Practicing Mindfulness and Gratitude

Practicing mindfulness and gratitude

Mindlessly, I flip through my most-frequented apps. I check to see what new kids’ clothes I’ve sold on Kidizen. I pop between my Zillow and Trulia real estate apps just for fun — are any good properties for sale in our town? We’d love to downsize and simplify a few things. I check my monthly sales total on my Teachers Pay Teachers app and calculate my goal progress for the month, right on track to surpass my April goals. I open Instagram to whichever of my accounts is logged in and then toggle between the three of them. Without thinking, I open TpT again, only to realize that I just checked that app a minute before. I set my phone down and exhale. My toddler picks it up and hands it back to me, as if it should be a permanent extension of my left hand. He’s so accustomed to seeing it there. I place my phone under the cushion of the outdoor patio furniture behind me and reach for the other things I brought outside with me on this gorgeous spring day — my leather-bound journal, my Bible, and a book, “Not the Boss of Us.”

I read a few paragraphs from Kay Wills Wyma’s newest book and look up, pausing to really take in my own backyard. We’ve lived here two years now and are reaping the benefits of the landscaping put in by the prior owners. The first thing I noticed was the wide-open sky. It reminded me of my honeymoon in Montana, aptly-named “Big Sky Country.”

I’m praying about a lot of things these days. God has been placed a calling on my heart that I can’t quite comprehend without having to unravel a lot of other things. I’m not sure what to do. I want to be obedient, and I’ve been praying for over a year now. It’s hard to not wonder, worry, and try to take control.  I take a break from my futile attempts to play out every possible scenario in my head.

I look around my backyard, practicing a mindfulness exercise I teach my elementary students regularly: Notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

It’s an exercise in grounding oneself when thoughts are racing, whether from anxiety or the general overwhelm life so often seems to spiral within us.

I record a few of my observations in my notebook. Later, I’d transfer them to Instagram to steward my words in case they can bless someone else.

  • I see: my toddler eating a lollipop and playing with his fairy garden, my breastmilk ring and all that it symbolizes to me, my neighbor’s dogwood tree, and tall grasses waving in the wind way up on the hill behind my house.
  • I hear: songbirds, trees rustling, far-off train, wind chimes.
  • I smell: familiar scents of springtime and new mulch that remind me of childhood and home.

I also note what I would have missed by staying inside today, on this gorgeous 70-degree spring day: my new neighbor painting a canvas on her patio, wind chimes, the baby figuring out the swing, the way our trees throw twinkling shadows on freshly-cut grass.

My gratitude list:
1. The baby all to myself this weekend while the big kids are camping with daddy
2. Pink dogwood in bloom
3. A fragrant backyard
4. Gentle breeze
5. Everything we need
6. Vacation one month away
7. Chorus of birds outside
8. Good friends
9. Summer within reach

Recently I spent several nights away from home, traveling solo to a conference. I knew, going into it, I would have a chance to meet one of the most famous authors in my profession and ask her my questions about the next steps in publishing my first children’s book. I didn’t know, though, that her keynote would resonate so much with me that I’d spend the next several weeks contemplating hope and its role in combating anxiety and depression. I wondered how I could use the information to help my families at school.

During her keynote, we watched this powerful video by Nature Valley. I’m glad I grew up in a generation when playing outside and interacting with the world around me was natural and expected. Now it seems like going outside has to be intentional. Meanwhile, our fixation with technology seems to be stripping us of hope.

I watch my toddler playing in the fairy garden. “Fade-ees! Fade-ees!” he squeals in delight as he moves the small plastic fairies around the miniature garden we made last summer in a large ceramic planter on our deck. Without his brothers here, he has his pick of any fairy he wants, and he clutches all of them in his tiny fists. He drops one, and it rolls under the woven ottoman. He points up to the playground we built up on our hill and asks, in his words, to go play in the mud kitchen.

“You can go up there,” I encourage him, easing back onto the couch and reaching for my Bible and notebook.

“No. Mommy come,” he demands. I put my books down, thinking longingly of the quiet time I’m so desperate for, but I follow him up the hill and watch as giddily he transfers measuring cups’ full of muddy water back and forth from the 99-cent Goodwill cupcake pans to the matching pans in the sink. A little mulch drips down the front of his striped romper and he is concerned for just a moment, then returns his attention to the cakes he is making me. I notice the blue handprint painted near the sink, the pink dogwood blossoms near the swings and peer through the lilac bush, its blossoms already dropping in the short-lived Virginia spring. If it hadn’t come up here, I might have missed them entirely. I watch my neighbor mow her lawn, amazed at the checkerboard pattern she seems to so effortlessly create every single time. I appreciate whoever hung wind chimes far enough away that I can enjoy them without interrupting sleep over them.

These grounding exercises lead me to a conversation with our Creator that only He can orchestrate. The feels of the breeze against my face slows my own racing thoughts of what I could be doing right now to prepare for the workweek ahead and the rest of my family’s return from their camping trip. The scent of lilac brings me back to the present moment. God has called me to notice this very scene before me. “Truth,” Wyma writes, “Truth that tomorrow’s worries and yesterday’s happenings don’t get to overinform or steal from today.” My two-year-old has not a care in the world as he enjoys his red lollipop and sloshes water around the mud kitchen we fashioned from a yard sale kitchen sink, old wooden pallets, some extra boards, and a corrugated steel roof. It is their favorite activity, and all three of my boys still fit side-by-side in front of the sink. Just as spring will segue silently into summer, there will come a time when they won’t be able to all fit across, forming and serving mud cakes together. And so I’ll soak it up now, instead of looking ahead to the next thing, the next house, the big picture. God is calling me to see this very moment before me before my littlest toddles back inside the house to snuggle against me for a nap. Laundry and packing lunches and Friday folders from school can wait a little longer.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV).

