Self Care not Self Indulgence

I’ve been thinking a lot about Self-Care lately. I have been on a journey as I try to get to the root of my over-eating problems, food addictions, bad habits and life-style choices that have left me in a state of being overweight and unhealthy. I’ve been trying to figure out why I keep self-sabotaging all my attempts to be healthier, lose weight etc. What is wrong with me? 

 

Through this process, a couple stories from my childhood have come to mind. I wrote them down. I thought about them a lot. And slowly, a pattern revealed itself. I use food as a form of Being Kind to myself. In my mind, allowing myself to have that: extra helping, piece of chocolate, bakery delight, ice cream etc. is a way that I try to be kind to myself. I’m feeling depressed. I go eat something yummy. I’m stressed out. I buy myself a chocolate bar. I’m overwhelmed. I go eat fast food.  In all these situations I am feeling the need to be kind to myself and food has become the way that I do that. 

 

Obviously, this actually not being kind to myself. It has caused me to be overweight and unhealthy. That is not kindness. 

 

During these past weeks, I had a friend who was doing an “88 Days of Self-Care” where she described every day what she was doing to take care of herself. But I didn’t really grasp what she was doing until I read a post someone had shared about Self-Care by SORT THIS. It was exactly what I needed to hear. The main point that I carried away is that Self-Care is basically Self-Parenting. It’s not Self-Indulgence. I have definitely been completely into the self-indulgence thing. As a Parent of Many Children, hearing the term Self-Parent starts all kinds of bells ringing. I understand this concept. I know how to parent. I do this all day. No, you can’t have that candy. You don’t need to be eating sugar. Get your butts outside and play, you’ve been sitting around the house all day. Go get some sunshine, you’ve been cooped up in a dark room all day. Eat your vegetables! You need the nutrients! Take your vitamins, it will help you stay healthier. Have you had enough water today? Don’t forget you need to drink water all day! No, we’re not having dessert tonight, you don’t need to have dessert every day. 

 

I know all about parenting. 

 

This has been a paradigm shift for me. How to be Kind to Esther? Parent Esther. Don’t Indulge Esther. Stressed out? Go for a walk, get on the elliptical. Journal. Play the piano. Feeling Depressed? Repeat the above. Unhealthy? Talk to your doctor, find out what changes you need to make. Make the changes. 

 

In the past, my biggest hang up was that self-denial felt like being mean to myself. And after a while I would just get over it. Life is hard and I want someone to be kind to me. And not getting to eat dessert during the holidays while everyone else is, felt mean. Not getting that special treat when I was stressed did not feel kind at all. 

 

But now, I’m trying to see it through the lense of parenting. When I see a child walking around with an armful of junk food, stuffing their faces, I don’t think, “Oh what a lucky child! Someone was so nice to give them that!” I think, “Why is this kid’s parents letting him eat all that? It’s going to make them sick!” Parenting. Saying no because you’re looking at the Big Picture instead of the in-the-moment desires. I know you want to stay up all night watching tv, but you have school in the morning, so you need to get in bed on time. Saying No because you love this person and you want the best for them. And the best involves discipline. 

 

So, for the upcoming year, that is my goal. Start parenting myself. 

 

 

Let’s Just Skip the Guilt

December is here, and for me that means full-blown Christmas Celebrating. We put up the tree after Thanksgiving, pull all the decorations out, and when we’re done it looks like an explosion of red and green, silver and gold. On December 1st we start doing Advent Readings. Not really a traditional advent. We have a collection of readings on the attributes of God. Each night we read Bible verses about how God is our Rock, our bridegroom, the Desire of All Nations…And we have a little tray on which we put a tangible object to remind us of each of these names. Like a fancy rock, a ring, a silver coin. And then, after we’ve done our Bible readings, I pull out a treat like rock candy, or lifesavers (a ring) or gold wrapped chocolate coins. It is one of our favorite Christmas traditions. We also have a yearly Christmas party where we invite a ton of people to come and eat goodies and just catch up with each other. Add on various recitals and concerts that the kids are in, and a Christmas Eve tradition of making Gingerbread houses, and that about rounds out our Christmas Holidays.

