Running a marathon when you expected a mile

An open letter to moms who struggle the first year of their baby’s life:

If you adore those early days and thrive when your baby is one and under, then disregard this note. I know many women who love that early season and find more joy than struggle. That has not been my experience and I want to share my heart and lessons learned so that if you are feeling shame or guilt, you can know you are not alone.

My youngest of three kids turned one in November. I’ve been asked which transition was hardest — from zero kids to one, one to two, or two to three. Each time was difficult and beautiful for its own unique reasons. Something that has been true for me each time though is the intensity of that first year of your baby’s life.

In that first year your emotions, hormones, physical body, and thoughts are all over the place. You don’t feel entirely like “yourself” — especially when every ounce of your being is directed towards caring for this brand-new, unique, beautiful baby. In one day you can feel extreme euphoria and love for your precious gift, then guilt and shame for wanting a break knowing other women are aching for their own baby and can’t have one, then sadness and grief for wanting just a few moments of what life was like before, and then grateful and blessed for the sweetness of the moment when they fall asleep in your arms.

As each day passes and you begin to measure growth in weeks, and then months, everything slowly starts to settle and even out again. When that big milestone arrives it is an achievement to be celebrated. This first birthday marked a massive change in myself — it suddenly felt like I was “me” again. So I am writing to encourage you today. If you do struggle, it’s okay. If you don’t feel entirely like yourself, you will again.

Here are a few things that may help you during that first year with all it’s ups and downs:

Expectation — Most of us go into motherhood expecting to run a mile only to realize that first year is actually a marathon that we could never prepare for. That first year is a whirlwind of beautiful, perfect moments, the deepest, most raw love as well as intense hormones, sleep deprivation, and unchartered territory in taking care of a baby. It’s a long, tiring run to the end of that first year and you will feel like you may never feel yourself again. For the rest of your life you will be mom, but as that first year draws to a close so many of the massive ups and downs even out and that emotional and mental space will be restored for you to re-engage with those other aspects of your identity more wholly again.

Failure — There will be moments when everything seems to be falling apart and failing. Parenting is one long journey of trying things for the first time; there is risk involved in every step into new territory. We will get it right sometimes and we won’t other times. 99.9% of the time everything works out whether what we did succeeds or fails. Once one season passes and you feel like you’ve passed through successfully, there is another one just around the corner full of the unknown and surprises, good and bad, waiting for us to risk, fail, and succeed again. All shall be well. 

Self-care — During this first year it will probably feel very selfish for you to do something entirely for yourself. For your own well-being find 2 hours a week that’s an immovable, standing date with yourself. It’s always on the calendar and you can look forward to and plan for. Being a mom is all-consuming — every ounce of our being is directed towards caring for our kids whether we are focused on them in the moment or not. This time away to breathe and just be is essential to crossing the line of that first year marathon in a jog rather than crawling over it.

PrioritiesHaving a baby is like adding another full time job to your life. It forces you to re-evaluate all you have going on in your days, weeks, and months, whether that evaluation is conscious or unconscious. If you are able to step back for a moment and think about or even write down all the things you do and are committed to, it will help to focus on the order of priority those things. And you may find that you have room for priorities 1-5, but not 6-8. Take a deep breath and exhale those priorities for this next season. It doesn’t mean they’ll be gone forever. It just means during this first year, they aren’t as important and necessary. They can be added back in after you finish this marathon run.

After each of my kids turned one, everything shifted. Finishing that marathon was an accomplishment and energizing. You realize you are stronger than you ever thought you were. You are more capable than you give yourself credit for. And your capacity for love and grace and joy have grown exponentially. Here is a beautiful quote that always reminds me to fully engage with and embrace the season regardless of its joys and sorrows:

Sometimes I need

only to stand

wherever I am

to be blessed. (Mary Oliver)

Blessings dear friends as you see the place you’re standing in is awesome and holy and that you are not alone,

April

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January: a month to rearrange

The brightness of the sun shining through the window on snowy, cold winter days is brief, rare, and short-lived. New Year resolutions like the winter sun in January often seem to be brief, rarely followed through, and short-lived.   

We see January 1 as a day to begin all the things and then give up exhausted a week or two later because sprinting towards those goals wasn’t sustainable. Eating healthy, working out, and purging your house like Marie Kondo quickly fall to the wayside. As we enter the third week of January you may be beginning to feel your pace slowing and your motivation waning.

