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Grace & Perfectionism

Taste and see that the Lord is GOOD.

I had a bit of a meltdown last night. After some really crazy, tough situations coming in rapid succession in the past several years, my emotional thermometer has been a little wonky and I end up bursting into tears when I make a lot of mental connections at once. Last night, the impact of perfectionism in my life hit me like a freight train barreling down a mountain pass.

My beloved friends Amy and Jordan got married this weekend, and I had the honor to stand up with them as they said their vows in front of the goofiest group of family and friends I’ve ever met. I might add that I enjoyed the bonus adventure of being the bridesmaid who got to walk down the aisle with two groomsmen (four bridesmaids and five groomsmen makes Jillian a lucky lady!)- and we neither tripped nor accidentally set ourselves on fire with the decorative candles along the aisle.

I made some enormous decisions last night to give myself grace and reject perfectionism. I decided throw aside insane high expectations of myself and live a life worth living. I realized, as I scrambled to attempt homework in the midst of a board game melee with the wedding party on the Friday night before the wedding, that my expectations for myself were standing between me and the joy of presence.

When I take communion, I have always found myself remembering the phrase, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” When I hold myself to my own unreasonable standards, I miss out on the good that God has for me- I do not taste or see the goodness.

Taste the sweetness of Finnish cinnamon french toast, eaten for breakfast in the presence of friends old and new

See the tears in the eyes of your dear friend’s soon-to-be-husband as he sees his bride for the first time on their wedding day

Hear the cracking of the best man’s voice as he tears up while speaking of the grace shown by his friend

Smell the pancakes and coffee made for you by the owner of the cabins you’re sleeping in and the parents of the bride

Feel the smoothness of the bridesmaids’ hair on your fingers as you finish styling hair on the morning of the wedding, brimming with excitement as you do well something for which you’ve no formal training and simply a great deal of enjoyment

 

Taste, see, hear, smell and feel that the Lord is good. 

 

~Jillian

 

This weekend, we were served and tended to by some fabulous people in Houghton and Hancock in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My opinions are entirely my own and I have received no compensation for the linking to or advertising of these entities; they will know of my endorsement for the first time if/when they see this blog. It is my pleasure to recommend the following:

We stayed several wonderful nights at Ridge View Resort in Chassell, MI; clean, pleasant accommodations and a fabulously friendly, helpful proprietor in Jason.

Bridal party manicures/pedicures done by Nikki at Maggie’s Massage Spa Resort in Houghton

Hysterically AWESOME time at Respawn Tactical Laser Tag for a combination bachelor/bachelorette party

Delicious day-before-the-wedding breakfast at Suomi Restaurant. I had the cinnamon french toast, and most of my friends had Panakakku; all of it was delicious!

Flexible and enormously helpful folks for last-minutes at our venue, the MUB (Memorial Union Ballroom) at Michigan Tech

The photographer and cake were amazing as well- I’ll update this post with more details once I get them from the mother of the bride.

“What If?”

Despite having done all we could, our patient didn’t make it…while I was able to maintain professional composure at work, I woke up this morning feeling utterly spent.

To be blunt, last night was a tough one. I work as a nursing assistant in a hospital, and on my fourth evening on in a row I lost a patient for the first time in my career. I did my job well, staying out of the way and keeping things as clean and safe as possible with the doctors and nurses running the code and even taking over CPR while two nurses set up a device to do CPR for us. Despite having done all we could, our patient didn’t make it. While I’ve seen two of my grandparents die, they went peacefully on comfort care surrounded by loved ones. Attempting to resuscitate someone is a difficult and brutal process. While I was able to maintain professional composure at work and continue caring for my patients, when I woke up this morning I felt totally and utterly spent both physically and emotionally.

