Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Last week I wasn't feeling well. Perhaps it was allergies or a touch of something viral, but Tuesday night found me in bed a little after 8 p.m. trying to catch some ZZ's. Unfortunately, the Sandman wasn't doing me any favors. It's hard to stay asleep with a dry, rasping cough. After about an hour or so of tossing and turning in bed and drifting in and out of sleep, had an epiphany.

I need purpose.

It's not as if I am wasting my days. I know that I (specifically) am engaged in the important endeavor or rearing and caring for children - my own and a couple of bonus kids from time to time. I am aware of the importance of my efforts towards keeping our home running smoothly. I am the meal planner, shopping list maker, chore organizer, regular tidy-upper, and do-it-yourself queen. I also (along with my partner in crime, Ben) spend hours each week helping with homework, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, disciplining, playing, entertaining, guiding, and caring for our kids and our home. And although this is not the only worthwhile thing anyone could possibly be doing with their lives at any given moment, this is where we are in our lives right now. The tasks I spend most of my time doing really are among the most important things for me at this time in my life.


I still need purpose.
I need goals.
I need to be working for something. 
I need to feel like I am accomplishing something that is measurable.

This is probably one of the biggest things I miss from having a full-time job. I thrived on deadlines projects and structure and organizing. With parenting there are few deadlines. There are mostly just transitions into different phases. The only way I get a feeling of accomplishment these days is when I figure out how to sew sleeves on my daughter's Halloween costume, fix a toilet, or remodel the bathroom. And not one of those things are just for me.

Once I realized this, I asked myself what I wanted.

"I want to create something beautiful."

That's what I wrote in my journal. Then I wrote down a few goals. Interestingly enough, I only remember the first one. And that one goal I have been keeping up with all week. It isn't about creating anything, either. It's about nourishing my spirit. And I have been doing it. It wasn't appealing at first; I would have to make myself do it each day. But now... now I love it.

And finally, a week later, I finally have the desire to set another goal. In this goal, I will be nourishing my body. I expect I'll have to make myself do it at first. That's okay. Eventually I will love this, too.

I find it interesting that my desire to create led me to nourish myself first. It's hard to grow a healthy garden when your soil is barren and rocky. Perhaps the same principle is at work here. I will work on making the good stuff a part of me for now and not try to rush anything.

I can't wait to see what comes next.

Friday, October 24, 2014


I have a confession. Sometimes I overreact. You know what I mean. Something happens and my response is just a leedle bit over the top. Why do I do it??

Sometimes it's because I'm tired and/or overwhelmed. 

Take yesterday, for example. My 6-year old was arguing about doing his homework, my 4-year old kept changing his mind about what he wanted to watch on Netflix, my 10-year old was trying to get a snack, I was sleepy-tired, and my husband had just gotten home from work. Someone was going to do something that pushed me over the edge. It just happened to be my 4-year old that got the brunt of it when he came over to me complaining because he wanted me to put on another show for him. Ugh. I hate it when I lose my temper and yell at my child.

Sometimes it's because my emotions are raw.

Earlier this year a close friend lost her son. I have wept with her and for her many, many times since it happened. I have never seen such intense grief. Sometimes the "missing-him-right-now" hurts so much that it obscures the "I-know-I'll-see-him-again-someday" and there's nothing to feel but deep sorrow. In the year previous to that, a young mother I knew lost her infant daughter to SIDS, my brother's family lost their unborn son, and a friend's father suffered a tragic death. Sometimes I look around and life just feels so heavy with loss. Since my friend's son passed earlier this year, I find that I am particularly sensitive to feeling the grief of others. I wept for the sweet young mother I knew who placed her child for adoption. I knew it was a good choice, but I grieved for her all the same. Another family I know lost a son this week, and I find that my reaction is also more deep and intense than I expected. I ache for his family, and most especially his mother.

Sometimes it's because I'm avoiding the real issue.

