Running Free

To say that the beginning of 2019 has taken me by surprise would be an understatement. I am in completely new territory.

Let me explain.

Typically, I dread January’s arrival. I bask in everything December represents. I thrive in the busyness of rehearsals. I give my attention to every last detail. I sit in the glow of the Christmas lights in the evenings, but even thought it might look like I am relaxing, it is quite the opposite. I am listening to music, memorizing new material, and arranging set-lists in my head. Christmas music is beautiful, but it is difficult to play for a play-by-ear pianist. When it is December, I am running around like crazy— literally— and the wheels in my mind are turning too. I hardly ever shut down.

I’m sure other musicians, pastors, and church employees can relate to this. December is arguably the busiest time on the church calendar, with a close second maybe going to the time of Lent and Easter. When a busy season like Advent concludes, there is an immediate let-down for me. All of the songs I learned and memorized in December don’t really lend themselves to being utilized in January. I can’t just carry over into the new year with my musical momentum. Everything kind of comes to a halt.

I confess to experiencing a bit of situational depression in January. Yes, I’m working and I have a job to do, but the workload is a bit lighter and less challenging. It provides me ample time to focus on things that I let slide during December, but quite often, I’m not in a good headspace to focus on anything too important. I am usually distracted, lonely, and a bit off-track because I’ve lost some of December’s determination.

Last year, I cried when I packed away the Christmas decorations. I had embraced every beautiful moment of Christmas, 2017. I loved looking at the lights and singing songs of joy. My heart was full because my vision was healing after retina surgery, and I was excited for my upcoming album release in 2018. I had studio time scheduled for January, so I thought I would transition pretty easily from the busyness of December to an equally busy January, but the tears still came…

But as you might expect, my situational depression couldn’t last long when I had so much on the horizon. Before I knew it, I was recording, spending lots of money, and getting very little sleep. My body doesn’t respond well to stress and anxiety, but even so, I reveled in being productive. I only had two significant moments of panic and anxiety, but I was proud of myself for seeking out help when I needed it throughout the course of the year.

2018 was crazy, and life was lived at a chaotic and frenetic pace. I didn’t spend much time on Facebook, nor did I watch very much TV. A team member’s young child recommended that I watch his new favorite movie, and I promised I would— when I found the time. I am happy that I have since watched that movie— twice— and he’s right; it’s good! But for most of the year, I didn’t see much of my family and friends. It kind of reminded me of the six years I directed Camp when I was constantly working and never sleeping.

After I released The Dawn in late September, I hit the road that same week to attend a conference for work. While in Michigan, I was able to share the album with new listeners and perform/ lead worship at various events. I wasn’t embracing the same hectic pace from earlier in the year, but I was still busy and very much fulfilled.

As October moved into November, I began to look toward Christmas. But it was weird; I wasn’t as excited or motivated as I typically would be at that time of year. I even delayed putting up my Christmas tree. News of a church member’s sudden death rocked our congregation, and as I sat in the glow of the Christmas tree, I cried. I also felt saddened and burdened for the family of a missing teen just an hour’s drive from my home. Would this child return home safely? Would a grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins spend Christmas without their sweet Jayme? And what about Jayme herself? Was she okay? Was she alive?

But December wasn’t a complete loss. Before long, I became immersed in the memorization, rehearsals, and preparations. By Christmas Eve, I was my typical self— jittery, nervous, and hyper-focused. It was hard to shut down after our Christmas Eve service. For the first time in a long while, I would be traveling to visit my family in Minnesota. My typically quiet, uneventful Christmas Eve in front of the Christmas tree and blazing fireplace would be replaced by a two-and-a-half-hour drive. But even in the car, I couldn’t relax.

December 25 dawned with the reality that it was Christmas (yay!), but I was exhausted with a pounding headache. I guess that’s what happens when you’re speeding along at 100 miles-an-hour and you suddenly come to a stop. There was something about being in Minnesota for Christmas that also helped put the breaks on my productivity. I was away from my normal routine, and I wouldn’t be returning to work until the 30th. I also would not be leading worship the Sunday after Christmas, which was also atypical for me.

When I returned home and settled in after church on the 30th, I fully expected the first inklings of January depression to arise. But surprisingly, I found I was okay. What wasn’t okay, however, was my ankle. I began to experience excruciating pain each morning when I stepped out of bed. I had been dealing with moderate ankle discomfort for a few months already, but I had been trying to ignore it. I had worked through an ankle injury last fall, and I figured I had just exacerbated it with my walking, biking, and tapping the piano pedal.

As I packed away the Christmas decorations on January 2nd, I kept myself further occupied by doing three loads of laundry and recording practice videos for my worship team. I didn’t cry; I was too busy running around the house, somehow knowing my ankle would probably pay later for the added stress. Once everything was packed away, I settled in my recliner to watch a TV show while sipping some nonalcoholic sparkling cider. I couldn’t believe it! I was actually relaxing without the nagging January heartache. Granted, nothing had changed. There still wasn’t much to do, my ankle was very much in pain, and sweet Jayme was still missing. My prayer in the coming days was that God would help me work through the quieter days of January and that I would find purpose.

I spent nearly a week immersed in peaceful, quiet rest. I wasn’t depressed, but I was now facing a completely different reality; I was complacent. My typical day consisted of reading, listening to music, watching some TV, and limited exercise on my stationary bike. I didn’t go anywhere other than the office. In fact, I was home for such a long stretch that my smart thermostat in my living room altered me that it hadn’t heard from my phone’s location in awhile. Yeah, it hadn’t heard from my phone because my phone never moved!

The only thing that wasn’t complacent was my ankle. It made its presence known in the morning and at various points throughout the day. I tried to ignore it, convincing myself that the pain would pass, just like the dark days of January. But then I read a post on Facebook that asked those who commented to share about their new year’s resolutions. I don’t typically set new year’s goals, but I felt the nudge to find some accountability, so I posted that I wanted to be better at working on things that I could change and have a better attitude about the challenges that came my way. I realized in that moment that I had the ability to change something and the pain radiating from my ankle was the catalyst.

Thanks to the connection from one of my team members, I soon had a chiropractor appointment booked for a few days later. After two treatments and some athletic tape, I can happily report that I am feeling better, but it got me thinking— good grief; what took me so long? I had the ability to seek out help and I held off for so long. I was unnecessarily miserable, and it was all because I was too complacent to make a move and do something about it.

I recognized there is a huge difference between my 100-mile-per-hour 2018 and my seemingly stalled 2019. I went from hyper-speed to practically no movement in a matter of weeks and it drastically altered my motivation. Instead of situational depression, I had become numb to everything around me… that is until severe pain broke me out of my complacency. I chose to do something about my discomfort, and I’m hoping that this will be a good starting place for the rest of 2019. I may not be recording an album this year, but I’m sure there’s plenty ahead to keep me busy. I need to get to it, but in order to get there, I need to be mobile. So here’s to quick healing, effective treatments, and no further injury.

When my friend dropped me off at home after my most recent treatment, I made the comment that I sometimes wished I could just take off running. Realistically, I amended this by pointing out that running was hardly possible since I would probably stumble over potholes on the road and have trouble breathing thanks to my asthma, but a girl could dream about running, right? My friend laughed and said, “No, you don’t want to run. Running is bad for your knees. How about you just stick to walking and your tricycle?”

Sure, okay… but in my mind, I’ll be running free!

P.S. Jayme Closs escaped her captor and was found alive on January 10. Praise God for His faithfulness. I celebrate her safe return and I pray that she will find healing and restoration as she moves forward.