“But sometimes we actually need our world to be shaken up. It can be part of what saves us.”Michael T. McRay
Disruption. I recoil from the experience of it. In the interest of transparency, I confess that I avoid it like the plague. On purpose, I wake up before dawn each day, long before the rest of my family arises, so as to embrace hours of uninterrupted quiet and solitude with which to start my day. Most days this cherished time finds me in prayer and reflection, relishing every sip of one large cup of hot coffee, witnessing the sunrise and then immersing myself in the Cathedral of Nature, all without interruption.
One might think that being the baby in a family could serve to make a person very flexible and accepting of change. Well, in my case, nothing could be further from the truth. As the only girl in a family whose older brothers enjoyed playing sports, my earliest memories are of being towed along to places I did not want to go, including countless little league baseball games and later, high school football games. As I recall, the only consolation I ever found in such experiences were the seemingly rare occasions when the team won and together we went for ice cream afterward.
The greatest temper tantrums of my childhood usually stemmed from a disruption of life that I wasn’t forewarned of, or worse, disruptions that occurred to existing plans of which I had been informed. God have mercy on my poor mother, who was just doing her best to keep up with all of our schedules, while working full-time and then being forced to pick up the pieces when circumstances out of anyone’s control sent her youngest, the most obstinate and inflexible child, into a tailspin.
Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety, 309.9 (F43. 20) is the fancy name and code in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) used by mental health practitioners to describe the mental illness that I have experienced as far back as I can remember. It wasn’t named for me until I was in my teens, and it wasn’t until my early twenties that I learned that some of those temper tantrums were spurred on by what I now know are called anxiety attacks.
After living some life, dealing with my share of capital “D” disruptions and developing some better ways of dealing with my mental illness, I like to think not every change in circumstances and plans renders me a mess. And yet, one recent disruption served as a humble reminder my mental illness is not far from the surface and remains a real part of me with which to contend. For a couple of weeks, I was removed from my daily morning routine to help care for my father after his most recent hospital stay. Not knowing how this was going to end, not knowing if I was up to the task, not knowing how to best lessen the burden of his care that rested upon my mom, not knowing when and if life would return to homeostasis felt capable of cracking me if I gave it too much attention.
Much to our collective relief, signs of healing were evident sooner than later and it was only a couple of weeks before my constant presence was no longer needed. And much to my surprise, on those first mornings of returning to the mundane, but deeply comforting routine I’ve carved out for myself each day, there was something refreshingly different about the way in which I experienced it. This particular life disruption didn’t rend me into pieces in a destructive way as I feared it might, but it actually seemed to have pried me open to a deeper flow of gratitude and sense of awe for the gifts present in my life.
It became crystal clear to me that to still be able to enjoy the company of both of my parents who are in their mid-80s is an absolute privilege. To live so near to them that I can be helpful when needed is an invaluable comfort. To witness what love and commitment look like between two people who have lived more of their years together than apart is a priceless teacher. To watch my daughter willingly step into the gap my absence left and take on added responsibilities at home is an encouraging consolation. To receive my husband’s offer of an entire day of respite care so that I could go into the office to get some things done is an extraordinary comfort. To observe my brothers participate in our parent’s care from hundreds of miles away and sacrifice to do their part is a wonderful support. To behold the text messages and emails and phone calls of friends offering their help is a moving testimony of the love which is ours to receive as a family. My God, how is it that something so disruptive, so capable of destroying me can equally be capable of widening my awareness, of expanding my heart and soul, of deepening my gratitude for what my life is?
Just the other day as I returned to the Cathedral of Nature for one of my first outings post-disruption, I was simply overcome by the lavishness that surrounded me. Even though I was in that forest almost every day before I wasn’t, this day everything about it seemed to sparkle and shine. As I walked I was quite drawn to gaze at the trees. I couldn’t stop noticing the endless multitude of shapes and sizes of the leaves and their countless shades of green. I found myself captivated by the various movements and sounds the leafy branches made when blown by the wind. A sense of awe and wonder rose from within as I then noticed this gorgeous landscape reflected back again in the still waters of the river. In this gift of deeply seeing, I perceived the expression of extravagant love with which all of this was created and its purpose. It seemed to me the Beloved Creator was communicating a desire to delight and entice me so that I might know how beloved I am in the witnessing of the ordinary, yet so very extraordinary beauty that enveloped me at that moment. As I walked out of the forest that day and back into my neighborhood, I felt enlivened by a deep sense of being beheld and held by One so much greater than I. I hadn’t felt so alive in quite some time.
Disruption. My practice has been to recoil from the experience of it out of the fear it will render me helpless and unable to function. But maybe, just maybe, I should stop avoiding it like the plague and begin to lean into it more. Perhaps, in the end, it will prove as the very unlikely grace that saves me.