Overachieverhoodness

I have a confession. I’m a bit of an overachiever.

And maybe not just “a bit.”

But I’m not an overchiever about everything. In fact, I’m not an overachiever in most things. Housework. Exercise. Crafting. Flossing.

Rather, I choose my obsessions carefully. I set goals. I achieve them, most of the time. I’m just careful not to set goals for something I can’t or won’t achieve.

I’ve been at the top of the academic programs I’ve gone through, but not because I’m super smart. It’s that overachieving workaholic in me whose claws come out when I see a textbook, some notecards, and a lecture outline. Studying 100 hours for a single test was the norm for me. By the time I finished PA school in 2005, I had a stack of flashcards taller than me. That was only from 1/3 of my classes. And I knew them all. Back and front.

Of course, this tendency toward overachieverhoodness leads to a fair amount of ribbing. I still get teased on a regular basis for my perfectionistic tendencies, and my driven approach to my select goals. And that’s okay, because I know that deep down inside, people want their physician assistant and/or professor to be at least a bit of a perfectionist, especially if they enjoy the personal impact of a lower rate of medical errors that accompanies a hefty dose of overachieverhoodness.

My overachieving ways have landed me in an academic setting, which I love. Unfortunately, that same overachieving nature has led me to teaching Medical Physiology each summer, which covers 700 pages of physics as applied to the human body in 12 weeks. And every summer that I have taught this class, I have ended up nearly blind by the end of the summer. The first summer, I thought my prescription had just changed. My second summer, I thought it was eye strain. This is my third summer, and sure enough, by the first few weeks of class, I was struggling to see.

My vision always gradually returns to normal in the fall, but during those summer times in which I have to cover 80 pages of text in a week, having a visual problem is very disturbing.

So when I scheduled my annual appointment with my optometrist this year, I told him about what was going on. We talked about typical eye strain issues — proper lighting, computer positioning, reference material placement, but I had tried all these and they hadn’t helped. (After all, as an overachiever I had figured those things out myself!)

Then he got a quizzical look on his face, and stated that he had an idea. He examined my eyes, and sure enough, he was right.

When my eyes are tested in a clinical setting, they like increasing amounts of correction, even beyond what I need. So I end up with a prescription that is much stronger than needed, and my eyes have trouble accommodating for the extra strength. If we backed off on my prescription, rather than increasing its strength, we might be able to break the cycle of the syndrome.

“Really? That is very interesting. Does the syndrome have a name?” I asked, knowing that I would go home and at least Google it.

“Yes,” he replied. “It’s called Overachiever Syndrome.”

 

Silence.

 

“Is there another name for it?”

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Belly Up On a Bare Floor

Five years ago, we had just moved into our house in Donelson from the dorm at Trevecca. We had two wild-as-bucks lab puppies, I was working in dermatology, and Ken had just finished his Master’s in Business Administration. Everyone had always told us that an MBA was the ticket to a six-figure salary, and that he would never have trouble finding a job — not that he had ever had trouble with that. Until that summer.

I wrote the following in July of 2006 . . .

——————————————————————————————————————–

Just before the puppies came to us, I asked you all for puppy advice.

The Gaffords offered this:

I can’t really think of any particular products to recommend, but one of the best things we did for Allie was to teach her submission. We did this several times a day (especially if she was getting too wild, etc.). All you do is flip the pup over on his/her back (either on the floor/ground or in your lap) and hold him/her down with your hand. The idea is to not let them get up until they’ve relaxed. They learn to trust you this way. This has also come in handy as we’ve needed to trim nails or do ear drops, etc. If you teach it to them when they’re puppies, it will make it a lot easier later on.

It was great advice, and our vet reinforced the same principle. Hold them down, belly up, until they relax. Submission. Trust.

That’s how I’m actually feeling in our life right now. Ken is still looking for a job. When he didn’t get the job we thought was his in February – a dream job coordinating a team to create and write young adult ministry material – we were assured by family and friends, “That’s because God surely has something better planned.”

Yet here we wait. Ken is done as RD. Other dream jobs that we thought were his have come and gone. We are no further along in the job search process than we were a month ago. In fact, we’re further behind.