 

When one of my kids asked me, Mom, is Santa Coming? I was a little stunned. Santa? It has long been our tradition to teach our kids about the historical Saint Nicholas and explain where the legend of Santa came from, but then tell our kids that we focus on Christmas being a Celebration of Jesus’ birth. The question threw me off. Have I failed? Have I somehow forgotten to put emphasis on the story of Jesus and so my kids have just latched on to what the culture around them is talking about? 

 

As I paused to think this over, I tuned into the Christmas music we had playing in the background. Almost all the songs were about Jingle Bells, and Santa, and Winter Days. Not a whole lot about the Birth. I looked over at the piano. My Christmas Favorites Book was open and I had been fooling around with some Jazzy arrangements of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” . Yikes. Suddenly everything felt very secular and my guilt-o-meter started ticking. 

 

And then, a quiet voice said, So do something about it!  Oh. Ok. I guess we could pull out some of our Bible Christmas Books and read through those. I can play my jazzy Christmas songs, but I can also pull out some of the old favorite carols. I can continue to remind my kids that Christmas is a Celebration of Jesus coming to earth. And instead of focusing on what gifts we’re going to get, I could get my kids working on some giving instead. Like making cookies for our neighbors, writing cards for their teachers, giving presents to friends. It’s never too late to change the focus. 

 

This is my normal pattern. I see a problem and I instantly get caught up in guilt and everything feels horrible and the world is going to end because I messed up. When really, most things just need a small fix. Ok. Here’s a problem. Let’s fix it. There is nothing wrong with all the trappings of Christmas. I love the lights and trees and gifts. I just don’t want that to be the main focus of our holidays. So, I can take steps to change the focus. 

 

So, here’s to having grace for myself. When I notice that things aren’t going the way I want them to, instead of getting all caught up in guilt and anxiety and anger…I can just make a change. Turn the direction back the way I want it and skip all the self-hate drama. 

May our holidays be filled with grace and peace! 

 

Let’s have a Chat!

Hey Everybody. It’s Tuesday and it is apparently time for me to write my blog. And I’m not feeling it. Sometimes this blog feels narcissistic. It’s time to write about ME again. Uggh. 

 

So, let’s make this about someone else tonight. How are you all doing? How is life out in internet world? Are you crashing at the end of the day and seeking some mindless relaxation on Facebook? Right now I am sitting in my little boys’ room, waiting for them to go to sleep. It’s Andy’s night off and I am solo parenting. 

 

How are you coping with the holidays? Are they a fun-filled nostalgic time for you or are they a non-stop hectic, stressful race to the end? I seem to seesaw back and forth on that one. I am trying to have a slow, peaceful holiday month, but life keeps interrupting. 

 

How are you feeling with the shorter days and winter weather? (If that applies to you, maybe it’s summer in your part of the world.) For me, I love winter, but the cold weather gets to me. Maybe because my kids don’t want to be out in the cold, so then they’re running around the house, shooting nerf bullets at each other, or literally, climbing the walls, trying to see if they can make it up to the ceiling. 

 

How’s your peace doing? Is all right with the world or does everything feel out of whack? Me? Well, I’m in that interesting place where everything is out of whack, but despite that, I’m at peace and can feel God’s presence in all the craziness. So, I guess it’s good. I’ll tell you what, Jesus is the only one that can do that for me! I hope that you can find peace in your craziness too. Cause, if I’m being realistic, there probably isn’t anyone of you out there that doesn’t have some level of craziness going on. 

 

How are your dreams coming along? It’s taken me years to even give myself permission to have dreams. For a while there, just taking care of little kids was so overwhelming, I did not have any time for dreams. It’s not a great place to be. Feels a bit dead. I’ve been trying to let myself dream again. One dream is to be a full-time piano teacher. I had four piano students this school semester and it was really fun. We had a little recital of sorts last night and it felt good to see how well they did. It’s a small dream, but I’m taking steps towards it and that is nourishing to the soul. I hope you can find a way to, first of all, have a dream, and second of all, pursue it in small ways tucked here and there in your busy life. 