I must confess that I didn’t run yesterday. I was exhausted from working the weekend and I let it get the best of me yesterday morning, dilly-dallying around the house in the morning for several hours instead. This morning, I made it a point to pray, write and read (albeit for class) on one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith: communion, or the Eucharist. Theology nerd-ing aside, it’s gotten me thinking about what I believe and how I’ve come to the place I am today. A few years ago, one of my track coaches said something that struck me as insensitive at the time and also got me thinking. My long jump coach said to a group of us, ‘My mom always used to say that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.’  I pretty much just wanted to punch him at the time- I’m really glad I didn’t. In the days that followed, I found myself wondering two things. One, what if it’s true that I get to choose how I respond? It hadn’t occurred to me before that I get to choose how I steward my emotions. Two, and this was the radical, life-changing question…since suffering is real and valid, what if God is really, truly good and there is more hope for redemption and renewal in this world than I’ve ever dreamed?

I don’t run for me anymore. The part of me that ran purely for pleasure and for fun died with the university investigation of an assault I experienced. Much like in the story of Jesus’ resurrection, after the spiritual death of shame, humiliation and agony I experienced, I am now rising. I often feel uncomfortable talking about my faith; I’ve been hurt and abused by the church and I don’t want to inflict that or bring back memories of it for anyone else. One thing I believe, and hope that everyone who reads this will take away, is that storytelling is a powerful medium of shared human experience and relationality. Running for clean water with Team World Vision is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s not easy, and it’s not glamorous. My Instagram feed doesn’t show you all the times I’ve cried, nearly (or actually) soiled myself mid-run, been sunburned, felt hopeless, been completely drained and shaking, scared out of my mind. At the beginning of a season, we tell our runners, “Don’t do the math.” When you’ve just started running, it’s easy to feel intimidated and doubt the training plan. The same is true of spiritual transformation: don’t do the math about the demons you’ll have to face or the discomforts you expect to endure. All you have to do is the next right thing, one brave and faithful step at a time.

“I did not fail.”

I recently started seeing a new counselor, and I want to share a little bit with you about my experiences with the mental illness that got me there: generalized anxiety disorder. Everyone worries sometimes, or experiences tension under pressure; this is normal. When worry fills your day, impacts your ability to function and maintain relationships and interferes with your everyday life, it is no longer helpful or healthy. When a person worries about multiple things to the point that they disrupt daily life and this goes on for at least 6 months or more, this may be generalized anxiety disorder (GAD, for short).

I was diagnosed with GAD by a child psychiatrist when I was 13 years old (though my pediatrician had suspected it many years prior, making sure to check in with me and my parents at each visit from somewhere around second grade onward).

Some of the traits of the disorder can, in short term, be useful to me. For example, I compulsively plan ahead; I have a desktop calendar laid out each semester containing the due dates of all known assignments compiled from course syllabi. I have a plan of exactly what I will do if/when someone is seriously injured in my immediate vicinity- I even have a plan of what I would do if I witnessed a car accident as I was driving. Some might even go so far as to crown me the queen of planning ahead- I’ve already been dubbed the ‘mom’ of the group many times after producing from my purse/backpack a much-needed tube of lip balm, band-aid, nail clipper, pair of scissors, Tide To Go pen, emergency snack stash or pair of gloves. On the flip side, I also spend an absurd amount of time making lists of things I need to do, for fear that I will forget something important and let someone down.

If you can name it, I have worried about it. Bless my parents for all they’ve done to raise a child with anxiety- the fact that I have always been such a strong, enthusiastic reader meant that, prior to the ubiquity of the internet, I had access to a lot of information. There was a phase in my life where I thought weather was really, really cool until I read up on hurricanes and tornadoes. I grew up in the Upper Midwest, so tornadoes aren’t unheard of. For a period of at least several weeks in elementary school, I insisted on sleeping on the floor of my closet (with all of the blankets and pillows my mom was willing to give me) because I was protected by a load-bearing wall and sound structure. I didn’t know quite what those meant in practical terms for construction, but I knew it meant I was less likely to be harmed by any tornado that spun up in the dead of night as I slept.

