Intentional Summer: Exult in Monotony

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I was looking forward to a kicked back, lazy summer. Then, I started penciling in the "to-dos" on the calendar. The next few months look much busier than I imagined they would! It's just a numbers thing. We've hit the season of life where every child has something to do and those "one things" add up. 

Still, there's much to be said for the benefits of relaxing in the summer heat. And there's much to be said for embracing the change of seasons to implement a new rhythm or revive some old favorites that have somehow slipped away.

Please read the rest here. I'll be back this afternoon to chat about favorite rhythms.

Self Care

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So, it's the year of Renew.

I had big aspirations.

I can't believe it's June. I can't believe I still have so far to go. Just as I committed to renewal, the pace in this household sped up to where I can barely keep up. But I am keeping up. I'm just not quite sure if that's a good thing.

I think, at heart, I'm the slow type. Slow food. Slow web. Long, slow reads. Slow. I'm definitely the slow type. And I'm the quiet type. I love my time alone with my thoughts. I'm fed by quiet. I know that about myself. I always envisioned myself on three acres or so in a rural town with a sweet library. I even know the town. The librarian there is a dear friend.

Every once in awhile, when Mike and I both feel like we've reached maximum household pressure, we stop and reevaluate. We ask ourselves the same questions. Why are we here (not the existensial why, but the why do we live in this particular place why)? What are we doing? What are they doing (our children)? 

We are blessed that he has a good job. In this economy, when jobs are precious, he has a creative job with a strong company. He has a lot of mouths to feed and he keeps them well fed. True, his job requires him to be here and to be 1000 miles away at the same time. True, it often feels as if he's working two jobs. Still, we are grateful for his work. And we are grateful for mine. Though not nearly the wage earner that he is, I am blessed with work that contributes. It doesn't take me from my home, but it does require my time and attention within my home. It's got its space in the predetermined allocated hours of the day. The hours over which, increasingly, I feel like I have no control.

We live where we do because it makes the most sense when we consider employment, travel, and children. It just does. And as much as I might love to read the blogs of women on parcels of land, as much as I idealize that kind of slow, that's not my life. I don't really believe it's the life He intended for me. My life is here, with the man I love and the children God gave us. 

So, how to nurture slow here in suburbia? We've long limited our children to just one thing.  They can choose whatever they want (within reason), but in addition to school and church, they can only do just one thing. That means if they play soccer, there are no scouts. If they dance, there's no horseback riding. If they want to play basketball, they have to limit it to rec league when there's a soccer lull. Just one thing.

Times 6.

Or 7.

Or 8.

They have just one thing and we have all their things together. Plus a traveling Dad. 

The arithmetic is overwhelming me. I see the good in their one things. I really do. These are children educated at home who have deep, deep ties to community. Mike and I have dear friends who are parents and teachers and coaches who have shared those one things. I am grateful for the connections I've made because of my children's one things. I am grateful for the lessons they have learned, the friends they have made, the examples they have encountered. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful.

And on the brink of burnout.

Yesterday morning, I snapped an iPhone shot of my just-bloomed daylilies, for Instagram. For some strange reason, when I went to caption it, this verse came rushing to my mind: 

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

I am certain it was this whisper of the Holy Spirit on a cool morning breeze. 

I have had no plans lately. My days of chore charts and lesson plans and meal plans all but evaporated about five years ago. I've tried to revive them now and again, to no avail. I'm fairly certain I know why I stopped. I'm also certain it was stupid. It matters not now why I stopped. What matters is that yesterday morning, I recognized that God Himself had plans. And just because it feels like nothing is up to me to decide and everything is dictated by the demands of employment and kid commitments, by golly, I need to make some plans.   

June Renew Task #1: revive the planning notebooks.

As I pondered planning, and I particularly thought about how to create more time alone to think and to pray and to write, I thought about Michele's guest post  from about a month ago. I decided to lock myself in the bathroom long enough to get some quiet and re-read it. These words struck me: 

Mothers in particular can struggle with this. It feels selfish to take that time alone with God but taking time to nourish your relationship with God isn't selfishness, it's self-care and there a very big difference. By nature we are self-focused beings and that isn't an accident. While it has been distorted by sin, it is actually intended for our good and properly focused can be a path to growing in holiness. "Love your neighbor as yourself" assumes that we will love ourselves.
Not in an egotistical way but in the way that God does. Desiring the highest and best good for us, that of union with Him and eternal life. That is self-care.

