Let’s Be Still


A still moment

You probably saw this coming from a 10K away but…I’m taking this week off our book study! I think slowing down will give interested folks time to catch up and, to be honest, I didn’t get any reading done this week myself. So how great is this book study? No pressure! I figured since it’s a book about setting healthy boundaries it’s almost like homework for me to a) recognize that I’m on overload and b) take steps to scale back. Boom! The book is working.

This afternoon, Isabel managed to (on purpose) lock the two of us in her room. The handle on her door is still flipped around to lock from the outside, from that sweet season when she herself needed to know her boundaries at bedtime. She would hop out of bed, check the door, find it locked and calmly climb back in bed. I’ve never admitted this to you because I’m sure there are those who would FREAK at this concept but I’m telling you  now (now that the season is behind us) it is not traumatic at all for the child, especially if you do it when they are small and not going through the “afraid” phase.

The key to this approach of course is switching the handle back around once you are done with this season. We haven’t done that yet. So today, I stepped into her room while talking to someone on the phone and I looked up to see her turn the lock and pull the door shut….just as I had time to process what she had done.

“We are locked in,” I said in disbelief, hanging up the phone.

To which Isabel replied, “I know! Because I love you.” And she proceeded to draw the blinds and close the curtains.

Isa loves me so much she wanted to just spend some quality time together, just the two of us in her locked, dark room and I feel like maybe she shouldn’t see the movie Misery until she’s through this phase.

Thankfully, I had my phone in hand (which in a way is to blame for all this but no matter) so I called my mom who walked over from next door and used our spare key which she thank the LORD still had at her house. Thanks Mom! You are the best!

So instead of a book discussion this week, here’s a little column I wrote for the local newspaper about learning to slow down. Enjoy!

Let’s Be Still

One of the best gifts anyone ever gave me was a few words of wisdom. It was shortly after Paul and I had our first baby (eighteen years ago!), and Paul’s sister told me the secret to sanity with small children.

“Lay the baby down when he’s awake, have a schedule, and he will learn to fall asleep on his own.”

It was such a simple concept, but kept me sane and happy for years. Little did I know, when we welcomed our first son, that we’d welcome three more boys soon after. That we’d have a season of four little boys who went to bed at seven every night, and that this pack of bear cubs would bring so much joy, in part because I knew I could count on bedtime as a pain-free event.

These days my schedule is completely flipped and those four boys are now teenagers who thrive in the wee hours. Times are different here, and it’s equally fun, equally nuts.

Lately, instead of dealing with four little boys, my bedtime tuck-in ritual involves just one little girl. While Paul is upstairs putting Henry to bed, I’m reading to Isabel. And for a long time, we used our same approach from years past — reading, prayers, tuck and a kiss good-night. I’d leave a small crack in the door and off she would drift.

But then a few months ago, Isabel started a “phase” where she was “scared” and wanted me to sit in her room. I fought it tooth and nail. We don’t do that, was my thought, if I give in everything will fall apart.

It was weeks of fighting it and suddenly, one night, I decided to sit on the floor by Isabel’s door. I answered some email on my phone and sat quietly and before I knew it, ten minutes later, she was asleep. She just wanted my presence and I could afford to give it.

As you can imagine this has become a bit of a habit, but I’m okay with it. I can afford to sit and relax. I enjoy the time with Isabel, but honestly I need it for myself.

In a season where I am on the go from dawn til dusk, these few minutes of quiet on my daughter’s floor help me slow down, catch my breath, remember to keep perspective. It’s so easy to get in the habit of full-speed-ahead, easy to think we don’t have the time to slow down. But we do, and we must.

“The world keeps spinning, a little too fast, if things don’t slow down soon we might not last. So just for a moment, let’s be still.”

It’s my new favorite song from the amazing group Head and the Heart, and it has become my mantra. Let’s Be Still.

Ever year, as Christmas approaches, I have a dream that my Advent will be still. I think about how I want to prepare my heart for Christmas, how I want perspective and serenity, and I make the mistake of setting my standards too high and then being disappointed with the results. If I can’t completely slow down for the entire season, then I’ve failed and will have to try again next year.

The truth is: we can all slow down, twenty minutes here and there. Even in those days where we bounce from event to wonderful event, we can still find time to just stop. It might not be until the very end of the day, but when you find the time, take advantage of it. Don’t waste those precious moments to sit in silence and think or pray or read or just be.

