Monday, January 31, 2011

The Art of Not Doing Anything

For most folks, chillin out all day on the couch, watching a movie, and eating junk food sounds like paradise! But for someone like me, who finds so much of my self-worth in what I check of my "to do" list by the end of the day, it is downright devastating to find out that these are the doctors orders for me.

Right now I am learning the art of "not doing anything". Through all the accumulated stress and transitions in the past 9 months; ie. culture shock of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, transition in relationships from living with Auntie and Uncle, moving in with Shikha in the a 1 room place in the red-light district, my time ending at Freeset, moving into a new home this month, and beginning my internship with Servants... I have officially been diagnosed with burn-out. Unlike being stressed out where you feel you have too much on your plate to balance, experiencing burn out feels like you don't even have a plate to put things on. Things that use to bring me so much energy and joy- like spending time with my bengali neighbors- now makes me feel really anxious and tired. And with all my down time I have had too much time to think; I am often faced with daunting questions about my purpose here, whether this is really my dream, will I be able to survive for a 3 year commitment with Servants? Questions I can't answer but also can't stop asking myself. It's something I have never experienced before and for a "doer" like me, it's hard to face the facts that right now...I just can't do very much.

(taking a lesson from Homer)

In the states, if I had burn out, I could just take a vacation, change my work hours, spend more time with friends. In a foreign country where my work IS where I live- building relationships amongst the poor.... it's a little more challenging to recover and then set up healthy boundaries in the future.

I have seriously wrestled with returning back to the states for a while, but I think one more transition at this time will likely not ease my stress. So for now, I am here, taking it real easy... or trying to learn how to at least. This month I have suffered a bladder infection and giardia (one of the side-effects of burn-out is lower immunity) so it's forced me to rest a lot. I feel really well supported by my new team members (even though most of them are on Visa leave) and folks from home. They have all offered a listening ear and their love and care through all this. It's ironic that I have waited so long to find and join an org like Servants, and my first month as their intern I am at my worst. Perhaps this is exactly where I need to be to learn I am loved by God and others despite what I can do. So far my new team has encouraged me to take as much time as I need to recover and to give myself lots of grace in all this. I feel very blessed and love by them all.

I feel I am learning lots of lessons about self-care and my limitations and God's love for me. My hope is in joining this team, I will learn to live a more sustainable way of life that not only focuses on bringing life to my neighbors but also bringing life to me and my team. For now, keep me in prayer as to find courage to give my heart once again to a new team of people, as I learn the art of not doing anything, and more importantly finding God loves me just the same.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Discovering my Need to Succeed

My first and... and then second attempt at making Rooti

Arriving back in K-town it felt like home- yellow taxis, streets alive with people, the smells of Indian food and rotting garbage. Hmmm hmmm...Home sweet home. On my mind was the future; doing a masters program, potential research, applying for my new organization, working part-time at Freeset with my 2 best friends. All these ideas of “who I might be in 2011” swimming about in my head. But not for too long…

To my surprise, when I went to discuss my part time role at Freeset with my boss, I was faced with a hard choice; either work full-time at Freeset and move into a middle-class apartment or continue living with Shikha to focus on learning Bengali in which case they could not offer me a part-time role. From his perspective, my living with Shikha was getting in the way of doing my best work and causing problems for others. I was devastated (beyond what I would like to openly admit on my blog)

I was at a cross roads between the community I have grown to love this last year and still wished to partner with and … and the Servants community that I am applying for and I feel called to join…(but cannot officially until training this September)

In the end, I felt I needed to begin my journey with Servants… even if it was un-official. But now what do until September 2011… just live here?

The next day, I accompanied a Servants member still looking for a home in the slums in the north part of the city when we stumbled across a little place perfect for 2. She looked at me…the thought crossed my mind… “I wonder what it would be like to live here?”

Unlike the crowded and polluted alleys of Sonagacchi, this community felt safe, spread out, and restful. I had a sense of peace that this is exactly what God was doing all along. I need a safe place to slow down and grow into my new community as I focus on language and culture. So within 2 weeks, and after lots of hard conversations, I found myself hugging Shikha good-bye and climbing into a taxi (although I will still visit once a week).

Me and my new room mate Meghan as we head off to our new home

This situation was has been an incredibly stressful turn of events... I even considered flying home until September training. But in the midst of all the anxiety, I have been given a glimpse into seeing myself more truthfully and that is a true gift. Probably not a surprise to many of you but this month I was shocked to find out I am actually an over-achiever. (I know, laugh it up). But on a serious note, whether I would like to see it or not, this means my self-worth is dangerously caught up in how others view me and the success of my work. I know you are wondering… how in the world did you manage to discover this about yourself Melissa?

Glad to answer, I have been exploring this part of me using a spiritual tool called the Enneagram. This tool has Christian roots starting as far back as 350AD with a desert monk Evagrius Ponticus but today you can find tests and readings easily online. Basically the Enneagram describes 9 basic personality types and how these interact together and with God. Each type has a basic gift and a basic need. As we attempt to meet our own needs outside of God, we head down a destructive path. But as we grow aware of our needs and how God is the One who fulfills it, then we grow liberated from our own destructive ways and into the gift of who God is making us to be.

Check out the link to learn more:

Using this tool does not give us the answers, it actually just helps us ask the right questions. For instance, why did I rush into living with Shikha? Looking back, I think part of me unknowingly really wanted to push myself to gain the respect of my western peers. But that backfired, being the oddball living with a local did not impress them and in fact it may have made some feel guilty for not living this way (shoot!). Plus the stressful home environment exhausted me so that I could barely keep up with 4 hours of work- so no one really benefited. <----Our new bedroom

I like to think of it like this; there is this little Melissa inside of me scheming to get people's attention by doing good stuff, but I never see her false motives until her plans go array and hurt the folks around her. It's connecting this little person inside me with the Love of God she so desires that will liberate her from all this scheming so she is free to just love regardless of being affirmed by others. As I learn this about myself, it’s humbling or rather humiliating… how ever you want to phrase it. And I am discovering there is lots to learn about just "being" with God. Now that I see this, I can begin to explore a love not dependent on what I can or cannot achieve for God. A love that delights in me regardless.

our new kitchen--->

These next few months I will have lots of time on my hands; I hope this experience helps me grow into that unconditional love I so desperately long for and have been looking for in the wrong places. 2011 is not exactly as "productive" as I imagined, but like my train ride here, it's been full of surprises and the unexpected way God always gives me exactly what I need.