Thursday, September 13, 2012

Plugging Your Life's Meters

August was a dry spell for me--emotionally, physically, spiritually.  I'm calling September my recovery month!   

Philip, amazing husband and pediatric resident, was working a month of nights.  Despite all of his best efforts to make the month a painless one, it was difficult.  If this makes any sense, I felt like a married but single mom.  Philip needed his rest during the day, did his best to spend a few hours with me and the kids between naps, and left for the hospital in the late afternoon.  The evenings were long, and after the kids went to bed, I was left to my own devices--to do some housework, bake, or prep the next day's meal.  When I was feeling less than industrious, which was more often than not, I wasted too much time on the Internet, read, or indulged in the occasional pity party. 

I developed a lot of bad habits that month.  I neglected my afternoon prayer during the kids' naptime.  I justified it, telling myself it was important to take a nap with Philip and spend some time with him that way--even if we were just sleeping next to each other.  I stayed up way too late in the evenings, playing on Pinterest, checking Facebook, or reading articles online because I struggled to sleep without Philip home.  I let the kids watch too much television.  I justified it because, for that month, I was a single mom who was just doing the best she could.  Looking back, it's downright terrifying how easily I could justify all of those lies to myself.  

Fortunately, for me and my family, the month of nights is over, and we're getting back into our refreshingly normal, ho-hum routine.  With our routine back in action, I'm trying to drop my bad habits (vices) and trying to build some good habits (virtues)!  My hope is that these good habits, or virtues, will become such a part of my life that the next time a difficult patch (like a month of Philip working nights) hits, I'll be better prepared. 

The key, so far, seems to be "feeding the meters" of all areas of my life by giving them a "time-in" each day.  These focused, dedicated segments of time to the different areas of my life are paying off in big ways.  It seems counter-intuitive, but when I give as much of myself as I can to all areas of my life, I have more energy, and I end up accomplishing more.    

I plug my spiritual meter by coming to God in dedicated prayer time.  He's never outdone in generosity!  Not only do I usually walk away with a much-needed reality check, but He multiplies my time, and I almost always complete my daily do-it list after dedicated prayer time.  Someday, hopefully soon, I will have enough self-discipline to wake up before the children and start my day with this dedicated prayer time.   

I plug my children's meters when I give them lavish affection, read an extra book before nap/bedtime, put a spotlight on their good behavior, embrace the mess of a new craft/baking project, or get down on the ground and join them in play.  When my children receive more time-ins during the day than time-outs, I'm rewarded as a parent in two major ways:  
  1. They return the attention with their own lavish affection.
  2. They "run off the fumes" of our time together and allow me to get a few things done after our time-in.
I plug my own meter emotionally by giving myself real breaks throughout the day.  I thought I was getting a lot accomplished by constantly multitasking.  I'm getting much more accomplished when I tackle each project one at a time and give myself two 10-minute breaks in the day (one before lunch and one before dinner).  I spend my break time reading inspiring articles, checking Facebook, or adding pins on Pinterest.  Rather than leave the laptop computer open on the kitchen counter all day, I created new technology boundaries.  The laptop can only be open for a few reasons:
  • I am taking one of my two (AM & PM) 10-minute breaks.
  • I am reading a recipe online while I am making dinner.
  • I am returning e-mails or other online correspondence for no longer than half an hour.
  • I am blogging (with no other windows/programs open) after I complete my prayer time.
I keep my laptop closed so that I don't see incoming e-mails, Facebook notifications, etc.  I leave my daily do-it list on top of the closed laptop so that I have a visual reminder that I have other things I need to accomplish during the day before indulging in these online distractions.  With my built-in breaks and a closed laptop, I don't feel the temptation to keep up with e-mails, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.  I know that I can take my break when I need it, and the time will be spent exclusively on enjoying it.  With the built-in breaks, I don't get burnt out doing everything else during the day.  Without the breaks, I was getting burnt out by lunchtime and would have what I call a "Bad Mama Moment."  A "Bad Mama Moment" is doing something like losing yourself in a half an hour of Pinterest while your kids stare at the television because you haven't taken a break all day.  To keep my "Bad Mama Moments" as few and far between as possible, I set a timer for my AM and PM breaks.  When I hear the timer go off after 10 minutes, I'm able to close the laptop and get back to the work of the day refreshed.

I plug our marriage meter when I help Philip to "rejoice in the wife of (his) youth."  When I do that, I am remembering to fill his meter before the children's meters.  When I make a nice meal, give him a warm welcome home, show genuine interest in his day, give him affection, suggest we do something other than watch television, and keep a firm bedtime routine with the children, I am showing Philip that I love our children, but that he is still my first priority.  With self-discipline on my part, we are able to have nutritious, home-cooked dinners at least 6 nights out of the week, and the kids are asleep by 8:00 so that we can have an hour or two together before bed.  With that dedicated time one-on-one, we have more energy to fill our spiritual, physical, and emotional meters together.  Our prayer life together is back in full-bloom, and we feel more intimate physically and emotionally.

With the help of some truly amazing girlfriends, I am learning that it is a good, beautiful, and often necessary thing to take a break or ask for help.  For example, one sweet friend brought over a coffee and watched the kids this morning so that I could run a few errands by myself.  I felt like I was on vacation!  When I backed out of the driveway in my minivan all by myself, I felt dangerous listening to the music a little louder than usual and luxuriously looking at clothes for myself.  When I came back, the kids were happy to see me, I was refreshed, and we read every single book we checked out from the library this week before naptime just because.  The time apart from each other was good for all of us, and my friend was happy to help out because she knows I'll do the same for her whenever she needs it.  

This same friend and her husband do a monthly date night swap with us.  One night each month, each couple has a chance to go on a date while the other couple babysits.  The babysitting couple brings their kiddos over to the other couple's house.  The kiddos play together until bedtime, and the visiting kiddos return home with their dad.  The babysitting mom stays until the couple returns home.  Both couples get one free date night a month, and the kiddos have another chance to see their buddies.  It's a win-win for everyone involved! 

For now, this plugging the meters approach is working to build good habits in my daily life.  My prayer life is better, the kids are happier, our marriage is flourishing, and I am much healthier physically and emotionally with the fun of friendships and real breaks throughout my day.   

I'm still a work in progress, and I will be until the day I die, so in no way am I doing a perfect job of filling all of my life's meters on a daily basis.  Some days, I'll do a great job of filling one meter but completely neglect others.  I'm learning that everything else seems to fall in place when I keep my spiritual meter fed.  God helps keep all of the other meters in perspective.  So long as I'm showing God that I love Him and show the people He put in my life that I'm trying, it's a good day.      

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