Finding Home

Home (1).png

Steam from my coffee fogged my glasses. After padding back to my bed after hours spent rocking my early-riser, I found my flannel sheets cold and uninviting. I love having the house to myself in these quiet morning hours, and that longing overruled any chance at returning to sleep. I was up for the day.

I made oatmeal and frothed cream for my coffee, feeling lucky on this icy morning when most of my county was without power. I lit a pine candle, its wax nearly gone, and sat down to write, hoping my words would offer direction. I had some big things to sort out.

“… this is what good writing allows us to notice sometimes. You can see the underlying essence only when you strip away the busyness, and then some surprising connections appear” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 84).

Dancing is complicated when there are two leads. My heart is dreaming, but my mind is the voice of reason. I feel God’s tug on my heart, but I can’t visualize the next step. I’m tied to a place I was called over a dozen years ago, and now here I am, in a completely different season of life, still fulfilling that pursuit. God planted a different calling in my heart as a child, and I yearn to water it, nourish it, and allow it to thrive. Is God calling me to move back home? If I move home, will I become that version of myself– the dreamer, the creative?

How do I embrace the risk of stepping out in faith when I am not a risk-taker? Is my hesitation from a place of fear of disappointing myself, other people, or God? Or is it a fear that I will lose my spot if I give it up and then fail?

Watching others step out in faith offers me hope as I see God bless their efforts. I look for answers from other people when His Word is where I need to be.

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:2, NIV)

While I cling proudly to my area code of origin, I’m not feeling called to return there right now. My heart is here, with my friends, my church, and my boys’ entire lives.

I don’t know where you’re leading me, Lord. Clearly you are stirring my heart, drawing me out of complacency. You recently gifted me two ice days at home with my boys — we took things slowly. We ate lunch together, read books, and worked on creative projects. I am happier having stayed at home with them those days. My time with them wasn’t relegated to the few hours between homework and bedtime, dominated by the routines of homework, piano, dinner, bath, reading, and sleep. These windows offer me glimpses of a different life.

The more margin I make to write, the more strongly I feel God tugging on my heartstrings.

To simplify. 

To let something go.

To live smaller so that I can live bigger.

To open my eyes more, to see the world.

How do I surrender when I’m not sure where to step?

I know that “how” is not for me to understand, but I grant myself permission to write out my dreams. I list my questions, my concerns, and my doubts. What can I do now? I write four action steps ending with, “Continue to listen and pray.”

Lord, where am I supposed to go to follow You? Where do I feel your presence? What gifts lie dormant as I yearn for a quiet space to draw them out? Lately I’ve heard the message, “go where the love is.” I’m struggling to discern exactly where that is when we have family and friends — loved ones– in so many different places. Is it about the actual decision, Lord, or the process? I can’t stop thinking about all the small details and logistics, and I need you to show me where home is. Amen.

What is home?

“The Definition of Home. Be it ever so humble, it’s more than just a place. It’s also an idea — one where the heart is.” Verlyn Kinkenbord

Whenever I return to my childhood home, I stop in all my favorite places. I remember the traditions and routines of my youth. Those traditions allow me to relive my memories through a more-experienced perspective and offers me a chance to invite my husband and children into my past.

As I grow older, I also crave for my boys to experience my childhood traditions. Does that mean I need to move back home to recreate those opportunities? For a moment, I feel homesick, second-guessing the life we’ve created here over the last decade. But when I sit down to list all of the places where my heart is now, it’s in the life we’ve built here. I reflect on words I associate with home as I allow God to guide my heart: hygge, sanctuary, comfort, safety, family, gratitude.

Home | the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household; (verb) — of an animal, return by instinct to its territory after leaving it

I find home in writing. I’m homesick for this first calling, homesick to get back to a place of feeling fulfilled in my work. My heart bursts with a longing to create. Until I sat down to write, I assumed I should be looking for a new house in a familiar town. But for all the perusing real estate apps I’ve been doing, I’m not going to find home listed there. Home arrives with my pen against the page, soft music playing, a candle flickering nearby. Home is the time spent listening to God.

“A black man at my church, who is nearing one hundred thundered last Sunday, ‘God is your home,’ and I pass this on mostly because all the interesting characters I’ve ever worked with– including myself– have had at their center a feeling of otherness, of homesickness. And it’s wonderful to watch someone finally open that forbidden door that has kept him or her away. What gets exposed is not people’s baseness but their humanity. It turns out that the truth, or reality, is our home” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 200).

