The Next Thing

This summer has been a doozy.  I lost a grandmother, rode the rails of the cancer train with another grandmother (still riding), had a grandfather fall and break his hip–and this while he suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s.  I’ve been on an extended family vacation, finished a manuscript, tried to sleep at night (and found myself unsuccessful).  I’ve done my level-best, along with millions of other Americans, to ignore our political candidates and their latest absurdities, but found myself horrified anyway when I peaked through my fingers.

All in a few weeks’ time.

DSC_0690This summer has been a doozy, yes, and I’m almost ready for it to be over, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary.  Everything we go through, each day that passes, is, in its own mysterious way, a necessary part of the whole that makes up our lives.  Our experiences shape us and we shape them (which is what writing is, in the end, the shaping of events into stories we can tell until we begin to understand them a little).  God helps us with the shaping, and that’s a good thing since he’s the one who holds everything anyway.

Still, I look forward to the coolness of fall, the reassurance of routine.  I prepare to kiss summer goodbye this time without a hint of nostalgia.  It’s almost time and I’m ready.

 

 

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The Routine God

 

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I love the liturgies of daily life.  I scramble to bring order to my days and I sometimes think I’m nothing without my routine.  So when things come along to throw off my groove (and they do, routinely–see what I did there?), I feel lost.

I could lie and say this love of habit blossomed after I finally woke from a compressed and super-intense baby-producing phase in which I trust I was present but only have scrapbooks and stretch marks to prove it.  But, no.  I was making workable life plans for myself in second grade.

The thing is, I have seen daily disciplines work.  I have, in fact, used them to lose weight, to read through the entire Bible in a year, to play certain difficult pieces on the cello, to learn to speak Hindi, to write a novel.  I also know that the slapdash, open-ended ways of a creative often hinder her from getting actual stuff done.  The Muse visits the writer whose bum is already in the chair, etc, etc, etc.

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But the workable routine always wants to become my god.  It promises to save me from sloth and chaos and irrelevance.  Or that’s what I hear it say, anyway.  And then the real God, the One who helps us even when we didn’t ask him to, castrates the fake god by letting mess happen, instead.  Not because routines are bad–they’re helpful–but because they aren’t more important than life, or God himself.

All of that is to say that I haven’t written in a week and I feel crazy.  I’m working on a project with a deadline I made up because it helps me accomplish more when I pretend disaster is looming.  But, like I said, life happened this week and I ended up thinking instead of doing.  My teenagers needed me and so did some friends.  And after that I just wanted to watch Netflix and read books that have nothing to do with the one I’m writing.  I wanted to go limp.

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So now I’m trying to get back to my former routine (again!) without loving it too much. Oh,  how I hate getting back into something instead of already being in the middle of it.  I also hate confronting the fear that fills the vacuum my ruined routine leaves in my psyche.  On the other hand, I want to grow trusting and flexible enough that I can ride these longterm contractions with quiet confidence that God knows what’s best for me, that I can trust him with all the things–including my writing habits and my time.  That I can get back to work eventually.

I should be working on my novel.  But I’m blogging instead.  Baby steps.

Fall Break

It’s officially Fall Break around here.  For us, September held birthdays, visits from out-of-town grandparents, meetings, more meetings, and more m…

FullSizeRenderBirthday celebration for our 14-year-old son (beside me).

FullSizeRenderG-parents, looking at a dog book with the kids.

And now it’s October.  We aren’t actually “breaking” from our routine too much this week because to do that feels like bringing a full-stop to our already-wobbly momentum.  And, anyway, Christmas is coming soon (yes, it really is–stop denying it).

We take Christmas break very seriously in this house.

However, it doesn’t take much for us to feel that something kind-of special/different/holidayish is happening even now.  This week we’ve been lighting fires in the fireplace at night.  We’ve been watching Agatha Christie murder mysteries on Netflix in the late afternoon gloom.  The other day we ate chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.  Several.

And it really is good enough.

So from our house to yours:  Happy Fall, You People (because I can’t make myself type y’all)

The Other Side of the Looking Glass

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I’m back from a ten-day stint overseas and I’m popping in here, not because I have anything profound to say, but because I’m awake now, and wanting to slip back into familiar routines.

Two quick observations:

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  I missed my kids while I was in South America.  And it turns out that I needed to miss them.  It’s helpful to be reminded of how much space they take up in my heart because I can forget when the middle school gets thick around here.  For the time being, I’m seeing them with fresh eyes, and it feels good.

Writing while traveling, even if it’s just keeping a journal, can inject fresh life into a stale routine.  I was worried that being without my laptop for ten days would cause me to lose momentum on the writing project I was working on before I left.  I’d bought a little sea-blue journal and had made myself a promise to record observations and events while I was in Paraguay, but I still felt like I’d be taking a hit when I got home.  I didn’t.  As it happened, I was able to jump right back into my project–with new perspective.  Hopefully I can use some of what I jotted down while I was away sometime, too.

All in all, it’s good to be home.  I love to travel, to speak with different vocabularies, to memorize other hearts.  But at the end of the day, I love the familiar, too.  Here’s to slipping through the looking glass, and to popping back out again.

