I have always loved the ritual of creating New Year’s resolutions. As my childhood friend Sarah can attest, I’ve jumped at the chance to recreate myself every January since we were in junior high together. I would always commit to something extraordinary like: “This year I will change my personality!” “I will practice perfect posture!” “I will memorize at least one poem every week!” I put so much emphasis on the magic of starting a brand new year, like a do-over, I thought the slate was wiped clean and I could remake myself. Back then, I wanted to be the shy, quiet type that the boys seemed to like. For those of you who know me, you immediately recognize the grand feat necessary for me to “change my personality” and the unlikelihood of which not even a miracle could supply.
Twenty-five years later, I still relish the notion of starting something new and fresh; re-examining old goals, naming new ones. But my “resolutions” are no longer plural. I followed the lead of a friend who challenged us a few years ago to bear in mind a single word or phrase to guide us throughout the year. I’ve adopted that habit and found it to be freeing and focusing at the same time. Not to mention, it’s easier to keep instead of abandoning by the end of the first month.
I was very intentional last year in declaring my word as “Abundance.” Tired of settling for the norm and what had become mediocre, I wanted to know the abundant life promised in Scripture (John 10, Ephesians 3). I spent a long time in January crafting a large art piece that would consistently remind me of what I had prayerfully set out in the beginning of the year to find.
I clung to that word “abundance” looking for evidence of it anywhere and everywhere. But by the end of October, I was beginning to think that God misunderstood my message.
2015 began with a colonoscopy in January and ended with a double ear infection and thrush in November. Peppered in between those health concerns the year held injuries and nutrient deficiencies. Job, asset and relational losses were also among the wreckage. I literally thought to myself that the signals of prayer to the heavens were crossed and the message was heard that I wanted 2015 to be a year of abundant…burdens!
I am still trying to make meaning out of the past 12 months. But there was a moment in August after I had endured a vocational crisis where I was able to experientially grasp the concept of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” During that month of mourning, Karl was there at every turn to comfort me and literally hold me together. I would wake from terrifying nightmares at 2 or 3 in the morning and beg him to just put his arms around me tightly so I could feel safe again. On the weekends when I still couldn’t break the chains of anxiety, I would weep and ask him to rub my back. I called him or texted him numerous times each day asking for reassurance or the chance to process my feelings. In 15 years of marriage, I never needed him like I did then. And when I needed that desperately, I was finally comforted in an abundant way.
Never before have I ever been the touchy-feely type. I didn’t understand what was so special about giving and receiving hugs, or snuggling or hand-holding. But after a painful year of desperate need, I found comfort in the human touch. Now, Karl says with a wink that I’ve gotten a bit greedy in my need for his comfort. “Hold me? Snuggle with me?, Scratch my back?,” I say daily. I know where to find the soothing I need. And he offers it to me in spades. But it took an abundance of need for me to find the source of abundant comfort.
And as I look at other instances from throughout the year, what becomes clear, in hindsight, is that there was an abundance of trials, to be sure, but for the first time in my life, there was also an abundance of comfort. So, maybe the wires to heaven weren’t crossed all along and God understood my message perfectly.
My daughter’s name actually means “bringer of light.” However, I’m wondering if I should have named her something that means “bringer of love.”
Before I embark on this week’s story, I’d like to share with you just a couple of ways Lucy loves. Whenever she sees a baby, she says “Aaaaaaawwwwwww!” for an unusually long amount of time. When I criticize our elder dog because he is snappy and grumpy and barks obnoxiously, she is quick to his defense and reminds me that I am hurting his feelings. Every school day she is roaming around the house looking for various things that she promised to bring for a friend: a new pencil, orange duct tape, minecraft creations made from Perler beads, candy for someone who couldn’t go trick-or-treating, to name a few. The last day they had off of school, she hand created a scroll letter and mini vase of felt and pipe-cleaner flowers to surprise Karl and I with breakfast in bed and was nearly heart broken when she woke up to find Karl already gone for his morning run. She is constantly carrying Gizmo around like a baby and then gently tucks him into his bed when its time for dinner. And whether out of fear or affection none of us in the family leave her presence with out a hug, kiss, “I love you,” and sweet good-bye. She is conscientious and kind; her compassion has deep roots already. Perhaps that in itself brings light along with love to everyone she meets.
