Welcome, Baby Seth! (Sorry, Michael Bolton)

02-B20A0292 (1).jpg
Photo Credit: Baby Bella Photography

February 11, 2016. I planned on seeing Michael Bolton in concert, a rare date made possible by my homebody husband’s sympathetic, last-date-before-my-due-date Christmas gift. Instead, I found myself in a hospital bed, welcoming my second baby into the world.

Seth 1

We bought the tickets because I kept seeing the concert advertised every time I drove Sam, my firstborn, to Parents’ Day Out. “We never do stuff like this,” I told Buc. And, “It’s so close to our due date.” I was trying to convince myself I didn’t want to go. “But you want to go,” he said, “Don’t you?” I did. My husband did the only thing a good husband does in this situation: he bought the tickets.

Michael Bolton
michaelbolton.com

One day before the concert I had an ultrasound to check Seth’s growth. I hadn’t been having serious contractions, and I didn’t expect any exciting news. I got it wrong again.

“Did the sonographer tell you you’re having your baby today?” My doctor quipped, blunt as ever, as she walked into the room. This is the same way she had announced my pregnancy. My mouth hung open. “What?” Surely, she was kidding.

She was not. My fluid was low, and they needed to induce today. “Go home and get your hospital bags and head back up here. We’ll start your pitocin tonight. I expect you’ll give birth sometime tomorrow morning.”

I glared at Buc in the doctor’s office. “You did this. You willed Seth to come on the concert date so you wouldn’t have to go.” (Buc had joked many times in the past weeks: “Come on, baby Seth, come on February 11th so I don’t have to go see Michael Bolton, that ‘no talent hack’ [reference to the movie Office Space].”)

Last home prego pic before heading to the hospital.

I both laughed and cried on the way home. Yes, I saw the humor in the situation, but I also was truly disappointed. I was so close! So close to getting my last date before the due date. So close to seeing one of my favorite singers. So close to having this first-time experience with my husband. (Trust me, we don’t get out much.) Second on my mind to Michael Bolton (or probably first, really, but we’ll just keep this post light), was my mom, who wasn’t going to be there for the birth.

And one last pic in the hospital room…

Third on my mind was, Thank you, Lord, for helping me get ready this week. Almost as if I’d known Seth would come early, that week I’d stocked up on last groceries, hung up last things in Seth’s room, finally taken the birth suites tour the night before, to know where to go and what to expect at this particular hospital. So yes, I was disappointed that Seth couldn’t have waited one more day…but I also knew God was in control, and his timing is perfect.

Expectant parents!

On Wednesday night,  February 10 at 8 p.m., I was induced. I was given low doses of hormones every hour, with the plan that the doc would break my water by 6 a.m. the next morning if need be. But baby Seth was quicker. By 4 a.m. Thursday morning, February 11th–or the day of the concert–I felt the need to push, and felt him pushing against me. By 4:51, he was here!

Resting after birth.
Father and son.

Seth has been with us for just over a week now, and I’m in love. Aside from missing Michael Bolton and a nap the day before, I couldn’t have asked for a better birth experience. Plus, I’m enjoying this postpartum period so much more than my first time around. I know stuff to do this time. I know how to tell if he’s full enough (yes, I am feeding him formula along with breastmilk; don’t hate). I know how to hold him and comfort him and rock and feed and change him. And whether or not he’s calmer because he’s fuller than Sam was for the first three weeks (while I breastfed Sam exclusively), he is definitely an easier baby. God is so good.

IMG_3208
Sleeping peacefully after a feeding.

And now to answer the one burning question that remains: How did I ever get into Michael Bolton, that “no-talent hack” who is the same age as my dad, anyway? (Buc later rescinded his criticisms, saying he had nothing against MB–“I actually think he’s a very talented singer”–he just thought the Office Space movie line was funny.)

I can’t quite remember why, but throughout the early 2000s I started buying MB’s CDs on clearance at Half Price Books, started listening to them, and realized this artist had a really good voice. And then, this year, I saw that he was coming to my neighborhood the week before my due date, and wouldn’t that be a fun outing before our second baby comes and we can’t get out for dates anymore?

So we took a chance. And our son stole the show.

I’ll try to catch you next time, MB. For now, I’m going to enjoy the new man in my life, my seven pounds, three ounces of pure joy. I love you so much, baby Seth. Welcome!

Mom and Seth
Back home: Loving my little boy!

