The Beauty of Unplugging

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
-Anne Lamott

About eight months ago, David approached me about a conference that he wanted to attend at our old college in Washington.  He was rambling on about the theologians that would be speaking and the workshops he could attend and how great the Pacific Northwest is, and my tired eyes were glazing over until he spoke these magic words: “and they have a childcare program if you wanted to put the girls in.  I think they take them for the whole day or something.”

David had mentioned this conference to me every single year since 2010 and had tried to engage me in serious conversations about conference logistics for the last two or three years.  I was noncommittal.  Disinterested.  Why fly across the country to go to a few workshops?

But this year…it suddenly made perfect sense.

Childcare program.

Kids.

Gone.  

All day. 

I was in.  Ohhhhhh, I was in.

In early December I told my mom over the phone that we were probably going to the conference and that I was considering putting the girls in the conference childcare program.

“I’m not sure why you’d feel a need to do that,” my mom said. IMG_3986

I knew why.

Over Christmas, she watched the girls for a few hours.

A few days after we came home, she called me.  “I think you should put your kids in the conference childcare program.  I’d like to pay for one of them to go.”

We signed up.  And the thought of a WEEK OF CHILDCARE pulled me through the exhausting moments of winter and spring.

Riley’s fighting sleep training for 7.5 weeks? Oh well, she’s going to childcare for a week in July.  I’ll sleep then.  

Zoe has a virus mimicking strep throat and literally hasn’t stopped screaming or crying for six days? Wow, it will feel nice to get my break in July.

Tantrums? For a week in July, this will be someone else’s problem. 

There’s a study that shows that happiness is boosted more from the anticipation of a vacation than from the actual vacation.  I only wound up using the conference childcare for 3.5 days, but I milked about six months of anticipation from it.  And it delivered.

When we originally talked about the conference, I dreamed of spending the week writing.  About 2.5 months before the conference, as I began praying over what my project should be, I realized that what I needed most wasn’t a project.  What I needed most was to spend a week producing nothing.

And that’s exactly what I did.  I took a hike every morning.

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I read books.  I read the Bible.  I journaled.  I researched houses (we’re under contract now! More details to come.)  I napped.  I met up with a friend for coffee.  I went to the workout center on the college campus.  I spent time sitting outside doing nothing beyond enjoying the breeze.

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David and I went on a “coffee and hiking” date.  We also re-visited the place where we met for the first time.  Sweet, sweet memories 🙂

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I went to 1 hour and 20 minutes of educational programming (I know, go easier next time, right?) I did not do any cooking, meal cleanup, or laundry.

We extended our trip for 5 days after the conference ended, spending some friend time and family time, as well as some “4 of us” time.  I got to spend substantial time with three of my favorite college girlfriends.

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(not pictured: the night we took a newborn to a wine bar)

I met up for a hike and coffee with two other great friends from college.  We saw my in-laws and celebrated Riley’s birthday with a great group of friends.

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We took Zoe and Riley to a few favorite spots from college, found a few new ones, ate great food, drank amazing coffee and wine, hiked 8/10 days, rested, relaxed, and enjoyed the beauty of one of my favorite areas of the country and world.

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It was a giant exhale.  And it was so, so needed.

When Zoe was almost 1, I began to feel like I was getting my mojo back.  I suddenly felt energy to do things that had seemed too hard for 11 months.  Although Riley still wakes up between 4:50 and 5:15 every morning, we are mostly sleeping through the night over here, and I’m beginning to feel the same way again.

I want to be more active and challenge myself physically again.  I want to make a little more space for myself to do some of my favorite things.  I want to occasionally straighten my hair.

I am going to be a mom for a very long time.  I want to be a person too.  

This trip was a great kickstart to that process.

Shortly after we got back, my sweet and thoughtful husband surprised me with an unlimited month pass to a barre studio near our house and told me his gift included handling the girls so that I could go.  So three times a week, I’ve been feeding my family canned soup or sandwiches for dinner, putting my kids to bed a little early, and heading out to barre class.

It’s funny—knowing I’m going to barre class that night is kind of like knowing that childcare is happening for a week in July.

Regardless of how my girls are behaving or how my work ends up being interrupted, I know on my barre class days that I will have some space and margin to just be me and focus on myself.  (I also know I won’t have to really cook dinner or do a lot of dishes…which is surprisingly helpful to the ol’ energy supply.)

