March 01, 2012

Speaking of Emerging Icemen...

James recently reemerged on Facebook after a two and a half year hiatus, and I quipped on my status that the Iceman had emerged. But if he's a Facebook iceman, then I suppose that makes me a blogger Icewoman. Encino Man style!

If I even get started trying to make excuses for why I haven't blogged for the past ten months, I'll never actually blog. Besides, to make excuses is to assume that there is someone out there holding me responsible or even watching this blog anymore (which I highly doubt). However I have recently begun to restore my view of blogs as being a tool to write giant letters about yourself to the people who are around you and care about you, but whom you may have a hard time keeping in contact with. I am awful at emailing (as many of you can attest to), and chance encounters with me are more and more likely to happen at Starbucks while I make your Decaf Triple Tall in a Grande Nonfat Half Sweet, No Whip, Extra Foam, 190 degree, Pumpkin Spice Latte, which of course is a recipe for highly in-depth conversation. (breath, that was a run-on sentence!)

Another good reason for me to blog is that over the last year and a half, I have largely become an introvert. This is definitely a new development for me and I am often surprised to realize that I have become more comfortable to not say anything at all than to aimlessly chatter. I used to feel uncomfortable around people who were quiet. I thought that it was my responsibility to fill the silence with whatever came to my head, and that if I didn't, things would feel awkward. Then one day, I had this startling realization: "Wait a second, this quiet person is not feeling awkward... they just don't have anything to say!" While that was a mind blowing realization in and of itself, an even greater extension was to realize that if THEY were comfortable being quiet, I should feel comfortable being quiet too.

So I began to practice feeling comfortable with silence. But that is what it remained, a practice. Not a natural inclination.

Not so anymore. I have tried to analyze why this sudden change has occurred, but every analysis takes me on meandering rabbit trails and leaves me dangling. The best one I can come up with is that over the year of being sick and the internal processing that followed, my words usually felt inadequate to express my thoughts, so I just stopped trying. Often that is still the case. Whatever the cause, the outcome is that my introvert/extrovert side has done a complete 180, and its been a strange thing to observe. I've always considered myself to be an extrovert. I can still pull it out on a moment's whim (usually at Starbucks), but it is no longer my default setting.

So what has happened in the last 10 months? Plenty! I will make a short list here without offering explanations for any of them. I have tried to start blogs with explanations and they all come out sounding like I am very disappointed with the world, which is definitely not true!

1) In July James left for four months of research for his Master's degree in... Bali! James' stepmother gave four months of her life and devoted it to caring for the boys and helping me on the home front. Although I've tried to say it many times... thank you to that wonderful and loving woman, Theresa Frey! You will receive your honorary Master's Degree sometime in the next few months.

2) Three days after James left, I started working as a shift supervisor at Starbucks. Not the job I dreamed of or trained for, but God provided nonetheless. Rather cry about the doors that closed in my own field, I'd rather be grateful and do my best at the job that has been given to me. Besides, after a year of being "sick" I just needed something to make me feel useful and alive. However after living in China, dealing with my health, questioning God and just being a parent and wife in the midst of it all, it was a bit of a shock to my system to return to the world.

3) Working where I do has taught me a lesson in humility. Even though I was "groomed for bigger things", it turns out that our working world doesn't consider me to be such a hot commodity. Thus, I've learned that I am no better than anyone else. But there is a bonus to this. The flip side to not being superior to anyone else, is that no one else is superior me. I used to feel intimidated by those with "better credentials" than I, but my lesson in humility has taught me to look for the human being in everyone, instead of looking at their credentials. The outcome is that I feel a lot more confident around a myriad of people, and less concerned about what their opinion of me may be. I find myself to be far more interested in people's LIVES and their HEARTS.

