In Focus — 5 steps I took to Zoom into Better Living

Have you ever simply known that your life had gone a little out of focus?

You are still doing the same basic things, the same routine that has been keeping you going for years.

Yet, something is off.

You find yourself holding your breath, waiting for normal to arrive.  Hello, Normal?  Where are you?

You don’t seem to have time for the things that you once did simply for pleasure.  Tea from the kettle–not the microwave.  An impromptu photo shoot simply because you’ve got cute kids and a perfect patch of sunlight coming in the window.  A game of UNO.  Popcorn and a movie after the kids fall asleep.  Falling asleep yourself next to your dearest love (even though that kind of irritates him).

Where did those joyful little moments go?  When did every day become decidedly less fun?

That’s where I’ve been lately.  I’ve been restless and lacking contentment.  Late 2014 and all of 2015 so far have brought in new challenges that I had never faced before.  There have been many joys and amazing days, but illness and losses in my life and in the lives of people I love put things into a new perspective.  I expected those painful events to fill me with an urgency to LIVE–really live deeply and abundantly–but instead, I felt stuck, disappointed, angry, and frustrated.  Instead of turning to sources of encouragement that I could count on–God, family, the Scripture, dear friends–I turned inward and to technology.  Have you ever drowned your sorrows in Facebook?  Have you numbed the here and now with a hefty dose of daydreaming while reading about other people’s lives on other people’s blogs?  That’s been me.

And then my nine-year-old was working on a family crest.  He worked hard. Markers everywhere!  He drew a shield, divided it to represent each family member, and then he came up with an icon to represent each of us.  Cory was a weight because Daddy is strong.  I was a little laptop–because Mommy loves the computer.

Wait, did you hear something?  Oh, yeah.  That was my heart shattering.

DSC_0225

A number of things–the laptop drawing near the top of the list–helped me to finally see that I needed to take some concrete steps to turn things around–to pull things back into focus.  These are the steps I took, and I’m still working!

  1. I prayed.  I confessed that I been focusing on me and my shortcomings instead of the larger picture of the life God wanted me to live.  I confessed that I had not been living with gratitude.  I confessed that I had not been using my resources (including time!) with intention and intelligence.  I thanked God for loving me anyway!  I thanked Him for my children, my husband, my parents, and the rest of my big, wonderful family.  I thanked Him for friends at our church, in our community, in our past and our present.  I asked for focus, for patience, and for the grace to approach my family and MYSELF with gentleness.  I asked for contentment and peace.
  2. I reached out.  One of the biggest sources of my frustrations and disappointment is the lack of organization in our home.  This has been a problem forever.  I could blame having four children.  I could blame homeschooling.  But I would be pretending!  Let’s be real here.  I have struggled with messes since I was a kid, seemingly cleaning my room every single day but always living in a disaster.  My mom keeps a beautiful home.  I had plenty of positive examples, but I fail regularly.  So…I reached out to an old friend who is an organizer.  We are just figuring out what working together will look like, but it feels wonderful to feel like I have a teammate!
  3. I returned to activities that matter to me.  It might seem crazy to add MORE when my plate is already pretty full.  However, I did some real soul-searching, and I realized that I had dropped a few things that were true treasures in my life.  So in April, I returned to a La Leche League group.  I’ve been an accredited Leader with LLL since 2008, but I have not been affiliated with a group since we moved in 2013.  It was time.  I always thought of LLL as my “positive peer pressure.”  The meetings lift my spirits, confirm my parenting choices, and connect me with like-minded mothers.  Serving mothers and babies in the Leader role always does something good in my heart.  In addition to La Leche League, I added a little crafting and remade my old homemaking binder.
  4. I set some healthy boundaries.  That sounds all psychological and sophisticated, but it is actually code for “got my lazy bum off the computer.”  I use the computer for good things–researching homeschool ideas, looking up recipes, connecting with friends and family–but I get sucked in.  I get wrapped up in things of no importance.  I’ve been feeling like I had way too many voices in my life.  Articles, comments on articles, opinions upon opinions upon opinions!  I needed some mental quiet.  I so easily allow time to slip by, and I’m often left with a lingering feeling of disquiet after I’ve read something controversial.  I’ve strictly limited Facebook to Saturdays, and in general, I’m keeping my computer time quick and on task.  This is a hard one for me.  I asked Cory to make up a new password for Facebook, and he is under strict orders to never tell me!
  5. I surrounded myself with inspiration!  I visited a long-time friend who always inspires me with her amazing work ethic and her fun sense of humor.  I also found two quotations that spoke to my situation and made me feel motivated to create change.  I printed them on pretty paper and taped them on the wall.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” ~Psalm 16:11

^^This passage from the Psalms helped me remember that as long as I am in God’s presence, I have what I need to be content and joyful.  Everything else is bonus!

