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Leaning Into Lent: Energy Boost

This morning, my dedication was renewed after a wonderful time of worship online. There was so much that happened last week so quickly that it really was very difficult to process through everything: schools closing, cancelling vacations, moving to working from home and homeschooling.

I don’t know about you but I ended every day exhausted from all the change and all the new.

If you are finding yourself in the same situation, take heart you are not alone. This new daily life and daily schedule on top of the news of the spread of COVID-19 is overwhelming. The grief over not being able to see friends and family and moving to purely digital communication is disheartening. These are things that don’t exhaust your physical body, but your very soul.

It’s more difficult to hear our souls. It’s harder to diagnosis when our souls are not well. Our souls are the very heart of us and also the very still, quiet center of us. Our souls aren’t easy to see and hear without lots and lots of practice. It is our very souls that will sustain us through these ever-changing times and so we must give some attention to them.

Yesterday as we were outside playing, I decided not to put my shoes on and instead feel the coolness of the grass next to the warmth of the ground. I wiggled my toes in the grass and it reminded me of exactly where I was connected to the earth and connected to my family. This is called grounding. In times of change and turmoil, if we can find some way to ground ourselves in the present moment, then we can find our center and find our souls again. Our minds quiet for just long enough for us to feel balance come back.

This is part of what Lent always calls us to do: difficult and challenging soul work. The work of confessing to being too busy to listen to our souls and connect to the Divine. This work is even more important during a time that is so different and became so different so quickly.

Our souls will provide us energy for the long days and hope for the dark nights. Listen to your souls even if for just a minute today. Allow them a chance to breathe and grieve. Allow yourself a chance for grounding and centering.

Patience, Grasshopper

At four, everything seems pressing. As soon as our four-year-old wakes up, he has a list of questions or reflections he wants to share. His little mind has always been like this even before we could understand the babbles he was sharing. There was an urgency to his need to comment on the world, his dreams, and really every thought that pops into his head.

In the midst of these pressing questions, I often respond, “Patience, grasshopper.” He always asks, “Why are you calling me a grasshopper.” I joke it’s because he is hopping from one thought to another or one request to another.

But this phrase has deeper connotations of centering oneself’s and deciding what is the most important priority for the moment. I have to admit I have to say this phrase to myself quite often. It is easy to jump from one thing to next never considering or reflecting on the way we are spending our time, attention, and money. It is easy to move, move, move and never be present in one space or moment of time.

As we creep closer to the Lenten Season, I hear that still, small voice echoing within:

Slow down.

Wait.

See.

Hear.

Be.

A Year of Less

Today is our baby girl’s first birthday! There is plenty I don’t remember in the blur of breastfeeding and sleeplessness and recovering from a C-section over the past year, but there are lots of things I do remember. I remember the conversation with my partner about whether I would have time to start the practice of Panda Journaling that emphasized gratitude and intentionality in the midst of having a newborn. I can remember the magical book that appeared from my dear friend and fellow podcaster called The Artist’s Way, which helped me see that there are people that cross our paths who are crazy-makers, spreading chaos to thwart our creativity because of their own blocked creativity. I can remember the early mornings and late nights of feedings and pumpings and those all coming back up with the mild reflux.


I can remember the look in her big brother’s eyes as he met her for the first time and the look in her sisters’ eyes as they met her for the first time. I can remember the relief and awe of my partner’s eyes as he helped pull her out amazed that everything was so easy this time around.

 

Over the course of this year, I’ve stored all these memories and moments treasuring them and realizing that these are the moments that are the most important to me. These are the moments that I want more of. I’ve resigned from jobs and boards and commitments this year. It’s been a year of less meetings, less coffee dates, less shopping, less of all the busyness.

