Friday, June 28, 2013

The Picture of Perfect

We were walking back from a loop around Gleason Park- The Dude all strapped in to his pink stroller and Cozy prancing ahead attached to her tangled orange leash- when she said it. I have no idea who she was, though she looked to be in her 50s or so.

Certainly she lives in the neighborhood, since she was riding her bike, but I haven't seen her before. She could have had no earthly idea that I wasn't in the best of moods. Tired from a long day at work, and still wearing my scrubs. Thinking how we're stuck with this big moody dog who randomly poops on the floor, barks insanely at people she doesn't know, and sheds everywhere, and we have no room for her. Thinking how my littlest son is a lunatic who never sleeps and has a psychotic break with reality every time you tell him no. How my oldest son has selective hearing, and frequently uses baby talk. Feeling overwhelmed, and a little defeated.

"The picture of perfect."
She said to us with a smile. Obviously enraptured by the slobber dripping off of Cozy's long pink tongue, the Dude's quickly drooping eyelids, and my dry, tired sinus infection cough. "Thanks" I said, because what else could you say? And then she was gone. Leaving me to finish the slow walk home, and contemplate a new definition for the word: "perfect".

This week, amidst both The Dude and I being placed on antibiotics, Cozy vomiting all over what remained of our carpet, having only $17 left in our checking account 2 days before payday, and balancing 2 complicated work schedules with childcare, there were so many moments of perfection.

Resting for a few minutes upstairs on Monday when I didn't feel well, and listening to The Dude and JT downstairs: "I want Mama, Daddy." "Mama's resting, you stay down here." "But I LIKE Mama!" And then hearing him huff up the stairs in victory: "I'm going to GET Mama, cuz I LIKE Mama."

That walk around the park. One of the few times I enjoy having a dog- The Dude holding her leash and alternately scolding her for sniffing, and screaming that his "eyes are falling down."

Aquaman's prayer request every night that Aunt J and Grandma will come home safely from Indiana.

Watching endless episodes of Monster Jam, trying to be patient as Aquaman describes each truck's ride in detail, punctuated and dragged out by a thousand "ums". Marveling at how many new and interesting things I have learned, and never would have had I not been the mother of two very interesting little boys.

Watching the boys pull out in Noni and Papa's car 2 mornings this week: Aquaman clutching his cup of Carnation Instant Breakfast, and The Dude munching on his apples, screaming: "Bye! I love you!" out the windows, so excited about the possibilities of a new day.

Cuddling up on the couch with a hot cup of tea with my best friend to watch Lost on Netflix.
Reaching out to touch him in the middle of the night, just to remind myself that he is still real, that this is still real, and not all just some fantastic dream: and feeling him reach back for me.

Working together at a frenzied pace.

 Drifting off to sleep together.

I know that these years having small children will be some of the most busy and exhausting years of our lives.

I also know that in just about 20 years or so, I am going to be that lady, riding by on her bike, seeing only perfect.

That's why I can't stop taking pictures, and memorizing phrases, and trying desperately to slow it all down. It's why sometimes, in the middle of some of the many combined-force fits that happen in my house, this overwhelming, bubbling up urge to laugh comes to the surface.

And it's why I almost always let it take over.

The small moments matter. They matter deeply and seriously and beautifully. But not always in the ways that we think they do.

It's not perfect. It is so, so far from perfect.

But it is real.

And maybe that's what she really meant, anyway.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Tyranny of the Urgent

Tomorrow is the first day of summer. And despite the crippling heat and humidity in Central Florida, I love summer.

It's a time of slowing down. Afternoon swims, and early morning beach adventures.

It's taking on a special meaning for me this year, as I am coming out of a period of exhaustion and hopelessness.

It's no less busy, probably more so, but the busyness has new meaning. This is JT's wildest season, as he prepares to lead a team of 30 20 (or so) year olds to USLA regional competition next month. This means hours of training, fundraising, and ploys for sponsorship. It means mass hotel bookings and planning for time off. It means he is still getting paid for a 40 hour work week, but he often leaves the house at 6 am and does not return until 6 at night during the work week. Then spends hours on his days off doing more work. Sometimes while he is also watching the kids while I'm at work.

The days and the weeks are flying by, and it feels like summer will end in an instant.

But, crazily, I don't feel overwhelmed anymore.

I feel: purpose. Connection, and meaning, and drive. When I got outside, and I hear the birds singing in the mornings, there's electricity. Excitement. Possibility. When I rock my 2 year old to sleep at night, I study the dimples in his hands, the never-gone dirt underneath his fingernails from hours of exploration, and I feel: complete, and satisfied. Soaring above the drudgery of this world.

