Diagnosis: A Busy Heart

11 10 2012

I wrote this post for the Barnabas Center Blog Redemption’s Road.  The Barnabas Center is a nonprofit, nondenominational, Christ-centered counseling, training and teaching ministry dedicated to encouraging people by coming alongside them, entering into their daily struggles and walking with them toward freedom.

“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.”

I fell down such a hole after the birth of my first son. Being over-committed with both work and relationships was routine for me, but the addition of a dependent little human being threw a wrench in the gears of the machine that was my life. Even though labor began almost ten days late, the timing with Bradley still felt inconvenient.  It began just days before a major work deadline. I had been putting off the project as I raced against the clock trying to tie all the other loose ends, knowing I needed Bradley to stay put for at least another two months in order to complete them all.  During my first week home from the hospital, I pulled three all-nighters, trying to continue life at a pace that was, quite frankly, insane. Pulling all-nighters to accomplish as much as seemed humanly possible suddenly became not humanly possible. I was scattered, confused and scared. Unable to function as efficiently as I used to, my productivity idol wasn’t serving me as well as it had in the past. I was falling fast.  I had turned from capable and confident to needy and insecure overnight.  It took me about 10 months to finally realize my situation was not improving and I wasn’t going to be able to climb out of this rabbit hole alone. Life felt unmanageable. Life was unmanageable.

Reluctantly I sought help at The Barnabas Center.  Many of my friends were already there. Now it was my turn. Filling out the New Client Packet felt like a joke.  I moved through the checklist of more than 70 issues enumerated under “Present Concerns” (40 of which I would check today) but none seemed to fit, so I crafted the most straightforward sentence I could in order to explain my issues: “I have a re-occurring sin-pattern of busyness and, in addition to that, having a baby has ruined the way my life used to work.”

I was hoping for a simple solution or at least a clear plan of action, but as you can imagine, there hasn’t been anything simple or clear about my journey. Fast forward through six years, the birth of two more children, countless cycles of trying to manage the busyness that continued to hijack my life and I found myself at square one again. How? I had learned to say no, I had practiced seasons of ‘task-abstinence’.  I had been seduced by the twin temptations of ‘balance and order’.  I trusted them to help me cope. They worked for a while, but eventually their true identities of ‘control and dependence on self’ were exposed.  The weight of my circumstances started to drown my soul.  I thought I believed the Gospel and that God was good, but I was confused and ready to admit that “the problem” was bigger, deeper, and more complicated than I had believed.

Now, with a different perspective about what I was facing, I began to seek God for a new way to treat this chronic condition. I knew that prayer was key, but even praying had become confusing. One morning after returning to finish a book I had started earlier that year, “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller, I sat in my living room, exhausted from a particularly busy week and pleading with God to help my children sleep past 6:15. As I read, my eyes fell on these words: “Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart.” The words fell like lead on my soul. It was like accidentally stumbling across a diagnosis after having given up the search.  Oh the relief, but oh, the weight. Who wants to be diagnosed with a busy heart?

 

I had worked for so long trying to fix my busy life, when all along I had been treating the symptoms of a systemic disease of the heart. The heaviness of my reality quickly lifted when I realized I could be healed, but it wasn’t going to look at all like anything I had expected.  I was weary from years of self-absorbed introspection and so tired of thinking about myself. It felt counter-intuitive to the Gospel that gave me life.  How could I be an involved mother of three, wife, friend and part of an active community without being busy? How could I love people the way Jesus called me to, without offering parts of myself? I couldn’t, but the question should have been, what is the source of what I’m offering? That was the problem. I had been working and giving out of dried up cisterns. As I moved toward surrender and allowed God to work in me, He began to fill those dry cisterns and turn my focus from surviving to living. He was also growing within me a life-giving inner stillness that would increase my capacity to love, to give and to be present with Him and those around me in the midst of the busy.

