Faith is stress ‘management’

Medical – A few years ago, when I was an overweight, McD’s eating, daily-soda-drinking, cigarette-smoking, binge-drinking fool, I was actually pain-free. When some of my shipmates complained about knee pain, I thought they were making excuses not to exercise. When I got to my ship, my knees did get sore for a little while, but then they seemed to adjust to the ladder wells. I got a sore elbow now and then if I didn’t make sure to alternate which arms I used to open and close doors and my rack (because ship doors have ‘dogs’ that can be very tight). Still, none of these little problems persisted. I felt so robust and sturdy and lucky.
Ever since April-ish of 2013 though, I’ve had problems. First, I hurt my right knee during a spin class in which the instructor had us ‘mashing’ gears… something I learned later on from biking forums is a terrible idea. With RICE and some new weight-lifting exercises, my knee got better — though never back to the way it had been before. I also got a lot stronger, finally kicked tobacco for good, and lost fat. I had been working from mid-2013 on, trying to run my second marathon, but I hurt my foot by November. I only got up to doing halves, when I had all the symptoms of a stress fracture. But I didn’t have a stress fracture.
The podiatrist I saw X-rayed my foot and found no fracture. Long story short, I tried doing everything he said, but as soon as I stopped all of his suggested treatments, and started running barefoot (or in FF’s), I was fine. That is, I was fine until maybe two months ago, now? I had a little tendonitis on my right foot, which was easily defeated by a little rest, then improving my stretching routine. To this day, neither of those problems has returned.
But only a couple of weeks after that tendonitis went away, I got it really bad on the peroneal tendon of my other leg/foot. I saw my primary care physician, and all she said was to use anti-inflammatory pain patches. Thanks a lot. This injury, whether it’s just inflammation, or if it’s actually a bit of a tear or strain, has put me out of commission. I can’t even run a mile without pain that will leave me limping the next two days. This injury, whether it’s just inflammation, or something worse, was also the fault of my ignorance. I had been running for a few weeks on some soccer and baseball fields, and neighboring sloping fields. Apparently, running on uneven surfaces, like mashing on a bike, is known to cause injury.
I’m not writing to complain, but I need to vent. For years, running has been a major way that I unwind, reduce my stress, and get some quality thinking done. Not only that, but it makes me feel good, and makes me feel good about myself. It’s so easy for people to give advice to “manage your stress,” but what happens when you lose your main stress reliever?

Dental – I obviously care more about health than I used to, and I’m even better at not procrastinating. Therefore, I recently got back to the dentist, and have had to return for additional care. It turns out that not only my peroneal tendon is inflamed, but my gums are too. I’m only 25 years old, but I have gum disease. Again, it’s my own fault: I didn’t have dental insurance for two years, and why? Because I just wasn’t concerned. I could’ve afforded it, but I was just not thinking. Anyway, my teeth are really not bad at all. It’s my gums that are puffy and red. But what a lot of people don’t realize, and I didn’t either, until I sat down to think of it, gums are part of the body as much as knees or toes or eyeballs. Gum health affects over all health. How have I neglected it? I’ve been brushing and flossing, but not well enough. Now I am hoping, since I had debridement done, that I will be able to restore my gum health somewhat. The point is that it does add just that extra flavor of stress to my life.

