A Bit Loony

At the cottage this year, my husband and I spent some wonderful evenings enjoying the view of Charleston Lake and, as usual, this quiet time surrounded by God’s Green Earth had us thinking about the pace of our day-to-day lives.

Like Annie Dillard, tinkering at her creek, I often find that the time I spend in nature is spiritually charged.  It compels me to reflect on and examine my life and to learn from the wisdom embedded in creation.  This particular vacation, my attention was drawn to the flight patterns of two birds.

Have you ever observed the distinct contrast between a loon’s frantic flapping and a hawk’s majestic soaring?  Sure, they both make it to their chosen destination but watching them get there reveals a significant difference; the loon looks like she is barely surviving while the hawk makes it look easy.  Truly, loons are not very graceful when they fly.  They exert so much energy and appear to be fighting against the wind and the gravitational pull whenever they are airborne.  It seems they should take some advice from Dory and “just keep swimming” because they’ve got that mode of travel mastered.  Just take your time, loons.  Stop trying so hard.  Align your flight with the power of the wind.

Oh. Right.

So, I’m a bit loony.  Shocking revelation, I know.   Friends, I am fighting every fiber of my being as a Type A, driven, task-oriented individual and am resigning myself to the fact that this pace is not a healthy or inspiring way to travel.  Actually, it’s a little crazy.

I often succumb to the frenetic pace of our society because I feel the need to get somewhere or to accomplish something according to an arbitrary timeline that I have established for myself, generally based on unrealistic expectations and external pressures.  I rarely orient my life to a rhythm that breathes.  Hence, the frantic flapping and the trying too hard.  And the grace-less flight.

istock_flying_common_loon[1]

But, I am weary from all the flapping and I’m baby-stepping my way into the hawk program.

The late Dallas Willard offered the wise instruction to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives”.  I must do this.  I know it to be true.  But it is SO HARD.

So, where is the hope for me in all this loon-acy?  How can I reorient my pace to something that is life-giving instead of life-draining?

I think it is as simple and as hard as this:  daily I must resist the tyranny of the urgent and SLOW DOWN.  Daily I must choose to live in harmony with the indwelling Spirit, release all the busyness and striving, and become attentive to God’s work in and through me.

If I want to soar, I have to put my hope in the Lord to renew my strength.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like [hawks];

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40, italics mine

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What Lies Beneath

So, I bought my first pair of Spanx last week to wear under my dress for my brother-in-law’s wedding.  (Well, not actually Spanx another – I’m sure much lesser – brand from The Hudson’s Bay Company but you get the idea.)

I don’t think I fully understood what I was getting myself into.

I mean, these gitch are the envy of every granny-panty ever made.  A single pair is about $50 – one pair of underwear, essentially – and mine are the cheap knock-offs!

However, I need them to wear under fancy dresses and the like to smooth out what I will call my “life lines”: the extra bits of me that have grown from experiences like birthing too many children and eating too many Lays Dill Pickle Chips.  Yep, that’s right. I paid good money to strategically stuff pieces of me into the largest pair of undies you’ve ever seen.   A pretty picture?  Maybe.

Yes, I could just sport a lovely muumuu to the family wedding but if it is a choice between grandma’s outerwear and grandma’s underwear I’d rather hide this necessary evil and pretend my weight issues away.  The muumuu is a dead giveaway that I have been eating like a cow. (I realize this blog is too, but so few people read it.)

So, the big day arrives.  I’m prepping for my debut as a 10-pound-lighter-looking goddess in the bathroom of the Holiday Inn because I know there will be no end of photography on this occasion.  I’m showered, shaved, newly coiffed, and ready to go out into the world until I try on my undergarments. And they suck.

Ladies, it is no small feat to get into these things, let me tell you.  It is no spa treatment.  I could pay the same cash for a lovely pedi and be much less aware of my shortcomings.  Because, after squeezing my parts into the proper places with several grunts of dismay, I stood in front of the mirror and realized one simple thing.

I am NOT 10 pounds lighter.

I am merely bound by the modern equivalent of the corset and my lack of self-discipline.

