Marriage Letters: Once Upon a Time

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I’m taking Amber Haines up on her invitation to write Marriage Letters every month. This month’s prompt was Once Upon a Time.

Dearest,

Once upon a time I dreamed of flying with you, of snugging into the window seat and watching the horizon for surprises.  Then, when that dream finally came true, you were the one who surprised me with our honeymoon location, revealed only with the airline attendant’s words as he handed us our tickets: enjoy your flight to San Francisco.  We went to that city without any plans, only hopes of discovery and adventure.

Once upon a time I jumped out of a plane with you.  Temporary insanity, apparently, since I would never do anything that risky again.  But the calm (like you were in line to buy a snowball, you said) was unlike anything I’d ever experienced; even in this crazy adventure, I knew I could trust you.  Someone wisecracked after we tied the knot: You trust this guy?  With my life, I shot back.

Once upon a time, you taught me to dance merengue, cumbia, cha-cha.  I wanted to spend my days dancing with you.  I thought the metaphor of a ballroom dance would carry us through.  I trusted you with the steps, with my very life.  I still trust you, not because I think you know all the steps, but because we are learning the steps together every day, trusting the Master Choreographer together.

Once upon a time, I thought I was patient.  I hung, perched on your words, admired the depth of your insights and watched, waiting, as your thoughts rolled past us all like a train bound for lands uncharted. Now I so often find myself ready to steam along when you are silent, impatient for your thoughts to slow to a stop so I can jump aboard, take the helm and switch tracks.  Forgive me.

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Once upon a time I thought our birth orders–firstborn girl, last born boy (with sisters, to boot)–was an omen of our success; after all, I’d read that in a book somewhere.  I thought I understood what marriage was hard work meant.  I didn’t realize marriage was like a rototiller doing the work on me, unearthing all the rocks of self-centeredness, churning up worms in all the tender places, long-guarded, that something new might grow.

Once upon a time, I hadn’t a clue about grace.  Sure, I had faith in Jesus, but it took someone who had experienced God’s extravagant grace extending it to me, day in and day out– seeing me at my most selfish and least gracious, and telling me gentle in the most broken of moments, “I love you,”–  to show me what it really means.

Thank you, Sweetie, for the dance, the adventure, the growth, and the grace.

Love,

Norissa

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More Questions than Answers: Tuning In, or Tuning Out?

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I’m thinking a lot about asking questions lately, about certainty, doubt, what I know that I know, what may stand some adjustments.  Some of this has to do with my lifelong habit of thinking in terms of What If? (This is both a blessing and a curse, a subject for another post).

So I’m trying to keep track of my questions, and one of the things I’ve been reflecting on is the nature of Self-care.

So many times, when I’m especially tired, I restlessly seek a quick fix–a scroll down Pinterest, a bowl of chocolate ice cream, magazine fodder.  Escape.

But what I really need, what actually nourishes, takes a bit more time, more intention.  It requires marginAnd it’s tuning in, rather than tuning out.  It’s taking the time to notice why I’m feeling depleted, and ask myself what I most need at this time.  So many times, though, I am like a caged animal anxiously seeking any escape possible.  Escape is not the same as self-care.  Escape is about tuning out my feelings, my circumstances, the ones who need me and only leads to further retreating, and further selfishness.

I’ve found that true self-care, though, leads to care of others.  When I choose things that are truly renewing, that refill my emotional, physical, and spiritual reserves, they contain the common element of tuning in: to myself, to others and to God.  From the simplest of activities–a walk in nature, a hot bath, reading a good book; to the most luxurious, say, a massage– silence and space are often involved.  The opportunity to inhabit my body, my emotions, my circumstances, and relationships.   Space to question, listen, and receive.  When I take the time to notice the true need beneath my restlessness and anxiety, I can better take care of myself.  And once I’ve helped myself recharge, I can tune into those around me and help take care of them.

