when January’s goals become summer’s total nonsense

I love a new year. I don’t do the resolutions thing in general, but I like the excuse to examine the year that’s gone and think ahead to what I want for the coming one, and make some plans to move forward.

January of 2018 was no exception. If anything, I was ready to launch with even more enthusiasm than the prior years. I was doing it at the beginning of January, which seems pretty basic, except that since 2012, I’ve waited until our family vacation late in the month to do any of this stuff. We didn’t take a vacation, so I had no reason to wait. Also, I tried Powersheets for the first time, which is basically a really in-depth goal-setting workbook. It is pink and has multicolored leaves on the front and some gold embossing. So inspiring and hopeful! I was SO READY TO OWN 2018.

I set up my SMART goals (Specific! Measurable! Attainable! Something that starts with “R”! Time bound!) and got to work. (Relevant. R is Relevant. Thanks, Google.)

Then the end of February came and knocked me on my backside. My health tanked. All progress was undone. Any future goals were forgotten. I was underwater, just hoping to find my way to the surface for air.

I’ve got some medical support now, and I’m feeling a little less like I’m drowning, so I decided to take another look at my goals and the action steps I’ve supposedly been taking for more than half of a year by now.

Um… Yeah. Not so much. The one about daily time in the Bible is working out because I found a way that works really well for me. But everything else has fallen to the wayside in favor of “just make it until bedtime.”

So I have these goals, that seemed so good, so God-appointed in January. And then I have this actual life. The two don’t match at all.

So what do I do with it?

Talk to God about it at length.

This has probably been the hardest part for me- I was so sure I heard Him say I needed to work on my health [weight] this year. What I actually heard was “we’re going to focus your health this year.” Well. I guess that’s what’s been happening, but there is no way I could have imagined what that would mean in January. It makes sense that in January, “health” would have looked like the one thing that doctors have been hammering my whole life: my weight. I didn’t even think to question it. Of course the two aren’t equivalent.

Assess where I am.

I’m in survival mode with my kids still. The months of complete inability made way for some really bad habits for everyone and, while my parenting is slowly improving, there’s a long way to go.

I wanted to be intentional about connecting with Andrew, but evenings were pretty low-energy. I rarely had anything intelligent to say or energy to do anything besides read or space out online.

My health goals make the least sense. Weight loss is so far down the list right now. I’m eating weird food (I’m on an elimination diet at my doctor’s direction) and I’m still tired and all those awesome muscles I got in January and February are gone.

Figure out where I can reasonably go.

Getting the kids sorted is going to take a lot of time and a lot of self-discipline, honestly. I have some tools that I’m trying to implement, but if there’s an available quick fix, I don’t know what it would be. But I have some goals for each of the kids and I’ll keep plodding.

Connecting with my husband is simple enough. We’re good friends; we just need to do stuff together. We busted out some games the other night, and it was good for my soul. (Also good for my soul? Rewatching The Office with him.)

I need to learn to eat again. I need to get strong again. I need to keep rest a priority.

And now I just walk in it. These goals are boring. Not even a little sexy. But they reflect my reality now.

A boring goal that fits my life is better than a fun one that only reflects wishful thinking.


Please tell me… What were your January goals? Are you walking toward them? Do you need to pivot a bit?

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redemptive marriage

(Photo: Sarah Lewis Photography. Again.)

I love our story.

I love that God answered the prayer of a little girl.

But the “how we became us” story is such a small part of life. It’s just the prelude. So many movies focus on the meeting and the courtship, then end with a marriage and “they lived happily ever after,” as if there was no more story to tell.

I’d like to share some more of ours.

After the wedding, we had a pretty good transition into marriage. As long as we’d been doing life together, actually living together wasn’t the rocky change that so many couples experience.

After a while, though, my brokenness surfaced.

I don’t want to make it sound like it was so awful—we’ve always done pretty well. Between the friendship we started with and a lot of grace, we’ve enjoyed each other. Most of the time.

But sometimes, my insecurity and negative self-talk got in the way.

I’ve always seen myself as not _____ enough. Not thin, pretty, smart, funny, interesting, or good enough. Not enough, period. And, since Andrew’s a pretty smart guy, I figured he must see how insufficient I was, and I could read basically anything he said (or didn’t say) as evidence he agreed with me.

So he’d say something innocuous on a day that I was particularly touchy about everything, and I’d take it as an attack.

I’d get mad at him for saying something awful about me—I’d put words in his mouth and assign him motives he never had. He would (understandably) try to set me straight. He’d try to correct my assumptions and reassure me that he really did believe the best about me.

But then I was mad because he was arguing with me.

I remember now how discouraged he’d get. For more than ten years, this went on. Not constantly, but frequently enough. I’d mishear him and basically accuse him of being a bad and hateful husband. He’d try to help me understand. I’d get mad because he wasn’t listening to me. Obviously, if he were listening, surely he’d understand how that thing he said really did mean what I thought it meant.

