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Can I be enough?

I’ve been struggling lately with a bit of a spiritual funk.  I feel as though I am weary from all the striving and trying to live up to unrealistic expectations (most of which are self-imposed).  The demands, or at least perceived demands, on the average person these days is enough to put anyone over the edge.  We are overworked and over-scheduled and we live overwhelmed and overdone.  It’s a vicious cycle that people cannot thrive in so they settle for survival.  But I don’t just want to survive.  Do you?

It seems like just trying to live day-to-day has become a challenge tantamount to climbing Mount Everest.  If that is the case, I’d rather actually climb Everest and have something to show for all the effort rather than the lack of satisfaction that comes from a mundane, sleepwalking existence that may, in fact, be equally draining.

When everybody wants a piece of me, I am pulled in so many directions that I often feel  there isn’t enough to go around.  This living fragmented is tough.  Really, it’s broken.  It’s certainly not the way to wholeness.

I’m trying to get back to the basics, to weed through all the extra stuff and make sure that my focus is where it ought to be. I know it is distracted and distorted and I want to get back on track but I feel like the usual paths are not getting me there.  Sometimes even the doing of the right things just adds more to a to-do list that is already a mile long.  The things that I have done in the past to reconnect are not working.

Perhaps the secret is to stop doing.  To become undone, so to speak.

Jan Johnson, in her excellent book, Abundant Simplicity, writes of the abstinence disciplines such as fasting, solitude, silence, and simplicity as “breathing out”.  The modern church seems to be focused on all the engagement disciplines (study, prayer, worship, fellowship and service) which are the “breathing in” and has, by in large, excluded the rest.

The trouble is you need both to have a complete breath.  The constant inhale will not work.  Much has to be exhaled to keep things in balance.  This is wisdom that we are largely missing as Christians in the North American Church, if my experience is any indicator.

I need this undoing.  I need fewer pieces and more peace.  I need to breathe fully the breath of God and experience that divine restoration because the expectations I have for myself will never be satisfied and I will continue to deplete without His strength.

Johnson also quotes Paula Hudson on the subject of living with a singular focus:  “interior chaos subsides; the psychic battlefield goes calm and silent.  People can experience themselves as whole and at peace instead of fragmented.”  SO. WANT. THAT. A holy fixation that realizes that I’m not enough but He is and that is okay.  That is enough.

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?

Covey, Jason Covey: a birthday tribute to my man

Tomorrow is my husband’s  birthday and I thought I would seize the  opportunity to proclaim his greatness to the world.

Note possible ulterior motive: I’m hoping this post may convince him to finally read my blog!

Here are 36 reasons that I love Jason, in honour of his 36th birthday:

1.  He looks like James Bond when he wears a suit.

2.  He laughs at all my jokes but he never at me.

3.  He is steadfast and level-headed.

4.  He takes his time and will not be rushed.

5.  He offers the single most memorable line in an evening full of conversation.

6.  He listens and remembers.

7.  He doesn’t succumb to the unrealistic expectations and idiotic opinions of others.

8.  He looks at me and he sees me.

9.  He is a respectful and respected professional that does his work with excellence.

10.  He opens our home to any number of vagabonds, including, but not limited to, former students, moms groups, and close family.

11.  He sees all his flaws as a place to start rather than a depressing end.

12.  He reads classic fiction – for fun – and he reads to our children.

13.  He tracks the paperwork and finances for our household on an Excel spreadsheet because I asked him to.  God bless him.

14.  He trouble-shoots technology problems and is patient enough to persevere until he finds a solution.

15.  He is an amazing athlete, playing all sports with ease (an ability I envy because I do not possess it).

16.  He helps around the house with menial chores like garbage, dishes, and laundry.

17.  He commutes every day so I don’t have to.

18.  He respects my profession.

19.  He tells me to relax, to sit awhile, and to let the rest of the “to-do” list go.

20.  He snuggled and continues to snuggle our babies.

21.  He gets his hair cut with a proper stylist.

22.  He cares about how he presents himself to the world:  with style and integrity.

23.  He will pick up diapers and feminine products on his way home from work without complaining.

24.  He keeps my bed warm every night.

25.  He strives to understand and meet my needs.

26.  He champions me in my secret ambitions.

27.  He listens to my lengthy and repetitive rants about delinquent teenagers at work, frustrating kids at home, and my mother.

28.  He cherishes his heritage and seeks to honour it in our home.

29.  He makes time for frequent dates and plans mini-break weekends.

30.  He draws me a bath, rubs my feet, and/or pours me a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) when I am weary.

