On Morning Routines

One of the things I worked hard to establish during my 5 week sabbatical is a morning routine.

For the past 4 months, it has been as follows:

5am-5:15: Wake up, put on workout clothes, make coffee

5:15-6am: Read and journal, or write

6-7am: Run outside 3-5 miles

7am-8am: Get ready, breakfast, get kids ready, go to work

Because of this routine, and changing a few eating habits (NOT dieting), I’ve gotten back down to my target weight, and no longer feel a struggle with depression. It is imperative I keep doing these practices. It really does enable me to live my best life.

This has worked great through the summer, but I am coming into a challenge now: my outdoor runs, which were one of the best parts of my day, are now much harder because the days are getting shorter, and sunrise is coming about 30 minutes behind schedule. Since I need to be at work around 8am, I’m having to shift to working out in my basement for safety reasons – I do not like running in the dark, even with one of those light up vests. Not only can I not see, and risk getting injured from tripping or stumbling, but since I run solo, I increase the risk of other scary stranger-in-the-dark things I’d prefer not to think about. I live in a very safe area, but sometimes the safe areas are where stuff like that happens.

Because of this, I’ve adjusted my expectations a little for the fall and winter days ahead. My goal started out being running outside (barring torrential weather) 6 days per week. My runs are a great way to burn calories swiftly, and get my endorphins kicking in. Now, my goal is still 6 days a week, and I’ve committed to doing a physical activity that burns 300 additional calories, but it may vary from running. It could be a long walk after work, early morning free weights and treadmill workouts in my basement, or a run in the morning if there is enough light, and I still have enough time to get to work on time. We are also members of the Y, which is a 5 minute drive, so I’m working on the energy it takes to shift my habits to include the drive there, because I have a feeling if I don’t, it could threaten all the work I’ve put into making this happen daily. With winter comes darkness, and I’ve committed to myself that I will not lose sight of why I’m doing this, and in turn will not stop fulfilling my commitment to living my best life.

The other challenge I have is that because it’s so dark in the mornings now, I want to sleep in past 5am. I go to bed around 10:30pm, and don’t always get a seamless night’s sleep, being the parent of young children and 2 energetic young dogs. I love the early morning hours – it’s a sacred time of day – so I will be working on re-committing to rising during this time, and avoiding the snooze button. Right now, I’m averaging about 5:15-5:30, and those minutes really do matter.

During my summer runs, it’s been a great opportunity for me to capture photos of finding beauty in the little things. Below is one of my most recent favorites from a foggy morning run about a week ago. These benches face a beautiful view of the Ohio River. I picture all the lives before me that have enjoyed this view, sitting here in the wee hours, taking it all in, before everyone wakes up. Early mornings are sacred.

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On Church

For a person that moved every two years throughout my entire childhood, I managed to find a church home with the Methodist church, whose motto is, “open hearts, open minds.” I love this. I really didn’t settle into the Methodist church until high school, while living with my grandparents (a story for another day) in Oklahoma in the mid 90s. I liked the church itself because it was a traditional old stone building with beautiful pillared outdoor halls, a steeple and stained glass. The pews were red velvet, and the aisle, red carpet. The hymns, for the most part, were the same every week, and the songs soon became memorized. There was the standard Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”), “He Lives,” “Eagle’s Wings,” “Amazing Grace,” and a handful of others, that still, to this day, leave that bittersweet, emotionally nostalgic reminder of those tender years of learning about Christ.

I also took “Bible As Literature,” in my English BA studies at the University of Oklahoma. This was an objective, non-religious study of the Bible and its history, books within, and background as a text written by humans, for humans. (Remember, the Bible was not written by God, but was written by humans as interpreted over many centuries, to spread the word of God.) The reason I took this class was two-fold: First was a more egotistical reason: I wanted to be able to say that I had read the Bible from cover to cover. (Truthfully, I can now say I have read a lot of the Bible from cover to cover – there were some parts we didn’t look closely at – for example, the lineage chapters). Second was a more important reason. I wanted to study the Bible objectively, because I wasn’t learning much from it subjectively in church. It wasn’t that I wasn’t learning about God and Jesus in church; it was that I wasn’t learning much about the Bible. It sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

In church, I sat and listened to the sermon, but if I’m being honest, there is not one sermon I’ve ever heard while sitting in a pew, that I can recollect in some life changing way. What I can recollect are all of the times spent in Sunday school, talking about life, and how Jesus lived, and where we were caught in what we believed vs. how we were living. The fellowship of group prayer before a church meal. The preaching about someone’s life at a funeral. The words spoken during a wedding. It wasn’t the doctrine that brought me to church. It was the people. The celebration of life and the source of life.

