my not-resolutions

…in which we focus on the micro to affect the macro.

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Resolutions have never been my thing. I know some people get all excited about a fresh slate and decide to work out every day for the year or lose twenty pounds or whatever, but I know myself, and the idea of making a resolution to do something every day inspires rebellion, not excitement. My actual resolutions this year are likely to include things like “write ‘2016’ on checks, at least most of the time, at least by July.” (Since I write about one check a month, this should be OK, as long as I take my time.) Also, “Hear at least part of Adele’s ‘Hello’ every day that I leave my house.” Check.

At the same time, I’m learning the value of creating healthy habits. When something that’s good for me becomes automatic, my life becomes just a little easier and better. And seriously? I could use just a little easier most days.

So, since this year is about wonder for me, I was kind of brainstorming some ways to get positive habits going without too much trauma or rebellion or self-loathing, and what I’ve settled on is kind of mini-resolutions. Except not so resolutionish.

Every month, I’m going to try something new. And I’m going to see how many days I can do it for the month. No self-judgment if I miss days, just “let’s see how many I can get.” I’ve often heard that 21 days is how long it takes to establish a habit, so I figure trying something for a month (or most of it) should be enough to determine if something is working for me and, if so, at least sort of establish it as habit. This is self-improvement by way of “throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks.” Should be a good time.

I need to be mindful of a couple of natural constraints. For instance, January’s nearly over, so I need to pick something that I can retroactively do daily. “Get up early.” Boom. I haven’t gotten up later than 6:30 since the 3rd (and the one day I woke as late as 6:30 was an anomaly and made for a pretty rough morning.) I’m going to call this a win, though it’ll be interesting to see how it works out when I rejoin real life, where adults are not plentiful and naps are not likely. This one sticks.

But there are a couple other things to consider. My energy level is going to drop steadily through July, then in August, I’ll have a baby at the beginning, start homeschooling Jenna (and maybe Katherine? Jury’s still out) at the end, and travel 12,000 miles in the middle. So… that one needs something really, really doable. Like drinking water. Yes. I believe water drinking will be August’s goal. Experience tells me that, in that first month of breastfeeding, my thirst is completely insatiable, so this shouldn’t even take any extra brainpower.

Also, December. December needs to be a really easy month, because it’s always insane between holidays, birthdays, and travel prep. Extra grace for the last month of 2016.

Want to see the rest of the list? I thought so.

(Actually, this is mostly for my reference. I’m not quite narcissistic enough to think my potential habits are fascinating reading for anyone but me. They’re not even terribly interesting to me, but I need to keep track of them, and this seems as good a place as any.)

Here are some things that are not currently daily habits for me, but I think might be useful:

  • floss
  • drink a smoothie
  • move my body
  • leave food on my plate at meals
  • write “rambling pages.” (Stream-of-consciousness nonsense that tends to clear my head a bit.)
  • two minutes of meditation
  • write in a daily prayer journal
  • take a picture with my big camera
  • not yell
  • not complain
  • write a haiku
  • read a poem
  • work on scripture memorization
  • write a note to a friend
  • work on photo books (admission: this is not about self-care or positive habits so much as tackling a backlog that’s obscene. I’m on October of 2013 currently, I believe.)
  • declutter for 10 minutes a day

I count 16. Out of 10 available months (since January and August are set.) My temptation at this point is to start assigning habits to months, but honestly? Who am I to decide in January what I’m going to want to do every single October day? Or even most of them? Pfft. Again, that kind of certainty makes me feel automatically rebellious. No better than a single “every day of 2016…” kind of resolution, as far as I’m concerned.

Current plan (obviously subject to change): I’ll pick next month’s goal toward the end of the current month. I’ll let you know how it goes. At this moment, most of those look totally doable and I want to start them all RIGHT NOW. Which is crazy, because that’s kind of a recipe for disaster and defeat. But, because we’re talking about just trying stuff in a low-key way, it’s likely I’ll try a little of this and a little of that even on months where those habits are not my focus. (For instance, I swear I’m not going to put off flossing until April or whenever it lands. Eew.)