“If you don’t make the time to work on creating the life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with a life you don’t want.” ~Kevin Ngo

^^This quotation by Kevin Ngo helped me to think about where I do want to place my focus, and it made me realize that the time I spend planning and strategizing is valuable–not just silly day dreaming.

Nearly a year ago, the auto-focus on my camera’s basic lens stopped functioning.  I was struggling with the manual setting.  My brother-in-law who is a photographer and film-maker gave me some good advice.  He told me to take my time.  He said to slowly move the lens back and forth between the extremes on both sides until I find the sharpest focus in the middle–even though the people around me (including those in the picture!) seem to want me to hurry.  The clear image and perfect light are the reward for taking the time to find that sweet spot.

I’m feeling good these days.  I think I am back in focus, but I’m not afraid to put in the time and effort to live life beautifully.

 

Love Abounds

Happy Valentine’s Day, just a bit late.  I want to share photographs of our Valentine treats, but I can’t find the thingy to charge my camera battery.  Instead, I’ll offer you some of the images of our recent visit with my parents.  They stayed for a whole, glorious week.  We were able to fit in lots of good food, playground time, stories, bike rides, church, and walks.  We enjoyed the beautiful weather, teased about the snow back home, and just had a wonderful time hanging out together.

(Mom took the picture above.)

(I believe Dad took this one.)

I came across this quote by Rudy Giuliani.  He said, “What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.”  This past week showed us just that.  The cookies weren’t the most important part, but they sure were good!

Jump-Crash-Roll

On Saturday, my six-year-old and I went for a big walk with Charlotte in her wrap.  The day was gorgeous but really hot.  Mid-90s, high humidity.  My silly boy insisted upon wearing long jeans and a long sleeved navy blue shirt along with his superhero cape (a favorite Christmas gift made by Aunt Kristy).  While I strongly recommended a cooler ensemble, the boy insisted that that this was his super suit.  Mama lost.

We watched the sailboats on the lake (see Sunday’s post).  We watched some really crazy squirrels run up and down the trees and chase each other through curtains of Spanish moss.  We marveled at the oak trees that don’t look at all like oak trees and produce tiny acorns.

We found the shells of fresh water clams.

After walking a bit, I sat in the shade while Charlotte napped and her busy brother chased butterflies (He caught one!) and practiced his superhero moves.  He threw himself into the air and let himself fall and tumble.  While I cringed at the inevitable impact, he never hesitated.  A few minutes of watching the jump-crash-roll left me finally able to relax and enjoy how unencumbered he was in those moments.  Lately, I’ve been feeling like I am constantly scolding and reminding.  Don’t jump on the couch.  Don’t leave your socks in the livingroom.  Don’t blow bubbles in your milk.  Don’t be so rough.  Don’t be so loud.  What a drag.  During our forty-five minute outing, I remembered why raising this little boy is so much fun.  He doesn’t worry that people raise their eyebrows at the cape.  He doesn’t mind that winter clothes leave him with fat drips of sweat coursing down his sweet cheeks.  In fact, as we strolled home, he proudly said, “I caught a sweat.  That’s good!”  He is not at all concerned that he’ll have bruises on his elbows and knees from all those carefree collisions with the ground.  He doesn’t think about the bug bites that will certainly come from flopping in the long grass and staying there looking up at the clouds.  I soaked in his joy, his freedom, his boyhood.  I made a promise to say “no” when it matters, and whenever possible, let him be.

Company!

We had company!  This weekend, we had the joy of hosting my hubby’s parents in our home.  We had a great visit.  We had some nice meals out, a few meals in.  We enjoyed the beach, drove around our new town, attended church, watched a little football, went out for ice cream, and took lots of photographs.  We shared hugs and laughs and pleasant walks.  Charlotte showed off her gummy grins.  The boys had so much fun with Grandma and Papa, playing and telling stories and pointing out their schools.  I felt good while planning meals and washing up the sheets.

The house is quiet now.  Our company has just left for the airport.  We parted with many hugs and then just one more, speaking of the next trip, the next reunion.

Here are a few glimpses into our weekend.

 

 

Finding Normal

Note:  The new edition of The Rhythm of the Home is now up and running!