To be honest, I’ve l not learned to apply this same Gospel to every part of my life, but I’m content to be patient with myself. What I’m learning is that dealing with a busy heart is  much more complicated than just changing the pace. Interrupting the cycle of a busy heart requires a fiercely intentional act that is not willful but soulful.  Slowing down on the outside is more of a discipline –  but being still on the inside is a practice that offers rest to our souls in spite of outer pressures.  Knowing the finished work of Christ for me allows an inner calm – a resting heart.





made to fly

30 06 2012

It feels like an eternity since I last blogged. Really it’s only been since January, but the past 16 months have been such a time of transformation for me that it’s been nearly impossible to still my heart and mind long enough to lasso a specific thought or emotion. I’ll likely never be able to chronicle the devastating and glorious events or the miraculous works that have taken place in the last chapter but they, along with the ongoing story I’m living, will surely inspire, inform and shape my creative endeavors from here on.

Some days it feels as if God is playing a cruel joke on me but I know it’s not true, and even on those days I am confident of His never-stopping pursuit of me, Sarah Pay, former caged butterfly, daughter of the Most High. As I’ve taken a step back, bowing less frequently to the idols of balance and order, perspective has rescued me from despair and I have the occasional glimpse of future glory…but, oh, how it makes me long for heaven.

Even though I’m more proficient at shaping materials than words, I have a passion for beautifully crafted language, but I have to rely on the poets and wordsmiths when I feel lost to help articulate my groanings. So…I have always viewed life as a story and I can’t help but to order it into chapters. There are far too many ironies, allusions, themes, characters and sub-plots for me to ever get my head around the big picture but I feel delight when I’m gifted with “getting” something that points me back to the greater whole. What an amazing author I have writing my story.

So if you’ll allow me to continue with the literary analogy, something has happened in the story.  I believe it’s a turning point…I don’t know for sure, but I hope. You see, for some time I have struggled with a lack of continuity in life, that has turned into a lack of connectedness with others and myself. There have been so many separate subjects to process from marriage, to creativity, sexuality, community and parenting that I feel crazy. From time to time I come to a hope kindling intersection but generally I feel as if I deal with one issue as another falls by the wayside. It doesn’t seem right. For years I have sensed that there is a place of holistic awareness that will cause my wings to spread and give my heart the courage to fly but I never stumble upon “that place”. As one who often feels caged, I’ve always been deeply curious about freedom and I’m beginning to believe that everything I write, create or even breathe comes from this insatiable desire to be free. I know that I’ll only experience that freedom in the person of Jesus Christ but finally I’m realizing that I’ll never be as free as I’m going to be, and that in itself allows me to fly a little further away from the mason jar I once called home.

So as I fly above with a bit more of a holistic perspective on life I present to myself a challange…a challenge to connect the themes that I face today. There are three: the journey to redemption in the story of my sexuality, my frustration in my role as a mother and the awareness that my soul suffers when I don’t create. I have no idea what this endeavor will look like but I’m eager to begin the journey.  Hold me Jesus.





Our summer at slow down boot camp

20 09 2011

I was never that kid who raced home to start on my homework or sat down to do a project just for fun.  Busy was the name of the game for me for as long as I can remember. There were just so many “have to’s” in life.  No more.  I mean having three little ones keeps me on the go but it’s so different from before.  The past 6 months I have been in slow down boot camp. I didn’t go willingly either.  It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was what I needed and somebody who loves me more than I could ever imagine sent me there.

All that to say, part of slowing down has meant not blogging but I really miss it and so many blog worthy things have happened that I really WANT to pick it back up…no have to anymore.

So, sort of sorry to make my comeback with a documentary post but this is for me and I just don’t want to forget what happened between now and then.

Easter.

A trip to the Columbia Zoo.  In my opinion, better for little ones than Asheville.

Then a short trip to the beach with our friends the Whites and Tuttles.

This summer we watched LOTS and LOTS of television.

My Dad turned 60 on June 11th.

The next day we went on a family beach trip with my parents, my grandfather, my brother & sister and their families.

