Life-Saving Routines

"Soap" by mimwickett
“Soap” by mimwickett

Living without routines can make life clumsy; but living without purpose can make life seem impossible. In my last post I wrote about how my lack of purpose and routine as a freshman in college brought me to the brink of suicide.

I’m so glad I have a different story now, eleven years later. That story is one of great purpose, and as many routines as life with a one-year-old will allow.

Because my life once lacked purpose, I love to remember my second year of teaching high school English—the year I found purpose, and the year I started observed the most important routine ever. (You can read more about that life-changing year in this post.)

In a nutshell, that year, my morning time with God saved my life. Amidst a backdrop of uncertainty unfolding with my family, I found purpose knowing that God still had a plan for me and for my family members. I couldn’t see the overall plan, but as I surrendered each day to him, I knew that it was enough to do what was in front of me. At that moment, the things within my control were teaching one-hundred high school students and developing my own character through Bible study and prayer. So I focused on excellence and consistency in those things. I had a wonderful school year, and found myself the most happy I had felt for years. And eventually, the stressful home situation resolved itself.

That year was my first memorable spiritual “peak,” and I’ve had many dips and bumps in the five years since. Life is always throwing us new realities, and these challenge our routines and often necessitate change (a new baby being a prime example.) That’s why it’s good to periodically re-examine our routines, assess what is and isn’t helping move us toward our goals, and change accordingly.

But what happens when life challenges routines that, for our best health, should never change?

Here are a few tips that could apply to not only new parents, but anyone in a schedule-upsetting situation.

Don’t Give Up

It’s an understatement to say that a baby complicates daily time with God—which I’ve argued is my life-saver. Same for daily showers. But that doesn’t mean we stop taking showers, right? Realize that showers, God times, and other important things may not be as frequent, long, or luxurious as they used to be. But don’t give up. If you can find five minutes to shower, you can find five minutes to talk to God and read a couple words.

Abbreviate Your Routine

If you have to shorten the time, so be it. Reading one Bible verse is better than reading none. Oftentimes I get more out of meditating on a single verse all day long than I get out of reading five chapters of the Bible in thirty minutes or an hour.

Move Your Routine to Another Time of Day

For months off and on, Sam woke at or before 5 a.m.—this after waking multiple times in the night. You can bet that a 4:30 Bible study wouldn’t result in much holiness. So when we went through those spurts, I moved my worship time to right before my bedtime—and I moved my bedtime earlier, too. If it doesn’t work to meet with God in the morning, find a time that does.

Don’t Confuse Routines with Schedules

Be careful not to confuse a schedule with a routine. Schedules tie activities to exact times and days. Routines have to do with the order in which you do things; but exact times can change if needed. For a mother of young children, a routine is an achievable goal, but a schedule may not be. If you’re in a season where life is predictably unpredictable, forget schedules; they will set you up for disappointment. But do establish some routines.

For the time being, Sam takes a pretty reliable two naps a day: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. The naptimes change based on when he wakes up for the day, so instead of planning to write at 10 a.m., or to prep supper at 2 p.m., I plan to write “during Sam’s morning nap,” and cook “during his afternoon nap.”

I don’t always accomplish what I hope to in a day, but I can relax knowing I made some progress toward my goals. If a daily worship is all I manage to get done, then that’s okay too, because I can honestly tell God I kept first things first. God tells me that if I seek him first, all my other needs (I include writing for my sanity in that list) will be added to me. Sooner or later. Either today’s nap or tomorrow’s, or next Tuesday’s.

Now, as soon as I post this, Sam will probably change his habits again. And I will have to adapt again, too. That’s the life of a mother. Can you tell how counterintuitive this is to me? I don’t like having to adapt all the time, but I didn’t like having to suffer depression and other bad things, either.

One thing I do know about struggles: they make us grow. We do best when we don’t resist being stretched; if we resist, we might break. If we can stretch a little along with our circumstances—adapting our routines as needed to fit our core purpose to glorify God—we recover faster, and can thrive sooner.

What routines have saved your life?

When Writing Is Unhealthy

Since Sam’s birth fifteen weeks ago, a constant dilemma has been finding time to write. Last week I found an unprecedented ten hours, postpartum, to work on my memoir. Yippee! I felt fulfilled and accomplished; I was finally balancing writing and motherhood. Finally, I thought, this memoir is again making progress toward publication. But then…I realized there is a price to this progress.

"Tired Mom" at http://scienceinspiration.blogspot.com/2012/12/we-get-tired.html
“Tired Mom” at http://scienceinspiration.blogspot.com/2012/12/we-get-tired.html

How did I get so much writing done? I let Sam nap for almost three hours in a row on several days (good boy!). You can imagine how excited I was—Sam was getting rest, I was getting writing—until I realized that those long-nap days resulted in broken nights of sleep for Sam—and me. Sigh.

On other days when Sam is out of routine (his mom’s routine)—say, when he spends the day with his aunt, or on weekends—he takes shorter naps and sleeps a good nine to eleven hours at night, usually from 7 p.m. to 5 or 6 a.m. Yay again! But boo for my writing.