?!?

He’s human, of course. He’d get mad as I kept indicting him for things he never said and he’d say things that made it all worse.

But he kept engaging.

For more than a decade, his heart remained soft to me.

This strikes me as a miracle.

I’ve seen it go the other way in other marriages, and it’s ugly and heartbreaking and 100% natural. I can imagine the marriage-killing hard-heartedness seeping in over that length of time.  He credits God’s grace to me- I was given a husband whose steadiness is one of his primary traits, and it was probably one of the things that saved us, or at least the joy of us. (We were never anywhere near calling it quits, but in retrospect, I see a lot of danger of becoming mostly roommates, which is so far short of God’s design for marriage.)

Then, somewhere in our twelfth or thirteenth year, it occurred to me that the guy I was fighting against wasn’t the one I married. I chose a better man than that. We named the other one “mean Andrew” and kicked him out. I wish there was more story than that- something we did that flipped that switch, because I feel like that would probably be helpful information to share. I’m sure there was plenty building beneath the surface, but my experience really was something like walking through a forest for years and years, then coming to the edge and finding light.

I’m grateful and astonished that my husband and my God kept pursuing me through it. It seems like an awfully long time to wait for light.

I’m still working through my insecurities. There’s plenty of growth for me and for him and for us as a pair to do. But, just like I love seeing and celebrating the faithfulness of God in the story of us two becoming one, I am starting to be able to look back and see the big story here, as well. It’s a story of God working in and through marriage to make us more like Him, and to make our marriage more reflective of His glory. Like it always is, the big story is about God being faithful to us, even when we’re sinners and broken.

How about you? When you look back, do you see any of the “big stories” becoming clear?


This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

31days of grace in failure 4-3

the list I forgot

We talked a couple days ago what we’re doing to make our homeschool year more… well… educational this year, but I totally left something out.

We did a couple weeks of a daily checklist for the kids. Get up. Have breakfast. Clean rooms. Do school. Free time. (It’s clearly a super exciting list.)

It worked great. When I have a list to keep me on track, I can tick on through the day and get all the things done.

But there was something vital I missed.

Everything else.

I spent so much of each day chugging through their list that I neglected all the other whole categories of things that need to happen in a functioning and happy house.

I realized after about two weeks that I felt terrible and the house had gone pretty much to pot.

The solution to this was another checklist. (Duh!) I’m not as obsessed with checklists as I sound, but they’ve proven useful, so I made one for me. It had all the little routine items that I used to do (back before Lilly was born) to keep things running smoothly. (Well, as smoothly as a house full of tiny humans can run.) 

I reinstated things like a daily load of laundry and cleaning the kitchen each night. I came up with a rough draft of a weekly rotation of chores. (Do the bathrooms on Monday. Change sheets on Thursday… That sort of thing. Again, very exciting.)

This isn’t really a list of new things to do, just an ordering of the things I already have to complete. I find that assigning them space helps me get all the things done with more focus and less stress. Also, if a thing doesn’t get done when it’s supposed to, that’s okay. It’ll come back around.

Just as importantly, “self care” got its own legit check box. Every day.

And, because I frequently fudge on stuff like that (“‘Self-care’… okey dokey. I went to the bathroom by myself, that counts, right? CHECK.”), I also have a list of options to choose from. Read for 15 minutes. Find five minutes of silence. Write. Create. Learn something. Move.

(The girls’ corresponding box reads “free time,” but what it means is “Netflix.”)

I remember reading Lisa Byrne’s words, “Self care isn’t ‘me first,’ it’s ‘me too.'” I don’t prioritize self care above my family or even above mundane housework, but it at least gets a place. Refining this idea further is my friend Jenn, who brilliantly divided self-care into a few distinct (and necessary) categories.

The way my home runs does not at all resemble clockwork, but it’s no longer chaos and I’m a lot less stressed out in general, which means we’re all a bit calmer. I’m even starting to notice how much I enjoy teaching (and learning with) my kids.


How about you? Are there things that you need to add back into your day to bring back some order or vitality?

wholehearted

…in which we explore (somewhat belatedly) my “word” for 2017.

12:30 am. Early January. Trying to go to sleep and failing.

Wholehearted.

Wait, what?


I’d been mulling over a focus for 2017 for several weeks and hadn’t settled on anything. “Hadn’t settled” is actually wrong- that implies I had options, but I was coming up dry. I mean, I’d thought about it, but it was all kind of a jumble and nothing was resonating as a thing I specifically needed to work on.

So when “wholehearted” jumped to mind, apropos of nothing, in the middle of the night, it was kind of a surprise. It resonated immediately as the direction I should grow this year.

Wholehearted.

It’s wound through scriptures. Loving and serving the Lord with your whole heart.

