on my terms. I wrote back, Is it okay if I cry?

I showed up on a rainy Saturday morning, the first one there. I like to arrive early to new places so I can get my bearings and feel settled. I stepped inside the door, my senses engaged immediately, smelling the essential oils, hearing the soft, comforting music, feeling the warmth of the space heater, seeing the gentle light of the candles. I became unhinged—tears started gushing. The instructor quietly welcomed me and affirmed me, inviting me to participate in yoga or simply sit and cry. She handed me a blanket and assured me I was safe.

Since that day, I have continued yoga but stopped other things, including leading my young women’s group and my church’s women’s group. Aaron and I made the very difficult decision that I would stop teaching piano lessons to my beloved students whom I love dearly and have taught for years. I said no to Jason when he asked me to pray in church on Mother’s Day, and I’ve said No, thank you, to friends who have asked to hang out. I’m learning to build bigger margins in my schedule, more time to breathe, figuratively and literally.

And, just like the book Caitlin gave me, this is scary. I’ve gotten used to running on empty, going a million miles an hour. I like it. I like falling into bed every night, utterly exhausted. I like being so tired that I’m not aware of how tight my muscles are or how much my head is hurting. I like the frantic schedule of going from one thing to the next. Because if I’m not busy, if I actually have time to breathe, to rest, to think, I might realize I am sad. I might realize I am happy! I might realize how blessed I am. But mostly I fear I am sad. I wonder if breathing leads to my old friend, Depression. I’ve learned that keeping busy has kept Depression away. Keeping busy has also kept me from trusting God. Keeping busy has been my self medication, preventing me from recognizing my weaknesses and leaning into Jesus.

I’m terrified. I’m terrified that as I slow down and my body heals, my mind will find its way back to my Dark Den of Depression. I’m terrified that I will dwell there in despair. I’m terrified that I won’t see Jesus in the darkness. I’m terrified that he will get frustrated with my lack of faith and withhold his grace from me. I’m terrified.

Still, something whispers to my mind that this risk is worth taking. And I wonder if that voice is the Holy Spirit. I admit I’m afraid to listen terribly closely, although I want to. I want to trust, even though I’m not there yet. A speaker I heard this spring quoted Psalm 46:10, Be still, and know that I am God, and said that being still is a portal to knowing God; that rings true in my heart—truer than fear of Depression. So I’ve claimed Psalm 16:1-2: Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” I’ve added to my summer reading book stack. I retired my journal where I recorded 9 years of teaching/leading notes and got a new one for exploring my simple thoughts.

This is scary, but it’s a road I need to take. I ask for your prayers. And I’m wondering if any of you have taken a similar journey—what did this look like for you? How did God’s grace meet you?