For February?

I think I’ll try not to clean my plate at every meal. As a step toward mindful eating and a step away from food as a functional savior. (It’s not really that good at it anyway.)

Are you still reading? WHY? This post is kinda killing me with the navel-gazing and minutia. But at the same time, I’m hoping it makes you think a little about simple ways to bring in useful habits. Because we all could handle life just a little bit easier.  I’d love to hear what helpful little habits are working for you, and which you might like to try.

 

wonder

So I’m gonna be really honest. (You know, because it’s my blog and stuff, and that’s what I do.) The idea of choosing a single word to focus on has been increasingly popular the last several years. I’ve done it for the last two. (Present in 2014 and First in 2015.) But… I still don’t know if I’m doing it right. I mean, it’s a word. I’m not sure how one does “it” right or wrong. But there’s a book about it! And I haven’t read it! So I don’t know if there’s something I should be doing differently or not. (I’m freaking the heck out about this, and have been for about two years now. That’s it. Ordering the book.) (20 minutes later, there are THREE books by different authors. And an internet movement. Why did I not know about this? I’ll figure it out later.)

Oh my goodness. Are you still here? I’m sorry. I’ll try to focus. (Maybe “focus” should be my word. But it isn’t.)

So here we are. Picking a word. It was going to be “curious.” Don’t you love it? I figured out over the course of the last year or two that when I get curious, I handle problems and conflicts differently. And then a couple weeks ago, I read Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong, and she had this great quote in there:

A study published in the October 22, 2014 issue of the journal Neuron suggests that the brain’s chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information.

(Yes, I realize I just quoted a quote. But Rising Strong is worth reading, so I’m gonna leave it.)

Curiosity is always the point at which I stop fighting and start finding a way out, both within my own heart and basically in any relationship that’s perplexing me.

My kids are being crazy? When I stop reacting to them and start asking, “What is going on with them? With me?” that’s where the solutions start to emerge and the day begins to turn around.

Or say I’m fighting with my husband. (You know, that one time.) (Just kidding.) If I can stop holding on to why I’m right and he’s mean and turn my thoughts to curiosity, my heart changes and gets softer toward him and that’s generally when we start climbing out of the fight and moving toward each other. “What is really going on here? What’s the story he’s making up about this? What’s the story I’m making up about it?”

When I’m reading the Bible and find myself glazing over, lost in the familiarity of it, curiosity brings my heart back to engagement. “What was God doing here? What’s this say about Him? …”

When I just feel off, a moment of quiet (let’s be serious, this is definitely in the bathroomand a genuine, nonjudgmental “what is my deal today?” frequently moves me several steps in the direction toward at least finding the problem, and perhaps also toward a solution.

I like “curious” because it helps me climb out of whatever story I’m making up about a situation and helps me see it (or the other person) more clearly. Climbing out of my own story is tricky. It isn’t really that hard, but I have to be paying enough attention to realize I’m inside it in the first place. It’s so easy to just think the thing I’m seeing is reality, but that isn’t ever really the case. What I see is reality plus. Reality plus my history, worldview, my story. And looking at it with curiosity doesn’t necessarily fix that, but it gives me a chance to at least see the things I might be adding to reality that might be making it a little less clear. But I really think spending a year being intentionally curious would build that habit into my heart.

And then the word “wonder” hit me.

Because it’s cheating. If I pick Wonder, I get two for one. I get curiosity, but I also get awe. To be fair, curiosity gets me two meanings, too, but the alternate meaning is “odd.” I like “awe” better. Awe points me straight to the One worthy of awe, and the Giver of all things that make me marvel.

Awe, for me, leads immediately to gratitude. And not the popular, objectless gratitude that’s super trendy right now. (You know, the same kind that has been practiced by secular culture at thanksgiving forever, where one can be thankful for all the good things without necessarily acknowledging a good God that gives all the good things.) Awe requires I look up from the gift to the One who gives it. Then, necessarily, to all the greater gifts He’s also given.

