A Look Back. A Look Forward.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
- Annie Dillard

After a week of travels, my family and I are situated back in Pennsylvania with bags unpacked, laundry washed, and new memories tucked away. Tonight as we sat down to dinner on this final day of the decade, we took turns sharing favorite moments from the past year, the hardest challenges we faced, and what we're most looking forward to in the upcoming year.

It's important to reflect. For me, the best moments in 2019 involved family, travel, and opportunities when I was able to use my gifts to encourage, like speaking at a women's conference in the fall. The roughest patches, without doubt, were dark days when siblings fought and ugly tensions brewed between us and the kids. During these moments, which I mentally understand happen in normal family life, a part of me still fears that all is lost, that I've irrevocably broken something, and that because of my failings, none of my kids will emerge as functional humans. I spent many moments on my knees, interceding.

And, in hindsight, that's not a bad thing. In fact, it's a good thing. In the most confusing and painful times, I know to pray with authority and declare God's promises for my children and their futures, for emotional stability, for wisdom in decision making. For everything, really.

What a beautiful realization: nothing -- not even the worst, most convoluted problem -- is too complex that God can't make a way, and at the same time, nothing -- not even the smallest concern -- is too inconsequential that God won't attend his ear. He's got it all covered.

So tonight I reflect on the fact that the entirety of 2019, both the good and the bad, is covered with grace. And 2020 will be covered with grace, too.

With this state of reflection in mind, I want to leave you with a small sampling of several popular posts from the past year on Robin Kramer Writes. I'm honored you take time to join me here, and I hope my words continue to humor and encourage you.

(And now's the moment when you click liberally on the links and open many new tabs. Go wild, my friend!)

Successful Parenting When You're in the Storm

Don't Let Emotions Drive the Bus

Sometimes "One More Thing" Can Wait

Letting Kids Be Kids

Listen to the Right Voice

The Pebble In My Shoe

I Can Do Hard Things

Typical Demands, Random Disruptions, and Mental Loads

Not Holding It Together

Happy New Year! May 2020 be the best year yet.


Merry and Bright

Whether your day is bustling or quiet, may you find sweet moments this Christmas as we reflect on the greatest gift ever given: Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!


Christmas Traditions: The Crazy House

In every community, I imagine there's at least one house that stands out for Christmas. There's one not far from where we live. For years we've made it a family tradition to pile into the van, turn on Christmas music, and then slowly drive past this spectacle to fully absorb its mega-watt glory.

We've come to fondly call it the Crazy House. At some point during the weeks leading up to Christmas, either Joel or I will ask, "Want to drive the girls by the Crazy House tonight?" (The answer to this question is always yes. It's become an ingrained Christmas tradition, just like eating cookies, or watching Elf, or having the kids wake up at an ungodly early hour on Christmas morning.)

But this year I noticed something while driving home one evening. The Crazy House has new competition.

Why, hello, Larger-than-a-House Inflatable Santa. Driving past you might became part of our family Christmas tradition, too.

Before the Window Shuts

Last week during Thanksgiving break, we experienced one especially temperate day. Now, a day in the mid-50's is a special gift during late November in Pennsylvania, so instead of doing what I had planned on doing (indoor work), I did something quite different (outdoor work).

Hours later, no papers were graded, but I admired those aesthetically-pleasing lines in my grass from my final end-of-season lawn-mowing, piles of cleared brush, and the Christmas garland draped on our front railing. The next day temperatures dropped, and since then, we've alternated from basic cold to "wintery mixes," which is the meteorological euphemism for "basic cold + varying degrees of wetness and slipperiness."

If I could kiss my own forehead, I would. I'm so pleased that I completed these outdoor tasks during the window of time when I could.

There's something to be said for seizing the opportunity during its lifetime. I teach about this concept -- a term called kairos -- in one of my rhetoric classes, in fact. In simplest form, kairos is a way of looking at time -- not chronologically, but rather in terms of opportunity. Kairos reflects an opportune time, an advantageous time, a critical time when acting or speaking can make a difference.

Sometimes it's easier to understand kairos by looking at its absence rather than its fulfillment. We've all had moments when we can't think of what to say, only to come up with the perfect words moments later as we're walking away from the situation. But by then we're too late. The words are no longer timely, no longer appropriate. The window of opportunity has shut. We've missed kairos.

But last week, I didn't. I had one day, and I made it count. 


Simple Traditions: The Pie Crust Cookie

For as long as I can remember throughout my childhood, when my mom made a pie she'd roll extra dough onto a cookie sheet, sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, and pop it in the oven to make a delicious pie crust cookie. Decades later, I now do this for my own daughters. (It was our breakfast today, in fact. Rules about sensible eating are nonexistent on holidays.)

When my oldest daughter snagged a piece she asked, "Are these pie crust cookies a thing? I mean, do other people besides us make this?"

When I assumed we couldn't possibly be the only ones, she said, "Well, this is amazing. It should be a thing."

At any rate, it's our thing, and I imagine years down the road when my girls are adults, they'll roll out extra dough, dust on cinnamon and sugar, and serve their own children pie crust cookies for Thanksgiving breakfast, too.

Long life the simple traditions.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!


"I've Noticed My Life Is Better When..."

Every semester I reach a point where my job solely consists of grading things. Specifically, for the past two weeks there's been a daily influx of assignments, and the onslaught will continue until the end of this current week when we call a truce and blissfully break for Thanksgiving.

I think I'm primarily to blame for this situation because I'm the professor, but I digress.

Weeks of sustained grading is similar to riding a wave. Every morning I give myself a pep talk (or perhaps a warning) that I have to keep up with the momentum or I'm going to get rolled. Don't let today's grading spill into tomorrow because more is coming tomorrow. Stay on top of this stack! You can do this! Focus, young grasshopper!

And for the most part, with the aid of an embarrassing quantity of Dr Pepper and some grit, I've stayed on top. Assignments have been returned swiftly and with ample feedback. More of the workload is behind than remains ahead.

Now, I said all that to say this:

When I'm in the midst of heavy work weeks, I often forget to tap into the things that make me function well as a human. There's limited room for hobbies and I skimp on connecting with friends under the banner of "limited time!" But enjoyable pursuits and human connections aren't luxuries; they sustain people who otherwise are running on fumes and caffeine.

So this past weekend, in between the nooks and crannies of writing feedback and deliberating on rubrics, I watched college football and got immersed in a book to the point that when I reached the last chapter (bookmarks are for quitters), I blinked hard at my surroundings, including my kids, because I momentarily had forgotten they existed. It was highly satisfying.

Sunday night as we got ready for bed, I told my husband, "I've noticed that my life is better when I'm reading good books."

He wisely replied, "Then keep reading good books."

So I will.