Self care. It's the cornerstone of renewal. I know that it is. But I struggle to get there. I need to pray. I need to get to the gym. I need to write. I need to be in my garden (even if it's not on three rural acres; it's where I can bloom). I need to sew. I need big chunks of time with my husband. I need conversation with my children. These are ways I care for myself. These are the places where I feel most in balance and most aware of the person God created me to be.

I've been tagging along on Heather's 30 Day Vegan journey. (As an aside, I do admit I'm hungry. Being a gluten- and corn-free vegan isn't a walk in the park, at least not my park.) Yesterday, she posed this challenge (at least it was a challenge to me):

In the midst of raising families, meeting work obligations, and taking care of life╩╝s often mundane tasks (taxes, insurance forms, etc.), we all would benefit greatly from setting aside five minutes here, ten minutes there, for healing practices and personal care.

There it was again. Self care.

Yesterday, right after the daylilies, I had a conversation with Sarah. I needed to spill how overwhelmed I'm feeling and she was the safe place. We didn't get far into the conversation before she said, "That's just not gonna work. You need to figure out how to feed yourself or you won't be of any use to anyone.There's gotta be a way." 

There it was again. Self care. 

If I have any hope of skewing the arithmetic in favor of my own wellbeing, I think it lies in the formula 

Planning + self care = physical/emotional balance+ wellbeing

I need to commit this all to prayer. Immediately after the text to Sarah, this graphic appeared in my inbox with a sweet note from Ann. Just out of the blue. Just like that. Because Ann has a knack for whispering Truth to me at just the right time. (Turns out she had a few things to say yesterday about being overwhelmed.)

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Yesterday was a bad day. It just felt like a bad day. In recounting though, it's easy to see God's fingerprints all over it. Rarely is He so obvious to me.

I need to commit this season of overwhelm to prayer and then I need to listen and take action.

It's time to pull out the planning tools, time to commit to taking care of myself so that I have the best version of me to invest in my family and my friends. Honestly, I have no idea where this journey is headed.

About the picture:

Yesterday, in my sorry-for-myself-because-I-don't-live-in-the-country mood, I gathered up a load of freshly washed, handmade clothes and hung them on the soccer goal. It was (for me) an act of grumpy defiance. Our neighborhood doesn't allow clotheslines. Sometimes I feel a bit suffocated by suburban rules. I really wanted my mean neighbor to know that I'm the girl next door who makes clothes for her little girls and hangs them to dry. Because I'm slow like that. I'm a country girl at heart.

But, in the end, I'm very much a soccer mom, too.

 

The Gentle Hand of God

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Early this year, I decided that it is a year for renewal. Maybe I didn't decide, exactly. It was either renew or curl up in a ball and pull the covers over my head. Renew it was.

I think I had this vision of peaceful, serene days of tea sipping, while reading my Bible outdoors in warm breeze. Instead, I've been hurtling myself out of bed at 5:15 and stepping into the cold to get to the gym. (Okay, so that's only Wednesday mornings. The rest aren't so early. And this Wednesday, I didn't even go. But still.) Renewal is work, I'm learning. 

Yesterday morning, after a night that consisted of only four hours sleep, I heard the faint chime of bluebells. Still a little early, I thought. Maybe later in the week. A curious thing happened. My husband asked me three times before 7:00 AM if I planned to go to Bull Run. It's curious, I think, because Mike hasn't been to the bluebells in twelve years. It's my favorite place, my favorite time of year. But he doesn't go. The pollen makes him itch something fierce. He's not a big fan of dirt. And there is this thing called work. He spends glorious spring days in an office without windows. Still, he kept persisting in asking me if I was going. Perhaps he thought I needed a Mother Nature Nurture Day?

