Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Year of Availability

Birthdays get me thinking. It's not like turning 34 warrants a mid-life crisis. But maybe it is a good time to have a pre-mid-life, practice crisis.

For some reason, this year turning another year older strikes a certain chord. A certain need for reflection, for regrouping. I realize that in 10 years, in 15 years, the choices that I make during this time, this incredibly abundant, fruitful, busy, in-the-weeds, don't-have-time-for-reflection time...will begin to bear fruit. Or not. The decisions I make now about how I spend my time will begin to show and flower and be something beautiful, like the bluebells we have here in Virginia that burst into magnificent bloom so unexpectedly each Spring. Or, like many of my real-life gardening efforts, those seeds could bud just a little, bit and we'll wonder if I maybe should have watered more.

So this year, with these reflections, I’m calling it My Year of Availability.

We're making some big changes around here that will literally require my availability. But even more I mean that, as I look out my kitchen window and see the little people who once were part of me and still are very much a part of me, that when they come to me I won’t turn them away. No matter. No matter if I’m doing dishes, or laundry, or writing that Very Important Report. No matter if I feel that I cannot let go of what I am doing because in the end, they are the point. If I do not give to them, I do not give at all. I must plant these seeds now, while the soil is so ready, so primed. If I do not give them the time and measure of me that they need of me, what can I expect to see in the Springtime?

So, I'm reflecting. I'm reflecting on how these little pieces of me that are flit-floating through the green grass and soaring through the sky on the monkey-bars and rope swings are little seeds brimming with beauty, and the potential to become so much more. They are all red shirts and purple rain boots and plaid skirts soaring through the blue sky. A stick becomes a sword, no matter its length, no matter their age. The boys become pirates, and the girl -- not a damsel in distress, by any measure -- but the Captain of the Ship.

These years of play, of make-believe, of Pirates and Fairies and Capes, of skinned knees and bonked shins, and falling over and making friends... these days with their long, long hours are passing by so fast.

The little seeds are growing up. Getting physically, mentally, emotionally bigger. They are saying things that are so profound they make me pause over my breakfast. “What did you just say?” And they pause, blankly. Um, pass the toast? They know not the wisdom in those little hearts, the crystal gems that beat for God because they do not yet know that they could choose something else. I love them -- I love them so much it hurts. I love them when they punch me in the gut and say they are leaving and are So. Mad. Because I would not let them have cookies for dinner or play ponies in the rain when it is 20 degrees. Or because we did not get in to the Butterfly Exhibit at the Natural History Museum and the vendor only sells hot dogs for lunch and the backup plan of looking at the dinosaurs with three thousand other children was just so, so off....


So, why “Available?” Why this word? Because more than ever, I feel the strain. I feel the temptation to be Anywhere but Here because “Here” is hard. Being with them when they are Crazy and Mad and Hitting Each Other and Yelling at Me is pushing-me-over-the-edge maddening. The siren call of Anything Else wails clearly. Sometimes, I give in.

Sometimes, I’ve turned instead to the “anything else.” True confessions here.

But there is precedent to follow. I find it first in Mary, Mother. Mary, who is barely mentioned during Jesus’ ministry, who appears so little in the Gospel accounts of His life. She is Mother – she is there. But she is in the behind. Am I willing to be in behind? To be “unmentioned?” This is not a  one-time choice, but  a daily decision to recede, to fall back, to be available in the ebb and flow of what is in the background. Even when it seems I’m in the foreground, this means to be the support, the lean-to. It is to be the one the camera cuts in half because they are standing just slightly left of center.... to be the one with the watering can, gently nurturing, gently sowing, gently pruning.
Available. So that in this season, in this crazy, busy, running in every direction and pulled so tight I cave to "Super Why" and "Curious George" just so I can think about why I'm in the kitchen and why there is smoke coming from the oven... this is the time, to make the time, to start to dig deep. 
 To plant. To water. To love.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On Giving Up Time

“You look anxious,” a friend said to me recently.

“I have four children,” I responded.
(ba-dum tsssh)

So say no more, say no more. But there was an element of truth. I have four children 6 and under. I work full-time from home. I spend at least two hours a day in the minivan, driving people to school, lessons, swimming, doctors. I try to keep the house spotless sanitary safe. And in between all these motions is the constant chatter of the little ones, needing, wanting, begging, laughing, playing, crying, eating, shouting, singing, loving. And at 5 pm every day...we all go a little berserk.
The thing is, I know plenty of other women with more children than I have - who have an inner peace, who don’t qualify every statement by lamenting that their children once again lack matching socks.

Things have had to change to awhile now. My husband gently (again) recommended, as I sat looking at my schedule and parsing out when I could get it all done, that I spend more time in prayer. Once, I loved to pray. Now, I feel tired. “I’m too tired to pray,” I said to myself, secretly, because I knew the response if I said it out loud. I’m too tired.

In tithing, we are told to bring out one-tenth of what we possess. “Test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”

It occurs to me that part of what I possess…is my time. My self. My energy. My day.

