Balancing Act

Trying to balance ministry, family, me-time, God-time and friend-time is hard. I more or less always feel the tension. Recently, I have felt it a lot and have not responded well.

When I get overwhelmed, stressed, or way out of balance, I get cranky and irritable. My to-do list grows, as I try to control what I can. When I don’t tick off everything on my to-do list, which I rarely do, I feel like I failed. This leads to feelings of guilt that, in turn, leads to more moodiness. It becomes a vicious cycle, and those close to me almost have to be saints to put up with me.

I feel as though I am disappointing a lot of people these days. I am so busy that I have little time to spend with my family and friends on this side and to talk with my family and friends on that side. Last Thursday, I had a stress headache, which is a huge warning sign that I need to slow down and take a break. So instead of going to the gym after work, I came home and watched a musical. I enjoyed it—yet I felt guilty about indulging in a luxury, watching a movie during a weekday. I had supper to cook, lunches to make, clothes to wash—why on earth was I watching a movie?

Guilt

Guys & Dolls, one of my favourite musicals, happens to be about a missionary
Guys & Dolls, one of my favourite musicals, happens to be about a missionary

I think I am in need of a holiday, a real vacation in which Wayne and I can go away for a while and just relax. In the meantime, I am relieving my stress through musicals, which have become a sort of a mental escape for me. I can totally switch off and sing to my heart’s delight.

I admit: I am an over-achiever, a product of my American-driven culture. Being a missionary has not cured that part of my personality. On the contrary, I have carried that part of me into my ministry, which is not necessarily a good thing. When I don’t see the results that I want to see or expect to see, I feel like I am failing. But who puts that pressure on me? It’s me. I am my own worst enemy.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

In times like these, I try to keep in mind two of my favourite quotations:

God calls us to be faithful, not to be successful.”
–Mother Teresa

Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.”
–Boris Pasternak

I pray, asking God to help me live in the moment and for wisdom on how to put my life back in balance. And I dream about what sort of musical my life would be if I could portray it in song and dance.

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For the Love of Dickens

For the past three weeks, I have been intentional about carving out more rest and relaxation in my life. I feel as though God is calling me into a season of abiding, into a time of slowing down, spending more time with him, focusing on relationships, and engaging in things I enjoy most.

I have rediscovered my love of Henry Purcell and have been listening to him every day. I have been watching episodes of my favourite show, I Love Lucy, and laughing all over again at the shenanigans and antics of Lucy and Ethel. (Last week, when I was battling a nasty sinus infection, I wish I had a bottle of Vitameatavegamin to “spoon my way back to health.”)

And I have been reading and reading.

For some time, I have been thinking about the book David Copperfield, and I decided to read it again. Years ago, when I first read David Copperfield, I loved it. This time it’s like I’m in the middle of the story, living it out. I know many people may groan over Dickens, perhaps not having not-so-good memories of him in high school or college; but I think Dickens is one of those timeless authors who totally captures the human experience and who deals with social justice issues that are still relevant to us today.

young Charles Dickens
Young Charles

I could feel little David’s loneliness, fear, and lack of love and being wanted when he was left an orphan at an early age. (Maybe since I live in a society that has thousands of orphans, many of whom feel unloved and rejected, I can relate more to David’s experience.) My heart ached for him when he was shipped off to an awful boarding school and was regularly beaten. My heart leapt for joy when his aunt took him in and offered him her love and protection. I laughed out loud when David, as a young man, fell in love for the first time, living and breathing in his darling Dora, whom he “loved to distraction.” (Yes, our first love is always like that!)

Charles Dickens famously said that out of all the books he had written, David Copperfield was his favourite son; and I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

Developing Rhythm (sort of)

No, I still haven’t learned how to dance. That’s coming—one of these days!

I have been back in Cape Town for a little more than six weeks; and in those six weeks, I have taught at three conferences, worked on various projects, and done my day-to-day work. I’m feeling a bit tired but not as frantic and exhausted as I would normally feel after being on such a hectic schedule.

cup of morning joe
cup of morning joe

I’m trying really hard to develop a healthy rhythm of work and play and rest this year; and although I have been struggling of late, I already see fruit budding from my attempts. I’m not a morning person, so having quiet time before work is not really an option for me. (I’m just being honest.) For years, thanks to some handy apps, I have been listening to scripture or the office of Morning Prayer while I have been getting ready in the morning. My mind often wanders during the readings, but I know God’s Word is sinking in despite my short attention span. However, I felt like I needed to develop a new practice, and I wanted to start the day off with scripture and prayer before I got out of bed. (Naturally, I keep my alarm on just in case I drift off to sleep!) I read the gospel or epistle reading of the lectionary and offer to God the day and pray for blessings and protection for those I love. The practice only takes three to five minutes, but I feel like it is making a significant difference in my life.

In addition to my new morning routine, I’m reading more (yay!) and going to the gym regularly. My work schedule is relentless until mid-July, so I need your prayers for discipline to keep developing a healthy rhythm.

Training: Week Two—Stress and Rest

When I first came to training, I didn’t know what to expect. I have been pleasantly surprised. Each day gets better and better. I’m being stretched and challenged to grow both spiritually and emotionally. But more than anything, I love the amazing sense of community among my fellow missionaries. Although we have known one another only for a couple of weeks, there is camaraderie, fellowship, and loads of fun. It’s a joy to talk with people who are experiencing the same things that I am. My new friendships are a gift.

Playing with new friends at the Olympic Training Park
Playing with new friends at the Olympic Training Park

We spent most of last week talking about stress and rest. We were challenged to look deeply into how we handle stress and were encouraged to cultivate healthy ways to cope with stress. The life of a missionary (especially at first) is one of elevated stress. In my new life everything will be new; and although that is exciting, it is also stressful. For example, I will have to learn how to grocery shop, bank, and drive on the left side of the road. Grocery shopping, banking, and driving are things I can do in my sleep back home (well, maybe not drive)), but even the most mundane tasks will become stressors in my life as I have to relearn them. I need to be prepared, and awareness is the first step.

We also spent significant time on the need to practice Sabbath rest. I was reminded of what we talked about in my huddle group (small group) at church—scripture teaches us to work out of our rest. Ironically, before I said “yes” to God’s call to serve in South Africa, I used to have a healthy rhythm of work, rest, and play. But the past two years have been filled with preparations, and I fell out of that rhythm. I am determined to create a new rhythm of work, play, and rest that will fit my new cultural setting. Living a balanced lifestyle will make me a better team member, a more in-tuned daughter, sister, and friend, and a healthier child of God.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”Rest by the Lake

–Matthew 11:28-29, The Message