Tag Archives: Stress

Control


A friend recently shared an old joke with me that if you ever want to make God laugh, tell Him that you have a plan. I love that, because that’s exactly who I am. I’ve always been a planner, which is just my face-saving euphemism for control freak. I’ve recently faced a big decision that removed much of my control through the process. It has proven a wonderful, frustrating growth opportunity in which to learn to trust God.

Learning to trust God–that sounds simple, and it is. But just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’ve had to tell myself over and over again that God’s plan is perfect. Every time I found myself getting stressed out over it, I realized that I had tried to take back control of the decision, to figure it out on my own. And every time I recognized this and gave it all back to God, a strong sense of peace immediately followed. Why did it take me this long to discover this amazing secret to managing stress? Of course I know why…I’m stubborn and thick-headed and fiercely independent. These are all assets which can serve me well in some aspects of my life, but not in my relationships, including with God.

So I have learned another valuable life lesson, better late than never. I am thankful for the peace this lesson has brought me. And I am especially grateful for a God who does not give up on me.

“The most important lesson that I have learned is to trust God in every circumstance. Lots of times we go through different trials, and following God’s plan seems like it doesn’t make any sense at all. God is always in control, and He will never leave us.”  –Allyson Felix


Ronald McDonald House


I used to think that Ronald McDonald Houses, which provide temporary housing to family members of children in hospitals, are a good idea. I was wrong–they’re actually life savers for those who suddenly find they need them, something that’s hard to appreciate until you’ve experienced it.

When we packed our car a year ago with enough stuff to last us the expected six month hospital stay 700 miles from home, we were literally driving into the unknown. Topping our list of stressful uncertainties was, of course, concern for our daughter. The vast majority of HLH patients require a bone marrow transplant to save their lives. But BMT itself carries significant risks, and as an Asian adoptee, the chances of even finding a good match for our daughter were low. Then there is the unimaginable disruption of indefinitely splitting your family in two, especially heading into the holidays. How do you keep life and school as normal as possible for your other child? How do you juggle work so the paycheck keeps coming in? What do you do with the family pets in the shuffle? The list is long and overwhelming:  even with the tremendous support we received from family and friends, we were always in full-on coping mode.

Enter RMH. After a couple of weeks of living in the hospital with our daughter, a cherished room opened up across the street. Basic but functional and clean, it featured a real bed and, best of all, a private bathroom. Plus a very pleasant surprise:  volunteers providing a wide variety of services. There was entertainment, ranging from music to puppet shows to story time. I even got a chair massage one day. But the best volunteer service was the meals. When you’re away from home for an extended period, home-cooked food is quickly missed, especially when the next best option is the hospital cafeteria. These wonderful people, from a different business or organization every night, gave up an evening to make us tacos or chili or spaghetti. Normally a picky eater, I was beyond grateful for every single meal. As a Walmart associate, I was touched by the local Target store team which brought plush Spot-the-dog toys for the children.  I love that dog, now sitting on my daughter’s dresser.


So if any of you live near a RMH and are looking for a community service opportunity for your work or church group, please consider RMH. The meal or toys or music or quilts you provide will, trust me, make a difference to families going through the roughest time of their lives. Your gift will be in showing them that they are not alone.

“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”  –Jane Austen


Dream


I’ve only ever had three recurring dreams in my life.  Twenty-five years after graduating college, I’ve finally shaken the classic “end of the semester, and I just remembered I haven’t ever gone to one of my classes” dream. Growing up in Kansas, I also had tornado dreams for years, though I’ve never seen one, and I’m not particularly afraid of them. But there’s one dream that I’ve never stopped having–that of rushing to catch a plane.

I don’t understand why this one keeps coming back. I’ve only ever missed a couple of connections, and they were pretty routine. It can’t be a tangible fear, certainly not in the same way a tornado is. I think it must be a metaphor, a symbol for something deeper.

I hate these dreams, even more than the tornado ones, because in them, I’m stressed. I usually don’t know where I’m going, and there’s often a line slowing me down. I know I have barely enough time to make it, if everything goes right. It usually doesn’t. Normally, I get just stressed enough to wake before I see if I’m going to make it. It’s unpleasant.