For instance, I’m currently at a coffee shop. I’m thankful for the yummy iced mexilatte I just drank and the relative quiet I get when I’m here. Nobody expects me to talk, and nobody needs me to help them with anything bathroom related. I haven’t been called “mom” since about three this morning. (Don’t get me wrong- I love being “mom” but also I love NOT being “mom” and just being some lady in a coffeeshop.) Looking through the lens of awe, though, I notice that GOD did that. God gave me this incredible gift of some time that’s quiet, where I get to collect my thoughts and fully enjoy the magic of iced coffee and Mexican chocolate served by cheerful and friendly people. God gave me coherent thoughts, which is NOT a small thing in my life. And a chance to borrow Andrew’s laptop, so I can write said thoughts without making my hand fall asleep (it’s a weird pregnancy thing) and without the painstaking pecking with my thumbs that is required to put any thoughts in on my phone. But all of these, while huge blessings to me this morning, are really, really small up against the really big gifts. Like life. Everything. Salvation.

Awe pushes me to zoom out. Way out.

So “wonder.”

Because the combination of curiosity and awe is precisely where I want my heart to land this year.


So how about you? Do you have a word this year? I’d love to hear it.

thoughts converge

There’s a lime-sized baby floating around in my basketball-sized belly. I popped over a week ago, well before the end of trimester 1. Looking like 5 months at 11 weeks. Thanks, fourth-slash-fifth baby!

My fears for the lime/baby have been unreasonably large for the last twenty-four hours. The story I’m making up is that I’ll go in roughly two and a half weeks from now and they won’t find a heartbeat. Then the ultrasound will find a baby that’s been lost for a couple of weeks. And then I’ll wait to miscarry. Then I will, and it’ll be horrific and far more physically traumatic than losing Hope, because the baby is bigger than Brian’s pinky toenail this time—closer to the size of his foot.

I lost a couple months to depression after Hope, then a couple more to early pregnancy, and the three kids I DO have basically haven’t seen a fully functional mother since summer. I have no idea how long this would take me down. I’ve counted four children since shortly after Brian was born (very disconcerting in public spaces to come up one short all. the. time.) But if I lose babies four and five? Perhaps I should take the hint and take up sudoku instead, because clearly raising four children is not what I’m made for.

This is the kind of crazy I’ve been talking myself down from the last little while. Note to the several adults living in the house with me on vacation: this is why my lack of words and margin. It’s not you. It’s me.

 


 

This morning was to be my fifteenth consecutive morning run. But on my fourteenth, I recognized a twinge that, in 2008, signaled a stress-fractured tibial plateau. I pushed through then, and it set off a chain of events that mark that one stupid 5K (!!!) as the single worst thing that’s ever happened to my health.

God designed our bodies well. Some kinds of pain are warning lights that we shouldn’t ignore. So as much as I wanted to run this morning, I chose to walk a little bit instead, in order to honor the body that works pretty well for me and the good God who designed it with wisdom and warning lights. (Please note how I just took a day off jogging as an honest act of worship.)


 

On the drive between where I run and where I drink coffee that’s become part of my morning liturgy over the last two weeks, I was pondering both my Big Fears and my disappointment over not being able to run today. (Or perhaps this week, which means it may be the end of summer before I run again, based on location and circumstances.) Then, in the healing way He sometimes does, the Holy Spirit connected the two. And I wish it was assurance that the good God who designed my body to warn me before I hurt myself badly also designed my body to hold, grow, and deliver this child alive and healthy in July, but that wasn’t what I heard. No, the thing I was impressed by was His goodness, wisdom, and mercy, regardless of outcomes. Am I still nervous about this baby I desperately want to meet this summer? Oh, man. But my hope doesn’t lie in a healthy fourth (-slash-fifth) baby. My hope is in the person of God, who knit each of my five babies together inside me and numbered the days of every one of them. His goodness is no less if the story I made up about the loss of this one comes true, and it is no greater if I deliver yet another crazy awesome Chapman baby in six months.


