6/22/2017

I had been traveling so much I had somehow forgotten what the usual, non-traveling everyday life looked and felt like. But once I had settled again and unpacked my suitcase and was also back emotionally, I realised – with a rather unpleasant surprise – that everything was really same old, same old. And that all the things that had triggered my breakdown in April were still very much present and actual. None of these things had miraculously evaporated over the traveling weeks. So these past weeks I’ve done my best to balance between the light and the shadows, between joy and sorrow. Sometimes I’m doing well, sometimes not so well, the most important thing is that I’m balancing.

And so it was that I looked forward to Dr A. N.’s visit excitedly, almost impatiently. She’s one of those people who has always managed to speak light into my life, and I was hoping for it to happen again. So on Monday when I knew she’d arrive, I could barely sit still during the conference’s executive board marathon meeting. She did come, she sat me down in an Old Town restaurant, and she spoke a lot of life and light and sense into my existence. Again. But we didn’t just sit in restaurants for three days (although we did a fair amount of that too) but we also went to an art museum, looked around Tallinn, and then headed to Pärnu for about two days. I had so organised things that my dad would join us for a day and take us to the best bird watching locations on the Western coast. Both my dad and A. N. are fanatical bird watchers. So yesterday we drove around the coast from early morning until late afternoon and it was rather funny to see how both of them switched on the bird watching mode and ran around with binoculars and consulted the books and were totally excited about seeing this or that bird. I tagged along, kicked stones, and took pictures. I was clearly left out of their world haha! A. N. would joke that not all people are lucky enough to be born with the bird watching gene. I suppose she’s right. But it was a lot of fun still to hang out with them and have a little glimpse of this hobby of theirs. Great times. And then we would do some more restaurant visiting and would endlessly talk about life and academia and people and Newbold and GC and books. 

A. N. just left an hour ago, heading back to Newbold. It all feels like a deep breath of fresh air. 




--

And here’s the traditional blog news: music and books. I’ve been listening to Kirk Franklin a lot, especially on those days when I’m not doing very well. His music helps, My Life Is In Your Hands in particular (and it’s not only the song itself that I like but also the unfading memory that goes with it – how me and B. would blast this song on Thursday evenings in Newbold student centre when setting up for yet another Experience). Book wise – I’ve just finished Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark (book no 22 this year). I had seen the movie – Schindler's List – a long time ago but I wasn’t quite prepared for the book. The book is so much more detailed and intense and sickening than the movie (although I think Ralph Fiennes did an excellent job playing the Nazi lunatic Goeth) but it is also somehow more inspirational – the audacity and absurdity of the idea of saving lives and the elegance with which Herr Schindler pulled it off against all odds is just breathtaking. It’s equally terrible and terrific book.

6/01/2017

I think I've met more new people over these two weeks than I usually do in a year. It's been intense.

Last week I was in Denmark, preaching and teaching at their Union's camp meeting. It was the first time for me to speak at a bigger gathering like this, so it was all wonderfully new to me. I realised somewhere half way through the camp meeting that when you're the invited speaker, you have a full-time job. It's not only about preaching sermons and having workshops, it's equally much about being aroud people, socialising, listening, smiling. For someone as introverted as me, it can be terribly tiring. I was glad we stayed in a rented summer house with M. and A. a couple of kilometers away from the camp site so I could escape there every now and then and just be alone.

But I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong. It was also immensely rewarding, being with people, getting to know them a little and seeing their heart-felt gratitude. I don't think I've ever heard so many kind words and thank yous as I did there. Something really seemed to touch their hearts, and if you asked me, that something was a miracle of God. Given the state of my health as well as my limited preparations plus the never ending sleeping problems, it must have been magic that happened. I didn't feel I had much to give, but people seemed to receive a whole lot more than I gave. It reminds me of the story of five loaves of bread and two fish. I gave crumbles, people seemed to receive a whole meal. It was the invisible miracle of the Kingdom of God that must have happened.

I also had a privilege of meeting two other guest speakers, pastor Bill Knott and pastor Matthew Gamble from the US. M. G. was the speaker in the youth tent, he's the kind of guy who can make anyone laugh at any time. Unfortunately I never got to hear him as we spoke in different tents to different audiences and also our workshops overlapped, but I heard good things about him. But I got to spend more time with pastor B. K. who must be one of the kindest and friendliest people I've ever met. We could sit in the dining hall during the lunch time and discuss homiletics and literature and women's ordination endlessly. He also encouraged me to take writing more seriously, and I'm infinitely grateful for this encouragement. Just today I happened to pick up an issue of Adventist World magazine, and this time I read its editorial differently. Suddenly there was a real living person behind the title of the executive editor, a person I dare to call my new friend.