Along these lines, for me, watching a television show, for example, is usually a way of tuning out; it leaves me more depleted than recharged, and results in my being more selfish as I grasp at anything that seems like an escape, unwilling to relinquish any more of my already dwindling energy and time.  Like getting caught in quicksand, thrashing about to get out of the discomfort as quickly as possible only results in more sinking and more panic.  But if I find the strength to slow down and relax with intention, I can slog out of the pit.

So my first line of questions when evaluating whether an activity is actually self-care or an attempt to escape:

Does this tune me into my self, to my relationships, and to Christ?  Or does this attempt to tune out those voices and needs?  What is the underlying need for me to address here?

The second question that I want to ask:

Is this what I want to teach my kids about taking care of themselves, the example I want to set for them? 

I want them to learn healthy ways to take care of themselves, to take time for being outside, for resting and exercising, for getting their cup filled so they can continue helping others.  So, in practical terms, if exercise, for instance,  becomes a way to escape my family and responsibilities–going to the gym every day by myself for hours, for example–then maybe that’s not the example I want to give them.  Getting us all out the door for a walk in the neighborhood when tensions are rising, on the other hand, is always a good choice.

And so, a question for you:  What qualifies as self-care for you?

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Changing Plans

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A few weekends ago, we headed out for a drive through the country, looking forward to open vistas, an extended conversation, a walk in the country.  We passed a small stone church on the outskirts of the county, one that seemed anomalous in our corner of the southwest.  I’d like to get a picture of that, I mused aloud, and, careful what you wish for, the next thing we drove over a jagged piece of metal that planted itself in the front tire of our van.  So we pulled off into the parking lot directly across from the little chapel where all three boys assessed the damage and proceeded to change the tire.

In his book Margin, Richard Swenson, M.D., talks about having the space and time to be interrupted, particularly by God, in our lives; that sometimes the most important thing that will happen in the day isn’t on our agenda.  This was one of those times; our outing didn’t go as we had planned, but it was quality time together, all of us learning, and I had the opportunity to record it.

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Donut grin.

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This takes serious effort.

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Questions versus Resolutions

I am finding it more helpful lately to ask questions than make resolutions.  I don’t need another list of shoulds.  Sure, I have goals.  But right now I need joy more than I need progress, and nothing is surer to suck the joy out of life than a giant list of check-boxes.

I’m always asking questions anyway; I’m just trying now to discipline my mind to make room for certain questions each day.

How can I practice self-care today?
How can I nurture my family today?
Who can I encourage?
How can I preserve peace, and foster simplicity today?

One Word for 2014: Joy

On one recent occasion when I remorsefully apologized for essentially blowing up at my four-year-old for being an annoying, over-tired, wired and immature little human boy, E. nodded and mmm-hmmmed as I listed my transgressions. Then he spoke soft prophet-words: the way to not be bad is to just relax (pronounced wuh-lax, in case you were wondering).

I’ve been turning those words over and over in my head the past couple weeks, considering them from different angles as I’ve reflected on goals and what kinds of changes I want to make. Relax wasn’t the exact word I wanted to focus on for this year, a’ la Oneword365, but it lead me to a few.  The word I keep circling back to, though, as I consider a central theme for this year is joy.

Some broad-strokes for how I want this word Joy to color 2014:

I want to not stress out so much, to relax into the joy of being with my little ones.

I want them to remember me smiling, rather than scowling, in their young years, to have a deep, abiding sense of being delighted in and loved for who they are.

I struggle with discontent; I want not only to find God’s grace in each moment but also take joy in every circumstance.

I want to clear away the extraneous, the clutter and dross–physical, mental, and emotional–that are obstacles to nurturing my relationships and doing the things I enjoy.

Taking care of myself is a challenge and sometimes, I hate to admit, a chore as a mama of littles. I want to revive some of the ways of self-care that have brought me joy in the past, as well as find new ones in this season.

Cooking and food has not involved much joy lately, a result of the combination of too much information, too many choices, and too little energy.  I want to worry less, and eat with joy.