Recently something happened that was very difficult for me to deal with. I was hurt and shaken by the situation. After several days of tears, prayers, and introspection, I was able to let it go and move on with my life. Unfortunately, I let it go a little too quickly. I still had unresolved feelings and questions that needed to be addressed. However, rather than acknowledge and try to resolve them, I pretended they didn't exist. I diverted those emotions towards something else (that really didn't impact me directly) and decided I was angry with someone had harmed those I loved. Now that I have worked out my other issues, I am no longer "angry" about the other situation.

He who has the most emotion invested in the problem OWNS the problem.

Ultimately, I am responsible for my own emotions and feelings. When my reactions aren't proportional to the situation at hand, I am learning to let that be a signal for me to stop, evaluate, and see what is really going on in my mind. Am I tired? Do I have too much going on? Am I just overly sensitive to this type of situation? Is there something else bothering me?

Sometimes we all need to go to Time Out and think about what we've done.

It's not a bad place to be.
Image from here

Sunday, October 12, 2014


I went to my counselor this past week. Can I just tell you how awesome she is? There has been something bothering me for the last few months, and I finally feel like I am able to move forward again and deal with it. It's too personal to talk about here, but I have to mention it because a very real burden has been lifted. And it's glorious.

Maybe that's why I can't get enough of this song...

(sung by David Archuleta) 

There are times when you might feel aimless;
You can't see the places where you belong.
But you will find that there is a purpose.
It's been there within you all along. And when you're near it,
You can almost hear it.

It's like a symphony; just keep listening,
And pretty soon you'll start to figure out your part.
Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies
In each one of us. Oh, it's glorious!

You will know how to let it ring out as you discover who you are.
Others around you will start to wake up
To the sounds that are in their hearts.
It's so amazing, what we're all creating.

It's like a symphony; just keep listening,
And pretty soon you'll start to figure out your part.
Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies
In each one of us. Oh, it's glorious!

And as you feel the notes build
You will see

It's like a symphony; just keep listening,
And pretty soon you'll start to figure out your part.
Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies
In each one of us. Oh, it's glorious!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To Act for Myself

Twice a year on the first weekend of April and October my church has a world-wide conference that is broadcast over the internet and by satellite. It consists of 5 two-hour sessions spread over Saturday and Sunday. Instead of attending regular church services on this weekend, our family listens and watches the broadcast from our home. I admit that as a child and teenager I often dreaded "conference weekend". It meant being consigned to sitting in a pew at church (this is before the wonders of the internet, of course) for hours and hours with nothing to do but doodle in my notebook. Since my artistic talents are greatly lacking, this did not hold my attention for very long. As soon as the lights were dimmed, I generally shifted into the most comfortable position I could find and tried to fall asleep so it would be over faster. (Incidentally, this was my strategy on long car rides, as well.)

As a young adult, I realized that many of my friends looked forward to conference weekend, and my personal feelings began to change. I actually listened to the talks that were given, and often heard profound statements and sentiments that filled my heart with a desire to be better, to do better, and love Christ better. Now, twenty years later, I find that I love it even more. It nourishes my soul and revives my spirit. Listening to my inspired church leaders helps me understand more clearly what I need to do to remain a faithful, kind, and committed Christian during this time when many around me do not share my convictions, morals, or beliefs. By the end of the weekend, I have taken pages and pages and pages of notes. This past weekend was no different.

One topic that came up which I feel is worth mentioning here on this blog came from this talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson. It is entitled "Free Forever, to Act for Themselves." He covers a lot of doctrinal things in this talk about our personal accountability and the importance of commandments, but I want to focus on this particular quote:

"God will not act to make us something we do not choose by our actions to become. Truly He loves us, and because He loves us, He neither compels nor abandons us. Rather He helps and guides us."

He follows it up with these words a few lines later:

"The gospel of Jesus Christ opens the path to what we may become. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His grace, our failures to live the celestial law perfectly and consistently in mortality can be erased and we are enabled to develop a Christlike character. Justice demands, however, that none of this happen without our willing agreement and participation."