 

Let’s see, we’ll just skip politics. And sports. Read any good books lately? I found a new author I like, recommended by a friend, Amy Harmon. Fluffy, funny, PG, but also some stuff to think about. Just what I’m looking for right now. I’ve also been reading 1,2, and 3rd John, in the Bible. I found 1 John to be very comforting for my perfectionist self. I am never sure if I’m doing enough, being enough, striving enough etc. And the main point I took away from the book was, Obey Jesus’ commands. This is his command. Love God, Love People. The End. And that doesn’t seem too burdensome. It seems like a joyful task, not a hard chore. And it also feels like a load of expectations dissolves off my shoulders every time I read it. Good stuff. 

 

Well, if you were sitting right in front of me, this is about the time I would start digging for the nitty gritty stuff, how are the relationships in your life? How are you feeling about yourself? How’s your spiritual life? What’s making you happy these days? What’s dragging you down? 

 

So, you should come on by when you can, sit at my kitchen table, where the kids will run around us, kind of like a rock sticking out of the current in a river. We’ll drink some hot tea, I’ll dig up some cookies, or carrot sticks, depending on where you are at with your diet, and we can chat (with plenty of interruptions, but it won’t matter!). 

 

Good night friends, let’s talk again soon!

 

Not Aiming for Perfection

Today I saw a light-hearted comment on FB. Someone was wondering why a character in a very popular book series was not treated with more kindness, even though he was a mean person.  I was a little puzzled. From my limited knowledge of the book, it seemed that it would have been stepping out of character for the people in the book to treat the man with kindness. They weren’t kind because that didn’t line up with their temperament.  

 

I was puzzling over this in my head as I began the day. Today was going to be Decorate the House for Christmas Day. This is supposed to be a happy day. Family united. Everyone buoyant with good cheer. 

 

The day started off cheerfully enough. The two year old had climbed into our bed sometime around 4 am and he woke up later with a big smile on his face. The happiness lasted about twenty minutes and then things went downhill quickly. He didn’t want to get dressed even though the house is chilly and he was walking around in a diaper. He didn’t want to eat breakfast. Even though I was letting the kids eat leftover pie for breakfast. Eggs, toast, oatmeal, and fruit were also suggested, but he didn’t want any of that either. Then he became clingy and didn’t want me to put him down. For about two hours. The six year old did not wake up with a smile. She woke up whining. And then quickly got into a fight with her older sister. The boys had a friend over who had spent the night and the energy in the house was on HIGH. I was very quickly losing my patience. And feeling guilty about it. Leave it to kids to kill the mood. 

 

At the same time I was thinking about that FB post and then I had my Light Bulb Moment. Why on earth am I expecting my children to act like perfect little angels? That’s not what they are. They are human. They have a sin nature. They get irritated and tired. We’ve already had two days of holiday, everyone gets tired of celebrating after a while, plus we’ve had sickness going through the house. In fact, why was I expecting myself to be perfect? I also am human and have lots of flaws. Being perfect has never been on my list of abilities. I was in effect expecting a certain outcome from people who were incapable of producing that outcome. 

 

I have continued to come back to that little light bulb throughout the day. Like when I’m expecting my husband to be enthusiastic about Christmas Decorating and throw himself into it gungho. Yeah. Decorating is a lot more my thing than his. And he was tired today, his mind on a lot of other things. 

 

Then, when my son announced that he had just spilled all my leftover turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes out of the fridge and onto the floor (the leftovers we were going to have for supper tonight)…and I felt a ball of rage boiling up, followed by a ball of guilt for getting so upset over an accident…I remembered that I was human. Having your supper thrown on the floor is upsetting. It’s ok that I got angry. And it was a really good time to take a quick trip to the store and just get a little space from the situation. And by the time I got back from the store I was calm again and had mostly forgotten the incident. 

