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.

When Holding onto Fear is Easier than Facing It

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One of the most fulfilling and highly sought-after courses in college was called “Problems of Personal Adjustment.” Students were tasked to identify a underdeveloped area of their lives and complete a semester-long project of self-improvement. Most of my classmates found creative ways to better themselves. I remember one friend learned to cook, and by the end of the semester, she felt comfortable hosting a dinner party for our professor as her culminating project.

I decided this particular semester would be the time I’d finally address a long-held phobia that I’ve held onto since I was seven years old, and I signed up for the required counseling. I remember at the initial intake session, the counselor asked me if there was any reason I was holding onto my phobia instead of letting it go. I tried not to let my jaw hit the floor as I incredulously shook my head. Who would want a fear of this caliber hanging over them day-in and day-out?

Would I be willing to desensitize myself to my fear and let it go completely — or at least enough so that I could flip the channels on a TV without covering my eyes (you know, just in case the creature was lurking on the very next channel as it sometimes does). And was sitting here with this graduate student counselor how it was going to happen?

Spoiler alert: It didn’t happen. I’m still afraid. Irrationally, admittedly, afraid.

Counseling didn’t work for me that semester, but because I haven’t tried much else since, I still carry this phobia around with me. Perhaps it is because I have a definition in my head of what it is I’ll be able to do if only I am not afraid anymore. But maybe my goal is all wrong. Maybe I’m going about it all wrong by ignoring it. I realize that the extent of this particular fear is completely irrational and debilitating, but I’m also terrified to face it in order to heal. The mishaps of an inexperienced counselor were damaging enough!

In a devotional I was reading this morning, I arrived at a section called “Brave Enough to Pursue Healing,” and without even reading what Annie F. Downs had to say about it, that intake session from over a dozen years ago came flooding back. Have I been holding onto this specific phobia for so long because it’s easier to be afraid than to face it?

Have I been holding onto this specific phobia for so long because it’s easier to be afraid than to face it?

Some amount of fear is beneficial when our fear is something that is actually unsafe, as mine is. But what is the purpose of those fears we carry in silence, preventing us from taking risks that could be fulfilling and fruitful? Perhaps we are afraid of the “what might happens” — what might happen if we try to mend a broken relationship, or try to start a new friendship, or head in a direction different than the well-worn path we’ve always taken, into unknown territory?

To what extent do we let these silent fears, such as  loss of security, stability, or taking risks in friendships, become as debilitating as an irrational phobia?

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4, NIV).”

What fears need your acknowledgment? What heavy fears can you shrug from your shoulders and allow His steady presence to walk you through? What fears have you allowed to become larger-than-life? And–dare I ask–what fears have you allowed to control you by holding you back from the calling God has placed on your heart?

As my counselor asked, is there a reason you’re not willing to let go of this fear?

Today, ask God to help you take one small step toward acknowledging the fear that is holding you back from where He is calling you.

When God Restores Weakness with Renewed Purpose: Living with Spondylolisthesis

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Time is often conveniently and unofficially measured by milestones. If we want to be technical, we can sometimes quantify those milestones.

  • Seventy: My grandparents just kicked off the start of their 70th year of marriage together, the official milestone only a year away.
  • Ten: the number of years I have been a School Counselor. Also the wedding anniversary we just celebrated on a hot air balloon ride!
  • Seven: My body has been pregnant, miscarrying, or nursing for over seven years with no break. The end of this streak will be an emotional one, simultaneously bittersweet and freeing. It will be marked not only by the passage of time but by all the memories and moments in between. 
  • Six: The number of years we have been cloth diapering! (And parenting!)

Oftentimes, we mark time with “before and after” a major event, a critical turning point in our stories. Schooling, births, accidents, losses, jobs, moves. Befores and afters. Achievements. Milestones. 

Today would otherwise pass by, a normal day, unacknowledged for what it is to anyone but me. But July 16, 2018 delivers its own silent milestone. Today marks the day I have lived exactly half my life with a cadaver bone in my body. Someone’s priceless donation holds my spine in place, downgrading my Grade 4 spondylolisthesis diagnosis to a Grade 2 so that I could live a stronger life. Seventeen years ago. 6,209 days ago. July 16, 2001 separated all things “pre-op” from “post-op.” The day I had to quit 13 years of ballet, give up a minor role in my recital, and quit my Cross Country team for good.