As I heard this, I realized that I have the ability to do better. It's not so much that I am passive about my spiritual growth, emotional connections with Ben and the kids, or even my own personal health. Rather, I do not take advantage of the opportunities I am given. I allow myself to be distracted by electronics (Candy Crush Saga, anyone??) or other things that have no real value in my life. When I fill my time with spiritual "junk food", is it any wonder that I fill my body with junk food as well?

The spirit and body are connected - intimately so. I cannot nourish one without  nourishing the other. Likewise, I cannot neglect one without neglecting the other. That, too, was a point driven home to me this weekend.

Now, lest I lead anyone to the conclusion that I am being hard on myself, let me be clear. There is a big difference between saying, 'I can do better" and "I should have done better". I am not berating myself. I am not feeling guilt or shame. I am simply more aware of an area in which I have been given a gift that I have not yet fully accepted. When I rely on Christ, He can take me so much farther than I can go on my own. He does not require perfection, but a willing heart and mind.

Can I do that?
Will I choose to act in a way that I can become the person He desires me to be?
Time will tell, but today my answer is...
Yes, I can do this.
Yes, I can grow.
Yes, I can nourish.

Image from here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Owning It

It's time for me to start writing again. I'm not sure exactly what has taken me so long. At first I didn't have anything profound to say, and then I was doing other things, and then I was distracted. But what it comes down to is this:

I don't want to hide any more. 

It is exhausting to think that I always need to put on a certain face or show a certain amount of progress or think a certain way. And although I started this blog to help me learn how to nourish myself, I'm not going to be good at it all the time. And that's okay. 

No, really. It's OKAY.

A couple of months ago I was praying about how to improve my health and why - even after taking the baby steps recommended by my friend - I was still feeling overwhelmed and trapped by my health goals. I realized that I had chosen to place the responsibility for my health on someone else, and so in my mind I was trapped by the rules and restrictions I had been given. Interestingly enough, she had never asked for it. She probably didn't even realize I had absolved myself of responsibility, any more than I was aware of it before then. With that in mind, I decided to stop working with a coach at all for now. At this point, I need to work on just "owning" it.

What does it mean to "own it"? 

When I "own" something, I acknowledge that it belongs to me. It goes way beyond just my physical health, too. It applies to my emotional health and relationships as well. Although I can't control what others do, I am able to decide whether to take quiet time for myself, exercise, make healthy eating choices, or do things for others that I really don't want to do. Here are a few examples:
  • I haven't really exercised lately. Sure, I'm busy, but I have wasted a fair share of time. If I had wanted to do it, I could have. I'll own it.
  • I few years ago I was hurt by some things I heard a friend had said. I chose to walk away from the relationship without trying to clear it up with her first. Looking back, I realized that much of the information was third-hand. It was easier for me to walk away than it was for me to risk my heart even further by approaching her about it. It was my problem, not hers. I'll own it.
  • I choose to eat the frozen pizza for lunch with my kids rather than make a sandwich or eat a salad. My choice, not theirs. I'll own it.
  • My family hasn't been doing a great job at reading scriptures together lately. It's easier to just let them watch TV at night, and I just want a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning. Although I'm not the only one who can be trying to get this done, I am one of the people letting it get overlooked. I'll own it.
What it all comes down to is this: I am going to take responsibility for my own life or not? If the answer is YES, then there are a few things I need to make sure I'm doing:

1) Live deliberately. I need to make goals and then work to achieve them. If my life doesn't look the way I want it to look, I need to identify what I'd like to have change. Although I can't control everything and everyone in my life, there is much that I can impact by making good and better choices. I can't just expect things to happen the way I want them to because I wish it to be that way. I have to work it to be that way.

2) Live authentically. Honesty and forthrightness are two attributes I value highly in myself and others. Although I try to be open and honest about most things in my life, I still find myself trying to cover up personal habits that I am ashamed of. That needs to stop. If I catch myself trying to hide something, it should send off alarm bells and I need to immediately work on changing or at least "owning" that behavior. 