Lord, I don’t want to present you with plans. I pray that you offer me the next step. Where do I look? Where can I find the breathing room to savor what I have here? What if I have to unravel all the little pieces I’ve worked into place? I surrender these questions to you, Lord. Amen.

God isn’t giving me a next step–not yet, anyway. He is drawing me home–here, at this writing desk– to keep going, to keep writing, to keep bringing myself closer to Him in these quiet moments. God’s welcome mat is always out, ready to receive us, to invite us into His presence. The pineapple of hospitality hangs on His door, no matter the season. 

I am homesick for that younger version of myself. For the little girl who not only dreamed of writing, but did it with confidence. She wrote books with her best friend in second grade. She wrote action stories with her next door neighbor in 4th grade. She won countless writing contests and did all of this without self-doubt or inhibition, only the pure joy that comes with doing what she loved.

Naysayers tried to discourage me when I wanted to be a photographer, a teacher, and so many other ambitions. “Everyone wants to do that, you’ll never succeed” they challenged, or “You don’t want to do that.” But nothing has ever discouraged me from writing, not even the rejection letters.

No, my roadblock in writing is finding uninterrupted time. I constantly seek the quiet space I need to draw out my very deepest thoughts, longing to make those connections, and I become anxious knowing that other commitments demand my attention or interrupt. Morning quiet time is never long enough — my boys are awake and asking for breakfast, and my concentration is lost, my attention demanded elsewhere in the rush to get out the door to work and school.

I am so desperate for a retreat alone to spend time in quiet reflection over the life we’ve created. I have so much to process. With seven consecutive years of pregnancy and breastfeeding with no break, I’m homesick for alone time. I’m homesick for me, for the girl I once was before motherhood took over. I struggle finding the words to explain it to people who don’t understand. Even now, I’m balancing a toddler in my lap as I type an essay I’ve been working on for weeks.

Passion | pati (Latin) – to suffer | a strong and barely controllable emotion; an intense desire or enthusiasm for something

This longing for home is a desire for the time and space to write, think, and be in my head, and somewhere along the way I’ve come to believe that unraveling all that I have accomplished is going to take me back to that place. But it won’t. I have to advocate for it, because no one else will. Others continue to stack demands on my time if I allow it. Work obligations suffocate my quiet time.

When I was little, I placed so much expectation on my birthdays that I often met the day a little sad that it had finally arrived and thus was already ending. I wanted it to go by slowly and perfectly after a year’s worth of anticipation. In the same way, I am already putting so much pressure on this elusive writing retreat that I’m going to take once my toddler is weaned. I’m so afraid that once it is here, it will vanish too quickly, and that it won’t have been enough. That I’ll get sick, or that one of my kids will get sick, or that I’ll feel self-indulgent and invite my family along at the last moment because they won’t understand why Mommy needs space alone. But the truth is, I need time to be home. To be that little girl who loved to write, and had all the time in the world to get lost in doing what she loved the most, embracing God’s gift before she knew it was a calling.

Simplifying Holiday Traditions

Simplifying Holiday Traditions

The kitchen clock approached 2 A.M. as I pulled my orange Williams Sonoma apron over my head and scrubbed flour and gingerbread remnants from my fingers. Cooling racks covered every surface with the walls and roofs of identical A-frame gingerbread houses, enough for each child to decorate his own at our party the following evening.

With the gingerbread finished, I ran through the remaining tasks. I skimmed a new recipe for the homemade gingerbread roll I’d attempt in the morning. I lined the candy bowls along our dining table. Soon I’d make the icing that would frame and set the gingerbread walls together. And I still needed to make sausage dip for the adults.

Five families came over to join the festivities with us that first year, each bringing their favorite candies for decorating and arriving in their favorite holiday pajamas. The Polar Express soundtrack welcomed them into our home. My then-two-year-old and eight-week-old wore matching organic cotton Christmas pajamas.

My husband ran out to grab peppermint coffee for me before the party and returned, musing, “Oh, they had those gingerbread roll things in the checkout line at the gas station,” pointing at my homemade effort, which had consumed literally my entire morning. Never one to enjoy baking, especially last-minute, I threw up my hands.