Spanx are a merely a Band-Aid solution.  Sure, they work wonders to conceal my flaws for a few hours but nothing has really changed.  It’s all a façade.

As many of you know, I have struggled for sometime to maintain a healthy lifestyle  but it is so much easier to stuff it than to actually make changes.  I am weak and my resolutions fail and I continue to find myself in front of the mirror, confronting the truth.

And the fact that Spanx  (and wannabe Spanx) fly off the shelves indicates to me that I may not be alone in this battle against the bulge.  C’mon friends, surely I’m not the only muffin-topper out there that needs some encouragement!

How can we come together to create a prettier picture that embraces health and wellness in all its forms – including our bodies? How can we get beyond the lies we tell ourselves and really find some freedom?

Maybe if we all rally together we can help each other confront the truths about this deeply spiritual issue. Is it possible?

Is it time for a support group instead of support panties?  I’d like to think so.  Let me know if you are in.

Check out this group resource: http://madetocrave.org/

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Confessions of a Selfish Mom

“I wanna do what I wanna do.”

This is my 2-year-old’s newest chant.  My heart chimes in with an amen, I hear ya, little man every time it is uttered.  And I wonder if that makes me a selfish mom.

Like many moms, I know I need to look after myself but so much of my time and energy is poured out into my husband, my kids, my home, and my work that I don’t know how to juggle it all. I often struggle with the guilt associated with taking “me-time” and making decisions to meet my personal needs.  I often feel that I am not fulfilling my motherly duties if I take time away from the kids so I tend to neglect myself under the guise of caring for others.

I’m convinced that there is a spectrum that lies between

selflessness ______________________&___________________selfishness

and I’m really not sure how to pin point the golden mean.  In this case, Aristotle’s virtue between the two extremes is a little vague for my liking.

I know that we must take care of ourselves as moms in order to be able to take care of our families but the litany of items that “ought” to be addressed in my life under “self-care” constitute a full-time job and I already have at least one of those.  How can I stay spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically healthy and have time for anyone else?

Every mom knows that the job is draining; everyone wants a piece of you but there are not enough pieces to go around. So we can’t keep running on empty and expect to carry on without deficiencies in one area or another.  I know that taking time to care for myself is necessary in order to be any good to those who depend on me but trying to discern the practical parameters of my self-care is really tricky.  Perhaps, I am lacking wisdom and should ask for it…so, wise ones out there in cyberspace, what say you?

Currently, I try to take one night of the week and break from my motherly duties.  I try to be as consistent as possible to keep our family routine intact so that the kids can expect it. This seems reasonable enough but it is the daily disciplines that seem to be so elusive.  I have trouble finding moments throughout my day to refresh.  And even if I should miraculously find a spare 10 minutes, I don’t always use these precious few breaths well.

So, I guess what I am really asking is, at what point does self-care descend into selfishness? I know we invest so much of ourselves in this holy calling known as motherhood but is it okay that sometimes I just wanna do what I wanna do?

I Can’t Do It and Neither Can You

So that resolve thing?  Yeah, it’s not working.

I keep trying to do things on my own and my resolve lacks results.

So, here’s what I am learning.  No amount of doing on my part is going to help.  This is a difficult realization for me to admit.  You see, I’m a doer and a doer that can’t do anything is a force to be reckoned with.  Just ask my husband.  I don’t like to wait;  I want to take action.  I want to develop a plan and implement it.  But manipulation of the externals rarely succeeds in bringing about internal change.  And therein lies the problem.

This frustration is at the heart of Christian experience, right? The Apostle Paul got it.  It has to be God doing the work because we’ve got nothing.  No amount of wishful thinking or good intentions is going to accomplish the work He has started.  Only He can do that.  And so we wait on Him.  Argh.

I’m just trying to figure out how to live in that holy dependency.  Seriously, how do we practically depend on God for strength?  (And don’t comment in Christianese; “let go and let God” just doesn’t deal with this very real struggle honestly enough for me.)  I know that trying to “figure out” the mysterious movement of God is a bit of a fool’s errand.  But I’ve got to do something!

