Saturday, June 21, 2014

Keeping it Together

We're all human.  We have bad days.  We may have even had bad weeks, months, or even years.  Life is not always perfect that is why it is so important to grab the good moments, days, weeks, months, and years and soak them for all they're worth.  There will always be challenges, struggles, and obstacles to overcome.  If there weren't, how would we grow and learn?  Though uncomfortable, adversity offers opportunity; opportunity to grow closer to God, opportunity to know ourselves better, opportunity to get to know those around us better, opportunity to get better acquainted with our community, and opportunity to share with others.

If you are one of those people, like me, that have faced large challenge after large challenge, and dare I say see no real end in sight, it is worth the introspect to determine just how it is you face the hurdles that appear in your path.  What do you normally do when the going gets tough?  Is it working for you?  Is there something you could do better?  Are you taking care of yourself?  Is your focus on the right thing?

When I am feeling defeated and overrun (or run over) with life's challenges, the first thing I do is pray.  God can handle anything we dish out.  He's a big God.  He's tough like that.  The bible says to "pray without ceasing".

Right now, I feel as though I am drowning in resources and wish I had a little cabin in my woods I could retreat to in order to sort out all this information I have at my fingertips, clear my head, and return with a solid plan.  Since that opportunity does not exist in my reality, here I sit buried in paperwork, books, files, websites, and information in general, desperately trying to find where to start.

As if that all isn't challenging enough in and of itself, I have happened upon a new discovery in relation to my physical and mental well being.  A realization I have had for several years that I have been in perimenopause has been illuminated under a new light that stress compounds the side effects of perimenopause and further magnifies the side effects of hormonal imbalance.  Oh, yippee!  As you might well imagine I am eyeball deep in this life draining transition, and I am tired.  Exhausted.  Drained.  Wiped out.  Simply put, most days I feel as though someone has drugged me, and I could spend my entire day in bed sleeping, reading, and watching movies.  Yes.  That would 100% work for me right now.

However, staying in bed until I feel like getting up is not anywhere in the realm of my reality, so I press on.  I have done a few things to get my feet out of the muck and make my "one foot in front of the other" a tad easier.  Maybe what I've figured out for myself could be of some benefit to you.  We're all different, and we all carry our own set of unique burdens.  It is possible,  however, for us to learn from each other through our similarities as well as our differences.

What I've found to be true for me right now in my current set of circumstances is this:

1.  Put Myself First - Much like the guidance from the flight attendant to put our own oxygen mask on first, we do need to care for ourselves in order to be fit to care for our families and our communities.  We need to see to our health, both spiritual and physical.  I sought out help and began a new supplement regimen in order to address some long standing health concerns that have really been dragging me down.  It's a slow process, but I am starting to feel better.

I also provide time for myself to begin my day with prayer and Bible study.  It's amazing how just a little time in the morning with our creator can change our perspective and reset our sights on what is good and important.  Quiet time in study and/or reflection is the perfect way to begin our day on the right path with a healthy perspective.  I find I am better for it, as is my family.

2.  Establish and Guard a Schedule - UGH!  I detest this one!  Seriously.  This is SO challenging for me, but the fruit is undeniable.  I have three children ages 3.5, 4.5, and 9 in July.  They thrive on a SET IN STONE schedule.  It drives me batty!  You did see the post where I wrote about being an eclectic educator, right?  Well, I have grown to like flexibility over regiment.  Part of that may be due to my last batch of homeschoolers being high schoolers.  Life is different when you're strictly working with the young adult to adult crowd.  It's a whole different ball game with toddlers and elementary aged children.  They thrive on schedule, and as much as I'd like to say it isn't necessary, IT IS.  (If I knew how to enter a sad face right here, I would.)  I've seen the results first hand, and life without schedule, predictable schedule, isn't pretty.  Trust me, it isn't.