That was the most striking thing about these tired and dark past few months. Stepping outside and hearing the birds. Holding my sons close, and trying to feel something. Knowing love and believing in hope. But feeling nothing.

This week, I was blessed to read a pamphlet written back in 1967 by Charles Hummell called "The Tyanny of the Urgent." During this busy time in which I constantly feel like I am letting someone down, forgetting something, or leaving something undone, it spoke deeply to my heart.

One of the most important things I have realized is that I cannot please everyone. It is absolutely impossible. I've accepted that, at least today. And I need only answer to God in completing the things that are most important, not the most urgent. Someone will always have something urgent that I need to do. Often, that someone is me. But every day God has given me enough time and energy and heart to do the things that He has called me to do.
During Jesus's ministry, He did not heal everyone. He did not do what everyone wanted Him to do, and He wasn't everywhere at once. He spent many a long day doing hard work, and He was certainly physically exhausted, but He was confident, despite all that was left undone: that He had completed what He was called to do.

"Not hard work, but doubt and misgiving produce anxiety as we review a month or year and become oppressed by the pile of unfinished tasks. We see uneasily that we may have failed to do the important. The winds of other people's demands have driven us onto a reef of frustration. We confess, quite apart from our sins, "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done."

"It is not God who loads us until we bend or crack with an ulcer, nervous breakdown, heart attack, or stroke. These come from our inner compulsions coupled with the pressure of circumstances."

-Charles Hummel

How true I have found these words to be. And what a relief it has been to take that heavy load of expectations off of my back. God is a not a harsh taskmaster. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. Which doesn't mean that our days won't feel like a whirlwind sometimes. But it does mean that, as we look back over them, at all that we left undone, but all He did through us: we can have peace at the completion of it.

"Ironically, the busier you get the more you need a time of inventory, but the less you seem to be able to take it. You become like the fanatic, who, when unsure of his direction, doubles his speed. And frenetic service for God can become an escape from God. But when you prayerfully take inventory and plan your days, it provides fresh perspective on your work."

-Charles Hummell

I have had to make the conscious decision to halve my speed lately.

I've been cleaning out the junk drawers, throwing away all those extra toys and things that clutter up my mind and make the walls feel like they're closing around me. It feels really good.

Relationships are less intimidating now that it doesn't feel like just one more person demanding something of me. I have the freedom to say no if it's not the most important thing God has called me to do today. Even if it's something that sounds really good or feels very urgent.

I also have more freedom to say yes. Yes to playing monster trucks or the pile of new books that our neighbor gave us on the floor, or having a long phone conversation with a good friend, even if it means I have to put the kids on and ignore the unfolded laundry.

I almost went back to work full-time again.

We've been struggling to find balance and wisdom and direction, and part of that- we feel quite certain- is going to mean me going back to work full-time in the near future. I've struggled a lot with that, and I know that's been part of my depression. I never wanted to be a working mom, at least not on paper. The hours I've spent away from home that I will never get back already pile up on my conscience and almost drown me some days. That is not from God.

No matter how many mother's day sermons about the importance of the stay at home mom barrage my soul, the message I receive from them, though not discounting the many important things other people who have been called to be at-home moms fulfill, is not from God.

The true message, when I tune out those voices is this: I have called you to be different. Stop looking around and comparing. Do today what I have made you to do.

Be fully at work when you're at work. Serve Me there.

Be fully at home when you're at home. Serve Me there.

And gone is the condemnation, and filled instead, anew, with meaning in every morning.

I was willing to go back. I put it out there for God, and I told Him I will go. I will leave houses and children, and the many ways I think I can help my husband on these extra days off, and I will follow You.
And God said: "Good."

And then He said "it's not time yet."

And so there is peace. Peace in knowing that I can enjoy this season without guilt and shame.
Peace in knowing that tomorrow, in the next season, I can live fully in that too.

And in the meantime, it was pretty fun 2 days this week driving off to work with the boys waving at me from the sidewalk, with all those curls and no clothes: "bye, I wub you!" Safe with Daddy. All boy mornings of going to the beach, eating lemon scones at Starbucks, and juicing everything in the refrigerator.

And today it will be fun writing on the courtyard with sidewalk chalk and making water balloons, and even folding the piles and piles of laundry that build up when I'm at work.

I know JT's tired, though out of compassion for us, he barely shows it. I'm praying that he too can see the meaning in all of this rushing around. It's not for nothing, and it is enough, when we keep our eyes on what's really important.

