busted big ideas

I had big ideas for the summer. I mean big ideas. We were going to have daily routines that included time for structured play, free play, home-cooked meals, snacks, reading and keeping on top of what they learned in school. There was going to be a schedule that included specified weekdays for playing in water, going to the free library events, seeing all the reduced-price summer movies, and for visiting friends and family. I was going to figure out the perfect balanced system to manage their screen time every day: just enough, but not too much. There were going to be mom-and-kid interactive activities we could do together; everything from art to outings to cooking. Within all of that I was going to be sure I got to the gym on a regular schedule. I was pretty sure I could keep the house up while all of this was going on, and maybe have people over for dinner regularly. Oh, and have some sort of decent relationship with my husband.

Seriously. I had big ideas.

What is going on in my head when I think up stuff like this? I mean, what part of my logic do I have to willingly or unconsciously turn off to make incredibly detailed mental lists like these? By now I know myself pretty well. Me, myself, and I have been together close to four decades. I don't know this ol' gal completely yet, but way better than I once did. Yet I still find myself capable of the most outlandish self-expectations. I wish the part of me that knows me a little better could've talked some sense to the one making the lists. "Come on, girl. Don't do this to us. I know you mean well. I know you like a list or thinking up a system with uber structure and maximum organization...in theory. But that's not where we live. Remember? Remember how given you are to flights of fancy? Remember how you like to get a feel for the day and let it unfold within a more basic structure? Remember how much you want to learn to live fully in moments and not always be trying to anticipate the next one? Remember, girl?"

I didn't remember. I had big ideas. And I wouldn't have listened to me because something about all those lists and ideas felt like the "right thing to do", the responsible mom thing to do. They also felt like the way to head off conflict or stress or boredom or laziness or squandered time or distraction. If I could just put up the right framework then we would build the Best Summer Ever. Blech. Yuck. Holy perfectionist streak, Batman.

In a late-night summer coffee date my friend Donna and I were talking about trying to "get out in front of" things (her well-chosen words, not mine). It's the idea that we could outrun a thing - especially a hard thing - and hopefully get to the point of impact first to either stop the collision or brace ourselves and somehow buffer the crash. We were talking about it in reference to much more serious situations in our lives than summer schedules, but I realize now that all of my big ideas were a whole lot less about having the Best Summer Ever and a whole lot more about getting out in front of a potentially hard summer; less fueled by love and more by fear.

I think summertime is tough. The kids being home all day everyday is tricky for me. Their ages span eight years, from kindergarten to high school. There's rarely a moment that the three kids all want to do or watch or eat the same things. What works in scheduling the youngest two doesn't always work for the oldest. The middle child feels himself shape shifting between identifying with the youngest and wanting to identify with the oldest. They're all so different, and rightfully so as little individuals with their own design. I'm an empathizer, very often trying to read beyond words and body language into the mood of a person or room full of people and then make the necessary adjustments to increase the comfort level. That's not always a wise goal and doesn't bear out so great in my own person, but it is what it is. That's hard work with the four of us home each day together. My goal is peace and love. Six-, eight-, and fourteen-year-olds have slightly different goals. I find that hard to balance. So my big idea was to outrun conflict. If I structured us just right, maybe I could do it. Maybe I could get out in front of fights and irritations and yelling and whining and boredom and hunger...within me...and possibly even the kids.

Yeah. It didn't work. Or it didn't happen, I should say. Schedules are great tools. They really are. And in the hands of someone else, all my big ideas might've been phenomenal and yielded huge, happy days. But for me those ideas, those schedules, were just a shield up to not accidentally fall into feeling anything but complete joy, contentment, and gratitude for every moment of everyday. I wanted to leave no room for the unpredictable. My big ideas weren't about planning ahead as much as they were about outrunning the unplanned. Boy, that sounds realistic, doesn't it? And exhausting.

We did find a rhythm. It was a whole lot different than what I expected and happened in a far more grounded, collaborative way than my frenetic, solitary idea-storming in May. The summer was good, really full of goodness. And, not without irony, we sort of hit our groove about three weeks before school started on August 3rd. Ain't that the way sometimes?

I'm trying to grasp the takeaway from the Summer of the Busted Big Ideas. I think it's this: stop trying to outrun the day-to-day living for fear of the unknown, or even the known hard thing. Yeah, it's a live-in-the-now kind of lesson. Sometimes it's hard to plan ahead, and sometimes it's a lot harder to stay in the moment. I don't always know how to decipher which instance is a better-plan-ahead moment or which is a stay-in-this-moment-or-you'll-miss-something one. It feels a little like a riddle. But I know I don't want to live the days grasping for control because I don't like feeling out of control or afraid. I don't want to be bracing myself or others for potential pain. I've just got to live today, and try to help my husband and kids to. I need that as much in the school year as I do in the summer. Summers can be tough, but so can school years.

This school year, I don't want to try to outrun:
a bad day

somebody hurting my kid's feelings
my kid making a wrong choice
a low grade
too much homework
a busy extracurricular schedule
dissolving friendships
a broken heart...

...because if I do I may miss:
the really good days
teachable moments
mercy, forgiveness, grace
setting personal goals and reaching them
accountability and growth
excitement and fun
friendships deepened and new friendships-in-the-making
hearts full of love.

So note to self: make a plan if it fosters freedom, but not out of fear. Run in fields like a liberated soul, but don't run ahead lobbying for control. Let's just see what today brings...

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. - Matthew 6:34


the season

Our little family has been in a season of change. In the past four months the last of our kids started school, ending my thirteen years of having a little person at home with me all day...I realized unexpectedly I was pregnant...I found out the unexpected but much-wanted baby died...and Anthony transitioned out of his job of the last eleven years. A quarter of our 2014 has been about adjusting to new realities, and not without a touch of whiplash.

