Tools of Peace
On the struggle to hold onto internal peace
It’s mid-December, midwinter, and I’m guessing you are tired.
Maybe you are a parent of small children, knee-deep in tissues and tending to what feels like the one millionth virus your family has hosted since school began in September. Maybe you are in retail, and your patience is growing thin for long days stocking shelves and scanning barcodes and smiling deferentially at increasingly harried and short-tempered customers. Maybe you’re just trying to get through one last week of work before you cross the clear demarcation between this year and the next.
How are you? my friends and I ask each other by text, that woefully poor cousin of the phone call, the letter, or the coffee date. Without exception, we each reply, I am just plain tired.
I’m just past the middle of this pregnancy, and running what feels like a long marathon of clinic shifts, homework punch lists, homeschool planner pages, and tiny snack cups and plates. At the sidelines, a sea of endless laundry. It is blurry, and bleary, and sometimes blah-y. And I am honestly not doing a great job at a lot of it right now. What weighs most on my heart are the moments I have been short and unkind with my children, even though I know better. Lord, I have prayed this week. I’m sorry. I know better. Please be my strength. Please, help me.
One part of that help has come in the form of a small book I’ve been keeping in my purse. Recently, I got to pause for a decaf at a bagel shop after my midwife appointment, and have a moment to be still and quiet, to look out the wide windows at a brightly cold day, and read these words:
“…the Christian life is a combat, a war without mercy… a struggle against evil, temptation, and the sin that is in [us]. This combat is inevitable, but is to be understood as an extremely positive reality, because, as Saint Catherine of Siena says, ‘without war there is no peace,’; without combat there is no victory. But… it is by no means the hopeless struggle of somebody who battles in blindness and solitude, without any certitude as to the result of this confrontation. Rather, it is the combat of one who struggles with absolute certitude that the victory is already won, because the Lord is resurrected.”
In a cultural moment when self-care (Tsk-tsk, are you making time for self-care?) seems to get heaped on the growing pile of impossible tasks and standards for women to meet, it’s oddly reassuring to pause and remember it’s okay to feel stressed, and just plain tired, and like I’m not doing a great job. That all seems to be part of the package of being a human. It feels good to remember that I can feel all of this, and also feel hope, because I know that the God of Peace came into the world in midwinter, and it was the start of the story that says these feelings of stress and fatigue and failure don’t have the final word on my worth, my belovedness, my share in the mystery of the resurrection that is for all of us.
Sometimes, when I listen to just the fatigue and the defeat, I start to worry that I’m making a mistake. Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to finish acupuncture school while raising my children. Isn’t motherhood the most important job I have? How will I manage the next steps on the road to being licensed? How will my family adjust to more clinic shifts when I get ready to do this for a living?
But every time— every time— I step into the clinic, every time I roll up on my stool next to someone in pain and we take the beautiful risk, together, of being hopeful about the outcome of their treatment, I remember: I love this work. This matters to me. Surely this work also matters to God, is also a part of the story God is writing in my life, including the mess and fatigue of pursuing my license while raising my children.
Just because things are hard, and awkward, and clumsy, it doesn’t mean I’m on the wrong path. I’ve long struggled with the question, Am I doing what God wants me to do? But I hold onto this prayer by Thomas Merton, which reads in part: “…the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.”
Prayer, no matter how small and poor it may seem to me, is the stable where Peace is born in my life, over and over again. It is a wonder and a grace that God takes my tiny words, my tears— please, help me— and uses them to draw me ever closer into the Love that embraces all of us.
Prayer is a tool of peace, and I am so glad it’s not all up to me. Because it doesn’t come easily to me, I’m not as consistent as I’d like to be, and most of the time I don’t feel terribly peaceful while I pray. But I know that when I admit my weaknesses and pride— I thought I knew better— I open myself up to the risk of hope that God can and will do the rest of this job. The truth is, it is all grace. It’s amazing to me that God has put this tool of peace into our hands and hearts, so that we can participate in His work.
For me, community acupuncture is another kind of tool of peace. It is a way I do battle against the despair I often feel about the shape our world has taken, and the way our economy wreaks havoc on the minds and bodies of the most vulnerable. It is a way I can join others in fighting back against the evil that keeps people from affording the basic human need for healthcare and pain relief. For me, giving a treatment is a prayer. As I work, I am praying for peace and relief in the life of the person under my hands, and I know that it is not really me who does the work. It’s the wisdom of the person’s own body, and their connection to the source of life— to Love— that responds to the needles. It’s an incredible privilege to get to be part of that.