(Stay tuned for more on our new baby transition…and if you’re looking for some good tunes, you know who I recommend:)

Something of a “Second Baby Strategy”

“Life is gonna go crazy!” “I’ll get no sleep!” “I’m gonna go crazy!” These are some of my thoughts lately. No matter how excited I am for my second son to make his appearance, I’m also anxious. I’m not deeply worried about any longterm disasters–because I survived the infant stage with my first son and because God is on my side–I’m just anxious. At the end of a pregnancy, when you can’t sleep well, when your hormones are running wild, and when your body tells you “things they are a changin’,”  it’s hard not to be a bit on edge.

But it’s kind of cool, too, to see how God has designed mothers to go into this preparation stage. I’ve been doing things lately that I never do–all because of an instinct I believe God planted in us women.

Not only have I been scouring thrift stores for baby things, buying non-perishable groceries in bulk, and deep cleaning my house–making physical preparations–but I have also been laying plans to help me cope emotionally. Namely, I am enlisting as much support as I can.

Enlisting support in a new state, Missouri, is not as easy as it would be in Texas or Minnesota. Here I don’t have any family nearby, which is a bummer. But I do have resources. And I’m trying to learn from my past fails of going it alone that I need to use what I have.

The Strategy

  • Keep up Parents’ Day Out. A couple months ago Sam started a twice weekly Parents’ Day Out program. I thought of discontinuing this when the baby comes (because it will be harder to get three of us out the door, and will it really be worth the three hours’ break once I drive across town and drive back home and drive back to get him?), but then I thought better of it. It’s not just good for Sam to get out and about, it’s also good for me. When Sam was an infant, I was afraid to take him places because I never knew how he would act. I was unsure in my mothering and my ability to handle him. But I am vowing not to be so scared with Seth. It’s better for us to get out and about sometimes, and for Sam to interact with other kids and adults, and we will.
  • Join MOPS. I inquired on a MOPS group near my home several months ago, only to be told it was full. But two weeks ago they emailed and said several mothers had dropped out, and they invited me to join. Again, I considered skipping this extra hassle (too much work to get the kids out the door, and who knows how they will act when we get there?), but then wisdom convinced me otherwise. If I shunned this group, I would be shunning just exactly the kind of support I’ll need at just exactly the right time–I know, from my first baby, that I’ll need other mothers to talk to. And without family or many friends nearby, how else will I get this if not from a group like MOPS?
  • Lower Expectations at Home. This is a constant project in my life. I’ve always been an overachiever in my life’s pursuits, and once I became a full-time homemaker, it was no different: I wanted to have a clean house, healthy home-cooked meals, and an orderly schedule for my family. And after the first year of Sam’s life, I was starting to learn how to achieve these things (though not always simultaneously). But once #2 comes, I know all of these things won’t be possible, not right away. Maybe not even for a couple years. So I am praying for God to relax my perfectionism, and I am practicing being okay with some convenience meals and messy counters and laundry that waits until the weekend.
  • Make the Most of Weekends. With less ability to get house things done by myself, I plan to make the most of my weekends. Buc has been a great help while I’ve been pregnant–he’s helped with laundry, watching Sam, and random nesting projects when I’ve asked him–and I intend to keep enlisting his help when life gets even crazier. That will mean saving projects I can’t get to for nights and weekends. At the same time, I don’t want to put undue demands on my husband, who works hard at his job to support us. So, after I have prayerfully decided what expectations I can lower or drop, I will calmly and nicely ask Buc to help with what remains.
  • Bottle Feed as Soon as I Need to. I don’t want to even attempt describing the emotional roller coaster that breastfeeding Sam (or trying to breastfeed Sam) sent me into two years ago. It’s something I’ll write more about in my second memoir. But I learned this: I’m going to save my family the stress and struggle this time around. Yes, I will give breastfeeding a try while I have extra help at the house. But when my sweet niece leaves to go back to Texas, and when Buc goes back to work, if I don’t have enough milk, I won’t hesitate to introduce formula. God has blessed us with the money to afford this, and I will do what is best for all of us.

For now, those are the big strategy items. Oh yes, and prayer. I will be relying on lots of prayer for strength, energy, and wisdom. If you believe in the power of prayer, I wouldn’t mind if you sent up some extra prayers for me. Beyond that, I’ll also take your second-baby tips in the comments! Thanks in advance; and thanks, as always, for reading.

Living Large: Awaiting a Book and Baby!

Somewhere between 34 and 35 weeks. I keep losing count.

Two big and awesome things are happening in my life right now: I am expecting my second son and my second published book sometime next month. Currently I don’t have many words available to describe my feelings–what with prego brain and book revisions squeezing me dry–but I can say this: “Thank you, Jesus.”

