Making Time for What’s Important

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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.

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This Stage of Life

photo from canva.com
photo from canva.com

Eighteen weeks pregnant, settling into a new house in a still new (to me) state, mothering a twenty-month-old, and wondering what to say after so much blank space. I should say “incredibly blessed,” because I am. It just doesn’t roll off my tongue, or leap through my fingers, like I wish it would.

I guess it’s a good time to talk about this stage of life–my Melancholy Mom stage–unbecoming as it is on a Christian (and one who wrote a whole book about overcoming depression, nonetheless). I’ll write about it, because it is the foremost thing on my mind and heart in this season; it is the thing that follows me and torments me and troubles my marriage and drives me back to prayer, because it shows me my heart is not right with God.

I just read a post by fellow blogger and new mommy (of twins) Kate, and I felt chastened by how grateful she is for the whole motherhood experience. She waited years and years to get pregnant, suffered infertility and miscarriages, and finally was blessed with two healthy babies. And she is not taking one moment for granted. I feel like I take almost every moment for granted.

I complain a lot. I nag my husband a lot. I have to apologize for hurtful words a lot. I think many negative thoughts. I want a babysitter a lot. I have a lot of anger. On a daily basis.

What sense can I make of this? I need to make sense of it…for the sake of my marriage, for the sake of my babies, for the sake of my soul.

I stood before a crowd of about thirty people on Saturday night and gave a talk about how I overcame depression a few years ago mainly through prayer and reading and memorizing God’s Word–it was a powerful experience and well received–my first time publicly speaking for a crowd about my conversion experience–and then I came home and snapped again at my husband and struggled to rein in my negative thoughts and struggled not to be angry that I was so tired and I had little help and saw no end in sight to my exhaustion and unpacked boxes and, well, just everything. I knew that the message I had just “preached” was one I needed to attend to personally. God is the answer. I know he is. I know he will deliver me from this melancholy stage, this angry stage, as I submit to him. The trick is figuring out what submission looks like in this season.

God delivers us from our struggles (internal, if not external), when we seek him. I wholeheartedly believe that to be true. And I don’t feel like a fraud for giving that message to those thirty-something people on Saturday night, because I experienced it six years ago, when God delivered me from thoughts of self-harm and not wanting to live and not even wanting to try.

So what sense do I make of this stage–this Melancholy Mom stage–that looks so unChristian, and feels so sinful (because it is)? Well, it’s my next mountain. Depression and suffering–that was my first big mountain. And now melancholy, anger, and sin–this is my next mountain with God. And I’m just being honest about it, because if Christians ever think they are done with mountains (hypocrisy)–well, that might be the most unattractive thing about Christians.

I told my big brother, Kyle, who visited from his mission work in Thailand last week (and who lined me up to speak to that audience), that my first memoir was about coming face to face with the roots of my depression (and then overcoming it, praise God), and my second memoir will be about coming face to face with my sinfulness through motherhood. “Staying at home with a young child puts me face to face with my sinfulness every single day,” I told Kyle. Do you know what I’m talking about, readers? Every single day.

In an earlier stage of life, I was the victim, and I didn’t care that Jesus had died for my sins, because I wasn’t a sinner; I was the one who had been sinned against. So Jesus’ entry point into my heart wasn’t the fact that he had died for my sins, but that he had suffered as I had (read all about it in the book I co-wrote, The Hidden Half of the Gospel).

But now, I can’t blame anyone else for my anger, for my melancholy, for my stinkin’ thinkin.’ I’m just a sinner, and I admit it. I don’t want to die, kill myself, or give up the daily battle–as I once did. But I want to complain about it. And that’s my current mountain.

I don’t have a lot of time or energy to write about it right now, and maybe that’s for the best. But anger, melancholy, sin–that’s what I’m thinking about, praying about, and living right now. Another book is brewing, and more answers from my Creator, in this stage of life. One thing I am excited about in this stage is to see how this mountain ends, to see how God delivers me as I submit to him. And he will. Because God is into happy endings.

Memoir and Melancholy: A Perfect Pair

despair, hope

We memoirists might look like gluttons for punishment, because writing about real life hurts, and no one makes us write but ourselves. But for many of us, writing about real life is just an extension of our “Perfect Melancholy” personalities; we write about our lives because we have to do something with all that self-analysis happening in our heads.