With B. K., M. and M. G. Or as we joked - ABBA
And this week it's Slovenia. I'm attending the GC's Education Summit. Part of it is interesting and useful, part of it not so much. But I guess that's always like this with conferences. I'm staying in the same hotel where I stayed a number of years ago at the European Pastors Counsil. Memories flooded back that evening I got here - I remember that event so clearly. It was the summer when I was half way through my MA program in Newbold, the last summer my mum was well, the last summer life was easy-breezy-beautiful. It has been bittersweet being back here. But what once again balances the sadness is people, inspiring and wonderful people. It's the first time for me to meet the real power ladies of the SDA church. Today I had lunch with Ella Simmons, I sat very quietly and listened carefully to this graceful and fierce lady who, against all odds, has made her way right to the top of the church's administrative hierarchy. I've also met Andrea Luxton and Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, the president of Andrews University and director of Education at the GC. Truly admirable ladies both. It is so good to have people to look up to, people who inspire and make you realise - everything is possible. Everything is possible for those who work their butt off and stand their ground.

So again and again I come back to the realisation - I have been blessed with wonderful people in my life. Some contacts are brief, some grow into friendships, but all of them are appreciated. 

5/16/2017

Home

Things got quite a bit worse before they started getting better. I don't want to say much about these days that came after my last blog post but when you find out there is a suicide note addressed to you, it knocks you out. It would have knocked me out anyway but it hit even harder since I was only recovering from my own burnout. There were a couple of terrible days. The funeral was tough. The sleeplessness returned. I went back to work too early and against my doctor's advice. I had to change the medicine I was taking, and the new medicine did not suit me at all. I walked around pretty much drugged for about three days until I got off that medicine and decided to go through this time sleepless but undrugged.

I have been back to work, but I have not been able to do as much as usual. But slowly slowly things are getting better. The last weekend helped a great deal. And this week - although tiring - is also helping me. I asked for the weekend off and I. was kind enough to let me skip the church planting brainstorming weekend. I went to Tartu instead, and spent some quiet days there, preparing for the Homiletics intensive, sitting in the local botanic garden, visiting my relatives, and just relaxing at E. and T.'s place. It so happened that it was my birthday on Saturday, and although I didn't even want to mention it or to make a big deal out of it, Facebook gave me away. So E. and T. prepared a birthday dinner and had a gift for me, and it felt a lot like home. They are people with real gift of hospitality. I admire people who have this gift because I wasn't around when this gift was given out. Here are the keys, here is the fridge and kettle, make yourself comfortable, come join us for our family's Mother's Day lunch - things like this startle me. And yet they warm my heart and touch me like nothing else ever could. Their casual hospitality and 'you're part of our family' attitude helped me through the annual Mother's Day sadness and gave me the sense of belonging. But the best thing happened on Saturday evening after our birthday dinner when T. (a fellow minister, my professor from Amsterdam and a colleague in the Seminary, a fellow theologian, and - as it turns out - my friend) sighed contentedly and said, "Now it's time to read poetry." And poetry we read indeed, for more than an hour. He had a collection of Betti Alver's poems, I had Doris Kareva, E. chose to sit back and listen. We read and read to each other, and we kept walking to the book shelf and kept picking new books because also Juha Liiv needed to be recited, and Juhan Viiding, and Karl Ristikivi... And there was this warm feeling somewhere inside my chest that told me, "This moment, these people, these books, this quiet evening, this shared love for written word - this is your home. This is a moment and a place - as fleeting as it is - where you belong. This is who you are."

One day, there will be poetry reading evenings in my home. Not because I want to come across as some big head intellectual, but because this is a gift that belongs to me. This is the warm feeling that tells me I'm home. This is what makes me me.

And now I'm in Riga. The week I have been impatiently looking forward to for about 1,5 years is finally here. I am teaching the Homiletics intensive to the Baltic group of Newbold's Licence students. Oh, and also Greek. Things are far from perfect - the sleeping is still restless, some wounds in my heart still fresh and hurtful, my preparation for the classes not quite up to my standards. But despite all of this I get that warm feeling again and again in my chest, sometimes in the middle of the class, sometimes sitting in the hotel's dining room over the breakfast, or late at night when thinking about the next day's classes. It's the feeling that tells me that whatever else is happening in the world, whatever battles lost or won in my life, this is home. Teaching is home.