This year of less has turned into a year of more. More afternoons chasing a baby to the stairs. More laughter and giggling as our youngest learned to crawl and kiss and tackle her four-year-old brother. It’s been a year of more time with our nine-year-old learning how to be an older sister to a sister. It’s been a year of more baby holding and baby snuggling for our baby-loving twelve-year-old. It’s been a year of more parenting and more coffee and more hoping and praying with my partner for our family and our children. More healing, more love, more hopes and more dreams for our children and making our world a better place for them to grow and learn and thrive.

I can’t wait to see what the next year will hold!

In the Midst of the Hurrying

“Get your backpack please,” I said for the fourth time as we were trying to get out the door.

“But mom,” I heard from our four-year-old. He wanted to tell me something about the dream he had where there were all kinds of cars and he got to see Jackson Storm and Lightning McQueen really race. As we were walking down the steps, I just had grabbed his backpack to speed things up, he found a dandelion and started to say, “Look, mom, look!”

In my mind, I know the minutes are clicking away. The minutes that mean we might hit the train and be late for school. The minutes before the 11-month-old gets so sleepy that she falls asleep in the car rather than in her crib. The minutes that can change the whole morning and if I am honest can alter my mental state all day long.

But he doesn’t care about the minutes. He would welcome being stuck by the train and counting and naming the different kinds of cars that speed by. He would love to see his sister fall asleep and report that she was asleep to me.

And so I stop for in the midst of the hurrying and explain that when he blows the dandelion, the white tufts are seeds that might grow into new dandelions.

“Blow them towards the bushes and then we can check and see if new ones grow there,” I say.

His eyes light up because in the midst of the hurrying, I have entered his world and stopped the hurrying that pushes him around morning after morning.

 

In the Midst of the Magic

Over the holidays, all of us were sick. We didn’t take turns but overlapped in the spreading of coughs and runny noses that happens when there are multiple kids and multiple schools. There were tissues all over the place and water cups and our counters were lined with cough syrups, antibiotics, and saline sprays. We made it all the way until our youngest was ten months old before we started spreading things back and forth and then this.

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t have the best attitude in the midst of all the sickness. When you don’t feel well, it’s easy to see the gray that is all around you instead of seeing the bits of sun shining through promising warmth and light.

And it’s hard when you don’t feel well to take care of mini-humans, especially when they feel well and you don’t. They still want to go and do things and see things and learn things. They still want to explore and discover the magic that’s out there in the world.

It was on one of those days that we ended up at the playground to get some fresh air and some sunshine. Our park has an incredible walking trail that makes you feel like you are hiking through the woods and we almost always end our time at the playground with a nature walk around the loop looking for messages and magic.

This is the one we found on our first nature walk of the new year: “You are awesome.” I like to pretend I don’t need these messages. These are messages for our mini humans who are still developing their sense of self and their self-worth. These are the types of messages that we need to flood them with for the times when they encounter failure and frustration.

On this day, I needed this message. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of someone taking the time to write this on the nature trail. I need to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old discovering a secret message on a nature walk. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old finding and using a walking stick. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of an almost one-year-old laughing at her brother every chance she found. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of a free park maintained and cared for by a community who want to encourage people to be outside.

I needed to stand in the midst of the magic and remember I am but a bit of stardust in this great cosmos of mystery.

In the Midst of Rain

Yesterday, I was trying to do a quick grocery store run before the thunderstorms rolled in with our four-year-old and our 11-month-old in tow. I was convinced I had timed it just right. I talked our four-year-old son through the planning because he gets a little nervous during storms. We had a plan and we were going to work together to accomplish it.

We got to the dog food aisle when the first thunder boom hit. The four-year-old stopped in the middle of the aisle and declared, “Mom! We have to get home to be safe during the thunderstorm.”

My first reaction was one of joy. He believes and perceives our home to be safe, his sanctuary from all the learning and growing he is going through right now. My second reaction was one of dread because I knew what was coming. I was going to have to try to load up the groceries, two children, and myself in the midst of the rain.

After we checked out, I took a minute to stop and think through things because I knew as soon as we were in the midst of the rain, my brain would be trying to move as quickly as possible. I tried to put my raincoat on the 11-month-old who found it hilarious to play peek-a-boo with it. I got the four-year-old all set with his umbrella. I got my keys ready and we went for it.