And maybe God does have some spectacular job waiting around the corner. Perhaps someone will call him tomorrow and offer Ken a job that takes into account his experience and education as well as his talents and social skills.

But for now, I feel like one of the puppies, held down on my back. Learning to trust. Trying to relax.

The truth is, when I turn the puppies over, sometimes I have no reason other than to teach them to trust me. To learn submission. Sometimes it is to give them a belly rub or clean their paws. But I also sometimes just have to hold them down to teach them to rest, even while they are uncomfortable.

I think too often we try to rationalize God’s behavior, demanding that everything work out to make sense –wanting there to be a reason for being forced to wait and hold still. Expecting, almost demanding, for there to be a good reason for the forced submission. We expect that God will always have something better around the corner when He lets us up.

And He very well may. Yet insisting that God answer me in a way that I think makes sense or provide something better means that I’m not really allowing God to be God. Part of allowing God to be God to me is letting Him hold me down, forcing me to wait, forcing me to trust.

Yes, forcing me to submit.

And sometimes for no other reason than for me to recognize that He is God, and I am not.

There may be something wonderful around the corner, or there may be more waiting, or there may be something that isn’t what we had hoped for.

All is not lost. I don’t despair. I can trust that He is good. Whether Ken gets a job of his dreams that now seems out of reach, or stays at home as a full-time puppy wrangler, or stocks shelves, God is still good. I can choose to be angry at God for holding me down, or I can relax in His arms, knowing that whether this time will end the way I hope, or the way I fear, He is still good.

So as I feel like a puppy lying belly up on a bare floor, I’m learning to relax in the hand of the One who is good, no matter what circumstances may come.

__________________________________________________

Indeed, there was more waiting to come. It was an additional year before Ken started his job at our current church, and only at 1/4 time. It wasn’t until 18 months after that when he finally went full-time.  Whether the delay was about understanding submission, realizing God’s goodness in spite of circumstances, or figuring out God’s plans are not about me but about Him, there were lessons to be learned along the way.

Time waiting is never wasted.

Neighbors Who Defy the Norm

“We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbor.” — Gilbert K. Chesterton

When I tried to find an inspiring quote about good neighbors, I was shocked at how many sarcastic and negative quotes exist about neighbors. It is apparent that most people in the world don’t like their neighbors, or at best, just tolerate them. I feel quite the opposite.

We have been blessed to live in a great neighborhood, but even more so to be immediately surrounded by some wonderful neighbors — generous, kind, forgiving, loving neighbors. Neighbors who pray for us, and with us. Neighbors who share extra produce. Neighbors who keep an eye on our dogs if we are out-of-town. Neighbors who read our blog and comment. 🙂 Neighbors who knew our devastating circumstances in the spring, and surrounded us with a hedge of prayer on every side, and a refrigerator full of food.

We are so blessed to have wonderful neighbors. They inspire us, encourage us, and make not only our house, but our neighborhood, a great place to come home to.

Beginnings of Life and Love

Tomorrow’s lecture, in the Medical Ethics class that Ken and I are co-teaching, discusses beginning-of-life issues, which are exceedingly complex. To examine the technicalities of the events of conception compared with the ethical and theological issues of original genetic material is dizzying. To acknowledge that life begins at conception is a given for most, but the more intriguing and difficult question is when does biology encounter the eternal?

  • When does God impart the soul?
  • If life begins and the soul is imparted at conception, do identical twins share a soul?
  • If the soul leaving the body and cessation of brain activity defines death, how to we conversely define life?

 These questions are not so easy to answer, but the answers have terribly important implications– not only for the issue of abortion, but for stem cell research, and even contraception.

I’ve always been pro-life. I’ve even worked at a Crisis Pregnancy Center. But even within the pro-life movement, there are many different beliefs and definitions. That doesn’t even include the pro-choice side of the debate. The sanctity of life has been debated for nearly 40 years now, and the end of the dispute is nowhere in sight.

During adult Bible study last night, the issue of abortion came up as we were discussing the role of politics in the life of a Christian. Ken pointed out that when Mother Teresa visited the United States, and spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, she cut to the issue of abortion when she said of unwanted fetuses, “Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted.” Rather than casting out caustic words of judgment, she simply answered the question of what to do with unwanted children with open arms and with a heart of love.