I still wish I knew how this was going to play out. But God knows. And eventually, so will I.

 

 

 

gifts from 2015

It’s getting to be resolution time. I don’t typically do resolutions as such, but I do try to spend some of my downtime in January being intentional about the upcoming year. But before I go there, I’d like to take some time to look back at this past year to see what worked (and what didn’t) so I don’t miss anything big I was supposed to be learning. (And since this is my place to document and process, you get to take a look with me!)

At the beginning of the year, my focus was on keeping first things first, with several areas within that I wanted to emphasize.

Seven subfocuses: too many. The things that floated to the top throughout the year were creative. This was the year of singing, shooting, and writing. The others (move, connect, quiet, organize) showed up in and out, but to a lesser extent.

I started singing again in the Spring (thanks to my fantastic mother-in-law who takes over my jobs at home so I can make it to practices and Sunday mornings.)

I made a goal of busting out the big camera daily. While I didn’t manage daily (I probably brought it out one day out of two… or three), I took a lot more pictures this year than I did the year before, which is a win. (I’m aiming for improvement, not perfection.) I even got a chance to share with some others by taking family pictures for a few friends!

Then in October, I held my breath and joined a writer’s group (thereby bringing writing from “casual hobby” to “actual thing” in my own head) and just that motivation (and mental shift) has meant about twice as many posts in the last three months as in all of 2014.


 

Self-care was a thing this year. I took an e-course called Replenish 365 where we spent the year making tiny shifts every week toward living well. I think the first week we focused on ways to get extra water, and we built from there… through limbic calm, nutrition, rest, movement, and then into connection and alignment, just a little at a time. And you know what? I probably currently have in play about 20% of the tools we learned, but that 20% is all stuff I wasn’t doing before, and it has me in a much calmer place now than I was in January. Also, once you take the course, you’re free to retake it as many times as you like, so I get to pick up some more of those tools this year. (If you’re interested in useful tools, Replenish is also a book.)


 

I learned I’m a pen-and-paper kind of girl. a friend got me hooked on this crazy expensive planner (though if you get the link from a friend who’s bought one, you at least get $10 off) and two things happened. First, I learned that there’s a crazy ridiculous planner girl community. There are tens of thousands of people who decorate every weekly (or monthly or daily) layout in fun and creative ways. Who knew? And then I figured out that when I merge my creative right brain with my mildly OCD left brain, the result is both fun and productive. I started getting a lot more things done with a lot less “what was I doing again?” So that’s happening again in 2016.


 

Related to that, a book I read in 2014 talked about the benefits of checklists in many different disciplines. (It sounds dry, but Gawande is one of my favorite authors. Very readable, fascinating stuff.) So I applied it and made myself checklists, then tweaked them repeatedly, and
eventually settled on these stickers that go in my planner. It’s not about filling in all the dots so much as keeping track of little things that are easy IMG_1173to forget, but don’t cost me much effort for the benefit. (Like starting a load of laundry early or taking my vitamins.) Instead of getting discouraged about unchecked bubbles for a day or week, I see how many I can do. I have yet to score a perfect week, but that doesn’t worry me.


 

This is a weird one, but I learned that Chux pads are indispensable when dealing with preschoolers with stomach bugs. Saved so much laundry. (I put them on beds or wherever the kids were.) Gross, but there’s a free little tip for the mamas. I felt like a genius.


 

Gratitude isn’t a new thing for 2015. I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts in maybe 2012, and thought, “hey! A gratitude journal seems simple enough.” The practice changed. my. life. The act of looking for things to thank God for every day has revolutionized the way I see the world around me. This TEDtalk mentions it as one of a few ways to rewire your brain for happiness, and I can certainly say it has made a substantial difference in mine. This year, I was a little flakier about actually writing them down every day than I have been, which has been negative in that once a habit starts to slip, it becomes easier to let it go more frequently. But it’s been positive to see that, even when I don’t write it down, I find myself whispering prayers of thankfulness throughout the day, and I see my kids doing the same. (And they never write anything down.)


