On Avoiding People in the Grocery Store

photo (18) I was generally on the fringe growing up, and that gave me a lot of time to observe. I was also a reader and loved to write, so I enjoyed watching. This meant that I knew people's names, though they often did not know mine. I still tend to remember people's names and conversations with them. If I see a name written, I can usually spell it correctly from then on. And faces stick with me.

In highschool, I channeled this into fearless friendliness. I went from being a shy avoider to participating fully, in part because our youth pastor remembered my name and shook my hand every week. I decided to be like that. I wanted everyone I met to feel valued. I stopped being quiet and started seeking out the people who were quiet. I struck up conversations with anyone and loved knowing so many people. It didn't matter if the person didn't remember me or didn't want to continue the conversation. I still made the first move.

But over time, I think I just grew weary of it all. I was tired of saying "hi" to people who didn't remember me. I gave the enthusiastic-though-unacknowledged wave far too often (why does it make me feel so awkward when someone doesn't see me wave to them?!). I grew cynical about small talk and short conversations and just wanted to get through my errands as quickly as possible. I started treating other people more like mannequins, just a part of the landscape, acknowledged only if I bumped into them or they got into my way (yes, I do realize how awful this is).

I became the awkward one in the grocery store who struck up an animated conversation with my infant to avoid eye contact. My "hellos" became polite, noncommittal. I am a terrible avoider, but I still do it all the time. I live in fear of awkward encounters and feel it takes too much energy to make the first move.

Here's the thing: I don't really mind small talk. I like knowing people, and I like seeing them when I'm out and about. Why have I trained myself to be an avoider?

There's this one woman who always greets me by name. She's the mom of a family my sister babysat for, and I've had her kids in nursery. It's still one of those situations where she could easily pretend to barely know me and look the other way, but she doesn't. And it made me realize this: I need to be more like her.

I'm tired of being an avoider and pretending like I don't know people. I'm tired of being scared of Awkward and holding back. I'm tired of being rude and selfish. I've committed to being friendlier.

I wish I had an amazing story about how this has changed my life--or someone else's. But really, I'm just sharing it because my new commitment hasn't killed me yet. It hasn't drained me. Writing about it here gives me some accountability too, so I won't go back to being the creepy avoider.

Recently, we walked over and introduced ourselves to new neighbors. I stop and converse with the dog-walkers who chat with my son. I'm not too afraid of being creepy to reference prior conversations and let people know I listened. I try to greet people by name when I see them or wave, even if there's a good chance my wave will go unnoticed. It never hurts to be extra friendly, right?

I see this as part of my year of abundance. I am trying to live from fullness rather than emptiness. This means realizing I'm not always depleted. I'm not too tired to make small talk or acknowledge an aquaintance. It's recognizing that I can give--even if it's just a smile and a name and the confidence to make eye contact. Life is not about me, my tasks, and my comfort zone.

I can't just grow tired--or too cynical--to participate in society. I need other people--even the small talk with a mom at the playground I may never see again. I need to step out of myself. As much as these things feel like they take all my initiative and energy, really they give back far more. People give back far more. People are generally far kinder and friendlier and more fascinating than I expect.

At the heart of it, I want people not just to feel important to me but to be important to me. Ultimately, I need their smiles and encouragement far more than they need mine.

On Motherhood and Making Time to Freewrite

IMG_8628 At least five mornings a week, I finish breakfast and then carry my coffee into our sunroom for what I enthusiastically tell my toddler is "Writing Time!" We've been doing this for several weeks now, and I can't believe the difference this type of journaling has made in my life. Journaling and I have a long history that started before I could really write. Mom would copy what I told her about my day into a little diary with a picture of a bear on the front. I journaled consistently for a good portion of my childhood and turned my journals into prayer journals during my teenage years. But during college, I did so much writing for my classes that I stopped writing for myself. I don't think it's a coincidence that these years were also the hardest for me emotionally.

I've written since my son was born, in the form of blog posts or our family memory books. But the kind of writing I do during our daily writing time is different. It's freewriting, something I believed in strongly as a teacher. There are no rules. Sometimes I write about the day before or how the week is going. Sometimes I launch into something I've been thinking about. I almost always sort through my mental clutter during this time. Sometimes I draft a blog post and am always amazed at how much easier (though slower) it is to first draft on paper. Whatever I write about, the goal is to keep the pen moving across the page.