“Of course they did!”

Four years later, our gingerbread pajama party has evolved into one of my family’s most anticipated and treasured holiday traditions. But now that I’m a seasoned mom with three young boys underfoot, I set more-realistic expectations for myself, and I don’t feel guilty about it. I just can’t pull off the same dedication anymore, one that requires hours of focused planning, when I’m juggling so many other responsibilities in this season of my life.

I defined my expectations for throwing a party, and the subsequent parties got easier as I granted myself permission to simplify. That ridiculous homemade gingerbread roll was the first to go. What began as a last-minute touch had taken painstaking hours. 

I also took the pressure off myself to make the gingerbread from scratch. The next year, I purchased gingerbread train kits at our local craft store. The following year, I waited too far into the holiday season and sent my husband out for some kits, and he returned with pink Shopkins candy houses, the gingerbread section completely wiped out. Lesson learned: simplify, but don’t procrastinate.

Last year, we dropped the houses altogether and decorated homemade gingerbread people. In fact, a dear friend baked the gingerbread herself (from scratch!) and brought it over with her, because she enjoys baking. Other dear friends brought toppings and yummy Grinch fruit skewers. Sharing the responsibilities made the event more enjoyable. I even had time to do something I truly enjoyed – sewing tiny gingerbread man ornaments monogrammed with the date for each guest. My husband loves to make delicious wassail, another favorite from my hometown.

Jen Wilkin said, “Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to bless.” When I began to identify my purpose behind this tradition – the desire to get together with close friends – I left behind those elements of the party that were too stressful for me to undertake alone. Other people might let go of other tasks, depending on what they value and what they find to be stressful. Kendra Adachi of The Lazy Genius says it best with her wisdom: “Be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t.”

The gingerbread houses that first year were stunning, and that first party was so much fun, but I also remember the overwhelm that came with trying to curate the perfect holiday party. And the overwhelm is not what I want to remember. In such a busy holiday season, I wanted my party to be worthy of my friends’ time. 

As the holidays approach year after year, it’s still one of the first dates I block off on my calendar. The tradition matters. The friends matter. But for me, the presentation was never what it was all about for me. (It might be for some, and that’s totally fine — you do you!) Once I was able to identify the part of the tradition that I valued most, I was able to let go of the pressure to entertain in favor of bringing my friends together for a festive, cozy evening spent together.

And the sweet Christmas pajama group pictures we take? They long-outlast those perfect, made-from-scratch A-frame gingerbread houses, anyway.

Give Yourself Permission to Heal

Your responsibilities may change from season to season, but God knows your heart.

I sprang from my hospital bed at the sound of a knock against the door, anxious for my family to meet my new baby. Thick blue hospital-issued socks kept my feet warm against the cold tile floor as I pulled the curtain aside and opened the door to greet my first visitors.

“I wasn’t expecting you to answer!” my father-in-law remarked.

I laughed, giddy from the high of childbirth and feeling invincible as I invited them in to meet their newest grandson. I basked in the love that filled my room that afternoon and prided myself on not feeling bedridden or weak so soon after delivery. I enjoyed the cupcakes visitors dropped off as they visited throughout the weekend (it was my birthday, too) and relished in telling my birth story.

Seven weeks later, I returned to work, fulfilling all the responsibilities I had before becoming a mother, regardless of the new roles I juggled. I upheld a standard for myself without adjusting for this new season. Over the next five years, I added to my plate until I found myself overwhelmed with three small children, more responsibilities at work, and a case of postpartum depression and anxiety. I prayed for wisdom. I prayed for rest.

I prayed for help.

I believed I’d appear strong if I bounced back quickly from challenges and obstacles. Now I admire the strength of women who advocate for themselves. They establish parameters, and they do it gracefully and unapologetically. It might look like allowing friends to bring meals during a difficult season, leaving work on time, or politely declining an invitation.

There is strength in delivering a firm “no” to guard the “yes” that gives us space to process and heal.

I was striving to maintain a self-imposed image of strength that really only mattered to me.

I could have accepted help and acknowledged that I am one part of the body of Christ, and He did not create me to be all parts to all people. He gave me gifts, and I am not perfect at them.