When my children know what to expect, they are much happier.  They fight less, cry less, and cooperate much, much more.  They are overall completely different children.  Somehow, too many errands, field trips, play dates, and general time away from home stresses them out.  It's a slippery slope.  A good friend once told me of the importance of guarding your home.  I didn't completely understand it at the time, but I totally get it now.  This is part of it.  Saying no to things we want to do in an effort to keep the best interest of the family as a whole intact is essential, at least in part, to guarding our home.  I recognize this as a stage, and for the time being at least, we are going to be "home bodies".  As much as I may dislike missing out on fun, I know there is greater reward in honoring the specific needs of my children now.  Time is fleeting.  There will be new challenges on the horizon.  Caring for my family in the most healthy way, even if that means a predictable stay-at-home schedule, is more important than any other thing on my to-do list could ever be.

3.  Cut Myself Some Slack - And, A LOT of it!  How's that song go?  "We're only human, born to make mistakes."  Or, something like that.  The point is that we are not perfect.  We've never been perfect.  We will never be perfect.  Life is much easier if we just accept that fact.  We will make blunders, and a lot of them.  It's our destiny whether we want to accept it or not.  Being imperfect is just a simple fact of life.  We can make a conscious effort to forgive ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and move on from that point leaving the error behind like discarded rubbish.  It's as simple and as complicated as that.

4.  Go with the Flow - Okay, I know I said "Establish and Guard a Schedule", but we also need to remember that life happens.  Life is complex and messy and unpredictable.  As much as we need to have a plan and honor it, we also need to be flexible.  We can usually manage to keep the general outline of our day.  Ours looks like this:

Bible Study and Devotion
Book Work
Free Play
Quiet Time
Free Play
Family Read Aloud

Where flexibility comes in for us is within each category.  Yesterday, I let the book work go to the side in favor of the amazingly creative make believe play that happened naturally.  Much more learning happens in these natural occurrences than any pre-planned book work I could impose.  I've learned to embrace them as they happen whenever possible.  I also encouraged creativity with the nearly-nine-year-old by taking a day off of her normal book work at quiet time to allow for her own personal exploration.  She was thrilled!  However, if this were to be a normal occurrence she would become bored easily.  I have found that just the right amount of flexibility and deviation from the normal schedule of events breathes life into our routine.  BUT, too much deviation causes stress and turmoil.  It is a fine balance, and I am learning to walk the line like a pro.

Another aspect of being flexible is to realize that our lives happen in seasons, and honor that.  What works for us right now may not work for us later.  We need to be prepared to change things up as our children grow, and life happens.  Sometimes we need to amend our schedule, or even take a break.  The important thing is to keep you eye on the goal.  As long as we keep what's important in sight, our steps will continue to take us in the direction of progress, even when we can't readily see it.

6.  Have a Goal - It is important to know what we are working toward.  Getting bogged down in the minutia of life happens all too easily.  If we don't know why we are doing what we are doing, then our focus becomes muddled.  Our patience may even take leave.  Then, everything goes out the window, even the baby with the bath water.  If you have never taken the time to think about a mission statement for your life, or your homeschool, now would be a good time to do just that.  I haven't come up with something specific, but I do have an idea in my mind.  It looks something like this:

Our Homeschool Mission
"Provide an enriching environment that fosters a love for learning all the time in all we do 
in order to create within our children a strong moral base that includes virtue, integrity, and independence with a biblical perspective and love for Christ as the foundation."

On the days that I just feel overwhelmed and question what on earth it is I'm doing, I just remember the goal and everything comes back into focus.  That doesn't mean that I'm magically in a better mood, but I am more capable of carrying out my objective when I bear in mind why it is I am doing it in the first place.

5.  Be Interesting - You may have read my recent post about my new found love for Dr. John Rosemond.  One thing that he emphasizes time and again is that his mother was interesting.  It is important to be an interesting person in order to properly lead our children.  That is why it is important to allow ourselves the time, and give ourselves the permission, to explore things that feed our soul, inspire us, tap into our creativity, and give us joy.  It may help to take a little inventory.  I enjoy reading, photography, research, cross-stitch, writing letters, blogging, gardening, nature, and occasional naps (my own personal quiet time).  Up until recently, I could not tell you the last time I'd done ANY of these things!  I had allowed everyone and everything to come before me.  Talk about out of balance!  This is a baby-steps project for me.  The fist step was reestablishing our schedule.  This allowed me at least a couple hours to focus on things I needed or wanted to do.  So, there is a silver lining to our new found order; time for me.