The Post-Talk Update

This is a compilation of pictures taken roughly 15 minutes before I was scheduled to speak about overcoming fear and worry at an INSPIRE Women's Ministry Event this past Saturday morning.

In case you're wondering, yes, I am hiding in a bathroom contemplating whether I should be power-posing. I knew I was prepared to speak. That wasn't the issue. The issue was that I didn't feel capable of mingling beforehand with any human beside myself in the off-chance that engaging in casual conversation would accidentally deplete my reserves of coherence that I had allotted for the talk.

So, for ten minutes or so, I awkwardly lurked-shuffled between the women's restroom and an abandoned conference room, taking weird selfies and sips of water because this is who I am and how I operate.

Now, the wonderful thing about pre-talk awkwardness is that it dissipates. By the time I took the stage, not only did I feel profound relief that people had showed up, but I also felt excited -- really excited -- because I knew the message would be good. In fact, I even had arranged to have the talk recorded so I not only could send it to my parents (they're personal fans), but also share it with you here on the blog.

But there's the rub: much to my chagrin, the recording didn't record. (One job, voice recorder! You had one job!)

Essentially, you'll have to take my word for it. I said things, and those things apparently were quite encouraging because not only did people laugh at my jokes, but they also took notes and nodded frequently. On top of that, more than one woman in the audience cried in that good way when tears signify you're saying exactly what someone needs to hear, not that you're actively ruining her day. I even had a young woman in the audience present me with a beautiful gift: a sketch of me that she had drawn while I spoke.

Laughter, note-taking, nods, appropriate crying, and sketches for the win, I tell you!

I sincerely appreciate every woman who attended and those who helped to plan the INSPIRE event. (If that's you, thank you!)

Readers, if you'd like me to speak to your women's group or church ministry (and, obviously, to awkwardly lurk-shuffle in your venue during the 15 minutes leading up to the actual event), please contact me here. I'd be delighted to talk more about your group's needs!

Not Holding It Together

Years ago when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, we endured a challenging stretch when she came home from school and melted down daily. We knew she was tired. We knew that attending school five days a week for seven hours each day was a significant jump from attending pre-school for a few hours in the morning twice a week. We knew that more was being demanded of her than ever before.

Even so, one afternoon I remember her flailing on the floor in full-blown meltdown mode, reaching my own breaking point, and demanding, "What in the world is GOING ON with you?"

That's when she said these profoundly mature words:

"I hold it together ALL DAY. When I get home I can't hold it together any more."

I understood exactly what she meant. Whether you're a kindergartner, a teenager, or an adult, there's truth behind her sentiment. Sometimes we hold it together in public as long as we can, and the only place we can safely decompress -- often in irrational, annoying, or ugly ways -- is in our own homes with those who love us the most.

Put another way, our children trust us to still love and accept them when they're the worst versions of themselves, which is beautiful, terrible, and ironic all at once. (Adults do this too. When my dear friend underwent an especially frustrating situation at work, she confessed how she unleashed that stress onto her husband, but then, after pulling it together and apologizing, joked with him, "You know, you should feel privileged because I'd only act this way with someone I entirely trust. It's proof you're in my inner circle.")

I remember her words when my children have rubbed my last nerve raw. I ask for God's intervention: "God, clearly I'm in their inner circle. You put me in this role. I need your help." I urge my children to give each other both grace and space when one of their sisters lashes out, reminding them that we often need the most love and support when we seem to deserve it the least.

And when I feel like this:

I try to remember that advice myself, knowing that I should love deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. Grace and space. Try to give this difficult person grace and space.

The people closest to us might not always be able to hold it together. We might reach our own thresholds where we can't hold it together any longer, either. But thank God that he desires to be our innermost circle, and he invites us to be entirely real and open with our thoughts and feelings when we approach him.

He can handle our worst. And even when we can't, he's capable of holding it all together.

Typical Demands, Random Disruptions, and Mental Loads

Yesterday. Yesterday was a day. If I put it down on paper, it might not seem like much more than typical demands cobbled together with random disruptions. There was a fire alarm that sounded when I started to teach a class, a dentist appointment in the middle of the afternoon (which seemed innocuous when I scheduled it 6 months ago, but felt highly inconvenient when it arrived), and back-and-forth text messages with my husband throughout the morning about adjusting plans for the kids because trick-or-treating had been cancelled due to projected evening storms. There were students who streamed through office hours, one after another after another, so my lunch -- a sad looking sandwich and apple -- still sat untouched on my desk two hours past when I had planned to eat. There were 46 assignments waiting to be graded online, and then there were my corresponding calculations that if each assignment took 5-7 minutes to grade, then I'd have all feedback submitted in a mere 4 to 5 hours.

If I stayed entirely focused.

But I wasn't entirely focused. I was also thinking about how I needed to finalize a teaching observation for a colleague, how I should check in with my friend, how I needed to buckle down and compare prices between providers so I can order new contacts before my dwindling supply runs out, how I still haven't taken the kids to get their flu shots, how I ought to adjust my youngest daughter's annual check-up to account for a scheduling conflict, how paperwork was due next week for my oldest daughter's winter sports physical, and how it's high time I finally ironed patches onto my middle daughter's Girl Scout vest. And groceries. Definitely groceries. Also laundry, because life.

You know, all the things.

Now, your list of things will be different than my list of things, but, man alive, we're juggling all of them, aren't we? Call it what you will (the phrases "adulting" or "mental load" seem particularly apt), but the unrelenting demands on our time -- and the invisible, yet even more consuming, demands on our thoughts -- are legitimate reasons to feel depleted when we finally put our heads down at the end of the day.

You see, I didn't just go to bed last night. I cried uncle, conceded defeat, and tapped out because sometimes the healthiest and most productive thing you can do is sleep. Enough already. Tomorrow is a new day.

In the chance that you're having a day like this -- or a week, a month, or maybe it's felt like a small lifetime -- I want you to hear something. You're not weak because you didn't get it all done, whatever "it" is. You're not undisciplined if today's to-do list still contains some of yesterday's items. You're not delicate if you're tired.

You're human. And humans are oddly capable of working themselves to exhaustion, bypassing that exhaustion, and experiencing burnout. It's not to our credit, mind you, but we know how to push ourselves to breaking points.

To remedy this, we might deliberately subtract extraneous activities, as I recently wrote. We might delegate more, flex our muscles at saying no, or have hard conversations with our bosses, spouses, or children about managing work loads, revising expectations, or needing assistance. We'd be wise to remember that we can't do it all, and that -- at our core -- we're human beings, not human doers. We'd be helpful if we honestly admitted to each other that we don't keep all our plates spinning.

Even more, we can be gentle with ourselves, not harsh taskmasters, because sometimes our worst critic comes from within, not outside. We could talk to ourselves like we talk to our best friends, with humor, encouragement, and empathy.