I’ve also read a lot of Brené Brown- “wholehearted” is shorthand in her work for a lot of huge things- living from joy, gratitude, vulnerability, authenticity, among others.

It’s a big word.

It kind of scares me.

And I’ve spent the last month trying to figure out how to wrap words around why. I still can’t.

I assumed that at some point, I’d have a solid direction to go, but that hasn’t happened yet. I was waiting for some processing time on vacation to think all the Big Thoughts about it, because that’s what I do on vacation. I take time out and think Big Thoughts.

It didn’t happen.

So I’m learning about being wholehearted in the in-between. In the little things.

(Turns out, that’s where I live my life anyhow.)

It’s missing a lot of facebook and Instagram because I can’t afford to have my attention divided right now.

It means reading a lot of books, because reading focuses my attention rather than splintering it.

It’s spending some time talking with Lilly and watching her blow bubbles rather than washing dishes.

It’s getting thoroughly irritated at  a couple of my children, but paying attention to the part that was my humiliation at their public disobedience. It was me as well as them.

It’s being awake to things like the background noise of Lilly chatter and Magic School Bus and really loud compressor noise from the fridge behind me, along with a strong desire to read my book and the headache that comes from not enough caffeine and too many fevers and crises making their way amongst my children.

It’s looking my lovely babies in the eyes and seeing them.

It’s pondering (with no real revelation yet) how to bear the burdens of another as an empathetic friend without internalizing those burdens and making them mine.

It’s seeing my insecurities around living in shorts and bathing suits for several weeks of the last month, and being kind to myself both about my body and about my moments loathing it.

It’s noticing (and telling my husband) when everything he’s saying hits my ears as condemnation, and realizing it’s not coming from him, but from my own inner crazy.

It’s nothing huge or shocking or even slightly life-changing. I’m hoping it becomes large and it does change me this year, but today wholeheartedness means nothing more than paying attention and living life honestly.

 

the drug of doing

Productivity is a drug. An idol.

For me, at least. I forgot this for a good, long while because I basically haven’t been especially productive since June. I don’t mean to say that I haven’t done things. Oh, I’ve worked, and hard. But this switch to four is still (five months later) proving tricky. So on my very best days, I’ve managed to keep up with at least most of the things needed for basic functioning. I show up almost on time to the places I have to be; I get some laundry and dishes done; the little people eat the food and receive the love and the correction that they need… mostly. So at the end of my very best days, I’m only a tiny bit more behind than I was at the beginning.

And then this week happened, and my husband left for a night on a work trip and took our biggest girl and this meant that bedtime went a bit better than normal and I had HOURS in the evening.

So I did All The Things. All of them. Like, I had a dorky post-it system on a piece of furniture in my living room. The daily tasks were yellow post-its, the funnish tasks were blue, and the BIG tasks were red. Y’all, those four big tasks on the red ones have all been on my list since before Lilly was born. Really, before that last ridiculous month of pregnancy. So for half a year, they’ve moved from one page of my planner to the next, week after week, taking up brain space all the while.

I got them all done over the course of Wednesday and Thursday. And then I added things—red post-it things—that I hadn’t dared to put up, and I did them, too. And it felt GOOD.

This seems worthy of a rest, right?

Not when you’re living like an addict.

Tonight, I got a process night.

I was antsy. I texted a friend. “I want to have words to write or drive to plan or something, anything, that feels like getting something accomplished or setting myself up for better days, but I have no words and no drive. I will read.”

(Even in my reading, I was ill at ease and ended up going to change my sheets because I just had to do.)

It’s the tail end of the year, and I should be taking stock of lessons learned in 2016 so I don’t miss them (and potentially need to relearn them later.)

I read a couple goal-setting posts today, like this fantastic one on Ann Voskamp’s blog, and I could be looking ahead.

Or perhaps I could write an nice, grace-filled post on how I always take the whole of January and sometimes into February to do any vision work for the upcoming year (or, as it happens, the year that’s begun already) and if you don’t have plans or your One Word or some resolutions figured out now, that is OKAY because (duh) that’s what next month is for.


And all of those things are good and I will look over 2016 and I will cast some vision for 2107 (next month) and it’s fine. 

The problem was how absolutely hell-bent I was on forcing out the words and the plans.

…and my complete forgetfulness and minimizing of anything I had already done.

…and the way I felt like I needed to prove worth to myself by doing just one more thing.


Earlier this week (roughly the same time as I was kicking my to-do list’s ass) I had a text exchange with my sister-in-law about doing and shoulding and finding freedom. “Doing and shoulding are HARD. I’m glad you’re making space for BEING days.”

Don’t I sound wise and full of grace and like I’ve fought and won this battle already? (Sorry, Julia.) 

Sigh.