Fast forward almost twenty years. I am at a point now where I’m up in the air about what I want to do with church. I’ve been going to the same church for several years (with the exception of when my family and I moved away for 2 years), yet I find a dichotomy in my belief structure. I unquestionably believe in a higher power, and a source for life. I unquestionably believe in the teachings of Jesus. But everything in the middle is very murky right now.

Observing the behavior of humans, this past decade, which I suppose is a decade of time where I’ve evolved into a full-fledged almost middle-aged adult, I’ve noticed that I’m not sure who to trust anymore. Because some of the humans I don’t trust are the ones spewing religious dogma and doctrine, expecting me to follow. Other non-traditional spiritual people who’ve left the door open on choosing a particular religious path hold me captivated with how much I see God in them and their actions. Some are in between.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have no doubt that every one of us is a piece of this puzzle, and that the light that burns within us, once we peel back the layers of ego, flesh, and exterior noise that has made us who our earthly person is, is in fact, God. This piece is what exits our body at the time we die and goes to the place of light. But it also stays in the energy that is transferred in this world, which is why I find comfort in know that those who pass before me, are very much still here in a new transitioned way. I say I know this, but I don’t really have any facts to prove it. I just feel it deeply in my heart. What I do know is that there is so much more than we can ever comprehend.

For the past year, I’ve been fluctuating back and forth on my decision to stay with a church. Part of me wants to because I love that my children are being exposed to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught us how to live in God’s footsteps, to do for the greater good. To not judge, be giving, kind, accepting, forgiving, inclusive. All of the things I want, and almost need my children to be. The things I strive to be (some days it’s an uphill climb). Part of my issue is fear. Fear that I’m exposing my family and myself to one way and by committing to church, is that stating that it’s the only way? How do we really know? We are only flawed humans, and there is so much beyond our comprehension.

The past several months, I’ve hit the pause button on attending, and gotten really still with finding what’s meaningful to me about church. I have read a plethora of books on the subject from (mostly women) I find trustworthy. These authors are not all Christians, but they have all taught me something, which is to do good, find my purpose, and follow it. Just recently I arrived at some semblance of a conclusion, at least for the present: my instincts are to surrender and lean in. This instinctual message started with a sign from my 5-year-old daughter, who one day looked at me out of the blue and said “Mom, why don’t we go to church anymore? I really like church. I really like Jesus.” She has a thirst for something I have the ability to expose her to. At the young age of 5, with only a handful of years exposed to the church, she has a thirst for more.

My husband and I talked about attending other churches to explore our options, and then select the one we see fit. He clarified that he would be fine with staying with the one we are members of, but was willing to keep an open mind. So, after months of not going to our regular church, we attended a service at a church one town over. It was a lovely service, and the worship music was incredible. But it also showed me that I missed the church home my family and I had settled into. I’m not sure if, much like the church I went to in high school, it was the smell of the building, the beautiful stone architecture, the lit steeple at night, the feel of the place at Christmas, the warmth as we walked in, the familiar faces and smiles. I don’t know.

Maybe it was Jesus telling me to stop trying so hard and look at what is right in front of me. My heart tells me that our church is a broken place right now. Maybe all churches are. My heart tells me that Jesus wouldn’t want me to walk away from the broken. He never did. He walked toward the poor and underprivileged with open arms and healed them. He serviced those hurting and in need of grace. My heart tells me I need to walk back to the place we committed to, and give it another chance, and become a part of making it a better place. Like everything else I’ve been figuring out for the past year, I can’t just go searching for a magical perfect anything. I can’t think that it’s just sitting out there, waiting for me to find. It’s 100% within my control to touch and be the change I want to see, to paraphrase Gandhi.

