I write about my mantras a lot. About the dialogue in my head that keeps me centered.
Here is the January 2014 version. This is what I’m speaking to myself, to my kids, and to any one who asks what I’m learning or how we do it:
1.Treat other people the way you’d want to be treated. (Not in a manners way; in a handling people’s hearts way. If you’d want comfort, give comfort. If you’d want touch, touch. If you’d want help, help. If you’d want common courtesy, extend common courtesy.)
2. Don’t be an idiot. “Whenever I’m about to do something, I think, ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if they would, I do not do that thing.” -Dwight Schrute
3.“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.” Edith Wharton
Unafraid of change, happy in small ways, considerate, not an idiot.
What are your January 2014 mantras? They may become my February and March and April ones. Share them with the hashtag #Januarymantras.
Hit me with your best shot and I’ll share my favorites!
My two best friends from high school both had babies this month, just a few days apart.
I’ve been thinking about my friends and their babies, wishing I could hop a flight. I wish I could go cook and clean and do the grocery shopping and the laundry. I wish I could come bearing lots of lavender soap and a dozen new, clean tank tops. I wish I could sit on their couches with them, sleepy and happy and staring at babies. I wish I could rock fussy babies to sleep, walking laps around the living room, while my friends max out their 2-hour between-feeding sleep window. I’ve been the tired mom; now I want to be the helper.
But I can’t; not yet. Not this time.
If I were sitting on the happy, sleepy couches this week, this is what I would tell my friends:
We are in a season of life that is marked by small goals, little benchmarks that indicate survival.
Your baby will force you to stop measuring yourself by your to-do list. You may be an idealist; you may not think that you find your identity in your work, in what you accomplish, but you do. We all do. That baby will force you to stop calculating your value by how much you do, how chic your house is, how you look, and how many people are impressed with you. You will adapt or die. You’ll find your value somewhere deeper, truer, or the insecurity will kill you. You either give up your long to-do lists, or you’ll drown in a sea of unmet expectations.
The secret is small goals.
Make a list of tiny things you want to accomplish today. Things that, before you had kids, didn’t even seem like things. Things like:
1. Text Mom
2. Unload and reload dishwasher
4. Do jumping jacks
5. Get the mail
Those are your goals for the next 24 hours. Your little list grounds you. It puts you in control instead of at the mercy of the wiggly little dictator that needs to be held and fed and changed and cleaned around the clock. You’ll feel progress instead of powerless. When you meet your goals, you’ll feel like you have your crap together. And on the days you take a shower you’ll be like,
“I DID ALL THE THINGS!” *drops mic*
When my babies were new and squishy dictators, I tried to set a realistic, achievable goal in each category: physically, relationally, spiritually, professionally, and housework-ily. I still have a note on my phone where I jotted down my goals for a day in May – Henry was 2 months old. It says:
-Make green smoothie for breakfast
-email David (my agent)
-Fold 1 load of laundry
-Post something, anything, to FB author page
-Go to Madeline’s teacher meeting @2:30
New Mom, you can’t go to the gym now, but you can do 50 jumping jacks every time you change a diaper.
You can’t go out for coffee yet, but you can text one friend every day, while you’re nursing the baby, just to connect to another person.
You can’t do a Beth Moore bible study, but you can leave your bible open on the kitchen counter all day.
Super-mom isn’t found in accomplishing everything; it’s found in living well.
For me, super-mom just means having a Kindergartener, a toddler, a baby, and liking it.
Women who appear to have it all together never have it all together, they just have the right things together. They have just enough together to to enjoy this season instead of merely surviving it, though there is some of that.
Of course you’ll keep moving towards your big plans and dreams and your creative work, but in this sweet season you will move inch-by-inch, not stride-by-stride.
Inch by inch. Kiss by kiss. Nap by nap. Chinese take-out by Chinese take-out.
And send me lots of baby pictures. Every day. Just keep ‘em coming. Megan, if you’re reading this, stop right now and go take a picture of your baby and text it to me.
The only thing people love more than a Cinderella story is a good catastrophe.
People come out of the woodwork for a good catastrophe; they rush the court.
I call it “The Flood.”
If someone in your family has cancer, you know about the flood. If you’ve lost a parent, or a child, or a spouse, you know about the flood. If you’ve endured a public humiliation, you know about the flood.
The flood is the influx of people that materialize out of thin air when you are in a state of catastrophe. The deluge of “Let us know if you need anything,” “Call anytime,” “Let’s get lunch,” “We’re praying for you,” and, if you’re in the South, “Bless your heart.”
If you’re feeling alone, just wait for something horrific to happen and people will come in droves to get a front row seat to your hurt, your bravery, your healing, your redemption, your whole glorious story. People will want to be the ones to carry you, the ones who “knew you when.” People will want to be the ones to give you the best advice, the most thoughtful offerings, the most sincere prayers. People will want to be the ones to know the most details, and the most intimate ones. People want to be the ones to hand you the tissue box.