Today was the first group run of the season with Team World Vision Twin Cities! Can I get a WOOT WOOT?! There is so much to be happy and hopeful about as this season begins. I ran 2.12 miles in run/walk intervals with my new friends Joe and 8-year-old Liam (who was an EXCELLENT announcer when it came time to switch between running and walking). Unsurprisingly, even though I ate a small breakfast of Fiber One cereal before the run I was quite hungry afterwards. On my way from Minneapolis to my therapy session in New Brighton (about a 20 minute drive) I stopped at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee (which I unashamedly love) and a spur-of-the-moment breakfast sandwich. I had a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit and it tasted REAL GOOD, Y’ALL. Five minutes down the road, anxiety kicked in and racing thoughts filled my head: “This is not good for me…this must have so many calories and lots of fat…is this going to upset my stomach??? I’ve failed at breakfast…”  In the session with my counselor this morning, I worked on practicing a new skill to help me become more aware of the dysfunctional thoughts I have and the unpleasant feelings that go with them. I was able to identify that I felt some anxiety and shame related to my perceived failure at breakfast. While I don’t remember what my counselor said to help me see them, together we identified some alternative thoughts that better reflected the truth of my breakfast sandwich situation: “I fed myself! I had a run! I chose protein! I am not a failure. I succeeded in feeding myself- this IS good for me.” I felt a weight lift from my shoulders, and nearly wept at the sense of relief.

In another exercise this morning, I estimated the time spent in a day on various things by filling in a freehand pie chart. Presently, about 1/4th of my waking time each day is spent on worrying (about what needs to be done, what needs to be done better, etc). This is the impact of generalized anxiety in my adult life: I currently spend about about one-fourth of every.single.day just on worrying. If you know me personally, I am confident that you have seen me become very happy and excited when talking about my kitten, Dora. If you don’t know me personally, know that I have a ‘kitten voice’ and hundreds (if not thousands) of photos of now-6-month-old Dora on my phone. My kitten brings me so much joy. You can see that while my entire personality and being is not made up of worry and anxiety, that worry has a major impact on my life every day. This morning, feeling that weight lift off of my shoulders as I realized in my heart of hearts that I did not fail [at breakfast], I felt hope renewed. Breakfast is a pretty easy subject for me to talk about, emotionally speaking, so I’m feeling so much hope for the healing and serenity in my life. Running with Team World Vision is life-giving not only for the people in Africa who receive clean water, but also for me as I am empowered to hope and welcomed as I come. I am so grateful.

 

Check out the hashtag #50KforH2O on social media to follow my journey as I train for the Twin Cities Marathon and pursue my goal of bringing clean water to 1,000 kids in Africa this year by raising $50,000!

Christian in Crisis: Reflecting on the 2017 National Leaders’ Gathering

As I later told my friend Sinéad, I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up to run with this team.

My sweet mama recently challenged me to dress up as Rosie the Riveter to give clean water to a child. I took that challenge head-on and loved it! I gave myself a great pep-talk that morning, knowing I was sure to attract some attention since I carried all the belongings I needed in a bright pink tool bag and my nursing class was scheduled to take a computerized licensure-exam-prep test. What I had failed to account for in planning my day was the follow-up appointment with a provider at a large, well-attended mental health clinic in the Twin Cities; I walked into to a building full of people psychiatrists, counselors and psychologists in head-to-toe denim with a retro hairdo and pulled my insurance card out at the check-in desk from the aforementioned pink tool bag. I felt like I was back in middle school with everyone staring at me and wondering what kind of crazy I was (psychology people call this the ‘imaginary audience,’ an experience common to young adolescents).

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We Can Do [Therapy]!

I’ve been a pretty anxious person for as long as I can remember, and at the ripe old age of 13 was diagnosed with something called generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. Along with about 3.1 million other adults in the United States, I experience ‘persistent, excessive and unrealistic’ worry on a daily basis and it doesn’t have any particular cause or trigger. I also have something called ‘Panic Disorder,’ which basically means that I sometimes experience sudden panic attacks which may or may not be related to an identifiable cause. All things considered, I’m sure you can imagine that I was a little nervous about road-tripping to Chicago for the weekend with a bunch of people I’d mostly met only in passing (if at all)! I could feel my heart racing as I pulled into the parking lot to meet up with three vans’ worth of my fellow TWV captains: when I looked down at my FitBit, my heart rate was in the 130’s- even though I’d been sitting for at least half an hour as I drove from home (my resting heart rate is usually somewhere in the 70’s these days). Here’s a few examples of thoughts that ran through my head that morning as we gathered in the mist:

  • What if I get car-sick? I hate throwing up. I hope there’s a bag in the van. What if the bag leaks? That’d be so gross! (I had already taken Dramamine and was well on my way to roadtrip-nap-land by the time we got into the vans to head out).
  • What if I get diarrhea and we have to suddenly get off the highway and I make us late? That would be so embarrassing!
  • What if I get diarrhea, and it really really hurts? I hate that feelings. It always makes me nauseous.
  • What if I say something stupid? I don’t want to be stupid.
  • I hope we don’t get in an accident on the way- I haven’t accrued enough PTO [in my new job as of January 9th] to cover me and keep up my income! How will I pay my bills?

As I later told my friend/our Team World Vision Twin Cities staff lead Sinéad that weekend, I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up to run with this team for the first time in 2015. Team World Vision is good at many things (and the Twin Cities team per-runner fundraising average is twice the national per-runner average) but what I think we do best is welcome teammates into the family, loving unconditionally and without reservation. Having a pizza party at the Team World Vision national headquarters in Chicago with many of the 300+ leaders from all over the US & Canada was a lot like my first Team World Vision event in the Twin Cities: loud, definitely overwhelming and way more fun for me than I ever anticipated (anxiety, rearing its head again).

Our sessions on Saturday were excellent; I definitely felt a bit like a Justin Bieber fan when Steve Spear, Team World Vision Legend and clean water hero extraordinaire, first spoke in front of the group to welcome us all. What really got me was our closing meditation and prayer on long obedience in the same direction, led by Tim Hoekstra. Tim prayed over us all, preaching from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia and ending with this reminder: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NIV) Leaving NLG, I was feeling more fired up about advocating for the kids we serve than ever before. You might have even gotten a text message from me during our return trip, inviting you to give clean drinking water. God has set a huge fundraising goal on my heart this season, and I was feeling pretty good about that calling on Saturday evening. Fast forward to Thursday afternoon, though, and the scene looks a little different.

I had to leave a clinical rotation today because (for the second week in a row) I was crying and couldn’t get it under control. Last week the tears came at the end of the day- today, they came just before lunch in a routine mid-semester evaluation  with my instructor and wouldn’t stop. My instructor clearly felt sorrowful that I was crying yet again, wondering if it was something they had said. Truthfully, it wasn’t the instructor at all (as I made sure to emphasize in between hiccup-sobs). In attempting to understand and explain the reason for my tears, I realized that my instructor’s reassurances (that I am smart and compassionate) had hit on some of my ancient, most deeply seated insecurities. The most insidious one, perhaps, is the heartfelt struggle to fully accept my humanity and to believe that I am enough. Compassion, empathy and justice for others has been a central facet of my faith journey in my life so far; it is clear to me through reading the narrative story of God’s work in the world as told through the Holy Bible and the longings of my heart that God cares for the forgotten, the outcast, the marginalized, the downtrodden. It is that same compassion and gut-wrenching, heart-shredding love which I am freed and empowered to claim for myself.

Sometimes, my friends, participating in the work of God requires of you and I to do some serious work at taking care of ourselves too. Steve Spear and John Huddle both spoke about to reality of running for Team World Vision: while this is not about me, it WILL change me. I’ve taken to telling people I’m training the third time for my first marathon. When I finally acknowledged the call to return with Team World Vision this season, I noticed that it was different from years past. This year God has again called me not only to run the Twin Cities Marathon, but specifically to train for the marathon. As a seasoned(ish) runner, lifelong athlete and someone living with chronic illness I know that my body can do crazy things when called upon: I ran my first half marathon less than a week after sustaining a concussion (ill-advised, but fun nonetheless) and finished my most recent half after 4 miles of mild, dehydration-induced delirium (side note: If you ever run past a rail yard and find yourself thinking, “Wow, I want to be a train when I grow up. That would be SO COOL!” You are dehydrated). I am entering a season of training my spirit (some would say my heart & head here) as well as my body. It’s going to be a long road to the start line- I am so thankful to never walk alone. Will you join us?