So this year, we are going to lean in. We are going to help, and we are going to see where this goes. This year we will give our children the opportunity to be exposed and learn the teachings of Christ in the church we selected years ago. This year we will do our very best to help a small local institution grow and heal. But I will also always leave the door open to explore what makes our hearts and minds crack wide open. I believe life is so far beyond our comprehension, and Jesus would want us to be thinkers and doers, in his name and teaching, for everyone. Not just the ones under our collective Christian roofs. This will always require reaching beyond church walls. Not to convert, but to spread love, because God is love.

Amen amen.

A Bedroom of Mom’s Own

I wrote this essay last Spring, and then had a night like this last night, and it brought back so many memories. I figured since the work was done, I’d share. 

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At around 3am, every night, my 3 year old son, from the depths of his sleep, senses his mother has finally reached the state of REM and good dreams. As a direct result, he unknowingly screams out “NO NO NO” or “GO AWAY,” jolting me from the layers of comfort and bliss I was just becoming accustomed to. Although these sound like alarming cries of scary situations and I ought to be concerned, I’m fairly certain that in his dream, someone has asked him to share a toy, or a french fry, and this is his typical 3 year old response. I know that this  sleep episode happens so that he can have all of the sleep energy that just slipped away from me. Don’t ask me how. I just know. It is a pattern we repeat every night. Lucky for me, his room is about 5 feet across the hall from mine, so I hear his cries as though he is right next to me in bed.

Any mom worth her weight in naps knows that if a child simply breathes the wrong way, she will jolt awake. My son chooses to awaken me by brief and angry sleep-talk outcries. It was to the point last night, where I actually woke up and did something about it. I promptly wrote down this essay idea in my “Notes” app in my phone. It looked like this: “EssaybideaL Transferring my good sleep to my sons not so good sleep – how he wakens me at my best sleep on a nightly basis with his screams from is notsogoood sleep. He senses it and snatches my gooddreams.”

This was, of course, after 1:30AM, the time at which my nocturnal husband comes to bed every night, with our two small dogs, who like to sleep under the covers; their sweet furry bodies pressed against me, burning me to death with their amped up heat. This nightly routine is only second to my son’s screams, in terms of destroying the undisturbed stream of sleep that I fantasize about getting, any given night.

Not that my husband doesn’t try: he comes up, carrying the dogs, so they don’t jump into the bed (dogs jumping into the bed results in my sitting up in complete terror, which most unpleasant for all parties involved), lays them in the bed, where they promptly head to the crest of our blankets and the top half of my body, nudging my back with their flat little noses, so that I lift the covers (don’t forget the sheets Mom!), and they burrow deep. One usually pressed tightly against the curve of my legs, just under my butt, and the other, stretched long, in the curve of my back. They then, much like a potato in a hot oven, they cook in their own contained heat, all night, apparently in blissful slumber, while I wake up with dog-shaped burn marks on my legs and back. I do try to move them. Apparently, I have a magnetic field around me that draws them right back to where they were.  Also, you may be wondering – why are the dogs sleeping with them? This is her fault! She has no right to complain. She did this to herself! To this I say, yes. You are absolutely right. Yet, here we are.

I’ve since given this some more thought, and have come to a better solution. We just need an extra bedroom. It can be all mine. We will have the marital one, and an additional Mom’s bedroom. Really, this should be a part of all architectural plans, much like the classic “Media Room” of the late 90’s. All mom-naps and at least 3 nights of sleep per week will be conducted in this room, which will be at the furthest end of the house, away from all children’s rooms and off limits to husbands, especially after the late hour of 9PM. The door to this room will be air tight, and the walls sound proof.  There will be no child’s potty on the floor for midnight pees, and no lost stuffed animals that end up under my back, creating tender mystery spots of pain in the morning. The bed frame will be floor to ceiling bookshelves, with books in abundance, and a small light, over an insert, controlled by a remote that never gets lost, because nobody is allowed in the room, except Mommy. The temperature will stay at a cool 68 degrees, and the blankets will be white, just like a hotel – including that extra weird decorative top sheet, that goes on top of the duvet. The bed will make itself, every day. This room will have a window and a writing desk. Or maybe even just a chaise lounge with a good laptop table that hovers over the chaise.

You might be thinking you could make this work, because it could double as a guest room. No. This room must be a sacred place, and must be in addition to the guest room. This is Mommy’s spot and Virginia Woolfe would rise from her grave and slap you to sleep if she thought you were actually considering sharing this space. Let this be the one tangible thing we do not share. A bedroom of Mom’s own. You can even create your own flowery sign for the door that reads “Keep Out.” Have your kids draw it as a rainy day art project.