We went. I called my friend Linda on the way and she met us there. There was much splashing and squealing. There was a funeral for a dead fish and the discovery of a very large dead bird. A little girl who last year rode in an Ergo to hike in to our spot decided that this was her year to climb a tree. Little blonde girls who once got so muddy that they ended up stripped naked in the creek to rinse before going home are now taller than I am. Old tree stumps once used as benches have rotted too much to bear weight. New trees have fallen. Everything has changed. 

And yet.

It is still the place of peace. Still the spot where I know I can go to feel the gentle hand of God touch us all as surely as the afternoon sun and the spring breeze tenderly kiss our faces.

Renewal. It's happening. 

Renew

 

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Last year was pretty huge. I was so tired, so completely spent at this year's beginning that I noticed year-in-review posts on other blogs, and just pulled the quilt up tighter around my ears and closed my eyes. I didn't have the energy--physical or spiritual--to revisit it all, even virtually. It was just.so.much.

I went through that year of many, many transitions kicking and screaming. Turns out I'm not a big fan of change. The reality is that I liked the baby years, loved them, really and never once wished them away. And yet, in the big giant year of transition, they were indeed being swept beyond my reach. I left my children for the first time. And then for the second. Someone turned four and there was no one younger than her around the table at dinner. But there was someone new at the table. And she came to be one of us. I gained a new role. The transition was absolutely unmistakeable.

Our culture is so youth oriented. For the most part it seems, no one really searches out ways to be older. We celebrate 21 in a big way. We mark midlife with black-themed birthday cards and bad jokes about being over the hill. I think I bought into that mentality a bit. And I think I know a big reason I was such easy prey.

I was so dang tired. The truth is that this wholehearted, all-in, very attached parenting style had depleted me to the equivalent of soil dust. Nothing rich was growing there. If this was what the mid-forties felt like, I could not imagine sixty.

But I have a four-year-old. And my most fervent prayer is to grow old healthy, and holy, and helpful. I want to be there for her. I want to see how the story unfolds. I want to get out of bed in the morning without my knees cracking so loudly it wakes my husband.

In the blur that was the new year, friends were choosing words for the year--just single words upon which to focus, meditate, seek wisdom. A word to live for the whole year. I couldn't wrap my brain around one. 

And then I could. Aimee said her word was renew. Renew.

That's it. That's the word. It's the word that says that this stage in life is not the beginning of the end. It's the beginning, instead, of something better, stronger, wiser, and yes--older. But older in the richest way. That's certainly being proven true in marriage. Did you know that the sweetest wine is grown from the oldest vineyards? Grapes grow best when the farmer works in harmony in with the earth, when he embraces the whole and considers that plant and the land around it as they were endowed by the Creator, with an eye towards preserving the quality for a long time. The goal of biodynamic farming is to be sustainable. When you grow grapes, you draw something from the soil and you have to replenish that. 

When we learned about biodynamic vineyards, one point that came home to me is that growing practices greatly influence how long the vineyards will continue to bear fruit. The vines where the practice is focused upon sustainable growth--where the big picture is considered and every element of farming is oriented towards ensuring health of the vines down deep and over time--are the vines that bear the sweetest fruit. At first, the explanation of biodynamic farming sounds a bit hokie. But then, you can literally taste and see that the fruit borne of the wisdom of old is of a superior quality.

This image works so well for me. The Bible is rich with imagery of vineyards. Clearly, God wants us to consider how to grow in a sustainable way in order to renew the face of the earth. I've never been more certain of that than I was this morning. I had written the above over the course of the last few weeks. I clicked over to visit Aimee in order to link to her in my post. When I did, I learned she's writing today about sustainable homeschooling. My jaw dropped and I smiled widely at God's thunk over my head. If ever I asked for a sign that I was on the right track, I got a clear answer at 7:00 AM on Tuesday January 29th while visiting Aimee's blog. It's a post that just might easily have catapulted to my favorite home education post ever this morning. There is wisdom there, my friends. Rich, rich wisdom. Get this: middle aged wisdom. Yep. There is wisdom and it's invaluable.

I look around at the friends with whom I've had babies and I am blessed to know that they've grown wise. How amazing! We all learned something during those hazy, intense, sleep-deprived years.