Perhaps reframing the entire month of January to become a runway for the next year is a better approach. If we are able to reframe this beginning month as a warm-up, a slow jog that begins forward momentum, will slowly build, and actually last throughout the whole year, we will find ourselves reflecting on our year in December with less regret and a more hope.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” (Thoreau)

A few years ago I decided to come up with a word to frame the year — my hopes, dreams, and focus for the next 12 months. Since then the value of this practice has grown more in my heart and mind. The winter months immediately following Christmas have become a season of rearrangement.

It’s a time to move the furniture in our lives around to find a better place for them in this next season, and as we rearrange we often discover certain things are no longer needed and necessary for what’s ahead. It is a time to move everything around to see what stays and what goes — in our hearts, minds, schedules, habits, rhythms, relationships, and priorities.

“A time to keep and a time to throw away.” (Ecclesiastes 3:6)

Here are a few prompts you can ask yourself if you want to use January as a month of rearrangement rather than a quick burst of resolution that fades like a firework. I suggest writing them down in a notebook or agenda so you can go back to adjust, edit, and reflect in the months ahead.

  1. Pray about/think about/land on a word or phrase for the year (or simply the next season ahead) that you feel will cause you to flourish and focus your attention on the values and priorities you hold closest to your heart this year/season.
  2. Write down the definition of this word and the implications of what you think it will look like in your life; this doesn’t need to be long. Simply jot down two or three sentences that express the heart of what you feel this word will mean for your focus in the year or season ahead.
  3. Think about the different areas in your life that you want to prioritize and write them down in a list. For example my list of priorities includes: financial, marriage, parent, spiritual, health, rest, and social.
  4. Write down a specific and stretching, yet achievable intention/goal/aim (whatever language that empowers you to bring fresh focus to that area of your life) that falls within the framework of your word of the year or season.

For example, my word for 2019 is engage, so for each of the categories on my list I am thinking about ways to engage in them in a more active way that grows me but isn’t so overwhelming I will want to give up.

Here is what that looks like for the health category: spend 10 minutes exercising six out of seven days a week.

This is a very active reach for me because I haven’t been engaged in any regular exercise in years, but the time of 10 minutes is something that seems possible to me.

Write all of this down somewhere you can go back and look at throughout the year, and write them down in pencil. When it’s written in pencil you can erase and adjust as needed — sometimes we throw everything out when what we really need to do is edit.

If you need a reminder to go back and look, put it as an event in your phone. Honor your time by giving yourself 10-20 minutes a month to refocus your heart on what really matters in the season you’re in.

Take that small bit of time to edit and adjust anything and then write one sentence reflecting on how you feel your word really surfaced and worked in your life that past month. Last year my word was rooted and in December it felt like God was really speaking to me about being rooted in contentment, fresh focus, and right action. So I wrote it down and was done.

“But if we roof and wall time into chambers of expectation, plan and commitment, our days become memorable. Time takes on significance when we frame it on a human scale.” (Robert Grudin, Time and the Art of Living)

I pray as you spend the rest of this month rearranging and moving things around in your life you are able to see the significance of the time we’ve been given, this wild and wonderful gift.

Love and blessings,

April

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A top three for 2018: hourglass, enneagram, and sabbaticals

 

The space between Christmas and the New Year is like a blank page between chapters in a book. The pause between those two chapters lets you catch your breath to reflect on what’s happened and prepare for what’s to come. With all that could be said about 2018, here are the top three things that shaped and impacted my life. Whatever your top three or ten are, I hope you are able to take a moment or two to look back as well before jumping into 2019.

The life changing magic of an hourglass

My brother and sister-in-law gifted me a beautiful hourglass for my birthday and it changed the game for daily quiet time. Once my kids stopped napping I realized the deep need in my soul for quiet space and time each day. Figuring out a consistent and enforceable routine that didn’t involve screens felt insurmountable most days.

One day the hourglass showed up on my doorstep in a brown amazon box. One afternoon after admiring it for a few weeks, Edith wanted to play with it. That’s when it happened — quiet time in her room for one hour with the hourglass to keep track. Since that day she and Frederick, when he has school off, spend a whole hour in their room playing, looking at books, and sometimes staring at the sand so intently they fall asleep.