The Bare Minimum is Better Than Nothing

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It’s March.  February was…well, I’m just going to leave it there.  March is shaping up to be no less insane since I’m heading to South America for ten days–without the family.  When things get nutty (and they have recently) and nothing goes as planned (it kind-of hasn’t for a while), I hunker down and try to accomplish what I call The Bare Minimum.

Everyone has his or her own idea of what constitutes ‘bare minimum’, of course.  In truly awful circumstances, it probably consists of making sure you and your loved ones are eating and wearing clothes.  But in most non-life-threatening situations, it’s a list of the most basic things a person needs to accomplish to keep moving forward when things aren’t quite normal.

I’ve been adhering my own Bare Minimum list for weeks now…

  • Bible reading (sometimes only a handful of verses) and prayer
  • Helping the kids with their schoolwork (but basically math and writing when things are especially ridiculous)
  • Writing 500 words a day, except on weekends (even if they’re stupid words, and they sometimes are since I feel like I’m shoving them into a tight schedule)
  • Basic tidying up around the house (the kids are helping out so that it doesn’t all fall on my shoulders)
  • Keeping food on the table (easy meals like Crock Pot chicken fajitas)
  • Drinking water (I buy the flavored, sparkling kind and drink can after can.  Hey, at least it keeps me hydrated and is better than soda)
  • Sleeping (more than usual, if I can)

I can’t handle any more than what’s on that list these days.  I know things will settle down eventually but, for now, I keep reminding myself that accomplishing The Bare Minimum is, indeed, better than nothing.

What’s on your bare minimum list?

In Search of the Flexible Life

My husband and I are looking after my youngest sister’s three kids this week.  Her oldest is nine, and there are a five and three-year-old in the mix.  Then, of course, we have our own three middle-schoolers.  Add to that #Snowmagedon2015, an emerging flu-like croup among those younger than thirty in the house, and blow-up mattresses that keep leaking air, and you’ll start to get a feel for things.

Actually, in all honesty, it’s been smooth sailing–in spite of a very real potential for madness.  The fact that my husband’s school was cancelled for the entire week was a blessing because it meant that he’s been home helping out.

Also helpful is the fact that most kids like plain, ordinary days and a sense of routine, especially young kids.  We’ve been able to keep things very Netflix, Lego, and peanut butter sandwich around here, and there’s been a serious lack of chaos, all things considered.

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Something that had me (selfishly) worried, though, was the fact that I’ve made goals for myself this year, daily disciplines that require repeated, focused attention.  Any change in routine means that I could derail on them at any point.  And since it’s only February, and the disciplines are still new, I might have a painful time getting back into them whenever normal returns.  I hate pain.

In times past, I would have told myself that a week of six children and snow and sickness meant temporarily forgetting about making any progress in personal disciplines at all–  that to do otherwise would only mean setting myself up for frustration and failure.  But I’ll be 37 this Saturday, and something about being three years away from 40 has made me want to figure out how to be open to serving others while still keeping up with my own stuff.

Easier said than… I know.

However, I figured out that I could exercise on the elliptical for ten minutes while the youngest kids dump dominoes out on the floor in the same room.  I told them that if they stay near me, and share the trains with one another, they can keep on enjoying this extremely special privilege–but only when I’m on my machine.  Happily, it’s working out, and so am I.

Since I can’t wake up early without all the kids joining me in my bed, I have taken to writing in the afternoon when the youngest boy naps.  I sit in the room with him, cross-legged, silver Mac on my lap.  He tries to talk to me for the first ten minutes or so, of course, but eventually fades away to the tapping of the keys.  Unexpectedly, I discovered that I am writing as much this week as I did last week.  And the bonus is that my little nephew is thrilled to have someone with him while he rests.

Finally, I’ve switched to reading my Bible at night instead of in the morning.  I don’t prefer doing it this way, but the thing is, I’m managing to keep it up (I desperately need it) while still giving love and attention to those in my care.  In the end, this is more important than doing it at the “right time.”

What I’ve learned this week is that I can do more than I think I can if only I’ll be flexible and resist an all-or-nothing mentality.  Of course, I’m asking God to sustain me daily, and he graciously is.  One of the ways he’s helping me is by giving me the strength to go with the flow.  Another, though, is by helping me to find pockets in the day when I can practice body and soul care.

The upshot is that, so far, I’ve been able to love my people and take care of myself.  I’m calling it a win-win.

How do you keep going when things get crazy?

Soon, And Very Soon

Just a quick stop over here–not because a). Christmas break is over for us, or b). I am dressed and ready to take on the day, but because it’s Monday and Christmas is over.

Much as I love the season and will miss it come June or so, I am ready to start a new year and get back on a routine.  Laws, how I love my routine (almost as much as I love my body pillow, and that is a lot, lot, lot of love).  Since blogging is part of that, I’m writing a little something right now to remind myself that order is a comin’.  Not today, mind you, but soon, and for many days after that.

Happy Almost New Year!