Monday, February 17, 2014

Finding Balance

I asked readers on my Facebook blog page recently what types of topics they would like to see discussed here on Thoughts and Ramblings. One reader mentioned that she would like to see a blog entry regarding maintaining balance in our lives. This suggestion comes at a time when I need to be more attentive to that than usual, so I figured it is a good topic for today.

I do believe I may have written about balance in this blog before, but I think it was a while ago and to be honest, I don't have the patience to hunt through four years of blog entries to track it down. I also think that over the past several years, my writing, while not perfect, have improved dramatically so I am going to give you a 2014 perspective on the issue.

To start with, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately because of my own life and just as importantly, the lives of people around me. I spend WAY too much time contemplating various things I see go on around me and one issue in particular has been how busy everybody seems to be these days. Busy is not necessarily bad. Busy is good. However for me, there needs to be balance of business and stillness.

I listen to many of my friends and family members talk about how they are occupied every single weekend with all sorts of events, with barely enough time to get in a meal without holding it in one hand, while driving with the other. Kids are shuffled from one sports meet to another, then to girl scouts, then to dance class, then to this, and then to that. Now granted, I don't have young children, but as a kid, I never was that busy! Sure, I was involved in band, sports (believe it or not!), and Girl Scouts...but never all at the same exact time. I always had downtime to play outside with my friends or to sit around and read my favorite books.

And it's not just our kids who are kept at a frantic pace. Oh no. We, ourselves, are as well. It seems that a lot of us must constantly be "doing", rather than "being". Sure, I know how frantic life can be, but the real question I would ask is, does it always have to be? OK yes, there is work, household chores, children/aging parent/pets to care for, and meals to cook. But what about after that? What gets added to all that, which in turn may jack up our stress levels? Is it because we are afraid to say no when requests are made of us? Is it because we are trying to provide our children with as many opportunities as possible? I would urge you to then ask: is this really necessary? Is it healthy for me and my family? When I think back to my own childhood or listen to what my stepchildren say about growing up with my husband, what I take most from that is not the memories of being here or there, but rather the time that was spent together as a family.

Finding balance in our lives, however, goes well beyond the physical aspect of what we do on a daily basis. It is also mental. It is about managing our stress and what we allow to move in and take up space in our heads. It is about what we deem important and worthwhile. What it is that is worth spending our energy on.

Several years ago when I was dating my husband and in the throes of my autoimmune illness, it became apparent to me that we were spending too much time in our conversations discussing my illness: my symptoms, how I was feeling that day, my thoughts about my treatments, you name it. He never complained about it, but it bothered me. We are never at a loss for topics to discuss and I wanted our conversations to be about more than my physical well-being.

One day we went to a Sjögren's syndrome support group in Boston. It was our first one and the plan was to do some sightseeing in the city afterwards. I came up with a plan that we could talk about all that went on in the support group for about a half hour and then that was it. No more talk the rest of the day in Boston regarding anything to do with Sjögren's, the support group, my health, NOTHING! I will admit, it was a bit hard at first because a lot of the time I "think out loud" with my husband. But, we were pretty successful that afternoon and it was such a freeing experience.

Something similar has happened recently. Our church, where we met, is going through a very difficult transition with our minister leaving. My husband, as the head deacon, has incurred a significant increase in responsibility because of this. When he's home from work lately, he's not really home. He's on the phone, on his e-mail, or working on something church related. Meanwhile, I have taken over the church's Facebook page, something I have taken very seriously, because I feel that this is a critical time to bring people together through social media.So for us, our home life is not balanced in a way that we are used to. As a result of all this and of us trying to support and help each other, I would say that in the past few weeks, 50-75% of our conversations have had to do with our church. And while it is so very important to both of this and is a temporary situation, that is not a balanced way of life.

So today, I remembered about what we did a few years ago in Boston. I looked at him and told him that we needed a church-free afternoon. So we took off for a few hours and did our best to avoid all topics church-related. Not because it annoys either one of us, but because we wanted to enjoy each other and not worry about the rest of the world. It was the healthy thing to do I honestly think it is one of the things we do that keeps our relationship strong.

For me, balance is about doing those things that reduce my stress. I think I have gotten much better at it, although that has not always been the case. I have gotten better at it because I was forced to by dealing with Sjögren's syndrome. I have to rest. There are no two ways about it. That being said, I do sometimes push myself harder than maybe I should, but the reasons have to be pretty convincing.I have learned to say "no" and to not spend my energy on situations, or people, that knock my mental and emotional balance out of order.