Self, you'll have days like this!  Do you realize that you not only had 46 assignments to grade, but you also still managed to do two loads of laundry, found and emptied a lunch box before its contents curdled, and helped nearly a dozen students? Do you know that your kids will be fine even though their primary food groups were pizza and mini-sized candy bars? Girl, do you realize that you're amazing? You're doing it. You're going to make it!

Let me whisper in your ear, right to your heart: You're doing so much. Your contributions are valuable. You're going to make it. You're greater than the sum of all the things you still need to accomplish. You're not invisible or alone. (And, by the way, you're having a great hair day. And your outfit is cute, even if you're wearing yoga pants.)

It's tough out there, friends, and there's safety in numbers. We adults need to stick together as we're adulting.


Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

Jumping in Leaves? Remember This.

Oh, fall. You're such a wonderful, cozy season. What's more festive than raking a substantial pile of leaves, breathing in their earthy scent, and then, upon the urging of your kids, jumping in with childlike abandon?

But I'll warn you, if you're about to take the plunge, remember this tip:

The landing is hard.

The Addition That Comes from Deliberate Subtraction

When I was a kid, I worked on art projects until they were finished. Then, due to a combination of my overly-idealistic youthfulness and a lack of restraint, I kept adding details until I messed up the projects completely. After countless botched attempts to add "one more thing," I finally learned to hold back and let good projects rest.

This is a smart lesson to learn. It's useful to know when to say, "This is enough. Anything more will detract."

Even now, I talk to my writing and public speaking students about using deliberate subtraction in order to add meaning and clarity. We reduce excess words. We streamline content so only the best remains. We minimize clutter so every sentence, image, and idea adds value. It's hard work, but it reaps dividends.

The concept of deliberate subtraction doesn't just influence my classroom instruction; it also impacts my daily life. It's shockingly easy to fill a day to the brim with obligations and activity. I've had months -- years, even -- when I've kept moving, like I was running on a hamster wheel, and I rarely paused to assess if my perpetual activity added value.

When you're operating at full capacity, there's only time for reaction, not reflection. It's exhausting. And, sadly, it's also empty.

I was tired of being exhausted, so this year I grappled with the choice to slow the pace of my life in a very concrete way: I reduced my teaching load by one course each semester. While this choice to "do less" made me feel weak at first, I've since recognized it as the single greatest decision of self-care that I've made during my adult life.

I'm doing less, but I'm doing better. Addition has resulted from subtraction.

If you're tackling too much in most facets of life, let me encourage you to deliberately subtract. It might hurt to let go of good activities. It might bruise our egos to admit that we can't do it all well. It might feel like a cop-out to build margins of time and rest into our lives when, technically, we know we could squeeze in something else.

But consider the art project. Adding "one more thing" can become more of a liability than an asset when it clutters and crowds.

The practice of deliberate subtraction operates in stark contrast to the frenetic pace of our world. But that's okay. Less can be more.

You're Invited to a Women's Inspire Brunch in State College, PA!

I AM SO EXCITED TO INVITE YOU TO AN EVENT!  I'll now stop shouting at you in ALL CAPS and bold font. Please read on.

Worry. Fear. You know the drill. In the midst of hard times, we might fear that things never will change. In good times, we might fear that circumstances totally will change. We may worry that we're not enough, that we're too much, or that we're (insert some other perceived personal shortcoming). We might worry that our limitations will prevent us from being successful or accepted. We may fear we're totally screwing up our children. We might fear aging, or insignificance, or, I don't know, spiders.

(Because, PEOPLE, if we're being entirely forthright, spiders can be highly unnerving.)

Sometimes we don't even notice when fear and worry dominate our thoughts. We grow accustomed to their tactics, and they become a subtle soundtrack to our daily lives, coloring our moods and interactions.

It's time for a happy breakup. That's why I'm speaking about saying goodbye to worry and fear at a Women's INSPIRE Brunch on Saturday, November 9, in State College, PA -- and I'd love for YOU to be there.

It's going to be awesome! And funny. And honest. And, most importantly, my prayer is that it'll be FREEING. (My goal is for us to leave feeling 10 pounds lighter, proverbially speaking. Disclaimer: a light brunch will be provided, so no actual weight loss will occur.)

Whether I know you in person, or you've been reading my blog for years, or you're brand new at Robin Kramer Writes, please consider joining me on November 9. The event is free, and you can RSVP on this Facebook event link.

Invite your friends! Message me directly if you have questions! Hope to see you there!

Because I'm Kinda Sorta Like Michael Phelps

You know that iconic photo of Michael Phelps wearing the 28 medals that he won across a span of 16 years in 4 separate Olympic Games? Well, not to compare -- because I'd hate to take away from his accomplishments -- but I did just finish my 7th half marathon in exceptionally average time.

Michael, we should share stories sometime. (You're the surf, I'm the turf. Together we'll be dynamic.) You come wearing your medals, and I'll come wearing mine. No need for you to feel intimidated by my accolades, or my crooked selfie-taking skills, for that matter.

It'll just be straight talk, one highly-decorated athlete to another.

When Life Prompts You to be an Encourager

I recently heard this quote: "Be an encourager. The world has plenty of critics already."

I love this sentiment -- primarily because it's a reminder I need to hear. It's surprisingly easy to fall into a pattern of discovering the downside, or pointing out a pitfall, or focusing on the one thing that's wrong until that nugget-sized "wrong" thing overshadows the mountain of things that are right.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we both admitted to feeling out-of-sorts lately. While I can't recall our exact exchange, I'm pretty sure it included words like lethargic, apathetic, halfhearted, and blah, and was punctuated with inspiring sentences like, "There's a serious lack of chocolate in my house," and "Do you ever go to sleep knowing that you already want to take a nap the next day?"

Neither of us were stellar candidates for motivational speaking that afternoon.

But the arrival of fall seems to be a harbinger of hope. Fall has multiple charming attributes -- changing leaves, crisp temperatures, cozy sweaters, cute boots, football Saturdays, to name a few -- but it also invites me to be more grateful. (I'm looking at you, trifecta of autumn hashtags: #grateful #thankful #blessed.)

When I live with a heightened sense of gratitude, it's not only much easier to encourage others, but also to encourage myself. I start to speak to myself more boldly. Look up, child. Lift your head. There are so many blessings waiting for you to notice, if you'd just have eyes to see them. You are not alone. Turn your thoughts and feelings to God.

The quote is correct. There world has plenty of critics. Be an encourager, even an encourager to your very own soul.

Apologize to Yourself in Advance

Several weeks ago I saw a meme on Facebook that said this:

Because I'm thoughtful, I immediately texted the image to my oldest daughter, a high school freshman, and wrote, "It's okay. Dad and I still love you." She clearly appreciated the assurance.