Another way of being "inauthentic" is not acknowledging my honest feelings. Too often when I am hurt or scared I shove those negative feelings away and try to pretend that they don't exist. I recently recognized that I was exhibiting avoidance behavior. I knew I was upset about something, but I didn't want to look at it too closely. As a result, I began making poor choices in my sleep and eating habits. I wasn't able to break the cycle until I admitted to myself that I was struggling with something emotionally and determining what that was.

3) Live joyfully. It is not enough to survive life. Joy can be found in even the most dire circumstances, and my situation is no where near hard enough use that excuse.

Hopefully I will be able to implement these more and more often into my life until they become habit. But as I take this journey, I must remember to be gentle with myself. It's okay that I am not exactly where I want to be. When it comes down to it, who is? Life is almost always three steps forward and two steps back, but in the end I will get where I am going. 


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cages & Freedom

Image from here

Lately I have been thinking a lot about invisible obstacles. You know what I'm talking about. These are the intangible things that keep us from progressing towards our goals and ideals. We can't measure them, quantify them, or see them. Sometimes, we can't even describe them. We just know they are there. And make no mistake: they are real.

Just because they are real, it doesn't mean they have to be permanent. 

Sometimes, all it takes to be able to break free from these emotional chains is to recognize what they are. Let me give you an example.

A few months ago I began working this plan to improve my health at the suggestion of a friend. After about two weeks, I began to struggle. I didn't take the time to record my calories, I stopped getting in all my water, and I allowed myself to make excuses for not exercising. After a couple more weeks, I would realize I needed to hit my reset button and start all over again. This cycle repeated about three times before I finally went to my friend and asked for a new plan or approach.

I am fortunate that she is an honest, perceptive woman. As she expressed some of her thoughts to me, I realized that there was something else going on. There was nothing wrong with the habits she was asking me to incorporate into my life. As I looked back, I realized that after about 10 days or so making healthy changes I would begin to feel trapped. I resented the foods I was missing out on, I resented the discomfort I was feeling when I exercised, and I resented having to report every single little thing in my life. I felt trapped.

But how could I be trapped? There was no cage. She wasn't hounding me for details or guilt-tripping me when I wasn't making good choices. Why in the world did I feel like I was suffocating??

Frankly, I still don't know. I had hoped I could take some time and explore my feelings while they were fresh, but life hasn't slowed down for me. I have had other commitments and things going on, and it has fallen by the wayside. Those feelings are under the surface again, and I can't see them clearly right now to identify them. I'm sure it won't always be that way. When they come back I will need to explore them, cry a little, and hopefully heal. 

I will tell you one thing I have realized since then. Guidelines for health are a lot like the God's commandments. If you haven't been keeping them, they can seem restrictive, controlling and limiting. Yet only by living them can we be truly free. They are there for our benefit. They are liberating. Perhaps keeping that image in mind will help me overcome the strain when I begin to feel as if I trapped.

In the meantime, I'm not going to try to fix all my bad habits all at once. My friend honest, perceptive, and inspired friend suggested I focus on one area for two weeks, a second area for the next two weeks, and so on. I think that's a great idea.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I Can {Still} Do Hard Things

Lately I've been realizing that I'm a lot closer to 40 than I am to 30, and that's been a little hard for me to face. I think everyone has that one birthday that smacks them upside the head and makes them go, "Wait...is that me getting old?" Granted, I know that I'm not old yet - no matter what my kids say - but for the first time in my life I can see it coming one day. And I've never felt like this before.
The last time I started losing weight and making healthy lifestyle changes I had just turned 29 years old. As I look back, I can't help but think that it was a glorious time. The weight came off faster, my energy levels were higher, and I only had 2 children (age 1 and 5). I was more in control of my days and my life in general. Or so I'd like to think.

