As it is now

I am at that weepy, nostalgic point of motherhood where I get sucked into the vortex of backwards-looking. I won't even name all the cliches, but it's sufficient to say that life today is not what it was 10 or 15 years ago, for better or worse, and I have lots of feelings about that. I hate being a cliche. I despise bandwagons and group-think and stereotypes, but here I am—weepy and nostalgic.

The only real security is not owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gifts from the Sea

"As it is now" is great, truly. This may be my favorite stage of parenting so far, but it is exhausting in a whole new way and what I really miss the most about the younger years may be the control I had.

Honestly. Dictatorship was so much easier.

As it is now

I was thinking the other day about some of the stories my kids retell from their early years, stories that ring absolutely no bells for me. Do I just truly not remember, or is it their memory that's skewed? We all take on memories as they are told to us and we assimilate them into our memory keeping system. It's true because we've heard it enough times. Their version of those days is the truest form of the events in their minds, which makes me realize how formative those early years really are and how powerful an opportunity we all have to shape the memory of a child.

My kids are telling me stories I don't fully buy into though and I wonder if this is the trend now, if I'm the one who'll be told memories from here on out. I mean, I'm not that old, but possibly my memory is full of the mistold and misunderstood. The way I remember things may be filtered through nagging guilt or sleep-deprived synapses that fail to connect.

I should have told my kids a lot more stories when they were younger. I should have told them more beautiful and true events of their everyday lives, or at least kept up the baby books better. I need to collect the snippets I've written over the years on scraps of paper and in old journals, and press them into some type of cohesive, hopeful story, of first words and mispronunciations, hilarious antics, deep questions, scraped knees, and those growth charts marked on the walls of three homes.

Those were the years I could have painted the rosiest pictures and they would have believed the tales, forever.

My own childhood memories take on a new ring when I realize this fallibility of memory, or this trick of perspective.  It's important to note. The eyes of a child see through two wide-open portals and the eyes of an adult feel like a thousand tiny pin-pricks—there is so much more to consider.

The good thing is that my kids are keeping memories. The girls have a book where they write down funny things that are said or done amongst the siblings, and I am proud to see the genius in their method: they write it all down in one journal. All in one place. They are smarter than me.

Reflection is how we learn and the way we process, and memory, however flawed it turns out to be, is a great sustainer. We can live too much on memories though, and of the many times I've looked back and wished for something different, prayed for forgetfulness for my shortcomings, or longed for bygones, no memories have ever served me as well as the reminder that God is making the present brand new. This is a story I need to retell myself daily.

Every moment, new and new and new.

Taking present relationships as they are requires a good amount of healthy forgetfulness. It requires a trust that somewhere in the mess of our lives we laid a good foundation, and the security of our collective memory is bound up in the keeper of all our thoughts and experiences.

Today, I'm praying we can all do the work of story telling: here's what's good, here's the truth, here's the pain and also the gospel about your present turmoil or indecision or brokenness.

How to Make Time for Reading

I just frittered away thirty minutes of precious morning time deleting emails, staring at the day's schedule, and reading portions of 3 different articles. Portions. Because I was in a hurry and didn't have time to read the whole article.  So I bookmarked them and I'll come back to them later when I have more time.

I am giving away my days in ten minute increments. I need to stop talking about when I have more time because the days are not actually going to get longer.

It doesn't have to be social media or internet rabbit holes that keep me from getting important things done: I can polish the counter before I make dinner, move a pile of laundry three times before just folding it, or wander around the grocery store without a plan and a list.

There are all kinds of ways to waste the days or the minutes, and some time-wasting is perfectly ok because God didn't design us to be automatons and life doesn't have to be all about efficiency and production; but important things get crowded out in the wasted days.

There are things that require sustained focus and attention, and they are the first to go in fragmented days of distracted living.

So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom. {Psalm 90:12 NKJV}

Reading is not the most important task, but it is symbolic of the things we don't make time for when we're distracted.

Statistics show that the average American read 4 books in 2015, but my goal this year is 24.  This is highly ambitious because I am The World's Slowest Reader, but I have the accountability of 11 students whom I tutor on Wednesdays to keep me in check.

Besides accountability, scheduling a Reading Day has helped me get more focused reading done.

I generally try to grab 15 minutes here and there to make progress in my reading, as well as using Audible to listen to several books a year, but I have a hard time sitting down in the middle of the day to read for an hour or two. I get tired when I sit (sometimes I stand or walk around the house while reading) and it's also mentally hard for me to stop during the day.

Making an event out of reading gives me the sustained time to read that not only helps me with my goal of 24 books this year, but also disciplines me to develop focus—something I lack. (See Deep Work.)

What is a Reading Day?

