Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting an Education in Rest & Recovery {aka When Exhaustion is a Bully}

A short while back I wrote about the "Bare Bones" and how they can set you free. For someone who has a long history of chronic multi-tasking, measuring my worth in accordance with accomplishment, and not really knowing the first thing about opportunity cost, embarking on a season of simplicity and rest was and is highly counterintuitive. 

I'm quite certain that the only way someone like me takes up the mantle of rest and minimalism is when it's forced upon them. 

An older and wiser friend of mine is good to remind me of the Father's "severe mercies." Often we see our trials as a curse when they are, in fact, divine acts of sovereign love cloaked in grief, why me's? and tears aplenty. 

I'm not particularly slow to learn but I am terribly slow to accept. Mercy, however severe, is always good. When I want to argue or shake my fist, I think of Christ and the cross, the severest and most violent of all mercies but oh, for what good!

Sometimes people tell me that they appreciate my transparency in this space where I write and share. But let me be perfectly truthful: I'm not really all that honest. I can't be, nor do I really want to be. The story I live, day in and day out, it intersects with others' stories and theirs are not mine to tell. Furthermore, I'm far more comfortable speaking in vagaries and allusions. The real guts of my life are known to a precious few and I like it that way.

All I can really tell you is that life has knocked me down in the last two years. Severely. Because I still look fine and normal on the outside, you may think I'm being dramatic. I can still smile and make small-talk and go through the motions {most days}. But don't let my superficiality fool you...there has been a whole lot of crazy.

Sometimes I feel as if I've been tossed into the fiery kiln in order to be completely melted down and remade. I hope that beauty will shine in the end but in the meantime, the remaking hurts. It is nothing but surrender. 

It has also worn me slap out. Which is really the point of this post. Suffering, emotional upheaval, cumulative stress--it will take its toll on your spirit and your body. Sooner or later, you must reckon with it. 

In January, I named this year the Year of Simplicity. It was to be a time of rest and it has been. Sort of. At the very least, it has been a time of beginning to learn how to rest and accepting that I have to. It's why I sent my kids to school and why I haven't said "yes" to a single thing. I'll probably be saying "no" for quite a while yet. 

For the first time since I became I parent, I'm not a working mother or a homeschool mom. I've never been "just" a wife, mom, and homemaker until now. 

I actually have time

And do you know what I do with it? Not much. "Not much" is relative of course. The daily minimum still includes packing lunches, procuring food, washing clothes, fixing meals, loading and unloading dishes, cleaning up, supervising homework, wiping tears {theirs and mine}, cleaning up some more, reading aloud, chauffering, and attempting to keep a family organized-ish. 

But because I have chunks of time for myself at least several days a week, I feel guilty for my lack of accomplishment. Everywhere we look, we can find those who do more. One of my favorite Pinterest signs is this one:

Maybe this is the answer.  : )
{source unknown}

Amen. Maybe the over-achievers should start hiring themselves out to the rest of us. 

In my saner moments, I know it's ridiculous to think that I should have a cleaner house or a freezer full of meals or a finished book. But my sane moments are few and far between. 

I have allowed myself to be brainwashed by the world of martyr moms {or so they seem}. Therefore, rest feels like I'm disobeying my culture; admitting that I actually rest feels like treachery.

Self-care may look a bit different for each of us but when it's really a necessary and life-saving endeavor, maybe we should think of it as stewardship instead of selfishness. 

I love this quote I read recently by Parker Palmer:

By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act--it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.* {emphasis mine}

I'm still surviving this "passage." Recovery takes time. Or so my "healers" tell me. I have a doctor, a counselor, a loving family, a dear church, and a couple of godly and wise friends who function as counselors, truth-tellers, and cheerleaders. They also babysit my kids and give me a glass of wine when I need it. 

Though there are many days when my body can do little but rest, my belligerent mind still berates my lazy bones and mixes up a pot of guilt stew for good measure. 

On those days I remind myself that rest is actually faithfulness of a different sort. It's trusting the Father's faithfulness to do that which I cannot. And it allows me to be faithful {increasingly so in due time} to those who need me. 

My education on rest is still at such a remedial level. I'm not really one to give advice but I'm going to anyway. 

