Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Should is Such a Loud Word

Please join me in reading Noelle's story today, as she shares another piece of her life with us. And if you haven't yet, be sure to check out her new book, One Slender Thread, currently available on Amazon


I've had a few days recently when I have needed to verbally remind myself to breathe. "Just breathe!," I implore myself, as I find my stomach in knots and my chest painfully tight. I am far harsher with the kids than I want to be, far too short with my husband and unrelentingly judgemental with myself. In my stress, all I can think of is writing a to-do list in the hopes of easing some of my anxiety, in the hopes that all those rows of checked boxes will magically calm my heart. "If I can just get X,Y and Z finished, then I'll feel better," is my age-old reasoning. So I grab a pen and start my list: 

1) Cleanup (straighten, vacuum, laundry) - 20 min
2) ...

And then I am interrupted by another sibling squabble, and then the need to prepare lunch, and then a child needing help going potty and then...and then the list just sits untouched for the next few hours as life rushes on. I zip through our usual naptime routine, distracted, discouraged, desperate to get back to my list. When bodies are still and blankets are tucked, I all but sprint down the stairs and race toward that scrap of paper. I read number one, and think,"What was I thinking?!" Without even adding a number two, I realize I'll need to switch into my superwoman cape in order to accomplish all that cleaning within the time-limit I have allotted for myself. 

I realize I have failed before I have even starting. I drop my head, slump my shoulders and heave a deep sigh. 

This sigh turns out to be magical, because it causes me to pause just long enough to remember a section of a book I have recently read. In it, author Brené Brown talks about moments just like this, moments when every instinct inside us - pressured by a culture built on performance and parenting built on shaming - says to push harder. Brown describes her "dig deeper button," and how for years she would find herself in a low and depleted state, a place that actually was calling for to her to rest and to reevaluate, but instead she would push her "dig deeper button" and keep going, keep checking, keep plowing through her days. 

I don't know about you, but I have always had my own "dig deep button" within arm's-length. I have always felt compelled to check off every box, no matter the cost, no matter how tired or depleted I may be. I have always defined success much more by "tasks accomplished" than by the state of my own heart and mind.

Later in the book, Brown talks about the midlife crisis all her digging deeper led her to, and how eventually she learned to slow down. My momentary sigh of desperation gave me just enough space to see that I was in a "dig deeper" moment - that all the shoulds of life were telling me to plow through my to-do list and rest later, to ignore my fatigue and just keep going. But I saw that I had a choice. Instead of plowing through and disregarding my soul's squeaks for a break, for once, I could stop and listen. 

I wiped most of the lunch mess from off the floor, then headed to the bathroom where I took the hottest shower I could stand. I let the steam cleanse away my stress for all twenty minutes that I "should have been" cleaning. I realized, for that twenty minutes of clarity anyways, that should's are all too often self-induced prisons and that souls need much more breathing room than any should can offer. 

I made myself a nice cup of coffee and then sat on the couch trying to relax. I stared at the greasy little fingerprints all over our front window and the crumbs scattered all over our living room carpet - and then I willed myself to stay right on that couch, to keep right on relaxing. But relaxing is hard work for a doer and a pleaser. At first, almost every time, it feels like pure torture to me. It is so unnatural, so against my "dig deeper" instinct, that every few minutes my mind would wander back to all the cleaning and the to do's and I would think: I should be vacuuming, I should be prepping dinner, I should...

Should has controlled my life for a long time. 

Growing up, I saw authenticity and emotional wholeness laid at the foot of upholding duties; I saw creativity and questioning traded out for following rules; I saw true connection given up to attend meetings. I learned that Me is last on the list. Should sounded a lot like must.

I carried all these lessons into Christianity and soon became the girl who volunteered for everything. I began to find worthiness in service and in sacrifice. I didn't know how to say No and never really needed to: I thrived on being able to do it all. The doer and people-pleaser in me found a hundred new rules to follow and many more people to please. 

At first, I loved living up to all the shoulds. I loved the attention and the sense of belonging. But all the shoulds left me increasingly conflicted and hopeless. I stayed busy, plowed through the fatigue and questions, and had lots of good days in between, but there was often a lingering sense of, Who am I? It never crossed my mind that I may need to rest or to stop and breathe once in a while. Doing what I should trumped everything.   