The steady stream of grains is soothing and reassuring. The visual of time passing through the funnel cues the most restorative part of each day for everyone in the house. That hour of peace and stillness refreshes my introvert heart and mind like no other.

For the love of the Enneagram

For two years I thought I was an Enneagram one. I took an online test in 2016 and it labeled me a one so I read all the things about ones. Some of them resonated, but it wasn’t life changing or mind blowing. This past spring after reading The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and everything changed. If you don’t know anything about the Enneagram, it’s an ancient personality typing system that categorizes personalities in nine main types.

After reading The Road Back to You, I realized I wasn’t a one. After reading the chapter on fours it felt like something finally clicked. It was a giant mirror that reflected all the inner thoughts and feelings I experienced but could never fully verbalize — all the gross, yucky stuff and all the distinct, wonderful stuff too. The Enneagram provides language to name certain thought patterns and motivations that bubbled beneath the surface. It also gives tangible, practice-based steps to grow and develop healthy reactions and responses to ruts in thinking and emotion. Most importantly it cultivates compassion for yourself and others; something sorely needed these days.

Here are a few keys and resources if you want to begin this journey. The first thing to keep in mind when beginning is to read through a good summary of each type — even the best quiz can’t reveal your inner motivations. The second thing to consider are the numbers on either side of the one you think you are. For example, when I thought I was a one for two years neither of the numbers (a nine and a two) on each side of the one resonated with me. You will have your main number, but also a wing number that resonates a lot with you as well. For example, I’m a 4w5 which looks quite different from a 4w3.

The third thing to do is think about what you’re like when you are emotionally healthy and unhealthy. Each number will draw on the positive characteristics from one other number in health or negative characteristics from one other number in distress. A four in health will take on the positive characteristics of a one (which may be one of the reasons I tested as a one) and will take on the negative characteristics of a two in distress. The fourth thing to do is to look at the subtypes of each number. Every number has three subtypes and it was this last step that unlocked everything for me.

Here are a few resources if you want to get started or dive deeper:

This is a great website outlining subtypes — it’s incredibly valuable to read the brief paragraph of each subtype.

Books

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron

(most accessible and easy to read)

The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile

(all about relationship dynamics between enneagram types)

The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut

(a thorough and in-depth examination)

The 9 Types of Leadership by Beatrice Chestnut

(a valuable resource for employers and employees)

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr

(written in the 1980s; it’s the first book I read and full of helpful tables in the back)

Podcasts

Typology with Ian Cron

Sleeping at Last — Ryan O’Neal has written songs for numbers 1-7 and will be releasing 8 and 9; the songs are beautiful and the podcasts go behind the scenes describing the songwriting process for each number

The EnneaApp is a helpful and well-organized resource — the paid version is worth it!

Pushing pause on social media

My word for 2018 was rooted. It was a year to go deep and dig into things below the surface — spiritually, emotionally, socially, financially, in marriage, in health, and as a parent. In order to do this well, I felt the need to step away from the buzz and noise of social media.

Twice this past year I deleted Facebook and Instagram from my phone and didn’t go on any social media for a whole month. In January it was a fresh start that freed up mental and emotional space to just be — to be with my brand new baby, Hugo, to be present for the beginning of a new year, to be myself without comparison or competition.

In July the sabbatical created room to fully engage and connect with Frederick and Edith who were on summer break. There wasn’t a compulsive pull to check in with the rest of the world when the most important people in my world were right in front of me. The photos I took were entirely for our own memories rather than experiences shared with my social network. We went on adventures and soaked up the summer free from the swirl of social media activity.

I still checked into email and Facebook messenger for personal messages as well as texting — pausing from social media didn’t mean isolation. It meant intention. Rather than stumbling into interaction with friends and family, I took it upon myself to foster and reach out in a deeper and more personal way. Social media is so valuable when handled in a healthy way and from a place of wholeness rather than out of boredom or lack. When we come to it looking to receive affirmation, get attention, or find validation it fractures what’s already frail in our souls. When held in its right place we can come it to looking to give care, share appreciation, and connect in meaningful ways.

Taking two months off this year helped keep social media in a healthy place and reminded me to approach those platforms with intention. I would love to hear the things, small and big, that shaped your life this past year.