If you're hanging by a thread, if you're margin is in the negative, if you're so exhausted and frazzled you can hardly see straight...

Don't look at others and determine how you measure up. Look at yourself and determine how you're holding up.       

Maybe you need to say no or pull back, resign or rethink. 

The world won't stop spinning on its axis but you may stop spinning on yours. What may feel selfish at first could actually breathe more life into yourself, your home, and the world you influence.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Because Adolescent Bad Hair Can Make You a Better Mom

That last post I wrote, the one aimed at my teenage self, it sort of undid me. I wasn't expecting it. Emotions and nostalgia, they are fluid and unpredictable and that's probably why I work a bit too hard sometimes keeping them at bay.

But that's getting tougher. I have a daughter and despite my best efforts, she will not stop growing up. 

She started middle school this year and though she's still 18 months from being a bona fide teenager, the winds of adolescent change, they are a-blowin'. So far it's all {mostly} good. Though we never really know which mood the wind is going to blow into our midst on any given day, God has been generous with the parental grace. We've sort of been gearing up for this. 

I think the letter to my teenage self struck an extra-sensitive chord because parenting an adolescent daughter can't help but usher in a lot of my own teenage memories and their accompanying emotions. I submitted this comment earlier today {in response to the release of these 2 beautiful books}:

Mothering a middle-schooler feels like my own heart is walking around in fitted Aeropostale t-shirts and crying over bad hair. It’s weird is what it is. Probably because I still kind of feel like a teenager myself on the inside. Yet I’m raising one at the same time. 

It's like an out of body experience or Freaky Friday or something.

Maybe this sense of not feeling that removed from teenage-dom makes me immature. Or maybe it makes me normal. I have no idea. Regardless, I've decided it's a good thing. I'm "owning it," as they say. 

I don't ever want to be so far removed from her that I can't remember or relate. When she's crying over her long, blonde hair because it's too thick or too wavy or too whatever, I want to tell her she's insane, that I would have killed for her hair. 

But I don't. I tell her it's beautiful and that I'm sorry she doesn't love it and then I offer to help her fix it. And I can only do that because I remember how real all of those feelings of inadequacy were. At 39, I can see how ridiculous the hair-loathing is but that has only come with the perspective. Perspective that has been years in the making and seriously hard-wrought.

So many of my shortcomings as a mother have been because I've simply failed to remember. 

My default is to teach and control and "set straight." But those responses only breed contempt and isolation and resentment. 

Grace is showing me that understanding and remembrance make a better way. 

Keep reminding me.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dear Me: A Letter to My Teenage Self

To celebrate the release of her new book for teen girls, Graceful, author {and friend} Emily Freeman extended an invitation to write a letter to one's teenage self. If you want to write your own letter, you can link up to Emily's blog, chatting at the sky. 

Here's mine. 


Dear Me,

You are 15. Your limbs look like chicken legs and for this you are often teased. Your teeth are still gappy and you don’t know what to do with those ever-thickening, unruly tresses of yours. Just hang on. Everything has a way of mostly coming together eventually. 

Because you will never know as much as you do right now, I doubt you’ll listen to this advice from Future You. But just in case, here’s some stuff I want you to know:

Thank God that the internet and cell phones have not been invented yet. I mean it. Get on your knees and thank the good Lord and all His heavenly hosts. Your silly and impulsive antics, emotional rants, teenage lack of discretion, and love of embarrassing photos would have ruined you. Ruined. 

Dads will one day put bullet holes in their kids’ laptops for such senselessness. {A laptop is a computer that’s small enough to hold on your lap. I know, crazy!} You came of age and got a clue after the advent of social media and for this you should be eternally grateful.

Going out for the track team in the 7th grade is one of the smartest things you could have done. Right now running provides safe community and fun competition, identity and delayed adolescence, a voracious appetite and ridiculous nylon shorts. But in a few short years it’ll provide the love of your life. You’ll meet him on your college cross-country team. Don't worry, you'll know who he is. 