6.  Do NOT Compare Myself or My Family to Others - As homeschoolers this may be one of our biggest challenges.  It is quite easy to look at the families around us, see their successes in a vivid light, and allow them to cast a shadow on our accomplishments giving a dim view of our own homeschool life.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  God wants us to flourish as ourselves, not our neighbor.  We have been created unique individuals with strengths and weaknesses all our own.  It is our job to build on our strengths and strengthen our weaknesses.  We will succeed the most when we work to become who we are, not who our neighbor is.  It is helpful to take inventory of what we are doing well.  Again, it comes down to focus.  Be happy for the success and accomplishments of our fellow homeschoolers, but don't let them become a standard to uphold for yourself.  Everyone has their own seasons, and we are all not in the same season at the same time.  What is good for me right now may not be at all relevant to you, and that is perfectly good and normal.  Be okay with who you are, where you are, when you are there.  This can still be a challenge for me at times, but generally speaking I have learned to accept my place in life and do the best with what I have where I am.  I am much happier when I am actively doing this.

7.  Love Unconditionally - One of the most profound understanding I gained as I matured over the years is the simple fact that LOVE IS A CHOICE.  Literally.  No bones about it.  It is just a simple fact.  Love is not an emotion.  It is not earned.  Either we choose to love, or we choose not to love.  When we choose love we give a great gift to the one receiving our love as well as to ourselves.  Choosing to love is work.  It is, dare I say, rarely easy.  If we base all our decisions and actions on love, our lives as well as the lives around us are a lot different.  Things become markedly better.  In all circumstances choose love.  Easier said than done.  I know.  BUT, it is 100% worth the effort.

I don't have everything figured out, and this list is by no means all inclusive.  The past several years have seen us through many twists and turns, hills and valleys, and even a u-turn or two, but we have persevered.  We have learned, and we have grown.  Our focus has become refined, and our purpose has changed.  For me, personally, I have had to do a lot of soul searching, spend a lot of time in prayer, and offered up a lot of forgiveness; for others as well as myself.  It has not been easy, but we are still here.  We are still learning.  We are still loving.  We are still growing.  We are coming out of our winter and into spring.  Even though today marks the literal fist day of summer, we are not there yet.  It is still our spring, and we will ease into summer when the time is right.  With that we remain on schedule, and flexible.

"Anyone can give up.  
It's the easiest thing in the world to do.  
But to hold it together when everyone else 
would understand if you fell apart, 
that's true strength."


Lexi Henegar said...

This is a great post! Such timely advice. I do struggle with putting myself first so that I can care for those around me. This summer I've joined a Bible study and determined to put my relationship with God first so that I have the strength and love to minister to my family.

Anonymous said...

Good job creating a solid, written down set of goals for how to help yourself. They are good and well written. I may have to use some of these for myself! Thank you for sharing you insight into how to help yourself when you can't just crawl into bed and ignore the world. - Lori

Tina Smith said...

Thanks, Ladies!

As moms, never mind the home school part, it is SO easy for us to do everything to our own detriment. Why is it so hard to remember that we are of greater service when we are well cared for?

Jennifer aGlimpseOfOurLife said...

You have a lot of great recommendations. Not comparing is a big one for me.

Tina Smith said...

Thanks, Jennifer! I understand totally about the not comparing. It's a sneaky little joy stealer. Sometimes, I think we hold ourselves up against others like they're a measuring stick for our success, and it's just pure insanity. I've gotten a lot better at recognizing when these little thoughts slip in and kicking them out swiftly. It's a conscious decision and a concerted effort.


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