But how true is this? Parents are perpetually breaking in new realms of parenting with their first kid. You don't want to be too permissive, and you don't want to be too firm. You want to keep them safe, but you also want them to gain independence and learn responsibility. You have no precedent for how to navigate the waters because you've never done it before. And the waters themselves? They're not crystal clear beaches. They're murky. You can't see the bottom, and you don't quite know what you're stepping on. It's all a bit unnerving.

The other night when our youngest left the room, my husband looked at me and joked, "Do you ever think that she's our best shot of getting it right?" I kind of laughed-snorted (a charming tendency) because, YES, I'm banking on this. Our third child better benefit from the mistakes we've made with the first two.

My office mate, a man who has no kids, recently said, "I don't know how you parents do it. I think you must have to get in the habit of apologizing to yourself in advance. You're not always going to get it right, but you sure are trying your best."

His words encouraged me. It's smart to give ourselves permission to not always parent perfectly, which is impossible anyway, and to trust that we'll grow as our kids grow.

Sure, our kids might turn out a little weird, like that first pancake. That's okay. Weird pancakes still taste good.

We're all trying our best.

The Pebble In My Shoe

There's roughly one more month until I run my half marathon.  Despite a minor setback due to a pulled calf muscle, I'm doing my best to stick to my training schedule: several short early morning runs before work during the week and one longer run that I save for the weekend. (Because nothing quite says "Hey girl, kick back and relax because it's the weekend!" like a long run.)

So far, my longest run has been nine miles. About two miles into this recent nine-miler, I noticed there was a tiny pebble in my shoe. I continued running, thinking it would work its way into a different space so I wouldn't feel it, but no. That pebble stayed right where it was. 

Still, I kept running.

You have a lot of time to think while running nine miles, so sometimes I distracted myself from the pebble by thinking. You know, thoughts about parenting, teaching, my to-do list, milkshakes, the Twilight series, whether I should get my hair cut, how I like the color of the front door on the house I just passed, whether I should paint my own front door, what color I should paint my front door, whether my calf feels tight, or why I'm moving so slowly. It varies.

But every so often, my thoughts came back to that pebble. It was still there. Still mildly irritating. And still, I just kept running.

People, I ran for seven more miles knowing that a pebble was in my shoe, feeling that pebble in my shoe, being increasingly irritated by that pebble in my shoe.

When I finally finished, I took off my shoe and shook that pebble out. Do you know how long it takes to remove a pebble from your shoe?  Five seconds? Ten seconds? Maybe thirty if you actually sit down and then carefully tie your laces back up? In contrast, do you know how long it takes to finish a nine-mile training run?  (Let me offer that it's considerably longer than the time it takes to shake out a pebble.)

For some reason, this made me pause. Why did I run all that time experiencing an irritation when I could have removed it quickly? Did I think it would just go away on its own? That it wasn't worth fixing? That it wouldn't really hurt me? That I wouldn't want to (or be able to) start running again if I stopped, even for a moment?

I really don't have answers to those questions. I don't know why I didn't deal with the pebble. 

But what I do know is that this pebble in my shoe parallels my life in certain ways. Sometimes I have pebble-like circumstances. They're low-grade irritants. I ignore them, hoping that they'll work their way out on their own. I avoid them by distracting myself, keeping busy, or thinking about other things. I know these "pebbles" could be removed if I actually paused and addressed them, but for some reason, I don't. I just keep running, running, running.

Maybe you have a proverbial pebble stuck in your shoe right now, too.

And maybe the answer isn't for us to keep running, acting like these problems will go away if we pretend they're not there. Maybe the best course of action would be to stop. To deal with the pebbles directly. To take action so small irritants don't unfold into larger problems. To correct the tiny areas where we're limping in our lives before our limping becomes more painful and pronounced.

It took an actual pebble in my shoe to remind me of this. If you, like me, have some circumstances that need to be addressed, perhaps we can both sit down today and start the process of shaking our shoes out.

I think our next steps will be better for it.

Why you shouldn't judge your parenting by the month of August

At this point in August, we're all embroiled in the process of Going Back To Everything. Today I'm sharing an article that I wrote for Her View From Home, which I hope will encourage you during this hazy, languid, humid, complicated month.

Here's the link: Don't Judge Your Parenting on the Month of August.  (I think you'll love it!)


When You're Not Quite Yet Back to School

This is it. In one week, school starts for my kids and the Penn State semester starts for me. This upcoming week -- our last official week of summer -- will be crammed with school-related events: meet-the-teacher hours, orientations, and new building tours for my kids; meetings for me on campus.

I'd be lying if I told you that there wasn't some low-grade nervousness surfacing. My oldest daughter, a rising 9th grader, is headed to our town's massive high school. My middle daughter, a rising 6th grader, is entering middle school. My youngest daughter, an incoming 4th grader, will be changing buildings. My own fall teaching schedule, one that had been predictably set for the last month, is now in flux due to some last-minute department changes. I'm still not fully sure what my day-to-day routine will be. I only know it will be busy.

I'm comforted by the reminder that none of this ruffles God. He's not bothered by change. He's constant in our daily routines, even if those routines will be new to us. He knew the classes my kids would be assigned to, what teachers they'd get, what lunch periods they'd have, what friends would (or wouldn't) share their schedules. The same goes for me. The entire college course registration process, which can feel clinical and random on a campus with over 45,000 undergraduate students, electronically assigns me a specific grouping of 24-30 students per class. I can trust that those students (who appear as just names and ID numbers on a website right now) are the exact students who are supposed to be there.

When I think of the upcoming school year like this -- that God has been overseeing and will continue to oversee the details -- I can relax. I can walk in assurance that He's with me, every step.

The Post-Talk Spiral

This week I had the opportunity to share the message at my church's Wednesday night service. While this certainly doesn't occur every single time I speak at a ministry event or give a professional presentation, I occasionally slip into a post-talk spiral within minutes of setting down the microphone.

It's a charming thought process that goes something like this:

That went pretty well.  It went decent, at least.  I mean, it was passable.  I forgot to say several things that I planned to say, though.  It was okay.  It was average.  Actually, I messed up several times.  It's possible that my second point wasn't clear at all.  The final point was a bit rushed. Wait, no, the final point was entirely abrupt.  Come to think of it, I'm convinced that nothing was coherent.  Not one sentence had merit.  I might not even have been speaking English.  It's highly probable that I insulted everyone's mothers and accidentally blasphemed.

Then some time passes, and I'm like: Actually, come to think of it, that went pretty well.

Decent, at least.