I am thankful that two of the best parts of my life are converging right now.

I am thankful that a publisher, Pacific Press, picked up my book so that I don’t have to keep lugging around an unfinished dream…and so I can now concentrate more fully on my kids.

And I am thankful that God continues to surprise me with this life I once thought I didn’t want to live.

This past week as I reread my manuscript in a breathless four days, scouring it for last-minute corrections, I had fun remembering all the  delightful surprises God had laid in store for me years ago.

The manuscript, now entitled Ending the Pain: A True Story About Overcoming Depression, begins with me, a depressed college student, giving up on God and giving up on life. The first chapter ends with me writing my suicide note. Then we jump chronology back to age seven so I can explain how I got to this point.

Once back to the suicide scene, the manuscript chronicles my failed attempt and then moves through the tough year after–a year in which I emerge from the mental hospital disgusted with my new start. It’s a new start I don’t want, with a clean slate that is “blank, but not in a good way.” I have no goals, no plans, no dreams. The one goal I had, to end the pain, has been taken from me by doctors, nurses, and family members who say I cannot kill myself. But there’s absolutely no one who can give me to will to live…no one but God.

After some futile attempts to numb my pain (sleazy guys, bulimia), things start happening in my life that can only be attributed to the Divine: I meet a great Christian guy from Texas, doors literally start closing in Minnesota (I go to work one day to find my restaurant has closed), and I am compelled to pack up my rusty Cavalier and move my sorry life 1,000 miles from home to start over again. One year to the day after my discharge from the mental hospital, at a measly twenty years old, I find myself in the “Gendke Love Chapel” (my now-in-laws’ living room) getting married to a man I’ve only known six months.

Lest you think the story ends there–because so many stories end with a wedding–know that we are only one-third into the book…and I am still w-a-a-a-y depressed beneath a good-churchy-girl-looking exterior.

What follows is the rest of the story of how I got un-depressed–a story that is often simplified or glossed over in Christian literature. We’re supposed to accept Christ and have a new life instantly, promise so many preachers and Bible teachers. But real-life recovery from depression (and crappy childhoods, I’ll just add) is slow and hard; often it seems unattainable. My goal with the last two-thirds of my book was to explain just what it looked like to find God and gain a new life in Christ when, for so many years, I felt him doing nothing.

It’s too much to describe in this blog post, but if you suffer from depression or just need a new start in Christ, I hope you’ll stay tuned for more details on my book’s release.

Until then, if you want a preview of what’s in my book, check out my seven-part “Ugly, Messy Rebirth” series–or, if you just want to get to the heart of matter, read this post for some practical tips on what most helped me turn a corner in my battle with depression and in my relationship with God.

Here’s to a God who “makes all things new” when we let him (Rev. 21:5), a God who has prepared a future for me–and for you–that we haven’t even imagined (1 Cor. 2:9).

Nesting, Purging, and Splurging—Hello 2016!

Now that we are home to stay until baby Seth comes, I am in full-on nesting mode. I had nearly the whole main floor of our house painted while we were on our Christmas trip; I have been combing the house for clutter to give away; and I have been comparison shopping for those last needed baby things (double stroller, baby carrier, dresser—anyone want to donate?). I can’t stop thinking and talking about all that needs to get done, and I am driving Buc crazy. “Take a break!” he says. And, “Stop spending my money!”

Indeed, I’m probably getting a little obsessive. To the point where my nesting is unproductive. I dropped Sam off at Parents’ Day Out two hours ago, and I spent an hour just wandering around Target glassy-eyed, unable to make purchasing decisions.

Now I have just a half hour left before it’s time to pick Sam up, and I am sitting in a coffee shop trying to cobble together this blog post—but I’m so distracted. What will I do when I get home? Will Sam even take a nap for me today, after sleeping in until 8:30 this morning?

I wish I were focusing on Sam more these days; I just can’t seem to stop focusing on my house. And I know that sounds stupid—it’s just a house—but 2015 was so crazy. I just wasn’t home enough to get it prepared for baby, or even unpacked. I slept away my second trimester because I was so tired…and now I’m back home and I have some energy back…but there is just over a month left until baby comes!

While I am filled with excitement for my next baby, I also feel the clock ticking down. Once he’s here, all heck is going to break loose. Nothing’s going to get done…except those most important things of feeding and cuddling and calming temper tantrums.

There’s probably enough time to get ready, it just doesn’t feel like it. So I will tell myself to Slow down, mama. Be a mama. Be a wife. Be a writer.