If I am honest with myself - really honest - it was hard then, too. I had two small children who needed my constant supervision when I was home. I worked in an office 9 to 5. Ben had just quit his full-time job to finish school and was working weekends delivering pizza. I gave up a lot of comfort foods for a long time. I had to retrain myself to eat, to think, and to make exercise a regular part of my day. It was not an easy thing I did, but the sacrifices that I made paid off.

I can still do hard things. My challenges may be different, but they are not insurmountable.

There are still no shortcuts to health.
Great sacrifices still yield great benefits.
My family still needs me.
I still can't do it alone.

The biggest question I need to answer every day is this: "Am I still committed?"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sleep, Glorious Sleep...

I'm pretty sure I've been fighting something off for the past several weeks. Nothing serious or contagious, apparently, since no one else in my family (or the bonus kids that I care for during the day) has come down with anything. The only real indicator that there is anything wrong comes when I overdo it for a couple of days in a row. And by "overdo it" I mean staying up late to get stuff done and then trying to survive on 6 or less hours of sleep for two nights in a row. My body just can't handle it, apparently. Maybe I'm getting old or I have allergies or who knows what, but the reality is that I know that I'm going to pay for it if I don't get enough sleep. I've just never had to pay for it with a fatigue and a low-grade fever before this May.

Caring for (and nourishing!) our bodies means a lot more than just appearing physically healthy and active. When did sleep deprivation become the norm? How many people do you know that can't survive without their coffee in the morning? I'm not a coffee drinker, but I know it's really easy for me to get into a soda habit so I can get my caffeine kick in the morning. Since I've given up soda, I have to survive without my caffeine crutch, and that took some adjusting, let me tell you.

Forcing yourself to go to sleep might be a little easier if you understand what it does for us. According to this article on the web:

Sleep isn’t exactly a time when your body and brain shut off. While you rest, your brain stays busy, overseeing a wide variety of biological maintenance that keeps your body running in top condition, preparing you for the day ahead. Without enough hours of restorative sleep, you won’t be able to work, learn, create, and communicate at a level even close to your true potential. Regularly skimp on “service” and you’re headed for a major mental and physical breakdown.

I struggled with post-partum depression after my last child was born. I am fairly certain that it was - in part - due to my lack of uninterrupted sleep. It makes me crazy. My kids joke that when I'm tired I turn into "Momzilla". It's probably not too far from the truth. That's not the person I want to be. And honestly, there's not too much that I do after 10 p.m. that can't be done during the day if I use my time a little more wisely (i.e. stay off of Facebook and Candy Crush Saga).

As I move into the summer with a less structured schedule, I will need take extra precautions to make sure I don't get into a late-night habit. If it's important to me, I will do it.

What's your sleep worth to you?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Keepin' it Real

I have been in a funk off and on for the past week. In an attempt to "keep it real" on this blog, I'm going to write about it. Not to get sympathy or advice (PLEASE don't offer either!) but because I know I'm going to have other times when I feel the same way and I need to figure out how to get past this.

Seriously, people. I need a reset button.

I'm going to purge the negative and be a whiny-baby for just a minute. Here's my list of things that are bothering me:
  • My body isn't as resilient as it used to be. I am having some serious problems with foot pain and I know it's partly due to plantar fasciitis and partly due the fact that I have so much weight to lose and partly because I need to buy some better shoes and haven't time or money to put into it yet. It's so frustrating to want to be physically active and feeling like you are too fat to do it. And, of course, I am blaming myself for letting it get this bad in the first place.
  • The scale isn't cooperating. I know that weight loss isn't a nice, steady stream of pounds coming off every couple of days. Yet it doesn't stop me from being frustrated when I don't feel like my efforts are being rewarded fast enough. Despite the fact that I am trying to focus on how I am living rather than what I weigh, I am having to reverse years and years of bad habits and it doesn't always come easily.
  • I haven't been making ideal eating choices or exercising as much as I should while I am wallowing in misery. I'm trying not to feel bad about it.
  • I don't want to deal with some of the personal things stressing me out right now. I just want them to go away and be someone else's problems. I'm tired. Emotionally and physically tired.
Let's be honest. I'm having one heck of a pity-party over here. Self-pity is unproductive and harmful. The irony is that I'm already feeling discouraged and I am allowing myself to be pushed even further down into the dumps by my negativity.