Often, I feel like there is little point in trying at all:  what I want to do I don’t do; but, what I don’t want to do, I do. Yeah, I get that, Paul.  For all those areas that need discipline in my life, I am at His mercy. Somewhere between grace and application a balance can be found – not that I’ve found it, I just choose to believe in that hope.

But how do we allow God to work in us to break us free of these chains?  I have to believe it is possible and that I’m just a work in progress with a long way to go to completion.

I suppose I should feel it is freeing to know that this work is not up to me.  Somehow, that’s not where I’m at and I want to be able to accept that I can’t do it.  And I want that to be okay.

Looking for some wisdom?  Can you supply it?

The Top Ten Reasons to Love Gwyneth

So, my baby girl just turned 10 and I thought it was the perfect time for a top 10 list.  The last time I wrote about her was when she was two.  A tribute is long overdue!

If you love Gwyneth, feel free to add your thoughts to the comments below!

I love Gwyneth for…

10. Her vibrant smile and freckled nose (and red hair, of course)!

9. Her delight over a good book.

8. Her willingness to try new things, especially foods.

7. Her creative script-writing, song-writing and flair for story-telling.

6. Her contagious laughter and silliness.

5. Her thoughtful gestures and kindness to others.

4. Her ability to animate any anecdote.

3. Her integrity and commitment to what is right.

2. Her sincerity when speaking to and about others.

1. Her strength of character and her authenticity.

Me and my girl
Me and my girl

Happy Birthday, G-Jane!  I love you to the moon and back.

What to do When you Hit the Wall

Stone-walling. That’s the recurring tactic of my son, Wes. When something is bothering him, he withdraws and shuts down. Completely. It’s a rather disturbing version of the silent treatment, though often with tears. Despite my constant cajoling for him to “use his words”, this little man has trouble articulating what is wrong and this big mama has trouble penetrating the silence. Frustrating combo.

You may have read about our sharing journals in my other post. Just last night, Wesley wrote “snuggle me pleeeeese, mom!” (large enough to fill a page) and drew a page full of tears to accentuate the need he was feeling. He ripped the pages out of his journal, snuck out of bed to sit on the stairs, and passed them to his father (who found him there) to give to me.

Insert teary eyes and a quick leap from the chair to his rescue here.

We headed to my bed for some Snuggle Therapy and, once we had a few laughs, his sadness had dissipated significantly and he fell asleep feeling loved.

Thank God.

All’s well that ends well. Or is it?

He is the kid who says ” you never listen to me” but he really means that I don’t understand him. And, the truth is, I don’t. But I want to. So, like most moms, I struggle to find ways to access his personality and understand his needs; but, it is a perplexing task to say the least. And it is so easy to feel defeated.

Intense, withdrawn, cerebral, compassionate, sneaky, tender-hearted, active, funny, introverted and slightly melancholy – that’s my Wesley. He fluctuates between moments of sincere concern and patience with his siblings and flat-out punches to the face. Always retreating and hiding to cope with his guilt (like most humans). He is amazingly complex and, seemingly, so out of reach?

On days that I seem to be a particular failure as his mom, I have to remind myself that I am the mom God wanted him to have. This combo was meant to be! Oh, boy! That means that I am what he needs, or at least I can learn to be, right?

So, here’s what I’m learning about hitting the wall, Wesley-style:

1. Snuggle first, talk later. Physical affection breaks through that tough exterior like nothing else. In this case, a hug is worth a thousand words.

2. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If I can give him my undivided attention as often as possible in any given day, I will minimize the risk of intense outbursts; or, at the very least, lessen their severity and duration.

3. Understand the reasons, but don’t make them excuses. A lack of sleep, a sugary diet, a tough day, or an overload of people will all trigger Wes’s emotional upheaval. If I know that one (or any combination) of these factors is at play, I can chalk his difficulties up to the source and address the root of the problem as part of the solution.

4. Don’t give up. It is so important that I work through the discouragement of misunderstanding and keep trying to “get” my kid. It would be so easy some days just to default to Daddy, but that’s a bit of a cop-out. He needs to know that I will keep trying, despite the difficulties and that Jason and I are both in his corner.