As I’ve reflected on these vivid experiences, I realize that they describe my work life almost perfectly. I’m generally slogging my way through an unclear path, with plenty of obstacles and not enough time, at risk of not getting where I’m going. It’s difficult to believe that this similarity is a coincidence. I’ve always been high energy, in a hurry to prove I don’t know what, to I don’t know who. I’ve struggled all my life for peace and rest with the status quo. I’ve made progress, but I have as far to go as I’ve come. It’s dawning on me that I may not get there before my journey ends. I don’t know the implications of that fact, but it’s a sobering one that I better figure out…before it’s too late.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal:  it is the courage to continue that counts.”  –Winston Churchill


Your Fly Is Open


I once presented to a group with a broken fly zipper. Many people are afraid of speaking to groups–it’s been part of my job for so long that I’m pretty comfortable with it now. Except when my zipper breaks an hour before I’m scheduled to speak.

It worked out OK…I’m pretty sure the audience never knew. You see, I’ve been carrying safety pins for decades. I no longer remember the incident which first prompted that habit, but I was sure grateful that I hadn’t ever given it up, through years of swapping countless purses. “They don’t take up much room, and you never know”, I told myself. No, you don’t.

I was unusually nervous, but I got through that presentation with my broken zipper. I’ve realized that much of life is like that. We stumble through the stress and chaos, sometimes feeling strong and brave, and sometimes facing others with hurt feelings or insecurities, or any of the countless temporary burdens or permanent scars we carry. Sometimes those around us can see our burden; sometimes we can safety pin over it and fool them. As I’ve aged and become more aware of, and even comfortable with, my own flaws, I’ve tried to remind myself to have patience with others. I don’t always succeed, sometimes getting frustrated with them. But heaven knows I have my share of broken zippers…the least that I can do is overlook my neighbor’s.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”  –Philo


Marathon


The older I get, the more I realize just how much life is a marathon. The miles, the wear and tear, the exhaustion. I’ve never run a real marathon, but I think before it’s over, we all have.

Every year I’ve lived has been different, but patterns of sameness have emerged. The years of grief or overwork or stress become familiar. With time and repetition, we learn that we will survive this, too. Sometimes the discomfort is enough to make us change our circumstances, but mostly we just learn to endure.

Endure. That’s the key to a marathon and to life. The silver lining to it all is the love and the beauty which we encounter along the way. There is never enough of either, but their powers are so great that only small glimpses along our path – a lone daffodil, the silvered outline of a cloud, the warm smile of a familiar face – are generally enough to sustain us. Without them, it would be only a long and brutal journey.

I have learned that I need to continue to hone my ability to notice these blessings, as I find it far too easy to focus on the exhaustion and the stress. But the beauty and love are there, if we only remember to look for them and remember that we, too, have the amazing power of bringing them to others on their own, long journeys.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.”  –Walter Elliott


Visa

Connectivity issues caused a week’s delay in this posting – cheers!

 

I’m 24 hours post one of the more stressful starts to a trip I’ve had. I arrived at my local airport a full two hours ahead of my flight to Sydney, my first trip to Australia and a bucket list destination. I normally print my boarding pass at home, but this week was crazy, and I didn’t even think about it until I was on my way to the airport. I didn’t really worry since I’d left in plenty of time, and our small airport is usually pretty quiet. I didn’t worry, that is, until the desk agent asked me for my visa. I need a visa for Australia? Surely my company’s travel agency would have told us that we needed one when they booked our tickets…right? No. All three of us were hosed, I was just the first one to arrive at the airport and discover it.

Luckily it turns out that you now can get an electronic visa approved “immediately” online for Australia. But that wasn’t clear for much of the two hours that were burning toward our flight’s departure. Through nine calls on my speaker phone in a loud airport while frantically filling out the online form and praying that the “instant” approval would be instant enough, we wondered if we’d be spending our weekend on a plane or with our surprised families. The ending:  I’m writing this on the plane, we made it.

