"May I leave a couple of hours early today? I'm just feeling a little flustered." That was the basis of the email I sent to my supervisor around noon today. To say that I was feeling flustered was the only way I could think to word what I was feeling in a brief, workplace email.
No need for the details: I feel like I cannot catch my breath. My mind is swirling with thoughts. I have a thousand things to do. I'm tired. I feel overwhelmed. I'm spiritually hungry. I'm an introvert and I just need to be alone.
Normally, that sort of thing - taking time off from work for any reason other than being deathly ill - would stress me out to no end. Today, though, it felt like sweet relief, a step of obedience.
"Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while." Mark 6:31
Exactly one month ago today, as I was pleasantly going about my normal morning routine and commute, I felt a sudden ting of dizziness that I had never felt before. Within moments, my hands shriveled and clenched into an unusual shape, my body tingled with numbness, a gut-wrenching pain like a rock swelled in my stomach, waves of pain traveled through my body, my heart pounded, and I was sure that I couldn't breathe. It was all that I could do to get pulled over onto the side of the road, dial 911, and reassure my toddler that I was fine before I lost the ability to move my body completely. Stuck in a head-to-toe sensation of paralysis, I tried to explain to the dispatcher through slurred, jumbled speech where I was and what was happening. Her reaction, "Mam, I think you're having a stroke," was less than comforting.
I spent the next few hours in a hospital bed with a heart rate around 160 and my toddler by my side while nurses ran tests and tried to determine what was happening. A couple of hours passed before any family or friends could come be with me. One inconclusive lab-result after another, I was convinced of only two things: God was near, and I felt like I maybe was dying.
Stroke, seizure, stress, or something else, it was never determined. The next few days were a blur of exhaustion and confusion, though I was so fortunate to have loving and caring hands by my side for help and comfort while I tried to recover from what I still wasn't sure had happened to me. I cried out to God for answers, but every day it seemed like something else was pulsating within my racing heart.
Let me rewind to the weeks prior to the incident. Full time grad student, full time middle school teacher, and full time single-mom. My closest family is hours away. I'm a busy woman. The hardest part: the fact that I struggle to just do anything with a sense of freedom, carelessness, or ease. In all that I do, I push to be the best. I want to please, and for a long time, that was the priority - even if it meant sleepless nights, meal-less days, caffeine-fueled-frenzy-living.
I'm a "yes" person. I love to live up to the expectations of others. I get a rush from being considered dependable and reliable, someone who will show up no matter what the time or the need, someone who is willing to pour into any situation with all that I've got. My go-to saying, when some folks remind me that I work "too hard" or do "too much" or care when I shouldn't is: I put the "care" in Kara!
It's how I've always lived my life. And I wish I could tell you that my motives were pure- but I'd be lying. Actually, I think this was something I lied to myself about, for a really long time.
I liked to pretend that my over-achievement and perfectionist tendencies were rooted in a noble desire to help others more, but the truth probably goes a little something more like this: It's rooted in insecurity, and I'm obsessed with the reassurance. The recognition. The attention. The seal of approval, the "likes," the 'shares,' the 'retweets,' the "well done(s)!"
But I realize now, this: there's nothing noble about spreading ourselves so thin that we lose sight of the things that are most important to us.
There's a common saying that if the devil can't make us bad, he'll make us busy. Or he'll nag at our insecurities so much that we break down, give in, and spread ourselves too thin.
Distractions abound in this world that moves a mile a minute, where we are simply expected to wear 1000 hats at a time, while spinning 10 plates, jumping on a pogo stick, trying to reach an air-height of 50 feet, in the mud.
We look at others who seem to have it all, do it all, and our engines, fueled by comparison and envy, begin to turn until we hit a point of utmost exhaustion. Until some crisis stops us in our tracks and FORCES us to slow down, to pause.
The truth is, no matter how many GOOD things we're filling our plates with, when we pile those plates too high, what we're doing is covering up God's best intentions for us, the perfect things He wills for us, the things that become tucked away somewhere in the bottom of a heaping pile of responsibilities we've accumulated out of our own spinning and striving to do more and be more.
Just this morning, I was writing to my long-distance-love about the frustration I feel with how busy I've become - busy with things that I'm not sure I even have any business even being busy with! I whined that I just want to spend my days writing, playing with paints, trying my hand at music-making. I crave space and margin in my life to do these things that make me feel sane!
What he said to me made my soul sing.
"Those things you want to do are the very things that minister to people. When you walk in the fullness of what God is calling you to, as much as something sounds or looks like work, it doesn't feel like it. It soothes you and refreshes you. His yoke is light."
In this modern age, we have to be INTENTIONAL about PROTECTING our PRIORITIES.
In the weeks leading up to the incident that landed me in doctor's office after doctor's office, I had been praying one of the most terrifying prayers I'd had to pray in a long time. I'd been asking God to PRUNE my life; I'd been faithfully asking and trusting Him to cut back the things in my life that aren't His absolute best for me.
In fact, this is what I had written:
I want to eliminate the distractions - those things that look good on the surface, but maybe at the root aren't entirely pure, necessary, or that are hindering me from fully falling into the roles that I KNOW THAT I KNOW to which I've been called.
I want to create space in my life to fully serve the priorities that I know are part of God's perfect plan and purpose for my life. I don't want to miss out on tasting God's best because I've piled my plate so full of stuff that wasn't set out for me to consume.
I know the things God has called me to do fully and well, in this season -
to be the best mother I can be to Isaiah
to love my man faithfully, patiently, and well
to cultivate this passion I have for writing
to see my passions and gifts be used to minister to others
Everyone's priorities look different, and they vary as we move from season-season in life. But the good news is that God's love moves from grace-grace, picking up for us the areas that we have gently dropped on the walk toward His best.
Sometimes, protecting our gifts and the people or things we specifically have been entrusted with means that we have to walk away from GOOD to honor God. Sometimes it means we just have to say no.
Maybe it means changing majors. Maybe it's being more mindful of the people you spend your time with, and how they leave you feeling when the day is done. Maybe it means sitting down a hobby, something you enjoy, for a while to fully focus on and develop one special gift. Maybe it simply means taking care of yourself - eating well, sleeping at night, resting when you need to pause.
You and I have to protect our own emotional and mental serenity so we can be the best mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, teachers, leaders, artists, or partners we are called to be to the people we are called to care for. Ministry starts in our own hearts, our inner circles, our homes.
When I look back on my life, and think about all of the time and energy I spent on things that I was never meant to pursue, I can't help but to be aware of how much time I've wasted... time that could've been used to bring me closer to where God wants me to go.
But instead of letting this realization paralyze me in shame, I'm choosing to let it propel me forward with a sense of urgency, laced with grace - a keen acknowledgement that our time on this earth is precious. And I don't want to muddy mine up with STUFF that isn't meant for the vapor of my life, the sea of my heart; I want every drop of my life to reflect the glory of the waters God sanctifies us in, His Everlasting Love.
*Photo by : Torrance Saunders Photography