But making it happen while my toddler is awake can be a challenge. Here are four things I've found that make it easier:

  1. Make it a routine. This is important for me as well as for Liam. I try to have writing time every day (even when I don't want to). It's not about the exact time but rather about the rhythm. After coffee and breakfast, I take my remaining coffee and sit down to write. I don't let myself start on housework. I remind Liam ahead of time that it's almost time for us to do our writing time, and I have found that as he has grown used to it, he's better able to play by himself.
  1. Give the toddler something to do, but be firm about the purpose of the time. I really don't want to start a morning TV ritual (as tempting as it is some days). So I mostly encourage Liam to play around me. I don't totally ignore him, but I do encourage him that, "This is writing time. Mommy will help you when she is done." Usually he points to himself and wants to write some too, so I have a little notebook and pen he can write with (I learned the hard way to forbid him from walking around with the ink pen). I'm surprised by how much he is able to play by himself for just a little longer when I ask him to.
  1. Be flexible. It seems like I'm contradicting myself in #2, but I find that it's a balance. My goals is to write until I get to a stopping point. I would assume this is usually about fifteen minutes. But if Liam is having a really rough time, I might just get a page or finish a paragraph. And that's okay! Keeping it low-key while still making it happen is really important to me. I usually won't stop before I write a full page, but there have been rough days when I've given up sooner.
  1. Use paper, not electronics. For some reason, computers and screens seem to draw kids like flies. When I write on paper, Liam will often play around me. If he does want to write, I can give him paper. I wish I had learned this secret much earlier in motherhood instead of struggling to keep his fingers off the keyboard while I was typing.

Paper also allows my thoughts to flow and break. When I type on the computer, I can type fast enough to stay almost too far ahead of myself. I don't feel like I actually get at the important issues when I journal on my laptop. The process of writing on paper forces me to slow down just enough to think--to find the right word or realize the right word isn't important. Instead of flying through my thoughts and jumping to new ideas, I have to work with the thought in the moment.

Freewriting is life-changing.

As I said before, it helps me sort through mental clutter. It helps me remain present during the day because I've given my thoughts a place to stay. It helps me think through hard things (and makes me a better listener because I don't depend as much on others to hear all my thoughts being dumped out). It also gives me a set time to be practicing my lines of writing. I'm not trying to make it good writing; I'm just writing.

Putting my thoughts on the page also gives me accountability. It's part of my year of abundance, forcing myself to see that I have options and choices so I don't remain stuck. Just recently, I used my freewriting to think through all the obstacles that keep me from blogging and came up with a plan that has actually made a difference. Paper can often be the best sounding board (and it keeps other people from knowing how truly crazy I am!).

Some mornings I have to make myself walk in there, but it is always rewarding. In the process of putting words on the page, I sort through emotions and the flurry of thoughts always going on. It makes me feel centered and gives me peace. In any phase of life when I've been too busy to write, I've regretted it. It is something of a spiritual discipline, and when I make it happen, I'm always glad. I hope that maybe this daily practice will show my son the value of writing too!

The Older Brother and my One Word for 2015

IMG_0174 I found total burn out in my early twenties. I was very involved in ministry during high school and college. Everything I did took on epic proportions, and I gave it my all. If I made a commitment, I kept it unless I was sick. I felt guilty calling in sick until I was actually so sick I could barely make the call. But sickness--in the form of stress colds--began to happen more and more often in part because they were the only thing that would slow me down.

Then when teaching began, I took no other commitments, wanting to focus on that all-consuming first year of teaching. And even still, I wasn't enough. I was overstretching myself and yet never replenished.

I went to the doctor with chest congestion that wouldn't clear that summer. It had been one of the most stressful years of my life with a new move, a new job, and a new marriage.

The doctor listened to me and ran a test. We solved the problem of the chest congestion, but I knew the real sickness ran deeper. She did too. She gave me a new phrase, "a burnt-out Proverbs 31 woman," a phrase she used to describe a patient in her 50s who had given and given and given and finally was so depressed and tired she couldn't get out of bed. I was headed there; I could see it.

I worked hard to learn about myself and my tendencies over the next few months (and the years since!). And I learned how important it was for me to be able to say "No." I also learned that I might oversay "no" at first, and that was okay. Over time, I learned to say "no" right before I started to get sick rather than waiting until I was in the midst of sickness. I learned how to create margin and space in my life, and I carried this with me as I became a new mom. I kept my expectations low and tried to allow more flexibility into my life, which eased my transition into motherhood considerably. I stopped thinking so much about what others were thinking about me.