So how do I let go? How can I go back to feeling as powerful and productive as I did 6 weeks ago?
  1. Recognize the Issues - An interesting thing happened when I typed up my list of things that are bothering me. I listed them in the order they came to mind. As you can see, I started off writing about the physical stuff (I hurt, I feel fat, etc.). Then I made my way to the emotional (I feel guilty). Ironically, it's the last thing on the list that made me cry. Unfortunately, I learned the unhealthy behavior of avoidance early in life, so taking the time to recognize that I have some very specific things that are causing me emotional distress right now is critical. When I identify what those are they don't seem as overwhelming and I can see a way to work on resolving them - or letting them go, if that is appropriate.
  2. Recognize Your Power (or lack of it)- I cannot fix a problem I won't admit that I have. I recognize that I am in an emotional downward spiral. I also acknowledge that I am the only one that can get me off this train. No one else can do it for me. That being said, I also do not have the power to change anyone else other than me. I can choose to behave in a certain way that may have a positive influence on those around me, but there are no guarantees.
  3. Release the Guilt/Shame - Unless I have intentionally harmed someone else or sinned against God, then I have no reason to feel guilt. In fact, what I am feeling would be better categorized as shame. It makes it much easier to release the feeling when I recognize it for what it is. I have no reason to be ashamed of my imperfections. I am human, after all.
  4. Remember the Good - One of the benefits of journal-writing (and blogging) is that it is easier for me to go back and re-read my thoughts and feelings from a time when I felt at peace. No one feels great all of the time, just like no one feels bad all of the time. Emotions are living, breathing - and sometimes elusive - creatures that can be influenced by various things in our lives. I will go back and read about the good days; they will come again if I can just hang in there.
  5. Rest Sufficiently - There is no substitute for a good nights' sleep. Sometimes when I have pushed myself too hard for too long, I may need a full week or more of consistent rest. After a poor nights' sleep, the tiniest crisis can seem like an insurmountable obstacle for me. Exercise is harder, quick energy foods (sugars, simple carbs, etc.) are more appealing, and patience is fleeting.
  6. Resolve to Stay the Course - I am committed to improving my lifestyle. That hasn't changed. I'm not going to give up when it becomes a challenge. I'm going to hang in there and keep going at whatever speed I can manage. It's not my pace that makes me a winner - it's the direction that I am moving.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Trailing Clouds of Glory

My mind has been full of a lot of different little things over the past week or two. I keep thinking that I want to write about something specific, but then when I sit down and try to organize my thoughts, it doesn't go the direction I want it to, and so I abandon the endeavor. It's kind of annoying, in a way, I'll admit. But perhaps I just wasn't ready to see the big picture. All of these little things on my mind recently - beauty, heartache, loss, financial and emotional struggles, how we treat our families, allowing down-time for myself - have converged into one big Main Idea.

What are we worth?

One of the things I have been able to realize this past year in counseling is how precious I am. I am valuable because I exist, not because of what I can do for others. If I ever start to doubt that, I imagine holding a newborn baby. I can feel their value, their spark of divinity. In the words of William Woodsworth:

Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:

Regardless of what choices I have made or what I have done with my life, my value has not changed. I am still of infinite worth to that God who created me. I am a miracle.

Unfortunately, life tends to shatter that perception that we have of our own worth. Struggles come, heartaches abound, and sometimes those that should love us the best, treat us the worst. In all of this, is it no wonder that we forget? We feel broken, unlovable, and insignificant. It is the Great Lie that permeates the world around us.

No matter what we do, no matter what choices we make... our value is the same today as it was the day we were born.