When catastrophe strikes – like when our firstborn was diagnosed with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia and we learned she was blind – you are in a wasteland. It feels like everything around you is barren and there is not one single thing to hold on to. When catastrophe strikes, you are a man in the desert, clawing along, inhaling sand, praying desperate prayers for water.
The water is help; the water is hope; the water is someone who sees you. When you’re dragging your undead self through the darkest days, you want someone to know. But when people catch wind of your catastrophe, you don’t get a glass of water; you get a hurricane. You get The Flood.
I’ve weathered my share of catastrophes – my share of deserts and hurricanes – and this is what I’ve learned about The Flood:
You can resent it. You can say things like,
“Where were you before this happened?”
“You never invited me to coffee before.”
“So now you decide to care?”
“I haven’t spoken to you in years.”
“You don’t know anything about me.”
“Are you going to remember our situation a month from now? What about when we’re six weeks into treatment? What about after the court date? What about the one-year anniversary of his death?”
You can accuse everyone of being a bunch of nosy ambulance-chasers. You can assume condescension, and you can feel patronized. You can gripe and rage against The Flood; you can moan about people only showing up when stuff goes wrong. You can pontificate about the insincerity and the over-the-top-ness of it all.
Or you can be thankful to high heaven that there are people in your life who give a crap.
You can choose to see people’s eyes brimming with good intentions instead of nosiness. You can see sympathy instead of condescension. You can be gracious.
You can understand that time and friendship are limited resources, and you can be thankful that people chose to spend theirs on you in your hour of need. You can believe that people are doing the best they can.
You can believe that what you’re really bucking against isn’t condescension; it’s vulnerability. You can allow yourself to be vulnerable, to be seen as you are, to be carried.
You can praise God for people that care, no matter how misplaced their concerns, no matter how ignorant their words.
What I’ve learned is to accept every prayer, every dinner invitation. I’ve learned to be honest about how I’m doing. I’ve learned to talk to someone. Not everyone, but someone.
I’ve learned to be thankful for The Flood.
Because, believe me, it’s always better to have a flood than not.
When have you experienced The Flood? Was it encouraging or suffocating? How do you handle the deluge?
Last week, Dan and I sent in the last of our 3 manuscripts. The last 45,000 word-batch of our thoughts.
We don’t pull out all the stops for birthdays or anniversaries or Christmases, but this was an accomplishment that we wanted to celebrate. To be clear, we are not celebrating writing books; we are celebrating surviving this year.
8,760 hours have passed; Henry slept for 6 of them.
There was the catastrophic week Henry came home from the hospital, when everyone in the house had a stomach virus for 2 weeks. When I was breastfeeding a two-day-old infant, jealous Sam was screaming at my feet, and Madeline was throwing up in the corner. And then Sam busted his face open on a chair and we had to put him in his STILL COVERED IN VOMIT car seat and drive him to the emergency room. We survived that.
There was the two-week period the last book was due, when the kids got chicken pox. And our babysitter broke her foot. And Madeline had fall break and was home with all her effervescence and her words. And Dan had a fall retreat with the college students and was gone for a million billion years, which is what four days feels like to a mom of three tiny humans. We survived that.
We survived other stuff too, so we celebrated.
My handsome, hero-husband of mine and I left the tiny humans in the care of their grandmother and we peaced out to the beach. Dan’s grandparents sent a package for the kids, which we stole on our way out the door, elbowing each other and giggling maniacally, like drunk hamburglars. His saintly, saintly grandparents took an empty mini-muffin package and stuffed each muffin-hole with good Halloween candy; they then layered M&Ms on top of them, then layered three nutter butter packets on top of the M&Ms and snapped it shut. YOU KNOW WE TOOK THAT BIZ TO THE BEACH.
We were drunk with freedom and delirious by the time we hit the highway. When we went through a drive-thru for dinner, Dan was all, “I’ll have the six-pound triple-bacon burger,” and I was all, “ME TOO.”
We slept in, we ate out, we walked, we shopped, I got my nose pierced. It was the best.
I mentioned last month that Dan is fluent in Sports Analogies.
Dan has illustrations for his illustrations. English is his second language; his heart language is analogies. As Exhibit A, I give you the following conversation we had on the way to the beach last week.
Me: You know you’re getting old when you think Delilah plays good music. I hate Delilah.
Dan: Does anyone like Delilah?
Dan: Where is her presence? Do mommy bloggers talk about her?
Me: No, nobody talks about her. Nobody likes Delilah.
Dan: Delilah is like the Dairy Queen of radio show hosts.
