Trading Gridlock for Slow and Steady Rhythms

IMG_8206Driving back to my hotel after a day spent just outside Washington, D.C. at a work conference, I needed to get on the Beltway and go South. I had been dreading this particular stretch all day, knowing I’d be up against the D.C. commuters returning home in rush hour on a Friday, a Friday which, for many, was also the start of spring break. Not even on the Beltway yet, I could see its ripple effects on the on-ramps and even spilling up onto the highway where I was, cars already at a standstill.

Ignoring Siri’s insistence to get into the right lane to begin merging, I believed there must be another way. A slower way. I glanced at my anticipated arrival time.

6:09 pm.

I continued on the slow, steady highway, and sure enough, Siri rerouted — this time, to a toll road. Again, I held out for a slower way, and she recalculated, making small adjustments to keep my commute moving forward.

Suddenly and without warning, my lane became a right-turn-only lane, and I was forced to ease off of the highway onto a side street. My steady road had ended, and without knowing my way, I planned to make a U-turn, but Siri had other plans. She recognized another route, and I continued forward.

This newest route wound through sleepy neighborhoods, a mixture of older homes and McMansions, the off-street parking so tight, the roads appeared one-way. Still, I was grateful for this quieter unplanned route, and I continued to weave through the stop signs and quiet streets. Eventually, the road spit me back onto the main highway leading to my hotel, with only a stop sign against a steady stream of traffic in both directions, and with an additional two-way cross-street between me and the stop sign to the main thoroughfare.

Finally, my opportunity came, and I darted into the first available lane and then watched for opportunities to get over. I persisted and was soon swinging into one of the last parking spots in front of the hotel. I breathed a sigh of relief, my car finally in park, and glanced at the clock.

6:07 pm. Earlier even, than the Beltway would have delivered me.

The route I took had its own unique obstacles, but it was another way, albeit the uncommon way. And in this case, uncommon meant less-congested. When I felt gridlocked in traffic, I sought a new direction, a slower, quieter route.

I’ve been practicing this in my life for several years now as well, and I know this season with three little ones, working a full-time job, and now publishing my first children’s book will not last forever. I’m learning as I go, stepping out in faith. My responsibilities, while all good, do not leave wiggle room for much else, and that is both frustrating and stressful.

Tonight I finished Emily P. Freeman’s “Discern and Decide” course, one of her pre-order bonuses accompanying her latest book, “The Next Right Thing,” a national bestseller just days after launch. I loved diving deep into exploring the rhythms I’ve established in this season, reflecting on what is and isn’t working. I love the suggestions Emily gave for how to reflect on the past season. An avid writer, I didn’t think I needed this extra direction, but her practical suggestions encouraged me to reflect on things I might otherwise have missed. Breaking down my personal and communal practices, I was able to highlight rhythms to ingrain and rhythms to abandon. Instead of feeling guilt over the places where I’ve said “no” lately, I felt affirmed. My decisions lately have aligned with what I value most.

I fought for the space to have time of reflection this weekend. Here I am, at a hotel, sans kiddos for the first time in years. When I first asked if I could go on this work trip, I was met with resistance. My admin said there was no money. I decided to pay for it myself, and in the meantime, found funding another way. My husband, of course, was supportive of my going, but it meant a lot of sacrifices on both of our parts. I’d miss my oldest son’s school recital and my middle son’s soccer game, and I’d have to pump milk for the days spent away from my youngest. It also meant several hours of writing lesson plans for my substitute. Meanwhile, my husband was doing 100% of the things.

But I persisted, knowing I needed the time to slow down, and so here I am, relishing the white space I carved for myself. I’ve had time for uninterrupted thought, uninterrupted writing, and mostly-uninterrupted quiet. (There was that charter bus of middle schoolers just outside my door that pulled in and unloaded at 11:45 last night…)

Today I went to a huge shopping center and perused slowly — another luxury I’ve never had. At my conference today, I talked to an author I’ve followed for 13 years now. (Check out @counselorstation on Instagram today to see who she is!) I tried a new face mask. I moved slowly and finished entire thoughts. For once, I didn’t have to leave unfinished projects scattered around. I savored my coffee and strawberry crepes in a quaint little French cafe.

The small adjustments Siri made so that I didn’t have to join the gridlock on the Beltway are not unlike the small adjustments I make in my life to stay balanced, avoiding a gridlocked schedule but also recognizing that a kid-free retreat will not always be realistic. I learned from my “How Things Work” college physics professor that a bicycle can stay balanced on its own if it’s pedaled (he was making the point that it’s not all that impressive when people ride a bike without touching the handlebars). I like to think that pedaling with these tiny, almost unnoticeable adjustments helps keep it balanced. Right now I’m pedaling between these two extremes, the gridlock and the quiet. And I’m finding where I can dip into each, covering my responsibilities and saying no as needed, while also taking time for self-care. But if I lean too far into either one, I become unbalanced and something major gets neglected.

The steady rhythm of moving forward, listening for cues from the Lord, being open to consider unexpected opportunities, and seeking out those uncommon paths help keep me from falling. I’m grateful for it all.