So, if I wake up every day at 5 am and I go to sleep at 10, can I give God 1 hour, 20 minutes of my day? Can I give Him even more?

I’m not sure. The enthusiastic part of me says, yeah! The part of me that trudges in and out of every day is not so sure. I started to do a little reading on burnout. I started to do a lot of reading on Mother Teresa. Turns out she knew burnout, too. And yet, Mother Teresa steadfastly walked, day in and day out in service to the poorest of the poor around her in devotion to the God she loved. I dug deeper. She had a pattern, a rhythm, an order to her life that revolved around God and about living out her vocation. I’m not a consecrated religious sister, and as the mother of small children I have certain limitations. But… could I venture to abide by a Rule, too? (And one not logged as billable hours?)

It turns out I’m not the only one who’s tried this. Then I remembered I owned a book on the very same subject.

It also occurs to me that the times in my life when I’ve felt most peaceful, most content, have been the times I’ve existed in a very discernible rhythm. My life right now is the antithesis of rhythm. Sure, we get to school at the same time each day, get picked up each day, eat and go to sleep around the same time each day, but the inner peace is sorely lacking. I feel like I am always behind. I might be on time for afternoon pickup, but there were those other two projects I needed to wrap up for work before I jumped into the car. We had a nice outing at the park, but inside I dread returning to the breakfast dishes still in the sink. (Okay, likely still on the table. At 4pm.). I’m always running, always moving, and everything always feels like a Very. Big. Task.  My children talk to me, or at me, while I’m working, and I try to give them at least one ear and half an eye, and I even implemented a rule where I’m required to shut my computer so I can touch and embrace them every time they interrupt me, but I’m still thinking, mind whirling, about what needs to get done.

But then the 3 year-old looks into my eyes, when I’m berating myself about the dishes and says:

“Mommy, you are the best mommy we have. In this house, anyway.”

I love this kid.

So I’m making a Rule. For Lent. For 40 days and hopefully the rest of my life, but for a near-term goal I’m sticking with a window I think I can achieve. 40 days. I realize that if I truly want to give God my life, my life has to be…my day.

Mother Teresa’s Rule (Adapted to fit the life of this mom with young kids.)

Daily Schedule for the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta
Daily Schedule for the Missionary to Little People Who Are Always All Around Me All the Time
4:30-5:00 Rise and get cleaned up
4:30-5:30 – Rise and get cleaned up. This will include a morning run, which helps me “clean up.”
5:00-6:30 Prayers and Mass
5:30-6:30 – Devotions
6:30-8:00 Breakfast and cleanup
6:30 – 8:00 Breakfast chaos (lovingly, lovingly)
8:00-12:30 Work for the poor
8:30 – 9:30 – Mass
9:30 – 12:30 – Work for my vocation
12:30-2:30 Lunch and rest
12:30 – 2:30 Naps/Quiet time (for kids), Lunch (for me), and contract work (If it is quiet in the house, trust me, this is “rest.”)
2:30-3:00 Spiritual reading and meditation
2:30 – 3:00 Listening to a Spiritual DVD in the minivan while I drive to afternoon pickup
3:00-3:15 Tea break
3:00-3:15 – Tea break (Hmm… in the minivan (?), while I drive home (?))
3:15-4:30 Adoration
3:15 – 4:00 – Okay, I’m stumped here. This is the time of day when we have lessons / appointments. So I’m going to head on over to for the Office of the Readings.
4:30-7:30 Work for the poor
4:30 – 7:30 – Work for my vocation.
These are the Really Tricky Hours.
7:30-9:00 Dinner and clean up
7:30 – Clean up and put kids to bed
9:00-9:45 Night prayers
9:00 – 9:45 – Night prayers, time with husband
9:45 Bedtime
9:45 – Bedtime


If I abide by this schedule, it strikes me that I am getting close to 7 hours of sleep a night. This is about 3 hours more than the current average. It also strikes me that I am working more intentionally, and spending those hours in the middle of the day focused on my chores and time with the children as a part of my vocation. Not just work for work’s sake. Not just sweeping to keep the cobwebs out. We’re talking play-dough. Monopoly. Math, Phonics. Hikes and nature adventures. Visits to Church. Cleaning because I love my family, not because it’s drudgery. There are 8 hours written here called “work for my vocation.” A different kind of work from the Sisters in Calcutta, but still.

I’m determined to do this.

I’m going to post reflections on this endeavor throughout Lent, which starts tomorrow, if more no other reason than to keep me accountable.

It’s Lent. There will be fasting; there will be prayers; there will be alms. And there will be this schedule. My hope is that on Easter morning I will rise with the sun and look back on a time of challenge and refinement, of truths that rose to the surface, of the extras that needed to be strained out. I hope I’ll have learned more about simplicity, about the joys of the loving the people entrusted to my care, about the hunger for sustenance and the hunger for love.

“Mommy,” my 6-year-old said to me the other day, “Don’t forget to smile.”

She’s another one I love.