On My 5 Week Sabbatical

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I went on a self-imposed 5 week sabbatical back in April after leaving my previous job, and before starting my new one. My previous job situation had been one of severe negative energy, high stress, horrid parenting and marriage guilt (it sucked so much energy out of me during the day, that by the time I got home, I had nothing left to give), and overall dissatisfaction with who I was becoming. It had taken me to the lowest mental low I’d ever been at in my adult life, and created a depression so strong, I was afraid I wouldn’t resurface from it.

During the 5 weeks I took off, I had big plans: clean out all the boxes in the basement, get the house organized, paint walls, do meal planning, spend time with [laundry list of people], and so forth. On day 1, after creating that list, I tore it out of my notebook, crumpled it up, threw it in the trash, and laid down to take a nap. For once, the nap was not a way of hiding from my stuff, or a depressive reaction. It was the first mindful choice I’d made in months. I chose to rest. From that moment forward I changed my strategy with my time. I quit feeling like I owed the world my work and energy every minute of every hour of every day. I decided then and there that I was more important than those boxes in the basement. I was more important than weeks of laundry that would eventually get caught up, or not. I was more important than spending time with everyone under the sun to make up for lost time because they had wondered where I had been. I was more important than every action I felt necessary to take to make sure everyone knew I cared. Because I had stopped caring about myself. That nap was the kick off to 5 weeks of taking care of me, starting with dropping the need to deliver on everyone else’s expectations of me (or rather the expectations I believed they had of me).

I took naps every day. My children were still in school, so it did not interfere with time with them. When they got home, we ate dinner together. I didn’t ambitiously try to cook every night, but I did cook more – when I felt like it. I found that cooking when I felt like it made me feel good. But I did it when I wanted to, because there is no written rule that dinner has to be homemade every night. Sometimes Chic-Fil-A and a table is all you need to have a family dinner.

I traveled a little. A writers workshop I’d always wanted to attend where I started to get re-inspired to be a creative human; a 3 day weekend with my husband and a group of friends for a wedding in Savannah; an impromptu week vacation with our little family in Charleston. Even on that week-long vacation, I created no self-imposed expectations, and as such, that week we stayed in our beach front condo, ate home-cooked meals (some of my best cooking), and enjoyed each other’s company. I closed the sabbatical with a 2 day trip to Florida for my best friend’s birthday, the first one for her since her mom had died. There was not one time during this time off that I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to do.

My mother got very sick during this time and stayed with us for several weeks to recover. It was a blessing I was off – I was able to take care of her, and do good work that I wanted to do. God presented me with something that gave me true purpose for that short time, outside of myself. Caring for others worse off than you is a sure fire way of healing your soul.

I volunteered for causes I cared about. My family marched in a parade for a passionate friend running for Judge. We worked at a festival booth for a non-profit who provides a platform for young adults with disabilities to develop strong vocational and communication skills by creating and selling dog treats. We did this good work as a family. We enjoyed our time together. We served others.

I worked on the emotionally-hurt relationships with my small children. I spent more time sitting with them, holding them, watching movies, going to the park, picking them up from school, and being kind and patient. Showing them Mom wasn’t always the mean and impatient bear of a woman that they had come to know over the past several months. They got their mother back.

I spent time with my husband, working toward prepping for a large dream project we are taking on, mending hurt feelings, talking nicer to each other, getting to know each other again as humans and not androids going through the black and white and gray day-to-day of surviving at the mercy of pressures of a job. Marriage is hard work, but it’s good work. Soul work that takes attention and time. We are so much better now.

I ran, almost every day. My body had been neglected for several months, after years of exercise and dedication to living a healthier life. I just didn’t have the energy, and chose not to make the time, because I felt undeserving.  I felt that any margin of time I had left during that job needed to go to feeding my kids, and getting them to bed. Because those were the only hours I had left in the day, by the time I got home, typically close to 7pm every night. I committed, during this break, to get back into an exercise routine. I owed myself and my family this. Without my health, I become limited in my abilities to serve in much capacity. I now am in the habit of working out 6 days a week, even if it’s for a minimum of 30 minutes in the day. I just make time, because there is always time if you choose to make it.