Can you believe I have a book coming out in a couple months? I haven’t even been thinking about it, except to get an author picture and a photo release signed. You can believe I am trusting the publishers to do the bulk of marketing this year.

Me? I’ll be busy with more important thingsjust as soon as nesting mode kicks off.

What’s Getting Done When “Nothing’s Getting Done”

"Car boot full of luggage" by Colin Brough

pa6GLeQ.jpg
“Car boot full of luggage” by Colin Brough

We’ve been traveling again, and with my second baby due in less than two months, I am eager to get back home and nest. After seven trips in the past year, I don’t even want to think of the hours and days I’ve spent packing, unpacking, and re-adjusting each time we return from Minnesota or Texas. In other words, all the work–the writing, homemaking, home decorating, and integration into a new community–that isn’t getting done. But then two realizations dawned on me.

Realization One: Important work is happening while we’re away from home. Work on our family life. Work on our marriage. And work on our parenting. (For example, how do we uphold family ideals regarding TV, diet, and time use in places where our ideals are not the norm?)

Realization Two: Traveling is actually training for our second child…because each trip puts us back to square one. I arrive at the destination, and I am forced to pare back my to-do list to bare necessities:

  • Is there food in the cupboard?
  • Do I have a meal plan for the week?
  • Is this living space livable for us?
  • Do we have clean laundry to wear?
  • Are we getting along? Is our marriage okay?

Yes, again and again in the past year, my life has been reduced to putting first things first: food, clothing, shelter, and marriage.

And that’s how life is with a baby.

With both continual travel and baby care, I’ve learned sometimes it’s all I can do to keep the fridge stocked, meals prepped, laundry clean, and a smile on my face…if I can even do that.

So I guess I’m in training right now. On the outside, it feels like nothing’s getting done, but once again, I can’t go by my feelings.

James 1:2-4 adds perspective to my situation:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

As I trust God with my life, I can be confident that even when “nothing is getting done” on the outside, something is getting done inside of me. Patience. Endurance. Perseverance. All tools needed for parenting, marriage, and life. I guess I shouldn’t be so disappointed when I don’t have time to write…because when I finally have time again, I will have lots to write about, and probably some wisdom besides.

At the End of the Year, a Look Back…

missouri welcomes youAnother year is coming to a close, and as I can’t help doing, I’m already making plans for 2016. Namely, with baby #2 on the way, I’m looking at down-sizing my goals, and maybe hiring a quarter-time nanny with my book advance.

But what happened to my 2015 goals/resolutions? I did think about them some over the year, and I even wrote the germ of this post in May to check my progress…but my goals got somewhat swallowed up in our baby news, move, and continuous travel.

So before I leave this ambitious stage of life to enter another round of infant craziness, here’s a look back at how my 2015 resolutions played out.

(See my original New Year’s Resolutions post here, and its sister “plan” post here):

Resolution 1: Focus on my Family

 Oh, putting my family first this year was a paradigm shift! I realized that I had often made writing my primary focus, to the point of making it an idol (yikes). But with the resolutions I made, The Love Dare, and God’s help, I no doubt grew in this area.

Family Photo 2015

Here are some family and motherhood gains I made over the year:

  • I learned to be mostly nice (or at least not say anything mean) to my husband in the mornings—AKA the time of day when things are at their craziest and I at my most stressed.
  • Buc and I started implementing more date nights to preserve our marriage in this busy time of toddlerhood. While we don’t always achieve a weekly date night, we both recognize the importance of sitting and talking on a regular basis. It’s encouraging how you can stave off marital stresses with a little focused, face-to-face communication.
  • I learned to make singing with Sam a regular part of our day. If you will recall, singing with Sam did not come naturally to me at first, even though I am a musical person (I still have early childhood/teen roots to write through on my issues with music). But now singing comes easily.
  • At first I listed out one song a week, because I was not in the habit of singing with Sam AT ALL—like, not a note all day long. But having the list helped initially to remind me to sing. So did playing some kids’ CDS we got for Sam’s baby shower. I listened to 100 different Bible songs over and over, until I could sing most of them, and now singing comes pretty naturally. I am not writing down a song each week anymore, because I don’t need to. Singing has, happily, become a habit (and this is a great depression fighter).
  • We don’t yet have family devotions every night with Daddy—can you believe the day gets away from us before we can even sometimes sing songs with Sam? But we do have a family prayer, and Daddy has told me he is taking more responsibility for including this in our day.
  • I am happy to say I made some photo memories and mementos in 2015: I filled several photo albums with prints I already had, and then I transitioned into the world of electronic photo albums. I made an album for Sam on Shutterfly documenting his second six months.IMG_2106
  • I also made a family wall of pictures and decorated our living area with group shots of family and friends. These little touches made it so nice to come home from TX and MN visits; I had a living space that surrounded me with loved ones even though they were far away.