For me, at the heart of the pro-life movement is a connection to adoption– adoption of infants, adoption of children from other countries, adoption from foster care. I believe that life is precious. I believe that every child deserves a forever family, regardless of how old they are, what country they live in, or how much it costs to unite them with a family. I believe that God loves each of the children of the world every bit as much as He loves you and me. And I believe that orphanages break His heart.

God, help me to see the things that break your heart, and react not with judgment or harsh words, but with open arms and a heart of love.

Gettin’ Chikin’ for Adoptin’

On four Wednesdays in August, Chick Fil A is going to allow us to keep a portion of the proceeds made from sales from our friends who eat at Chick Fil A from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.! Perfect timing for heading to or from church! You can eat in the dining area, or get food in drive through!

The more friends who participate, the greater percentage of sales we’ll receive to help us in our adoption from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The dates are:

August 10th, 17th, 24th, and 31st at the HERMITAGE Chick Fil A.  

 

In order for us to get credit for your purchase, you’ll need to put your receipt in a basket at the front counter.

 

We drive past at least a dozen other restaurants to go to Chick Fil A, usually at least once per week. Why do we love Chick Fil A? Let me count the ways:

  1. Your food is delicious. Always.
  2. Your customer service is not only quick, but accurate, and pleasant.
  3. You offer me several choices of diet beverages, and I enjoy them all!
  4. Your restrooms are clean.
  5. Your employees offer to take my tray, bring me refills, or offer me mints. In short, I feel like you want me there.
  6. I’ve never heard a former employee say anything but great things about working in your restaurant, and they continue to eat there too.
  7. You’re quick to make your customers happy – whether it’s giving kids ice cream instead of toys with their kid’s meals, giving extra dipping sauce, or handing out coupons.
  8. You invest significant money into foster children, college students, marriages, and Christian leadership principles. All things that I care deeply about as well.
  9. Your corporate purpose is: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to our care,” reminding us that we can glorify God, no matter what our vocation.

But you know why I love you most, Chick Fil A?

You’re going to help us raise money for adoption!  

Would you consider Gettin’ Chikin’ for Adoptin’ those nights? Would you help us bring our children home?

Oh Happy Eating!

Ken and I spent a fun afternoon chasing down our newest-to-us food truck. Fortunately, we didn’t have far to go. Happy Eating was parked out in front of Happy Japan on Bransford Avenue in Berry Hill.

We don’t consider ourselves well-versed in Japanese cuisine, other than sushi, but we were willing to try some new flavors and foods. Happy Eating was a great choice for Japanese-inspired fusion cuisine.

At first the menu looked a little bland, until we saw the specials of the day. The Hiro Tacos immediately caught my eye: terrayaki chicken with asian slaw, rice and a side of grilled pineapple. And sweet potato curry fries with a side of wasabi mayo? Yes please! Ken chose BBQ steam buns, gyoza (vegetable-filled dumplings), and another order of sweet potato curry fries.

The hero of the meal was definitely the Hiro Tacos. Great Japanese flavors in a crispy taco-shaped wonton shell was music to my happy tastebuds. The sweet potato fries had a great sweet heat — especially with the wasabi mayo. Ken’s BBQ rolls were light and delicious, and the gyoza was very good as well, especially the sauce, which I’m fairly certain I could drink a whole bowl of.

The most fun part was the soda. I got a Japanese strawberry soda and Ken got “lychee” flavored soda. When we asked what lychee flavor was, the vendor explained it tasted like what would happen if a grape and a peach got married and had a little baby fruit. If for nothing but to support a blended family, Ken had to try it. Both sodas were delicious, but the best part was trying to open them! We had to peel off the wrapper, pop off the top, push the center of the top out, and then plunge it into the top of the bottle to dislodge a marble, which then allowed us to drink. This is clear evidence that the Japanese must be highly educated — otherwise they would always be thirsty!