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My word for last year was "play." In a season that had the power to overwhelm me, I knew I needed to keep a sense of playfulness in my life and in my new role as a stay-at-home mom. It changed my year dramatically to focus on one major theme rather than making (and possibly breaking) tons of resolutions that I could hardly plan for in such a new season of life. Play gave me a fresh exuberance last year, and I loved it. It looked like more spontaneity, less criticizing, and more desire to "suck the marrow out of life" as Thoreau says.

In studying the Enneagram, a tool for self-knowledge and growth, I read this about my personality type (the One):

"Ones actualize themselves and remain healthy by allowing the spontaneous arising of their instinctive response to life...Ones need rather to recognize the repression and sorrow inherent in their own personality structure. As Ones become more aware of the stringent rules of their superegos and learn to distinguish themselves from these internal "voices," they begin to naturally unfold the qualities of the healthy Seven--joy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and open-mindedness."

This is probably why "play" was such a life-changing word for me last year, and I contemplated using it again. But a new word presented itself.

I'm not in survival mode at the moment. There are still hard things and stressors, but for the most part, life is at a clam place. But sometimes I know I am teetering on the edge of survival mode. I don't want to be there, and I fight to maintain that margin. However I do know sometimes seasons of survival are a necessary part of life. I also know that sometimes I need to push the limits too far. I can't always remain comfortable, and sacrifice isn't always easy.

So I'm bringing balance back in this year, as much as I can.

My One Word for 2015

This year, I want to live in abundance. I want to move away from lack, from feeling like not enough and complaining that there's not enough. I think of the story of the Prodigal Son. One part few people talk about is the older brother's complaint and the Father's response.

The older son is angry at the rejoicing his brother's homecoming has occasioned. Listen to his words:

"But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' And [the father] said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours' (Luke 15:28-31, emphasis mine).

I have always identified with the older brother--striving to be good, to obey, to please. Yet here, the father's message is: "All that I have is yours." It echoes Jesus' message that he came to give us abundant life. All we have to do is ask.

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I don't want to be frantically on-the-go, defining myself by busyness or my self-promoting, self-destroying sacrifice. But I also don't want to be hoarding, so scared of any discomfort that I say "no" too much.

After choosing (or feeling as though chosen by) a word, I start to line up these up with my goals (I use Lara Casey's goal development, which I've praised before). The word shapes my approach to each category and gives me an easy question to ask, "Is X cultivating abundance for me right now/in the long term?" This year, my goals fell into six categories, and though I resisted this at first, I like it overall. I'll give you just a brief picture of each goal, which I fleshed out with more detail on a blank sheet of paper.

So here's what I envision abundance looking like this year:

  1. Abundance in our family: as a wife, as a mother, and for our home. This looks like hospitality and nurturing. It looks like forgiveness and grace in marriage and parenting and continuing to keep that sense of play. I don't want to be a depleted, grumbling wife and mother.
  1. Abundance toward our health: This looks like eating well, doctor and dentist visits, intentional walks and exercise. The Whole30 (which we failed) was also part of this.
  1. Abundance in my writing: This looks like making time to write and writing more freely. I've also been journaling each day, so I can have some writing just for myself. I have specific goals of how many guest posts to pursue and how often to write here, as well, in addition to a couple of other projects. In this category in particular, I wanted to stop feeling like I never have time or opportunity to do what I love doing.
  1. Abundance with our resources: The focus here is on time and money. We still need a clearer budget and I want to have a more generous spirit in all areas.
  1. Abundance in relationships: One of my main goals here is to cultivate abundance by talking less and listening more. Too often I am filling the silence with my words or using another as a sounding board. I want to know what it means to listen well to my friends and family. I also want to continue our tradition of having friends to dinner, maybe some new friends, as well.
  1. Abundance spiritually: In addition to Bible reading, I want to cultivate my daily prayers again-- a list of people/things I pray for each day of the week. I also am reviewing my sermon notes at least once during the week.

This has already looked like more "yeses" this year. It's also looked like keeping myself from that place of depletion--realizing that I have choices and options. It means being willing to change things that aren't working and to look for the fullness rather than operating from a sense of emptiness. It means believing that "all that is Mine is yours."

So far, I'm loving it!

Do you have a word of the year? How do you choose it? 