So, my current dilemma is whether to write or to sleep—in other words, do I let baby Sam take a nice long nap in the afternoon and use the time to write, or do I keep him awake during the day so we’ll both sleep through the night?

What a dilemma, huh? I feel bad for mentioning it, because I have a great baby, and I could have both writing and sleep if I wanted them badly enough. I could write from 7 p.m. until my bedtime, between 9 or 10—but that would also mean resorting to microwave dinners or takeout and giving up the fight with my leftover pregnancy weight.

That’s the tough thing about parenting, and really adulthood. You must make tough choices with your time.

As I sat writing this post yesterday (stealing a few minutes from my shopping trip for temporary “fat” pants—dear mother-in-law watched Sam), I decided writing is usually not going to come first—at least not anytime soon, and here’s why: In order to write as much as I want, I’d have to neglect my family’s and my own health. Much as writing feels like a necessity to my mental health, some things just have to come first, like sleep, nutrition, and exercise—my physical health. So I guess I’m choosing sleep.

Being an adult is tough. Lord, help me to put first things first, and also find some moments to write when time away from it becomes too painful. And thank you, thank you, thank you, for a baby boy who sleeps through the night!

Knowing When to Quit

exhausted
Photo Credit: “Exhausted,” posted on Thayer Memorial Library’s Website

I can talk a good game about living proactively, being productive, and striving for new heights; however, I’ve also found there’s a time to back off. The time is when you’ve made commitments that are not needful, helpful, or healthy for you to keep.

For a few weeks I’d been feeling stressed because I wasn’t finding enough time in my day to work on my memoir. I entered the fall planning to work on my book at least twenty-five hours per week. As I looked at my records for the past month, I saw that I was logging closer to ten. And because my baby’s due date was approaching, this was making me nervous. Could I still get my manuscript done by the time Baby Sam came?

My hubby has often said I tend to keep my plate full to the brim; he’s always known me to be stressed over what I’m not getting done. But since my unexpected breakdown, I had been trying to pare down the helpings on my plate. What had gone wrong?

As I’ve been learning to do when I get in a pickle, I prayed. But this time as I started to pray, my brain felt too scattered to even stay on track (this is a good sign you’ve got too much on your plate, or you’re pregnant, or both). So in my prayer journal, I began with a list of my current commitments, hoping to see a pattern or pick out something I was unnecessarily stressing over.

 

Let me fill in the background for you about the housecleaning item. In the past two months, thinking I needed to become a better homemaker for the baby, I picked up two books on housecleaning (three, if you count The Happiness Project), and started to try to drastically change my habits, per the books’ suggestions. I had started to feel positively weighted down by the thought of keeping my kitchen sink clean, de-cluttering a little bit every day, and deep-cleaning my kitchen.

When I made the list in my prayer journal and saw the housecleaning item mixed in with everything else, though, I realized something: Cleaning/organizaing my home doesn’t have to be a top priority right now. Especially since I’m not a dangerously messy person (i.e., my dust bunnies are not causing us physical health problems or my clutter creating safety hazards, like some people referenced in my cleaning books).

I asked the Lord to help me set some goals for what I actually needed to do for the time being. He told me, “You can stop reading the housecleaning books right now. If you want to focus on your own book [and I do], read stuff that inspires you to write [books on writing, or memoirs].

“Continue the habits of keeping your sink clean and purging your clutter when you can. But you don’t need to add anything else.”

This was making me feel lighter already. I was next able to list out some new, more manageable goals for my writing each week; although I had to admit it wouldn’t amount to twenty-five hours. This was because my unexpected teaching job had come up at the last minute, and it takes time to create curriculum when you’re teaching a brand new class. This was an item that was not negotiable.

The baby registry and choir cantata were pretty easy to resolve: I’d let them become overwhelming when I saw I couldn’t get the registry done in three sittings (but one more should do it), and the cantata piano music learned in two weeks (hopefully four more will do it—but if not, I have the out of purchasing the performance CD).

While my hubby had told me I shouldn’t feel bad about cutting back on my memoir work, I did feel bad, because this was the single most important thing I’d identified to get done before the baby came. I knew I wouldn’t cut back anymore than I had to, but God did help me see that I was worrying too much about getting the book done in my projected time frame. He helped me resolve this by reminding me that if I got the first section revised and a proposal written, I could start shopping the manuscript to agents/editors even if it was unfinished. This is how non-fiction publishing works, anyway.

Then, God gave me this list of do’s for my guilt:

  • Lighten up
  • Lessen your expectations
  • Give yourself a break. Unpredictable things (like the class and the puppies) have happened lately.

Finally, I realized that God would accomplish his work in his time. I didn’t need to worry about what wasn’t getting done, because he was seeing to it that everything that needed to get done was getting done.

When we are walking in God’s will, or doing our very best according to the light we have (based on reading his word and listening to his voice), we can “quit” certain good things with a clear conscience—and sometimes, to continue walking in his will, we must.

Meet Bill and Ted, my Premature Furry Babies!

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For “baby” names, we wanted something simple and symbolic–a dynamic duo. I think Bill and Ted was an excellent choice, don’t you?

