When Life Feels Fast

Picking up where I left off two weeks ago! Wow.

And so it was with me. That new commitment of very regular doctor’s appointments was so significant (even though in the grand scheme of a well-ordered life it wasn’t) that it caused me to really start considering if I wanted to live at this pace indefinitely. A few weeks is one thing. But six-to-nine months is another. And considering those six-to-nine months would be the last months of my boy Charlie’s time in high school — that was enough to make me start praying for a change.

There are so many contributing factors to feeling overwhelmed in life. Lots of people walk around feeling overwhelmed, either at times during the day, or during say basketball season — or even longer seasons. I spent a LOT of my early mothering days have those feelings because Paul and I had our first four babies really close. That’s an intense season. But in those kinds of times you recognize that it’s this way because you have a baby who will eventually start to sleep through the night. Or a toddler who will be in bed by 7:30 pm (who am I kidding, my boys were in bed sawing logs by 7 pm and it’s a TOTAL sanity saver).

But to feel this way day after day after day isn’t healthy. When there isn’t a clear “this too shall pass” it’s time to really consider what needs to change. Maybe it’s time to outsource cleaning, or lower expectations for certain chunks of time. But to just live like that without coming up with some kind of a plan is a recipe for total burnout.

Life is funny that way. One minute we have a schedule that works just fine and then something shifts and there you go. It no longer works. And that’s okay. I think it all caught me by surprise because for so many years my stress levels were dictated by having small children. Who knew you could still be stressed without babies and toddlers?! (probably lots of people).

What I learned through this journey (thanks for bearing with me, dear reader) is that ultimately, you have to be at peace with what your limits are. You can only answer for yourself, for what your own abilities are. There’s nothing wrong with looking around at what other people have going on, but really how can we ever know all the in’s and out’s of anyone’s circumstances but our own. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else. And try as you might to make decisions and schedules based on what someone else can handle (so and so seems to be able to do all these things and then some…) you really don’t know what extras you may or may not have that someone else does not. Don’t compare! It might compel you to operate outside your limits of sanity or maybe even just outside of what God wants you to be doing.

When Something Is “Off”

Early on this school year I noticed something really interesting. One of my boys needed to start seeing the doctor on a regular basis for a medical condition (nothing really bad, but very time consuming). It was in the midst of this that I realized I had been operating at the outer edge of what I could handle. I would add several adjectives before the word “handle.” Because we’re talking about the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of life. And practical as well.

On paper, I could “practically” handle this additional commitment. You can easily schedule a doctor’s appointment after school. I have enough big guys to help watch the smaller ones. I have a car. Etc, etc etc. This is what I reasoned as I considered why this all felt so exhausting.

But mentally, as I was considering all this, I visualized a line, with some kind of horizontal graph type bar on it. What I could peacefully (without having a panic attack) handle was “here” (hold up both hands like you are describing a fish you caught). But by adding ANYTHING ADDITIONAL to my load, it pushed me to here (hold up your hands to describe that same fish but bigger).

That’s not good.

Yes, I could get to the doctor and run to get lab work and then go back to the doctor to get the prescription and then to the pharmacy and then back again to pick up the meds. I could do all of those things, but what it meant was something had to give. Unfortunately what was giving was my ability to cope with things like getting us all out the door on time in the morning. And being nice. And not crying.

Now all of this is for my own recollection and everyone is different. I kind of struggle with the idea that someone is reading this and rolling his eyes and thinking that this poor woman quit her job because her kid started needing some meds. And I realize that not everyone is free to just stop working when life feels hard. But this is something different than that. I should probably point out as well that my full-time job had much more of a volunteer quality to it. The people who teach at our private school are so generous. It’s a school that is basically a group of families who have decided to educate their children together. There isn’t tons of money for the staff and administration, so everyone who works there does it because they feel a real call to build and support the school and students. So by saying I quit, I’m not saying I was able to just walk away from tons of money. You might consider this whole conversation to be more about walking away from a wonderful, beautiful volunteer type opportunity. It almost felt like a vocation, which is something we will discuss further.

What’s interesting to me is that when we are at some kind of tipping point in our life, it’s usually one little extra drop in the bucket that makes the different. The final straw, after all, is just one straw. It’s not necessarily a whole wagon full.


The Journey of Hearing God

I’m making macaroni and cheese, the homemade kind that is super simple (cheese, macaroni, half and half and butter!). When I put the noodles in I will have nine minutes and I’m going to write for those nine minutes.

In a future post I’m going to have us hash out Little House on the Prairie and the pros and cons of possibly reading a book that gives insight into the reality of Laura’s life. I’m leaning towards a solid NO on getting that info. Ignorance is bliss.

For today I want to take a few minutes to hash out mentally (and for the reading pleasure of you, dear one) my decision to stop teaching full-time and “focus on my family.”