Joy seems like a good antidote to perfectionism, and I want my goals to be process-focused as I learn, grow, and practice this year; however much or little I accomplish or produce, I will take joy in the process, knowing my Heavenly Father sings over me with joy.

Grace to Show Up: a Guest Post for A Feast of Crumbs

I wrote a guest post for my good friend Emily Luna’s wonderful blog, A Feast of Crumbs, where she chronicles her spiritual journey one breadcrumb at a time.

I feel like I keep failing the Sunday morning test. The one where I’m supposed to get myself and the two kids ready and out the door for church without yogurt smears on my skirt or sweet potatoes caked in their hair, and without going all Crazy-Mom on the four-year old when he strips his pants and underwear off to go potty and will not be wrangled back into them 20 minutes past our departure goal. The one where I’m supposed to show up on time…

Head over to her blog to read the rest, and while you’re there, check out Emily’s beautiful writing, too!

The Holy Unhurry of Advent

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I had such high hopes for the Advent Calendar.  This was going to be the year that I Got It Together in time for Christmas,  The Making of the Calendar the first of many daily Christmas-related activities I hoped to accomplish.  When the kit arrived (all the reviews cheering in my head how Simple! Quick! Easy! and Fun! this was going to be), its precut adhesive-backed components ready to be affixed to the pocket-lined Christmas tree, we cleared the table.  The four-year-old immediately took over, carefully studying the accompanying diagram and applying the brightly colored felt pieces exactly as the example showed.  For an hour, I felt the blessed peace of unhurried being, as he worked and I admired his focus.

Then, he was ready to move on to something else, and we set the materials aside to finish later.  He pulled the whole assembly out several times over the next two days, each time for shorter sessions, and each time, leaving ever-increasing piles of felt stickers and scraps in his wake.

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I tried to ignore the voice in my head: if you were a better mom, you wouldn’t let him leave messes like this.  If you were more organized, this would be done already.  You should be more in control of this project.  Despite my attempts to counter argue, recognizing it as my own anxiety rearing its head, I nevertheless became more stressed with each day that we weren’t Finished-With-The-Calendar-So-We-Can-Celebrate-Advent!  We were into the second row of pockets by now, each passing day a reminder that I so didn’t Have it Together.  Behind again.

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I’m always feeling behind, a need to hurry and catch up, to do more.  That I don’t measure up, that I haven’t accomplished enough.

But the One Whose coming this season of Advent anticipates?  His time is relaxed.  Unhurried.  He had no problem with taking the time to gestate, starting his mission as a zygote and spending His first nine months of humanity simply being.  Content with receiving the love and nurture of a young mother, existing His only accomplishment.  When the Eternal One wove Himself into the fabric of time and space, He seemed to bring with Him His Outside-of-Timeness, as though, while choosing to be contained in a body, He nonetheless refused to be enslaved by Time.  For someone who didn’t start His ministry till the age of thirty and knew that He would only have about three years to accomplish His mission on Earth, He never allowed Himself to be rushed.

Contrast this with my constant anxiety to hurry and do more, to prove my worth, my value, by producing something.  Look at the essay I finished!  Look at the clean dishes!  Look at the pounds my baby has gained!  Look at my blog!  This!  I’ve produced this!  My life was of worth this day, because I accomplished, produced. 

Christ’s example to us, though, especially in this season, is simply to be.  To wait for His Father’s perfect timing. To become like an unhurried child, whose greatest “accomplishment” is receiving the love and care of the Heavenly Father.

The calendar is mostly finished.  Maybe someday I will cut out some felt numbers to fill in the ones that are missing.  But for now, it’s a reminder to me that the state of being is more important than the product.  That, for over an hour, my son and I were patient with each other.  That he exercised his focus and his stick-with-it muscles, and I exercised my let-him-figure-it-out muscles.  That we were together.  That, for an hour, we relaxed into the holy unhurry of this season of Advent.

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