So, imagine this girl’s concern when we drive all around Seattle and at many, many intersections, stoplights or off-ramps, we encounter members of a large homeless population. They sit in the in the rain and the cold holding signs and pleading for help. For the longest time, I didn’t know an age-appropriate response to her inquiry of why we didn’t give them money. I worked with this population for three years in a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. The general consensus is that giving them money is not particularly helpful. However, food, warmth, kindness are allotted in spades. So, with that explanation, Lucy then asked why we don’t give them food. That was another question I had a hard time answering. Until finally I said, “We could and we should. I just need to remember to keep granola bars and water in the car.” Subsequently, each time after that when she witnessed someone sitting at a stoplight with a sign, she would remind me.
Then, one day we had a surplus of protein drinks that we couldn’t fit on our shelves with a new load of groceries (the irony is not lost on me). Those drinks then became the base for what would be Lucy’s new project. That night she asked if we could go to the store to buy the rest of the supplies that might be helpful. We brainstormed what we could fit in a gallon ziplock bag and she included needs and possibly wants, pleasure and something to pass the time. Her kits include: a water bottle, a granola bar, a protein drink, a mini maze game, a sucker, and some Bazooka Joe bubble gum.
Walking back from the store with our loot, her energy and excitement was palpable. She rushed in the door and began opening up packages and created a sort of mini assembly line. Every minute she enjoyed arranging the bags, making certain each one had every time. Lining them up in a row, counting how many she produced. There were 16 bags in all. We then decided to divide them up; 6 in my car and 10 in our van.
Since the genesis of her project, sadly, she has not gotten to hand out any of the bags, yet. We live in a city where we don’t have to get in the car and go very far very often. But, this week, I had the privilege of handing out two. During my first experience, I noticed the awkwardness first. Pausing too long at the stop sign. Handing someone a bag that they may or may not appreciate. For certain, they have no idea what’s inside, and may feel confused. But after the pleasant exchange, I found myself looking in the rear view mirror. I was delighted to see them opening the package and begin perusing its contents. The second time, the awkwardness still lingered, but the kindness triumphed in the end.
I recognize that this gesture is not grand. But it is more than anything I’ve ever done on my own accord. To remind oneself, plan, prepare and package something for the mere chance of an opportunity to be kind requires more faith, hope and love than my numb heart allows for. Someone wise said, “A little child shall lead them.” My 10 year-old daughter, with her fresh spirit and fierce tenderness, softens my hard heart and leads me to kindness, compassion and action. And that is just one of many reasons why I love Lucy.
Last week, I discussed how I have found extra free hours in my schedule recently by not watching football games. I am certainly in the minority as it is projected that over 110 millions people will be watching the Super Bowl game this Sunday. However, I am pleasantly surprised at the personal discoveries I’ve made during those free hours. Having time to spend without guilt or pressure allowed me to explore my creative side.
I can’t recall loving arts and crafts as a child. I wasn’t a burgeoning artist who could draw at a young age. I didn’t glue random objects together as makeshift dollhouses or rocket ships. While I took piano lessons, I didn’t have a great ear or exceptional musicality. I never went to ballet, tap or jazz dance classes. I wasn’t a voracious reader who would then pen my own poetry or lyrics. The only thing that resembles any childhood artistic expression was my love of dressing and redressing my Barbie dolls. Each week I received a $2 allowance and knew exactly how I was going to spend that money. We lived just a few blocks from a small shopping center where among Furr’s Cafeteria and May D&F, there was a local drugstore was called Duckwall’s. My brother and I would hop on our bikes and speed to that store where I would promptly spend $.99 on a new outfit for my Barbie’s wardrobe collection and the other $.99 on a box of candy. I had the clothes and the shoes and the purses and relished creating outfits for every make believe occasion. Later, that interest would turn to magazines. I would feast on Seventeen’s fashion editorial spreads and collect every black and white perfume ads to tape on my wall. In the end, I dabbled in amateur fashion photography in college and family portraits in my twenties and toyed with Photoshop into my thirties. I thought that medium was the extent of my artistic expression until recently.I
I currently live in a house that is over 100 years old. The closets are uniquely designed in that they are far more deep than they are wide. This architecture makes it a very inefficient use of space. In order for Karl and I to fit our clothes in one room he takes the dresser I take the closet. I hang most of my clothes, and use plastic drawers for everything else. Frustrated with not being able to see in the back of the unlit closet, I decided I would take an old dresser from the basement and make room for it in our bedroom. This meant several pieces of furniture were going to shift throughout the house. After one move and then another and I realized things would fit, but they wouldn’t match. Like my Barbie doll’s outfits, things needed to “go” together. And unlike my current allowance, though not $2, still does not afford the luxury of buying new things. Hence, I began the work of making everything “go” together.