There we were in the midst of the rain. One dry four-year-old finding all the puddles and stomping in them in no hurry because his umbrella had him covered. An 11-month-old playing peekaboo with the coat, her eyelashes catching the raindrops. and there I was already soaked when we were only halfway to the car.

In the midst of the rain, I found myself belly laughing at what we must look like. Two children laughing and splashing and one Mama soaked through trying to remember every moment.

In the Midst of Sickness

It took us until September of this first year of our daughter’s of life until our two youngest kids passed sicknesses back and forth. Since September we have passed quite a few sicknesses back and forth in the way that happens when you add another mini human to the family mix.

As these moved back and forth, I found myself in Urgent Care two days after Christmas answering the nurse’s question: “Have you been around anyone who was sick recently?”

“Well,” I answered. “My son had a viral throat infection and then the croup. My daughter has had a double infection and another ear infection and my partner has had a flu-like cold.” The nurse looked at me and smiled, “So you probably just got all of that.”

My official diagnosis was a sinus infection and ear infection with a partially permeated eardrum (who knew you could even do that?).  As the doctor was telling me the medicines he was going to prescribe, I mentioned I was still nursing. He asked me how old our daughter was and I told him that she was eleven months. He then proceeded to tell me that the amoxicillin and other medication that he was prescribing really shouldn’t be taken while breastfeeding. After this, he delivered a lecture explaining there weren’t any benefits to nursing a baby past two weeks and really two months was the max benefit. He mentioned his credentials: he had been in family medicine before he started working at Urgent Care. I nodded and didn’t contest his analysis, but then he pushed and asked me what my plan was for feeding my baby while I took the medicine, waiting for an explanation before he would give me the prescription. Even in the midst of my not feeling well, I could tell that this was an abuse of power. I told him that I would figure it out and he asked, “So you will give her formula?”

At this point, I was not only shocked, but I was also upset. I knew enough to know that although there are medications you can’t take while breastfeeding, amoxicillin wasn’t one of them. In fact, our daughter had just finished a round of amoxicillin for her own ear infection. I explained that I had enough milk saved up hoping that would end the conversation, but he pressed again, “Enough for ten days?”

I answered with a curt, “Yes.”

So much of this experience reminds me of stories I’ve heard of mothers who have been involved in similar pressured conversations where medical professionals overstep the boundaries of their job to care for the mother to use their position of power to influence a mother’s decision on how to feed her baby. This is an abuse of power that isn’t only in the medical profession.

I can remember similar pressured conversations with religious leaders growing up in the midst of conservative evangelicalism where I was forced to answer questions that were inappropriate and way past boundaries that should have been maintained. This abuse of power is called spiritual abuse when it is enacted by a religious leader and one of the experiences that causes so much distrust within a person’s spirit, especially women who have these experiences.

Expertise and experience do not entitle or enable a person to take away the choices or decisions of another person. Expertise and experience without compassion and empathy only serve to cause more harm than good.

The fact that this medical professional took advantage of my vulnerable position of needing medication and used it as an opportunity to not only lecture but demean my ability to decide what is the best way to feed my daughter is unacceptable.

This has to stop in the medical world and in the institutional church.

In the Midst of Changing

This week in the move to our new office, we moved a bookshelf. As my partner was taking it out the door, the three-year-old started crying. We both stopped for a minute thinking that something had fallen and hurt him, but when we asked if he was ok, he responded, “But I don’t want it to move.” Let’s just say we’re at an age where we are more than a little resistant to changes in environment, schedule, and apparently bookshelves.

He’s not the only one that I’ve heard lamenting change. In my work as an editor and offering advice to writers who would like to become published authors, I often hear: “But I didn’t think I was going to have to change things.” Change is never easy no matter how old we are.

