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.

Staying Positive While Pregnant

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“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.

When Writers Shouldn’t Blog (a Farewell, for Now)

Image created at canva.com
Image created at canva.com

I’m taking a break from my blog. I love it, but that’s the problem: I love it a little too much. In this season of life (early motherhood, moving to a new state, The Love Dare), lost in my own learning curves, I’ve lost audience awareness; I’ve slipped into nearly moving my diary online.

But a blogger should write for an audience beyond herself.

The fact is, I don’t have the capacity to write for an audience right now. At least not a blog audience, because a blog audience needs continual attention, much like the husband I am trying to love better; the one-year-old son who needs me constantly; and my God, who hasn’t been hearing much from me lately. (Ouch.)

Since deciding to put my family first, and actually implementing plans to that effect, I haven’t had much free time—but what free time I have has gone to this blog. Consumed with blogging and blogging ideas, I’ve lost the intimate prayer life and the desire to read God’s Word that I had before having a child. So, with the help of Love Dare #23, it’s time to remove this “thing that is hindering my relationship[s], [this] addiction or influence that’s stealing [my] affections and turning [my] heart away from [my] spouse [and my Maker].” It’s time to get re-centered on what’s most important.

But for me not blogging doesn’t mean not writing. While away, I will continue to write. I need to keep writing, in fact, to cope with all the growth and change happening around and within me. I just need to write for awhile without an audience, except my Savior, so I can listen better to him instead of worrying about what readers will think, or how to package my thoughts under a catchy title, or what content will get the most “likes.” I need some quiet time to be raw and real, to pray and journal, and to get back to that “empty notebook” strategy and the “writing to my roots” approach that evoked the germ of this blog and my first memoir—the core message of which I still believe needs an audience. (I’m asking God right now if it’s the right time to revise that memoir yet again…)

In time, I believe I will hit upon another message that deserves an audience–an audience to include (most likely) new mothers, impatient wives, writers, and well-intentioned (but struggling) sons and daughters of God. For now, I am seeking wisdom again, in and for this new stage of life. For now, I need to listen more than I speak; I need to read more than I write; and I need to write more than I blog.

Farewell for now.

Stupid in Love

Image created at Canva.com
Image created at Canva.com

I’m thirty years old with a ten-year-old marriage and a one-year-old son, and I’ve realized I’m stupid in love.

Not stupid in dreamy, teenage girl love, or romantic young woman love. Those are some of the false notions of love paraded in media and in our culture, and I know all about those. Those are the kinds of love that get you into trouble with teenage boys, and that get your foot through the door of marriage, but rarely any farther.

No, I’m stupid in agape love. God’s love. The love that chooses to love when someone is unlovely, when someone is angry, when someone needs you all the time and can’t return a favor. How did it come to my attention that I’m stupid in love?

Largely, The Love Dare, which I first blogged about here.

The opposite of agape love, says Love Dare author Alex Kendrick, is selfishness. And sadly, I know all about selfishness.

Boy, do I.

I had some holes in my growing up years that went unfilled—not to make excuses, just to provide some background if you’re new to this blog–and I spent my twenties first trying to survive, then crawling out of my hole of depression, and then working to further improve my newly non-depressed self.

I sought degrees, careers, publishing credits, and pats on the back from friends, church members, and family—because these investments weren’t risky…I knew I could keep them, no matter what.

One of my accomplishments was co-writing a book called The Hidden Half of the Gospel. It’s a book about how Jesus can heal our suffering, because he went through everything we did. And through the writing of that book, and through participating in the accompanying prayer ministry, I did largely heal from my suffering.

I began to open up to people like never before. I began to seek relationships. I began to spread the healing message I had learned in prayer groups and women’s ministry. My social life became the fullest it’s ever been. And I even decided to take the risk of having a child.

I thought I was pretty well equipped for this new job of motherhood and homemaking, what with all the healing I’d done.

Well, I wasn’t.

Yes, I had experienced the love of Jesus pouring into my heart—that’s what healed me from my own childhood wounds. But over the past year-ish of parenting—and especially since we’ve moved to St. Louis, where I mostly sit at home with my husband and son, stripped of outside relationships, accomplishments, and recognition—I’ve realized I’m not well equipped at all. I’m bad at putting my husband and son ahead of myself. I’m stupid in love.