There have been losses. But there are also victories. Friends who would care to read poetry with me late at night, and lecturing to a wonderful group of students, these are mighty victories. So there is a balance. Or as U. put it yesterday when I told him about the things I've lost recently and the beautiful moments I've gained, "Jah is always honest." Things are in balance.

4/30/2017

Silence

These past two weeks have been full of silence. It has been good silence, it’s been the kind of place where you can finally stop all the demanding voices around you and within you, stop the rushing, stop the performing and achieving. Be still and know that I am God kind of silence. There is a quiet place, far from the rapid pace kind of silence.

My mind really has been healing and I’ve got a whole lot better. The symptoms I had are slowly retreating. I wrote to The Lady yesterday and told her I felt as if I’ve come through a thick mist and am finally in the clear again. Or maybe I haven’t arrived quite yet but I’m on my way out to the clear.

I don’t know if there is any need for me to list all the things I have done and been able to do. Most of these things aren’t terribly special, they have been quite ordinary. But in each of these things there has been some healing for me. I went, for example, to my cousin’s summer house for a couple of days. The weather was horrendous, there was rain and hail and snow and sunshine almost all at once. After having been caught in a serious hailstorm once I didn’t do much walking outside. But I heated the sauna and dipped in the lake (that’s when the weather doesn’t matter to the least) and read and just watched the lake from the window. I have had lunch with several friends. One evening I stayed at my Baptist friends’ place where, before going to bed late at night, we read poetry. I finally bought a CD I had been wanting to have for some time – that of a classical guitar – and have been listening to it excessively. I’ve written emails and I’ve taken my medicine. I’ve been to a jazz festival where I had a privilege of hearing and seeing Dianne Reeves in all her genius and glory. It seemed as if she was made of pure jazz. On Friday I sneaked to my office and even managed to work for about two hours until a friend found out about it and told me quite severely to get lost from there. I’ve been also hanging out with my church youth as there happened to be a tragic death last week – a young girl from my church took her own life. And so we’ve been together, numb with shock and grief, not quite knowing how to react or what to do. So we’ve been doing what we could which is being together, eating pizza, laughing and crying, voicing our regret and anger, sleeping over so that no-one would have to be home alone.

I haven’t arrived yet, like I said, if there even is a destination to arrive at. But I’ve appreciated this time because it really has done something to my hurt and brokenness.

And I’m reading Frederick Buechner once again. He’s brilliant beyond all measure:

The question is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God’s things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak – even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footstore and sacred journeys. We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement. But be not affeard, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it. „Be not afraid,” says another, „for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” He says he is with us on our journeys. He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for him. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him.

I try my best to listen. Silence is a good place to start from.

4/19/2017

Burnout And Birth

I wouldn’t have taken the whole thing so very seriously but fortunately others did. I came back from the UK last Tuesday and after having dropped my suitcase to my apartment I went straight to the office. I thought I was well enough to continue working just like before and that I could ignore the fact that I still wasn’t sleeping nor eating and that I had to battle dramatic mood swings daily. It was my auntie who raised the issue and spoke to I. (without me knowing about it) and called doctors and was generally very upset and concerned. I preached on Saturday morning in a small church and realised in the middle of my sermon that I was utterly empty, I didn’t even feel the usual adrenaline rush. OK, I took a mental note, it does feel like I might need a break. By Sunday I had come up with a plan and had summoned enough courage to ask I. if I could take the following weekend off. We’re not talking about a weekend here, I. replied, you need to take two weeks completely off, you need to go and see a doctor, you need a sick leave, and you need to deal with your problems. We’ll reschedule all your preaching and other work-related appointments, he said, and you are off to a vacation. He sounded quite resolute.

So here I am. I’m on a sick leave for two weeks with a burnout diagnosis. Never has this happened to me before.

If you had seen me on Monday morning, you would have laughed. I sat on my bed in my pajamas, totally serious and in a business mode. I had my phone in one hand and my calendar and a pen in the other. OK, I thought, how do we deal with this? This is serious burnout business here. We need a plan. So. First, call your GP. Second, call the psychiatrist your auntie has recommended you. Third, write a masseuse. Fourth, write your cousin and ask if his summer house is free and available over the weekend. Fifth, see if any of your friends are able to hang out with you or speak to you. I did all these things and now I have a glorious strategy to tackle my burnout and also to make the best out of these two weeks.