It's interesting to me how it has all coincided with this year's transition from summer to fall. Summertime has a feel of brightness and care-freedom and the unscheduled. Then comes autumn where calendars fill back in, all the colors refashion, growing things have to be harvested before they decline, and leaves show their truest colors just before they fall. Our summer seemed to end abruptly and our autumn came fast. I didn't know it would be so. But just weeks before I remember having the thought of how "comfortable" our life was...and it unsettled me.

When had we last dared greatly for something? What was the last thing we had outrageously hoped for? Where had we put the courage to risk an adventure or push towards a dream?

Summertime, with its long days and warm sun and challenge to stay cool, had bemused us into forgetfulness. We'd forgotten what we had planted. We hadn't remembered that time advances - as it should - to the place of allowing our children to learn giving and receiving within community around them; that we can't just hold them to ourselves. We'd tuned out the whisper of always wanting a fourth child because years have passed since our last baby and our lives are so full of the three we have. We'd blocked out how unavoidable grief is, how undeniably a part of life and of loving it is, that it must be gone through. We'd become inattentive to the throb of dreams and passions that still pound within us, and settled for a lot of what-is instead of risking what-could-be.

We'd overlooked that life is all about seasons, and not one of them is here to stay. I imagine in the ground where roots have grown down and become established, nutrients have been gathered, and life has been sustained is probably a pretty warm and comfortable place. But still, there's a choice that must be made in this season: wither and rot or be harvested.

I see through a glass darkly about a lot of life. I don't have answers in the place of so many of my questions, and some days I'd rather that I did. But on this fall day I'm settled into the realities of change, the absolute imperative of it. There's a time for alteration in the landscape, and a necessity to move into the stage of harvesting what's been planted in the garden beds. I turn myself over like a leaf and am thankful that the season-shifting has brought to light our truest colors, even that which has been hard to look at. Because of the season change, where we've been lackadaisical we'd now rather dare. When it would be safer to not take a chance we'd now rather hope. And even if we have to unearth it from down deep we'd rather risk courage.

We can't be afraid of the unknown of what a season will bring. Well, we can be afraid, but we should walk through it anyway, stooping to pick up remembrances - a leaf, a rock, a blade of grass - at every place of discovery. Before we know it, our body temperature has adjusted and we've acclimated to the change. Then we may even realize there's a lot to behold in wonder about the new realities.

And likely just in time for a new season to begin its unfolding...
Thanks, BS.


moving ahead

I've been thinking about what's next for me as I try to build healthy personal and family habits with balance. Since last June I've been making changes and there's definitely desire in me to keep forward momentum. The other day I caught myself looking up a trending "healthy eating plan" (I'm pretty sure we used to call those "diets"). Looking over what I could find out about it (without having to buy the book), my head started to spin and my eyes started to bulge seeing the new language I would have to learn, the new math I would need to cipher with, and the litany of guidelines I'd have to shift into living within. It felt like one giant step into a sort of bondage and away from the freedom I've felt through the process of the last twelve months. Thankfully I had a moment of sobriety and remembered I've made seriously good strides in my eating habits - mostly in learning to really listen to my body and crowd out the junk and replace it with better, both thought and food - and don't feel like I need another "plan" to follow.

So what next, then? What's a forward step? Anthony and I took a bike ride yesterday morning which rounded out thirty miles of biking for me in the last three weeks. (Mostly) I didn't hate it and enjoyed those miles. Thinking on that brought me the spark of inspiration to realize that for this year ahead of healthy-habit-building (which runs from June to June for me), I want to start moving my body (I think we used to call that "exercise"). In the same ways I learned about a healthier way of eating, how my body responds, what it craves, and all of the thought patterns associated with it I want to learn myself as a mover. I have always been sedentary as habit. I mean I'm tough and I'm strong and I don't shy away from hard work, but there's this deeply ingrained aversion to exercise. Maybe it's the chubby girl in me from grade school that huffed and puffed behind almost everyone else running laps in gym class that still hangs out in my head and equates all exercise as being that kind of experience. Whatever it is, I want this year to find ways I like to move (I think that's crucial...if I don't like it, I ain't gonna do it), and then carve out a place for it in my thinking, intentions, and schedule.

I'm asking myself some questions and trying to build a plan on the "right now" answers. I've lived enough life to know change happens and answers to questions we ask ourselves can begin to shift. But how I answer in the now is what I'm basing the NOW plan on:
-What exercise do I already know I like to do? (riding bikes, Wii Fit, dancing with the kids)
-What exercise do I already know I DON'T like to do? (running, walking anywhere without a destination)
-What exercise am I genuinely interested in trying? (yoga, weight training)
-Do I like people to be with me? Or do I prefer to be alone?
-When are realistic times of the week that I will exercise?
-What do I need to move or shift over in my schedule to make the space for it to happen?

We are these amazing creations; spirit, body, mind, and soul. Our whole integrated self needs care. It would be so nice if there were one or two things we could do that cures what ails us, but that's never so. I'd love it if all I needed for health and wellness could be reduced to whether I ate a carrot or a doughnut today, but it can't be. So I'm going to give it the ol' college try of adding consistent exercise into my life these next eleven months. Some days I'll love it. I've loved riding bikes. Some days I'll hate it. Even yesterday, biking the same route for the third time in three weeks, it was HARD for me, like I hadn't done it at all before. But I can do hard things. I can build consistency. Heck, I'm consistently a lot of things I don't necessarily prefer. Now I know, though, that I can also make changes, that I can change.

We'll see what happens.