It shows up in my short temper with Buc for not helping clean our new, tiny, easily dirtied kitchen. It shows up in my irritation at Sam for waking at “inconvenient times,” or for taking up “my” writing time. It shows up in my resistance to embracing the fact that THIS IS MY CALLING; THIS IS MY LIFE’S WORK RIGHT NOW.

The Love Dare has honestly helped me more than any self-help book I’ve read—and I’ve read a lot—because it is getting my mind off myself. For most of my twenties, I thought the best thing I could do was to focus on improving myself, because I was a miserable creature. But while “self-directed self-improvement” is sometimes called for, too much of it can ruin your heart for others. I think this is where I was before The Love Dare.

There’s not much room on my bookshelf these days for novels, memoirs, or light reading. Cookbooks, parenting books, and “others-directed” self-help books are what I’m into right now.

Before the dare, I was still too focused on developing myself and my career that I forgot my roles also include homemaking, wifehood, and motherhood—because God created women for these roles. I’m not saying he created us for these things exclusively, but when we have husbands and children—as I do—they should definitely be top priorities.

Yes, I needed The Love Dare to challenge me, to move me out of my prideful high place, and to put me back in the driver’s seat of God’s callings for me of wife, homemaker, and mom. I needed a “self-improvement program” that judges my progress within the context of how much time and effort I am putting into others—because where we spend our time (and money, if we have it) shows what we really love.

At this point, I’d say I’m still “stupid” in love. But I am learning. Day by day, and dare by dare. Slowly, my life is beginning to look more others-centered. 

It’s amazing the time I’ve found to take care of my home and family now that I’m putting them first. Here is a “family wall” I’m working on so that Sam won’t forget his relatives.
The second best “others-directed self-help” book I’ve read recently is Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe. The coauthors Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson have pointed my attention to the importance of small details in the home, like straightening a bookshelf, lighting a candle, or playing music to create a pleasant home atmosphere. (This bookshelf still needs work, but it’s better than it was!)

  

This was my to-do list one day last week, and I had to stop and laugh, and take a picture, as I considered how my to-do lists have changed in such a short time. (Wipe out sticky areas of the cupboard? Really? I bothered to put this on the list because I didn’t want to forget this nagging thing during Sam’s nap time. Free times in short supply make one really prioritize daily goals!)
Enjoying lunch out yesterday with my sweet boy, after his fifteen-month appointment.

Hamster Wheel Days

It’s 7:30 a.m. I’ve just tucked my fourteen-month-old, Sam, in for his first nap. Yeah, I know. That’s early for a nap. But we’ve been awake since 4:30. “It’s another hamster wheel day,” a voice tries to tell me, after a series of events like teething, traveling, and sickness that just won’t let us get back into our sleep routine. But then another voice replies, “Maybe not. You don’t have to live constantly struggling to catch up and never getting anywhere. You have choices.”

I have choices.

I’m not blogging this morning to complain. Well, maybe a little. But I’m making a big effort not to complain to my husband this week, or ever again…and I also have a need to express my feelings in order to work them out. I have expressed my feelings to God numerous times, and I am trying to make him my foremost confidant. But a blog audience is a nice audience to complain to, if you need to complain. I can talk about my struggles without being tempted to attack—like I am tempted to do with my husband—and I usually get some encouraging comments from my sweet readers. If nothing else, pounding the keys of the keyboard does something good for the anger inside me.

God is doing a work in me. He continues to do a work. Through this motherhood gig, he is pointing out sins that I wasn’t previously ready to confront.

Hello, selfishness.

I can keep blaming other people and circumstances for my frustration—there are always plenty of excuses. Or I can take responsibility for my actions and my attitude.

The fact is, I’m not (mainly) frustrated because Sam’s sleep is erratic, or my babysitter cancelled again, or my husband doesn’t help with meal cleanup. I’m mainly frustrated because I am selfish, and I have not planned for “interruptions” in my plans.

I am selfish, and I struggle to see motherhood (and wifehood) as my first duty and calling. I am selfish, and I have tried to neatly portion out blocks of time that are “mommy hours,” and blocks of time that are “me hours.” I am selfish, and I have not lived as Jesus Christ, giving my whole self—my body, my time, my attitude–as a living sacrifice. I am selfish, and I have wanted motherhood to happen on my own terms, not on God’s terms.