That morning, just after being prayed over by my pastor, I received both an allograft and an autograft. An allograft is formed from donated bone, and an autograft is harvested from the patient–in my case, grafted from my hip through the same large incision, a once-seering-red scar now the silvery pink prime meridian of my back. As a teenager undergoing a surgery typically performed on an octogenarian, the bone in my hip was still thick enough to scoop from the iliac crest and form around the new fusion, which would later facilitate and support new growth.

My own bone was repurposed, engineered by God for its first 17 years as an unassuming but important piece of my hip, yet all the while He knew it would later help anchor the weakest crux in my body.

Unbeknownst to my 17-year-old self, this new anchor would grow and strengthen my spine to support some of the most life-giving work my body would ever do. Dancing with my husband at our wedding. Carrying and birthing babies. Running marathons. Nursing babies. Sitting with students at school during their most vulnerable emotional breakdowns. And all my life yet to come.

It would also allow me freedom. I can continue things I used to love and have new adventures with my family. My “after” includes long-distance running and even a semester of ballet in college. It’s a handstand on the Four Corners, a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. Hiking Glacier National Park and walking the streets of Dublin, Ireland. Exploring Arches National Park and climbing the steps to the top of the Griffin roller coaster at Busch Gardens. And just this week, climbing into the wicker gondola of a hot air balloon just before its launch and climbing back out after a safe landing.

As Christians, we are each a “before and after” story. Christ rescued us from the sins of our former lives, building us and refining our gifts to serve His kingdom purposes. Our gifts were dormant, but it took the element of renewed purpose to draw them out. He gives us freedom from our past sins, even as we continue to fall short.

The “Ortho Info” website describes an allograft for a spinal fusion as acting “as a bridge that allows the natural bone to grow through its surface.” God breathed new life into that cadaverous bone, designating it to strengthen all the other working parts of my body, each serving a specific and unique purpose but working in tandem. It fostered new growth and restoration while continuing to strengthen and refine itself with newfound life and purpose.

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (NIV, Romans 12:4-5)

Before we can minister to others, we have to care for our own spiritual well-being. That restoration comes through time in the Word and time spent in prayer with God, through fellowship with others, through acts of worship. It is necessary and restorative in times of both weakness and strength, in times of both confidence and of insecurity.

I don’t know whose life my cadaver bone supported before mine. I don’t even know whether it was in a girl or boy, man or woman, or how long it lived. I don’t know the circumstances that ended its first purpose, or what led the person to commit to part with it. I don’t know where it traveled or what adventures it’s been on. But I met it with gratefulness and a sense of renewal that it would restore a failing part of me.

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Invisible to the naked eye, I can feel it. I can still see its eerie glow on my x-rays, my own bones dull in comparison, a strong new stake fusing my lumbar to my sacrum. That very spot on a good day is a dull ache, on a bad day creates a pain radiating down my left leg and stiffening my entire body. Lately, it has been the latter.

Spondylolisthesis is an invisible, painful disability I carry every day, accompanied by its cousins, scoliosis and painful sciatica. But just because it’s invisible to others doesn’t mean I need to ignore it. My routine maintenance fell to the back-burner right after I had my third baby a year ago. Driving 56 miles to and from the doctor with three little ones in tow on a regular basis just wasn’t a priority, although it should have been. Careful maintenance had usually kept the pain at bay. Specific, low-impact exercises during pregnancy stretched my piriformis enough to take pressure off my sciatic nerve, but since then, the pain is back with debilitating vengeance.

Healing this time will require frequent trips to the doctor, slow and careful stretching, and frequent ice. It will necessitate pulling out my orthotics to use not only for running, but all the time. I have flat feet, which push my pelvis forward, putting all the weight I carry on my lower back. Orthotics correct that misalignment by creating an artificial arch.