Truthfully, this might turn into a whole week of writing, because so much time and energy and prayer went into this decision and I learned so much in the process of recognizing something was off balance in my life and that I needed to make a change. Of course, when I began really crying out to the Lord for wisdom I wasn’t expecting the answer to involve my teaching commitments. But have you ever been in that position of really crying out? What I liked about this kind of communication with God is that I didn’t already have an answer. I was truly flummoxed. It wasn’t one of those times when I prayed for a specific answer (that I already had picked out for God to just press GO on). This was like, I don’t even know, Jesus. I don’t even know.

“Something is off,” began my conversation with the Lord, “and I need help.”

I wasn’t sure what the answer was going to be. I figured it would involve getting more organized in some aspect of my home life, or God just giving me better feelings about certain situations. All I knew is I was wandering in the desert. I wasn’t sure when it started or how I got there but I was stumbling around. Really, I felt a bit like the Israelites just not able to get from point A to point B.

The really troubling thing is that everything I was doing was really, really good. Not to be prideful, but it’s the truth. That’s what made this more confusing, more unclear. What do I jettison when nothing I’m doing involves things like “spa day” or “twelve hours shopping trip to Target.”

Those things aren’t necessarily bad either, but when you are feeling run down and overwhelmed all the time, you look first to the things that are disordered. Maybe too much time at TJ Maxx is the problem (honestly could that ever be the problem, no, but just as an example…).

So beginning in December I really cried out to the Lord. Like, Isabel and I had traveled to Texas to visit my sister and one early morning I was sitting on the floor of my sister’s guest room praying. It was an upstairs room and wall to wall carpet, so comforting and quiet and for the first time in AGES I just found myself settled. And I knew something was off.

In tears I just poured my heart out to God. “Something’s not right,” I said. That’s the best I could do.

Later, after a few conversations and lots of soul searching, I realized that I felt like life was flying by. I had a son graduate last year. I have another son graduating this year. My oldest moved to another city, another boy moved into a household in our neighborhood. So many things were changing and because I had said yes to so many things “outside the home” I felt like I was missing it all.


Giving Love Freely

Our neighbor Monique died last week. We are so sad to see her go.

The thing about Monique that endeared her most to me was her unwavering love, and I was most touched by her love for my son Henry. Monique had a love for Henry and his spark. She recognized this as a good thing during a season when I could not. I cannot express what it meant for me to have this dear neighbor ask about Henry every time I saw her — and hear her tell me, every single time, what a special boy my Henry was.

You see, Henry is a pistol. And there are times when I struggle with this fact. But Monique was always so quick to remind me how awesome it is to be a fierce lover of life — and how God can and will use that quality. And for me now, in the season of parenting Henry through — what a blessing to have someone be so quick to just love your child.

There were so many other things to love about Monique. I will certainly miss seeing her tiny little self power-walking through our neighborhood while saying the rosary. She was also quick to pass along an article she had read that might inspire me with my writing. She is the person who introduced me to Catherine Dougherty and the concept of the “duty of the moment.”

But it was her ability to love that inspires me the most. Of all the things Jesus might call us to do in our lifetime, what matters most is our ability to love. “If I have not love I am a clanging symbol.” Monique loved the person in front of her. When you were standing talking with her, you were the most important person in the room. She was a gem.

We should never be afraid to love. What it meant for me in those years of chasing a wild and crazy little Henry — to have this person remind me time and time again what a gift my son was — well, it got me through. Because usually I ran into Monique at some neighborhood gathering where Henry had once again escaped from my watchful eye and I was feeling frustrated and defeated. And she would come up to me and tell me, once again, how amazing my kid was.

I think it might be easy for older people to feel disenfranchised, to question where they fit in. And I can tell you that the greatest asset you have right now is the ability to love. If you can walk up to a parent in the trenches of raising kids, and you can offer a word of encouragement — that is pure gift. If you see someone like me, trying to gracefully parent teenagers — risk starting a conversation and offer a word of encouragement.

The young mom in the grocery store needs to hear she won’t always be chasing an errant toddler boy. The mother with teenagers needs to hear that what’s she’s doing is bearing good fruit. That family in front of you at Mass? They are beautiful and the mother or father needs to be reminded that all this hard work is worth the effort.

Monique was willing to say all those things. She loved Henry, but she had that same love for each one of my children. She wasn’t afraid to love and she wasn’t afraid to love extravagantly.

Monique’s friend Debbie shared at the wake that she had this vision, after Monique had died. She was praying about what to share and heard Monique say, “Give it all away.” And she knew that what Monique meant was love. To give love freely. To offer encouragement with abandon. To be quick to build up and listen and love love love.

Give it all away. That’s what Monique did. That’s the gift we all have to offer, and this love can change the world. It sure changed mine.