I have been deeply convicted that my failure to love and appreciate my husband and son in the midst of inconveniences or upsets in schedule are rooted in selfishness. So I am putting my eyes back on Christ—because I need his supernatural patience and love to get me through these “hamster wheel days.”

I have choices.

I can’t right now choose the time of day I want to study my Bible, or choose how long, or even totally choose what hours I want to sleep. (While I am doing what I can to sleep train, factors outside of my control like teething, sickness, and travel back and forth from Texas are legitimate struggles that cause regression and necessitate some babying.) But I still have choices.

I can choose to own this stage of early mornings and night wakings not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity to grow patience and self-sacrifice. Practically, I can also choose to nap with Sam on the really hard days, and realize that the world won’t end if I don’t post a blog or cook homemade food on those days.

I can choose to get my eyes off myself and focus on others who are going through struggles much worse than mine. I can look to mentors and good influences to lift me up. And I can celebrate all the good around me, like the fact that my friend just gave birth to a new baby.

Getting off the hamster wheel means simultaneously lifting up my eyes and lowering my expectations. I must do this—I will do this—so I can stop running on empty and be still sometimes…at flexible times, at whatever times Sam takes his naps. I don’t know what kind of a day you’d call that, but it sure beats the hamster wheel.

Learning to Wait on the Lord

Lady and Clock
Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are two big lessons my first year of motherhood taught me: Number one: I am impatient. Number two: if I wait on the Lord, asking for his help where I am weak, he will answer.

No Rest for Mommy

Nowhere was my impatience more evident than when I was waiting for Sam to sleep through the night. Throughout Sam’s first year, I was not the loving, adoring mother so often pictured in movies. No. I was resentful, frustrated, anxious, and impatient. But not just impatient with Sam and his erratic sleeping. I was impatient with God.

Night after night of interrupted sleep, and day after day of droopy eyes, I moped; I complained; I acted like God wouldn’t ever work this out. I said things to friends and family, like, “Oh, Sam’ll eventually get there,” and “God is helping me.” But more often, I grumbled. I spoke words of despair. I acted like I didn’t really trust God.

Finally, Sam’s sleep improved, and I got some rest. And, surprise surprise, that’s when I looked back at the past nine months and realized that God had heard my prayers—slow to answer though he seemed.

I learned something then: that even when we feel weak and helpless in our prayers, and even when we keep repeating ourselves with no apparent results, we are doing an important thing. It’s the only thing we can do sometimes, and it’s a thing God commands us to do. We are “waiting on him” (Isa. 40:31). Eventually, he will renew our strength.

But boy, the waiting can be hard. Especially when we are waiting against our wills.

Three Stages of Waiting

In hindsight, I see three levels of waiting I did concerning Sam’s sleep.

First, I waited unwillingly, without peace. This level of waiting happens when you don’t agree to wait, but circumstances force you to. This happened for so many days and nights when I pleaded, bleary-eyed and bedraggled, “God, just let him sleep!” but Sam didn’t sleep (or not when or for as long as I wanted him to).

Second, I waited willingly, but not yet with peace. This level of waiting happens when you give up your plans and choose to trust God on faith, even while results tarry.

At this stage I changed my prayers from “Lord, help him sleep” to “Lord, give me the grace to deal with whatever this night brings.”

During this stage, improvements in Sam’s sleep came; but we had also started the distasteful process of sleep training. (We chose the Ferber method, which had us checking on Sam at ten-minute intervals while he cried–after we had tended to all his known needs, of course.) This stage of waiting was necessary, but it sure wasn’t comfortable, or very peaceful.

During those nights of “Ferberizing,” I had to get on my knees so I wouldn’t go into Sam’s room while he cried. I had to pray for strength to do not what felt right to me (soothing him at the first whimper), but to do what was right for Sam (letting him learn to soothe himself). I cried as Sam cried. It took every ounce of strength in me not to go in to him before ten minutes was up. It was HARD. But improvements came.

And then the third stage of waiting came—the stage where the situation wasn’t quite sewn up yet, but I could see God working—and I could feel his peace.

One evening during this stage, I realized I had come to a place of calm about the whole sleep situation. I remember putting down a fussy and crying Sam (a now fairly uncommon state at bedtime), and then calmly walking to the kitchen to begin my nightly cleanup routine.

“Lord, please help him to settle down,” I prayed, hands submerged in soapsuds. “But thank you that you are here to help me even if he doesn’t settle quickly. I know that eventually he will sleep, and I will survive. Even if I have to get up with him in the night.”

