Monday, August 29, 2016

Take Control of Your Inbox and Tomatoes, Take Control of Your Life

To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a self-help book titled Take Control of Your Inbox and Tomatoes, Take Control of Your Life, but I think, after having conquered both this past weekend, I'm onto something.

I'm more at peace now that my bowls of ripe tomatoes have been transformed into quarts of tomato basil sauce.  (I think I've earned bonus points since I not only enjoyed the sauce this weekend, but also portioned and froze the rest for later.  Advanced planning!  In one very small subset of life responsibilities -- my tomatoes -- I am ahead!)

As for my inbox?  I carved out time to scour my work and personal email accounts: responding, filing, deleting, and -- my all-time favorite -- unsubscribing.  I'll spare you the screenshot of a nearly empty inbox, but let me tell you this: it's beautiful. 

How funny that tackling two relatively inconsequential tasks makes me feel like I'm on top of my game.  Want to feel more in control of your life?  Just knock out your tomatoes.  Or your inbox.  Either will do.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Secret of Being Content in All Situations

Moments before I photocopied the syllabus for one of the college classes I'm teaching this semester, I noticed one mistake.  Instead of writing due September 9, I had written die September 9.

The i and u.  So close together on the keyboard; so far apart in meaning.

I'm glad I caught that typo.  Clearly, I don't know everything, but I daresay it's not good to issue a death wish this early in the semester.  My students and I barely know each other in early September, after all.  (Perhaps later, toward finals week, would be more apt.  You've got to nail the timing on these types of matters.)

At any rate, the semester has begun, and my summer life already is transforming into my fall life.  Next week when my children return to school, the transformation will be complete.  We'll be a Family With a Schedule, rather than a family whose mother invents errands to fill up the endless wastelands of time that make up the bulk of days during the second half of August.

Yes, the pendulum is shifting: from summer to fall, from open days to structured time slots.  As I consider this, I wonder why I can't balance my life more effectively.  Why, for example, can't some of the school-year routine hedge in the openness of summer?  Why can't I borrow from the deep wells of summer freedom and reserve that refreshment for the desperate crunch times of the semester when I most direly need it?

It's famine or feast.  Too much time or not enough.  Too much structure or not enough.  It vaguely depresses me.

And then I remember a verse in Philippians where Paul writes that he has learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  In my comfortable middle-class American life I've never experienced this juxtaposition of plenty and lack with food; we're fortunate to always have enough.  However, I do experience it with time.

Time is the main commodity that I possess in excessive abundance (say, a full summer's day at home when there's seemingly nothing to do with three cranky kids), or the commodity that I lack (say, a fall weekday when I've collected 48 essays, am prepping for my next technical presentation lecture, and have to help my kids with their homework while getting dinner on the table.)

I've found both extremes to be challenging.  I'm not always content in any and every situation when I'm facing abundance or lack, yet Paul says he's learned the secret, which is revealed in the next verse:

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

The ability to handle it all -- the ups and downs, the overwhelming abundances, the desperate needs -- can't be mustered up solely by ourselves.  Whether it's a day in August when I'm swarmed by my kids who are simultaneously intense and languid in their late-summer temperaments, or it's a feet-hit-the-floor-running, head-hit-the-pillow-still-thinking day in fall, the secret is the same:  

It is Christ who gives me strength.  I'd be wise to acknowledge this.

Robin, don't rely on your own strength.  The Lord has what we need to handle both the plenty and the lack in our lives.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

"I Could Win a Parenting Award!" (said no parent ever during the month of August)

If there was a month during which I would be least likely to receive a parenting award (if such an award even existed), it would August.

August is a beast.

I struggle to sludge through its hot and humid days.  I feel the looming weight of the semester ahead, yet I can't fully immerse myself in the preparatory work I ought to be doing because the kids, who feel the looming weight of the school year ahead (subconsciously, at least), are uncannily constant in their needs and intensified in their outbursts.

I've grown weary with applying sunscreen.  Popsicles no longer thrill me.  I'm mentally over the zucchini plants that keep producing like it's their job.  (Which, come to think of it, is their job.)  My emotional and physical reserves useful for outings -- to the pool, to the playground, to an amusement park -- have been depleted.  For three months I've uttered the sentence, "Close the door behind you," Every. Single. Time. my kids have entered or exited the house.  I have no desire to cook, anything, ever again. 