I could have let my husband answer the door. God would not think less of me. Measuring our self-worth by our own expectations inhibits us from fully embracing God’s unconditional love.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:2, NIV)

Where can you slow down? Embrace your current season and its limitations. Know that your responsibilities may change from season to season, but God knows your heart. Allow yourself to receive His gifts.

My Writing Says it Best

My Writing says it best

A flame flickers behind the glass encasing the autumn candle nestled on the farmhouse coffee table where I probably shouldn’t be resting my feet. Worship music emits softly from the boombox radio on the bottom shelf of a curated bookcase, and the hesitant notes of my six-year-old’s piano lesson round the corner into this cozy nook where I wait for him to finish his lesson. I don’t want to rush it. It’s so easy to feel Jesus in this space. God doesn’t mind that there’s a lesson going on in the other room, or that I brought a book to read. He knows that I am a captive audience, thirsty for His own lesson. He chose to call me here, on this plush white couch, and put weight into the tears I’ve been holding at bay all day in what becomes a beautiful release.

Borrowing a phrase from a small counseling group I facilitated this afternoon with six-year-olds, today felt like a total “wipeout.” I missed every opportunity to ask for help, to vent — I couldn’t summon all my troubled thoughts and corral them into words in time for an adequate response that would do any justice to my feelings, so I pretended like everything was okay with a simple “I’m fine” or shake of my head. If I paused to collect my thoughts, I feared someone would find discomfort in the silence, jumping in to speak for me.

A note in my Bible beside James 1:2-3 presents the idea of “productive pain” — and God has a way of getting to my heart when I am hurting. In the same way that He makes His presence known when I need rest — when I long to, as Emily P. Freeman says, “sit down on the inside” — when my mind is racing. I need rest. Mostly though, I need solace.

solace | comfort or consolation in a time of sadness

I’m not good at communicating my inner world. Words are my most valued commodity and I have always used them sparingly and with great consideration. I calculate how every word is presented, I anticipate its delivery and reception before it is formed on my lips. I place a great weight on my words, because they represent the deepest part of me. And so in order for me to share my heart with someone else, I need a quiet place to stir my heart to form exactly what it is I’m trying to express. I’ve been misunderstood enough to know that I need to be earnest in my intentions, direct with my words, and honest with my thoughts. I’ve been told countless times, “You don’t say much, but when you do, it is so powerful.”

Sometime I just want to shake my own freckled shoulders and look into my big blue eyes: “Sweet girl, just SAY what you want to say instead of pretending like the status quo does not bother you. Your frustration later will not be worth it, the processing over and over how you should have responded, formulating better words with each new draft. Just say it. Just say it! Give feet to those precious wishes on your heart that don’t want to be camped there forever.”

I used to think that my biggest pet-peeve was a “story-topper,” someone who swoops in to tell of a bigger and better experience they had even as I stumble over my own storyline. Comedian Brian Regan jokes that he wishes he could just respond to those people with, “I walked on the moon.” Boom. Mic drop.

But as I get older, I begin to realize that this happens often between introverts and extroverts, when the latter takes advantage of a segue to have the floor and the former lets it happen, the ever-patient listener. I leave the conversation feeling used, a professional listener and an introvert by nature. I’m learning that my deepest thoughts require a time and a place — a quiet, slow, deep place– for me to draw them out in hopes that they will resonate and be validated.

Besides my husband, I didn’t tell anyone when I initially found my tumor last year. I’m fairly private by nature, but that’s because sometimes I can’t handle other people’s reactions on the spot. I’m also afraid of becoming an emotional wreck and losing my opportunity for authentic words, even though my emotions would represent even more authenticity. I don’t want to burden someone else with my troubles. I have a hard time asking for help.

I didn’t tell anyone the last time I changed jobs, either — at the time, I was reading through a Bible study that advised against announcing big prayer requests. (Seriously, it really said that.) Ever the rule-follower, I still hesitate to share big news. In the next few weeks, I’ll begin to hear back from several opportunities, ideas I’ve planted, so to speak, but in order to protect myself, I limit my sharing and thus can avoid having to follow-up with disappointing news if my ideas don’t come to fruition or aren’t accepted readily.

I was quick to tell three people when I first became pregnant in 2011 and then I had to relive the subsequent heartbreak when I had to tell all three people that I had lost the baby. My heart of hearts longs to spill forth, but I keep my circles small.