The funny thing is, I can't count the number of incredulous looks I've received to hear that I have a Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition, I speak Chinese, worked with an NGO, come through a cancer battle... and yet work at Starbucks. But the truth is that I don't owe an explanation to anyone. My mantra has become "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all unto the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are serving." I used to hate it when people said that because I thought that it was just a Christian-ese way of making mundane tasks seem holy. But the way I see it now is that God is the only one who truly sees my heart as I go about my work. So whatever it is that I find myself doing, my goal is that he would find my heart to be pure.

4) While James was in Bali, we were limited to email contact. His access to internet in poor rural fishing villages couldn't support anything nearly so sophisticated as Skype (or even Google chat) and the phone was inconceivably expensive, so other than my visit to see him in September, we went without hearing each other's voices for four months. Only in retrospect do I realize how crazy this sounds. Right after a year of fairly traumatic and life changing events for us, we were essentially cut off from each other. Our only communication was through email.

But guess what! Letter writing turns out to be quite a therapeutic measure for recovering from trauma. Everyday, James and I wrote letters to each other. He would describe the people he was meeting, the places he was going, the scenery, the work, his motorbike rides etc. I, in turn, would write about the people I met at Starbucks, the garden, and the boys. And of course, we wrote about our thoughts. Through our emails we conducted our own sort of Couple's Therapy for Couples Recovering from Traumatic Events. It was amazing how honest and open we could be in our letters. We've always been very communicative, but sometimes in a marriage it is just hard to have a conversation without interruptions, misunderstandings and offense, especially when you are on opposite sides of the same coin. When you write a letter, however, you have all the time in the world to express yourself the right way (as opposed to whatever pops out of your mouth). When you read the letter that comes in return, you have time to process what was in that letter instead of having to respond immediately, or risk hurting the other person.

I went to visit him for two week in Bali, and it was a very good time. I rode around on the back of his motorbike, hugging him for all I was worth, and he took me to beaches with beautiful black sand, high terraced mountains, and tiny poor villages.

By the time he came back in the beginning of November we were more than ready for a family life again, where Mom isn't sick, and Dad isn't far away in Bali. However, for all the trials of that time, I truly believe it was a good thing, at a good time. Since he has been home, we have coveted our family time, feeling protective of our quiet evenings at home and savoring our new family dynamic.

And it definitely is a new family dynamic. Its funny. At times I have felt like I fell asleep on the day of my seizure in Beijing and only just woken up recently. During the time that I was sleeping (aka dealing with stuff), the boys changed dramatically. When I "fell asleep", Ari and Jude were still significantly dependent on us and not very good at expressing themselves. Now they have well developed personalities, and a great sense of humor. They know how to contribute intelligently to the dinner table discussion and they make us laugh all the time with their jokes. Ari is reading and writing stories (both in French and in English!). They don't wake up crying during the night anymore. They can clean up after themselves (not that they always do!) They play board games together!

For now, James is the primary caregiver, since he is at home writing his thesis and I am still working. But I have been amazed at how well it is working out. James missed the boys so much while he was gone, that he seems to have gained a limitless ability to enjoy them. They in turn think he is the funniest man alive. (the real secret is that James can finally indulge in his little boy humor!)

And that brings us to today (sort of, by way of numerous short cuts), where I have a day off, the boys are recovering from some kind of flu, and James is off guest lecturing at both Providence College and the University of Manitoba. I'm hoping that writing this blog entry will break my reticence to write. After maintaining a "cancer blog", its easy to forget that this blog was never started for that purpose.

We'll see how it goes from here!


Dustin Reimer said...

It's nice to see you back on the blogging wagon... it seems to be one of the only ways, besides facebook, that I get to hear about whats going on with the Freys.

derrydown said...

Keep writing, Jess! I love to hear your thoughts on life, and what the family is doing. It will be sooo nice to really sit down and talk with you soon.
Love, Mom

Dustin Reimer said...

Yay! I was excited and shocked (in a good way) to see that you wrote a blog post! I love to read your thoughts and what is happening in your life. Maybe you will have to change the blog name to message from the island soon :)

Laura said...

Sorry! That last comment was actually me