As we went through our sleep training program, Sam progressed from going down peacefully for naps, to crying less in the night, to consistently sleeping through the night—hallelujah! And as I saw God working, slowly moving Sam to more consistent sleep patterns, I found more and more peace. Now, on the occasional nights when he woke, I could handle the situation with thanksgiving.

If I were write a memoir of my first year of motherhood, this milestone would be the turning point in the book—the climax, the major lesson. Not a lesson on surviving a baby’s erratic sleep, but a lesson about waiting on the Lord. A lesson about how, if we get on our knees and petition him, and surrender our wills, and ask for his to be done, and ask for his help where we are weak (like I was weak in carrying out a consistent sleep routine), he will answer. Maybe not as quickly or in the way we want him to, but he will answer.

Here We Go Again

As a funny coda (funny only in hindsight), Sam’s sleep derailed once again after our move to St. Louis; and I, sleep deprived and stressed from the move, derailed again, too…for a few days. But then I started the stages of waiting again…and Sam started sleeping better again…and I found some peace again. Sam’s sleep is not quite back to where it was before the move, but I am at the waiting stage where I believe we will get there.

It helps to realize that this cycle of waiting on the Lord repeats itself. Though it’s hard passing through the first two stages, it’s a relief to realize stage three will eventually come. And so we head into the next year, the next stage, the next growth opportunity.

But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:31)

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord! (Ps. 27:14)

Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation. (Ps. 62:1)

My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning— Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. (Ps. 130:6) (How appropriate for new moms!)

I Realized I Was Starving Myself (or How and Why I’m Baking Healthier in 2015)

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Almost as soon as we moved to St. Louis, I started having what Buc and I dubbed as “eating emergencies.” I’d be going about my day fine, when suddenly a beast inside me would rear its ugly head and demand, “Feed me!” I became irritable at Buc and said words I seriously regretted and had to apologize for—all from hunger.

So now, in addition to a baby who was transitioning to all solids, I had another reason to reevaluate my diet: Apparently, I was “starving myself.” I concluded that, for my marriage’s sake, I better make a change.

If I wanted the “eating emergencies” and “food fights” with my husband to stop, I needed to stop trying to fend off my afternoon hunger with coffee (which was a great weight loss help in the past), and eat instead. As I listened to my body, I discovered that it really was food my body craved, not coffee, even though I love coffee! (A little less caffeine sure wouldn’t hurt my raging emotions either.) I needed to cook more satisfying meals, which I addressed in my last post; and I also needed to have some satisfying snacks on hand.

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This lumpy concoction was my attempt at the “Fruited Cheese Bread” recipe in What to Expect the First Year. I didn’t read the whole recipe before I began, and this ended up being a lot more work than I bargained for. The bread was decent, but in the future, I plan to seek out similar recipes for my bread machine and use the kneading time for writing time (or something more fun).

But the idea of adding more snacks to my diet unnerved me. I was scared of returning to habits that had put fifty extra pounds on my body in the first place. With all this self- and diet-evaluation, I realized that it was my poor choices during pregnancy that had packed on those fifty pounds. Lots of carbs, white flour, starchy things, sugary things. Bagels, muffins, pizza: these were what I craved most, and what I allowed myself to eat because, hello, I was starving for nine months!

Help for the Hungry (and Unhealthy)

Year of No SugarGood thing that during our move to St. Louis I read Eve O. Schaub’s memoir, Year of No Sugar, in which the author and her family go on a yearlong sugar strike (with a few exceptions). Schaub’s conclusions after her yearlong project struck a chord with me. While I didn’t plan to attempt cutting out all sugar (an almost impossible task), she did convince me to cut down on my overall intake.

Two things I am doing as a result of my heightened sugar awareness:

  • Limiting my sweets intake to about twice a week, as opposed to allowing myself to nibble on junk food every day
  • Trying recipes for muffins, cookies, and cakes that don’t contain sugar (incidentally, these recipes also switch out refined flour for healthier options like whole wheat flour, wheat germ, nuts, and oats)

I’ve been implementing these changes for one month, and you know what? I don’t really miss my sweets. And I feel lighter, fuller, and more satisfied.