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Twin Cities captains may get older- thankfully, we’ll NEVER grow up!

 

Anamnesis

I believe in telling my own story, to point to the ways in which God has rescued me and intervened, to point the story of Jesus intertwined with mine. I could give all the advice in the world, come up with all of the brilliant solutions, and none of it would change anything because we humans need connection. This is me extending a hand to you, offering my story as a place to connect. I’ve shared before, at least in brief, about the ways in which I experience running with Team World Vision as a liturgy of remembrance- the embodied experience of history and living into the invitation of Jesus to practice love and his ways as we participate in the renewal of all things. I first started this post a few months ago, but put it away for a while because I sensed it wasn’t time yet. Then, two days ago, a young man shot and killed 17 people at the high school from which he had been expelled and my heart shattered as God called me back to this piece.

There but by the grace of God go I; how many times have I been angry and desperate and mortally wounded, lashing out in ways that would be devastating to me when I’m in a place of peace and sound thought processes?

What I remember with greatest clarity is the words spoken to me by thed teammate who DID reach out to me: “I am so sorry this is happening. What the team is doing [to you] is not okay. This was not your fault.”

Three years ago, during the season of Lent in 2015, one of the most gut-wrenching examples yet of the hand of God in another human came to fruition in my life. I’ve had a few, and they were each wonderful in their own ways, but this one is particularly special to me in this season of life.  In the summer of 2014, I was the victim of a sexual assault. Like many victims, I didn’t report the assault right away after it happened. When I did report what was done to me, I actually called the Sheriff’s non-emergency number and asked them to send a deputy to take my report whenever one was available (having explained that the assault had happened about a month ago and thus did not, in my opinion, necessitate a lights-and-sirens Code 3 response). Through a series of fortunate events and my university’s campus security department doing their job well, I was contacted by a university employee from our Student Life department and began the process of going through an investigation with my small, private Christian university.

I was shocked by the treatment I received- I was honored, my dignity maintained and choices offered to me at every step. I did not expect this, to say the least. The ironic twist came as news spread in my athletic social circle of the report after I named several teammates as witnesses to the consistently predatory and misogynistic behavior of the man who attacked me and truthfully relayed our coach’s attempts to silence me, to prevent me from making reports. Where university officials had cared for me with dignity, respect and compassion, more than 90 of my teammates abandoned me in support of the coach who betrayed me first when our university terminated the coach’s employment (for reasons officially unknown and unofficially suspected). So determined was I that my team would not ‘win’ and drive me out with their isolationism, I pushed my body to its literal breaking point to prove to ‘them’ that I was stronger and that I belonged: I developed stress fractures in both of my lower legs. To the best of my memory, this is the lowest point at which I’ve been in my life to date. I spent hours each day laying on a futon with my cat, eating Kashi bars as my only sustenance and watching America’s Funniest Home Videos in a desperate attempt to give a shit about anything again by laughing at wipe-outs and kids hitting their fathers in the groin with a plastic baseball bat.

What I remember most of that time in my life is not the betrayal, abandonment, depression, sadness or anger. What I remember with greatest clarity is words spoken to me by the one teammate who DID reach out to me: “I am so sorry this is happening. What the team is doing [to you] is not okay. This was not your fault.” Anika, the speaker of those words, saved my life in that moment. Her compassion was a salve to the burning of a lonely, desperate and devastated soul. I don’t remember many names of the people who broke me, but I remember the name and face of the one who reached out and changed my life. I saw Jesus in Anika’s seeing me that day and I see Jesus every time I remember that moment.

Friends, we MUST look for and see the lonely and hurting people among us. We are here, and we matter. Every Sunday morning, my pastor friend Daniel greets us all in church with the reminder that each of us is integral to the Church, and that we are all different because of each person that is here; it would not be the same without us and we are NEEDED. We hold more power than we could possibly imagine just in our ability to see and to reach out to a fellow human. Sometimes the pain is obvious, and sometimes it is so deeply buried that we may not ever see it bubble to the surface. Either way, we are given a great gift in our ability to love others. May we remember, anamnesis, Jesus in an embodied way by seeing one another. I beg of you to not waste this precious gift of sight.

Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength. The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. 

Myers-Briggs, ‘Big Magic’ and a Rowing Machine: Living Creatively

“When I refer to ‘creative living,’ I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

In my second-to-last semester of a Bachelor’s degree program for Nursing, I took an elective class that seemed to be categorically unrelated to anything I’ve studied seriously: fiction writing. As a quick read through a few of these blog entries will relay, I’m a strong narrative writer. I’ve also got a creative background in classical music (having studied piano, violin and flute), visual art (having dabbled in ceramics, a bit of painting and some drawing), photography, some cooking (particularly the ‘Jilli Originals’ of my childhood) and fiber arts (sewing, knitting and crocheting in particular).

In the rhythm of this fiction writing course, I meditated regularly upon the place of the creative process in the life of a Created one. By creative I reference not just ‘crafty’ or traditionally ‘artistic’ proclivities, but as Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book Big Magic, “…when I refer to ‘creative living,’ I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear,” (page 9). If I take seriously the idea that human beings, in general and myself specifically, are made in the image of God (as the imago Dei), living from a place of curiosity resonates so harmoniously in my spirit.

While I’m not interested in categorizing myself based on a computerized assessment, part of my graduate studies in seminary required me to complete the extended, full-blown Myers-Briggs inventory. Personality tests usually make me feel squirmy, like I’ve somehow gotten a bit of popcorn kernel stuck in a leg of my pants and I can’t sit still until it’s gone. I feel the same way about horoscopes and astrology; I think confirmation bias runs the show in all three of these. Lately, though, I’ve been practicing using these assessments as a place from which to begin and launching point for further inquiry & contemplation. While my scores put me very close to the middle of the range for most items, my Myers-Briggs type is ISFJ. Also known as ‘The Defender‘, people with an ISFJ personality type are said to be ‘true altruists’ and enjoy practicing generosity in the context of work they believe in.

Much of my adult life so far has been devoted to learning the nuanced differences genuine altruism and my ancestral legacy of codependency. If/when I ever figure that out completely, I’ll let you know. It surprised me to realize consciously what my spirit already knows: I serve because I enjoy doing so. I enjoy working in healthcare because I get to do my favorite thing: love people! I enjoy running with Team World Vision more than I ever enjoyed running for sport because this team has become family and the generosity of my friends and family forever changes the lives of kids who receive clean water and connect with sponsors.

My training for the 2018 Twin Cities Marathon begins in April-ish with base training, before June marks the beginning of ‘real’ training. In the mean time, I’m working to outsmart last year’s foil (intense, enduring hip pain between mile 17 and all the way to mile 20) by developing greater core strength, flexibility and endurance. Earlier this week, I used a rowing machine for the first time. I’m mostly sure that was on Saturday but the current soreness of my glutes and hip flexor group muscles makes me an unreliable witness. Rowing surprised me because my back felt so much stronger and painless after rowing; I attribute this to the activation of muscles in my core that my body has learned to function without. With MS, sometimes strange things happen in my body and it just is part of the deal. My neurologist, his collaborating nurse practitioner and I have been pondering my lower back soreness in the past year. While we’ve used lidocaine patches and considered muscle relaxants (thinking there was a mild, MS-related spasm occurring), it turns out in my case that this was perhaps a function of strain on the lumbar spine as a consequence of core muscle weaknesses.

As I practice living from a place of curiosity this year, I’m gearing up to spend more time cross-training and building a solid base before marathon training intensifies. Last year, I almost didn’t run the marathon because I was scared. I finally decided to do it because (as I feared at the time), if that was the last year in my life where my body would let me do it, I wanted to know I had gone all in. Now that I know how much fun this can be, I’m excited to get ready for training again. I’ll get back to the rowing machine a couple of times this week, as soon as I can sit down again without pain.