Death, New Life, and Being Kind to Yourself

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(WARNING: THIS IS A LONG AND RAMBLING BLOG POST)

Waiting…For Rachelle to go into full labor.  For Rocco to be born.  For the moment of bliss and devastation, when Rocco comes into this world that Sean has already departed.  My youngest son will never know my brother.  This is a deep well of pain, amidst the joy of new life.  Has it really been nearly 4 months since I returned to work from my sabbatical?  Has it really been 4 months since I last blogged?  The time has flown by… speed as a byproduct of life with kids, stress and anxiety, too much to do with too little time, and my natural predisposition for constant acceleration.  As the line famously (sort of) goes: it’s been the best of times, it’s been the worst of times.

I went back to work, thinking that sabbatical had solved my problems… they say that “time heals all wounds” don’t they?  But maybe “they” didn’t mean 3 months, 6 months, or even 9 months.  I went back to work and immediately was hit with a deluge of things that had piled up… wading through thousands of emails of requests, todo’s, pieces of information someone thought I needed.  My stress level shot back up and went even higher than before.  I started taking supplements to help with anxiety and sleep.  I started meditating (focussing on serenity, visualizing a forest or the ocean, and breathing where I extend my exhales to 45+ seconds for each breath) to alleviate the acute anxiety attacks.  Brought on by memories of Sean, and the weight of a culture I am committed to changing.  In addition to the responsibilities I already had, I was promoted (sort of), or maybe more accurately, given a lateral transfer (it wasn’t a higher salary after all), to a new role as head of digital media: supervising web, media, and social media for Jews for Jesus.  This change was one part of a multi-part proposal about my role upon returning from sabbatical.  New responsibility… Something different.

There are still some questions I can’t answer… Did I accept these responsibilities as a way of trying to hold on to Sean?  Did I accept them because I had hoped that Sean would take the role, but now he can’t and I feel obligated to?  Did I accept them to try and “secure” Sean’s legacy?  I don’t know.  It makes perfect sense that I would be asked to take these responsibilities: I worked as a software engineer and programmer before joining Jews for Jesus, I’ve managed technical teams, I worked closely with Sean to pioneer some of our online evangelism tactics, I have a solid handle on Social Media, etc..  But I can’t still can’t answer the questions about why I accepted the responsibilities.  Nor do I know if this has been a good and healthy thing for me or not.  It certainly has been challenging: implementing culture change within the team, setting up new systems, workflows and procedures, and developing a coherent content strategy that allows decisions to be made using best practices and analytics rather than management.  Overall, I’ve appreciated the challenges.

In addition to the new responsibilities, I’ve had all my old responsibilities as well.  To be clear, I don’t have any more time in my day than anyone else, and my time with the family is non-negotiable, so there’ve been quite a few things I’ve put on the back-burner (AKA not done).  But, I’ll admit that I pushed myself too hard.  About a month ago I came down with Strep Throat… I hadn’t caught Strep Throat in 7 years!  I had allowed stress to compromise my immune system.  Just two weeks later, I caught the cold I had managed to avoid all throughout my sabbatical.  Before going on sabbatical a friend of mine had encouraged me to “be kind to myself” and I was hit with the realization that I hadn’t been very kind to myself since returning from sabbatical.

I’m a highly driven person, driven to climb any ladder set before me, driven to achieve more and more for the sake of achievement, driven to succeed.  I live in a city geared toward highly driven people.  I work in an organization that rewards people for being highly driven.  When I run from pain, I run toward ambition, I run toward accomplishment.  I know these are my preferred pain avoidance techniques.  Yet, when I stop running, I don’t know why I’m running so fast and so hard.  There will always be more work to do!  So, I’ve been reminding myself to “be kind to myself”.  My counselor agrees with the advice and has encouraged me in it too.

Ironically, in the midst of all the other things we’ve got going, I’ve been taking about planting a Messianic Congregation in San Francisco.  This has been a desire of mine for a long time, but never have I had the time to devote to it.  We are living in San Francisco, envision living here long term (Lord willing), and I desire to have a place for my kids to be Bar/Bat Mitzvah’ed, even to see a community of Jewish believers form and be a “community of witness” in this city.  I love preaching and teaching, my soul is fed by the process, and I love the Jewish Roots of our faith.  Yet, I don’t know if San Francisco is ready for a Messianic Congregation, and I don’t know if I’m ready to step into a lead role in a congregation…

I’m an introvert.  This means I need time to recharge – away from people – nearly everyday.  Before Sean died I could go for several weeks acting as an extrovert before I would collapse and need time alone with my thoughts, but now I can only go for a few days at a time.  This is challenging in a soon-to-be family of 5 living in a 2 bedroom house.  This is challenging in a ministerial context.  This is challenging in a social media world where people expect instant access to my time.  As an introvert, every interaction, every conversation comes at a cost, and my social bank account is limited.  I’ve had to learn (and am still learning) to save from my social bank account for my family.  To put my family “first” by ensuring they don’t get the worst of me at the end of my day.  If you’re an extrovert, you may either not understand me or not believe me about all this.  It’s a painful truth, and I wish it weren’t so: it feels like weakness!

So I’m saddled with a lot of anxiety about my work, my life, and my brother’s death, amidst the natural anxiety of a growing family.  A family of 5 in San Francisco…  3 kids.  Definitely above the socially acceptable number of kids to have in this city.  Living in a city where the average household size is 2.22 (yikes.. we are 5), the average home sale is $724,018 (more than we could afford), and the average household income is $104,879 (more than we make)…   What does it look like for me to be a responsible husband, father, and head of household in a context where the overwhelming majority of my income goes toward rent?  I don’t know the answer.  In order to make more money, I’d have to allocate more time to something other than ministry… In order to be in full time ministry, I have to sacrifice the things that money can buy.  This is conundrum for me… a balancing act I haven’t quite figured out.

Can I bring secular work into my life without compromising my commitment to the Gospel?  Ironically, this is the opposite question I asked in my career 8 years ago.  Back then I asked if I could bring the Gospel into my workplace without compromising my career as a Software Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  The answer back then was a clear yes!  I did bring the Gospel into my workplace, and my atheistic and agnostic coworkers actually still respected me.  What would happen if I brought “secular” work into my life in ministry now?  Is that a compromise or an opportunity to extend the reach of the Gospel?  I don’t know…  I’m about to have another baby, and my mind is all over the place.  Bouncing from the past, to the future, and briefly landing in the present.

So I’m trying to be kind to myself.  I’m writing this blog because it’s cathartic for me.  You’re probably reading it because you care or because it’s somehow cathartic for you.  I haven’t written until now because I’ve been afraid of what I might write…  Perhaps this blog post justifies those fears!  If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading to the end.  Send me a tweet @aarontrank with the hashtag #waitingforrocco and I will know you read this!

Blessings,

Aaron