 

The day has turned out pleasant. The house got decorated. Christmas music played nonstop. Everyone enjoyed the new cozy atmosphere. Yes, we had fights and arguments to sort out. Lots of messes and accidents. Absolutely nothing perfect about the day. But it was good. 

 

As the Christmas season kicks into high gear, this is my goal. To remember that we are not aiming for perfection, that’s not who we are. We are aiming to be quick to forgive, count to ten when it’s necessary, get up and leave the house if needed, but above all, have grace for each other as we live our imperfect lives. 

 

Charity with Dignity

Last Christmas I ran into a rather awkward situation. I received a note from my Kindergartner’s teacher telling me that I should go pick up my child’s Angel Tree Gift at such and such a place on such and such a date. Angel Tree Gift? What? I didn’t sign up for that! I studied the paper very carefully and after looking at some websites, and talking to my daughter, I figured out that my daughter’s teacher had signed her up for an Angel Tree Gift that was hosted in my neighborhood. (For those of you that don’t know, the way Angel Tree Gifts work, is a child’s name is on an ornament and someone picks that ornament and then buys them Christmas presents, it’s for kids who probably aren’t going to get presents without some outside help.)

Well. That was embarrassing. We are not rich. We’re not even really well-off. But, we make enough to buy our children Christmas presents. I didn’t know what to do except go pick up the gift at the appointed time. 

 

I looked up the address and found out that the gift pick-up place was at a small house only a couple blocks away from us. I had driven by that house every day when I took my kids to school and I had always been curious about it. It looked like a regular home, with a wrought iron fence around it, but at different times of the year it would have signs hanging on the fence. “Come Inside to Get Signed Up for Healthcare” or “Register to Vote Here”. I would occasionally see a group of young college-age people entering the house, name tags attached to their Business-Casual clothing. Whatever the place was, it seemed like a positive addition to our neighborhood. 

 

The day arrived to go pick up the gift and my insides were roiling. I hate having to do something brand new that I’ve never done before where I have no idea what’s going to happen. It stresses me out. I had been cleaning house and had on an old pair of sweatpants and old faded sweater. It was a busy, rushed day, and without thinking, I just drove over in what I was wearing. It wasn’t until I was leaving my car that I realized I was completely dressed for the part of Poor Person Seeking Aid. Great.

 

Figuring out where to park had been a bit confusing, but I saw that I could approach the house from the back alley and find a place for my over-sized van. I sat in my car, assessing the situation. Is anyone else coming? Is it the right time? What door should I go to? I sat there until I saw another family approaching the house. Aha. Safety in numbers. I got out of the van and walked carefully behind them. It was a latino family, two women and a handful of small children. They were murmuring quietly to each other in Spanish. They glanced my way and I gave a shy smile. They looked as uncertain as I was. 

 

As we approached the door, their courage seemed to give out and they hung back. I guessed I better lead the way. I stepped around them and hesitantly stepped up to the front door. Before I could knock, the door swung open and a tall black man stood there, big smile on his face. Come on in! Come on in! I gave my polite smile and stepped around him and found myself in the living room of the house. The only furniture was a couple desks and chairs. The rest of the room was full of boxes and bags. There were quite a few people present. A woman sitting behind a desk had a large clipboard with pages of names on it. Someone was talking to her, giving her the name of their child. Ok. So, this what we do? Go give our name to that lady? I decided it was as good a place as any to start. I got in line and waited my turn. 

 

When it was my turn, the lady, an older black woman, dressed in a modest skirt and blouse, the kind of woman who looked like she ran the Sunday School Program at her church, looked up and gave me a pleasant smile. What’s the name of your child? I gave her the name and she started searching through her lists. She searched and searched. I was starting to get really nervous. Good grief. They told me I was supposed to come here, and now they don’t even have my name on the list. How embarrassing. I wished very much that I could just leave. Like right now. The lady looked up, What school does she go to? I told her. She flipped some more pages. HERE it is! SHe looked up and briskly called out a number to a young man who was waiting nearby. She pointed at an unoccupied space and told me to stand there. I went and stood out of the way, and a minute or two later a young man approached me, confirmed the name of my child, and handed me a large garbage bag. I thanked him and then glanced around me. Can I leave now? Is that it? I watched another woman take her garbage bag of gifts and walk out the door. Ok. I guess we just leave now. 

