Fresh and Inspired

Writing in pencil > writing in pen

Ten years worth of journals and agendas are stacked up on the table next to me. Marie Kondo recommends going through papers as the last step in Tidying Up. These notebooks sit in a cupboard tucked away most of the time, but in rare moments of deep reflection they make an appearance. For the most part they are a daily record of the mundane details that make up life — plans for dinner, meetings with people, phone calls to make, holidays.

Here’s the biggest takeaway from ten years worth of journals: pencil > pen. Up until this year, 2019, I used pen to record and plan. There were seasons of colorful pens, black ink, blue ink, red ink, green ink. Seasons of brown ink and even pink. Writing plans on paper is a spiritual practice; it is grounding and forces my brain to slow down enough to truly measure priorities, time, and energy. Sitting down once a week with a cup of coffee and writing out the next week’s plans brings focus and intention to the immediate present. And for years a little whiteout tape sat next to me to erase and rewrite the changes that inevitably pop up.

Towards the end of 2018 in a moment of frustration over having to whiteout yet another plan it dawned on me: pencil > pen. I’m a late bloomer to certain life lessons and this is one of them. No longer would I need whiteout tape. No longer would I feel annoyed with rearranging events. No longer would I feel personally injured when something was postponed or canceled.

Can we all agree pencil > pen? It’s a mindset shift. It’s a declaration that life is messy, people are fallible, and plans are flexible. Maybe that disappointment with change isn’t something you wrestle with but if it is, there’s hope. With a small change you can reframe the way you look at your days, choices, hopes, and plans.

It’s a little shift in attitude that implemented over time makes a big impact. Writing your plan for the day in pencil rather than pen cultivates a flexibility in how and when to get everything or nothing on your list done. If you struggle with regret over some of the choices you’ve made or hopes you’ve had, think about moving a big eraser over those things and then writing something new in it’s place. You can be the editor of your life. You choose what stays and goes as well as which angle and perspective to take.

Perhaps you were too ambitious with your plans and goals — an eraser mindset frees you to make those small adjustments that make them actually attainable and possible. Maybe you set a goal to exercise three times a week, but it hasn’t happened once and you’ve lost momentum. Erase it and write in a more realistic one that you can actually follow through on.

Erasing is not failure. It’s a resetting. It’s a step towards grace and mercy for ourselves and others as we place one foot in front of the other into the world and take a risk in love.

Like bamboo plants that send their roots and shoots generously in all directions then regrow after every cutting, we can freely edit, erase, and eliminate knowing it’s not a dead end but a new beginning.

May you see your next hopes and plans with fresh eyes and use a pencil rather than a pen to write them on your heart, paper, phone — holding them palms up, open-handedly, up for a tiny re-alignment if needed.

Love and blessings,

April

Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails.

— Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

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Fresh and Inspired

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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