Being a Wife – This morning, when I was on my way to school, I became aware that my sweater and my hair smelled like bacon. Suffice it to say, I became irrationally furious, cried, and ultimately came back home — skipping school — because I just couldn’t take it. I was disgusted. I cannot stand smelling like food, and that is actually why I don’t fry much food at home, not just that it’s not healthy. But I can’t be mad. My husband had gotten up early not only to cook a week’s worth of turkey bacon for us to enjoy, but also to assemble things in the crock pot for dinner tonight. A few weeks ago, I thought if only K. would cook a little, I would be so relieved and grateful. I work on school just as many hours as he works on actual work. When I come home, I either work out, cook dinner, or get to studying. In fact, until seven or seven-thirty every night, I am doing a combination of those things. When K. gets home, it’s true usually it is later than me, but he has plenty of time for the gym, running, biking, or racquetball. He also doesn’t bring work home with him, because he doesn’t have to. He gets to play video games. So I’ve thought, why can’t he just cook dinner half the time? Or even once a week?
He started to do this a little bit, in recent weeks. Maybe he realized before I did how terrible this semester is. The demands on my time are huge, on top of the fact that since we moved, my commute is way longer and more stressful (the stress of driving in a California city could be the subject of a book by itself). First, K. made jambalaya in the slow cooker. I did help by making red beans and rice to eat with it, but… I thought, Wow, this is amazing! I’m so glad he’s doing this. Then he made chicken adobo in the slow-cooker… then ribs in the oven… all of which turned out very well. Then last night, I came home from the dentist’s office to find him in the kitchen, chopping a whole boat load of vegetables, preparing a slow-cooker bolognese. I don’t know how long he worked on it, but this is the dish he woke early to finish preparing for its day in the slow cooker. I am grateful, but… at the same time, foremost in my mind is not gratefulness, but a feeling of inadequacy and generally not being the type of wife I would want if I were K. At this point, I really don’t contribute a lot financially. Probably my main contribution is that I cook meals, and now that’s out the window. How useless. The other day I had planned a dinner I thought K. would particularly like, only to tell him when it came time to cook that I simply could not do it because my physics homework was destroying me, and I had to finish it. I didn’t even eat dinner with him that night because physics had gotten me upset so that I lost my appetite. All I can say is that that was a mistake. It was not as bad to tell K. that he had to take care of his own dinner, but it was not right that I did not dine with him. If we must commute, toil, exercise, and do so many things separately, I feel that I family — and that is what we are, though we are only two people — ought to take the time to share at least dinner together. I let my obsession with homework — which turned out to be fruitless anyway, that night — to get in the way of my life’s most important ministry.
I should say that I somewhat doubt K. even thinks much about this. Does he wish he wouldn’t have married me? Am I troublesome? Do I just increase his bills without making his life better? I don’t think he thinks that, and of course I hope he doesn’t. Still, one must have standards for herself. And if I can’t do as well by the person I most love, who can I do well by?

Being a Student – The bane of my existence is also what occupies most of my time, even on weekends. I do love to learn, and I do not want to quit school. But I am frustrated by it, and always feeling rushed. Many, many things I have ostensibly learned, but only actually begun to understand months or years or semesters later. But college is so expensive that I do not have time or resources to fool around. It must be done, and it must be done promptly.
All my life, or most of it at least, people have thought I was so smart, or at least precocious. Always. And for a while this is an ego boost. I am sure for many others besides myself, it has been enough to say in one’s mind, “I cannot socialize, and I am embarrassed to try a sport — but I am smarter than most of these people around me.” Even if I never thought that consciously, probably something similar was present in my subconscious mind. I don’t mean to analyze my childhood here. But others have realized, as I am lately, that with high expectations, high pressure can come. I never worried about getting an A when I was a child. Ever! I knew I was smart, and I felt that I had nothing to prove. Much of adulthood, however, is proving oneself, even if it is only some bullshit written on paper and vouched for by a professor or former employer or two. Increasingly, we must quantify ourselves and our accomplishments, qualifications, etc. It is never enough to say, “I am confident that I can learn quickly what you want me to do, and I can do it well.” So I do feel a great pressure now to do well in school, and to possibly even qualify myself for some sort of career that interests me.
But I am always afraid of that intellectual wall. I am afraid, now that it seems important to me, that maybe I am not so smart after all. When I was a kid, I didn’t question possibilities. I thought I could do anything. Part of that is probably the American psyche, the belief or delusional hope (maybe not delusional, I don’t know) that “you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.” I must admit that empirically I do not agree with this. Many poor people work very hard, and make no more mistakes than the rich — yet hard work alone is not enough to rise above poverty, most of the time. It seems to me there is much more. Perhaps you  must be hard working and especially intelligent. Or you must have connections. Or you must obtain a miracle from God. But I have seen with my eyes how much easier things are for those who already have advantages! There are no leveling grounds, even college and the military. I am getting away from the point though. The point is that I don’t know the point, and nobody does. My husband tells me I am so smart all the time. He never used to tell me this, so I wonder if he is trying to boost me. Or maybe he thinks that just because I am beginning to comprehend calculus, I must be smarter than he’d though. I don’t know. But he says it, and I think, “You have no idea how much I’m struggling. Are you joking? What do you mean when you say this?”
And as far as struggling goes, I am annoyed with my professors too. Firstly, half of them do very little teaching; and I end up having to instruct myself at home from my textbooks and online resources. Secondly, they talk about the grand importance of concepts — which I think I get pretty well, actually! — but then focus lectures, work, and exams primarily on quantitative analysis. Quantitative analysis is of course where I require most practice, but still I somewhat resent the fact that my strength — conceptual understanding — is at the same time talked of like it is important, but then hardly talked of. It makes no sense. I am so early in my education that I don’t even know what to hope for, who to believe, where to get advice… ultimately, it comes down to the fact that college, in many ways, emphasizes so many uncertainties in my life. Uncertainties about career, abilities, intellect, work ethic, and more.