When we decided to have a baby, I didn’t plan on getting two puppies with the deal. Alas, my house is filling up with testosterone faster than I can keep up!

Ever since our dachshund, Hope, died last December, my husband has been bringing up the subject of more dogs…and when my brother-in-law found these two darlings abandoned on the side of the road last week, well, all signs pointed to our house.

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Bill is the white one, Ted, the black one. If you’ve seen the movie, though, you might have guessed that!

I was initially hesitant to get more dogs, because I knew I’d be the primary caregiver. I knew we’d get more dogs at some point, but I wanted to guard my last few months of freedom before baby. However, I’ve discovered my life is not my own anymore (never was, it turns out), and God is preparing me for motherhood by way of these puppies.

Some life changes I’ve had to make are:

  • Getting up in the middle of the night for potty breaks. Of course, I have already been doing this frequently for awhile, but the pups make it a little less easy to just flop back into bed.
  • Getting up earlier for “feedings.”
  • Putting up baby gates.
  • Cleaning up poop and pee.
  • Having to make arrangements every time I leave the house.
  • Worrying all the time what the “babies” are doing; trying to keep them in my sight.

I know there are some larger spiritual applications to all this motherhood training, but today I may be in too much of a hurry to see them. You see, it’s almost noon, and I haven’t even gotten down to the business of working on my memoir yet. As I thought about how my morning had gone so far, I realized I could either get frustrated that I hadn’t gotten any “work” done yet, or I could change my expectations for myself, because—hello—my life is changing pretty drastically.

I could choose to see my day so far as worthless because I haven’t yet  worked on my profession, or I could choose to see what I’d done as worthwhile because I am a wife and mother taking care of her household.

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Bill and Ted are interested in whatever we are doing, especially if it involves food!

Since getting up, I have fed the puppies; spent much needed time with the Lord; knocked on the doors of two neighbors trying to get to the bottom of two large (and scary-looking) dogs that wandered into my backyard this morning (protecting both my puppies and the neighborhood); baked a loaf of banana bread for my college-age niece who stays over on Tuesday nights; and I have put ingredients in the bread maker for French bread for my husband, who told me he wanted a spaghetti dinner tonight.

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Although they like to fight, Bill and Ted still aren’t too “grown up” to show one another affection. I love it when they sleep like this!

I have never really defined myself as a homemaker—I haven’t wanted to be the one who stays home and sees to it that everyone else is fed and clothed and clean and sane for their careers, because I wanted to have my own career. I still want to. I want to be a writer and a teacher, just like I’m doing (with more or less success, depending on the day). But the Lord is teaching me it’s okay if some of my days are spent doing homemaking things instead of career-building things. In fact, I know that the homemaking is probably ultimately more important. How quickly I forget that if there’s not happiness in the home, life is dismal. My home was unhappy, my life dismal, for too many years growing up, and because of my beautiful marriage today, I sometimes take for granted that a happy home is well worth the investment.

But each day I’m learning to take a little more joy in the simple things: puppies, babies, sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows…you get the picture! I continue to thank the Lord that he is straightening out my priorities, and my roles. Now, if I can just figure out how to balance them all!

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So far Bill seems to be Buc’s dog and Ted, my dog. Bill is more laid back, while Ted has a hard time sitting still (and a temper that flares up sometimes at Bill)…hmmm, yes, the analogy works!

A Schedule for Completing My Dream

 The working title of my dream, AKA my memoir, is 1,000 Miles: A Memoir on Recovering Family, God, and Dreams from Depression. Below is the schedule I came up with for myself last week to help me push through to completion.

Note: When I made this schedule, I already had a rough draft of my book, so when I say “finish” a section, that means refining the roughness and filling in the gaps.

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 July 2013

  • Finish sections 3 and 4, and revise sections 1 and 2
  • Locate a professional editor to edit my book (Yes, even though I have a master’s in English, this is a piece of advice I’ve heard too many times to disregard.)

August 2013

  • Finish Sections 5-7
  • Ask 10-15 friends/family members to read my manuscript
  • By Friday, August 30, Send manuscript to editor, and to ten other readers

September 2013

  • Write book proposal/query letter and identify agents/publishers to query
  • Hopefully receive manuscript back by end of month

October 2013

  • Revise Manuscript based on feedback
  • Polish query and book proposal if needed

November 2013

  • Query 10-15 agents and/or publishers beginning of month (first round)

December 2013

  • Query 10-15 more agents/publishers (second round)

January 2014

  • (Baby due!)
  • End of month, follow up with first batch of queries

February 2014

  • Query 10-15 more agents/publishers (third round)
  • End of month, follow up with second batch of queries

You’ll notice I’ve left room for “failure,” by including several rounds of querying agents. Maybe, by God’s grace, I won’t need more than one round. But if I do, I will choose to see it as a learning process, and I will just keep moving forward…until, one day, I either get accepted, or my thirtieth birthday is upon me—at which point I will try another angle, and publish on Amazon (plan B). Blog readers: If you are interested in being one of my manuscript readers after August, please let me know!