Specifically What I’m Doing to Get Fuller and Healthier (and Lose Weight in the Process)

Let me flesh this out a bit more, in case you want to tweak your diet, too: I used to eat something chocolate or sugary almost every day—a few candies, a piece of frozen Sara Lee cake, or an iced coffee from Mcdonalds (I especially loved my iced coffees, but I finally admitted to myself they were full of sugar, and majorly preventing weight loss).

Now I am skipping those choices almost every day but baking one healthy thing a week—like oat cookies, pumpkin muffins, or even Sam’s first birthday “cake”—to eat in place of my junk, or to eat for my snacks.

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Sam’s First Birthday Cake, recipe from “The Best Odds Recipes” in What to Expect The First Year. I know it doesn’t look like much, but Sam actually ate quite a few bites! And I enjoyed these leftovers for days to come.

I’m not into finding obscure sugar substitutes like seasoned baker Eve Schaub. But happily, as I perused recipes to feed one-year-old Sam, I found a bunch of no-sugar recipes in the parenting book What to Expect the First Year, in the “Best Odds Recipes” section. This collection is designed to keep kids away from sugar for as long as possible, but it also provided just what I needed for myself.

The recipes I’ve tried have no hard-to-find ingredients, but rely on staples like dates, raisins, apple juice, wheat germ, oats, and whole-wheat flour. I love that everything on the ingredient list is good for me, and good for Sam, and I have enjoyed “indulging” in cookies and cake for a morning snack, or even for breakfast. I genuinely feel nourished by these healthy treats, and with these becoming my usual fare, I don’t feel bad for having a sugar bomb of a treat once in awhile. On a happy side note, already I’m craving those sugar bombs less and less, and finding that I am satisfied with a much smaller serving of sugar than I used to be (say two Hershey’s kisses instead of a piece of chocolate cake).

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Pumpkin muffins, also from “Best Odds Recipes” in What to Expect the First Year. These look good but tasted a little bland, so if I try them again, I plan to experiment with a little more sweetness.

So far I feel great with these changes, and I plan to continue as long as I have the time to make this “bake-ahead” food. Indeed, baking my snacks ahead of time is key, so that whenever I have a food emergency, I also have a quick and healthy solution.

If you find yourself in the same desperate and ravenous situation I was, and if you want to lose some weight, I am convinced that one of the best things you can do for yourself (and possibly your relationships) is to get your hands on some sugarless recipes, use them, and then stock your fridge and freezer with these healthy, hunger-stopping treats. Your spouse, and your waistline, will thank you.

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Epilogue: Thanks to the diet changes discussed here and in my last post (and probably thanks to all the extra flights of stairs in our new home, the busyness of unpacking, and a mobile baby), I dropped five pounds within the first month of living in St. Louis. And now I only have four more to go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How and Why I’m Cooking Healthier in 2015

IMG_1685One of my resolutions for 2015 was to cook healthier. That’s sounds like a big lifestyle change, but it’s actually not a huge leap for me because I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist, and Adventists are recognized for their extraordinary health and longevity. Huffington Post, for instance, reported that SDAs “live an average of 10 years longer than the American life expectancy of about 79 years.” I’m proud of us for this! (See also this article by The Atlantic). 

Adventists preach and practice healthy living, including a vegetarian diet with lots of fruits, grains, and nuts; no caffeine; observing Sabbath rest; and other measures like fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. Now then, why have I recommitted to getting healthier if I’m part of this exemplary group?

Individual Adventists adhere to these corporate beliefs in varying degrees, and my husband and I are no exception. Although Buc converted me to vegetarianism after we married (previously I had just avoided the “unclean meats,” like pork and seafood), I’m the one who likes to eat vegetables–he’s more of a carbs and cheese guy. So, after I noticed that he didn’t appreciate me shaking up his diet, I largely gave up experimental, “healthy” cooking, and caved too often to pasta, pizza, and other carb-y, cheesy foods. Not the best for health, or for weight loss, I realized, when I couldn’t shake my last ten prego pounds.

So several months ago, in pursuit of shedding those last pounds, I severely cut carbs and learned to substitute grains, like quinoa and couscous, in my cooking. More recently, I identified other areas that needed reform–namely, too much caffeine and sugar, and “eating emergencies” that I was ill-prepared for (I will share more in my next post). But the biggest reason I decided to alter my diet was Sam.

