A Better Burden

I’m on my second cup of coffee and it’s well before 7 a.m.  I’ve woken up at 5 without an alarm for the second morning in a row.  This is unusual.  My stomach flirts with the idea of rejecting the scalding black liquid I keep sending down into it because it wants to be asleep like my teenagers are, but I keep on sipping.

Being awake turns out to be what I need.  Now I can think in straight lines.  The breath of the box fan tethers my brain to the real, though, if I’m honest, the real isn’t strictly better than the dreams.

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The world has lost its mind, like I’m sometimes sure I’m losing mine, and this forces me to ponder Things That Matter. Should I have had another baby, I wonder, now that the kids are stretching toward adulthood like the potted ivy on my side table?  (There is nothing like housing a human in one’s core to realign everything).  But there’s the self-destructing world–that giant live coal that blisters our souls as we walk on it.  There’s us.

And that’s when I realize I’ve been tired for a long, long time.

I reach for my coffee mug, but this time my stomach is not playing around.  I need more than caffeine can offer anyway.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” he says to me, to us.

I fill up my lungs, let the air out slow.  I close my rusted eyes and choose to believe Him again.

(This).

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A Defiant Hope in 2016

We put away our tree yesterday without regret.

Christmas was warm and simple, the way I hoped it would be.  After opening presents, we visited my grandparents in their separate care centers, and both were in high spirits.  The kids played the piano in the rec room for my grandmother, which I think she liked, though a younger man in a wheelchair muttered that we were interrupting his Christmas Sports Center experience.

Often we feel wistful when we put decorations away after Christmas, but not this time.  There was nothing sensational about the season, but it was enough.  We had holy, quiet moments where we reflected on the birth of Jesus, on his life, death, and resurrection, on the salvation that he offers to those who know they need it.  We listened to Christmas music (the kids begged for international renditions as well as electronic remixes this year).  We ate loads of chocolate and spicy sausage.  We opened presents and created hazardous fires with piles of discarded paper.

And now we’re ready for 2016.

Last year was an anxious one for the United States and the world.  We struggled for perspective, finding ourselves caught up in an endless barrage of bad news along with everyone else.  It looks as if the new year will continue to present us with compelling reasons to lose hope.

But we’re ready, and we refuse.

Jesus is both the reason for Christmas and the reason for the hope that is within us.  (Which is not to say he’s the author of some pie-in-the-sky optimism that won’t look properly at the dire straights we’re all in.  On the contrary, his mandate to love others means that as his followers we’ll likely feel and see more sorrow–not less–as we seek to clasp hurting hands wherever we find them.  More sorrow and more reality).

We’re determined to carry on in 2016 without hand-wringing and panic because he promises that he will never leave us, never forsake us, never stop remaking us.  And not just us but, someday, everything.  Until then, we will join him in telling people Good News–news that hurts in the short run but heals in the end. And we will love boldly because we have been loved.

Yep.  We want to face 2016 with defiant, humble gladness, like people who have read the last chapter.  Because we have.  And it’s very good.

On Bearing Burdens

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I woke up this morning with a whirling mind and bruised heart so that it felt like I hadn’t slept at all last night.

My mood further plummeted when it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be able to mull over what’s burdening me in order to mentally work it out.  I’m a writer and a teacher and I have to be emotionally present and alert to do my job(s) well.  And these weighty thoughts are like mental sludge in my brain pipes.

So what will I do in the next eighteen hours?

I’ll pray every time the heavy thoughts come up today.  Like a ninja.  My problems are beyond me, but not God.

I’ll make a list of the things I have to accomplish in the next several hours.

I’ll follow that list, checking things off as I get them done without trying to decide in the moment what  comes next.

I’ll listen to music when I’m not teaching or writing.  Few things focus my mind more than hearing songs and lyrics I love.

I’ll exercise at some point, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

I’ll remind myself that today will last for exactly 24 hours like its ancestors before it.  It’ll pass.  It has to.

Finally, I’ll get on with life because that’s what mothers do.

How do you cope with burdens you can’t seem to permanently offload? 

Why My Kids Procrastinate (And Why I Do, Too)

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I’m not a chronic procrastinator.  As a general rule I get my stuff done.

That is, until recently.

These days I’m working on edits of my manuscript. I have a deadline and I want to meet it, yet I am finding so many reasons not to work toward it.  Big things like, checking to see if my skin looks older (younger?) in natural light than it does under sixty watt bulbs, or seeing if someone emailed me, by chance, in the last five minutes.  Or keeping close tabs on Jennifer Lawrence’s growing-out-a-pixie-cut journey.

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This isn’t like me.  It is like my kids, but not me.  So I’ve tried to put my finger on the reason(s) for my recent slacking, and here’s what I think is going on.  I notice that I procrastinate more often when

  • I am anxious.  When I come upon a section in my manuscript that I know I need to pare down or pump up, and I cannot figure out how to do it, it scares me.  I worry that I won’t ever be able to see how to change things so that they flow properly.  I see myself failing, and I hate to fail.
  • I am overwhelmed.  Sometimes the editing job seems too big and I don’t know how to “chunk” it–to create bite sized segments of work on which to focus.  I find myself wanting to avoid this feeling at all costs so I tell myself that I’ll get to it after I text my sister a funny writer quote or give the dogs more loveys.
  • I am mentally exhausted.  No one gets to think one or two thoughts per day, least of all moms.  I wear several hats and my brain is on warp speed all day long.  I make this reality infinitely worse when I comb the internet for useless facts about people I don’t know.  Of course, sometimes they aren’t useless facts.  Sometimes they’re horrifying facts about the world melting down.  So, naturally, I just stew about them and gut grind.  Then, the idea of taxing my brain further by trying to shut out the world and concentrate on my work makes me feel like falling asleep.  Or watching ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ on Netflix.

These realizations have helped me as a homeschool mom to feel more compassion for my kids when they procrastinate in their own work.  Though it sometimes boils down to sheer laziness in them (and, OK, me), other times my kids’ dragging their feet comes from anxiety, brain overwhelm, and exhaustion.

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Knowing this makes me (A). better able to pinpoint what’s getting in the way when they aren’t finishing, or starting, homework, projects, etc., and (B). more likely to find a solution to the problem.  If it’s anxiety, we can talk about it.  We can pray about it and face it head on.  If it’s overwhelm, we can take a sheet of math problems and focus on just one for the time being.  If it’s exhaustion, we can examine our days and see if we’re trying to cram too much into them–too much information, too much TV, too many activities.  We can look for ways to cut back so that we aren’t running ourselves ragged.

Addressing the reasons behind my kids’ procrastination, instead of just calling them lazy, is helping them get their work done in a more timely manner.

And, yeah, I think it’s helping me get my work done, too.