Resolution 2: Make Healthy Choices for My Family and Myself

 So, to sum this one up, I didn’t stick perfectly with my plan to eat healthy (here’s a second post about this, too)—I think I began to derail when chocolate Easter bunnies hit the shelves—but overall, our diet is pretty darn good…and I finally lost all my (first) baby weight at fourteen months postpartum. At thirty-ish weeks pregnant with #2, I am keeping to a healthier weight gain, and I don’t expect to put on the 50 pounds I did last time.

I must report that at Sam’s fifteen-month appointment, his pediatrician raised concerns about his slow growth and encouraged me to give him juice and more sweets (“he’ll use the sugar for extra calories” he said)—so I started to. It didn’t happen right away, but in the second half of this year, Sam’s and my diet got a little “junkier,” although still not bad—and now Sam is in a picky eating phase, which I am told is “normal,” and which I am trying to patiently wait out.

Here is Sam, pictured with adorable cousin Kendall, stuffing his face with Fruit Loops (he calls them ABCs) on Thanksgiving.

A distant goal is to diversify our diet a little more, only because I like variety, but this will come slowly, because Buc does NOT like variety. So I am not killing myself to crack the cookbooks right now. I did join our potluck team at church so I can have an excuse to try new recipes from time to time…

Resolution 3: Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child

 This goal was unquestionably met, and it didn’t take too long. It was in June, after a few failed home pregnancy tests, that I got the news from my new OB that I was, surprise, expecting! It was a funny way to find out, because this was exactly how I found out with Sam: I was just going to a new OB’s office for a meet-and-greet to discuss getting pregnant…and lo and behold, at the end of both appointments, I found out I was!

Resolution 4: Write When I Can, and When It Doesn’t Interfere with Family Time

Writing time definitely went down this year, but with the recent book acceptance, I feel God really blessed the time I was able put in. I made some of the most important revisions and added some of the most important scenes to my memoir in 2015—or the ones that sold the book.

IMG_2488

At the beginning of the year, I also proudly maintained weekly blog posts and I ambitiously set a goal of writing and submitting five magazine articles this year. After the first article was written and rejected, and the second one unraveled, I put that goal aside, along with my blog for a time, because it was clear my priorities needed recalibrating. I did have this article published online in March.

Currently, I am aiming to stay “active” on my blog (not quite sure what that will mean with baby #2), trying to refrain from making any time-bound writing goals, and striving to let God show me when more projects will be ready to come together. I am heartened to remember that my memoir, and previous magazine articles I published, sat in various states of undone for years before God gave me their conclusions, or their unifying themes. I trust him to make clear when it’s time to take on more projects.

As You Make Goals for 2016…

For those of you working on new habits, goals, or resolutions, here’s a little wisdom I’ve learned: Goals and resolutions are good for us; they give us purpose and direction and by all means should be pursued. But once a goal is no longer helpful, or your needs change, or you accomplish your goal, feel free to drop it or change it. Resolutions should be guidelines for life, not ironclad rules. As life changes, we need to change with it.

What Christians and Parents Have in Common

mtJMcpQ.jpg

“When do you feel closest to God?” my pastor asked the congregation this Saturday.

I sat surrounded by toys; spilled popcorn; and my son, Sam, in a back pew reserved for parents with small children. Not now, sprang to my mind. Not as a young mother.

But upon deeper reflection, the pastor also mentioned that to follow Jesus meant to sacrifice everything…to bear your cross…to put others first.

I guess I feel like that…but in service to my kid. To parent babies and young children is to (temporarily) give up things, to sacrifice needs and wants, to bear a cross. A sweet new friend at church who sat with me at lunch said, after I told her I felt I was doing “nothing” in ministry right now, that ministry was “exactly” what I was doing.

So why is it so hard to see motherhood as a work for Christ (at least at this stage)? And why doesn’t it automatically make us feel “close to God”?

Any young mom knows the answer. It’s the “surrounded by toys” thing. The “spilled popcorn” thing. The thing about always being distracted, always making sure your kid doesn’t hurt himself, he has enough to eat, he’s not getting into trouble, or he’s getting consequences for the trouble he caused.