31.  He trusts and values my opinion as an equal partner.

32. He DJs and participates fully in our Living Room Dance Parties.

33.  He reads his Bible daily with his morning cup of coffee.

34.  He will watch episodes of Gilmore Girls, Downton Abbey, and Parenthood.

35.  He tolerates my fits of hysteria that often end in tears or uncontrollable laughter.

36.  He is fiercely loyal and committed to his family.

                                                                         And…he reads my blog!

Happy Birthday, honey!  I hope you feel loved today and every day.

A Bit Loony

At the cottage this year, my husband and I spent some wonderful evenings enjoying the view of Charleston Lake and, as usual, this quiet time surrounded by God’s Green Earth had us thinking about the pace of our day-to-day lives.

Like Annie Dillard, tinkering at her creek, I often find that the time I spend in nature is spiritually charged.  It compels me to reflect on and examine my life and to learn from the wisdom embedded in creation.  This particular vacation, my attention was drawn to the flight patterns of two birds.

Have you ever observed the distinct contrast between a loon’s frantic flapping and a hawk’s majestic soaring?  Sure, they both make it to their chosen destination but watching them get there reveals a significant difference; the loon looks like she is barely surviving while the hawk makes it look easy.  Truly, loons are not very graceful when they fly.  They exert so much energy and appear to be fighting against the wind and the gravitational pull whenever they are airborne.  It seems they should take some advice from Dory and “just keep swimming” because they’ve got that mode of travel mastered.  Just take your time, loons.  Stop trying so hard.  Align your flight with the power of the wind.

Oh. Right.

So, I’m a bit loony.  Shocking revelation, I know.   Friends, I am fighting every fiber of my being as a Type A, driven, task-oriented individual and am resigning myself to the fact that this pace is not a healthy or inspiring way to travel.  Actually, it’s a little crazy.

I often succumb to the frenetic pace of our society because I feel the need to get somewhere or to accomplish something according to an arbitrary timeline that I have established for myself, generally based on unrealistic expectations and external pressures.  I rarely orient my life to a rhythm that breathes.  Hence, the frantic flapping and the trying too hard.  And the grace-less flight.

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But, I am weary from all the flapping and I’m baby-stepping my way into the hawk program.

The late Dallas Willard offered the wise instruction to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives”.  I must do this.  I know it to be true.  But it is SO HARD.

So, where is the hope for me in all this loon-acy?  How can I reorient my pace to something that is life-giving instead of life-draining?

I think it is as simple and as hard as this:  daily I must resist the tyranny of the urgent and SLOW DOWN.  Daily I must choose to live in harmony with the indwelling Spirit, release all the busyness and striving, and become attentive to God’s work in and through me.

If I want to soar, I have to put my hope in the Lord to renew my strength.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like [hawks];

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40, italics mine

What Lies Beneath

So, I bought my first pair of Spanx last week to wear under my dress for my brother-in-law’s wedding.  (Well, not actually Spanx another – I’m sure much lesser – brand from The Hudson’s Bay Company but you get the idea.)

I don’t think I fully understood what I was getting myself into.

I mean, these gitch are the envy of every granny-panty ever made.  A single pair is about $50 – one pair of underwear, essentially – and mine are the cheap knock-offs!

However, I need them to wear under fancy dresses and the like to smooth out what I will call my “life lines”: the extra bits of me that have grown from experiences like birthing too many children and eating too many Lays Dill Pickle Chips.  Yep, that’s right. I paid good money to strategically stuff pieces of me into the largest pair of undies you’ve ever seen.   A pretty picture?  Maybe.

Yes, I could just sport a lovely muumuu to the family wedding but if it is a choice between grandma’s outerwear and grandma’s underwear I’d rather hide this necessary evil and pretend my weight issues away.  The muumuu is a dead giveaway that I have been eating like a cow. (I realize this blog is too, but so few people read it.)

So, the big day arrives.  I’m prepping for my debut as a 10-pound-lighter-looking goddess in the bathroom of the Holiday Inn because I know there will be no end of photography on this occasion.  I’m showered, shaved, newly coiffed, and ready to go out into the world until I try on my undergarments. And they suck.

Ladies, it is no small feat to get into these things, let me tell you.  It is no spa treatment.  I could pay the same cash for a lovely pedi and be much less aware of my shortcomings.  Because, after squeezing my parts into the proper places with several grunts of dismay, I stood in front of the mirror and realized one simple thing.

I am NOT 10 pounds lighter.

I am merely bound by the modern equivalent of the corset and my lack of self-discipline.

Spanx are a merely a Band-Aid solution.  Sure, they work wonders to conceal my flaws for a few hours but nothing has really changed.  It’s all a façade.