Dan: Delilah is the Dairy Queen of radio show hosts. She doesn’t move the meter. She’s just there. Everybody knows her, but nobody talks about listening to her. She is ever-present and irrelevant. Like Dairy Queen. When someone brings it up, you have an opinion, but otherwise you never think about it.
Me: HOW DOES YOUR BRAIN WORK?
Dairy Queen, I am so sorry to inform you that you are the Delilah of the fast food world. Feel free to forward this to your PR people right before you fire them.
This week I gave away my kids’ baby clothes. 12 storage tubs, 180 gallons, 6 years, and approximately 1 million memories worth of baby clothes.
I used to dream about MAKING BANK at a yard sale. My little first-born, type-A heart wanted to WIN at yard-saling. I wanted to plan and organize to infinity and beyond: outfits washed and pressed and hanging by size. Or folded neatly into Zip-Lock bags, labeled and organized by season. The cutest clothes, the best prices, the best signage. Lord knows that between Madeline’s wardrobe and our Thomas the Train collection we could fund our retirement.
But then I remembered what it felt like to be twenty-two with a surprise baby and no money and a tiny apartment states away from every single person I knew except for my husband.
What it felt like was numb everywhere, all the time, with a heaping side of Crippling Fear and a tall glass of If I Stop Moving I Will Die. I remembered the faces of the people who gave me storage tubs and trash bags full of little girl clothes, and of how many seasons I didn’t have to buy winter coats. I remembered how it felt to be carried along.
It felt like a sisterhood, like hope.
Suddenly making bank at a yard sale didn’t sound so rewarding.
Last month I began to pray for a family. I asked God to send me a family to bless, to whom I could say, “Here. You don’t have to buy winter coats this year – or next year – or the year after that.”
Through my friends and some of you lovely readers I found a 16-year-old expecting a baby girl this December. I found an adoptive mother of 2 baby girls, one of whom is in chemotherapy. I found a Ukrainian couple, too far from family, expecting a little boy in November. I found a single mom, a brand new mom in grad school, and a mother of 5 under 7.
I folded and packed 12 storage tubs, 180 gallons, 6 years, and 1 million memories worth of baby clothes, and I shipped off every last onesie – every last dress and little pair of moccasins.
I believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
I also believe that giving hurts sometimes, and I think it’s glorious how often blessing and hurt coexist. That the things that hurt you can bless your socks off.
Giving away my babies’ clothes didn’t sting, like I was losing something I needed, but it ached, like I was losing something I loved.
The evening after I shipped the first box, I was sitting on the couch feeling achy and nostalgic when I got a message from a blog reader titled “ONH.”
Mercy. These are my favorite emails, even though they are always fraught with fear and sadness. This reader told me about her baby, eight months old, who doesn’t see like other babies see. She asked me about crawling and about introducing solid foods and about how we made it – how we are making it.
I wrote answers that seemed to come from a lifetime ago – things I would have forgotten had I not taken the time and discipline to remember.
I wrote about physical therapy and introducing textures and early intervention. I remembered how it felt to be twenty-two and to learn that my surprise baby had a surprise diagnosis - how it felt to go from knowing precious little about mothering to knowing Absolutely Nothing.
I remembered the faces of the people that told me they were sorry. The people that told me I was brave, and that everything was going to be okay. I remember the people who introduced me to their surprise babies with surprise diagnoses, and the people who carried us.
Friends, we carry each other. People carried me. People carry me still. I carry people, too, which makes my heart feel fuller than about anything else I do on the earth. (Except for maybe kissing my kids’ dimples and stroking their cornsilky blonde hair.) I could have consigned all those Ralph Lauren rompers for money, but I would have been poorer for it.
What I’m saying is this: if you have tubs of clothes sitting in your attic or your basement or in the tops of all your closets waiting for an eventual yard sale, maybe start praying for a family to carry. Then just ask – the need is everywhere and it is great.
If you have a story, tell it.
If you have wisdom, share it.
If you have experience, lend it.
We carry each other along.
I’m blogging over at Middle Places today, about wishing I had a reset button, and how exactly one goes about recalibrating her life.
“I wish I had a reset button, like those microscopic rubber buttons on the backs of alarm clocks and internet routers. I wish my belly button worked that way, that someone could poke me with a toothpick or the end of a bobby pin that’s missing the plastic bubble that keeps it from drawing blood on your scalp, and I’d default back to ground zero, fresh and shiny.
But I don’t have a reset button, so I’m going to have to do this the old fashioned way…
This year I tried to tweak my habits, adjust my schedule, to function in this new life, but what I know is that you can’t build a brand new picture with the same old pieces. Tweaking and adding and shifting gave me juggling, balancing, and multi-tasking. And while juggling, balancing, and multi-tasking is a great way to survive, it’s no way to live. I am crafting a brand new picture that includes a beautiful, surprise baby and a beautiful, surprise writing career; I need new pieces. I need a reset button.