Goodbye to the tyrannical reign of the urgent. Hello to the liberating reign of the Important.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Through Fire, Water....and Fog.

I am writing today because the fog seems to have lifted. And it's a good feeling being on the other side.

Over the past few weeks, maybe even months, I have been stumbling. I've been faltering. I have taken my eyes from victory and set them on the depths of the dust of this frail earth.

Depression is not a stranger to me. It's in my genes, it's a weakness in my nature, and it is most certainly bottled up in the unnatural hormonal birth control that I am so hopelessly afraid to stop taking.

And it's not something that happens suddenly. For me, its entrance is insidious. I barely notice it. It's a pattern of thoughts and feelings that I push down and try to replace with good ones, only to find myself daily weakening. Until I suddenly look around and realize, in my own distorted perceptions (Jeremiah 17:9, "the heart is deceitful and beyond cure...") that I feel completely trapped by my circumstances.

And yet, looking back over these weeks of tears, I can honestly say I wouldn't trade the opportunity of these dark times.

The hardest thing for me during these times has been feeling that I am failing as a child of God. That, sealed by the Holy Spirit, cleansed by the blood of Christ, I should never feel anything but the fullest of joy, and peace and patience in the waiting. That I should be able to rise up on those eagle's wings and soar above the whole mess of things and feel rest in my soul even when everything feels like it's falling apart.

As parents of young children, we get so slogged down and exhausted by this world and it's necessary procedures. Now matter how much time I spend seeking the Lord, the refrigerator still has to be cleaned. And sometimes, I'll be honest, that has felt like an insurmountable task.

That feeds the hopelessness.

And no amount of: "it will get better" helps some days. Because some days my sight is failing me, and the days blur together until they're the same and my purpose feels dulled by activity. Running in 20 different directions, and never getting anywhere.
I hit the the end of myself. I always do, and after the initial terror of it all, I am always grateful.

If I never felt so weak that I could barely stand, I would never know the sensation of being Lifted up and Hidden away.

I never would have seen the heroic side of my husband that I have seen these past few weeks.

I am endlessly thankful for the man God gave to me, who has shown me forgiveness, compassion, and courage when I have lost sight of them myself.

I'm starting to come back to life.

Had to claim a weekly morning to go running on the beach and watch the sun rise and embrace the silence.

Miraculously, and through the grace of God, The Dude is now sleeping through the night more often than not...with a record 11 hours in a row a few nights ago. But he has partially outgrown his nap, which makes for some long days, and long evenings on work days.

His tantrums and energy and profound cuteness make my life a series of highs and lows.

Aquaman will be 5 in September. He is a treasure. A juicing, swimming, monster jam playing machine.

I am up to my neck in 2 little boys. I long for even more of them.

Our floors are wrestling mats.

With the boys becoming more independent, my body becoming a little less weary, and my list of more urgent responsibilities shortened, I finally have a few minutes to make our little townhouse prettier, cleaner more organized, and more like home. It's crazy how much that helps.

We threw away the crib, and it felt good. Our next baby will probably never sleep in one anyway.

I guess for me 32 years has been a new form of adolescence, with re-exploration and self-discovery. Only this time it's been an "us" discovery. It's been frought with doubt and insecurities that I thought were long past. But I'm emerging with new God-confidence, and a new appreciation for the unique contribution we can make as a family here on earth.

My husband and I will probably never be who everyone else wants us to be. But we're probably not supposed to be that anyway.

"God has made each couple with the freedom to create their own family culture. The sooner you decide to embrace your own values, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses, the more you will become who God made you and your husband to be."
-Sally Clarkson

6 years into our marriage, but a new family culture is emerging. I'm going to embrace it.

I'm going to spend this summer making a lot of cookies and wheatgrass juice, catching a lot of waves, and reading a million books- kid ones and big people ones. Going to dig deep and remember where I came from, and look bravely and boldly up into where we're going- together.

Going to cheer until I'm hoarse for every single little victory that no one else may ever see.

Going to remember that winning looks different for everybody.

Going to dream about the future, but leave it wide open for God to move.

I'm not going to take for granted the joy that's in my heart today, as He leads me beside the still waters: because the darkness will return again someday. And though I walk through that shadow of the valley of death again, and though I will be sorely and unabashadly tempted, I will not fear the evil of it.

"We went through fire, and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment."
Psalm 66:12

Rich fulfillment. Isn't this what we're all looking for?
As expected, 6 months into 2013, and it has been a year of testing for our family. We have almost drowned. We have definitely been burned. And most recently we've been stumbling through quite a bit of fog.

Rich fulfillment is coming.

"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers." M. SCOTT PECK