Take a breather, calm your bad self down. You might still have a million things to do and a billion places to go, but just for a moment, let’s be still.

Joy to the World!

joy to the worldThis week I was feeling a little overwhelmed. In the middle of Book Fair at the boys’ school, I was also preparing to travel out of town for the evening to give a talk on the joy of family life. But due to my overloaded schedule, I was having a hard time coming up with anything to say.

“Family life is such a joy,” I kept thinking, “it’s got me running around like a crazy woman!”

Of course I knew better than to follow that train of thought, but honestly, the words and sentiments were not flowing easy. Life is kinda hard right this minute, what am I gonna do?

In the midst of my hectic day, I decided to head down to my favorite Mexican restaurant to spend my one free hour of the day working on my talk. And I brought along a copy of a book I’d been sent (and asked to review), Joy to the World.

The book is the latest offering by Scott Hahn, author extraordiare of (I’ll admit) many titles I’ve been too busy to read in recent history. I wanted to read The Lamb’s Supper when it was first released; I was too busy having babies.

But here I was sitting for a few minutes and as I started to read this book, a book about the Nativity of our Lord and how it all fits into space and time, I was excited. Excited to be reading this book during Advent, excited to be a part of Christ’s presence on Earth, excited to be a believer, to know that the story of Jesus becoming man is real and true and life-changing.

What kind of a book can do that? It’s amazing, there I sat, sipping my tea and fighting back tears. The history, the impact! God on high sending his son to become a man who would toil on this earth and suffer and then, in his last moments, die to save us all — it’s something we know and believe but sitting there reading this book brought it all into focus for me. Like I was hearing and understanding it all for the first time. It’s a mystery, it’s reality. It’s a complicated tale of truth and miracle and we are a part of this grand tale because we believe that God did this — and he did it for YOU. He did it for me.

If you think you’ll have some free time this Advent, I recommend this book. If for no other reason it will set your mind to thinking about the Nativity, the gift of Jesus to us. It will get you where you need to be as we move towards the joyous, glorious gift of Christmas morning.

But more than that, the book will tell you things you may have never considered, teach you and inspire you and fill your heart with gratitude for all God has done, for how much he loves us so.

That’s a tall order for a book — but really, this book can do it.

Boundaries Book Study: Session Two

week twoHere we are at week two of our book study! I hope you are enjoying things so far. Golly day this book has lots of food for thought!

This past week we should have all read Chapters Three and Four. And, as you can see from the picture, there was a lot of underlining and exclamation point-ing going on in my book. Because of that, I’ve decided to tackle this week with my Five Faves approach, noting the top five points/ideas/foods for thought I gleaned this week. And there were more than five, but I’ve got to set some boundaries for myself (I’m learning already!).

1. Setting boundaries with our kids is important — not just from a discipline perspective but for their own protection. And not just because we want to teach them how to “behave.” Boundaries protect our kids, protect us, because with boundaries a person learns to verbalize when they are being hurt or mistreated. The story of the boy who was bullied by his sisters is such an excellent example — he was treated unfairly, but was taught to just take what came his way. Children have to learn to say no, in the right way, as a form of self-protection.

If we train our children to never voice their opinion, there is a risk of unhealthy compliance that will stay with a person throughout his life. And as a result of that, voicing opinions, having a preference, might become something not worth having, with someone being afraid to stand up for what she wants out of fear of losing affection or friendship. This is not a healthy way to live!

2. “God has no interest in violating our boundaries so that he can relate to us. He understands that this would cause injuries of trust. It is our responsibility to open up to him in need and repentance.” This is such a key concept not only in our ability to establish healthy boundaries in our life, but simply in understanding God’s love for us. What freedom we have in Jesus, look at all the freedom he offers us! And the more we embrace and live in that freedom, the more freedom we will surely have in our own lives. God is not a dictator, and when I look to him to model my life, I see a) the healthy boundaries I need to set for myself and b) the boundaries I pray Paul and I will help our children establish for themselves.

3. The more we examine who we are and what makes us tick, the more victory we will have in establishing these healthy boundaries. “Search me O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23-24)”

My prayer, as I read this chapter, was that God will continue to offer his wisdom to each one of us, not so that we can obsess about our problems or hurts in our past, but that we can use good knowledge to move forward and have more freedom in Him.