I will have the appointment with my GP on Friday (which really means that the length of my sick leave is still unsure). I have seen the psychiatrist (it just so happened that she had had a last minute cancellation and she was able to see me in two hours instead of two months – this is what I call A God Thing) and I’ve got the medicine I needed. I’m going to a masseuse tomorrow morning – as I hear from M, he’s the best masseuse in the entire world. :) I have been hanging out with my friends (or calling the ones who are far away) every day. Yesterday a friend invited me over for a lunch and I decided to walk to her place. I knew it was far – on the other side of the town – but I didn’t quite realise the distance until it had taken me more than two hours to get there. It was 15 kilometers, Google Maps told me later. But that was fine because I apparently have ALL the time in the world in my hands now, there is no need to hurry. I read books I brought with me from the UK. I try to eat. Tomorrow afternoon I’m off to Tartu, getting there just when my cousin’s family is leaving the country. They have gladly promised to give me the keys of both their lovely Tartu apartment (my home) as well as their summer house (my paradise). I intend to spend the whole week living there.

Burnout is a terrible thing for anyone to happen. It is a place of darkness and despair. Future seems a big black hole, meaningless and hopeless. Voices in your head keep telling you you should have been stronger, that you’re weak and unworthy, and in the end, no-one really cares. You shout to God and hear only silence. You struggle with the most simple daily things, like eating a breakfast. But it is also a time of rebirth and rediscovery – once again you realise that many actually do care, that people love you and pray for you. It is also the time for you to realise that the world keeps turning without your help. Things get done without you pushing yourself to the limit. And even if some things are left undone, no great harm comes from it. It is the time you rediscover the pleasure and beauty of simple things – of a couple of hours of deep sleep, of your favourite music, of a phone call from a friend you haven’t seen for too long, of long walks, of the strength of your muscles when you are well enough to hit the gym again (this morning). Of a friend who doesn’t say one condemning word when you call her on Good Friday and tell her you’re not up to going to church that evening. Of an auntie who calls you every second day. Of good books you can drown your sorrows into for a couple of hours at a time. Of God who keeps suffering with you.

Do say a prayer for me. But also, be glad for me. Rebirth is a reason for gladness and gratitude.

4/11/2017

The Hour And The Day

Time is relative, they say. And I believe they're right. Sometimes time drags - I just sat on a plane for three hours and it felt like six. Sometimes it rushes so fast you don't even know what happened to all these minutes and hours. And it can also be relative as to its quality. Some times matter, some don't.

I've been thinking a great deal about time these past days, about its relativity and its weight. And this is what I've come up with - if I try to sum up all my days and times of a year, there are two moments that stand out. Well, there is one hour and there is one day that stand out, to be more precise.

There is an hour that is so laden with meaning and significance it outweighs any other hour. These are those 50-60 minutes I spend in The Lady's counseling office in Newbold. It happens only once a year and every second of it is pure gold for me. These are the moments when I can be utterly honest, when I feel very safe and understood and appreciated, and when I can expect the words of life to be spoken to me. I met up with H. in her office last Thursday. On my morning walk from Bracknell to Newbold I kept thinking about that appointment, about that hour, and I realised at one point with surprise that I was rehearsing the things I wanted to tell her in my mind. And it wasn't because I didn't want to be spontaneous in her office, but it was because I knew I only had time for the most essential, for the most important topics, and I tried to cut out all that was less relevant and less important. When you have one hour a year, you don't have any time to waste. You can only talk about the things that matter the most - about things that are most hurtful, things that are most joyous, things that move you the most. And that's exactly what I told her when I walked into her office. I said, You know, H., this is the most important hour I have in my life. I wasn't flattering or trying to be nice, I was just honest. And she was very touched by it. Another great thing about this hour is that I can continue exactly where we left off last year. I don't need to explain myself, I don't need to tell her my story and where I come from, what I struggle with, she knows it all already. She knows me so well there is no need for any extra words. Maybe she knows me the best. And she cares. Heavens, she cares about me so much more than I deserve. I don't know why she cares so much, why she is so interested in my life and how I'm doing. But that magic that happens during the counseling session really is my lifeline. It gives me strength and it keeps me going. Quite literally.

When our hour ended on Thursday afternoon, she asked me if she could pray for me. Of course she could. She did and while praying, she cried. It was the second time she has cried with me and for me. It was so special I didn't even want to breathe. I just wanted to be still and stay in that moment for a very long time.

Next April, I told her when I wiped my eyes and left her office. I'll see you again next April.

