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.

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 4

While still in college, like many students, I was forever trying to figure out what career to pursue. But it wasn’t just about figuring out a career: I felt panic at the thought of college ending with nothing waiting for me on the other side. I needed a plan after college, because I still didn’t trust myself with free time. (Having kids was definitely out, because I couldn’t fathom passing along my dysfunction to another generation—much less the responsibility that comes with children.)

Photo Credit: "Reading Outdoors" by Lusi
Photo Credit: “Reading Outdoors” by Lusi

So, during my senior year of college, I spent many mornings at my kitchen table, praying: “God, what do you want of me? Why am I here? Why don’t I feel your peace? When is life going to get better?  And what the hell am I supposed to do when I graduate?”

For all my praying, I didn’t notice any response from God–except for the fact that I got only one job offer: teaching at a rural Texas high school. Feeling insecure and unprepared, I took the job.

Teaching Troubles

Photo Credit: "Young Woman Teacher" at kevinmccullough.townhall.com/blog
Photo Credit: “Young Woman Teacher” at kevinmccullough.townhall.com/blog

Teaching that first year became all about performance. The demands of the job, along with the sassy attitudes of my freshmen, sent me home every day exhausted and on the brink of tears. I lost sleep, I lost weight, and I lost confidence.

I woke early many mornings with knots in my stomach. I remember paging through the Psalms at 4 a.m. looking for comfort, but I never felt comforted. Every day the stress began all over again; I didn’t feel God’s hands guiding. Instead, I only sensed myself fumbling through the dark from August until June.

But somehow, I made it through the first year—and even agreed to come back for a second.

Hindsight and Foresight

During the summer, I couldn’t make much sense of what had gone on the previous year, except that I knew I could not repeat that year again. I resolved to plan ahead as much as I could for year two. There would be no more frantic school nights wondering what to teach the next day; there would be no more “dead” time during class. The students might still act up, but it wouldn’t be for lack of preparedness on my part.

7 habits 2
For more information, visit https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php

In July, my older brother, Kyle, suggested I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I did.

A note on my brother: for a few years, I’d been noticing a change in Kyle that had me wanting what he had. When I was twenty-one, I’d first seen it: I’d walked in on him kneeling fervently in prayer—prayer that lasted over thirty minutes—and I’d heard him talk about his new relationship with God. He’d even prayed with me, looked up Bible verses with me, and encouraged me to “give it all to God” so I could find peace. But try as I might, I couldn’t find that dynamic God-relationship he’d found. Maybe I was doing it wrong; maybe I didn’t know how to pray properly. Whatever the case, as I read The Seven Habits, I felt myself come alive: here were concrete steps I could take not only to get my classroom in order, but maybe my life, too.

I began putting the habits to work immediately in my lesson planning: I was being proactive (habit 1) by starting well before the school year began; I was beginning with the end in mind (habit 2) by defining goals I wanted my students to reach by the end of the year. I was so taken with the seven habits, in fact, that I decided to make them my first unit of the school year. I ordered an audio presentation on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens to play for my students, and I made powerpoints to go along with each segment. By August, I had a three-week unit ready to go, and I was excited for the year to begin.

But one week before it did, crisis hit.

Testing Time

I was notified that back in Minnesota my mom had gone off her bipolar meds and my ten-year-old brother, Caleb, had been put in a group home. To make matters worse, Mom had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was not accepting conventional treatment. Now, there was no way she would seek the medical help she needed—for either malady. In the past when I got this kind of news, I typically retreated to a solitary place and cried until I regained composure–sometimes I was incapacitated for days.

This time, I didn’t have that luxury. Now, I was one-thousand miles away from the problem and had one-hundred students to lead and guide. It was no time to collapse—except to collapse to my knees.

Photo Credit: "Young Woman Praying" from blogs.voices.com
Photo Credit: “Young Woman Praying” from blogs.voices.com

Oh Lord! I prayed. I feel so helpless! What is going to happen to Mom? What’s going to happen to Caleb? Is she going to die? Is he going to be left to foster care, or stuck with his drunk dad? God, I am lost right now. I’m so scared!

Lord, I don’t know what any of us are going to do, especially Caleb. Oh please protect Caleb! Please shield him from this somehow—he shouldn’t have to go through this. But I am not there to save him, and I cannot go to him right now. Oh Lord, HELP!

I cried myself to sleep that night, and when I woke intermittently, my stomach souring each time the reality washed over me, I began praying all over again: Help, Lord, please. Just please…help.