Did I mention the exhaustion?

Then, there is the fear. Fear that there might not be a reward at the end of the road. When they grow up, my kids could write me off, or write off God, or just get too busy for me. And there is the lack of immediate rewards. At least when I serve in church, someone else sees it. But if my kids don’t turn out right, who will ever know about all the effort I’m putting into them right now?

It’s times like these when I have to remember that motherhood is a walk of faith, much like the Christian walk. Much like being a Christian, being a parent is not easy, and it comes with no guarantees for health or prosperity…down here. But if we remain faithful in both walks, there are eternal rewards, and even temporal benefits.

Both walks, if undertaken with a right spirit, lead to self-discipline, self-denial, and the healthier life choices we make when we decide to live for something bigger than ourselves. We continually experience difficulties, but as Rachel Jankovic put it in Loving the Little Years, a new sin or challenge in our kids (and I would add, in ourselves) means they (and we) have moved on from the last one.

And then there is the joy of reaching God’s standards. How good it feels when we have labored over our kids (or ourselves), prayed over them , trained them as best we can, and they “get it.”

I experienced this very joy sitting in the same service that spurred this post…because it was the second week Sam sat all the way through church. Praise God! As with other milestones he has passed, I prayed for this, labored for this, began training Sam each morning to sit while we sang Bible songs and prayed. And the work was/is hard. But the rewards are worth it!

This weekend’s reward reminded me that even when I don’t feel close to God, as long as I am faithful to him, I can take courage that I living out his purpose for me.

Dear Lord, help me to be faithful to the children you have given me, and faithful to my Christian walk, even when I don’t feel you close. Help me to stay the course in faith, knowing that one day this race I’m running will eventually lead me, and hopefully lead my kids, to your kingdom.

Making Time for What’s Important

IMG_3109

One of my favorite inspirational authors, Lysa Terkeurst, writes of planning things to look forward to as a way of fighting off her “ugly,” as she calls it. As a self-proclaimed Melancholy Mom, this thought has stuck with me.

Without us SAHMs getting in the driver’s seat of our schedules, the days run together, an endless barrage of domestic tasks and childcare chores. If I want to beat my blues and become a positive role model for my family, I know that more planning–of fun things–is essential.

Choosing What’s Important Over What’s Urgent

Taking time for what’s “important,” not necessarily what’s “urgent,” is how Stephen Covey described it in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Life will always keep us preoccupied with mundane details if we let it—phone calls, emails, dirty laundry, Facebook notifications, crises, deadline-driven projects, and interruptions.

Source: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Source: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

But if we want to live effective, meaningful (and non-melancholy) lives, we must focus on “non-urgent” important stuff, like relationship building, goal planning, and some recreation. We will always have to deal with some urgent stuff that can’t wait, says Covey, but as we spend more time planning and getting organized around our personal goals (he calls these “quadrant II activities”), those urgent things will shrink.

Finding My “One Thing”

Here’s a great question to ask ourselves:

What one thing could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life? Quadrant II activities have that kind of impact. Our effectiveness takes quantum leaps when we do them (p. 154, The Seven Habits).

Six years ago, when I first read Covey’s wisdom, my “one thing” was regular prayer and Bible study. Check. Doing that one thing made a huge difference in my life. These days I may have a melancholy outlook at times, but because I believe in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and his coming again, I don’t think I could ever be suicidal again.

A few years ago, writing my memoir became my “one thing.” At first it was about personal accomplishment and fulfilling a childhood dream. But as I gained a personal testimony thanks to getting to know the Lord, that writing project became about more than myself. It became a Christian mission and ministry. From those who have read the final version or heard me speak about my “new life after attempted suicide,” I have confirmation that this is a message people need to hear.

Next, after the memoir-writing goal was underway, my “one thing” became having children. God has used Sam, and soon will use #2, to teach me so much. I needed the rounding out of my person that kids provide, and I am so glad God has provided it. (This is still very much a work in progress, of course! Stay tuned for more.)

So, what is my one thing now?

I think there are two.

  • Date nights with my hubby
  • Babysitting breaks for me

Taking stock of my life recently, I realized I wasn’t really getting either. My daily tasks were running together into one seemingly endless lump, to the point that both Buc and I would fall into bed at the end of most days too tired to really talk. It’s no wonder I felt run ragged, disconnected from (adult) humankind, and unhappy.