I’ve been reading Personality Plus by Florence Littauer, and the author’s description of my Melancholy personality hits home more than other personality tests or training I’ve taken. Other tests labeled my personality in less negative terms— Analyzer or Empathizer, for instance. But Melancholy cuts right to the chase. It describes me to an M.

The evidence is overwhelming—I am introspective, moody, artistic, and depression prone—and the personality test was indisputable. I am Melancholy through and through. True to Littauer’s description, I have been saddened by a small thing to which other personalities wouldn’t give a thought (the label of my personality); and more introspection is the result. I want another personality. I don’t want to have to work so hard to be happy. I don’t want to be Melancholy.

People who study personalities have long observed that artists and writers are commonly Melancholies, as opposed to Sanguines, Cholerics, or Phlegmatics, and this could be good or bad, depending on where you stand.

If you’re the one consuming the art, Perfect Melancholy is great: its existence enriches our culture by providing life-enriching and thought-provoking art.

If you’re the one providing the art, or struggling with “genius” tendencies (Littauer’s word, not mine) that you have trouble harnessing, Perfect Melancholy can be excruciating. Littauer notes that while Melancholies have the highest potential for achievement, they also experience the “highest highs and the lowest lows.” To my Melancholy-colored glasses, this data forces me into a dilemma that’s definitely false, but that seems so real: Would I rather be a “genius” (in writing), or be happy?

The Misery of Memoir

For much of my life, pursuing my art meant misery. All I could write about was my life; and my life, for a good chunk, was sad. Why didn’t I pick another topic, a happier topic, to write about? I go back to the personalities. Melancholy couldn’t get its mind off itself. I was trying to process hard things in my life, and as a writer, I naturally processed through writing.

Because it didn’t yet feel safe to talk about some of those sad things, I especially needed writing as an outlet. I had a strange relationship with writing, though. On the one hand, I felt like I needed to write to survive. On the other hand, what came out of my pen felt like it might kill me.

For almost ten years I would waffle on writing my story—I mean writing it for an audience as opposed to venting in journals. Typically here’s how it would go: I get the desire to write, I pull out old journals for inspiration, I spend a few hours working with the material, and I end up in a pool of tears because it hurts so much, followed by a crumpled heap in my husband’s arms because I am not ready to confront all the emotions these memories bring up. Then, I stuff the emotions, the memories, and my writing aspirations for another few months or years, only to repeat the process again and again.

Melancholies Can Write Happy Endings Too

This blog has borne witness to some of the healing process that finally got me writing again…and writing not only with sadness, but with gladness. God gave my story a happy ending. He not only redirected some of my worst circumstances, but he redirected my mind.

Now, even when more bad circumstances arise—which they inevitably do from time to time—I don’t have to give in to Melancholy. I don’t have to collapse in despair because “that’s just the way things are, and that’s just the way I am.”

God’s Word gives me a more accurate measure of how things really are, and how I really am. You might say he gives me a better personality test, or the ultimate Truth meter:

Though outwardly I am wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in me (Rom. 8:18).

If I wait on the Lord, he will strengthen me (Ps. 27:14); Isa. 40:31).

I can learn to be content in whatever state I’m in, knowing that God will supply all my needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:11, 19).

He will keep me in perfect peace if my mind is fixed on him (Isa. 26:3).

I can remember that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5).

And I can be confident that, even when progress seems slow, he who began a good work in me will keep working on me until Jesus comes back (Phil. 1:6).

Yes, this world is sad and often hard to navigate—especially, I think, for us over-analytical Melancholies. But this world is not the end, it is temporary and passing away, and that is life-giving knowledge I can cling to.

Yes, I am sinful and fallible and moody and depression prone. But Jesus didn’t come to this world to suffer and die to leave me that way. He came to pull me out of the pits, physical and mental; to retrain my mind on him; and to change me, from glory glory to glory, as I behold him.

And so the story continues. Many mornings I wake feeling unhappy by default. My Melancholy personality (and Satan) doesn’t want me to be happy. But as I make the choice, day by day, to seek God’s face, he gives me strength for what’s in front of me. So I keep praying through it, keep writing through it, and keep moving forward, little by little. A lot of my days end better than they start, because throughout the day I exercise my faith and allow God to smooth out the bumps. These are small rewards, little happy endings, that point me on to the day when Jesus comes to take me home, and give me my ultimate happy ending.