Being a Christian – The thing is, those uncertainties are always there. I am only a human, and it isn’t my place to control things. If it were my place, I suppose I’d have been granted the ability to control them! I am not unique in this. Feeling out of control is a bit different than becoming conscious of the fact that we are always out of control. This isn’t new to the Christian, yet again, I know I am not the only modern Christian to struggle with this. It is so hard to be a creature. Why do adults marvel that children want to grow up? They want to control their lives, perceiving that that is what adults do. They do not realize that adults are not as in control as they may appear.
The Bible talks about this. You cannot change your hair color or height by worrying. You need not worry. God cares for you. It even talks about worrying about the physical world vs. the spiritual one. What does it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul? But how well can we comprehend these true teachings? We cannot even control what we want. So many things we do we want to, yet we don’t want to at the same time. This is part of Jesus’ humanity: Jesus partly did not want to be tortured and crucified and descend to hell, which is why he prayed that the Father “take this cup from me.” Yet he wanted to do it, too. He made his will God’s will. I know that Jesus is God, so it is perhaps a little different… but really, isn’t the goal of a Christian to daily make his own will more God’s will? Don’t we want to turn our evil desires into the desire to do good and glorify God? We are just full of conflicting ideas and feelings and wills. I can’t crack this.
But anyway, I pray sometimes for help to “conform to Your image.” While I believe this is a good thing to pray for, since God first made us in His image, and said that it was good; still I think I must be careful to distinguish between the image of God, and God himself. It is right for me to conform to God’s image, or desire to, but it is not right that I should wish to be God — and what I  mean by that is, it is not right that I should wish to control everything, which is God’s prerogative.
Aside from struggling to just accept that I do not have control, and should stop vainly wrestling for it, as a Christian, I also face the question of what matters. I let myself become confused about this. What matters? Am I really saying that I hate my life because I am pissed off over my physics quiz? God forgive my absurdity, ingratitude, and loose tongue! I cannot believe myself sometimes. I cannot believe the things I treat as though they really matter, when truly they do not. I become upset about the smell of bacon in my hair, yet there are people with serious material needs. There are people who would be happy to have clean hair like mine, even if it did smell like bacon. I can be so vain. I cannot believe I actually considered spending $300 on the whitening treatment offered by my dentist! That would be making the appearance, not the health, of my teeth, above hungry people, people suffering from diseases, etc. Three hundred dollars on teeth! I thank God I came to my senses. Would he forgive me if I spent that money, when of course it should be given to Medecins Sans Frontieres or something instead? For that matter, it would be better spent on books or entertaining friends or anything before the appearance of teeth! God help me.
What is important? It goes back to my choosing to study the other night, instead of eating with my husband. He is more important than school, yet school is the pathway I am walking toward hopefully a better, easier life for him in the future. If he died today, may God forbid it, wouldn’t I regret my studying terribly? I don’t mean to be dramatic or extreme. But really I must try harder to stay aware of what really matters. Relationships matter. Other people, even strangers matter. Needs matter more than wants. What matters is pleasing God… and I don’t think that an Eternal Being could really “not give a shit” about anything, that is, I think he is able to consider literally every single thing, no matter how seemingly insignificant to us; but if there were something I don’t think God would give a shit about, it would probably be college degrees. A degree might mean having more money over the course of a lifetime, but as far as I know, it has never been correlated with improved health, family happiness, kindness to others, or any other type of goodness. I do not know whether in itself it enables one to better serve others.

Being a Daughter – It’s just as simple as I live thousands of miles from my parents, and I don’t know when to call them or what to say. I love them, but what do I do? What all does it mean to honor them? The trouble is that a child cannot ask advice on such things from parents because parents are typically selfless in their answers. They will usually volunteer to suffer if they think it will even add a little convenience to their child’s life. It is a beautiful thing, in a way, but at the same time, sometimes I wish my parents would be more clear, vocal, and honest about their wants and needs.

How Do I Manage it Now? – *shrug* I suspect it may have to do with stopping trying to. That is how I learned to swim, years ago. I was struggling and struggling and stressing and stressing, trying to swim in Navy boot camp. Finally I was tired and my hope was waning, and I thought I wasn’t going to even get to be a Sailor because I just couldn’t do it; so I quit trying, and I prayed to God to make me do it if he was willing that I should. If not? I guess a lifeguard would’ve saved me. And it just happened. Was that the Holy Spirit? I’m not theologian, but I can at least realize an act of faith. I think that is what is needed. If I am stressed because I cannot control anything, and I am more stressed because I cannot control my stress… I must really have faith that it is better for God to be in control than for me to be. Things aren’t really going badly for me, only they don’t go exactly as I wish they would — but if they did, probably I would not be able to account for how they would affect other things… Like Star Trek time travel. You never know what one person traveling back in time will do to the entire future. But God is Eternal, so I think he is able to always know how things tie together. The Bible says that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…

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