Sometimes we don’t realize how fast we are going until we have to stop. I am a mother of 3 (1 preteen and 2 teenagers). Our minivan is always full of stuff: a basketball, Mc Donald’s leftovers, school backpacks, lunch boxes, hockey gear and theatre scripts… you get the idea. If I’m driving at 20 km/h and come to a sudden stop, the transition is pretty easy. But if I am driving at 120 km/h and have to hit the brakes, every loose item is propelled to the front and becomes a hazard. A pencil becomes a sharp arrow; a bottle becomes a rocket; a basketball becomes a meteorite. The point is, sometimes our life is so fast paced that we don’t even notice until something unexpected comes along that forces us to slam on the brakes. And then, all the “stuff” comes flying at us. That is exactly what happened to me in 2015.
My mother died from cancer when I was 9 years-old. My father did shift work at the local explosives factory—mostly nights. In my teens, I was often alone at home. So I filled my schedule with activities. I learned to become autonomous early on. By the age of 15, I was already working 2 part-time jobs while keeping up with my high-school work. I bought my own clothes, cooked meals and did house chores. I was also volunteering at church, teaching Sunday school, as well as performed in theatre and dance productions. Plus, I even found time to babysit.
In my teenage years, I was placed in leadership positions in kids ministry and in my youth group. My friends called me Xena the warrior princess—they saw me as fearless and unstoppable. I wanted to please God and to have a significant impact on the world. I remember one particular night when I was 16, crying in bed because I had not yet solved the hunger problem in Africa.
At 21, my husband and I lived in Haiti. We pastored a church of 1000 children and teenagers in the inner city of Port-Au-Prince. Later in my twenties, I led a growing children's ministry in Victoria, B.C. In my thirties, I became a provincial director for my religious denomination—leading conferences, mentoring pastors, and traveling across the province as a children’s ministry consultant. Did I mention that I had 3 children during that time? I also managed to complete a Masters in Leadership, keep up with house chores, raise my kids, support my husband, and fulfill God’s calling over my life. The drive that characterized me at 16 was still the same in my 30s. I still wanted to change the world. I loved what I did. I loved my busy life.
All I ever wanted was to please God, serve others with dedication, care for my family, and be present for my friends. Sounds manageable, right?
In the fall of 2015, I was in a car accident. I suffered from whiplash and soft tissue injuries. I had intense migraines and experienced extreme back pain. The pain was comparable to childbirth, but there was no end to it. There was no reward—just chronic pain. I never would have guessed how this event was about to change my life. I went on medical leave, and after six months of doctors’ appointments, physiotherapy sessions, massage therapy, and pain killers, I was about 75% back to normal.
Eager to return to work, I sought my doctor’s permission. He recommended a progressive return to work, on the condition that various accommodations be made by my employer to ease my workload. Because of the nature of my role and the weight of the responsibilities, no accommodations were made.
I had the choice to either continue to rest and recover at home, or return to work and pick up my normal portfolio. Remember what I said about my high-capacity, my driven personality, my desire to have a great impact, and my wish to please others? The thought of staying at home to rest was contrary to every instinct and habit in my life. After all, I was Xena—God’s warrior princess. I chose to go back to work and I picked up right where I left off. However, I had to increase my pace to make up for lost time and to prove my capacity. I was in the office on time each day. I performed my duties as expected. I traveled by car 7 to 10 days each month to deliver seminars across the province. I loved my work and I loved the people I served. I was excited to be useful again.
However, seven months after my return, in the midst of the fall frenzy both at home and at work, I found myself at my wit's end. Once more I began to experience the same level of pain I had at the time of the accident. I had violent migraines aggravated by light and noise sensitivity. To keep the pace I asked my doctor to increase my prescription of pain killers.
The body has a way of being heard when it’s hurting. Pain medication can carry us to a certain point but the flip side is that it also silences the body's warning bells. It was lying to me, saying that I could handle more than I actually could. When the drugs wore off at the end of the day, I was left broken. For a while I did what most people do: I took deep breaths, put my head down, and kept going. I pushed through because I did not want to let my teammates down, I didn’t want to let myself down, and I certainly didn’t want to let God down.
Following another weekend away for a speaking commitment, I woke up one November morning with a level of pain beyond anything I had experienced before. I was paralyzed in bed and sobbing uncontrollably. That’s when my then 8-year-old son came into my bedroom, and with grave concern in his eyes asked me, “Mommy are you going to die?”
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
He went on to relate how he saw me come home from work and head straight to bed exhausted and in pain. He said that I was no longer playing with him like I used to. As we laid there, snuggled up, I remembered what the specialist had told me 6 months prior, “Unless you radically change the pace of your life, you will not get better.” I had to face the truth: my life had become unmanageable. My son was right—I was not the same as I used to be. I pushed through the pain to perform at work, but I could no longer parent my children, provide companionship to my husband, take care of our house, or be physically and emotionally present for those I loved most. In the end, not only had I re-injured my body, I was also burned-out. I had refused to listen to my body and to my loved ones who were urging me to slow down, rest, and take more time to recover from my accident.
The irony is that I’ve spent the last ten years coming alongside leaders during both their best and most challenging experiences. I knew that we were all susceptible to burnout. Furthermore, I’ve done extensive research on the causes of burnout and how it can be prevented; that was my focus for my Master's thesis!
Reflect on your current pace of life
This I know: change does not happen by chance. Attending seminars and reading books about self care will not change us. Information without implementation leads to stagnation. It’s information combined with revelation and application that brings transformation.
Revelation comes when our personal reflection is infused by the Holy Spirit; when we give room for God to speak to our hearts. Application involves goal setting and accountability in reaching those goals.
This is where we get back to our discussion about our pace of life. Remember slamming on the brakes and getting a basketball in the head? Pace is defined as the speed at which something happens. Our pace of life, then, is the speed at which we live day to day. It represents our level of busyness and stress—it’s our rhythm of life. Why is this important? Because it is one of the starting points to becoming the best version of ourselves. Being aware of our pace of life is crucial to our wellness; in fact, it is essential to our survival. By identifying where we are, we can determine what to adjust in order to get to where we want to be. Evaluating our pace of life will allow us to identify what changes we need to make to create space for rest and renewal.
If I would have taken the time to reflect on my pace of life, I would have discovered the following:
If I had been more aware of those things, I would have made better decisions and made them earlier in order to avoid much of the pain the second time around.
My personal journey coupled with my professional experience working with parents and leaders has taught me this: although most people have a good idea of what self-care should look like, many struggle to develop and implement daily habits that foster rest and wellness. It is my hope that this blog will provide insights on how to develop the life habits that will be enable you to become the best version of yourself.