The gifts of running won’t stop there. When you’re a mom, running will provide some much-needed sanity. And also low blood-pressure. Seriously though, invest in good running shoes now. Do not run in Keds, navy blue or otherwise, ever again. Your future knees will thank me. Don't be too discouraged that you're not really very good good at running. You're faithful and determined and in the end, those things matter more than sheer talent.

Track and adolescent antics aside, the stuff that really matters is on the inside and girl, there is a lot going on in there. Bless your heart. When I think of the one word that best describes how you feel most of the time, it is this: afraid

Afraid of failure, afraid of disappointing anyone, afraid of what they'll think, afraid of going unnoticed, afraid of being too noticed, afraid of the strong and powerful feelings that pulse within but have yet to find a way out, afraid of pain, afraid of your sin, afraid of God or even worse, afraid that He’s not there at all.

You don’t need to carry this fear around day in and day out. Learn to share your heart with those who are closest. They’re safe, I promise. Open up to your parents even though the thought of it kills you. Maybe even ask them to find you a counselor, not because you’re crazy but because your well runs deep and you could use a bit of gentle guidance as you navigate those overwhelming waters. 

This is how God made you and it’s okay. One day you’ll be able to speak into the human experience in a way that will encourage others and make them feel a little less alone. 

Also? Write in your diary as much as you can. It may seem like a waste of time but for you, writing down your insides has a way of calming you on the outside. 

Let’s talk about God for a second, shall we? I’ll keep it brief. I know how much your teenage self hates sermons. He is there and He is okay with all of your questions. He is not offended or angry that you secretly struggle to believe He exists. He wove your DNA so of course He knows you came into this world a bit skeptical. 

Embrace your questions the way God embraces you. 

You don’t have a clue yet about his boundless love and amazing grace; you haven’t really received them yet. You’re too busy striving and this breaks my heart. The Christian life is not about duty; it’s about delight. Rest in his love. I have so much more to tell you about this but you’re already rolling your eyes so I’ll stop.

A few more random pieces of advice:

In many ways, you will never feel like your outside matches your inside. You will always appear more conventional than you really are. For Heaven’s sake, take some risks while you're young and can still get away with it. Pierce your nose, buy the black Converse high-tops, be that bohemian free-spirit and let people think what they will. In the words of Madonna {who you listen to under the radar when your parents aren’t paying attention}, Express Yourself.

Quit trying to be impressive. You’re not going to law school after all so when you get to college, ditch the Econ major and maybe the Political Science one while you’re at it. Keep the History major though. This will be your livelihood and you’ll love it. Maybe add in Journalism and French. Or Art. You’ve got creative gifts that don’t feel legit to you; therefore you ignore them. This is a crying shame. Your gifts should always be your guide.

Boys. Be glad they don’t notice you yet. They are a complete waste of time at this stage in their development and yours. Enjoy your friends. Go to the prom with a group of girls and dance ‘til you can dance no more. Boys will eventually come into your life and it just gets complicated after that. You’re simply a late bloomer and this is a blessing in disguise. Trust me.

{You should not have wasted all that precious time straightening and hot-rolling your hair. Your crazy curls would have fared much better than fake straight hair in the North Carolina humidity. Your hair ended up a mess, as did your prom date.}

You’ll get braces next year and you’ll love your smile a lot more after that. 

Your curly hair will get wilder every year until the end of college. Your friends are paying $100 for spiral perms yet you rage against the curls you got for free. Oh my word, stop it. It is 1988, the pinnacle of huge hair. Your hair is in its glory day, so rock that curly mane of yours! One day you’ll have babies and those pregnancy hormones will be the death of your bouffant tresses. Love your big hair while it lasts.

Celebrate scarcity. It is making you quite resourceful. I know the budget is tight and you resent that every girl in the world {except you} has Guess jeans and expensive loafers. You're forced to raid the closets of everyone in the whole house but you somehow leave for school each day looking relatively put together, albeit running late. One day you’ll be the girl your friends call to help them maximize their wardrobe or redecorate their houses using what they already have. Limitations aren’t always a bad thing.

{Okay, so you're not actually a teenager in this picture but it's Future You's favorite family photo. Look how you're toting a matching purse and Emily's clutching a Bible the size of her head. She always was the more righteous one and you always were the more accessorized one.}

Love your family. They are a treasure. Your younger siblings are mere children right now and you sometimes long to be an only child in order to have more attention. But one day you’ll all grow up to be amazing friends. You’ll vacation together and love them {and their families} like crazy so how about loving them a little bit more right now?