 

And I’ll leave you with a couple “favorites” of the year.

Favorite book:

emperor of all maladies

It was a really interesting look at the disease from ancient history to now. I found it surprisingly hopeful, surprisingly readable, and not surprisingly VERY interesting.

Favorite picture:

IMG_4327

Everybody now: “Awwwww….” I love that I got this sweet moment. They aren’t frequently found holding hands, so major score that I captured it!

Favorite movie:

martian

Okay. Full discloure: this is the only movie I watched in theaters this year. Also? It belongs under favorite book. Andrew started reading it one night while I was washing dishes. He was laughing out loud. I’m like, “What’s so funny?” He says, “I just started this book and it’s AWESOME.” Me: “So… read it to me, if you just started.” So we read it out loud together. It destroyed about a week and a half of bedtimes. 11:15 every night: “Aw, man! It’s late! …One more chapter?” I’m pleased to report that the movie, while it couldn’t fit all the coolness of the book, was a relatively good adaptation. I highly recommend both.

Favorite post of mine:

This one. About the SCOTUS decision that fell on my eleventh wedding anniversary.

It was terrifying to post, because I try by best to avoid politics whenever I can. It’s not necessarily my favorite because I think it’s revolutionary or especially well-written. It’s my favorite because it shows me that I can find the courage and the words to speak my mind when I need to (even in public) with some grace and some truth. I’ve done it since then, and wound up with a bit more friendly fire when I posted about refugees, but this one was the first.


How about you? What worked for you this past year that you’d like to carry forward? What was a favorite of yours this year?

the one place grace cannot be found…

I stumbled upon this post many years ago. I hope you’ll take the time to read it. Here’s how this truth has saved my heart countless hours of struggle. I hope it lodges in your head and heart the way it’s lodged in mine. Here are the some of the ways it plays out in my life.


 

I have an ultrasound in a few days. Just an early one to date the pregnancy. No big deal. Except… It’s a big freaking deal. My mind whirls with a couple of possibilities, but repeats them over… and over… and over again. What if something’s wrong? What if nothing’s wrong and I get complacent and then lose the baby later anyway? What if something’s wrong…?

Then, rushing into my head and heart like a warm flood are these words of Elizabeth Elliott: “There is no grace for your imagination.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of looking for grace everywhere.

But I have found one place God’s grace isn’t: my worst-case scenarios.

Or, more precisely, my projection of my worst-case scenarios. Because when I’m fretting about the worst, one thing I never, ever do is count on God’s grace. I mean, I imagine a thousand different outcomes of whatever catastrophe might befall me, but I actually always forget that His grace will meet me there.

Just me?

God gives us grace enough for the day we have. Whatever situation I find myself in, I find His grace there as well. Even when it’s bad. Even when it’s my own fault. But when I start outpacing the now and start fretting about might, I am working outside of my actual situation- you know, the one He’s given me grace for.


 

Last Wednesday early morning, Brian woke up needing to nurse in the early hours. While I was feeding him, for some reason it crossed my mind that we haven’t had a stomach bug in a while and we’re probably due and I hate stomach bugs. Hate them. Hate having them, hate cleaning up after kids who have them. I’m the biggest nausea/vomiting wuss ever. But as I was sitting there pondering the horror that is stomach bugs (instead of enjoying a rare wee-hours moment with my not-so-baby boy) the Holy Spirit reminded me of the truth I know: there is no grace for my imagination. IF we wind up with a stomach bug, God’s grace will meet me there and give me what I need to handle it, just like He has done every single time before. The end.

Four hours later, Katherine threw up on the carpet.