So, now I embrace renewal. I look to tend the vineyard of my soul, to be sure, but I am not going to neglect the rest of me any more. The big picture of renewal is one that encompasses physical health, spirtual growth, creative energy and enthusiasm, and an invigorated sense of hope and optimism for the future. I look to my home, to my homeschooling, to the relationships within these walls and to the people I love beyond these walls. Renewal. All of it is waiting to be made new again. 

What a different perspective than that of a withering towards an inevitable end. We can renew and renew and renew again, until our dying breath. God is generous that way.

I've talked a bit about stillness. About allowing Him to come in the silence.

Be still and know that I am God.

The last two weeks at Mass, an old familiar hymn has settled on my soul in a new way. I've listened to You Are Mine and heard the refrain of stillness. I will come to you in the silence. But I've also heard the rest. I heard the echoes of Isaiah 43:1

But now, thus says the LORD,

who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name: you are mine.

There is nothing to fear. I am redeemed. 

And the promise of John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid


Transitions can be scary. Aging can be scary. Renewal, though? The sustainable model of growth that keeps us renewing until we reach heaven? That's peace.

Last year, was a hard year. It was exhausting. It was a compost year, I think. A year of creating very fertile ground for renewal. 

Intentional Weekend: Healing

I had planned to go to Pennsylvania this weekend. Three of the boys have soccer games there. We were going to make a family trip of it. But something tugged at me. At the last minute, Mike and I decided I'd stay home with the girls.

We talked as he packed. "I feel like the world has kicked me around in the last month," I remarked to him. "It has," he said, his eyes meeting mine, "and that makes me so sad."

It wasn't just me though; it was my girls. In a very short period of time, those tender-hearted girls have seen more illness and death and disappointment and loss than a strong, healthy adult could bear. The world was kicking them around, too.

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I resolved to take this weekend and teach them, show them, how a woman of faith responds to grief, how to heal with grace. I would walk through this with them. Together, we'd heal.

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It helps to have a place, a place where we go when our hearts are singing with joy, a place where we go to share with friends, a place where we go when the world knocks us around and we need to heal. Our place is a woodland place. It changes with the seasons. It gets battered by the world sometimes and creaks and is brown and gray. It changes with time, usually slowly, but sometimes drastically. Still, it is familiar, and beautiful, and we are well accustomed to seeing God present there. 
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Some families have a beach, a place to gather there to celebrate glorious moments, to share with friends, to make a trip and turn a bad day around. We have a creek (or is it a river?), big old trees, and springtime's most generous flower show. We have rocks to skip across the water and skies so blue they beg to be painted.
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This was a place to sit on a blanket and just wait until she talked. Just listen as it all came bubbling out. When it hurts so much and the world feels like it's crushing, come away, girlfriends, to a place where you can clear your head and open your heart, a place where He beats down on you like warm sunshine and you feel grace poured into your soul.
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We talked about death, about loss, about hard knocks, about that amazing tree, clearly perched precipitously, commanding our attention in its infirmity. Would it be here next time? Or would it be the newest "bridge tree," stretched across the river, changing currents, inviting children to scamper across its back? 
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Nothing stays the same.

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 Babies grow into "little big girls." And little girls face big girl hurts.

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 Big girls?  Well, sometimes in the life a girl on the brink of womanhood the universe offers an entire curriculum on loss all at once. And it hurts so much that every woman close enough to know can scarcely breathe in the watching.

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Take a deep, breath , my girls, after you've had your big cry. Look around. See? He's here. He has a plan for your life. A good plan. And this --all of this-- is part of the plan. Be watchful with Him. Be watchful for Him. Even now, He sends tender mercies, sweet moments of joy. Moments, that wouldn't have been possible without the pain.
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We took our fill of fresh air and sunshine. We stayed long and came home late. We feasted on good food and then we discovered a belated birthday present in the mail. 
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Fabric!

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So, we did something else that girls do when their hearts hurt and the universe has kicked them around. 

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We created something beautiful for someone we love.

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{{Psst, to my Girlies: I had the best day with you today.}}

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