Interestingly, the idea that we are not changing constantly is something that we have convinced ourselves is true when in fact it’s not. We are constantly changing. The air around us is constantly changing. The temperature increases and decreases throughout the day or changes. Our bodies are changing digesting and reacting to the food and liquids we have consumed. The places we live and the transportation we use are constantly changing as wear and tear begin to take hold.

Change is all around us and indeed within us.

When we say we hate change, what we really are saying is that we hate being confronted with the reality that we don’t have control. We like to think that we have created something that will hold and that will remain stable from day to day. And when something bigger than a bookshelf moves or changes, we find ourselves in the same position as our three-year-old crying and reaching out for things not to move and change.

What if instead, we clung to the reality that things are always changing and that change is the only constant we can depend upon. Then we would ride the waves of the air current, marveling at the way that sun moves across the sky, and being astounded by all the work our bodies do every single minute to keep us breathing.

Looking Inside

Our plans were changed because of bad weather on the weekend we were planning to carve our pumpkin. By the time we were able to carve it, let’s just say it had been with us for a while. I had this feeling that once we got inside, we were going to find something besides just the seeds and pumpkin guts. As I worked to pull off the top, just as I had expected, there was a big spot of rot (see where the pumpkin top looks like it has a bite out of it?).  Although I expected that there was something not quite right with our pumpkin, I didn’t really know what was going on until we took a look inside.

The same holds true for our own lives. We might look orange and pretty on the outside, but if there is something that is eating away at us, a broken relationship, unresolved conflict, fatigue or exhausation, slowly by surely that one spot will grow bigger and bigger until what’s going on inside leaks out.

This is what self-care is: taking a look inside. Cracking open the top to see deep into the parts of ourselves that have hold all the seeds. The seeds of our past. The seeds of our hurts. The seeds of our hopes. The seeds of our passions. The seeds of our calling. The seeds of our fear. The seeds of our worries. The seeds of who we are.

When we don’t take the time to look inside or take a look at whether those seeds nestled within us are getting enough water and light and space, then rot begins to grow, comprising all those seeds of possibility.

Maybe you’re like us, the time that you meant to spend in self-reflection or self-care got rained out of stormed out by the fierce urgency of now. Maybe you think that you can’t make up that time or that the time has passed. What we discovered was that once we got inside our pumpkin, even though it was a little worse for the wear, we were able to scoop that rot out. We were able to clean out the part that was threatening the rest of the pumpkin and we were able to transform our pumpkin into a new creation.

See how happy our pumpkin is that we took the time to look inside!

In the Midst of the Messiness

During the day, we don’t take time to clean up the toys that find their way out into the living room and into the dining room and into the kitchen. We try to provide space for the kids to explore and play even when that play results in stepping on legos or cars or both at the same time.

And in the moments when I step on a lego or a car comes crashing into my ankle, I can look at everything around and think I am standing in the midst of messiness. There’s no way this is ever going to get cleaned up or put up or we’re going to find all the pieces to that one puzzle.

When my mind starts to go in that direction, I spot the humus in the baby’s hair and the dried sweet potatoes by her gummy smile and think there’s probably still sweet potatoes in her high chair and I’m going to have to put her in her high chair in the midst of the messiness.

In these moments, my mind can stream towards wishing away this messy stage of life. My mind can start to wander into time traveling to a different season where the house is neat, but the carpet details aren’t a train track and the porch isn’t a race track or the bookshelf a fire rescue scene.

It takes purpose and intention to bring me back here in the midst of the messiness of this stage and this phase realizing that it won’t be again. The nine-month-old won’t have her first Halloween or Thanksgiving or Advent again. The three-year-old won’t be doing a daily countdown to his fourth birthday again skipping some numbers to try and get to the day faster. If the stories from other parents prove true, I will long to be in the midst of the messiness again.

And so I take a deep breath and a big step sitting down in the midst of the messiness. My arm immediately becomes a ramp and my hair a leverage point for the baby to pull herself up to a sitting position so that she can plan her next route to the next item she wants to explore.