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At one year old (can you believe it?), Sam is at a critical place regarding his future health. From observing other kids, I know that the habits set early often blossom into lifestyles. A toddler who eats veggies turns into a teen who eats them; a toddler who doesn’t have to turns into a teen who won’t. I didn’t want to miss this tender opportunity to set Sam’s taste buds on the right course. But I knew this would take some effort.

With Sam now needing to eat real food three times a day, plus snacks, I needed more foods in my tool belt. I needed to become a better cook. Kids have small stomachs and high metabolisms, and they need stuff to munch on throughout the day. I can’t fend off Sam’s hunger with a cup of coffee like I’ve often done with myself (oops…again, more on my personal food issues in my next post). So I simply need to have good food options on hand.

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Tofu veggies and oat burgers. Yum!

To my advantage, I already had a reliable rotation of healthy meals (some of which my hubby will eat!), like lentils, chili, and vegetable potpie; and I had plenty more recipes at my fingertips in the Adventist cookbooks sitting on my shelf. Now, it was just time to use them…but use them wisely, in such a way that Buc would go along with me.

I didn’t think I could change every single meal from cheese- or pasta- to plant-based—and I honestly didn’t want to, as I enjoy a good stuffed crust pizza as much as the next American. But I figured a couple tweaks would ensure a generally healthy baseline, so it would be okay to splurge once in awhile.

The plan I came up with, as outlined in a previous post, was to cook two healthy meals per week, to let Buc choose meals on two other nights, and to go out to eat once a week to give us all a break with cooking and cleanup. So far, our plan is going great!

I’ve found that two “real” cooking sessions per week (I define “real” cooking as having to slice and dice, not just heat up) provide enough to furnish lunch leftovers for our small family on most weekdays. This schedule also leaves room in the supper schedule for Buc to make or request meals closer to his liking, so he is more likely to eat healthy with me on my “real cooking” days. As another benefit, cooking only twice a week (I’m talking on weekdays, not weekends) has freed me up to write more, or do other things for my home and family.

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Vegetable Potpie

So, how is Sam liking this healthy food, you ask? Surprisingly well! Since I’ve implemented my plan, he has eaten oat burgers and tofu veggies, vegetable pot pie, and a mess of other things not often associated with kids, such as onions and kale (I’ve found a strong soup base does much to camouflage these tastes!). Buc is less enthusiastic about my healthy cooking, conditioned as his taste buds are to crave nachos and cheese enchiladas, but I won’t give up providing healthy options, now that I have an extra eating buddy in the house. After all, even if Buc doesn’t always eat my cooking, two out of three ain’t bad!

 

 

Above All, Get (and Give) Wisdom

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“Christmas Shopping” at freedigitalphotos.net

In our attempts to be great wives, moms, and friends, many of us women during the holidays stress over gifting, baking, decorating, you name it. But might I suggest we funnel some of that energy into a higher calling?

I’m thinking in a mom role, and an aunt role. The aunt role is really shouting at me this year, because I have three teenage nieces who are entering into some exciting and stressful times. (I’ll be vague, to protect the innocent). I get to hear about their hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes, and problems. A few times I’ve been privileged to hear information not even the parents get. Weighty, honored position.

As one who acutely remembers the tumult of the teen years, I know what these girls need for Christmas: wisdom. “Wisdom is the principal thing,” King Solomon wrote, “therefore get wisdom” (Prov. 4:7), and “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!” (Prov. 16:16). If only wisdom were as easy to wrap as a purse, sweater, or boy band poster!

With the exception of some big-ticket items, I don’t remember what I got for Christmas when I was 16, 17, 18. But I remember feeling lost in those years, wishing for some anchors of truth to hold onto, some guiding light to show me where to step. Okay, maybe that’s not what I was looking for, but hindsight is 20/20, and I see now that that’s what I should have been looking for. Too bad I was full of myself back then and didn’t know what was best for me—as evidenced by my blind, puppy-dog love for the wrong kinds of guys and my choice of a first college because it had a pretty campus (no joke). All of which relationships/college attempts lasted less than four months. Hoo, boy.

How I wish I could’ve seen the long range. But I couldn’t. I could only see what was right in front of me. I didn’t realize feelings should be merely indicators, not dictators (that’s some wisdom from author Lysa Terkeurst), that I should base my decisions on wisdom, not feelings. If only I’d had wisdom back then. I’m not sure anyone has much of it until they leave home, though.