 

I headed towards the door, but just before I got there, an older man approached me. He looked like a businessman. Black hair with silver streaks. He walked up to me and put out his hand, looked me straight in the eye, shook my hand firmly, and said Merry Christmas! The firm handshake felt comforting. The eye contact was a relief. I gave my first genuine smile since I had got there. Thank you. Merry Christmas. I walked out the door. Glad that was over, but happy. The man’s crisp Merry Christmas somehow redeemed the whole awkward situation. 

 

I am sharing this story with you this holiday season because I know a lot of you make an effort to reach out to your community during the holidays. Something about Christmas brings out the philanthropist in all of us. I would just like to give you a glimpse of how the other side might be feeling and encourage you to find ways to treat the people you are helping with dignity. 

 

Sometimes Cleaning Involves Making a Mess

Today there has been a festive note in the air. Thanksgiving is coming next week, and then we launch full-blast into Christmas. And, my son is coming home tonight after being away at school since August. YAY!!! 

 

With all the approaching festivities, my cleaning bug finally kicked in. Our house was a big ol’ mess. I had the kids help me clean up Friday night, but the problem is we had pockets of clutter all over the place. So, while everything was picked up off the floor, the room still felt a mess. So, today we tackled the clutter. I put two kids on the job of fixing our bookshelves. In order to do that they had to take all the randomly piled books off the shelf so they could organize them all neatly. In the process they also found some movies, toys and papers that didn’t belong on the shelf. 

 

I assigned another child the hall closet. He had to pull everything that had been stuffed in there and make a giant pile on the floor. Then from that pile he could hang up all the coats, put all the gloves, scarves and hats in a box, line up the boots, and put the duffel bags of snow pants back up on the shelf.

 

I cleaned out the Random Drawer that had all our coloring papers, school papers, playdough, puzzles, school supplies, and a bunch of other random kid things. (It’s a big drawer.) In order to clean it out I had to make all kinds of piles on my dining room table in order to sort everything out. 

 

Sometime in the middle of all this cleaning, my husband came in from some errands he had been running. The house looked worse than when he had left. I quickly defended myself. We ARE cleaning. It just doesn’t look like it. We’re going to have to make some messes before it all gets clean. He understood. 

 

Today I also decided it was time to start potty training our youngest. It’s way past time, I’ve just been procrastinating. So, I bought a bag of M&Ms and asked him if he wanted some in exchange for sitting on his potty. Of course! He sat and peed for me. And so far has stayed dry and peed five times in the potty! I’m super excited. But, I know that we have some accidents coming in the very near future. It’s part of the package deal. Some of our kids have potty trained in as fast as a week, and some have taken a year. But all of them had accidents. It’s part of the transition from changing dirty diapers to having clean dry underwear. 

 

One other thing I did today was commissioned my fourteen year old to paint me a Christmas Painting to hang on my mantel for the holidays. She got out her sketch pad and started sketching out some ideas. She showed me one, rough lines outlining the little drummer boy. It was a messy sketch, but I could see what she was drawing. It looked great. I knew that eventually she would turn it into a beautiful picture. 

 

Of course, you’ve probably got the point by now…It has occurred to me this evening, that in order to clean something, or accomplish a goal, you usually have to go through a messy stage where you are making progress, but it doesn’t look like it. 

 

It gives me some hope. I am dealing with some personal shortcomings that have me really discouraged. I have been spending a lot of time recently just thinking about the problem. Trying to get to the root of why I can’t seem to ever overcome in this area. Spending some concentrated time just thinking about this has not been fun. It’s put me in a bad mood. It’s also helped dredge up some old stories from my past that I’ve not properly dealt with. It’s all been rather messy. But, here’s where the hope comes in. Right now it just looks like a mess, but it’s still forward progress. I’m closer to overcoming today than I was a week ago. Sometimes, in order to clean something up, you have to make a mess first.