What an hour.

And then the day. It shouldn't come as a surprise that it is the day I get to spend with Dr A. N. in London (or Oxford). I look forward to it for months on end. And so far our dates have never left me feeling disappointed. They are always packed with culture and books and excellent food. And again, a lot of undeserved caring and mentoring.

This time we met up on Sunday afternoon in London, A. having just returned from Bhutan. First she sat me down in a cafe and let me unload all my personal dramas from last year. It was sometime last summer when I started opening the door of my personal life and started telling her little things about what was happening, not being sure whether I had crossed any lines or whether she'd be even interested in hearing about my mess. But little by little she encouraged me to tell more, and gave her opinion and advice, very softly, sometimes through the prism of her humor and sarcasm. Now we have come to a place in our friendship where I can freely tell her about my dramas. And she listens.

Then we headed to the National Gallery to savor some world class art. It was Michelangelo this time. After the exhibition we would sit somewhere in the quiet corridor of the Gallery, resting and thinking about Michelangelo, and we came up with a plan on the spot - hey, why don't we go on a art trip one day. Why, yes, let's. Let's go to Rome. Yes. Rome sounds good. I've got some friends in Rome who could host us (said she). Rome it is then. I'm serious - I want to make this happen, if possible, during the next year. Right now I can't think of any trip that would make me happier. And then we raided a book shop. She would give me her recommendations and I would buy the books. But then she would pick up some other book from the shelf, and look at me, and go like, This book I'll recommend you in, say, ten year's time, not now. You're not ready for this one yet. And I felt like a little kid who can't watch or read grown-ups stuff lol! And then a lunch and some Newbold gossip, and a little walk, and then it was time to depart.

And despite my burnout (or a breakdown or whatever it is that hit me last week) and lack of sleep, I would sit on a Bracknell train in the evening with a big smile on my face. Also with a pile of books in my bag.

What a day.


4/04/2017

I don’t quite know what to say after perfection, that is after what I wrote the last time. Especially when anything I have to say this time will leave me looking like someone with a serious bipolar disorder.

But that’s the truth.

I came down to Tallinn and down to earth after Tartu bliss with a degree of reluctance. But things were alright. It was last Wednesday after I had had a lovely evening with M. in a cafe when something started to shift. I had walked her to her bus and on my way home I felt my mood changing and energy dropping, and I kept wondering about it as there seemed to be no reason for such a change. On Thursday I overreacted a big time when I got terribly mad at a good friend over a simple misunderstanding. That’s when I realised things were bad. And on Friday afternoon after a long and boring conference which I had to attend, I went to my office and had a panic attack. A strong one, for that matter. The kind that left me unable to walk for a while. On Saturday I managed a long day of teaching and lecturing but on Sunday I hit the bottom again - I got some news that knocked the air right out of me. I haven't eaten nor slept much for four days now.

That’s how much perfection there is in my life.

I still don’t know what or how this happened. I’ve got no explanation to give. But a doctor my auntie spoke to on Sunday said it looked a lot like overworking and burnout. He recommended two weeks off work.

Two weeks are out of question. But I’m in Tallinn airport at the moment, starting my week long Newbold trip any minute. And that is a gift straight from above, right at the time I need it the most.

I’ve been thinking about the whole experience, the blissful days I spent in Tartu and the last days I’ve been gasping for air and hope, and this is what I think.

We need good days. We need those days when it feels as if our feet didn’t touch the ground. God, we need them. They give light and air and fill our hearts with gratitude. But if I look at myself, there isn’t much I learn during these days, I don’t grow that much. I savor the moments and feel grateful and have a smile on my face while falling asleep. But goodness, how much I grow and learn during the times when news break my heart and when light seems to have gone out. Because they are the days I don’t have any energy nor wish to lie to myself, I can only hold on to things that I really believe in, all pretences are down, no delusions are left. If you asked me when I have learned the most about my faith and its quality, it wasn’t in the comortable classroom in Newbold with brilliant academics all aroud me. It was at my mother’s death bed. I’ve never learned so much about faith and hope as I did back then. And to a lesser degree, this is also what happened this past weekend. I learned a lot. About love and friendship, about the depth of forgiveness, about hope and future. About the grace of God.

I guess that’s why we need those days.

But brighter days are ahead, I am sure. There are friends waiting for me in the UK, The Lady and her office, the annual London date with Dr A. N. Sylvia’s Garden and Newbold library. Spring.

Such are the tides of life.