Sometimes it takes being forced out into the world, or blindly stepping out—through marriage, a move, a job—to get our first taste of worldly wisdom, or life experience. At one level, wisdom can only come from life experience. We can try to impart wisdom, but without life experience, our audience may not “get” the wisdom.

I can talk all the wisdom I want to my sweet nieces now, as can their mothers and grandmothers, but the truth is, they might not be ready to listen. They might make bad choices anyway. Then what do we do?

We pray. We love them. We give them all the tools we have, enforcing consequences if it’s our place to do so, and then we must rest in the fact that, at some point—maybe a hasty marriage? A job? A move?—they will get the wisdom of life experience. And hopefully such wisdom will drive them to also seek God’s wisdom.

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“Cute Cheerful Child Carrying Stack Of Books” at freedigitalphotos.net

Maybe one day when they have that life experience, they will look back and remember some of what we said to them. More likely, they will remember our actions. Did they see us seeking wisdom? Committing our time to studying God’s word, helping others? Do they remember us sitting down to listen to them? Do they remember a calm assurance because we know God and we can trust him without trying to figure it out ourselves?

Yelling, fretting, worrying, and demanding that others “must do this” doesn’t command much respect for the God we propose to serve. If we have true wisdom, which only starts when we place God in his rightful place in our lives (that’s first place), we can afford to be calm in all situations (save burning buildings, suicide attempts, and the like). We don’t have to try to force anyone to do anything, because we know God’s rightful place, and our rightful place. That is, we know that only God can change a heart, or a life direction. All we can do is plant seeds.

To bring this post back to where it began, why not use the holiday season to plant seeds of wisdom in someone who has shown some trust in you? And if you need wisdom yourself, ask God (James 1:5), and read or reread Proverbs.

In this season and in the upcoming year, I pray that God uses me to plant seeds of wisdom in my sphere of influence—I hope you’ll do the same.

Note: this post was inspired by my reading of the book of Proverbs, recent Family Life Today broadcasts dealing with the topic of Christmas, and talking to my lovely nieces:)

 

 

 

Attaching

IMG_1260Last week my sister-in-law babysat Sam (as she is doing now), and I surprised myself by feeling a little sad when he left. I don’t remember feeling this way last spring.

I think I’m finally attaching to Sam because he is attaching to me. We’ve had time to get to know one another, and now he interacts. He registers all kinds of positive emotions in response to my voice, my presence, my touch—joy, delight, contentment. And best of all, he says “mom-mom.” If ever there was a way to melt a mom’s heart, it’s her baby saying her name.

He woke me one night last week in the 1 a.m. region, not really hungry, but just wanting to cuddle. So I held him and I rocked him, and in his sweet little voice he said “mom-mom,” “mom-mom,” against my chest. I wasn’t angry about getting up that night.

A week ago Sunday he stayed with my husband at my in-laws’ for a couple of hours while I did other things. After two hours, Buc texted to say Sam was being “awful,” and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. But after I got there, Sam was fine. He hardly fussed the rest of the day.

We chalked it up to separation anxiety, and I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon ever since. While separation anxiety makes my job as a mom harder, seeing evidence that he actually needs me, and me specifically, is changing my heart.

I’m starting to feel more of the “mom” feelings I’ve read about, such as that fierce love that puts baby above all else, and that righteous indignation at the thought that someone could ever mistreat or abuse him. I understand better the verse that says “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2, NIV).

A God who understands parental love, who created parents and children, and who is a parent himself, authored that. How much he loves us.

I consider that my love for Sam, though it is growing, is still imperfect. I can’t fathom being as loving, giving, and self-sacrificing as Jesus was when he came to this earth, walked with us, suffered like us and for us, and died for us. But with Sam, I begin to see why and how a God could do that. It’s because he is a Father.

The amazing thing is that often we, unlike an eight-month-old baby, ignore our Father, hardly speak his name, and act like we don’t need him. Could I be so giving to my son if he treated me so indifferently? I hope so, but I’m not sure. Would I feel attached to him right now if he hadn’t recently attached to me? But God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I’m so glad God’s love doesn’t depend on my actions—as it seems my love for Sam (sometimes) depends on his. Incidentally, Sam gave me another tough night last night (fewer “moms,” more tears), and today I wasn’t nearly so sad to leave him. I am praying for more of Christ’s love for Sam: namely, an attachment to him that would make me willing to suffer and die for him, if need be.