In my mind, it’s easier to present a tidy analysis after the fact, once I’ve had time for the dust to settle and to process my own experiences and feelings before I attempt to invite another person along.

I know, I know –this muddy thinking is all kinds of wrong. It isn’t healthy.

This raw place I require to process comes only in deep introspection, and it’s hard for me to get there in my everyday life with the constant noise at home and at work. After all three boys are asleep, I’m physically exhausted, my resources drained even when my heart is ready for a slow opening. I long to spend time pouring over my thoughts the way apple cider is best when mulled slowly over an open flame.

mull |

  1. think about (a fact, proposal, or request) deeply and at length.
  2.  warm (a beverage, especially wine, beer, or cider) and add spices and sweetening to it.

A text from a friend today had me in tears. “If you need someone to talk to, I’m all ears.” Its sentiment was sweet, simple, and affirming. Those words were life-giving as I pondered how I could even begin to summon all my fears into a coherent stream of thought. In her offer alone, I felt validated. Even as I fear that it would cheapen my thoughts to attempt to explain them. I fear I’d lose confidence unless I had the proper space to rehearse, and knowing I can’t do that leaves me frustrated with myself, even as I know my gift is in my written word.

I’ll admit, in my anger today, I did not have immediate access to what helps me best cope. I was standing in the misty rain, replaying the day’s criticisms and frustrations and feeling ashamed. I had my son with me and 100 sets of eyes driving past me, and it took every once of professionalism I could muster to stand there and pretend that I was okay, to go through the motions of my job and act like it’s all okay when my inner world was a fiery chaos — everything I’ve been keeping inside for a very long time. Too much to even relate in a single blog post.

And I need a break so desperately. To plan my next steps. I need a spiritual retreat where I can listen to God and just be with Him. Even though I know it is not God that has taken a step back from me, I blame myself for refusing His persistent call over the past few years. I know I’ve been too far from Him lately. Burning the candle at both ends, I give, give, give, but filling myself with Him feels too selfish, too indulgent, even though I know it’s ridiculous even as I type those words in this vulnerable place. Lately I have put my focus on what comes most easily and yields results most quickly, instead of allowing space for His slow process.

This afternoon I finally arrived home with my oldest, who, luckily, thrives on routine and sat right down to finish homework and squeeze in one last practice before his piano lesson. I had already arranged for my husband to pick up the younger kids from the sitter, so I stole a few minutes to myself in an attempt to reset my surly attitude. I set my campfire mug of hot pumpkin coffee on the side table I procured from HomeGoods for such a time as this and collapsed into my favorite paisley chair in my library. I adjusted my earbuds and accepted the invitation of my Bible’s pages, my pen poised over blank pages of my own. This was the fastest path to damage control I knew in this season. It also happens to be my favorite.

I may not be the best at thinking of my feet, but I know recovery. Perhaps that is why people expect so much of me– I can present a neat package if left alone. I’m constantly wondering whether I set the bar too high for myself. I get so jealous of young moms who already have the wisdom to recognize when they need a break, but even moreso, when they give themselves permission to take it and embrace it fully and unapologetically. I question why I can’t do that for myself even as I feel like I juggle more and more despite my best intentions to simplify life with three little boys. I have had such a hard time this year articulating this sentiment without hurting someone’s feelings, but I saw it written best here:

“To protect your energy it is ok for you to say no, and have it not be because you are too busy, but because you don’t want to be too busy” (@mamabirdandco, Instagram post 10.6.18).

Last year I went to The Homestead for four days and took my nursing baby with me. It was for a work conference, and I carried him in my Tula to every session. That was the closest I’ve come to alone time. But a solo retreat sans babies? A girls’ weekend? A vacation with just my husband? I feel like I could have never treated myself to such indulgences — I’ve been pregnant, miscarrying, or nursing with no break since June 2011 and have not had a weekend to myself, although I desperately need one. It’s taxing for an introvert like me, to be so needed by little ones, physically, mentally, and emotionally, no matter how accessible and approachable I seem. I dream of places I might go on a solo retreat once I am able, to stake out a table in a small European cafe to write or explore the cobbled streets of faraway places.