5. Embrace the morning. The fact that each new day presents an opportunity to do something differently is such a gift of grace. What happened today does not have to determine tomorrow’s agenda. As Anne of Green Gables would say, “tomorrow is fresh with no mistakes in it.” Together, Wesley and I are learning this truth.

Photo

That’s my boy, on our breakfast date. The morning after.

Ah yes. New mercies.

Do you have a Wesley in your clan? What do you do when you hit the wall?

If it’s not one kid it’s your mother!

So I am currently home taking my sixth sick day of the school year and it’s not even the end of November!  The trouble is, I haven’t even been sick yet!

(The truth is, I’m actually at home for another sick day because of dental surgery and it is February 14th, but it seems I neglected to post this blog before Christmas.  Can’t imagine why I didn’t have the time then!)

It seems that the Covey clan is getting hit hard this fall with every communicable disease going.  From colds, to lice, to flus, to pink eye – if it is out there, someone in our house has had it since September. And it never fails:  we don’t get it at the same time, the virus staggers its way through our family and turns a 24-hour bug into a week-long saga.

I’m sure there are many factors that have contributed to this current dilemma in our house, not the least of which is the fact that I have young children who do not use discretion about appropriate places to stick fingers and frequently rub eyes, pick noses, and chew on fingernails!

Yes, I have taught them about germs and proper hand-washing but they seem to be willing to risk it when mom is not looking.  The thought process is something like this: this one time won’t matter, what mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her  or it’s not going to happen to me. (Come to think of it, that sounds like a teenage mentality!)

Alas, no matter how often I disinfect, we are at a stage in life that seems to be characterized by illness (or perhaps, antibody development if you are a “glass-half-full” kind of person).

I have a bit of a unique (and wonderful) daycare arrangement for my kids.  For the most part, my mom is their Nanny.  It is win-win-win:  I know they are loved and safe, mom has a source of income, and the kids have their grandmother as an important part of their lives.

I must say that it is very comforting going to work each day knowing that they are in the care of family and able to play with their beloved toys and nap in their own beds.  It also means that I do not have to have all four ready to go in the morning by 7:30am when my husband or I have to leave for work.  And, as many of you moms know (especially those who have to drop your kids off somewhere in the morning before work) the morning routine can be a nightmare so this is a bonus that I do not take for granted.

But, I have run into a glitch in my splendid plan:  illness. What do I do when that wrench gets tossed in? How do I juggle my obligations? And what do I do when Nanny is sick: take a sick day to cover her shift? (I did.  That’s why I’m home blogging instead of working!)

Truly, if it’s not my kid, it’s my mother!

If I actually calculate the number of days in total that at least one person in our family has been “under the weather” it is a least triple the time I have taken off (I think we are at least 20 days now).  Jason has also been unwell and has taken his share of sick days to care for himself and the kids but even with the two of us the burden can be overwhelming.

How are working parents doing this? One friend assured me that it does get better as the kids get older (they are sick less often, for a lesser amount of time, and are able to care more for themselves) but in the meantime it is really hard.

When I am not at work, I have a guilty conscience and I feel I am being irresponsible, even when circumstances are out of my control.  I am learning from Andy Stanley’s book, Choosing to Cheat, that parents often have the wrong perspective on that.  I am trying to remind myself that my primary responsibility is my family and that not caring for them in their illness is actually the true irresponsibility.  I can tell myself that 1000 times but it doesn’t negate the very real pressure on working moms (and dads) when it comes to this issue.

I wish I could be more like my husband who is far less swayed by the opinions of others and is content to do what is necessary, in spite of how it may be perceived in his workplace.  I am learning a lot from him about not getting caught up in the “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” of people pleasing and false guilt.  He’s good for me (more on that in another post).

I would be interested in hearing about other working moms and how they handle the disruption that illness brings to their schedules.  I am learning to expect the unexpected but I still need practical help with how to manage it.  Can you identify with the struggle to care for little ones at home and the demands of your career? Do you have any tips or sage advice that you would be willing to share?

Note:  Since January, I have enlisted the support of another excellent in-home daycare provider and that has helped alleviate some of the pressure!  Options and backup plans seem to dispel some of the worry associated with the inevitable changes in plan that characterize parenthood.