I’m almost done but just hear me out on a few more things:

Solitude is your friend. You’re not actually an extrovert; you just get all of your worth and value from people and that’s why you “need” to be around them. You don't. Spend more time buried in books, journals, and sketch-pads. Take a walk by yourself. These are the ways your contemplative soul recharges.

Busy-ness is killing you. Slow down, please. Rest is more important than youth group. Skipping a social event won’t kill you; learn to say no. Naps are your friend. Pulling all-nighters to study is so not worth it. Every so often you have a breakdown and I suspicion it’s simply exhaustion. Sleep equals sanity. Please believe me on this.

Your mom has given you some profound advice but you already know everything so you're not listening. Besides, it sounds too simple to be profound:

You be you.

Camp out in this advice. Talk to her about it. You’ll spend the next twenty years trying to be everyone but you. Identity will always be a struggle but it doesn’t have to be. There are clues all around; you just need to take some time to notice the becoming

But first, go take a nap. You stayed up too late finishing homework while watching The Love Boat. Again.


39-year-old You {And quit rolling your eyes...it's not as old as it sounds.}

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bloggiversary: Celebrating Four Years of Talking 'Bout My Crazy

Today I visited a web-site that turns your blog into a printed book. I feel like I need a hard copy of all these posts and photos just in case the internet blows up. As I perused the last four years of posts, I realized that my bloggiversary came and went without so much as a celebratory balloon or slice of cake.

When I began "writing" in this space, it wasn't to write; it was simply to share. Simple, un-important sharing. Recipes, photos, funny stories, hack-job crafting and decorating. I was in the throes of homeschooling when I began the blog and I think a la mode was my escape hatch, a space where I could find a bit of creativity and community amid days of phonics and diapers.

Gradually the recipes disappeared and I realized that what I really loved was the writing. 

That's still what I really love. 

I'm blessed to have such lovely and kind readers. Thank you for reading and commenting on everything from laundry to lament, mini-vans to marriage, school at home to school at {actual} school. You're a blessing to me and you help me feel a little less crazy...or at the very least, a little less alone in my crazy. 

Sometimes I think I should change the title of my blog from a la mode to Talking 'Bout My Crazy. We all know that's totally what I do here.

So in the spirit of reflection, here are four of my favorite posts from the past year, crazy and all. Apparently these were some of your favorite too.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hold My Hand?

Last night I had a mini-breakdown as I stirred spaghetti noodles. The day had been crazy with a capital K and by 8:00 I had sworn off Wednesdays for the rest of my life. 

We have tweaked and re-tweaked our fall schedule and it looks like we're going to overhaul it yet again. Sometimes you just don't know how it's all going to work or not work until you make like Nike and just do it. Some things are working. Some things have been a train-wreck. I remind myself that it's not failure or even crazy, it's simply trial and error. 

It's also change.

I've always been just fine with change. Change invites opportunities to reinvent and makeover, to embrace new and exciting and fun. At pivotal moments in my life, I've moved across the country, made new friends at schools where I knew no one, tackled topics and endeavors about which I knew nothing, and traveled to countries where I didn't speak the language. I currently have three different colors of paint on my living room walls. For 39 years, my motto has been Bring It. 

But when it comes to my kids and change? Well, I become a ball of fear and sadness and nostalgia run amuck. My motto goes from Bring It to Stop It. My bossy mantra refers to the clock, not my kids. {Though I do tell them to Stop It quite a lot.} 

I watch my younger sister and sisters-in-law mother their younger ones and I want to switch places. I want to take the knowledge and priorities I have now and get a big fat do-over. I want my days to be filled with nothing but read-alouds and playing outside, legos and PB & J's. And also nap-time.  

As they get older, they get busier and that means I do too. As more is required of them, more is required of me. Older moms reading this are probably thinking, Just wait 'til they're in high school! Younger moms are thinking, I never get a moment's rest! And you're both right.

Maybe I'm simply approaching the realization every mom faces sooner or later. The days that used to feel so hard were actually much simpler. And right now, I equate simple with sweet. Sure, they were hard in different ways--temper tantrums in the middle of Target and calcified baby oatmeal stuck to the walls, sleepless nights and diaper blow-outs in the car-seat. Every stage is hard in its own way and I'm sure we look at certain seasons through rose-colored glasses.

But last night I watched my younger two play with neighbor friends in the driveway while I fixed a late dinner and counted down the minutes until I had to retrieve our oldest from youth group. Not so long ago she would have been out there with them, writing with sidewalk chalk and playing "spies." 

And this is why I wept in the spaghetti. I'm sure that the day's relentless schedule and various mishaps contributed to the tears, but mostly I was just rebelling against the hands of time that will not stop ticking. 

I'm no good at acceptance and I do know that clinging too tightly to anything has a strangulating effect. Maybe that's why it feels hard to breathe, why I choke up a little when I watch the "baby" of the family scale the flimsy limbs of the Crepe Myrtle in his Spiderman costume and I want four to last forever.

And this is why we will revise and revise again until we've squeezed out the most possible time for family and the least possible time doing the run-around. The days are precious and they pass so quickly. 

Driveway tennis and tiny super-heroes remind me to savor the simplicity {mess and tantrums notwithstanding} of the younger years. Commutes to school, just her and me, remind me to drink down these days when she's in the passenger seat. I'll blink and she'll be driving herself to school. 

So if you think I'm a mess now, I will really need some hand-holding then. 

And maybe that's what we moms need most from each other. I'll listen to your advice, I'll find comfort in your stories, I'll try not to compare or judge or envy. But what I really need, what we all need, is just a bit of understanding and consolation. Motherhood is hard and change makes me cry. So give me your hand. And also a box of Kleenex. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When You'd Rather Find the Jar of Nutella Than Clean Your House

Ever have a day where things are such a mess, you're not sure where to start? I've fed kids, tended to the dog, and packed up lunches. I've carried kids to school, wrapped up my worries, and handed them over to One who carries me. 

But instead of walking into a home of tranquility, I stumbled through the door, surveyed the mess, and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. So I did what any woman skilled in the ways of avoidance would do...

I snapped photos, made a collage of the mess, and decided to share it on my blog. My coping mechanisms confound even me. 

Housework is not fun or creative or thoughtful in any way. It is dutiful drudgery and it requires physical exertion and in 24 hours it will all be undone again. Because seriously, at some point over the weekend things looked straight-ish. I'm not how it goes downhill so quickly, but I think it has something to do with five people and one four-legged friend all living large in a small space.

In many ways, my home mirrors my life. {Ugh. I promised myself I would not get philosophical in this post.} In one day it can go from feeling somewhat orderly to looking downright messy. When I think of the soul-work and heart excavation required to clean up the mess, well, I'd rather just have a seat on my dilapidated sofa, grab a jar of Nutella, watch Kelly and Michael, and have another cup of coffee.

Precious friends reminded me last night that there's only one way to take a journey {or clean up a mess}: baby steps

I'm more of a magic wand kind of gal, wishing I could summon Mary Poppins to wiggle her nose and snap a finger while I watch the chaos swirl into place. I'm tired. And I'd rather take a walk in the park and stumble upon an enchanted carousel than get down to business.  

But since Mary Poppins isn't real and my dirty dishes are, I'll start in the kitchen, move to the laundry, reclaim the living room that my kids fashioned into 12 different forts, and maybe get to the bathrooms. Maybe. And while I labor, I'll dream of a housekeeper, a finished bonus room, a blog makeover, my very own office, and an every-blooming money tree in the backyard.

Taking one step is better than standing still. And let's face it, we're never really standing still; we always drift toward something. So today I celebrate, yes celebrate, all the baby steps in my life. Celebration can't coexist with discouragement. 

Let's laud the small victories and look for gifts of grace. You can always find them, though you may have to sort through a basketful of unmatched socks first.

What remains unfinished today will spill into tomorrow. We're only promised today anyway, so I've resolved to baby-step my way through it, dream a few dreams, set realistic goals, and let grace cover the rest. 


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