An Answered Prayer

Somehow I began my school year on the right foot. The students were responsive to the seven habits, and I fed off their energy. Six times each day for the first three weeks, I listened to the audio presentation about forming effective habits—and the material bore into me. I learned that it takes about three weeks to form a habit, and at the end of our three-week unit, I realized I’d formed a habit of my own: morning prayer and Bible study.

Driven to my knees by my utter helplessness at fixing the family drama, I was praying like never before. I had also started reading my daily Sabbath school lesson—the study guide put out by the Seventh-day Adventist church—and the Bible. Amidst a backdrop of uncertainty, I took comfort in the routine of reading God’s word in the quiet morning hours. I began talking to him during my commute, telling him my fears and concerns like he was my friend. And now, it was as if he’d opened my mind to concentrate on his truth—and he’d opened my heart to feel his presence.

While everything around me swirled in confusion, the peace that passes understanding filled my heart. I was able to stand in front of my students with a smile, knowing God was with me—knowing I didn’t have to know how things would turn out. All I needed to know was that God was in control.

For the first time in my life, I was surrendering everything to God: my fears, my feelings, and my attempts to control my life. My family’s situation had showed me how very powerless I was—and how my survival, Mom’s survival, and Caleb’s survival, depended on a higher power. If any good was to come of this, I knew it would have to be God’s doing.

In part 5, read what happened to my mom, Caleb, and me, as well as what God taught me about persevering through hardship.

Reviving Relationships—Rethinking Goals

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 “The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked are all in vain.” (Proverbs 10:28, NLT)

When I read this verse today, two questions immediately sprang to mind.

1) First, am I godly?

2) Secondly, what are my hopes—in other words, my goals? I have the sense that they have changed in just a few short years—and I’m not sure I’ve really defined them.

You should understand something about me. A few years ago, after my older brother recommended the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I got a little obsessive about my life’s goals. Looking for ways to improve my abysmally ineffective first year of teaching, I lapped up those seven habits, even making my second-year students endure a three-week unit on said habits.

During my third year of teaching, on my own I completed some exercises found in the back of my new 2011 Covey planner. These entailed writing out my roles and goals, my values, and my bucket list. You can find that list here.

On paper, my goals look good, but in retrospect, I think I’ve done badly—at least on the relationship points.

A Few of My Failures

“Conscious steps toward building or maintaining my relationships.” Maybe a few. We did start a weekly small group Bible study after I left teaching. But it took my new Bible-study-buddy, Tasha, to get me out of my comfort zone for social outings–sporadic spa days.

“Avoid overcommitting myself in areas that do not desperately require my attention.” My hubby’s feedback heavily suggests otherwise. In fact, just now I am kicking myself for getting too involved at church, yet again, this year.

“Don’t forget to make and take time for friends.” I’ve forgotten often. I have plenty of relationships that have fallen by the wayside, a topic for another time, but the biggest relationship I’ve neglected by far is my marriage.

This is hard to admit. Suddenly I see that all these years I’ve tried to blame him for our shortcomings as a couple. I’ve deluded myself into thinking I was the one doing most of the giving…he most of the taking…but now I’ll put the question to myself: What have I really done for our marriage?

As I think back on the eight years we’ve been in this union, all I see is a panorama of achievements I’ve chased—degrees and jobs and dreams—that were all selfishly motivated. To this day, I can list lots of things I’ve done for myself, but it’s hard to say what I’ve done for our marriage.

The Undefined Emptiness

Lately, with plenty of quiet time on my hands, I can’t help but reexamine my life, and what keeps coming up is that I have an emptiness inside. None of the degrees or achievements have filled it. God and my husband have done much to soothe it, but after much time on my knees, I feel it will not be enough to keep to myself—just me and my God and my husband and my writing.

There is something else I’m supposed to be doing. I know I need to be less selfish in my marriage, yes–and I’m working on it–but to deal with this maddening quiet when he’s not here—when it’s just me and my writing and my restlessness—is there something else?

So this morning I prayed: “Lord, please: I’d like a breakthrough of some sort. A pregnancy. A job. An acceptance letter [from my MFA program]. Some other place to belong, some other place to get my mind off myself.”

And you know what I heard?

“Lindsey, you are troubled about many things. But only one thing is needful.”

In his sequel to The Seven Habits, entitled First Things First, Stephen Covey uses an illustration involving a ladder and a wall, saying it will do no good to climb a ladder if it is leaning against the wrong wall. He’s right, of course, but only because it was God’s principle, first.

So says God and Stephen Covey: Lindsey, you better focus on question 1) Am I godly? Before you (re)tackle 2) What are my goals (and Where should I go, What should I do)? Because without getting number 1 right, number 2 is a moot point.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things [whatever they are] shall be added unto you.”

Well, okay then. Back to my knees it is.