I am trying to remember to give thanks for my weariness, my brokenness, and for a God who can turn them into windows— wide, bright windows through which I can get a glimpse of what really matters: this fight for peace. In my soul first, and then in the world. In my relationships with my children, my husband, my friends and my patients.
There is a song my son likes to sing with me at bedtime, a soft call-and-response in affirmation of God’s promises:
Do you feel the world is broken?
Do you feel the shadows deepen?
And do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?
Do you wish that we could see it all made new?
In the middle of winter, the darkest part of the year, light broke through, and it continues to break through. May Peace be born in us in the middle of this winter, and every day.
Links and Things
A birthday wish. I’ll turn 40 on January 7th. (!) I’d love it if you’d help me celebrate by donating $5 to my acupuncture program, POCA Technical Institute, and in particular to our accreditation campaign. My letters to you here will always be free; I have no plans to start charging for subscriptions. A one-time donation of any amount to this campaign which ends on December 31st is one way you can support me, and everyone who comes through POCA Tech to become part of the community acupuncture movement. Or join me and become a POCA Tech sustainer for as little as $5/month.
As I finish up my final year of school, I’ve been digging into some of the research on acupuncture’s positive effect on a wide range of health problems, particularly for pain relief. My own experience with chronic pain is what led me to pursue a license in community acupuncture, because being able to afford frequent treatments gave me consistent pain relief when nothing else did. In the face of the ongoing opioid crisis, and as the US healthcare system continues to fail to meet the needs of people on the margins, community acupuncture can help make a real difference in real people’s lives, right now.
If you decide to donate, would you send me an email and let me know? It would make my day. Thank you very much to everyone who has already donated.
Some budget tools. As we get ready to welcome a new member to our family, I’ve been turning more of my attention toward our budget. I know I am not the only one struggling to keep the gas and grocery bills down right now. We also recently decided to try to cut our mortgage term in half, so I’ve been looking for new ways to cut costs wherever I can. Two tools I’ve found helpful are Gas Buddy and Rocket Money.
Gas Buddy helps you find the cheapest gas prices near you. You can also sign up for a card that links to your bank account and gives you a little money back each time you fill up. So far this has been easy, and really handy.
Rocket Money is basically budgeting software. I personally find it more practical to track expenses the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. BUT, I’ve really loved their help with tracking and canceling subscriptions (anyone else always forget to cancel after two-week trials??), tracking bill increases, and helping to negotiate with companies for lower rates (looking at you, internet provider). We also tried out the smart savings feature for a time, which makes tiny withdrawals throughout the month and deposits them into a separate bank account. I didn’t miss the $1.43 or $6.37 here and there, and within just a few months we had enough saved to take an overnight mini getaway (nothing fancy, just in our own city, but much-needed). You can pause or cancel and make a withdrawal any time. Do you have any favorite money-saving apps, hacks, or habits? I’d love to hear them.
Some further thoughts on entering the Catholic Church. I wrote a little more about converting to Catholicism in my last post on Kristin Lavransdatter for Project Redux. I started praying the rosary in December of last year, and since then have found myself more and more drawn to the Catholic Church. It was an adventure to read this very Catholic book as I processed my own feelings about conversion. In case you missed it, Project Redux is a gathering of writers revisiting forgotten books, with essays and poetry posted to a common blog. In 2023, we’ll be reading L.M. Montgomery’s Emily trilogy, a series I haven’t read since I was about eleven years old. Come join us. You can read the first book, Emily of New Moon, for free here.
Favorite tools of peace. Since this month’s letter is about fighting for peace, I thought I’d share two of my favorite tools for prayer. I am about halfway through a 9-month retreat called the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life, or SEEL, which is a program for laypeople to encounter St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercises, also known as the 19th annotation retreat. SEEL is affordable and accessible for people with busy lives, and is available at retreat centers in many cities and states— sometimes even offered remotely. I am so grateful to get to participate. I’ve found it very challenging, supportive, and surprising. My other favorite tool is the Hallow app, which I mostly listen to while driving. Praying the rosary in traffic has been such a beautiful way to find more time for God and also seriously lower my blood pressure while navigating Portland roadways. It’s pretty hard to call someone a jerk in the middle of a Hail Mary. ;)
Thank you for being here, friends. I hope to be back in your inbox come January. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you. If something here spoke to you, please leave a comment or reply to this email. How do you wage peace in the world? What are your favorite tools for peace?
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