Things That Changed My Life Last Year (2014)

DSC08801 As I did last year, I made lists of what worked and what did not work in this past year as I formulated my goals for 2015. In making that list, I also thought through what things changed my life this past year. It may sound dramatic, but the following are things that significantly improved my life overall.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: I wrote about this book not long ago. If you're interested in once-and-done tidying, give it a try. I actually feel on top of my cleaning for the first time in years. And I'm still progressing systematically through her list (Kondo believes a full once-and-done approach will take about six months to complete).

1-IMG_0185-001Having a word of the year: I would say that planning in general made for a better year. Many of the good things would probably have still happened if I had not planned, but taking the time to plan helped me be intentional in accomplishing and (perhaps more important) in seeing and noticing the good things. My word for the year was "play". It felt silly at first, but during my son's six to eighteen month period (which undoubtedly had many struggles), it kept me light-hearted and forced me to see things through his eyes. I know I was a better mom and wife because of how flexible this word encouraged me to be. And in the midst of all the comparison parenting and conflicting advice, it kept me sane.

Mooncup: This will verge quickly into uncomfortable territory, but if you are a woman, I encourage you to look it up. There are several different brands, and I love this website for information. There's also a great article here about the difference these are making in East Africa. I can't tell you how many times I've thought, "This thing is life-changing!"

Plan to Eat: This site is awesome. I subscribed during the Black Friday 50% off sale. I've never loved Pinterest (I know! I am just a hater!) but Plan to Eat makes it easy to manage, plan, and most importantly, eat! all your recipes. I love the grocery list feature, which is especially nice if you have a smart phone (or can borrow your husband's smart phone as I have).

Infant Potty Training: On a whim, I decided to start potty training Liam at twelve months. We had experimented very loosely with Elimination Communication (which you can check out here) when he was younger. But right before his first birthday, we bought him a potty and some training pants after reading the potty training info on this Montessori blog. Within a month or so, he was doing pretty well. By fifteen months, he was consistent. Now we rarely have an accident. Liam wears underpants during the day. He wears diapers for naps, nighttime, and some outings, but I have retired my cloth diapers. Infant potty learning changed the way I look at how we toilet train children. Instead of thinking of potty training as something I force him to do as quickly as possible for my convenience, it became a gentle learning process out of respect for him. He still doesn't tell us when he needs to go, but he will go on command. The whole thing has simplified our days so much (no more cloth diaper washing for one thing!). I think it's also easier with younger babies because they are less easily distracted and don't need rewards at all.

1-Recently Updated10Capsule Wardrobe: I loved finally limiting my wardrobe. I put most of my off-season/don't love clothes away for a while and whittled it down to about forty items. Thanks to Christmas and colder weather, I probably have about five additional items now. I'm not worried as much about the number as the concept. Keeping out only what you love means you only wear the things you love which is just life-changing! Never feeling like a slob in my disliked clothes is a major win. And there's no guilt when I look at my closet because I love and wear everything there. I have decided to only have two capsule wardrobes instead of four, which is what works best for where we live and how I dress.

Letting Go of Guilt about Sleep: I didn't realize the guilt I felt about the fact that Liam doesn't sleep through the night. I feel like I almost moved through the stages of grief about this from denial to anger and finally to acceptance. It changed my life to stop feeling like a martyr, to realize that we were doing just fine, and to stop explaining or complaining about his inability to sleep through the night.

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The FunPodWe got this as a birthday present (for Liam but really for us!) in July. It was life-changing because suddenly Liam could see and help. I liked the Learning Tower, as well, but we needed something for a twelve-month-old, and it's a bonus that he is safely contained and can't get out. Sometimes he colors at the counter while I make dinner; other times he helps me wash dishes or watches (from a safe distance!). I would give up plenty of baby non-essentials to classify this as an essential. It is so worth it!

It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful: The Nester's book and site have changed my idea of what it means to keep a lovely, welcoming home. I hear this message in all areas of my life now, and it challenges my perfectionistic tendencies. "Done is better than perfect" is another motto I commonly recite to myself.

The Bible in 90 Days: I decided last January to read the Bible in 90 days. I learned so much during those 90 days, and spending my time reading the Bible instead of most other books, while challenging, was also very refreshing. I used a plan on the YouVersion app. I'm trying to finish my chronological Bible reading plan this year and also study the names of God.

I'll share my word for the year and my goals for this coming year later in the week, and I'd love to hear yours as well! If you want to start working through goals of your own, I can't recommend Lara Casey's series and PowerSheets highly enough!

What things were life-changing for you this past year?