And in the process, I discovered what makes me happy: I love color. Thumbing through paint samples was a highlight. I found such delight when the gorgeous color I chose was first deposited on the wood. I enjoyed the specificity of measuring resin and its activator to create an epoxy coating. I relished the order of placing pennies in rows of tails first, then heads. And even the blemishes or mistakes that resulted from my amateur work were fun to attend to and remedy. Being able to display my success in our living room and share with the world on Facebook and this blog adds to the pride of my creation. But more than pride, I experienced pleasure as I painstakingly took on this challenge. And in the process, I discovered just how much I enjoy transforming things that don’t work into something like a beautiful work of art.
What brings you pleasure? What are you creating right now? What medium do you use? I’m curious to hear what makes you happy and why.
I realize that I am in the minority, but I have absolutely zero interest in watching football. The reasons for this are legion, but primarily, I don’t like watching football simply because I’d rather be doing something different instead. And when everyone else is glued to their screens, it means they are not on the streets, or in stores, or at parks. So the city is empty and quiet and I feel like I have the whole place all to myself.
Last year, when the Denver Broncos (my hometown team) and the Seattle Seahawks (my current city team) faced off in the Super Bowl, I was gleefully taking my time walking around a nearby lake enjoying the quiet and stillness and silence. Last week, during the final playoff game, I was meandering through Home Depot picking paint colors for a new project and tickled that I was the only one in line at the paint counter. I haven’t yet planned my adventures for this year’s Super Bowl Sunday, but am excited to begin imagining how I am going to spend my time alone.
Super Bowl Sunday is just one of very few days out of the year when I don’t feel guilty for doing exactly what I want. My husband and kids like watching football and end up seeing them on the big screen at a church party, or over at a friend’s house. And since they are so excited about watching the game and being fed by the potluck tasties, I don’t feel like my presence is required, needed or even missed!
I recognize that as I write this, I am both acknowledging and somewhat accepting of the reality that I don’t carve out very much time for myself; that I have to pamper myself only when everyone else is otherwise being cared for. I look forward to Super Bowl Sunday every year as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Am I equating my work as a mother, a wife, and a financial provider as the same as being in jail? Maybe. Yes, definitely. All the time? No. But women are socially and culturally constructed to be care takers of everyone but themselves. We are nurses and therapists, cheerleaders and teachers, maids and cooks, seamstresses and bankers, decorators and curators, artists and landscapers, gardeners and excavators. As mothers, as wives, as workers and as friends, we spend a lot of our time, our energy, and our finances to provide for the needs of others. When do we invest those kinds of resources in ourselves?
When my daughter’s tennis shoes showed signs of wear and tear, I went to the store that day to find her a new pair. And yet, I have chronically been walking around in flats that have an outright hole in the bottom of the sole. This dichotomy in treatment seems unnecessary. Why did I not get myself a new pair of shoes at the same time? Did I not have enough money? No. Was it an extra trip just for myself? No. Did I go to a store that only sold girl’s shoes? No – because my 10-year old and I now wear the same size. So, why did I not feel the urgency for to care for myself, but I did for my daughter?
I understand that being mama bears and lionesses means we care for our cubs and defend and protect them at all costs. But how can a weak, depleted, fatigued and sick mama take care of anyone? So, really, is it just that we aren’t that weak or that depleted or that fatigued or that sick? How bad do we have to get before we begin taking care of ourselves?