We Hope To Enjoy a Few More

The other night my family went out to dinner. Shortly after we were seated, the hostess ushered an elderly couple to the booth adjacent to our table. The gentleman pushed his wife in a wheelchair, helped to gently lift her thin frame into the booth, folded the wheelchair, and then wheeled the chair to the waiting area to clear the restaurant aisle. When he returned, he carried a cushion that he tucked between the wooden back of the booth and his wife's back.

I didn't want to stare, but I couldn't help but notice that her hands visibly shook as she held her utensils. I was somehow happily surprised to see that she ordered a rack of barbecue ribs -- a full rack, at that. He ate a hamburger. They talked quietly, and I noticed how they both periodically looked over at our kids, smiling as my youngest daughter held up an especially long French fry as it were something really special, and my middle daughter pretended to bite it in mid-air and snatch it from her dangling grasp.

When we left the restaurant, I felt the urge to stop at their table and say something, even though I didn't quite have the words to express that I somehow felt drawn to them, their togetherness, their collectively kind demeanor, their decision to order ribs and a burger.

So, instead of eloquently articulating any of those thoughts, I offered a friendly, if generic, greeting, and told them I hoped they were enjoying their meal. Then I tacked on, "How long have you been married?"

The man smiled and said, "Sixty seven years."

But it was his next sentence that made the entire night worth it: "And we hope to enjoy a few more."

We hope to enjoy a few more.

That's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. 

I Can Do Hard Things

I signed up to run another half-marathon. Part of me wants to tell you that I made this choice in a moment of weakness, but that would be inaccurate. It was a moment of ill-perceived strength. You see, a few months ago I accompanied my husband to the marathon he was running and got caught up in the celebratory atmosphere -- runners lifting their arms victoriously as they crossed the finish line, the shiny medals, the supportive crowd holding encouraging signs, the free bananas.  

Although it's been nearly three years since I ran a race of any legitimate distance, I thought, "I should do this again."

So I signed up for a race in early October. This seemed like an excellent idea until last week when I was running a 6-mile route in 85 degrees weather and (I'm pretty sure) 112% humidity. My thoughts were a bit muddled, but they followed this vein: Wait one moment. What am I doing exactly? Why have I willingly paid actual money to run 13.1 miles? Am I some sort of masochist? Why would anyone ever do this to themselves? Are my wrists sweating? How is it possible that even my wrists are sweating?

Then I proceeded to inelegantly blow my nose on my tank top and contemplate dying on the side of the path.

But somewhere in the far recesses of my mind, another thought surfaced: I can do this. I can do hard things.

From that point forward with each step I took, that mantra kept scrolling in my thoughts. You can do this, Robin. Keep going. Sure it's hard, but you've done hard things before. You can do hard things.

Now, I'd love to tell you that my pace quickened, I found newfound cardiovascular reserves, and my final mile was one for the record books, but that's not the case. The rest of the run was pretty ugly. My eyes stung from sweat, my ankle felt funny, and I had sections when I slowed my already-slow gait to a pace that might best be described as glacial.

But I did it. I covered the distance, even if it wasn't pretty. I'm really proud of that particular run.

When I think back on my running -- these seven or eight other times over the past years when I've had either the grit or stupidity to sign up for these half-marathons -- I realize that the runs I'm most proud of aren't my fastest and best. In fact, they're normally not even the actual races themselves, but rather the nondescript training runs when I struggled, but continued on nonetheless.

Something shifts inside you when you remind yourself that you can do hard things. The physical process of running reminds me of this in highly visceral ways, but the general principle is apt for all facets of life. I think about the motto that our local elementary school principal has taught my daughters over the years: "Get grit. Don't quit." I think about how rewarding it is to work -- really work -- for something, how important it is to have mental toughness, how resistance invites growth, and even how it's necessary to teach this lesson to the next generation and coach my children to cultivate resilience so they're not crushed by challenges and setbacks.

If signing up for a half-marathon is what reminds me of this, then bring it on. I can do this. I can do hard things

So can you.

Going Off The Grid

You know that moment when you exit a highway and, accustomed to moving at 70 miles per hour, you find it strange to acclimate to a slower speed?  That's how I feel in July. You see, late one evening I was surrounded by papers, rubrics, and end-of-semester spreadsheets, looking like this:

And early the next morning -- quite literally fifteen minutes after uploading final grades -- we loaded our family into a minivan that looked like this:

And five hours later we arrived at our destination (Bethany Beach, Delaware) where we encountered views like this:

It was lovely. There's nothing quite like ending a semester by putting 270 miles between you and campus.

Now we're back home again, and I'm falling into the rhythm of July, the one month that I don't teach. There's no real rhythm to July. My days are loosely structured. I drive my kids to places. I clean. I gather things for our annual garage sale. I cross off items from my to-do list as I complete small projects around the house. I read books. I drive my kids to even more places. I slowly try to build some running stamina again. I sometimes go a full 24 hours without checking my work email. I go off the grid.

July reminds me what it's like to be, not just to do, while also daily reminding me that my hair and humidity don't get along well. It's a quirky kind of a month -- a bit slow and sticky, speckled with moments when I feel unproductive and off-kilter because I'm not used to downshifting. I almost feel guilty.

But I'm learning. Yesterday afternoon I took my kids to the pool, and although it had been hot and humid, I sat on the side while they swam. Finally, after finishing the chapter I was reading and tucking in my book mark, I walked to the deep end and jumped in -- no hemming and hawing, no slow wading into the shallows, no deliberating whether I should get my hair wet.

I just jumped, at first shocked by the contrasting cold, then entirely refreshed.

It reminds me: when life opens up and refreshment is there for the taking, whether a dip in a pool on a scorching day or a few weeks when I'm relieved of my teaching schedule, it's okay to embrace it. It's okay to yield, to let go of the structure, to relinquish control, to forgo the urge to always adhere to a productive routine. Because, Lord knows, the break is only temporary.

Sometimes it's smart to jump in without overthinking. When refreshment is there for the taking, just take it.

Honest First Impressions of Summer Vacation

We've reached an awkward stage in our household. You see, last week my kids finished their final days of school and turned the corner into summer vacation. Meanwhile, I'm teaching two classes and facing a looming deadline for an article I'm writing for work. Suffice to say, their expectations are clashing with my reality.

It's kind of like this:

My kids: Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Let's do fun things. FUN THINGS! All the time, perpetually, because we're on vacation and we're so excited! In fact, we're going to wake up before 7 so we can start our days of leisure early. Let's have friends over all the time! Can they stay for dinner? Can they sleep over? Let's go to a movie! The pool! An amusement park!

Me: It's not time for fun yet.

My kids, undeterred:  Let's eat Popsicles seven times a day. And go out for ice cream at night! Can you set up the Slip-and-Slide? How about S'mores? You just have to start a fire, that's all. You can start a fire now, right?

Me: I am neither mentally nor logistically prepared for what currently is happening to me. 