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Overall, we LOVED our Happy Eating experience! The food was great, the service was awesome, and even outdoor dining was tolerable in the shade. When we mentioned that we were from the Donelson-Hermitage area, they said that they regularly get asked to come to Hermitage, but aren’t sure where to park the truck. They were completely open to suggestions! Hermitage peeps, would you be interested in getting some food truck traffic? Where would be a good place for them to park? Does anyone want to join us for our next food truck adventure?

Blessings of Intuition

Over recent years, I’ve come to realize that I have a fairly good sense of intuition. (Obviously not about everything.)  Sometimes the sense of intuition is about odd things — for several years I had a bizarre sense about who would win in the Stanley Cup playoffs, before I ever knew anything about hockey. One time, I even dreamed about what exactly would happen in a playoff series, and over the next week, it came true. Unfortunately, it was about Ken’s favorite team being swept in the first round of the playoffs. It took him a while for him to forgive me for that. Regrettably, the more I know about hockey, the worse my intuition becomes.

Sometimes intuition comes into play about quite serious things. For instance, when I was working in dermatology, I did hospital rounds every day. (Yes. Dermatologists do hospital rounds). And there were times when I knew that my patients were not expected to live much longer, and there was nothing we could do to intervene. In every case in which my patients passed away, I knew it the instant when it happened, even though I was away from the hospital. Sometimes I would be driving down the road, or at home, or in the clinic, and I would get an overwhelming sense that I needed to pray for that patient. I would pray fervently, until I felt a sense of peace and relief. When I would eventually go to the hospital, often not until the next day, sure enough, the patient would have passed away — at the very time I had the overwhelming sense to pray for them. It happened each time one of my patients passed away.

I’ve realized that whenever God brings someone to mind, my best course of action is to pray for them. I’ve realized that the sense of intuition is often the Holy Spirit (although not always, unless He has a keen interest in hockey), and is worth paying attention to.

On the morning of Maundy Thursday, I had another deep sense of the Holy Spirit speaking to me when I heard this song as I was driving to work. I had heard it before, but this time the song resounded in my soul. I knew that the Holy Spirit was speaking and needed me to hear the words and remember them. I also sensed that the song was about to become very important to me. I hated that — it meant that something bad was about to happen. And I would find out only hours later that I was right.

Sure enough, after the events of the day, the song continued to play loudly in my mind. I would wake to its sound in the morning, and fall asleep to the same. I needed the reminder that in some strange way, the events that made my world crumble were adding strength to my relationship with the One who made my world to begin with. I was challenged to reach the point at which whatever difficulties God leads me through are welcome blessings, even if they are disguised in cloaks of pain and darkness.

I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit began to speak to me before I even knew I needed Him to. I’m thankful for songwriters who understand that God’s blessings aren’t always what we ask for or want. Most of all, I’m thankful for Blessings in Disguise.

Hope Is On The Way

I’ve watched this video many times — looking for their faces, inspecting the facilities, searching for smiles. This is where the children I hope to bring home soon are living.

I wonder:

Do they know that we’re coming?

Are they afraid?

Are they losing hope that no one will ever come for them?

Do they know that we love them — even though we’ve never met?

Do they know that we have every detail of their pictures memorized, right down to the stains on their shirts and the braids in their hair? 

Do they know that we’re working hard to bring them home as fast as we can?

 

God, keep these children safe — all of them who are waiting for their forever families.  

But could you whisper to those who will belong to us? Hope is on the way.

Lamentations 3: 21-26, NIV

Yet this I call to mind
   and therefore I have hope:

 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.”

 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him; 
it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD.

Adoption Is Our Plan A

Last week, I had to renew my adoption physical, so I was back to see my wonderful physician. This was not the first . . . or even the third time I had seen her in the last year for something adoption-related. When I told her of our recent frustrations and joys with adoption, she was very candid with me about her own struggles with infertility, and how when she was patient, God allowed her to conceive. Though she had considered adoption, she was so thankful that God had blessed her by being able to give birth to her own children. She talked to me some about local infertility specialists, and she encouraged me not to give up hope of conceiving and to know that God had a plan.

Over the last year as we’ve talked about adoption with friends, many have told us stories of surprise conceptions after submitting adoption paperwork, or made statements of sympathy regarding our infertility. While I so appreciated stories of inspiration, and feelings of empathy, I have to be honest. Our adoption has nothing to do with infertility. For us, adoption is not a plan B.