I also shudder, remembering the dreadful white plastic body brace I wore in high school. Anytime I had to bend or sit, I had to unlock a hinge that connected the brace around my torso to the brace down my leg. When the brace finally got to come off for good, I instinctively walked for months with one arm behind my back, protecting the vulnerable scarred area. My muscles would spasm against any slightest touch. I went to physical therapy after school every day to build back up the muscles of my left leg, encased in plastic so long, to match those of my right leg, which had to overcompensate. The massages at PT left me in tears. It was work, and I pushed through. Because of the brace, I learned to breathe differently and sit perfectly straight, which are ingrained habits even 17 years later. 

Our faith needs routine maintenance to remain a constant dialog with our Creator. We can’t take our faith for granted, because when we do, it becomes strained and weak. We become thirsty and forget to reach for a drink from our Healer. But when we get off-course, we can ask for help. We can bow in prayer, asking God to lead us back to Him. We can pull our Bibles off the shelf and allow His Word to lead us, and He will restore us again. He will support us at our weakest points and breathe new life into what feels bereft.

In what areas do you need His leadership now? Take a moment to pray over it. Allow God to point out your weak points, and listen for what He might be asking you to repurpose or restore so that you can continue to build His Kingdom.
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If you would like to know more about my journey in spite of spondylolisthesis, you can read herehereand here.

Second-Guessing Your Own Decisions

Second-guessing your decisions

Today was the day we were finally adding a girl to our family of all little boys. She weighed 9 pounds and had curly red hair, just like I have. Her coloring matched the spots on my son, and he was excited to finally meet her after only seeing pictures. All my boys were excited. Her name was going to be Molly.

Molly is a mini goldendoodle, and this should have been a light-hearted post announcing her arrival in our family.

After filling out 29 applications and queries for goldendoodle rescues where I was never quite fast enough, or didn’t have the right fence or companion dog, we chose this puppy sight-unseen and arranged for her to be held for several weeks until we could pick her up.

A week before pickup, things didn’t seem to add up. The lady we were led to believe was the owner seemed to be more of a puppy agent. Records or any sort of paper trail were nonexistent, contact information for the family’s vet was unavailable, and the agent conveniently went into labor followed by multiple surgeries in the exact time frame that she promised to send all paperwork and vet records.

As much as we wanted this puppy, the red flags were not only waving, but they were shouting in our faces.

We had promised our boys a puppy today. We had arranged for someone to watch our boys while my husband and I made the 8-hour drive, and we had begun picking out a girl name.

Suddenly, the option of no was thrown out on the table.

The agent was as accommodating at first, then she become hostile and passive, and then polite again. During our drive home from the beach, we began googling the piecemeal information she did send after I asked her repeatedly for it: phone numbers, names, and addresses. Veterinarian phone lines were conveniently broken and were after-hours at this point, anyway. The name of the vet turned into an Animal Emergency Trauma Clinic, not a vet that would have an established relationship with a family. Glaring spelling errors on websites screamed “unprofessional.” It was the textbook example of a situation to avoid and I felt like a fool.

Desperate to believe I had not been misled, I kept the option of following through with the purchase open. After all, we had already sent a deposit to hold her while we were on vacation. I continued what limited research I could from the fledgling information I had been given. At this point in my research, the red flags were not only expected, they were almost comical. In fact, every single bit of information ended as a red flag.

My husband and I shared our hearts with each other. We avoided any “I told you so’s” and hurt feelings by talking honestly and straight-forwardly. Completing the final leg of our 10-hour drive home from the beach (side note: what a way to spend my birthday!), we decided to cut our losses and say no to this puppy. I apologized to him for wasting our money.

Yes, we had invested in all the puppy supplies and a nonrefundable deposit on a listing with just enough verbiage to make a PayPal dispute unlikely. But we had avoided the toll of another full day of driving the morning after the exhaustion of vacation travel. And more importantly, we avoided what could have amounted to costly vet bills, potential hereditary diseases, bad temperament, and emotional heartbreak on our part. We’ve been through the loss of a puppy before, which was the driving force behind all my second-guessing about this particular purchase.