Just because.
Sam knows how to enjoy life. I’m trying to get better at it…

So, I have been slowly tweaking my schedule. Buc and I reserve at least one night a week to spend quality time together; if we don’t have a babysitter, we still share a bubble bath and a heart-to-heart after Sam’s bedtime (no iphones allowed). And today I dropped Sam off for the first time ever at a Parents’ Day Out program at one of the local churches. While the initial crying hurt my heart, those three hours ended up being great for both of us. Sam had fun with new toys and a new playground, and I finally had some time to browse the library alone, shop for curtains for our new house, and get a much-needed haircut.

These date nights and babysitting breaks have taken a little extra planning and intentionality, but I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have gained these little breaks from the mundane. I may not find much time for writing these days (maybe after I get the curtains up–creating a livable living space is a priority right now), but I am finding more time for myself, and more time for my marriage. I have things to look forward to now, and it is making a difference in my mood.

My husband is passionate about Corvettes...so one of our recent date nights was to this bette-themed restaurant.
A stop on one of our recent date nights.

If you’re feeling melancholy, don’t ever think you’re too busy to take care of what’s most important. It goes without saying that your kids are important, but don’t forget that you are also important, and so are your other relationships. I’m learning that as I get these things straight, everything else falls into place.

How I Relate to MR. MOM

Mr. Mom

You’ve heard it’s the true-to-life comedy that’s the funniest. It’s so true. I’ve been watching Mr. Mom for the past two nights (it’s gonna take three to get it all watched–what mom has time for movies?), and I can’t stop thinking about a couple scenes in this 1983 movie that hit so close to home.

It’s a movie about a man (Michael Keaton) who swaps jobs with his wife to become the homemaker and primary caregiver of their three children. It’s funny because it shines a light on all the difficult and mundane things moms do daily via the eyes of a man who now has to do them.

There is a series of scenes where Keaton gets depressed, beaten down by the daily routine, and we see him go from clean shaven and svelte to scraggly bearded with some junk in the trunk; his house goes from tidy to turned-upside-down; and his attention goes from his kids and wife to trashy soap operas. “My mind is mush,” he complains to the wife. That’s the result of no adult conversation and watching the same TV shows as your kids. Yep. Feels like this is where I’ve lived recently, minus the soap operas. Instead, I just nap when Sam lets me. (I love the moment when Keaton’s kid tells him his grilled cheese is cold and Keaton simply slaps the sandwich on the ironing board, steams it with the iron for a sec, and hands it back to the kid so he can get back to his show.)

Anyway, it comes to the point where his wife gives him a good talking-to for letting it all go–the house, the kids, himself. Look at yourself! She exclaims, pointing at his newly flabby belly. And the house is a wreck (paraphrase). Basically, she says, get it together, because I did it for eight years, and I understand it’s hard, but I got through it because I had some pride in what I did; I understood that what I did was important. Again, close to home. I recently had a “talking to” by my spouse; more in a moment.

There is another scene where Keaton daydreams he has an affair with the over-sexed neighbor, and his wife walks in with a gun and points it straight at him. “What did it, Jack, hmm?” she asks. “Was it the daily repetition? The boredom? The loneliness?” Now, I’m not close to an affair (never!), but I understand the list: repetition, boredom, loneliness. Add pregnancy to it and a melancholy disposition, and you’ve got some potential problems.

And so I got a talking-to from my beloved husband two nights ago. The house was a wreck and he couldn’t find what he needed, and he couldn’t avoid tripping over some things while looking (we’re still trying to get unpacked/organized is my excuse). I probably looked like a wreck, too. And I don’t think I’d made supper that night. I don’t remember. But I told him to talk to me; tell me what was wrong; if he had a problem with me, I wanted to know.

So he did. He told me some things that really stung. Including, “It seems like you don’t do anything at the house all day.” And, “Somehow, other moms with more kids get more done than you seem to; you need to learn to multitask more.”

Ouch.

In my hubby’s defense, he never volunteers these kinds of criticisms unless provoked. And I provoked him. He was trying to clam up so as not to hurt my feelings, but I made him talk. I had also used Sam’s Sunday nap time to get out of the house and do some rare shopping instead of staying in my daily “work” environment to organize. (In the future, we’ve agreed he can stay silent in the angry moment as long as he agrees to talk to me when he’s cooled down. This honors both his need to stonewall, and my need to communicate.)

Anyway. Those comments, after which I stayed up late to clean house and shower, followed me into the next day and beyond. Is there really something wrong with me beyond the typical Mom burnout? I wondered. Am I defective because I can’t get anything done besides keeping my kid alive and doing the dishes and maybe cooking a meal or three?