Clearly, I learned a lesson from a mistake that I wouldn’t have made back when I was regularly traveling internationally. But as I typed and dialed and frantically tried to make the trip happen, I couldn’t help but remember my most stressful start to a trip that this small visa glitch couldn’t touch. We’d been dropped at the Guangzhou airport 15 years ago by our interpreter who had to leave us at security to bring our oldest daughter home from China. We’d spent the entire morning of the previous day filling out a ream of paperwork, then walking over to the U.S. Consulate to get stamps and signatures and pictures which would allow her to enter America. The agency carefully checked every page to ensure that we’d followed their meticulous instructions to the letter. They placed everything we needed – about three inches worth – in a manila envelope, sealed it, and told us not to open it until we got to the airport. They showed us a map of the airport and walked us through every step of the process, as we’d be on our own then. I put the remaining four inches of paperwork that I’d collected at every bureaucratic stop of our journey into my checked bag so that I didn’t have to lug it on my back halfway around the world. After two weeks away, I was very ready to go home with our new daughter.

The airport process went exactly as they told us that it would, including the harassment from the “bag wrappers” who wanted to shrink-wrap our bags to justify charging us a pittance. It was hard to ignore their persistence, but thank heavens I did…other parents in our group gave in. We got to the counter, broke the seal on our envelope, and handed the agent everything. After an extended time ruffling through each paper, she became very agitated in Chinese. Of course I had no idea what was wrong, but through hand gestures, I eventually realized that something that she was looking for was missing. I watched as all of the other parents and their new children were gradually processed and moved on toward the gate. The agent fetched a man to look through the papers; he fared no better, chattering to her the whole time. As I watched the scene unfold in horror, I realized the gravity of our situation: our translator was gone. We had used all of our local currency and had no usable money. This was before the era of cell phones, but I had no phone number to call anyway. I was sweating profusely, the adrenaline rushing big time.

I suddenly remembered the four-inch stack of papers in my checked bag! I rescued it just before the bag moved away on the conveyor, and handed the lot to the two animated agents. Within two minutes, they located the missing stamp and moved us through. The other parents broke out in applause when we arrived at the gate, just in time to board. I spent the next 30 hours in those sweat soaked clothes, including nine hours of the 14 hour flight with our new toddler crying, unappreciative of being cooped up on the last row of coach in a loud plane with these strange new people. I lugged all seven inches of that stupid paperwork, at least five pounds worth, on my back for the next 30 hours, afraid to turn loose of anything that would prevent us from getting home. I was utterly exhausted.

If I reflect, I have other travel stories that were actually much scarier in terms of what could have been, but none more stressful at the time. I suppose that’s why I took this latest little hiccup in stride. Either way, it was going to work out. After all, it would have also been nice to kiss my family goodnight and sleep in my own bed. Instead, wish me luck sleeping on the plane. Sydney awaits when I awake!

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”  –Lao Tzu


Beginnings

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Tomorrow is Megan’s first day of school since she became ill last summer, and she’s excited to get back to her friends. We’re excited for her, too, but also nervous. Nervous because a routine virus triggered her illness, and a routine virus could trigger a relapse. Nervous because the chemo altered her appearance; she won’t look exactly the same to her friends who haven’t seen her in six months. And we’re nervous about whether her stamina has recovered enough to last through even the shorter day of a reduced schedule. Although we’re nervous, there was no question that she should go back to school once the doctors cleared her. We can’t keep her in a protective bubble, tempting as that may be.

Returning to school is a significant step on the road back to normalcy. We’re finding, however, that returning to normal isn’t as straightforward as you might think. In five short months, we whiplashed into critical illness and hospital living, and just as suddenly, back into our normal lives. Except it’s not normal. We must look that way to outsiders, and much of daily life is. But it’s taking time to readjust, like the way your eyes adjust when suddenly coming into the light after a period of darkness. I’m convinced that only those who’ve been there can understand it. I’m not sure I fully understand it myself yet.

While I don’t usually put much stock in the symbolism of the new year, this year is different. I’m relieved to put 2014 behind us, along with all we lost. But I’m also grateful for what we gained from the experience, though we’d never have chosen it. Changed, stronger, we will take the good from this forward into our new normal, into our bright new start. Happy first day of school, sweetie…I’m so proud of you!

“Beginnings are always messy.” –John Galsworthy