Adoption is our plan A.

While it may be difficult for others to understand, to me it has been clear since I was a child: I was to leave my home open, so that when the time was right, we could open it to a child or children in need. Sure, it’s taken us a long time to finish our education and find stable employment to create a good atmosphere for having children, but we eventually arrived at the point where we were ready to start building our family — through adoption.

I find the cause of the fatherless to be echoed throughout Scripture — that we are to care for foreigners, orphans, and widows and that turning away from them bears serious consequences. A passage that has consistently inspired us has been in James 1:22-27, NIV.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

We cannot read the consistent theme of caring for orphans that is present throughout the Bible and then turn away as if we havn’t read it. Scripture has been clear, and my calling since childhood has been clear. Making room for orphans in our home is God’s mandate to care for others in the same way He has cared for us.

Recently, a book I’ve been reading confirmed some the same sentiments that I’ve been feeling.

“We look back on slave-owning churchgoers of 150 years ago and ask, ‘How could they have treated their fellow human beings that way?’ I wonder if followers of Christ 150 years from now will look back at Christians in America today and ask, ‘How could they live in such big houses? How could they drive such nice cars and wear such nice clothes? How could they live in such affluence while thousands of children were dying because they didn’t have food and water? How could they go on with their lives as though the billions of poor didn’t even exist?'” — David Platt, in Radical

I’m glad I was able to explain to my physician that our plan to adopt was our first choice. She didn’t need to feel bad or refer me to a specialist. In a sense, God Himself is our fertility specialist. We are expecting children — children on the other side of the world whom God is preparing to bring into our lives at His designated delivery date.

And we couldn’t be more excited about our Plan A.

Brewing Something Good

When Ken was in his MBA program, he had to do an in-depth economic project on a industry of his choice. He looked no further than our kitchen for inspiration: the coffee industry. Coffee is the second most highly traded commodity in the world, second only to oil. The United States is the world’s largest consumer, drinking 1/5 of the world’s coffee. Unfortunately, prices that are paid to the local coffee farmer are often not a livable wage, and in some cases, do not even cover the costs of production. It sounds an awful lot like slavery, doesn’t it? All so I can have a cup of coffee in the morning.
 
If farmers aren’t paid a livable wage, their children are more likely to receive a poor education — if they get an education at all, because they are required to work in the fields. The health of the family is at increased risk. The cycle of poverty cannot be broken.
 
While I pride myself on being frugal, God began to convict me of stealing profits from farmers in third world countries. While I like to save a dollar as much as the next person, I was saving money at the expense of those who needed the money much more desperately than I did. My purchasing habits perpetuated the cycle of poverty. My spending habits were leading to more orphans in the world.
 
In 2008, Ken and I decided that we needed to be more socially conscious with our purchases, starting with coffee. We decided to buy Fair Trade coffee, which is purchased with as few intermediaries as possible, to keep profits in the pockets of the farmer and in the farmer’s community. The Fair Trade label ensures that farmers are paid a local competitive wage, that the farmers use environmentally sustainable practices, and there is a required investment in community development. Schools are built. Clinics are established. Families stay together.  And we get coffee that is second to none.
 
The most surprising thing about Fair Trade coffee is that it typically costs NO MORE than comparable quality commercial coffee. The bags sit next to other bags of coffee, but bear this label:
 

No, you won’t find Fair Trade coffee in the large bargain-priced cannisters, but you will find it if you look for it. Most grocery stores now carry at least one Fair Trade line of coffee.

Our support fair treatment of coffee farmers around the world is one reason why we’ve chosen to raise money for our adoption through Just Love Coffee. Their organization roasts coffee to be sold for the purpose of supporting an Ethiopian orphanage. They also have a wide variety of fair trade coffee. Plus we receive $5 per bag to support our adoption.  
 
So each bag purchased helps to support:
  • farmers, so they can earn a fair wage in order to support their families,
  • an Ethiopian orphange,
  • and us!

Who knew one bag of coffee could make a difference in the lives of so many?

Will your next cup of coffee make a difference? One way or another, I believe it will.