Bradley celebrated his 6th birthday the usual way, at Camp Lurecrest.

We went to the pool almost everyday (we used sunblock most of the time).

And we ate most “meals” there. Did you know kids survive just fine on snacks? But it makes them look like this…

Did I mention we watched lots of television?

Joe & I took a short trip to Mexico. It was our first real trip away since we’ve had kids.

When can we go back?

We helped my parents move into a new condo.

We discovered the charlotte greenways and made great use of them all summer.

Most every morning the boys ran out to the stop sign to wave goodbye to Joe.  It’s those little rituals that I fear forgetting.

Then school started and we sent Bradley to kindergarten. (2 weeks & 6 years)

He said he wanted to ride the bus, so now we go to the stop sign to say goodbye to him every morning. Some days I cry.

Most recently we caught and cared for a little turtle until it was clear it needed to be returned to the pond.

And then Sunday Bennett fractured both bones in his forearm near the wrist. Fortunately they are buckle fractures so they’ll heal easily.

But really, we have slowed down more than this post would make it appear.





Rescue not relief.

24 05 2011

Yes, that is what I long for.

“What often keeps us from recognizing the grace of God

is that we long for a “different kind of grace”.

In the middle of difficulty we long for the grace of relief,
while what God is bestowing us with is the grace of rescue.

We want the trial to end because we don’t like the pain,
while God wants the trial to remain in our lives
until it has completed its work in us.
We don’t rejoice in suffering like Paul did in Romans 5
because we would rather have a comfortable life
than the character that God-sent-difficulty can produce.

Yet God loves us too much to relent.

He didn’t shed the blood of his one and only Son to leave us to ourselves.
He didn’t reveal his truth to us
only to have us lost and confused in the middle of our own story.
He didn’t give us the Holy Spirit to have us paralyzed and unable
to deal with the significant struggles that come our way.

No, we have been and are being rescued by an activist Redeemer.
He does not get discouraged,
he does not get tired,
and he is never distracted.
He is intently focused on finishing what he has started in us.

It is very important in darkness to recognize the grace of God.

If our definition of that grace is too narrow,
and if what we expect that grace to offer is too limited,
we will be crying out for grace at the very time it is being showered on us.

It is quite possible to be the focus of divine love and rescue
and at the same time be interpreting what is happening in our life
in a very different way…

What we have to do is let the goal of grace define our expectations of
what grace looks like.”

-Paul Tripp





The Red Balloons.

3 05 2011

Dexter turned two on April 17th and we had a little celebration.

Now I do love to throw a party–it’s the ultimate creative opportunity–but this year my heart was in a different place and I was hyper aware of my thoughts, feelings and motivations.  This party needed to be small and rather low-key. It was a busy day and there were just a few guests but it felt impossible for me to really make it as simple as I had hoped I would.  The party was to celebrate Dexter but honestly the details were more about me and my idols.

If he remembers anything about the party at all it will be the cake and the red balloons…the two things I had nothing to do with…oh and maybe the red lollipop.

But this is what I’ll remember…

Likely this will be the last cute party I throw. When they turn three they have opinions about what they like and want, and they don’t usually provide good inspiration for whimsical party themes. But…I’m sure I’ll still have plenty of opportunities to sort out the difference between an idol and a creative outlet.





Keep going.

26 04 2011

We can count on God to patiently remove all the obstacles to our enjoyment of Him. He is committed to our joy, and we can depend on Him to give us enough of a taste of that joy and enough hope that the best is still ahead to keep us going in spite of how much pain continues to plague our hearts. – Larry Crabb






An Anthem.

28 03 2011

I always feel most in control when I can make sense of what’s going on in my life…but that’s not very often. When I can’t I tend to organize thoughts and happenings into thematic categories and when I can’t even do that I cling to a verse, a mantra or an anthem. A friend shared this Sara Groves song with me a few weeks ago and it’s become my anthem.