As a mother, I am always responsible for someone. I may be in my library with earbuds in, but I’m aware of what my son is doing in the next room and the reality that my younger boys are both still at the babysitter’s. I know I’ll have to wrap this up in about ten minutes to rush off to the next thing. I am always, always responsible. It seems to come with the territory. At work, even if I want to take off any amount of time, I have to write substitute plans, which takes hours and is usually not worth the advance effort — ask almost any teacher!

“What if?”

I spend a few minutes allowing myself to entertain dreams onto the fresh thin lines of a new set of mini notebooks, four bound together in one unit by camel-colored leather branded simply with the word “Notes.” I write out the most audacious of thoughts, in rambling form, to think about later. Seven ideas in all.

Seven “What ifs?”

I notice that if even one of these come true, the rest would fall into place. And that is both exciting and terrifying.

God, help me to commit to writing out my prayers to you more frequently. To find the quiet places and carve the time to rest in them, even if “rest” means a brain dump to quiet my thoughts, knowing that are out on paper and in your care. Lord, I spend an inordinate amount of time yearning for quiet and solitude, but also SOLACE, to validate my racing thoughts and corral my ideas into coherent sentences. I have always been able to make sense of them through my writing. And I don’t know where the disconnect falls, but writing brings forth personal acceptance, depth, and raw emotion–my own personal truths. Before I even write a word it is composed in my heart, ready to deliver to the paper. It’s as if the message is sent to the pen instead of my mouth. Because I know the paper is ready and braced to receive my words in a way that human nature might not be ready for. I worry too much about how my words might be received by another person, so they (usually) leave my lips highly filtered and thus drastically altered in translation. This is the start of my frustration in trying to audibly process all that is spiraling in my inner world. How do I dare convey this to another soul? This raw, unfiltered , deepest version of me? Do I dare share it with the world? I bring it to you, Lord, in my writing, and thus you use my frustration, even, to draw me closer to you. And maybe that is its purpose, after all. “Productive pain.” Amen. 

 

 

Finding Time to Read

Finding Time to Read

“When do you find the time to read?”

I don’t know how to respond to questions like this, because I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer that will work for someone else, and it would be naive to think I do. In fact, you could ask, “When do you find the time to [insert any activity here]” for any activity, and I can’t claim to know anyone’s schedule or specific season of life except my own. I have seasons when I have more flexibility than others. I’ve probably read twice as many books this year already than I did total last year, and the only thing that has changed is that each of my three kids is one year older than before. But that one year of development makes enough of a difference that I’ve been able to take better care of myself.

I don’t know your unique work hours, what time you wake up, or what time you go to bed. I don’t know what requires your time during the day, or who needs your attention throughout the day. I don’t know what your priorities are and where you choose to invest your time. So I can’t offer a magic answer.

If I’m being honest, questions like that make me feel like my time must not be important if I have time for a hobby. I have flashbacks of my first evening in a women’s Bible study. We were to go around the circle and introduce ourselves and share our hobbies. I talked about my love for reading, writing, scrapbooking, playing flute, and making jewelry as a side-business on top of my career as a school counselor. Immediately, almost every woman in that circle sneered, “Oh, you must not have any kids!”

As a mother now, I get where they were coming from, but at the time, their comments really stung and even brought me to tears. Because what they didn’t know was that at that very moment, I was already a mother. I was miscarrying my first baby even as I sat there in the circle. That lost baby was the very reason I was even sitting in that room, trying to pick up the pieces of the dreams I had been carrying. I was desperate to find hope in that circle of women and in the book of Ruth.

The miscarriage involved so much more than the months of scary medicine and blood clots the size of baseballs falling out every time I so much as moved. It was more than the painful visits to OB/GYN waiting rooms with glowing pregnant mothers. It was more than the visit to the ER with a young resident who didn’t know bedside manners yet. It was more than passing part of my miscarriage in an ancient staff bathroom as the fire alarms blared at my school, having to clean up and evacuate in case it were a real fire (I still managed to get out and give the all-clear for myself on the walkie when they called for me, a miracle in itself). It was more than volunteering at a grief camp for kids while I was grieving the baby I lost. The loss was its own unique season. (And even despite going through it, I don’t ever claim to know exactly how someone else feels going through it. We all endure experiences differently and it actually hurts me when people say, “I know EXACTLY how you feel.”)