My kids: What about snow cones?

I'm not sure why I'm shocked by any of this. I visibly saw the end of the school year approaching. I crossed out days on the calendar that led to the block where, in my own handwriting, it read "Last Day of School." I observed tell-tale signs, like how their backpacks overflowed with the contents of their desks and piles of end-of-year papers. And yet, I'm shocked.

It's like my conscious mind recognized that summer vacation was about to happen, but my subconscious had suppressed what it's like when kids are so extraordinarily ever-present. But now that this awareness is resurfacing, I have two primary thoughts:

(1) In just a few short years, my kids won't be home 24/7 for eleven weeks straight. This is one of those "18 summers" before they head into college, step into their futures, and launch their young adult lives. I should treasure these moments. Hold them close. Take mental snapshots.

(2) Wait, what? These kids are going to be home 24/7? For eleven weeks straight? Jesus take the wheel.


Listen to the Right Voice

My husband and I will be speaking at our church this upcoming Sunday morning, so this past week we've been preparing and putting the final touches on our message. I've loved merging our talents and working together.

Meanwhile, this past week I've also had several encounters that have made me legitimately question my aptitude as a parent and a human, encounters that would make me question whether I'm the right person to be entrusted with a microphone and an audience for 30 minutes.

This morning as I was reviewing my message notes, I added this sentence in the margins:
Listen to what God is saying to you and about you, not what a critic is saying, even if that critic is yourself.
As soon as I wrote this, I remembered a painful and complex situation that I was involved in multiple years ago where a person I trusted denigrated my character and questioned my motives. My conscience had been clear about the situation, but the more I dwelt on the accusations (and, friends, I dwelt on them heavily), the more I wondered if they were true, if I really was the awful person who was being described.

After months of miserably grappling with the situation, I finally had an epiphany: If this person's accusations against me were wrong, it was going to be okay because God is my defender. The accusations wouldn't hold.  (Psalm 37:6 says "He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.")  But even if the accusations were accurate, it would still be okay because God was my forgiver. He would cleanse me, forgive me, and restore me. He's a God who specializes in making all things new, so even if they were legitimate, my flaws didn't have to be my story.

Such freedom!  When I am wrongfully accused, God defends! When I'm wrong and come to him repentantly, God forgives!

So today, even while sitting at my kitchen table reviewing our notes for Sunday morning, I was encouraged once again to listen to the right voice. Not the voices of my critics -- and not my inner accusatory voice when I'm my own worst critic. God is speaking something much different, much better, over me.

I love you. I forgive you when you confess your sins to me. I'm protecting you. I defend you. I'm your faithful helper and guide in these circumstances. I will never leave you or forsake you.

That's the right voice to listen to.

Do you have a kid? Do they have a phone? This is a resource for you.

Everyone should have a friend like Christine Carter. Oddly, since Christine and I became acquainted through blogging, we've never met in person (yet). That doesn't dilute my opening statement -- everyone should have a friend like Christine Carter. She's full of life and wildly encouraging. She's left comments on my blog that are so complimentary I've wanted to tattoo them on myself. 

In a nutshell, Chris Carter is for people -- when you read her writing (she publishes broadly and blogs at The Mom Cafe) or interact with her online, you feel like you have a personal cheerleader in life. In fact, the only thing I can find wrong with the woman is that she's an Ohio State fan. (Being that my home team is Penn State, that's a doozy, but Christine is so incredible I can even overlook her misguided college football allegiance.)

Last month Christine, released her second book titled Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen's Guide to Navigating the Online World.  If you have a kid, and your kid has a phone, this is a resource you'll want.

Structured as a workbook, Follow Jesus invites teens to think about their online habits in light of eight distinct values: love, grace, humility, compassion, truth, wisdom, integrity, and faithfulness.  Each section provides practical tips (ex: "always pause and pray for God's guidance before you post any response to bad behavior you see online"), applicable memory verses, checklist questions that invite personal introspection, and action-oriented prompts that challenge readers to take concrete steps to ensure their online habits are safe, reflect their Christian values, and ultimately, give glory to God.

As a person who's grappled with my own online presence and habits -- and as a mother who's raising a young teen and rising tweens who are dipping their toes into the online world -- I found the checklist questions and action-oriented prompts to be most useful.  While I can envision teens using the workbooks personally or in the context of a youth group, I also imagine that parents will benefit from using the resource to prompt healthy discussions that go deeper than the default, "you've-been-on-your-phone-all-afternoon-get-off-of-it" comment, which hits more on the quantity of time our kids spend on devices, rather than the quality of the content they're viewing and interactions they're having.

Follow Jesus hits on those "quality" aspects of the online world -- areas like knowing how to respond kindly (or even walking away) when you encounter inflammatory comments, not using social media to boast, not linking self-worth with the number of likes you receive, learning how to tune into the needs of others as they share online, ferreting out truth in a crowded environment that easily disseminates lies, and interacting online in ways that preserve our personal integrity.

Daresay, these reminders are good for adults to read, too.

I'll be honest: I've felt skiddish and inept as I've mulled over how and when my kids should have access to the online world.  I'm not sure I've always made the right choices.  When should they have a phone? How long should they be permitted to be on their phone each day? How do we best monitor this largely private device?  I want to bubble-wrap my kids and protect them from the corners of the the online world that are trashy and unhealthy.  At the same time, I want them to be able to connect with their friends and have access to online resources and platforms that are productive and entertaining.

Therein lies the rub: as parents, we can't just hand over a device that lets a young person explore EVERYTHING -- good and bad, helpful and harmful, edifying and destructive -- without also arming them with guidance on how to best handle that device.  That's the goal of Follow Jesus: to provide a lifeline of wise biblical guidance so our teens can swim, not sink, and engage online in a healthy, thoughtful, and God-honoring fashion.

And THAT is something I can get behind.

Get your copy of Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen's Guide to Navigating the Online World on Amazon. And while you're at it, visit Christine Carter to hear more of her wit and wisdom at The Mom Cafe!

Let's Chat. It's May.

Envision me tapping a microphone to check if you can still hear me.

HELLO dear readers!  Is this thing still on?  Somehow we've managed to launch ourselves squarely in the month of May. It's been too long since I last wrote, and there's so much for us to catch up on, so let's chat!

When the Yard Comes Alive.  Did you see those beautiful peonies at the top of this post?  Those are in my back yard.  After winter's long stretch of gray, I can't get enough of the vibrancy.  Many evenings my husband and I walk together, observing the daily addition of new blooms, marveling at how green everything is, and commenting on how the grass needs to be cut again. Everything is coming alive.

Funny how a simple walk outside can bring new perspective and peace. Nothing seems urgent when you're admiring tulips, you know?