I daresay, I'm ready for fall.

When fall arrives, it brings with it the structure that we lack during these summer months -- structure that hedges us in (sometimes uncomfortably so), but provides boundaries nonetheless.

At this moment as I write, my children play outside with two of their neighborhood friends on our Slip and Slide.  They're soaked and covered with grass.  Based on the bubbles, I know they've snagged my dish soap to make the slide faster.  The entire scene makes me smile, but in a tired way.  I sense the clean-up ahead.  The grass in the bath tub, the dirty towels dropped on the bathroom floor.

This scene won't be happening in another month.  These seemingly endless, repetitive days actually will come to an end, so for now -- during this month of August -- we simply hold on and live them.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fifteen Years Ago Today

I look at those young faces and think, "If they only knew."  But, of course, there's no way for anyone to know what will come down the pike the next day, much less the next year or decade.

Fifteen years ago, we couldn't foresee the highs and lows, the career shifts, or the future children who would enter our family, one by one, and impact nearly all waking moment of our current days.  We didn't know the places we'd live, the stories we'd be able to tell, or the battle scars we'd have.  We didn't know how much of married life would be consumed with mundane tasks, like taking out the trash, or scheduling the next dentist appointment, or figuring out what to eat for dinner, or texting one more thing for the other to pick up at the grocery store on the way home.

Back then, we didn't know much about anything, really, except that we were ready to say I do.  So we said it.  And every day since then, we've kept saying it, even through inevitable frustrations and hurts, sleep-deprivation and sicknesses, conflicting schedules and busy lives. 

I choose to love him.  He chooses to love me, which is most profound when I'm not very lovable.  Fifteen years ago, all the moments in between, today, and as far as our eyes can't even see:

I do.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Simplest. The Best. The Aqua Bicycle.

When you have kids, a vacation to the beach with extended family is many things.  It's for packing too much, and stopping for bathroom breaks, and bringing an enormous bag entirely devoted to beach towels and fitted sheets, and figuring out the sleeping arrangements, and applying sunscreen -- lots of sunscreen, and letting the kids have juice boxes and candy AND ice cream later at night.

It's for periodic melt downs, and Yahtzee or Checkers games, and crowded beaches where the sand scorches your feet and you stare at the teens who just lay there  -- oblivious to everything but their tan lines and phones -- and you can't remember ever experiencing the stage of life when you were responsible just for yourself.

It's for finding sand in the nooks and crevices of kids' bodies, and tossing beach toys in the back of the minivan, and taking an outing to the water park where you count heads, and making sure everyone stays hydrated, and, of course, reapplying sunscreen -- lots of sunscreen.

It's not for rest.

Still, I often begin a vacation with the idealistic notion that I'll have time for quite seaside reflection, and I'll emerge from a perfectly angled adirondack chair into my non-beach life with significant life epiphanies.  This doesn't happen, but let me tell you about what did happen this past week.

I saw this bike left in the garage of the house where we stayed. 

Maybe it was the soothing aqua color, or the fact that beach terrain, unlike my central Pennsylvania mountains, is always flat, or that a one-speed bicycle with back-pedal brakes reminded me of childhood, but I immediately fell in love with this bike.

We took a few rides throughout the week with our three girls and four nieces and nephews, creating a von-Trapp-like trail that prompted more than one passerbyer to ask, "Are they all yours?" as they nodded to the seven kids between filling the gap between my husband's station in the lead and my position as the rear guard.

But the final night, through some configuration of circumstances that involved the adults jostling rides and taking some kids to mini-golf, I found myself able to steal a solo bike ride.

I don't remember what I thought about that evening, really, or whether I actually thought at all.  I just pedaled, following any route I desired.  I felt the humid air on my skin and beach breeze in my hair.

And when I stopped, it was here on the bay.

Later as I rode back to the beach house while the sky darkened, I took the longest route possible, not quite wanting the ride to be over.  Even with the adirondack chairs, the evening produced no significant life epiphanies, except perhaps that sometimes the best part of a vacation could be as simple as an aqua bicycle.

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