It took years of life and loss, of reading and soul-searching to even be able to distinguish between the endless shoulds and the voice of my true self. And although it is true that when we know better, we do better, it is also true that old habits die hard. For me, it remains a regular battle to choose rest, to prioritize play or to listen to my own soul. But now, finally, I know I can. Now I know that life isn't meant to be a game of shoulds. Now I know that living up to others' expectations is an empty road. Now I know that sitting still on the couch, just staring at greasy finger-prints and listening to the sound of my own breathing, may be the most "productive" thing I do all day. And that feels like growth. 


For more from Noelle, checkout these recent posts:

To Lecture or To Love

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Home Organization Ideas

The kitchen table is covered with binders, and I currently have a pair of field hockey shin guards hanging from the knobs of my kitchen cabinets to dry.  But the cool weather is perking me up a bit, and has me thinking about de-cluttering as well as working on little systems in our home to make things a little less chaotic, especially in the kitchen, which is at the front of the house and is the way we enter and exit.

As I've done a few times before, I thought I'd share a few of the easy things we do in our house to stay organized, and I hope YOU WILL SHARE YOURS WITH ME.

P.S. As we are still contemplating a kitchen renovation, any awesome ideas that have helped you in your kitchen are especially welcome.

Here are a few things that work for us:


A clipboard inside a cabinet with the grocery list on it. Anyone can add items when they realize we are running low. If someone says, "Could you buy gummies?" Always answer with, "Is it on the THE LIST?"

Where you enter from the garage, two Command hooks hang inside a kitchen cabinet, one for my husband's keys, one for mine.

When the kids were little, we kept a basket of socks in the kitchen, all white, and unisex. Because the kids put on their shoes downstairs before leaving the house, I never bothered storing socks in their bedrooms.

We have one drawer where all non-refrigerated snacks are kept, so there's no reason to go rummaging through spaghetti sauce or canned goods to get a snack.

 I keep a "current" folder in the kitchen with info about this season's sports teams,  class schedules, etc. I've had limited success with this system because it gets messy and disorganized as the papers pile up. Gah.

On the fridge we keep a magnetized pad of paper with the weekly dinner menu on it.


The kids'  artwork is on display from floor to ceiling in the laundry room, along with family photos, so I can see something cheery while I do laundry.

We have three beds in the house, and each has white sheets. It's annoying trying to guess which ones are queen and which king, so I took a black sharpie and wrote a big Q or a K on the tag to help me know which ones I'm folding. Also, I keep the K sheets in our bedroom, not the linen closet, so they don't get mixed up with the queens when I'm changing sheets.

I buy smaller bottles of detergent that fit inside my cabinets in my laundry room rather than one giant one that sits on the counter and gets drippy.


A lazy susan is my favorite way to corral beauty products on a small counter.

I like to keep a travel toiletry bag stocked with necessities including toothbrush and razor so all I have to do is add makeup before going on a trip.

Leave extra grocery bags at the bottom of your trash can so you'll be ready with a new one when you empty the trash.


If there is space, add an extra shelf above your closet shelf for out of season clothes or keepsakes.

Keep a bag on the floor of your closet to put donations in as soon as your realize a garment isn't working for you anymore.

Around the House:

Window seat: Under our kitchen window we have a window seat with a hinged lid. This is excellent built-in seating and makes great storage for our dog food, canned drinks, cleaning products, and potatoes! Except for when we forget about the potatoes and let them rot...

There are a lot of junk drawers in the house, and things do not always end up back where they should. However, several key items have definite homes: the metal tape measure, scissors, nail clippers, and the thermometer (which sits in a plastic basket labeled THERMOMETER) because when you are looking all over the house for these items, it can get a little...stressful. If you have ever seen your husband have an apparent toenail emergency, you know what I'm talking about.

Hooks everywhere help us deal with towels, purses, backpacks, bathrobes, and coats.


If storage is tight in the house, consider having cabinets hung or buying a utility cabinet to store party supplies, platters, vases, and small appliances that don't fit in the kitchen.

The garage is also where we store our mops, brooms, and aprons using hooks and a special broom  hanger. I can just lean out the door and grab them.

We bought this little guy at Ikea more than 10 years ago for $1. Do they still have them? Perfect for keeping grocery bags in the garage for dog poop cleanup!


Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons stay in the car.

Returns stay in the car.

As soon as I have a bag full of donations, it goes into the car.

I also try to leave a snack for myself as well as a book or magazine in the car for waiting in school pickup lines.

Change it up. 

If a system isn't working, get rid of it. I've shared some ideas with you on the blog that have turned out to be bombs. Cute vintage traveling cases on the stairs so the kids would carry their own things up? Fail. Dish tubs with their names on them for the same purpose? Fail. We are back to stuff piling up directly on the stairs until I can't take it anymore.

The cute bar cart I rescued from the trash heap? Well, it didn't take me long to realize I wasn't Don Draper and didn't really need a bar cart. Now it's in the corner of the dining room with my daughter's school supplies on it.

Hmmm....maybe that could be a home for the binders?

What tips do YOU have to share? Help!

Monday, September 14, 2015

So, How's it Going?

The first week of school went well, and there has been a break in the weather, so now it truly feels like fall is here.

It was a mash-up of emotions for us as we launched Margaret to high school on the 8th, which is the same day we lost Jack four years ago. Aren't you so proud of her for boldly stepping into this new phase of her life? We are!

We felt the prayers sent to lift us up and appreciated all of  your messages of support.  On the 8th, Tim and I stayed home from work, looked at pictures, and cried. Then we went out to lunch, and cried. It was good let ourselves do that. By the time Margaret got off the bus and needed to head to her field hockey game, we felt strong and ready to cheer her on to victory.

I was going to try to describe the sense of lack we feel, with Jack not being able to drive Margaret to school and show her the ropes. Of not having loud boys in the house anymore--  a band of brothers looking out for her. But it goes beyond the words I have. I must admit for those of you who have juniors in high school, which is what Jack would be now, I am NOT missing the stress of the workload he would be experiencing, but that's the only thing I'm not missing, that's for sure.

I guess my thought for today is that Jack is still Margaret's big brother.

I don't know how it works, but I know it's true. So when you remember him, in your heart and your mind's eye, could you try to picture him as a 16 year old, not a 12 year old? Because Jack hated to look young for his age, I find it a cruel irony that he has been frozen in time. As we move forward every day in hope, let's bring him with us, not leave him as a little boy.

The new image will be hazy around the edges. There will be blank spaces, as we don't know what changes he would have experienced as he grew.  But we do know that Jack was an excellent son and  brother. We do know he relished friends and laughter. So it's safe to bet there would be cute a instagram shot with Margaret jumping on his back for a photo op at the first home football game. We can picture him laughing beside us on the couch as we watch TV. Or cracking up at Charlie's puppy antics.  We can also imagine there would be ups and downs. Maybe he wouldn't even LIKE us very much right now.

But there would be love. There IS love. We know enough to know that, don't we?

p.s. If you are in the PA area, I will be speaking at Grove City College on Friday night at 6:30 in Harbison Chapel. I'd love to see you there!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

And She's Off!

Praying that this wonderful girl has an awesome first day of school and field hockey game afterward!

We are focusing on this momentous first day of high school with our cutie, and not doing anything special as a family to commemorate the 4th Crapiversary of losing Jack. One of our friends will be planting a beautiful tree at the cemetery for us, and we will go see it in a few days.

I have no wise or beautiful words, but I will say that life is complicated and I'm grateful every day for your love and support.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Naked and Afraid

Last week Tim and I noticed a bunch of bees making their way behind a piece of vinyl siding at the back of our house. Tim is allergic, so of course we made him get a closer look while Margaret and I hid in the house and peered through the window.

We weren't sure where they were heading inside the house until they started showing up in the master bathroom. This, by the way, is not close to the back of the house at all, so now I'm wondering what kind of creepy pipelines and tunnels exist between here and there.

I've started checking for wayward bees before hopping in the shower, but three times lately, I've encountered a bee while in my most vulnerable state. Even the two puppies guarding me from the bathmat can't come to my rescue when I find  myself naked as a jaybird, in a glass enclosure, being circled by a bee.

I am truly naked and afraid, but thus far the score is Bees: 0 Anna: 3.

p.s. Bee lovers, please count me among you in my ardent admiration of God's creatures, unless I'm naked.