As many of you know, I have struggled for sometime to maintain a healthy lifestyle  but it is so much easier to stuff it than to actually make changes.  I am weak and my resolutions fail and I continue to find myself in front of the mirror, confronting the truth.

And the fact that Spanx  (and wannabe Spanx) fly off the shelves indicates to me that I may not be alone in this battle against the bulge.  C’mon friends, surely I’m not the only muffin-topper out there that needs some encouragement!

How can we come together to create a prettier picture that embraces health and wellness in all its forms – including our bodies? How can we get beyond the lies we tell ourselves and really find some freedom?

Maybe if we all rally together we can help each other confront the truths about this deeply spiritual issue. Is it possible?

Is it time for a support group instead of support panties?  I’d like to think so.  Let me know if you are in.

Check out this group resource: http://madetocrave.org/

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Confessions of a Selfish Mom

“I wanna do what I wanna do.”

This is my 2-year-old’s newest chant.  My heart chimes in with an amen, I hear ya, little man every time it is uttered.  And I wonder if that makes me a selfish mom.

Like many moms, I know I need to look after myself but so much of my time and energy is poured out into my husband, my kids, my home, and my work that I don’t know how to juggle it all. I often struggle with the guilt associated with taking “me-time” and making decisions to meet my personal needs.  I often feel that I am not fulfilling my motherly duties if I take time away from the kids so I tend to neglect myself under the guise of caring for others.

I’m convinced that there is a spectrum that lies between

selflessness ______________________&___________________selfishness

and I’m really not sure how to pin point the golden mean.  In this case, Aristotle’s virtue between the two extremes is a little vague for my liking.

I know that we must take care of ourselves as moms in order to be able to take care of our families but the litany of items that “ought” to be addressed in my life under “self-care” constitute a full-time job and I already have at least one of those.  How can I stay spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically healthy and have time for anyone else?

Every mom knows that the job is draining; everyone wants a piece of you but there are not enough pieces to go around. So we can’t keep running on empty and expect to carry on without deficiencies in one area or another.  I know that taking time to care for myself is necessary in order to be any good to those who depend on me but trying to discern the practical parameters of my self-care is really tricky.  Perhaps, I am lacking wisdom and should ask for it…so, wise ones out there in cyberspace, what say you?

Currently, I try to take one night of the week and break from my motherly duties.  I try to be as consistent as possible to keep our family routine intact so that the kids can expect it. This seems reasonable enough but it is the daily disciplines that seem to be so elusive.  I have trouble finding moments throughout my day to refresh.  And even if I should miraculously find a spare 10 minutes, I don’t always use these precious few breaths well.

So, I guess what I am really asking is, at what point does self-care descend into selfishness? I know we invest so much of ourselves in this holy calling known as motherhood but is it okay that sometimes I just wanna do what I wanna do?

I Can’t Do It and Neither Can You

So that resolve thing?  Yeah, it’s not working.

I keep trying to do things on my own and my resolve lacks results.

So, here’s what I am learning.  No amount of doing on my part is going to help.  This is a difficult realization for me to admit.  You see, I’m a doer and a doer that can’t do anything is a force to be reckoned with.  Just ask my husband.  I don’t like to wait;  I want to take action.  I want to develop a plan and implement it.  But manipulation of the externals rarely succeeds in bringing about internal change.  And therein lies the problem.

This frustration is at the heart of Christian experience, right? The Apostle Paul got it.  It has to be God doing the work because we’ve got nothing.  No amount of wishful thinking or good intentions is going to accomplish the work He has started.  Only He can do that.  And so we wait on Him.  Argh.

I’m just trying to figure out how to live in that holy dependency.  Seriously, how do we practically depend on God for strength?  (And don’t comment in Christianese; “let go and let God” just doesn’t deal with this very real struggle honestly enough for me.)  I know that trying to “figure out” the mysterious movement of God is a bit of a fool’s errand.  But I’ve got to do something!

Often, I feel like there is little point in trying at all:  what I want to do I don’t do; but, what I don’t want to do, I do. Yeah, I get that, Paul.  For all those areas that need discipline in my life, I am at His mercy. Somewhere between grace and application a balance can be found – not that I’ve found it, I just choose to believe in that hope.

But how do we allow God to work in us to break us free of these chains?  I have to believe it is possible and that I’m just a work in progress with a long way to go to completion.

I suppose I should feel it is freeing to know that this work is not up to me.  Somehow, that’s not where I’m at and I want to be able to accept that I can’t do it.  And I want that to be okay.

Looking for some wisdom?  Can you supply it?