I have a list of things in my head that are critical for me to do on a regular basis outside the norm of every day living (i.e. eating, showering, etc.). Those things are: writing, playing with my dog, running, and reading. If I do not do all those things on a weekly basis (OK, the dog thing needs to happen on a daily basis!), then I know I am out of balance and need to change something, Those are my creative and stress-reducing outlets and if I am too busy to fit them in, then....I AM JUST TOO BUSY! I know that my health will suffer and then I am in serious trouble. Now obviously, the amount of time I spend on each varies from week to week or day to day, but when I am doing them all every week at some point, I am more balanced. I am more centered,

I don't pretend to have all the answer regarding living a balanced lie, so I am curious as to what your thoughts are on the matter and what works for you.

Meanwhile remember to breathe.....slow in your moment.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Seasons of Change

"There is an appointed time for everything.  
And there is a time for every event under heaven -
A time to give birth, and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted."
Ecclesiastes, 3:1-2

I had a conversation with my friend, Heather, today and one of the many topics we talked about was change; how people's lives, friendships, and jobs change. How our lives change sometimes solely based on our circumstances; some circumstances that are within our control and some that are not. It is a topic that I have been thinking a lot about lately for many reasons.

Heather and I belong to the same church and we found out in December that our longtime minister is leaving for a position at another church in a nearby town. For many of us, myself included, the news came as a shock. So much so that several times, I have tried to blog about it and just could not. Words seemed inadequate. How do you you describe in a blog the impact that the departure of such an integral member of the community has on that community, nevermind on the church that he leads?

I have, however, been able to gain more perspective about the issue over the past several weeks. While I still view this change, which is about to occur in our church in two and a half weeks, as a loss for me personally and spiritually, I am now also able to recognize that this is one more change in my life that is another season of change for me, my church, and our minister.

Change, whether wanted or unwanted, is an opportunity for growth. It is also an opportunity for unexpected blessings to come into our lives that we never saw coming or might never have occurred otherwise. As I have been thinking about change lately, I keep reflecting back on all the changes that have happened in my life over the past five-six years. I am talking drastic changes. I know the fact that I am starting a new job next week has brought a lot of these thoughts to the forefront of my mind.

I think back to when I worked at my previous job which drained the life out of me, when I was involved in a destructive marriage, was spiritually broken, and overall just miserable. I think how much has changed since then. But yet, it took this significant, life-altering autoimmune illness to be the catalyst for the changes in my life. I left my husband, was forced out of my job due to illness, forced to sell my house, and the list goes on and on. I did not choose to get sick yet because of it, I was forced to make major life changes. Where has it gotten me? Married to the love of life, enjoying the grace of living in a healthy marriage, living in a community that accepts and supports me, publishing a book, enjoying a circle of amazing friends, and about to start a job that I have always wanted to do. It took me going through the most difficult, scary, and uncertain moments of my life to get here.

OK, so what does this all have to do with my minister leaving our church? A lot. Like my illness, his departure, while sad and even heartbreaking at times, is an opportunity for change and growth for both my minister and for us. It is a chance for him to pursue new spiritual directions. It is a chance for the people of my church and community to  rediscover each other in new ways. If you told me that I would have thought this back in December, I would have told you that you were crazy. But here's the thing: I have already seen some of the blessings that have come because of this transition. Maybe they are not earth-shattering, but rather, are happening as quiet whispers in the wind. They are there. I see them  when I listen to conversations that are happening among the members of my church and I am able to witness the increased emotions and caring. I see the changes as I watch the people of the church come together to formulate a plan for the future of my church. I see more unity.

I see the changes in my husband, who is currently the head deacon of our church. Ironically, I had a conversation with him, two weeks before we got the news about our minister leaving, asking him if he would consider stepping down as head deacon or even as a deacon at all. It was purely selfish motives on my part. For our entire relationship, literally, he has been a deacon at our church; with  increased responsibilities and obligations to our church on a weekly, and sometimes on a daily basis. We discussed it and he wouldn't even consider it. He reminded me that the very qualities that I love about him are what makes him a church deacon. For him, it is the way to live his spirituality.

Well, with the news of our minister leaving has come a significant increase in his responsibilities. It has also come with a significant change in our marriage and in him. I see the change in him which comes from assuming more responsibility for the livelihood of our church and its members. To be honest, I didn't realize he could be so organized! I see the change in our marriage as I realize that it is my turn to be the emotionally supportive one, to make sure that I step outside of myself and engage with him in order to be a sounding board. The changes are making us better individuals and a better couple.

Change isn't easy. Trust me, I know. It is scary and anxiety-provoking. But change doesn't always have to be equated solely with struggle, sadness, or fear. Sometimes you just have to be quiet and still enough to recognize the blessings that can come with change, however small they may be.