4. The importance of having a trusted network of close friends becomes so evident in talking about boundaries. Not just to have people you are comfortable being Yourself with — people you can easily tell yes or no and be honest with your limitations. But also to gain that sense of unconditional love, to help in dealing with other people. “I can risk being honest about my feelings or my need to say no in this situation because I know I am loved outside of my ability simply to do what someone asks me to do…” Knowing you are loved, not necessarily by everyone but by those who matter to you, gives that sense of belonging and security that we all need in order to be confident in who we are and in where our boundaries begin and end.

5. FINALLY, parenting! So much to think about here. So many thoughts on training children and offering them security without being a dictator. But I need to tell you…this was SO FREEING for me to read. Because I do struggle, being the mom of so many boys, with my desires to have children who just stinking do what I say ALL OF THE TIME. And this is not the case with my children — and lo it is a good thing! Now I’m not saying I will be celebrating disobdience, but I need to push through my desires for Robo-babies, children who just live to please me and do every thing perfect all of the time. This book is helping me see how good and healthy it is to allow my children to learn boundaries by pushing up against them, by having some failures and by not being perfect in every way.

“Children who can appropriately express anger are children who will understand, later in life, when someone is trying to control or hurt them.” AND ALSO: “Good parents have fun with toddlers who jump on the bed.”

Please share your thoughts! And thanks for reading along with me. xo

A Primer on Gratitude

tday dream

My dream tablescape, courtesy of Southern Living on Instagram.

My phone camera is filled with screen shots of beautiful table settings, ideas for perfect centerpieces and stacks of just-right china and silver. I have a plan for the perfect Thanksgiving tablescape; I just can’t execute it.

It’s a combination of the crazy pace of my life and also, the scope of it. I want to set the perfect table, worthy of my favorite magazines. But the truth is, it’s all just too much. Too much time, too many dishes. The truth of my life is that when I entertain, it generally does not involve my fine china.

I was sort of lamenting this recently, holiday tables filled with paper products as my Lenox looks on from the distance. I’m hosting Thanksgiving and my dream table doesn’t end up making an appearance. I mean, I love how it looks, but it’s not My Ideal.

But I realized not too long ago (as I compared my dream table tops with my reality) that the reason I can’t have “what I want” is because I have exactly what I want. The table I dream of doesn’t totally line up with what works best right now, because my life is filled to the brim. It’s filled with my sons and my daughter and my husband; with my parents walking over from next door and my brothers and their families driving from across town. The reason I won’t have a neat and tidy scene is because real life trumps that.

What I’m learning, finally, just a little, is that true joy comes from being at peace with where we are. With loving the life we have, with having gratitude for what God has given us — in THIS season — and not just what we hope to have eventually. Celebrate all the goodness, the crazy or the quiet. The paper plates or the imported crystal. God is among us, let us rejoice!

There are so many articles and books on procuring the right attitude for life which makes me think I’m not the only one who is tempted to complain. Our outlook is a choice, and I think I’m just now realizing that. If you want to be happy, make a decision to do so!

Here we are at the onset of the holiday season and I’m filled with such a sense of…hope. And joy. And expectation and yes I’m writing all of this in the weeks before we step into the crazy but here’s what I want to remind myself: Choose Joy.

Make your brain choose the happiness. Don’t let your anxiety steer the ship. I’m learning this because I finally, not so long ago, got tired of focusing on what wasn’t going right. For too long I focused on agitations and frustrations because I thought that would help. I spent too many years going back to the same negative thoughts because I thought if I could finally learn to think about things in the right way I could wrap my head around circumstances in the right way.

But over-analysis isn’t always the answer. Sometimes the solution is to change our gaze and just do it — just choose joy. We need to focus on what matters, on the goodness of the Lord, to let our minds wander to beauty.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8)

As one motivational speaker recently wrote, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over the other.”

Let us rejoice! And be grateful. And look for Jesus in the ups and the downs.

Last week, as I moved through my favorite shopper’s warehouse, I eyed a stack of inexpensive china and realized, as I got closer, that it wasn’t china at all. “Can’t believe it’s plastic!” declared the label and I threw it in my cart. One step closer, and I’ll take what I can get.

kids table

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.