Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Even If

When we returned home in August, our thick winter boots were still by the door, a silent reminder of the last year. I am very easily visually stressed, so I work hard to keep things clean and organized – as much as possible when living with a bunch of people who don’t value clean and organized. But this past year, the chaos in our home reflected the upheaval in our lives.

I got sick at the end of April, when the weather was still cool. By the time I was getting out again nearly a month later, the air was warm but my children were still wearing winter clothes. I hadn’t had the energy to find their short sleeve shirts. When the girls and I left China the first of June, I was barely recovered enough to pack. Putting away winter boots – or picking up the random toys still on the kitchen counter – wasn’t a high priority. A plate of sunflower seeds sitting on the counter, a stack of books piled in the corner of the room, a half eaten package of crackers left on the nightstand – forgotten three months earlier - made our house look rapidly deserted.

We were so comparatively healthy this summer that I was a little nervous about coming back. We had been sick every single day of May, our last month in China, but when we returned to the US we stopped getting sick. I think we had two colds the entire summer. Only two colds in 3 months! As opposed to 1 flu, 1 pneumonia, 2 stomach ailments, 1 cold, 3 fever/viruses, and a head gash in the month of May alone. Would we get sick again as soon as we stepped foot into our apartment?

I am happy to report that since we returned almost 4 weeks ago, we have had had just a couple of colds and some stomach troubles – plus of course ridiculous allergies. We are doing pretty well. I unpacked our American treasures, filling our freezer with coffee and tortillas and our cabinet with dried beans and Mac and Cheese. I organized our medicine cabinet to accommodate all the new medicines we acquired over the summer. I sorted through the girls clothes. I washed at least some of our super dirty windows. And yes, I put away the winter boots.

There is nothing like a horribly unproductive year to make normal life feel wildly productive. I cook dinner (at least sometimes)! I have been able to keep up with laundry. I get outside multiple times a week and have gotten in some semi-regular exercise. I have had enough voice to read Juliana’s home school books aloud. All of these are things that were incredibly difficult for much of the last year.

And yet, I still wonder...even though Nadia is FINALLY (mostly) sleeping, I am always so tired. Life still often seems overwhelming. I get so easily behind. I feel so limited in what I can do outside the home what with all the home school and children, or after 8pm what with all the missing brain cells. Is this all normal, just a part of this stage of life? Will I ever not feel tired and overwhelmed?  Will I always have to work so hard to be happy? Will my children ever stop screaming?

I’d like to think we could just leave the last year behind but past experiences cling to us and shape us for better and worse. This summer a friend said, “This year has been pretty traumatic for you.” It seems so dramatic, but that was exactly how I was feeling. It did feel like trauma, not just from all the sickness, but from the anxiety and depression and helplessness surrounding it.

When I feel a hot forehead...when I lie in bed with a welcome-back-to-China stomach ailment...when I have those weird, dark thoughts...when Adalyn is freaking out and Nadia is wailing - the emotions of the last year come rushing back. This feels so familiar. What if it is all starting again? How will we get through that again?

Believe me, I really want to move on and not relive the last year. We are doing what is in our power to say healthy. Buying a better air purifier, eating more vegetables, making sure exercise happens, taking all the vitamins. We’ve got probiotics and elderberry and essential oils. I am hyper-vigilant to the first sign of sickness.

I am trying to stay self-aware and recognize warning signs of depression, anxiety, and burn out. I am trying to make sure those healthy, preventive habits make it into my daily routine. I grab moments of quiet whenever I can, sitting in the sun on the laundry porch. I have cut out most caffeine 😢😢 but still drink plenty of decaf coffee because it brings out the joy in life. I try to get enough sleep, if there ever can be enough.

But I’ve lived in Asia long enough to be somewhat fatalistic. We do what we can, but there is so much we can’t control. We could do all the right things and still get sick all the time because whatever we like to believe, illness – physical or mental – sometimes happens anyway. Our minds and bodies are much too complex to break down to a simple formula.

We might stay healthy or we might get sick. Happiness may come easily or I may still struggle with the weight of depression (I’m gonna say neither my genes nor my temperament are doing me any favors in that regard). The last year or two was kind of terrible. But we made it through. We learned and grew. In the midst of affliction, I deeply experienced the consolation of God. We made it through - not untouched, but not worsened either. We may look a little worse – or at least older - on the outside, but inside we are deeper, truer versions of ourselves.

When I pin my hopes on things being better, I feel anxiety. What if it isn't better? I could say, “It will be better! Be positive!” But my pessimistic self isn’t so easily persuaded. So I lay aside the pep talk and honestly ask, “What if it doesn’t get better? What if we get sick? What if my depression hangs around?”

If that happens, we will make it through. We will learn and grow. We will experience the love and grace of God. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in happiness and in depression, wherever the country or calling or season of life – He's in this with us to the very end.

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
(Mercy Me: Even If)

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