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.

3/17/2017

Sheer Perfection

If I want to sum up or describe the last three days, only one image comes to my mind. It’s an odd one but it has to do. I picture Mary Berry tasting one of the Bake Off delicacies and saying emphatically, This is sheer perfection.

These days have been sheer perfection.

We picked up Dr G. P. from Tallinn airport on Tuesday afternoon. He is a wonderful and an equally strange man. He doesn’t like small talk, he doesn’t care about sightseeing, he seems to be not very interested about what’s going on around him, and at moments I feel very awkward around him. But it takes him less than two minutes on our way from the airport to downtown or from the hotel to the Seminary to start explaining the details of Christ’s redeeming ministry, past, present, and future to me. It’s as if he breathes Biblical theology, it’s as if this was the only thing that ultimately mattered to him. His daily bread. I’ve sat next to him in the class room for solid three days now, interpreting until half unconscious, and I see how excited he gets and how deeply these topics move him. I don’t think the students noticed but I have seen tears in his eyes more than just a couple of times over these days. It’s so touching and so beautiful it gives me goosebumps. And the good old Newbold feeling has come back to me, those moments when I would go to the Leading Motifs class and would sit on the edge of my chair and would look at the lecturer with my eyes wide open, and would think, My goodness, the Adventist theology must be the most beautiful thing in this world.

So half of these days I’ve spent in the Seminary with our students and some pastors from Estonia and also from Latvia. It has been a terrific course. But the rest of the time has been equally good. And I don’t know if it’s an objective reality and all the good things have just happened to happen to me for some inexplicable reason, or if this is purely subjective and I’ve finally reached the point in life when small things can bring great joy. Or if it’s a combination of both. In any case, the sheer perfection has also continued outside the classroom.

We came to Tartu on Tuesday evening and I landed at my cousin’s place again. As his family is on a longer vacation, I have their lovely apartment all to myself again. This place has grown to be such an important place for me, I caught myself calling it ’my home’ yesterday. It really has turned to be my home in a sense. It’s become my hiding place, a place that lets me breathe and lets me rest and lets me forget about my troubles. There are only a handful of places that can do this, and this is one of them. Every time I have my early morning cup of tea in this kitcen and see the bell tower of the nearby church, I feel a wave of happiness wash over me. I can’t quite explain it.

But I haven’t been hiding myself here, although I could have done it had I wanted. Instead I’ve been out having a late birthday dinner with my dad, I’ve been to the local gym sweating out the interpreting stress, I’ve taken a long evening walk near the place we once used to live in Tartu, I’ve been to a wonderful jazz concert with the Seminary’s principal and her husband. I also met up with a friend yesterday afternoon – it was sort of a coincidental meeting, not anything planned – and we ended up having a long and honest and good conversation. I hadn’t spoken to him properly for some time now and that ’let’s sit and talk’ thing really did good to my soul. Two hours passed like minutes. And when he had walked me home (see?!) and I got upstairs, I could hear the downstairs neighbor – who just happens to be one of the best jazz guitarists in Estonia – play his guitar. I would just listen, completely still, not wanting to make any noise or miss any note reaching me quietly through the floor, and would think, Sheer perfection, sheer perfection.

3/07/2017

Ecumenical Love

This week has turned very ecumenical, and it’s only Tuesday.

Ecumenism sounds so very boring but the truth is quite the opposite. It can be truly lovely.

We had the privilege of hosting the arch bishop of Estonian Lutheran Church in our office yesterday. The arch bishop is a wonderfully smart and sharp and witty man. I think the Lutheran church could not have done any better – they really elected the best man for the job. I have met him here and there, I’ve heard a couple of his speeches, and I see him once a month at the Council of Estonian Churches but we had never had any closer encounter. I hear he had declared some time ago in the media that he would like to get to know other Estonian churches better. Aparently ours was the first one he visited. We weren’t quite sure whether it was just a coincidence, an alphabetical choice, or curiosity. I personally suspect the last one – I think he was curious.

It was a nice and informal conversation we had with him. For the better part of the two hours he spent in our office, he wanted to know more about our structure and functioning. I didn’t have much to say. But in the end he was like ’So what about your theology?’ And then I did a happy dance (in my head, of course). So we told him. And I have to say this conversation made my heart so very glad. We told him about our theology and what and why we believe – and when I felt like I didn’t know how to go on, A. took over and then I. took over and by the bunch of us we were able to make it all very clear. And I was so proud of my colleagues and for the fact that we have come to a place where we can cherish our identity and explain it freely to someone as important as the arch bishop. There was no pride, no hitting or bashing with the Bible, it was balanced, it was friendly, but most importantly, it was Biblical to its core. Sometimes I get so very tired of all the theological fringes and fanaticism in our church. Then I find a lot of joy in conversations like these. There is a good and balanced way of doing theology, these moments remind me. What a relief.

Next time I’ll go to the Council’s meeting, I will shake the arch bishop’s hand with a different feeling. With a different confidence. And I might do another happy dance in my mind when I think about yesterday’s conversation.

With Mr Arch Bishop
But today I spent the whole day in the Seminary as it was the much anticipated and equally much dreaded accreditation day which all the colleges and universitites have to go through. There were a group of very serious looking people from the government and other universities who came to evaluate the Seminary’s progress and academic standards. I had to represent our conference since we have a contract with the Seminary and our students study there.

The place was like a war zone. The interviews took place in the library room in one wing of the building. The serious looking people didn’t leave that room even over the lunch time – lunch was taken to them there. We had our ’base’ in the other wing of the building, in the principal’s office. Groups of people went to the library room and then came back, and there was ever so much cheering and talking about how it had gone and what the serious people had asked and how the answers were given. A lot of coffee was passed around, and a lot of chocolate. We were serious too, and then we had good laughs which helped with the stress. Strategies were discussed, main points repeated. The president of the Baptist conference felt like praying. I too went over the important documentation and rehearsed my answers in my head because I too needed to know my stuff and do well, both for our conference’s sake as well as for my Baptist friends sake.

And the best thing about it was that I felt like home. Don’t get me wrong, I have a solid Adventist identity but it is just so cool to be part of such a process when you feel like your presence is appreciated and that you’ve become one of the Seminary’s family. The most of the Baptist conference’s leadership was present and no-one as much as raised their eye brow seeing me there, discussing Seminary’s future.

I had to leave before the ’after-party’ and sushi dinner to come back to Tallinn but I thanked the Almighty for all these wonderful contacts He’s given me across the churches.

This kind of ecumenism I love.

--

And I have a new favourite song - Coldplay's Everglow. It has hit a nerve in me.