Barre class focuses on the mind-body connection.  After a year of ignoring almost every message my body has sent me (because resting when it told me to was legitimately not an option with two young kids and no family in town),  it feels foreign but important to focus on this connection again.  I’ve found myself going to sleep a little earlier some days, and other days, pushing my body or mind a little further.  I’ve been alternating Jazzercise and barre classes and am pleasantly surprised to find that my body can still be challenged without breaking down—it seems that even though I spent a year feeling weak, I’m actually still pretty tough.

My goal for the fall is to keep connecting with me, with rest, and with margin.  I want to make more space for joy and surprise.

My prayer for the fall: Lord, make me lie down in green pastures and lead me beside quiet waters.  Restore my soul.  Make your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.  Open my ears and eyes to see it.  

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One Year Later

This summer has been really, really sweet.  And it would be easy to write about what my family has been up to, but somehow, it’s harder to write about how I think and feel…it requires reflection and honesty and time.

But it’s good for me to make that space and time for myself to reflect, so that’s what the next few posts are going to be about—how I am, and what I’ve been thinking about and feeling lately.

Riley turned one a few weeks ago, which means it’s been one year since my “mom of two” journey began.  Man, what a humbling year.  The fatigue.  The constant feelings of inadequacy. The never-ending needs.  Laying myself down, over and over again.  Getting up morning after morning and praying for strength I knew I didn’t possess.  Messing up.  Getting it right. Messing up again.  Taking help.  Thanking God for help.  Wishing I didn’t need help. Enjoying the gift of my girls.  Resenting the burden of my caring for my girls.  Loving one moment.  Wishing the next moment would end.  I never felt one emotion for long.

As we approached Riley’s birthday, I started to realize that even though I had spent an entire year feeling inadequate and over my head, everyone was still alive and doing well one year later.  I had made it.  And that somehow, despite how hard it was, I was better than I was a year ago.  This year showed me many places where I am weak and need to grow—but along the way, I did grow, and that is something to celebrate.

photo-79So did the birthday girl! Isn’t she beautiful?!

I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  I am definitely more run down, which is a negative (I’ll talk about that in my next post).  But I’m also more focused, more intentional with my time and friendships, less concerned with outcomes and more patient with process, and less affected by worry and anxiety.  One year later, I’m more at peace with myself and my calling, even if I struggle with the implementation of that calling sometimes when the toddler moments strike and the baby needs me and the dog is barking and a client is calling wanting to talk for the eleventh time about the timeline of a grant proposal I turned in last week.

I have dreams of doing “big,” cool things for God’s kingdom someday—writing a book, doing some speaking, sharing some wisdom.  But I have to get wisdom first, and I feel challenged and encouraged that what I am doing every day in this stage of my life is the way to develop that.

I’m not a natural mom to two babies this close together.  It’s not easy for me, and the multitasking and casualness it requires is not the best fit for my personality.

But I’ve hung in there anyway because I want to be refined.  I want to do the hard work.  I want to dig in every single day with all that I have and serve and love those around me, even when it’s not natural.  I want to pursue wisdom and learn how the Lord wants me to live, and 99% of my days, I feel like I am actually doing that.  If I never get to do those “bigger” things, I’ll still be glad with how I spent my time and energy—on the biggest things there are—and I will still have lived a “big” life that I can be proud of.

I am more concerned with developing right character than a big calling.  And this year offered lots of opportunities to build character.

My exercise instructor said recently as the class struggled through an exercise, “if you’re shaking, that means you’re working.  If you’re shaking, you’re changing.”  I love this thought—that just because something is HARD doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong, or that it isn’t getting me somewhere.  How naturally hard or easy something is isn’t really important.  What’s important is how I respond to the challenge: whether I keep trying and grow, or take the easy way out and stay the same.

Each August on our anniversary, David and I reflect on and write down our highlights of the year in a special journal.  This year, we wrote: WE SURVIVED.

222014-2015: no one in this photo is dead.  That sums it up.

We’re definitely not the same people that we were a year ago, and I am grateful for the growth.  But I am personally ready to move beyond subsistence.  Maybe 🙂

More in my next post!