Another Semester is Complete.  After posting final grades and wrapping up loose ends, last weekend I had the privilege to walk as my department's faculty marshal alongside an incredible student marshal at Penn State's graduation ceremonies.  Spring graduation is always a definitive punctuation mark, as if the university is gently nudging you and saying, "Your work is done for now. Go ahead, put on an awkward hat to celebrate that milestone."

And I'm like, "Sure thing. I always enjoy wearing a board attached to a cap on my head. Let's do this."

An observation about the graduation ceremony: The real hero, beyond the graduates themselves who have put in such exhaustive work to cross that stage, shake those hands, and receive that diploma, is definitely the person who reads all the names.  We're talking about multiple hundreds of names, rapid-fire, back-to-back, with no chances to pause or practice. At one point, I looked at the student marshal, nodded toward the name-reader, and admired: "That man is a champion."

The Week Off.  Tucked between the end of the spring semester and the start of summer classes (which begin on Monday), was the most glorious week where I started to catch up on my own life. I finished editing a piece I'm writing for work. I read two books. I cleaned my house, including closets, baseboards, tops of ceiling fans, and my oven, which prompted multiple introspective questions: Does food get actively murdered while it's cooking in my oven? How does that much splattering happen?  I scheduled a hair cut, squeezed in an appointment at the dentist, and went to the Avengers movie on Tuesday's $5 ticket night with my husband. I prepared my summer syllabi and websites, spray painted two outdoor garden stools that had faded from prior summers, and -- as a cherry on top -- I devoted the entirety of my Friday morning to one task: garage sale shopping.

It's been perfect. I'll return to campus Monday morning feeling like I've exhaled, which is a good way to start the next leg of the race. Even more, it's made me wish I could distribute a week off to everyone I know, that I could be like Oprah during the giveaway episode: "You get a week off, and you get a week off! Everyone gets a week off!"

Now THAT would really be something.

And that, my friends, is what's been happening since I last wrote.  Blogging periodically ebbs and flows given the rhythms of life, but I'm always grateful for you taking the time to visit and read.  Thank you for joining me here!  We'll chat again soon!

End-of-Semester Survival Tips

I recognize that this will seem impossible given my remarkably young age (ahem), but I'm currently in the throes of competing my 28th semester of teaching at the collegiate level.  You learn some useful lessons when you complete an activity 28 times.  For example, I've learned that no matter how smoothly a semester wraps up, the process always takes something out of you. If you let it, it'll deplete you to the core, which is why it's not uncommon to end a semester and immediately experience a total immune system collapse.  That's never fun.

Thankfully, there are several tips that can help you to finish strong.

Stay Organized.  I've joked with my students that the end of a semester is like triage.  You're required to move briskly between All The Things, treating the most urgent cases, reviving what's fading, and minimizing casualties.  Everything vies for your attention at once, and when this occurs it's easy to grow disoriented.  My mind becomes like a bulletin board covered with post-it notes with a high-powered oscillating fan blowing on it.  Every thought is flapping in the breeze, dangerously loose, capable of being whisked away and eternally forgotten.

That's why it's so essential to stay organized.  I write lists with incremental goals so I have concrete incentive to maintain a productive grading pace. I create distinct blocks of time to check and reply to email so it doesn't morph into a perpetual, yet halfhearted, task.  I (mostly) abstain from social media.  I plan easy dinners that don't require much thought or effort.

Order is a powerful antidote to being overwhelmed.

Remember Self-Care.  I'm not perfect, but I aim for a baseline of three self-care goals when a semester ends: maintain regular exercise, get 7 hours of sleep each night, and stay hydrated.  This not only keeps a semblance of routine, but it also keeps my body functioning.  Short breaks -- like a walk around my building when I'm on campus or around my yard when I work from home -- stave off computer-screen fatigue, restore energy, and provide helpful diversion.

As Mr. Miyagi once wisely said, "Don't forget to breathe. Very important."

Set Clear Boundaries.  In my final classes as we're wrapping up logistics, I relay an example from the reality show, Survivor.  At the end of each episode, Jeff Probst, the host, says, "Once the votes are read the decision is final. I'll go tally the votes."  His statement is definitive; it's not the time for negotiation. Similarly, I explain, once final grades are posted, the decision is final.  I don't fulfill last-minute special requests for extra credit.  I'm not swayed by students' unexpected discoveries that they need a certain grade to get accepted to this internship or that graduate/med/business school.  I don't entertain Hail-Mary questions like, "What is my grade and how can it magically become an A?"

And -- I explain to my students -- I do this out of fairness, consistency, and integrity to standards, not from a lack of kindness or empathy.  Every single time, I observe students nodding as I speak.  They understand the game, after all.  When I proactively set boundaries in a firm, yet neutral, way, they also accept that I don't play it. 

This simple talk makes the end of a semester so much easier!  It's significantly less draining to calmly explain this principle to a classroom full of students up-front than to receive multiple emotionally draining and personalized emails with the subject line "Final Grade" later.

Once the grades are tallied, the decision is final.  I'll go tally the grades.  Clear expectations and boundaries for the win!

And those, my friends, are my end-of-semester survival tips.  I will now be grading until I die, come to my senses, give up, or reach the bottom of the multiple stacks. I'm banking on the latter option.  It's almost in the books.  Here's to the close of another semester!


My Reaction to Juicy Pear Jelly Beans. Every. Single. Time.

My thought process every time I eat Jelly Belly Juicy Pear jelly beans:

"These are amazing! Amazing! They taste exactly like I'm eating a juicy pear. Uncanny!"

Three second pass. Another realization dawns.

"I could have just eaten a pear, couldn't I?"

Be Still and Know

Yesterday evening my church hosted a special service.  I knew the event would be good, but the timing wasn't.  By the time I arrived (nearly a half hour late) with my three kids in tow, we all felt frazzled.  I ushered the girls to their youth classes and then grabbed a seat in the back of the sanctuary, not convinced if my efforts to get there would be worth it.

The very first verse I heard the speaker share was this:
Be still and know that I am God.  (Psalm 46:10)
I had forgotten about this verse. (How appropriate in the face of all my rushing.)

God directly invites us into stillness as a way of knowing him.  He doesn't advise, "Get busy and know that I am God."  He doesn't say, "Overcommit and know that I am God" or "Burn yourself out and know that I am God."

Instead, he invites us to be still.

So there I sat in the back row, quieting my heart, subduing my racing mental to-do lists, and remembering how essential stillness is to connecting with God.

Sometimes we all need the reminder.

Be still.  Know that God is God.

Letting Kids Be Kids As Long As Possible

You can fast forward childhood. But you can't rewind it.
- Jon Acuff

This afternoon as I cooked dinner, our eleven-year-old neighbor knocked on our door and asked if my girls could play.  It's one of the first warm days of spring, and even though dinner was going to be ready in just a minute, I sent the kids outside.  They ran across the street in a pack, and I stood at our door a moment longer, listening to their banter and shouts as they bounced on the neighbor's trampoline.