It’s hard to accept that we’ll never actually know if this puppy was, in fact, a “lemon” guaranteed under the state’s Lemon Law or if she would have become a beloved member of the family. But even without meeting her, we feel right about accepting that we’ll just never know.

We will regroup, we will return the unopened puppy supplies to the store, and we’ll revisit the idea of adding a dog to our family when we feel ready, if ever. What I do know, with confidence, is that we made the best decision for our family. We’ll use this opportunity where we had to say “no” as a way to savor a slow, easy recovery day after our glorious beach vacation, instead of another frantic, worrisome day of travel to meet a puppy purchased sight-unseen, forking over even more money to complete the purchase.

The boys have been completely distracted today with their new-to-them bikes, we are up to our elbows in unpacking, and there has been no mention of the puppy this morning.

A few years ago, I would have been too proud to admit my mistake, even to myself. I’m certain that I would have piled my entire family into our SUV and followed through with the purchase, even despite my gut telling me no. And I never would have written a post like this, vulnerable to judgment and harsh feedback about buying a puppy or reassurance that we’ll find another when the time is right.

Thankfully, I read “Goldendoodle” by Kathryn Lee free on Hoopla at exactly the right time on vacation, as she gave me all the questions to ask and the pitfalls to avoid. She helped me do my research and see past what my heart wanted to see and what my brain had been trying to justify.

Even though we lost our deposit (I’ll still follow through with a PayPal dispute), it was a valuable learning experience for me. It’s okay to second-guess myself, to back out of a commitment that does not feel right for me and my family, and even to renege on a promise to my boys that could have done more damage in the long run than good. It gives me perspective on other larger, more important commitments in my life.

It all seems like a silly matter to pray over, when there are far bigger things to pray about, but I also know that God cares about every detail in our lives, big and even very small –He wants us to come to Him continually.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I will see this lesson learned for the gift that it is and move forward. I’ll turn these lemons into lemonade. The puppy will find another home.

 

 

Seeking Contentment in Every Season

Seeking contentment

When was the last time you felt true contentment in your life?

For months now, I’ve relished a feeling of peace and contentment that I’ve been missing for years. But just recently, I feel like something is off, as if there’s a hole in my life, and I’m desperately trying to put my finger on the crux of it. Perhaps it’s a certain longing, knowing that the infant stages are slowly slipping through my fingers as I begin to purge my house of baby gear and infant boy clothes. And, if we’re being honest, the girl clothes I had been saving, just in case.

I go through phases of wondering what it is, trying to fill this longing myself.

Is it staying home with my baby? I pray relentlessly about that option, knowing that my heart wants nothing more.

Is it writing? Writing has always fulfilled me, and it’s the one dream that has remained constant since I was seven. I build a blog, start a new writing Instagram account, join a writer’s membership group, and submit articles to magazines. I write 62,000 words and then let it sit for two months. I debate about going to a conference with an all-star lineup of motivational author-speakers.

Is it throwing myself more into my school counselor role? I continue to build yet another Instragram platform and create content for my Teachers Pay Teachers store for other school counselors to use. I write a children’s book and keep it under wraps, wondering whether to seek out a publisher. I make a spreadsheet comparing different publishers.

Is it a combination of some of these things? Staying home and writing? I look into my options for opening a daycare in my home to fund my dreams but quickly realize that would not fulfill the longing in my heart, instead adding wear-and-tear on a house that’s already impossible to keep clean underneath three small boys and their messes.

Is it a new pet? I research cats, visit SPCAs, donate to local shelters, and fill out endless adoption applications all over the country. I clear my schedule for a last-minute trip to another state to meet a potential puppy to rehome, my family just one of several other families hoping to be considered. I take my boys to play with puppies both at the pet store and at a breeder’s farm, just to hone in on which breed/age might be the perfect to later adopt for our family from a rescue. My arms are empty, with nothing to show for it except a newfound cat allergy and 13 applications that were never quite fast enough despite relentless searching and refreshing.

I return to something that absolutely fulfills me, one of the fondest memories with each of my babies.