One month ago yesterday, I landed in this state, and I’ve been looking for “normal” ever since.  “Normal” has been pretty scarce this summer.  First, I was not feeling normal because I was growing a baby inside.  I had a healthy, easy pregnancy, but nonetheless, I felt slow and awkward and not like myself.  Then in late May, we got the news that my husband had been hired as a professor in a distant place.  From that moment on, the rest of the summer was colored with the hue of nostalgia.  During each activity and at each get-together, I was thinking that it could be the last time.  The last trip to the museum.  The last time at our library.  The last visit to the park with special friends.  And when I wasn’t practically dripping with the sentimentality of such a big move, I was checking off my to-do lists and mentally packing.

Next, Charlotte came to be with us.  Anyone who has welcomed a new baby knows that normal goes straight down the drain.  Everything from going to bed to preparing a peanut butter sandwich becomes just a bit (or a whole lot) more complicated.

Well, the move has happened.  Yesterday marked one month since we arrived in our new state, our new town.  That’s one month of shopping in a new grocery store, listening to unfamiliar voices on the radio, and using a new Post Office.  There is a sense of normal returning as we discover remnants of a familiar routine.  We are returning to steady bedtimes and early mornings.  There are meals to prepare, dishes to clean, and laundry to wash, dry, & put away.  But everything feels different as if the pieces of our days have been twisted and tossed about like kids on a carnival ride.

New things are finding their way into our family’s routine.  We now have homework to do and a lunch to pack for a first grader who goes to school all day.  Preschool has begun, leaving Mama home some mornings with only a tiny baby.  The little ones and I have a music class to attend each week.  How fun!  We are visiting a church that might become ours eventually.  Could normal actually be on its way?  For now, I’m hanging on tight to the things that are certain:

:: God has a plan for our family.  We can trust Him to guide us.

:: He loves us as much as ever.

:: The sun will rise each morning.

:: Children still need love, discipline, and fun!

:: Nursing a baby is warm, restful, and wholesome.

:: Libraries bring me joy (so I went there yesterday).

:: I can still talk to my mom every day, and I usually do (sometimes twice).

:: The love of a husband makes the world feel safe and steady.

:: The future is just as big and open as ever–full of hope and promise, making today prime for daydreams.

I’m grateful for the things I can count on.

(This morning’s sunrise.  Stunning.)

Loving

 
(Valentine's Day 2007)

 

Today I am loving…
:: that our second bout with pink eye is clearing up.

:: that the “big one” is so sweet to his little brother when the “little one” isn’t feeling well

:: that the rain might actually stop on Saturday (please!).

:: that Baby is due in six weeks!!

:: that organizing efforts in our bedroom might actually be paying off.

:: that oven-fried chicken and broccoli slaw are on the menu for tonight.

:: Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden (started on Monday…can’t vouch for the whole book yet!).

:: Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl (finished on Monday).

:: the newest issue of Country Living.

:: the game of catch going on between Daddy and little J as I type this.

:: this little boy bedroom

:: the potential for a productive day.  Better get started…

Giving Thanks…

For childhood memories,

For children making memories,

For waking up to the smell of onions, celery, and butter in an iron skillet,

For families–growing, learning, loving,

For the bright orange of sweet potatoes and the darker shade of pumpkin with just the right amount of cinnamon,

For pie filling that didn’t fit, baked in a little dish for nibbling,

For the land and its natural resources–May we never take them for granted–

For a God who is both provider and savior…

We give Thanks!

So Much to Celebrate!

On Saturday, we gathered with family at our little brick house to welcome the first day of spring.  As my boys get older, I am always looking to build simple traditions that emphasize the two things that we value most: God’s presence in everyday life and our family.  Truly celebrating the change of the seasons is one way that we remain mindful of the beautiful, amazing, intricate design of God’s mighty hands.  So we had a little “shin dig” to thank Him for all the promise of this wonderful season.

The boys took their “decorating” very seriously as we covered the sidewalk and steps with pretty chalk doodles to welcome our guests.

To start, we enjoyed a bell pepper flower with Ranch dressing.  I snitched the idea from the February issue of Parents…

…but the idea for the bird’s nest cupcakes was all mine.  I’m a great copier of cute ideas, but it’s rare that I have a fresh idea of my own.  I’m sure someone somewhere has made nests from chow mein noodles, but for now, I’m going to believe that they are an Erica original.  True or not, they looked cute and tasted yummy!

Happy Spring!