Dinner could wait.

I've never taken for granted how my kids play with the neighbors.  For the past several years, most summer days they rotate from house to house: playing soccer in our back yard, jumping on a trampoline in the neighbor's, riding bikes up and down our hill, staging a game of hide and seek, and then cooling off in our kitchen by raiding our refrigerator for drinks and snacks, leaving a trail of cups and wrappers in their wake.

There's something organic about this.  It's wholesome and healthy.  Our door is open, kids are streaming through, and as a parent, it feels right.  The back-and-forth, screen-door-slamming has become part of how we function, just one of the rhythms of the neighborhood.  I can't help but think, "This is exactly how it should be."

But, to be honest, I don't know for how much longer this season will last.  At what point will the kids be too old to run across the street, knock on the door, and invite the neighbors out to play? 

At some point, the dynamics will change.  It's inevitable.  The kids will grow up and have more formalized demands on their time.  Instead of riding bikes, they'll be driving.  Instead of holding their once-a-summer neighborhood bake sale and lemonade stand, they'll hold part-time jobs.  The bonds of neighborhood friendship, born of convenience and shared experience, might not last forever -- not due to any trouble, but simply because life moves on.  New experiences will expand their horizons beyond their childhood street.

Yes, I know that one day -- likely in the not-so-distant future -- my dinner preparations won't be interrupted by the neighbor kids knocking on my door and asking my girls to play. 

I'm just glad that today isn't that day.


Make a Routine. Break a Routine.

We've done it.  We've reached the month of April.  Although I'm not sure why, each year this particular flip of the calendar page feels like a major accomplishment.  The start of April marks a break with the doldrums of winter.  (At least theoretically.  It still was 30 degrees this morning.)  April promises refreshers like forsythia blooms, and warmer temperatures, and the first garage sales signs being spotted around my community.  All good things.

But we're not quite there yet.  It's the cusp of spring, not yet the reality.  So here are two things I'm doing to hang in there until the evidence of spring catches up with my desire for it.

Make a Routine.  When my motivation is low, it helps if I have even just the modicum of a routine.  Each Sunday, I plan a weekly menu for the week so I'm armed with a plan and prepared with groceries.  Each Friday, I clean the house so I start the weekend living in a hospitable environment.  These minor routines -- running the dishwasher every night, emptying it every morning, doing at least one load of laundry per day, jotting down a daily to-do list -- help me keep my household and my professional life functioning. There's great peace when I know that the spokes aren't coming off the wheels. 

If I don't quite know what else to do, at least I can follow a routine.  Trudging is still forward progress.

Break a Routine.  Ironically, when my motivation is low, it also helps if I break even just the modicum of a routine.  I can drive a different way home, walk a different route across campus, or change up something -- anything! -- so life doesn't feel so predictable.  For example, when I needed to drop off a form off at my daughter's school the other afternoon, I took a 20 minute detour and stopped in a small boutique I've never visited during my 23-year tenure in this town. And you know what?  For that small window of time, I felt like a tourist.  The store had been there all along, yet it was new to me.

If I don't quite know what else to do, at least I can break a routine.   Novelty keeps things interesting.

Make a routine.  Break a routine.  Both will help.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Don't Let Emotions Drive the Bus

I felt remarkably alive last week.  I'm not entirely sure what to attribute this to.  Perhaps it was the extra hour of daylight after changing the clocks.  Perhaps it was the warmer-than-normal March temperature, as if spring was making an unexpectedly welcome appearance.  Perhaps it was because my house was organized, or my workload was strangely manageable, or my kids were in good moods.

Everything worked.  Like I was immersed in some sublime bubble of sunshine and good vibes, I found myself navigating each day with ease and stability.

Of course, this isn't always the case.  I also experience weeks when simple tasks feel like giant hurdles, everything is blah, and conversations with my best friend go like this:

BF: How are you?

Me: Fine.  I'm fine, except that I feel off and everything is weird.  Actually, it's possible that my whole life is wrong.  I don't know how to parent.  I'm pretty sure each of my kids is going to need therapy when they're adults.  Instead of being a productive human, I spent the last 45 minutes scrolling social media while eating Girl Scout cookies.  I have an alarming amount of wrinkles appearing on my forehead.

BF: Go on.

Me: I'm nursing the suspicion that all of my worst traits are becoming more pronounced.  I'm thinking about becoming a hermit.  I wore cute flats yesterday, but they gave me bad blisters and that's depressing because I don't even know how to wear shoes correctly.  I also tried to give up caffeine, but there was a sale at the grocery store and I came home with five six-packs of Dr Pepper.

BF: Anything else?

Me:  I'm seriously contemplating cutting bangs.

BF: You need an intervention.

Don't we all have days like this?  When we follow that rabbit hole of chaos and craziness as far as it can possibly go, when we cry at an episode of The Office because Jim looked at Pam in just the right way but our husband forgot to pick up milk, when we can't make any decisions, when we think we're not fulfilling our purpose, when we're sure that everything in our existence is, for lack of more precise critiques, just off and dull and wrong and meh.

These are days when it's especially important to not let our emotions guide us too powerfully.  These emotions are irrational; they'll steer us right into a brick wall. I've heard it explained this way:
Emotions are like toddlers. You can't put them in the trunk, but you can't let them drive the bus either.
Emotions are important -- and they're meant to be felt.  We can't ignore them, proverbially throwing them in the trunk.  (Ignored emotions don't go away.  They simply fester, then surface more potently and irrationally later.)  But we also can't put emotions in the driver's seat and let them lead us down every road.  That's merely an invitation to a life that's perpetually sidetracked and adrift.

Instead, there's a healthier balance: emotions can be in the backseat.  They can be companions that we consider and attend to, but they don't need to control us and chart our course.

I'm a firm believer that God wants us to be at peace -- not only with Him and others, but also with ourselves -- and that means that we can come to grips with our own emotions.  Irrational emotions aren't terminal, they're human.  And emotions aren't forever, they're transient.  And emotions, while certainly triggered by some circumstances, don't need to be beholden to those circumstances.

Last week my emotions looked like a well-cropped Instagram picture -- tidy, positive, aesthetically pleasing, and filtered with some happy glow.  It was awesome.  Who knows what will come next week?  My feelings might be pointing me toward the threshold of a really bad haircut, but this doesn't mean that I need to step over that threshold.

Let's find a healthy balance with our emotions.  Let's keep 'em in the backseat.  We can feel them out and give them some attention (this is healthy), but we don't need to hand over the keys to something so fickle.

Don't let emotions drive the bus.

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