I read (both past and present tense) voraciously. I created a dream tribe of women who inspired me to get better. Jennifer Hatmaker, Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle, Marianne Williamson, Ginger Zee, and several others. People I wanted to emulate who were vulnerable, imperfect, but out there living their best lives to serve others and themselves with the time they were given. I listened to podcasts like it was my job (still do, every morning, on my run): Oprah’s “Super Soul Sundays” saved me from darkness on more than one occasion, Christy B. Wright’s “Business Boutique,” Jen Hatmaker’s “For the Love,” and a bounty of others. Perhaps I will dedicate a blog at some point to these resources that helped me so much.

Yes, in hindsight, the five weeks flew by. But in the present of it, I stretched every minute, made every second count, and all the while, got really quiet inside of myself, and often I got really still. Every choice I made during that time off had meaning, and allowed me to re-position my mind into a place of gratitude and service. Service to others, but also, service to myself.

The conclusion I arrived at after my Sabbatical ended is this: I believe God is inside of us. God is love and the energy that we put forth to do what we do best in the world. When we are doing the things that most make us feel alive, we are emulating the Holy Spirit. This energy is unique to each and every one of us. If we are not tapping into the energy inside ourselves, we are not living out God’s will. We cannot tap into that energy inside ourselves without grace and kindness: to ourselves and to others. We are not tapping into that energy if we are not being truthful to ourselves. Love God: love the spirit within you. We are built in God’s image because each of us carries a piece of God that when called back Home, builds the large puzzle that we can’t truly know and understand beyond our human minds in this life. I just know it’s so big and so beautiful and so incomprehensible, but I feel like I get closer to it every day.

 

Bringing “Bless My Heart” Back

It’s been since 2015 that I’ve written on my blog. I had to walk away because I learned (the hard way) that the people closest to me may not want to be mentioned in my writing because they are fiercely private. That was a really painful experience for me, and one that I didn’t recover from quickly. It was heartbreaking, actually. After 3+ years of licking my wounds and re-thinking how to do this and simultaneously respect my family’s privacy, I can finally say I’m ready to get back in the swing. I love to write, and I’ve written many small essays, short stories, and reflections that I’ve saved on my hard-drive, and kept to myself. I’ve written daily gratitude posts you can find in my open Facebook group “Rise and Stay Above.” But I really miss the written word in a blog setting. I miss releasing all the things in my head into the world (what is it about that? It’s like being an internet brain-flasher or something). I miss having readers, and bringing smiles and empathetic tears to others. I miss the community of bloggers and readers. I’m not as “funny” as I used to be. But I think then, I used “funny” to mask insecurity.  As a new mom, and a career woman, in the first half of my thirties, I wanted to please, make people laugh, and be the funniest mommy blogger out there, because everything else was just falling apart so it could be re-pieced together into the new life we were building with children.

In the years since I left, I may not be cutesy-funny anymore, but I still have a pretty darn good sense of humor, and I’ve tried many cool things (including stand-up comedy, which I will post a link to soon). But I’ve also tapped into who I really am, and why I do the things I do, and behave the way I behave. This year has been the year of “clarity” for me, and though I’ve gained much, it’s only August; I still have 5 more months of work to do. This is a big step for me, and something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. So I guess what I’m saying is that some days there will be funny. And some days there will be seriousness. And some days there will be I don’t know. But my scope has broadened beyond a mom blog – it had to because, um, I got privacy censored, which I’m choosing to believe is the best thing that could have happened to my writing: I can’t hide under the blanket of making fun of myself and my family to be cutesy-funny anymore. I have to reach in and peel back the layers and get really true about what I want to say, and it has to come from my heart and be filled with love and expression at the expense of nobody but myself. That’s probably as it should be. Besides, I was told in a writers’ workshop that if I outlive the sensitive ones, all bets about what I write are off. Ha! So there’s that.

Thanks for coming back, or for being here the first time around. I’m ready to get started.

A quick thank you

Dear Readers and Followers,

Due to privacy concerns, I will no longer orient my blog about my family. I thank you so very much for reading, and for your support. At some point, I hope to re-enter the blogosphere with a new theme.

Best wishes and thank you again for your support and readership.