A vacation won’t do. Neither will new apps, a new deadline, or more coffee. Those are tweaks; I need a fundamental change, a shift in the tectonic plates.
And the ancient secret to shifting one’s tectonic plates is radical self-discipline…”
Today I drug out the big box full of my and Madeline’s baby books. It was all sugar and spice and everything nice until I came across a manila folder full of some elementary school work that my mom saved. YOU GUYS. I HAVE NOT LAUGHED THIS HARD IN WEEKS. Maybe months. Maybe ever.
As it turns out, I wrote quite a few books in my younger years.
First, this ode to my mother.
She’s okay, I guess.
Then this one.
At the time I was using Kathryn as my pen name. In my defense, this was before anyone introduced me to the concept of “plagiarism.”
I was also doing all of my own illustrations.
Just to be clear, not everything is a vegetable. (MOM.)
I wrote some fiction, fairy tales in particular. Probably because I could not resist trying my hand at the “castle-inside-the-first-letter” technique.
Also, it seems my mother used to scream at me when I barged in on her in the shower. This is a universal and timeless part of parenting.
In my early works I experimented with some creative spelling.
And it is xspeshalee clear that my excellent self-esteem was already in tact.
My longest work to date is a short story titled, “A STORY OF AN UNICORN” [sic.] It turns out my parents were ruthless editors who did not feel that young unicorn romance and baking witches into cakes were wise plot choices for me at this point in my writing career.
Neither was young unicorn polygamy.
They did, however, encourage me to keep writing books, to which I responded:
Trying to be a moral person feels like a minefield some days – there are just so many things one is supposed to care about. And not just care about – pray about. And not just pray about, but mobilize for or against.
For starters, I am supposed to care about, pray about, give to, and advocate (passionately) for or against the following:
The homeless Communities with no access to clean water
Communities with no access to basic health care
Communities with no access to life-saving vaccinations Every child within 6 degrees of separation of me that has a chronic or terminal illness
Third world poverty
Hunger in America
Sex trafficking victims
Children in the foster care system
My own children
Genetically altered foods
People that have never heard the gospel (every people group individually)
The police department, fire department, and our troops overseas.
All children with special needs
At risk children and the failing education system The drug epidemic
AIDS research The crisis in Syria The conflict in the Middle East
The crisis in Uganda
The truth is, I do care about these things, about the people involved and the implications. I’ve prayed about them too – mostly (I can’t say that I’ve stormed the gates of heaven over puppy mills or genetically altered food). But let’s be realistic: if I tried to pray for all the things that I’m supposed to care about every day (or even every week) I wouldn’t have any emotional energy left to, I don’t know, BREATHE.
I suspect that we could fill the state of Texas with well-meaning people who are paralyzed in their compassion because it’s just too much. If they opened their hearts up, opened their schedules or their wallets up to every need, they would not survive it. In the Cinderella movie, Ever After, Prince Henry says, “I used to think that if I– if I cared about anything, I would have to care about everything, and I’d go stark raving mad.” I’ve felt this tension so acutely, haven’t you?
The liberating truth is that you don’t have to care about everything, at least not in equal measure. You are not a pie chart that has to be divided equally among the needs of this world. The truth is that it’s okay to have a focus, a purpose – in fact, you were created for one.
The following concept unparalyzed me. It returned unto me my compassion and generosity, and it freed me from indecision and guilt. This concept helped me to reconcile my inexhaustible feelings with my very-exhaustible resources. The secret is this:
“Do for one person what you wish you could do for everyone.”
I cannot donate to the victims of every natural disaster – so I will do for one precious family what I wish I could do for everyone.
I cannot support every missionary – so I will do for one what I wish I could do for everyone.
I cannot mother every orphan; I cannot love every child that hurts – so I will do for one what I wish I could do for everyone. God, how I wish it.
I can’t send every greeting card.
I can’t attend every wedding.
I can’t take every flight or visit every friend.
I can’t devote fervent prayer to every lost soul or every suffering saint.
I can’t buy pants for every homeless person.
I could never advocate for every cause that touches my heart, because they all touch my heart. But I can do for one person what I wish I could do for everyone. I can do the next right thing. The fact that I can’t buy groceries for all the single moms should not dissuade me from buying them one time – for one mom. It is foolish, if not cruel, to withhold goodness simply because we cannot give the same goodness to everyone.
One of the beautiful things about the body of Christ is that it functions as a body. Each soul a cell. Each with a different purpose, a different burden, a different area of passion and concern. And when every soul does the next right thing, when every soul is free to do for one person what they wish they could do for everyone, the world gets loved well.