I asked Buc that next night, “Is it possible you’re thinking of moms with older [not-so-needy] kids; or moms who have relatives nearby to help, or moms who let their kids watch a lot more TV than I do?”

He conceded that that might be some of it. But the main problem, he said, as he’s often said, is my “perfectionism.” I don’t want to let our kid go without mommy enough. I pick him up [the kid] too much. I give in too much.

Hmmm. I am still pondering this and praying over it. Even though Buc’s words were said in anger, there is usually some truth to angry words. I wish I got more done these days. I wish my house were cleaner, my meals more consistent, my hygiene sparkling. I suppose there are ways to accomplish this.

I also know what Buc doesn’t: I know the inside of my mind, and the physical limits of my body. I feel like I have mental mountains to climb that other people, other personalities, perhaps don’t. I seem happy and serene to most outsiders, but it takes me lots of prayer and meditation sometimes to get to that point. And a man doesn’t know the work of making a baby.

Maybe these are just excuses. Maybe there is some truth to them as well. Either way, I’m glad for my “talking-to,” so I can work at improving, and I’m glad for Mr. Mom so I can laugh at my challenges. One day I will laugh a whole lot more, and even now, I see humor in my day. I’m putting on makeup for my husband when he gets home–and I also made his favorite meal during nap time (no nap for me today…progress!)–but I’m not going to apologize for my stretchy pants, no sir. This is a mom’s life, and I’m learning to embrace it, along with all the humor wrapped up in the job.

Staying Positive While Pregnant

Smiley face
“Fading Smile 1” by TACLUDA

Since my second trimester began, I haven’t felt physically good. Despite how they say it’s supposed to go, I had a great first trimester, only to feel nauseated and exhausted when the second one hit. The upside? This temporary trial is teaching me to appreciate those who have a chronic illness, and who brave every day in spite of it.

You, see, I’m learning that living life—getting up out of bed, taking a shower, actually looking at your planner—takes mental work when you feel physically ill, when you just want to sleep, or when you just have to puke. It’s not fun to wake up day after day wondering if you can hold down your breakfast (not always). And it’s quite disheartening to see all your son’s naptimes—the times you used to get things done—fly away by the time you can haul yourself out of bed. Suddenly, all those things that used to be easy seem impossible…because you just don’t have the strength.

It’s no wonder sick people get depressed.

For those who live with chronic illness or pain and who remain positive in spite of it, I salute you. It’s no small feat to go about life happily in that state, and those who do have obviously made some hard choices.

Maybe it was the choice to take a shower today. I made that choice at 5:30 this morning, even though I didn’t want to, and frankly, I didn’t care if my hair was clean. I decided to shower for my family, reasoning that my cleanliness would bless them and might make me feel better.

Maybe it was the choice to lower your expectations for your day, or for your parenting, or for your writing, because really, that’s the only sane thing to do sometimes. I chose to let my son watch TV at 6:15 this morning, even though I don’t like to start his day with TV, because I needed some time to read my Bible and pray. And I made peace with this setup as a possible morning routine in the near future because, heck, I have another baby coming, and mornings are not going to get any easier for awhile.

Let me not rush past that last paragraph. I also made the choice to sit down with God for a few minutes today–even though my surroundings told me I didn’t have time–and I was so glad I did. This is where the choice to think positive for the rest of my day became easier.

What am I reading in this time of physical distress and distraction? Mostly the Psalms. I like the Psalms when I am distracted, distressed, or distraught (and without much ability to focus), because they can be read one at a time, in no specific order, and they still make sense. They are prayers and praises coming from an honest soul, and the words often work to jumpstart my own prayer life.

Today’s Psalms, 48 and 49, helped me to remember that everything on earth, including life itself, is temporary; I shouldn’t spend my time or energy worrying about stuff. The only lasting things are God and his kingdom—the God who is our God “forever and ever” and who will be our great and merciful and and loving “guide until we die” (Ps. 48:14, NLT). It may seem a small thing, but these reminders helped me to relax about the house I can’t totally get in order yet—the pictures I can’t hang, the floors I can’t vacuum, the boxes I can’t unpack—because I’m too sick, or too tired, or the noise would be too much while Sam is napping. It helped me to put my focus back on God, and back on Truth, where it belongs.

After I took time to remember that God is God, God is in control, and God is good, suddenly, the day wasn’t so daunting. I don’t know how chronically sick people do life if they don’t do it with God; but as for me, I have found my lifeline. I have discovered that God can give me joy even when I don’t feel “good.”

Lord, help me to always put you first.