I commit to rocking my baby during his naps. It’s that simple. I turn on my essential oils diffuser, close the blackout curtains, and for two-to-three glorious hours every afternoon, I rock my sweet baby. Desperate to make up for all the naptimes I miss when I’m at work August through May, I attempt pack 10 months’ worth of snuggles into two months. I let my friends and neighbors know I’m not available in the afternoons for playdates. I race home from whatever summer morning adventure we’ve been on, obsessing over getting lunch on the table before noon because I know that around 12:15, the baby will start fussing from his highchair, anxious for his nap and that blissful quiet, one-on-one time with Mommy.

My older boys (ages 3 and 5) know not to disturb naptime, although that doesn’t stop them from running full-speed into the nursery, flinging the door open to tattle or ask for snacks a dozen different times in piercing whispers and whines. But the baby’s afternoon nap has become a sacred tradition in our home. My Hillsong playlist cued up on iHeart Radio and the scent of Sweet Orange diffusing in the nursery cue my baby’s whimpering to become giddy coos when we enter his darkened room. This time is just as important to him as it is for me, especially since he is the youngest of three little boys and cannot always have my full attention. He nurses and is asleep within seconds, it seems, but I don’t put him down in his crib. This is as beautiful a rest for me as it is for him. I never fall asleep– despite only sleeping 5 hours each night– instead, I marvel at how unfathomable God’s love is for me, as I rock my sweet boy. I know that one day, he’ll have dreams and goals of his own, but for now, his love and need for me is probably at its greatest. I also realize my mom’s love for me as I rock my baby the way that she rocked me. She always sang to me, no exceptions. I don’t always, if we’re being honest. I let iHeartRadio take care of the soundtrack most of the time.

The baby’s still-fuzzy newborn hair turns sweaty and strawberry blonde with the full weight of his melonhead pinching my left forearm. His baby toes are too adorable for words and I know that even as we rock, they’re quickly becoming dirty, stinky, little boy feet.

My heart is already sick knowing that these special moments will come to an end when I return to work on July 30, less than two months away. I’ll still have weekends, of course, but I’m afraid we’ll lose this bond once he’s back at a sitter and our weekends are full with family time.

I fiercely guard my sweet time with him. The house is almost quiet. I bury my nose in his soft cheek and marvel at the beauty of this baby. He was completely a gracious gift of God, one for whom, for a long time, I felt undeserving. So much on social media makes it seem like some mothers are more worthy of a pregnancy than others, that some babies are more of a miracle than others. That guilt has always ridden my pregnancies of the full joy I should have been embracing, along with the burden of fear of yet another miscarriage.

It took me years –and four pregnancies–to realize that I am responsible for my own feelings about these things. My wise sister told me during my 4th pregnancy that I was just as deserving of that pregnancy as anyone else. No exceptions. I’ve stopped trying to stifle my own joy to protect myself, to guard my heart from fully embracing the gift, one for which I’ve never felt deserving. I’ve stopped trying to please everyone at the expense of my own mental health. Because, for the most part, it’s just wasted energy, and will hurt my confidence and stamina as a mother.

As I rock, I still wonder about this longing in my heart. Ultimately, I am the only one who will pursue my dreams; I care the most about them. I am on this journey with God. Other people have their own paths, and while I have the beautiful option to encourage and support them, ultimately they are going to see their dreams through (or not), because they most likely care more about them than anyone else.

I wish I knew, six years ago, that family time is one of my most cherished gifts. I wish I knew that I could say no to other things–good things, even– to commit more time to family. I never realized that simple family time is just as valid a commitment as any appointment on my calendar. My oldest went to a sitter at only 7 weeks old because I didn’t know I could take 12 weeks of maternity leave. I’ll never get that time back.

I’ll never get it back.

So mama, take care of yourself. Look out for yourself, because no one else is going to walk God’s marvelous path for you. No one is going to pursue your dreams for you because you care about them the most. This includes your priorities. If rocking my baby to sleep is a priority, I treat it just as importantly as I would a doctor’s appointment, and I refuse to feel guilty or indulgent about it, because it is just as worthy an excuse as anything else. Our priorities are worth it. Our relationship with God is worth it. My 15-month-old is certainly worth it.

Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Feature image by Kathy Denton Photography