March 2016, Theme: Embrace

April 3, 2016

Join us this 2015-2016 academic year, as we take time each month to reflect on a theme as a learning community. Hear from faculty and staff in a personal reflection on the theme, as they consider how the concept applies to their life and work. See here for an overview of these themes, which will also be highlighted in each month's school e-newsletter.

The theme for our school community this March 2016 is "Embrace." What can we embrace in ourselves, others, and our world? How does that active welcome change our perspective?

Download (& save or print!) a PDF of this March calendar, March-theme-calendar-pdf

Faculty member Dr. Erica Martin has written this month's personal reflection--speaking from the heart about how she has considered the theme. Dr. Martin, Instructor of Hebrew Scriptures, is not only a faculty member, but also an alumna of the School of Theology and Ministry!

Personal Reflection on the Theme, "Embrace"

The Most Uncomfortable “Embrace”
by Dr. Erica Martin 

The most uncomfortable embrace isn’t necessarily the embrace of one’s enemy, rival, or existential “other.” It isn’t the embrace of the homeless woman begging for sanitary napkins that hugged me outside the Showbox theater last night. It isn’t even the disturbingly long hug from a friend’s smarmy spouse. For me, at least, the most uncomfortable embrace is the embrace of myself.

Yes, I’m talking about self-care, and how so many of us are terrible at it. I’m definitely deficient in that department and ready to take my scolding. Forgoing care of self is a common “mom” ailment; we so often pour every ounce of energy and attention into our spouse, children, and home that there is nothing left for us to give ourselves.  This phenomenon isn’t limited to moms, however, I find it to be a ubiquitous problem with self-identified “Caregiver” personality types (does anyone here at STM identify as such?!). Sometimes, we even applaud ourselves for eschewing our own needs and refusing to make ourselves a priority – “look how generous and selfless I am! Where’s my gold star for the day? “ 

Poll some parents for classic Caregiver-person mistakes. I’m betting you will find that like me, there are days when they spend an hour of the morning getting small people dressed, fed, combed and off to school – only to arrive at work and realized they haven’t brushed their own teeth, or are still in their slippers. While we all can become overwhelmed with the details of life from time to time, I have learned through very difficult experience that pretentions to altruism are often a smoke-screen for a much more problematic behavior: self-neglect and avoidance. We buy new clothes for everyone else in the family but can’t see spending money on ourselves, give up our dinner for the child who is suddenly growing and wants two helpings, refuse to ask for help when we are exhausted down to our bones.

I will share my cautionary tale. In 2009, while finishing my PhD and parenting two small children, I got sick. Really sick. First my voice stopped working, then my hands, then my knees and feet. Overnight I went from a perfectly healthy woman to a decrepit, whispering vessel of pain that walked with a cane and couldn’t tie her children’s shoes. This would seem to most people like a good point to stop and get help, see a doctor, take some vitamins, do SOMETHING to fix the problem – but I didn’t. I dug in, pushed through, soldiered on, all those stupid expressions for avoidance. I hated my body and felt that it had failed me, deserved a punishment – the pain I was experiencing. I refused to embrace myself.

I was not diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis until 2014, although I battled it for almost five years without asking for help or knowing its name.  At long last, a caring and bossy physician told me that I HAD to embrace myself if I wanted to live. My bodies’ plane was crashing to the ground. It was past time to, like the flight attendants tell us, “put on your own airbag first.” Self-care was a paradigm shift and I’m still not entirely adept at it. I had to change what I ate, which meant when I was cooking, the family had to endure a myriad of gluten/dairy/sugar free meals. I began to take weekly injections of a caustic chemical that left me vomiting for two days and a horribly grumpy monster for several more (my spouse actually made a rule that I wasn’t allowed to answer student emails on Mondays, because I was belligerent and filter-free). I had to ask others to help me accomplish simple tasks…. ridiculously simple tasks, like fastening my own bra or buttoning my buttons. Seriously, it’s humbling. 

But slowly….slowly… self-care paid off. I’ll never be free of Rheumatoid Arthritis, but I am better, so much better, because I was forced to embrace my own broken body. I learned the basics of what people with chronic illness often refer to as “spoon theory” – the imperative to conserve energy because it is a limited resource*. Putting on our own figurative air-mask before tending to others is a countercultural, counterintuitive and sometimes terrifying notion, especially for women in this society, but for all innate Caregivers. Thankfully, not all Caregiver-types let themselves become as debilitated as I did. However, if you are one of us, or if you love someone who is, please remember to embrace yourself first. Please give yourself permission to be self-ish before you are self-less. Please don’t mistake avoidance for altruism. You are too valuable to ignore, and you will be so much better at attending to those you love if you remember to love yourself. This sounds simple; it is not easy. Go embrace thyself, my friends, you are glorious and worth it.

*For more on Spoon-Theory: