30 for Sanity Manifesto

I recently challenged my “moms monthly” group to develop a personal manifesto to capture their intentions for living, particularly because, as moms, it is so easy to lose sight of our hopes and dreams amidst the chaos of a busy life that struggles to find work-life balance.  I have used manifestos in a variety of ways as a classroom teacher (and often do workshops in my classes to help in the creative process) but I rarely take the time to reflect and package my own thoughts in this way, though I believe very strongly in their value.  Having a visible reminder in your home that summarizes your thoughts about how you wish to live can help to orient you to carry out your intentions in day-to-day living.

Although my blog version does not look like the lovely side panel of a Lululemon bag, AnnVoskamp’s 25 for Sanity Manifesto is the inspiration for my decision to revisit this concept.  That woman is so wise and, well, inspirational!

 

Perhaps, I can get some sort of creative designer to make my manifesto look like this:

but, until then, we’ll all have to settle for this lesser words-only version:

My 30 for Sanity Manifesto (in no particular order):

 

  1. Fashion a home sanctuary.  I’m not the greatest at caring about physical spaces as I live mostly in my head (scary, I know); however, space does impact well-being and I have come to understand that an organized, simplified and tidy home can help to bring calm to the mind.  The peace may be an illusion but external chaos certainly doesn’t help internal chaos.  Keeping my space clear helps to clear my head space.  #WWAVD? (What would Ann Voskamp do?)
  2. The interruption is the opportunity. I’m notoriously bad for becoming irritated by interruptions to my best laid plans.  Choosing to see the change of plan as a divine appointment is something I am mindfully working on at work and home.
  3. Take it bird by bird. Anne Lamott’s brilliant book  reminds writers – and all people, really – to take life in manageable steps.  Whenever I begin to muse about anything beyond the next step I instantly feel overwhelmed.  Wisdom: Do the next right thing. Repeat.
  4. Embrace freedom.  Though I am ashamed to admit it, many of my choices and decisions are a result of fear.  It seriously needs to stop as it is a defeated and deflated way of living. Daily, I’m going to claim the promise that perfect Love drives out all fear.
  5. Share.  When our family accepted a sermon challenge to develop a “family mission statement” we agreed on this simple but meaningful word.  We are committed to share all that we have been given – hospitality, resources, insight – because that is what it means to be a Covey.
  6. Let it go.  (Don’t worry this is NOT an allusion to Frozen; please stay with me.) “Hello, my name is Sarah Covey and  I am a control-freak and a security junkie.” If I could join a 12-step program to recover from either of these addictions, I would.  Because it would provide a PLAN. I’m obsessed with plans.  Have you ever noticed, though, that plans often change?  I need to let go of my compulsion to have everything fall into place as I had orchestrated or expected and hold my plans loosely.  Letting my agenda go for the sake of something better seems much more fulfilling.  See #2.
  7. Give presence as a present.  I am easily distracted and struggle to focus on one thing at a time but I have learned that multitasking sabotages relationships by undermining the authentic connection that can come from active listening and attentiveness in the moment.  This undivided attention may be one of the best gifts I can offer my loved ones.
  8. Pray first, think later. I tend to make my requests known to every other person in my life before praying.  Better to pause and start with the Big Guy so that my thoughts are formed in the context of spiritual strength and wisdom instead of human weakness and stupidity.
  9. Book daily stillness appointments.  For some time, I have been committed to Sabbath-keeping but it is not enough to only rest once a week if every other day is a flurry of activity.  There have to be moments in each day where I can pause, be quiet, and catch my breath.  Thinking a gentle reminder on my cell phone for some adaptation of the Seven Sacred Pauses is going to help promote this daily discipline.
  10. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.  This classic hymn lyric has been a daily mantra, reminding me to trust in the One whose joy IS my strength.
  11. Nourish with the right bread.  I’m a stress eater and I need to be a stress reader.  I desire to be the person who goes to the Word to be nourished by the Bread of Life instead of trying – always unsuccessfully – to satisfy my hunger with Lays Potato Chips.
  12. Seek ways to touch a soul through the touch of a hand. When you don’t know what to say or do, resort to snuggle therapy. Physical touch has healing power.  I know this to be true.  Sometimes a loving touch can transcend words and render them unnecessary.
  13. Let nature nurture. Being surrounded my nature instantly calms my anxious heart and allows me to return to a life-giving rhythm.  A long walk on the beach, a quiet moment on a park bench, or a cup of tea beside a glassy lake does restore my soul.
  14. Play music. Making a joyful noise helps to lift my spirits and channel my emotions.  Listening to music can set – or change – the tone of a room with very little effort.  Impromptu dance parties are always a good idea – and they tend to work better with a soundtrack.
  15. Cultivate creativity. Find ways to express myself creatively – through music, art, crafts, writing, decorating etc.  I really think that” it is not how creative I am but how I am creative” (to adapt a common phrase), given that I am a child of the Creator.  I need to make space for that aspect of God’s image in my life.
  16. Match time and energy to priorities.  I’m pretty adept at managing my time but I’m not so great at managing my energy.  I need to pace myself so that I retain some of my get-up-and-go for my family.  Though they are my priority, they tend to have their time with me at the end of a long work day when I am depleted and weary.  Saving some energy and/or sharing high-energy times with them when I can is a way to communicate how important they are to me.
  17. Moisturizing matters. This may seem like a rather trivial intention but I am the worst person for letting my very sensitive skin become parched.  A little ritual of moisturizing with a rich cream is a mini-luxury that I really can’t afford to forgo.  Baby steps, though.  My facial care regimen needs a total overhaul but that is an adventure I’m not ready to face (pun intended).
  18. Let restlessness give way to rest. When I find myself striving and itching to do, sometimes the best thing is to stop and release the struggle and the full mind to the rest of God.  This can be extremely liberating for my Type-A compulsive tendencies. Slowly, I am learning to let go of the need to accomplish something and to embrace the art of being.  Unplugging from the noise in my mind and in the world can be a soul-enriching experience, right?
  19. Consider the value.  It is not uncommon for me to spend money without thinking and this poor stewardship is disheartening.  If I simply pause to consider whether a particular purchase is truly worth it I would avoid a lot of impulsive spending in the name of retail therapy.
  20. Let words and The Word sink into the soul. Clearly, I am a lover of language but, like many things in life, less is often more.  Rather than skimming words, I want to savour them, to let them sink deep into my soul and change me.  I want the words to become a part of who I am.
  21. Leave work at work. I have been able to set better boundaries over the years in terms of physically carrying work home but I’m always in a battle for my head space.  Choosing to disengage from my professional life and to reengage with my personal life is essential to the healthy balance I am trying to achieve.
  22. Choose gratitude to frame the day. It is easy to recall my day in light of complaints and problems but I’m convinced that the antidote is noticing the good and giving thanks.  This orientation to daily blessings diffuses the power that a negative outlook can have over our souls.  (Again, it’s what Ann Voskamp would do!)
  23. Speak and spread kindness. Actions can speak louder than words but what I say matters, too.  Random acts and words of kindness can go a long way in a world that can be cruel and inconsiderate.  I try to model kindness because it is possibly the most important character trait that I wish my kids to emulate.
  24. Always kiss each other goodnight. This saying is on a plaque in my bedroom and it reminds me to make my marriage a priority. I am blessed to have each day end in the arms of my best friend and I never want to take that love for granted.
  25. Make best intentions a reality. I have these little instincts and inklings that I can’t explain that compel me to be in touch with a friend or to reach out to someone in need in some way.  I have never regretted following through with those promptings but I have felt that  ignoring or putting off responding to that inner voice has resulted in a missed opportunity to make a significant difference in someone’s day.  I resolve to put my love into action.
  26. Meet perceived needs. All of us are needy but we may not be aware of deeper soul-needs because we are blocked by the tangible needs in our lives.  Someone may ultimately need a restored relationship with Jesus but s/he may only be able to see the need to resolve conflict in a personal relationship.  If I can help meet the need on the radar of the person in my sphere of influence, meeting that need will provide the opportunity to continue to speak about deeper truths.  Like the saying (attributed to St. Francis of Assisi) goes, “preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words”.
  27. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  Another clever Covey suggested that this is one of the habits of highly successful people.  I think about it in these terms:  when you enter a room do your words and actions communicate, “here I am” or “there you are”?  I want to be a “there you are” person who considers others first.
  28. Eat less, move more. My first formal manifesto was created as a result of my intention to live a healthier life.  The specifics are here and they still hold true.  This expression makes it feel manageable though, so I cling to it’s simplicity.
  29. Eat a frog before breakfast.  This principle has been popularized in the business world but is solid advice for managing daily tasks and avoiding procrastination:  get the thing that you are most dreading out of the way first thing and your day can only get better!
  30. Blog it. Maybe I won’t always want to post my entries for the masses but processing my joys and challenges “on paper” is cathartic, creative, and clarifying.  Reflecting and writing is time well spent.

 

So, what intentions might make your top thirty?  Have you ever considered creating a manifesto?  If so, what prevents you from following through?  Leave your comments below – I love to hear from you!

5 Simple Ways to Love your Kids

A little bit of thoughtfulness can go a long way.   I have made it part of my personal mission statement to act on those divinely-inspired impulses as they come to mind  – right in that moment – if I am able.  Otherwise, the moment passes, and the opportunity is lost to forgetfulness.

But…I tend to be better at practically sharing the love with friends and neighbours than I am with my own crew.  This school year I’m determined to be more responsive to the day-to-day opportunities that arise but I also think it is important to add some intentionality to my plan.

As far as my kids go, I recognize that I can have all the best intentions in the world but unless I make a commitment to actually put those ideas into action, they just bounce around in my brain and leave me feeling like a neglectful parent.  Don’t ya just love false guilt?

I have also learned (from experience) that parenting goals need to be simple and realistic.  It is easy to get overwhelmed trying to live up to the impossible expectations that I have set for myself.  So, in an attempt to be deliberate AND reasonable I am narrowing my focus.

I am working on a parenting manifesto but since it is in process, I decided to at least get rolling with a few accessible goals.  (For a beautiful and inspiring example of a parenting manifesto – and a multitude of other glorious things – click here.)

As we embark on another busy school year, I’ve designed a little experiment to connect intentionally with my kids and I’m using the 5 Love Languages as a guideline.

With four kids, we have determined that all the Love Languages are identified in several combinations so I’m trying to cover all the bases in equal measure. We have other routine things in place (like shared journals, gratitude books, and a prayer wall, and highs/lows at dinner) but I need a few new ideas to keep me motivated and connected to my crew.

So, here’s the plan to fill up those love tanks:

1. Words of Affirmation:  Little Love Notes

I’m going to make a special point of writing down the wonderful things that I am noticing in my kids.  Handwritten notes of encouragement are a great way to celebrate growth in character or to communicate support or caring.

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A classic spot for these little love notes is in their lunches.  I have found that Super Sticky Post-Its are fantastic but I am also a big fan of the new Rice Krispies prepackaged treats that have a label built into the wrapper. Keeping some blank pages of printable address labels handy might work as a quick way to stick a quick message onto a granola bar.

We also have an “inbox” (a hanging wall file) for each person in our family.  These are organizationally functional spots for important school papers and artwork but I hope to also claim them as a little in-house mail system.  I can also leave a Post-It note on the back of their bedroom doors, on the bathroom mirror, or on their headboards for them to see first thing in the morning.

2. Physical Touch:  Snuggle Therapy
Physical contact is so important.  I wrote about the importance of Snuggle Therapy in a previous post and firmly believe in its power to dissipate tension and work through particularly emotional days.  But snuggles can come in many forms:

  • sharing a story
  • praying together wrapped in a prayer shawl
  • holding tight when tears are inevitable (theirs or mine)
  • slow-dancing to a quiet song
  • alternating foot rubs
  • bedtime cuddles

Basically, I’m consciously choosing to linger in those opportunities for physical touch because even a few moments in a warm embrace goes a long way, doesn’t it?

3. Quality Time:  Sunday Morning Breakfast Dates

With four children and both parents working full-time, it is hard to get that one-on-one connection as often as you (or your middle child) might like.  My husband and I both decided that we had to reclaim a time in our schedule that was rarely disrupted and make a commitment to create a rotation to go on mini-dates with each of our children.

Sunday morning seemed to offer the golden opportunity; while both parents were around to trade-off babysitting we could also go out inexpensively for some quality time with each child.  We often add a little walk to a coffee and muffin date to extend the opportunity for conversation (and to add a little activity into our weeks).  Each kid gets a date with Mommy or Daddy every four weeks.
4. Acts of Service:  Chore-Free Gestures

Every so often, I’m going to try to take something off their to-do lists.  We have very specific age-appropriate daily and weekly chores for all members of our family – it’s the only way we survive in our busy household!

Because this is my primary love language, I understand the impact of someone taking something off of my endless list so I’m going to try to do the same for them.  I’m going to target times when it would be particularly helpful like after a tough or tiring day at school or when they have extra homework or an extracurricular commitment.

I also want to surprise them, on occasion, with a clean room (although, admittedly, this may be motivated more by impatience than any feelings of love).

I may write out a little “get out of a chore free” coupon to give them a choice once in a while about how and when they want to cash it in.
5.Receiving Gifts:  A Token Trunk

I already have a “gift cupboard” where I house lots of little gifts for a variety of occasions (hostess gifts, kids birthday party gifts, encouragement tokens and the like).  I’ve decided that I need a separate bin of little treats, toys, craft supplies, and wrapping to pull out just because.

I’m generally quite skeptical about the dollar-store-loot-bag kind of treats that break before the end of the first day but I don’t want to spend a fortune so I’ll have to get in the habit of grabbing some bargains when I see them and tucking them away. I’ll look for sets of things that I can split up like 4-packs of PlayDoh or Crayola Stampers Markers.

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I’ll look for ways to surprise them with a little token.  Maybe I’ll leave one in a coat pocket. I could hide something under a pillow. (Who says the Tooth Fairy gets to monopolize that location?) I can place a little gift in a backpack to be found later. I could get a few and set them our on their breakfast or dinner plates.

Of course, free or homemade gifts (like home-baked cookies, a new playlist, a craft or a photo) can be wonderful and personal options as well.

Another part of the experiment is to carefully observe how my kids react to each of the love gestures.  I have my suspicions about their primary love languages but this should help me to examine my hypotheses.

I am curious, though; do you have any plans or practices for showing love to your kids in the everyday busyness of life?  If so, would you share them with me?

What to do When you Hit the Wall

Stone-walling. That’s the recurring tactic of my son, Wes. When something is bothering him, he withdraws and shuts down. Completely. It’s a rather disturbing version of the silent treatment, though often with tears. Despite my constant cajoling for him to “use his words”, this little man has trouble articulating what is wrong and this big mama has trouble penetrating the silence. Frustrating combo.

You may have read about our sharing journals in my other post. Just last night, Wesley wrote “snuggle me pleeeeese, mom!” (large enough to fill a page) and drew a page full of tears to accentuate the need he was feeling. He ripped the pages out of his journal, snuck out of bed to sit on the stairs, and passed them to his father (who found him there) to give to me.

Insert teary eyes and a quick leap from the chair to his rescue here.

We headed to my bed for some Snuggle Therapy and, once we had a few laughs, his sadness had dissipated significantly and he fell asleep feeling loved.

Thank God.

All’s well that ends well. Or is it?

He is the kid who says ” you never listen to me” but he really means that I don’t understand him. And, the truth is, I don’t. But I want to. So, like most moms, I struggle to find ways to access his personality and understand his needs; but, it is a perplexing task to say the least. And it is so easy to feel defeated.

Intense, withdrawn, cerebral, compassionate, sneaky, tender-hearted, active, funny, introverted and slightly melancholy – that’s my Wesley. He fluctuates between moments of sincere concern and patience with his siblings and flat-out punches to the face. Always retreating and hiding to cope with his guilt (like most humans). He is amazingly complex and, seemingly, so out of reach?

On days that I seem to be a particular failure as his mom, I have to remind myself that I am the mom God wanted him to have. This combo was meant to be! Oh, boy! That means that I am what he needs, or at least I can learn to be, right?

So, here’s what I’m learning about hitting the wall, Wesley-style:

1. Snuggle first, talk later. Physical affection breaks through that tough exterior like nothing else. In this case, a hug is worth a thousand words.

2. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If I can give him my undivided attention as often as possible in any given day, I will minimize the risk of intense outbursts; or, at the very least, lessen their severity and duration.

3. Understand the reasons, but don’t make them excuses. A lack of sleep, a sugary diet, a tough day, or an overload of people will all trigger Wes’s emotional upheaval. If I know that one (or any combination) of these factors is at play, I can chalk his difficulties up to the source and address the root of the problem as part of the solution.

4. Don’t give up. It is so important that I work through the discouragement of misunderstanding and keep trying to “get” my kid. It would be so easy some days just to default to Daddy, but that’s a bit of a cop-out. He needs to know that I will keep trying, despite the difficulties and that Jason and I are both in his corner.

5. Embrace the morning. The fact that each new day presents an opportunity to do something differently is such a gift of grace. What happened today does not have to determine tomorrow’s agenda. As Anne of Green Gables would say, “tomorrow is fresh with no mistakes in it.” Together, Wesley and I are learning this truth.

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That’s my boy, on our breakfast date. The morning after.

Ah yes. New mercies.

Do you have a Wesley in your clan? What do you do when you hit the wall?

Marathon Days

I had one of those parenting days where things seemed to be caught in a negative vortex that was spiraling out of control. Staying home all day with four kids at this stage of life, I should probably assume that any day has the potential for disaster! Every parent knows how the demands and pressures of caring for even one kid can totally drain you physically and emotionally. (Perhaps that is why our fourth child, Fraser, has the nickname, “Frazzle”!)  Also, if you are a parent, you know about the phenomenon that occurs as children feed off your emotions:  bad day for mom breeds bad day for kids and the vicious cycle continues.

From getting slapped in the face by my 4-year-old to playing judge and jury for each victim of sibling rivalry to burning my banana muffins to my husband texting to say he was going to be late (and he was supposed to BBQ for dinner!), the day just seemed to go from hard to harder.   And the common factor in the day seemed to be the propensity for multiple kids (and mom) to melt down simultaneously in a cacophony of whining, screaming and crying (or some combination thereof) with very little reprieve in between tantrums.  (Many of you moms are nodding your heads right now in a “been there, done that” solidarity, right?).

It was a marathon today that lasted at least 10 hours and truly, who wants to run that long? Isn’t the average marathon time like, 41/2 hours?  I must confess, I am not proud of my performance today.  Certainly not a personal best. But I am hoping that some reflection will help me to prepare for the next big race.  Lord knows, it could be this afternoon!

After reflecting (read: complaining, whining, venting, walking, and praying),  I have come to some conclusions about how I might have navigated the ups and downs of the terrain today with more grace and stamina.  Thought I might write it down to remind me to learn from my mistakes.

A 12-Step Survival Guide for Marathon Days:

  1. Breathe.  Do you ever notice how shallow your breathing gets when stress and anxiety build?  It’s staggering, really, that we could practically forget to breathe.  We all know the take-a-deep-breath-and-count-to-ten wisdom.  Well, there is something to that, cliché or not.  A simple pause to breathe deeply before reacting to the chaos swirling about can go a long way to prevent unnecessary casualties.
  2. Pray.  I was listening to Jars of Clay’s, Dan Haseltine, croon “I need thee every hour” as I drove this morning and I was reminded that I need to demonstrate my dependence on God through unceasing prayer as I go about my day.  If you want to tie step one and two together, try breath prayer.  My current favourite mantra:  Lord, give me strength.
  3. Solicit help.  There is no shame in realizing your own limitations.  Sometimes a call to a friend that will simply listen and validate your experience goes a long way.  Maybe you can farm a kid or two off to a neighbour for a much-needed breather.  Text or call someone who could provide an objective perspective on the day and/or a new parenting approach to try.
  4.  Diffuse the situation.   I texted my husband mid-day to solicit some needed support and encouragement and he advised me to counter all the whining with cuddles.  So, out of desperation, I tried “snuggle therapy”: I literally set a timer and forced my kids to cuddle me (and each other) for no less than five full minutes.  It definitely did not ultimately prevent further breakdowns but it diffused the anger in the moment and helped to deal with the crisis in a loving way for all of us.  Plus, there will come a time when my boys will not want to snuggle with their mom so I’m milking it for all it’s worth at this stage!
  5. Change the scenery.  I did not do this today, but I sincerely think getting out for a walk or a drive would have been a welcome distraction in the midst of the chaos.  Just to pick up and leave without a plan is difficult for me.  I am the kind of person that plans my spontaneity.  However, there is some freedom in knowing that you can retreat to nature or a friend’s house or an ice cream shop to mix things up for everyone.
  6. Let go of my agenda. I am a list maker but I have terribly unrealistic to-do lists.  I know I need to adjust my expectations for any given day and be realistic about what I can actually accomplish in one day.  Part of my stress comes from the imposition of this agenda on myself and my kids and I need to be flexible and more able to respond to the day as it comes, letting tasks go as often as necessary.
  7. Count my blessings. Gratitude fixes many attitudes, mine especially.  I should have asked the kids at lunch what I did at dinner:  help me to remember what I am thankful for.  Philippians 4:8 reminds mothers that, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Today I was thankful for iPhone pictures,  snuggle therapy, the fact that I labelled and developed a storage system  in the boys’ room (yes, that makes an organization freak like me quite happy), and the phone conversations I had with two good friends,
  8. Be consistent.  Today I committed the unpardonable sin as a parent:  I threatened a consequence with no real intention of following through.  The older kids had planned to go to the local library for a movie in the afternoon and I told them that they would not be able to go if they did not shape up;  but, the truth is, I needed them to go!  Empty threats are no good.  I should have said nothing or found another way to deal with the situation that would actually work.   (A side thought:  It seems that my kids are all struggling with tone lately, whether it is whining or screaming or sassing, so I am thinking of this new technique:  temporarily steal the buzzer from our Taboo board game and place it in the centre of the dining room table for easy access.  Every time a tone emerges I will instantaneously “buzz” that kid to remind them that the tone is in fact taboo!  Too extreme?)
  9. Apologize and forgive.  We have a rule in our home that when there is some sort of offence perpetrated by one party to another it must be “made right” before anything else can happen.  This consists of apologizing verbally to the victim (specifically, naming and owning the offense) and then receiving forgiveness from the victim (asking them not to do it again). So, on this type of day,  I spent a significant amount of time asking my kids to take responsibility for their poor behaviour so I couldn’t very well gloss over my inappropriate tone and remarks and expect to have any integrity left.  I had to humble myself and model this process of reconciliation and had to ask for forgiveness from the kids for the specific things that I had done that were angry and unkind.
  10. Tell myself the truth. Sometimes I can be so caught up in processing a day’s events from the wrong perspective entirely that I fail to recognize the lies in my self talk.  I can believe all sorts of things in a frenzied moment that have nothing to do with reality or logic and everything to do with emotion.  Jesus reminds us of the freedom that is found in knowing the truth (John 8:32).  Instead of getting caught up in the guilty suspicion that I am a bad mother and that I have scarred my kids for life, I should tell myself that there is a bigger picture that a sovereign God has under control.  That truth frees me to relinquish control and to renew my dependence on Him.
  11. Embrace a clean slate.  I always loved the advice that Miss Shirley gives to Anne (of Green Gables):  “tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it”.  If you know anything about this fictional character, she had a penchant for getting into mischief and often needed second chances.  That’s what I need too, sometimes, maybe even as much as Anne.  It is just one day, after all, and “Mama said there would be days like this”.  I need to cut myself some slack as a mom and surrender to the promise that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:19-26).
  12. Don’t move to Australia!  A temporary escape is one thing, but a total overhaul is too much.  In Bill Murray’s classic comedy movie, What About Bob?, the main character takes a “vacation from his problems”.  I think that is sound psychological advice.  If I can give myself permission to retreat from my problems, even for 10 minutes, I might be able to go back and face them with a new perspective.  Although they will not magically disappear as a result of my mini mind break, I might be able to frame the day more reasonably.  And, according to Judith Viorst’s book, everybody has bad days, “even in Australia”!