Despite the last half-dozen years of not having much time for myself at all, I know that I have to make time for self-care, and for me, it requires quiet time to read and create. I’ve seen the hot mess I become when I’m running on an empty tank, and it’s scary. I’m not proud of what I say or do when I am exhausted. A couple weeks ago, by the time I got to Friday, I was running on a combined total of five hours of sleep from the past three nights. I was at work, and I was an absolute mess, walking through the halls and feeling like I was trying to trudge through a swimming pool and not able to be alone without crying at my desk. And yet I still had to teach and be “on” all day, because writing sub plans and going home would have required more work than just staying put.

I watched an Instastory today where someone listed the parts of her life that she CAN control. I frequently use this exercise with my students, and I totally understand her sentiment. She listed the times she wakes up and goes to bed as within her realm of control. I really wish I could say the same for myself, and maybe someday I will again, but I can’t completely control either of those right now and that boils down to my specific season of motherhood. So I also won’t attempt to tell you a magic answer for finding extra time in the 24 hours we are allotted every day.

I know that not all of those 24 hours are within my control, but I also know that as an introvert, I have to find ways to recharge after a day at work where my job relies on small-talk, problem-solving, intense conversations, and planning with coworkers.

I am literally around 750+ people all day and when I come home, the four other people in my home demand my attention as well. Not only do I need quiet time, I also recharge by creating, and so I carve out time for that through writing, designing, and other creative projects around the home and for my kids. My other favorite way to recharge is through reading, and so I have to get creative with my time. I’m going to break down how and where I do it in very practical ways.

I usually have about four to seven different books I’m reading at a time. Sometimes I even end up finishing a few of them at the very same time. I post any that I finish on Instagram using a few hashtags that archive them for me all in one place. I only post books AFTER I’ve finished them, because I abandon a LOT of books when I find that they are no longer worth my time, even if I love and respect the person who recommended them to me. My “Books to Read” note in my phone is way too long to ever get through as it is! Up until recently, I couldn’t abandon books, but I’ve learned how without feeling guilty.

In “Make it Happen,” Lara Casey describes how reading one book leads to finding another, and then another, and I have found that to be true for me as well. I’ll read a book, and that book references another title or author, and it resonates with me enough that I’ll add that one to my list. And if I love the author, I’ll look to see what else he/she has written, and it becomes a beautiful, unfocused rabbit trail of discovering new books to read.  My “Books to Read” list gets longer with each book I read, not shorter. All that to say, my list is long and I don’t finish every book I start. I finished two books this week, and so I posted about those (on my personal Instagram account), but I also abandoned two others this week.

I do like to get up before my kids. But in reality, I can’t control when my one-year-old is cutting molars all night and he decides to wake up for the day at 11:30pm and my night is shot, and my work alarm will still ring regardless of whether I’ve slept yet. Getting three kids up, dressed, and fed before we leave the house before seven is its own unique puzzle, but we come up with systems that work for us and I’m grateful for the routines in place and for my husband.

(Can I just say that he just walked into my library as I typed this, and he announced that he was going to the grocery store to do all the shopping for the week and that he was taking our one-year-old, three-year-old, and six-year-old with him. Bless him. I cried actual tears when he said that! On top of that, he’s sick, and so are they — I”m the only one who has escaped so far, probably thanks to 11 years of #teacherimmunity.)

One system that usually works for us right now is that I shower at night and have everything ready for the next day before I finally lay my head on the pillow: the boys’ clothes are picked out and put into an organizer for the whole WEEK on Sunday nights. All five lunches are packed for the next day, and I pick out my clothes and pack my school bag the night before. I’ve had to do lots of research on how to sleep on soaking wet curls so that my hair is not destroyed by the time I wake up, necessitating my CHI straightener because, hello, there’s definitely no time for that in the morning.  

So when my feet hit the floor, I escape downstairs and eat breakfast, drink coffee, and read while I eat. For breakfast, I read my Bible and a devotion, because that is the time my mind is the most open and focused all day. Whatever devotional I’m reading stays on the breakfast table until I’m finished, sometimes weeks on end, and I only read it in that setting so that I can always find it.

While my boys get dressed and I get ready for work, I listen to podcasts or something light and upbeat. Driving to his school (where I happen to work), my oldest is super quiet (like I am), and so I actually use that time to listen to a book on Hoopla (my free library app) or continue with the morning’s podcast. I can’t listen or read at all during work. Listening to a book usually only happens in the car, so that particular book stays in that context, even though it’s on my phone.