Last summer I took my youngest daughter and her friend to a huge used bookstore, where they spent several hours and a large wad of their own cash. It was glorious. I told the girls they had to actually read the books they were buying, not just line their shelves with great titles and beautiful covers, and I immediately felt convicted by my own words.

I collect books and don't read them all.

In an effort to hold us all accountable, I told the girls we'd schedule a day to just read books and chill, and our first Reading Day was on.

I invited reading-friends. We wore comfy pants. Everyone brought something to read and something to snack on, and maybe a crochet project or other activity to break up their reading. I provided coffee and a quiet house and we blocked off several hours for reading our books. There were no book discussions required. We just set aside the time to make progress on our reading.

We have done this twice now and it has worked out to be a quarterly event, so our next Reading Day should be sometime in June. We can hit Christmas break, spring break, beginning of summer and back-to-school this way.

A consistent reading habit is not something that occurs only every 3 months, but it's a start, and making an event out of it ensures that I will follow through.

Here are three steps to getting to those things you've been meaning to do:

  1. Put it on the calendar.
  2. Make it an event.
  3. Involve other people.

Maybe your goal is not more reading, but you have a project. Maybe you want to be more intentional about dating your spouse or taking your kids on individual outings or catching up the family photo album. Whatever comes to mind when you think I need to make time for..., it's possible that you already have the time for that thing but you are allowing everyday distractions and obligations to overwhelm you. Schedule an hour if that's all you have, but honor that hour as a legitimate appointment.

Put on comfy pants and make fancy coffee if it helps.

 

 

 

The gifts of the earth

Every January I pull a certain book off the shelf and give it another read, a good deal of underlining and margin notes emphasizing the author's words and rolling them in with my own over the years. If a classic is defined as something to return to, something always true in every age, Tozer has written a classic in The Pursuit of God. This January Tozer's words are reminding me that the pursuit of God, Who wants to be known and Who makes a way in His word and through His people, is not a small life of less, not a diminishing schedule or necessarily narrowed affections or tight restrictions. The pursuit of God is taking all of my life—the people, places, things and ideas I cherish most—and giving them more purpose by viewing them as the blessings of a life of pursuing God, not as necessities or rights or possessions.

On my best days, God is enthroned in my heart and everything else is His blessing, but external and unnecessary, un-possessed. On other days, I am spoiled for easy living and time is all my own and a fierce independence makes my heart a place of self-rule. I whine and complain. I see all I have not and miss the one thing I need.

The pursuit of God is marked with these ups and downs.

I have not prayed enough, read enough Scripture, been holy enough, or loved others enough to be as blessed as I am. I know the encouragement of the day is to tell ourselves I am enough, but I'm not. Or maybe I'm too much and the real problem is not my lack but the abundance of me. I don't need a mantra to make me feel better about myself though (and I'm not discounting those who recognize, in a biblical sense, that they are truly enough; that God sees their life as valuable enough to warrant Christ's blood on their behalf, and nothing they could do would make them more valuable). I simply need a mantra that reminds me that Jesus is all the abundance I need, want, could hope for; that there is no desire I truly have that He doesn't fully meet.

"It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer," says the LORD;

"I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth.

The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil;

They shall answer Jezreel." {Hosea 2:21-22 NKJV}

The earth answers our need.

Because He created us, because we are human and known by our maker, God answers our need in ways we can grasp. He answers our desire for beauty with a world full of it, overflowing. Snow powdered on the treetops. Red berries weighting a bush into submission. Pink sunrises and orange sunsets bookending our days.

He responds to the hunger He created in us—physical and spiritual—with grain and new wine and oil, all coming from the earth. He fills our empty spots with everything too big to be contained in a single human, everything too great for a clay vessel.

We miss the earth's answers in our screens and our schedules, and the deep that calls most loudly is a dissatisfaction with the state of our hearts. We are drowning in the works of our own hands, waiting for a dopamine kick to fix us. We anticipate and get and are let down.

Anticipation can be the death of thankfulness in me and a straight road to disappointment. I hope for a thing or an event so much that the actual arrival of it can't help but disenchant. All my joy was found in the waiting, and grasping a thing longed-for takes that away—I got the thing, did the thing, saw the thing and now it's done. Over. What's next?

These highs and lows are normal. We will want snow and then have too much, want sun and then be too hot, plant a garden and grow weary of tending it. Yet when the snow melts and the sun hides and the garden is done for the season, we will anticipate their goodness again, knowing the earth gives seasons for these things.

Giving and taking, ups and downs, longing and thankfulness; we move towards eternity with our appetite whet for more. In the answers of the earth our anticipation is renewed, and in the pursuit of God, our blessing is God, Himself.