You know what? It was a good day. Katherine was basically constantly sick in all kinds of inconvenient places around my house, then I got sick, then Jenna, then Andrew. But we had a pretty chill day watching movies and giving baths. People around me loved and served me in ways that were so outside their job descriptions and my expectations that I was blown away. (Not that it took so much- I could hardly stand up straight.)

It was fine.

Now I know this is a comparatively little disaster, but it illustrates the larger reality. When the Big Fears enter my mind, the truth remains.


 

When Andrew’s on a long drive and I haven’t heard from him in a while and I become absolutely convinced he’s dead… There is no grace for my imagination. If that actually happens, God’s grace will meet me there.

When I worry that my kids will get seriously ill or injured or make terrible, destructive choices…There is no grace for my imagination. If that actually happens, God’s grace will meet me there.

When I have a weird pain and I convince myself I probably have cancer and I’ll be sick forever on chemo (see also: biggest nausea/vomiting wuss ever), then probably die soon anyway, leaving my husband and tiny children to fend for themselves… (I know. I’m kind of neurotic. Just go with it.)…There is no grace for my imagination. If that actually happens, God’s grace will meet me (and them) there.

When I worry that I’ll be forced to choose between Trump and Hillary in an election… There is no grace for my imagination. If that actually happens, God’s grace will met me there. (Kidding.) (Ok, definitely not. Thank goodness for the reality of grace.)

Do you see where I’m going? (Of course you do.) This covers an awful lot of my catastrophizing. (Isn’t that a great word? Hard to say without concentrating really hard, but a great word.) It also covers a lot of fairly legitimate fears. (And by “a lot,” I mean “all.”)

Because the truth is, if or when the worst actually happens, His grace will always be there.

Jenna’s fifth birthday

Hello again, there, my girl.

(Did you know I love the excuse to write you a big long letter? To put together many of the words that I think about you all at once? This is fun.)

Happy birthday, baby. Did you know you’re beautiful? Seriously. Inside and out, regardless of whether or not you have a twirly dress on. Your sparkling eyes, your magical smile, your lovely hair. (“Does she have a natural ombre??” Did I, the mom who only makes my children wear socks when we’re going to play at McDonald’s, spend time and money getting that done at a salon? Um, no. Yeah. Totally natural.) Your kind attitude. Your amazing sense of humor. Your sweet words. I could go on forever.

It’s been a fun year, hasn’t it? I just read last year’s letter to you, and some of the things I was looking forward to didn’t happen. The swim lessons (sorry- I can’t adequately convey my frustration with the system of swim lesson signups here), the schooly stuff (you’re learning some letters and words and can write stuff if I spell it, but… yeah. Formal schoolwork at home didn’t happen much this year. You were busy learning to be a person and I was too busy teaching you and the others how to be little people. We’ll get there.)

You know what did happen, though? You now understand God’s grace in all its truth. Maybe a month after your last birthday, you told me, on a three-minute drive, “Mom? The other night, I asked Jesus to be my leader! I told him I was sorry for my sins and he rescued me! And then K prayed after me!” I was amused that the very first thing you did after accepting Jesus’ gift was try to evangelize your sister. Also? I was a little skeptical. I mean, I wasn’t there. But as the months wore on, it became pretty obvious… You love Jesus and His Spirit is living in you.

Beautiful.

You’re growing up so nicely. I love your heart. I love seeing you become who you’re made to be. I love seeing you grow in grace. And, can I be honest? I really enjoy the hard parts of that becoming, too. You have my your daddy’s stubbornness and sometimes you just get defiant and mad. But those are golden opportunities. Oh, they’re no fun at the time, but it is so cool to me to see you really get it. You’re learning, slowly, painfully slowly sometimes, to adjust your own attitude. And you’re learning, just a little at a time, that adjusting your own attitude isn’t always fully within your grasp, but you do know Someone who can help you with it, and now and again you remember to cry out to Him.

I love you, child. I love that you’re mine. I love discovering who you’re becoming. I pray for another year of that. 

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