Great references for getting outside with kids:

  • “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather” by Linda Akeson McQurk
  • “Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy
  • “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv 

More of my thoughts on mindfulness:

 

4 Lessons Learned When My Baby Swallowed a Screw

If only I had just let my 11-month-old continue to gum whatever was in his mouth, he never would have swallowed it. It was my own failed attempt at retrieval that caused him to ingest it in the first place, as he lifted his chin and choked it straight down.

When the mystery object couldn’t be retrieved, I administered the infant Heimlich unproductively and urged Siri to call my husband to come home.

LESSON 1: GRACE

There is relief in the exhale.

My husband and I (and our three small children) waited in suspense at the ER until the x-ray came back revealing the foreign object our sweet baby had just swallowed. When I first saw the x-ray and the bold, white, unmistakable outline of a screw, I had two options.

Laugh, or cry.

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Without pause, I did the latter. I cried, right there in front of the gastroenterologist. What mother allows her child to swallow a screw? All my chances for the title of mom-of-the-year went right down the hatch with that screw. Even though my baby was babbling happily in the exam chair, I was a nervous wreck, texting my closest friends and family, begging for prayer. Because that’s what we do in our tribe. That’s all we can do.

In hindsight, I wish I could go back and hug that poor mama. Give yourself grace, I’d tell her. Freak accidents happen so quickly. My husband and I thought we had gotten all the screws off the wall sconce when we were changing our guest room into a playroom for our boys. The baby was right in front of me when he put it in his mouth – and I noticed him gumming it because I was watching him. When I put my finger in his mouth to swab for the object, it was already so far back on his tongue that he gagged it straight down.

Clinging to grace, I was eventually able to turn a terrifying experience into a captivating party story. Mamas, sometimes we have to choose laughter and grace for ourselves just so that we don’t go crazy. Some of the things that happen in this parenting gig just can’t be made up.

We good-naturedly told the story at his first birthday party the very next weekend, as I’m sure we will for years to come. I covered his smashcake in homemade edible blue candy screws, the final touches on his giant cupcake. His aunt and uncle made him a birthday shirt with a photo of his own x-ray. We could exhale finally knowing that he was okay. There is relief in the exhale.

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LESSON 2: OPTIMISM

On the bright side, there are far worse things you can swallow than a screw. The jar of retrieved objects on our GI’s desk held toothbrushes, spoons, and sewing needles. Passing a 2.8 cm screw encased in a bright blue plastic wall anchor sounds far less painful than passing a sewing needle, IMO. And it wasn’t a battery or a magnet, PTL.

Helpless in this situation, I refused to let myself worry about potential places the GI warned us where the screw could get stuck (the stomach, the intestines, the colon) or cause damage on the way out, even as the doctor made plans to x-ray every week for a month to check on the progress of the screw. Instead, I cast my fears into my prayers, turning to God in my time of unknown and fear. My faith assured me that God remained in control. 

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:25-26, NIV)

LESSON 3: PATIENCE

It was a long 24 hours of prayer before the baby passed the first object, the blue plastic wall anchor. Part of me was elated that things were finally moving, marveling at how efficiently and predictably the human body works, and another part of me was terrified that the sharp tip of the screw was now exposed and potentially lodged somewhere within my helpless baby. And there was nothing we could do to speed up the process (although we toyed with the idea of pureed prunes). It had to make its way down his throat, into his stomach, through his intestines, through his colon, and eventually out the other end. In all, it was a stiff 48 hours before the screw would emerge in torpedo-form during a routine afternoon nursing session. Ok, it wasn’t that dramatic of an exit, but we can pretend.

LESSON 4: HUMILITY

For each diaper change following the ingestion, I strapped on bright orange latex gloves and peeled back those cloth diapers as if there were a Wonka golden ticket hidden within. There are few things in life more humbling than digging through a baby’s poopy diaper. And I did it willingly. Never have I wanted to find something so badly, not even the year when our church youth group leader hid the most-prized golden Easter eggs in a pile of cow manure. I even wrote sub plans and took off work so that I could look through his diapers myself. I wanted to be the one who found it, since I took full responsibility for the ingestion.

Thankfully, the screw was unmistakable. The baby’s body had broken down the black paint off the screw and then coated it in such a way that there was no chance of the sharp tip being exposed to scrape him. I’ll leave it at that except to say that every prayer uttered for my sweet baby in that 48 hour period must have added a layer of protection around that screw like a caterpillar forming its own chrysalis before emerging as a butterfly.

For the record, let it be known that I’m the one who learned all the lessons here. My baby is still oblivious to the fact that he completely swallowed a screw and then passed it exactly 48 hours later. He still puts everything in his mouth, bits of preschool and kindergarten projects that swirl in tumbleweed form behind the older brothers. No matter how hard we clean, there always seem to be new trails left behind by our three boys, and I don’t know how to change that.

Instead, I’ll cling to prayer and grace. I’m contemplating a dog to deal with the tumbleweed trails.

Anyone have thoughts on goldendoodles?