I want to remember, have to remember, that this is not a thing fought once and done. Doing can become an idol at really any point. Being takes intentionality and practice. (I mean, I think it does. It should, right? Seriously, how the heck would I know?)

Now the dilemma is what to do to stop being so addicted to doing. (Open to suggestions, as usual. What do you do to… not do?)

 

 

habits, minigoals, and grace enough for all october

As many of you know, I’ve been exploring small habits one at a time throughout the year. In October, I committed to attempting my version of the Write31days challenge: I decided I’d try to post as many days of the month as possible.

Here are some things I learned…

I can make time.

Writing has always, always been a thing that I’ve done “in the cracks.” I sit and type when I have a chunk of time and something in my head to say. Last month I learned that, with very few exceptions, I can make it happen.

The more I write, the more there is to write.

Starting out, I figured I’d be able to find a good week’s worth of posts to write. I had a few that I’d started in my “drafts” folder that I could flesh out, and a few others kind of bubbling in the back of my head. I really had no idea what would happen once those were used up.

I’ve known for the last several years that the more frequently I thank God for little gifts He’s given, the more gifts I am able to see. Shawn Achor explains in his TED talk how practicing gratitude rewires our brains to look for gifts (and improves happiness.) I think writing is similar. The more I wrote, the more I was looking for the lessons and grace in whatever I saw, so I had more thoughts in my brain that could become a couple hundred words. Sitting and waiting for inspiration (my normal practice) isn’t necessary.

The more I write, the better I feel.

This hardly counts as a thing I learned. I know writing makes me come alive. And alive, while sometimes terrifying, is a good way to feel. In October, I was sitting in some tragedy. I believe that, though I didn’t realize what kind of month I was going to have, the decision to write a lot more than normal was providential. It kept my heart looking up and looking around for gifts and for grace, and kept me processing a lot of the Big Feelings I was having.

The more I write, the crappier my housekeeping is.

…and there’s the big catch. I can find words and motivation to write most days. I can even manage to steal a couple hours to do it quite frequently. (My average blog post runs probably 90 minutes to two hours from sitting down to sharing it with you all.) But I can’t do all that every day and keep my home in the kind of order that feels best to me and stay fully engaged with my kids. (Most of those posts happened while the little two napped and the bigger two had screen time. I’m philosophically ok with this amount of screen time on occasion, but they get awfully squirrelly if I utilize the electronic babysitter too long or too frequently.) My laundry piled up, either to wash or to fold and put away. Dishes stayed undone. None of this sounds like a big deal. And really it isn’t unless you appreciate the kind of mental energy drain caused for me by that constant disorder.

Sometimes the benefit outweighs the cost.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

I want to find a rhythm that allows me to write more frequently than once a week (or 2-3 times a month, as the case may be) while still maintaining basic order. I have no idea what that rhythm might be. For now, I’m going to shoot for two to three posts per week, not because there’s any magic to that frequency so much as that it’s something to try and seems like a reasonable starting point in the quest for balance.


November

The month is a quarter over already. (Can you believe this? I think it’s a trick of the later months of the year. Christmas is pretty much tomorrow, and I’m likely unprepared for it.) Since it’s already passing and I’m just now considering habits, I’m going to go with one that I already kind of accidentally kept.

My hope for November (and it’s a little nebulous) is to show up as authentically as possible in my relationships.

I’m pretty sure that’s its own post (or possibly series) so I’ll save the stories for next time. (Please come back! I’m kind of excited about it.)

October (day 1)

Things have gone a little off the rails here lately. A million big and little things have conspired and I haven’t written but a couple posts since Lilly’s birth. I know, it’s fine… I have four kids five and under and nobody really expects me to publish daily. Whatever. I can hardly make coherent sentences, let alone full posts. (And to the people who ask me if I’d ever write a book? Hahahaha!)

But I need to write.

My brain feels much better when I do. I know this. Even if it’s utter nonsense. Even the rambling words I’ve typed to now on this post are making my brain feel a bit clearer.

And this year’s minigoal experiment fell apart as well. I haven’t made one since July, and that was kind of a cop out… a goal to have fewer goals. I knew going in that August and September were going to be a little sketchy on the habits front, but it’s time to start working back toward structure now.

And then it’s October. The month where bloggers all over challenge themselves to write daily for 31 days on a single topic.

I am not going to write for 31 days on a single topic. (Remember how I said I can barely formulate sentences these days?) What I am going to do is try to write and publish as many days of the month as I can. This is probably a misguided attempt to kill all the birds with a single stone that’s a little too big to be hurling (and why am I throwing rocks at birds, anyway?) but I’m going to give it a go just the same.  I imagine the posts will be short, and probably mediocre, but it’s time to go forward. Wish me luck. Read as you wish. Don’t judge me if I quit on day four. Or, you know, two.


This post is part of the write31days challenge… I’m trying to post every day in October. The rest of the posts can be found here.