On the way home, my son is chattier and eager to unwind after his day of holding it together at school, and I turn everything off and spend that time dedicated to him. By the time we get home, I’ve picked up both of my other boys as well, and the four of us arrive home to unload the car, get a snack, work on homework, practice piano, and all of the other demands that the afternoon brings. But in this specific season, my youngest is ready to nurse right when we get home, so I make a snack for myself (usually popcorn) and we sit in the library so that he can nurse while I read on my phone — a physical book is too heavy for me to hold while I nurse, and anything audio is too loud as he settles down, so usually I’ll read a book on my phone while the other two boys eat the snack that is already out waiting for them when they get home. After their snack, they play dress-up, acting out whatever scenarios they’ve planned on the short drive home from school and daycare. Lately, it has been elves or rescue workers. I download the books free on Hoopla or OverDrive.

I try very hard to have a consistent bedtime system for the kids, but again, my baby’s nursing usually dictates how much time I get to spend with the older boys at bedtime. I love reading to them individually in their rooms and giving them much-needed one-on-one time with me, but sometimes we end up reading in one room if the baby has already begun crying for milk, or my husband will read to them while I’m with him in the nursery. We’ll usually read books they’ve recently picked out from the library, or old favorites, or longer chapter books, or, like now, seasonal fall books. In the nursery, I’m sitting in the dark by the light of the oil diffuser, so if I am reading, it’s only on the glow of my phone with no audio other than iHeartRadio that we listen to as the baby falls asleep (usually Hillsong radio).

Once all the boys are asleep, it’s a rush to get done anything that needs to be ready for the next day in a short window of time. By then, we’ve already packed lunches, but there are always cloth diapers to wash, laundry to fold, dishes to wash, school papers to sign, and those sorts of things. I also make coffee to take to work, iced, the night before, so that is sitting out to cool.

If I do end up with about 30 minutes before I fall asleep, I’ll use that time to read an actual, physical book, usually in the genre of Christian nonfiction memoir, because I can focus and annotate in the margins or take notes in my journal. That book generally stays on my nightstand so that it’s also in the right place when I need it.

If I begin a book on my phone and I absolutely know I want to annotate it as I read, I might order the physical copy so that I can finish it that way, but I also know that I can’t own every book I’ve ever read, nor do I want to, so I always check the library and Hoopla first. When I was little, I always owned a huge collection of books, but I also frequented my local library just as much, and so I try to find a balance for myself and for my kids that is affordable and offers both variation and the comfort of well-loved stories.

This is my season now, and I’ve created this system of balancing my responsibilities at work and as a mother of three little ones as best I can. To quote Myquillyn Smith quoting an old proverb, “A beautiful thing is never perfect.” My systems are imperfect, but they allow for the beautiful and messy moments that I hope to remember. They are one long learning curve! I’ve been a mother long enough to know that while these systems seem like they’ll work for a long time, I know that they’ll need to look different even next year when we’re all a little older and my kids are just a tad more independent. At this time last year, my oldest son and I would spend the afternoons after school playing on a quilt on the floor with the baby before he could crawl or walk, and it was glorious. I thought that season would last forever, but it was just a blip. And so I also want to make sure to practice mindfulness when I am spending time with the boys, which is why I don’t listen to books on the way home and I only read on my phone if the baby is sleep-nursing in my lap.

So that is where I am. Those are my current systems. Imperfect and messy and flexible, but they work. And while I’ll be happy when the seasons of teething and tantrums end, I also don’t wish them away because of all the joy that accompanies those ages and milestones. This has turned into more of a day-in-the-life post, but these are the posts I’ll treasure. I love looking back at the ones I wrote on my other blog because then it puts the days in perspective for me — they change so very much!

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

These are the verses that come right before one of my favorite passages in the Bible, and they are a valuable lens through which to view this season, and all the ones I’ve thought about as I’ve written this today. There was beauty in each of them, even if they felt messy, or even like failures and hardships. They were indescribably difficult, and those are the places where I learned and grew the most.

I hope that you find this post not as a quick fix, or a solution, because I know your day unfolds differently than mine does, but as a way to open your mind to places in your own life where you can create margin for those things that you love but get put on the backburner so often. You are doing a great job right where you are and you deserve that for yourself. You really do.