I spent the first week of this year detoxing off of caffeine and sugar. Maybe sometime I will write about the exquisite pain I was in for five days straight as a result of that decision. But in brief,
I realized that addiction to caffeine and sugar was just a way to keep going – to push through the weakness, the depletion, the fatigue and sickness. And when I arrested my use of those things, I crashed and burned and realized how poorly I had been caring for my body, soul and spirit.
I expect myself and have expectations thrust upon me to be a superwoman and the only fuel I have to keep going is several cups of coffee and some gum drops? That seems absolutely insane. But I have been a mother for almost 11 years and a wife for 15 and a student and a professional and on and on, and have known no other way how to play those roles and take care of myself at the same time.
So, I start by not watching football. I start with one day a year that I look forward to, and cherish and hold sacred as a day where I can begin taking care of my needs, replenishing what has been lost, honoring my hard work and taking time to pause and ask myself, “What is it that you need or want to do with yourself by yourself this Super Bowl Sunday?” I can’t wait to hear what my long lost long-suffering self has to say.
I recently wrote about the miracle of my becoming a morning person. Now, I am happily employed as the parent who wakes up the children, makes their breakfast, packs their lunch and double-checks their cheeks to make sure no toothpaste lingers. While this may sound like no feat whatsoever for all the mothers who do and have done this everyday since their children began school, having been a recent graduate student, those duties have not fallen to me for a few years. Before I began my studies, however, I was the one left tackling the morning duties when Karl left for work at 6:30 AM. However, they looked very different then. Rather than the checklist of preparations involved in getting elementary-aged kids off to school, toddlers require something akin to an acrobatic performance.
As caretakers of tiny people, first we begin the day by drawing up energy to deliver a very singsong greeting to say good morning. Next is a fantastic Cirque du Soleil rendition of getting them out of zip-up footie pajamas, changing their diaper and fully dressed in outfits that require snapping between the legs and elastic waistbands that are never quite stretchy enough. Then, there is the pushing, pulling and shoving physical therapist maneuver required to get squishy jelly piglets into stiff small shoes. All that, and you haven’t even left the nursery, yet. For those of you with young children, it gets easier, I promise. In elementary school, they refuse to wear things that snap between their legs.
Now, since my kids are old enough to do things for themselves, that leaves me with just a bit more space to fill with song, sometimes dance, definitely food, but most importantly, togetherness.
Let me explain.
The song of greeting my children in the morning has turned to whispers. My favorite part is sneaking quietly into their room and crawling under their warm covers to scratch their backs and whisper in their ear a happy good morning while their sleepy heads roll over and mumble back. Then, I move on to the kitchen where while I am preppy and cooking, they are getting themselves ready (Yes, young mothers, there will come a time when your kids will take care of themselves independently without getting into too much trouble). By the time they come out, they are dressed with socks and shoes on and telling me about whatever comes to their mind first thing in the morning. (Yesterday, Peter wanted to remind me of the word we had learned the night before that is the longest recorded in the dictionary: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis; and then proceeded to write it on the white board). I set the table and have everything ready for when Karl comes back from his run and together we sit down to enjoy breakfast. When we begin, the day ahead is new and fresh and exciting. There are squeals of delightful jokes. I have been known to bust out in song and surprisingly the kids join in. Karl is at his wittiest best right after a run. And the BEST part??? I cook the exact same thing every single morning, custom for each person at the table. So, there is no arguing, complaining, rolling of eyes, arms-crossed in protest over what’s for dinner. Because everyone is getting a nutritious breakfast that they love and not changing it up every morning takes stress off me.
Since I often work nights, or a myriad of events interrupt weekday evenings, breakfast is often the only meal where we are all at home together to eat. At first, I thought this flew in the face of research that demonstrates better family stability when dinners are eaten together. However, by trying to follow the letter of the law, I was missing the whole point. It doesn’t have to be dinner! Thankfully, now, other research is coining the term “Family Meals,” which includes lunch on the weekends, brunch after church on Sunday, or Saturday morning bonus breakfasts of pancakes, eggs and bacon. The significance of the research isn’t on which meal of the day (dinner), it’s on eating together anytime.
So, if your family is like mine, and trying to do dinner every night together brings up shame, blame, guilt, anxiety, stress, or otherwise, then make breakfast the new dinner this year. Even if it means getting up a little earlier to do it, I think you will find the sacrifice is worth it.