The Life and Times of My Heartburn

IMG_6737Come with me on a journey with acid reflux. I promise it won’t be as gross as it sounds. It’s also a journey with stress and pressures that lead to real physical symptoms. It’s also a journey to find balance between rest, play, family and meaningful work. This journey takes a lifetime I’m sure, but I feel like I’ve been in the thick of it the last three or four years.

The short version of those last few years is that our family of four left a nice suburban life to live at a farm in Waco, TX that teaches sustainable agriculture and international development. After that we moved to Bolivia to work on water and agriculture issues with Low German Mennonites and indigenous people. After just getting settled in and comfortable with our work and life, we were deported from Bolivia and found ourselves starting over again back in Waco, TX. I found a full-time job to pay the bills, but continued building a small social enterprise called Edible Lawns, not to mention we are part of an intentional Christian community which demands more of us than the average church. To top it all off we had our third child in January of 2013. All of this leads me to often ask the question, “What the hell am I doing?”

It started to hit home when we first got back from Bolivia. The day after we landed I went to the doctor and found out I had shingles brought on by the stress of everything we went through. My case was relatively mild, but struck me as a warning sign.

After a year of working a full-time job and trying to start a small business (and keep up with community and family), it caught up with me again. This time I had heartburn over Christmas that wouldn’t go away. It runs in my family and my love for both coffee and beer are no help, but I can still feel it flare up when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed by everything in my life.

There are lots of reasons I put myself through this, but that’s another post. What I struggle with and what seems to cause so much heartburn is that I am desperately trying to tie together the strands of a life that is broken and fragmented. Even though I live in an intentional community, I have these spheres of life, family, church, work, etc. that don’t connect or overlap. I feel the pull of these different areas of my life in terms of relationships and time. I am committed to community life in my church, but I don’t always have time because of work. I am also interested in spending time with my family, but don’t get to see them enough and stress about that. So, relationships stretch at the fabric of my life.

Life has also been divided up into different spheres that are not supposed to touch either. Economics shouldn’t mix with religion. So, your job is just what you do for a living, but should be kept separate from your church life. I am finding that trying to integrate these areas of our lives often feels more disruptive, difficult and frustrating. For example, the many reasons for me starting a business include wanting to provide employment for people in my community, have work that feels meaningful, eventually integrate my home and work life more. In the process though this seems to move me further away from that goal as my life becomes crazier and more fragmented.

I don’t claim to have the answers. Some days I am just keeping my head above water. What has kept me from quitting are the people that listen and encourage me, mostly my wife, people that don’t think I’m crazy for starting a business, but who also know the need for balance and wholeness in life. It’s easy for me to get so caught up in what I should be doing to ignore the warning signs of burnout, fatigue and impending catastrophe.

Health and wholeness is not something that we will achieve someday in the future. It is what we do today to live into it more and more. I have been so distracted by the big questions about what economics, theology or politics should be like that I have forgotten to ask if I was able to be a better person today. The world has problems to be sure. I hope to be more a part of the solution than the problem. I don’t think that the solution comes at the expense of health or family or relationships. If it does, it’s not actually a solution, but still a part of the problem no matter good, cool, hip, trendy or sustainable it is.

So listen to your body when it tells you to slow down. Better yet, listen to yourself, your family and friends before your body has to tell you. The world will be better off because of it. Maybe that will be enough.

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