How does that change me? Here are some examples:
  • When I am frustrated with my children, I remember that they are precious and their hearts are tender. I am trusted with their care. If I don't treat them like they are valued, how will they learn to feel their own worth?
  • When I am tired from pushing myself too hard to get things done, I allow myself to lie down on the bed with the clean laundry and take a nap. The laundry doesn't matter so much. I do.
  • When I start comparing my physical attributes to those around me, I remember that my body is just a shell. It houses my spirit, but it doesn't define who I am. I can be full of grace and beauty, regardless of my physical attributes.
  • When I am frustrated by my finances (or lack thereof), I remember that it is the price I am paying to put my family first. The joys from those relationships will far outweigh and outlast the satisfaction I would gain from being successful in a lucrative career.
  • When I ache for the grief of a parent's loss, I realize just how precious I am to my Heavenly Father. I remember that God's healing love can help us move forward and continue on, despite the sorrow.

When I am having an off day, this is how I center myself. This is what I remember. I am precious. I am worth knowing and being and loving. 

And so are you.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Saying No and Letting Go

I feel like I have spent most of my adult life running on a treadmill going just slightly too fast for comfort. I can keep up most of the time, but if anything happens to knock me out of my rhythm, then I get overwhelmed pretty quickly. I usually get into these situations by volunteering to take on extra tasks above and beyond what I'm already doing for my family, and I get pulled in so many different directions that I don't know which way is up. Not only is this harmful to me because of the physical stress and lack of sleep that generally result, but it's also harmful  to my spiritual and emotional well-being for other reasons. When I'm running at 90 mph all day every day, it feels impossible to stop for a few minutes of quiet reflection and spiritual nourishment. When I lose that time, I lose a lot.

One of the best ways to remedy this is to keep my life from getting to that point. And that means I need to be able to say no to others AND to myself without guilt. Which, of course, is easier said than done.

Keep That Hand Down (For Now)

I like to volunteer for stuff. If a general request is put out to a group and I think I could do that task and do it well, my first instinct is to say, "Yes! Yes, I will do that!" In order to overcome this particular tendency, I give myself the 24-hour rule. Often these requests are sent out via email, so it's pretty easy to wait a day or so before I contact the person in charge to see if they still need someone to volunteer. Not only does this allow everyone in the group to see the email and have the opportunity to step up, but it also gives me a day to ruminate on whether this is something that I should really take on.

As I have been doing this, an interesting thing has happened. Nothing has fallen apart. No one has come up to me and asked me why I'm not doing more for the group. Most of the time the slot has already been filled by the time I get back to the person who asked. The person who stepped in for the task even (gasp!) gets it done right. Perhaps they didn't do it exactly the way I would have, but that's okay. The important part is that I just saved myself and my family hours (and sometimes days) of stress, anxiety, and take-out meals because I'm too busy to relax or to cook. And those rare times when no one else has volunteered after a day or so? Well, then I can rest assured that I am really helping because I'm needed, and not because I was the first one to read the email.

Handling Direct Question (and Answer)

Occasionally I am asked directly whether I can do something. In fact, tonight I was asked by a friend whether I could to a favor for them. I found myself going through my schedule in my head to see if I could squeeze it in between several other things happening the same evening. After a few minutes of this I realized just how absurd I was being, and I was able to stop and evaluate the task from a neutral place. It was not something I could do without inflicting a lot of stress on my family, and I felt no moral obligation to get involved. As I called my friend back to let her know I would be unable to help, it dawned on me just how far I have grown in this area. (Hence this blog post.)

It is harder for me to say no when asked directly. I often assume that if someone is asking than it means that they really need me. Being needed is very enticing to my ego and self-esteem. I love to be needed. In these situations, I have to consider several key things:

  1. Is it going to conflict with something else I am already obligated to do? And yes, this includes juggling multiple things on the same day. If the timing has to be "just so" to make sure you can do everything, there's a conflict.
  2. Do I have a moral obligation to help? I am morally obligated to care for myself, my husband, and my children under the age of 18. That doesn't mean that I do everything my family asks (that isn't good, either), but I do need to give extra weight and consideration to their requests. I also feel morally obligated to do what I have already said I would do for outside groups, whether it be church or community responsibilities. They are counting on me, and it's not fair to them to be unreliable. It's a matter of personal integrity for me.
  3. Who is asking? There are some close friends and family that I always want to be available for, whatever they ask. It's partly because I love them, and partly because if there's a crisis I want to be there for them. Conversely, there are other people in my life who ask me for favors all the time. I have come to realize that I am simply a phone number on a list of people they can call to get some help. I am still glad to help if it's convenient; otherwise the answer is going to be no.
  4. Do I want to do it? In between the close friends and impartial acquaintances are the people (like tonight) that are simply a friend asks for a favor every now and again. I may not be the first person they ask, but there is probably someone else they can ask after me if I can't do it. They are the kind of person I might ask for a casual favor as well. If they can, great; if they can't, that's okay. I have other options. In these cases, I consider whether the task can be done without causing me or my family extra stress. Do I mind? Would it be distasteful? Is it causing me anxiety to imagine myself doing this thing? If one or two or those things have to be answered with a YES, then I should probably decline with a NO.

The Art of "Unvolunteering"

Despite my best efforts, I still occasionally find myself with a lot already on my plate. In some instances, such as when I'm organizing an event, this is just the way it goes when we get close to the Big Day. When that happens I just try to hang in there and lower my expectations for the house and cooking. (Yes, grilled cheese and cereal are totally acceptable dinner options. Yes, the clean laundry can hang out in my bedroom. And no one is eating off the kitchen floor anyway, so why can't it stay dirty?) Other times it happens because of a personal crisis for a loved one. This does not include the project my teenager is cramming in the night before it's due - that's their problem, not mine. This does include sick kids and lice outbreaks.

When I find myself in a position where I realize that I need to let something go, I always look first at the big stuff I'm involved in that doesn't directly benefit me or my family. For example, a couple of years ago I was asked to organize my homeschool group's spelling bee. I originally accepted with the understanding that I would have a co-chair and we would split the work evenly. Unfortunately, the other mom moved early in the school year and I was left with the task on my own. Several months before it took place, my youngest son started becoming a huge challenge for me to handle. I often felt overwhelmed with his behavior, and was at a loss for how to manage it. It was so bad that I even stopped going a lot of places because the anxiety it caused me to leave the house with him was too great. 

The spelling bee started weighing heavily on my mind. My children were not participating at all, so I wasn't helping them by organizing it. The size of the task had changed since I first agreed to do it. And lastly (though I wouldn't have called it such at the time), I was having a personal crisis with my son's emerging behavior. I decided I could let this go, so I contacted our group's leader and told her I was going to have to back out. I gave her three months' notice. I even announced to the group that I couldn't do it, and offered to pass on my information to anyone who wanted to take it on. I let them know that if no one else stepped up, then it wasn't going to happen. And guess what? A mom whose kids wanted to participate did step up and organize it. 

This situation was kind of a big one (organizing an event), but the same principles can be applied to other circumstances. The key is to act early. Another time I agreed to teach a first aid class to a group of cub scouts. Within a day or so of saying yes, I realized that for various reasons it was not something I was comfortable doing. I contacted the den leader right away to let him know so he could make other arrangements.

In both of these circumstances, there was no disaster when I "unvolunteered" in a timely manner. I didn't leave it till the last minute. I didn't give indirect hints and hope that someone else would step up and relieve me of duty. I just told the person I committed to that I was going to have to back out. It was okay. What needed to happen... well, it happened anyway. Last year my sister-in-law told me a great phrase to use when I need to turn down or back out of something:

For various reasons, I am not going to be able to do ________.

I love that sentence!! I don't have to explain myself to anyone. They don't get to pry into my personal life or pass judgment on me because they don't think my reasons are valid. Mostly I love it because I don't need to be able to put into words why it's too much for me. Sometimes I just need to follow my instincts for now, and the reasons will be clear later.

Am I perfect at all of this? No, no I'm not. But I'm a lot better than I was.