Lean in, Jenni. Just lean in.
People expect you to be strong, to have answers, and to keep all the balls in the air.
Don’t cry. Repeat that you’re ok until you’re ok again.
Make more lists. Sleep a little less. No one has to suffer if you’re using your time well.
Skip the walk or the workout. Eat the chocolate in secret. Wave and smile in the car line while making a mental note to text that friend so they don’t think you’ve forgotten about them.
Deal with the family emergency. Field the phone calls. Listen and support and offer to help any way you can. Show up to the hard moments because people need you to be there in the hard moments.
Manage the house. Check the warranty. Call the repairman. Figure it out.
The school needs this. The kids need that. Are we planning appropriately to send them to college and still be able to retire? Double-check that soon.
Put down the phone. Be with the kids while they’re little and want you around. Pick the phone back up because you need to order groceries on that phone. No, down… because the kids need you. No, up… because they need to eat.
Don’t you need to lose some weight? Or maybe a haircut or a pedicure or something? I mean are you even taking care of yourself any more? And what about your husband? When’s the last time you even attempted to do something out of the ordinary for him?
LEAN IN, JENNI. LEAN IN!
My life has been going through a somewhat tumultuous season lately.
In the midst of attempting to raise four good humans, I’ve been walking through some hard stuff in my extended family. The kind of stuff that makes you feel compelled to act, yet reminds you that you are ultimately powerless to fix the big problems of this life. The kind of stuff that stretches you and grows you in ways that only pain and grief can. The kind of stuff I once hoped I was immune to as I settled into my very comfortable little life.
Alas – here I am. Vulnerable. Fearful. And yet, learning.
You see, I’m a lean in type.
I am usually good at pushing through the hard stuff and getting to the other side. I’m equal parts cheery disposition and insane stubbornness. I don’t like to be told no. I don’t like for things to not go according to my plans. I can see the vision, and I’m not afraid of rough waters if I know what direction I’m going in.
So recently when my husband called and asked if I was ok because I had been gone longer than expected and I had to admit that I had stopped at the beach to cry my eyes out for a little while before getting home, I realized that leaning in wasn’t doing it for me any more.
I sat down that night to do my Lenten prayer journal (that felt a lot more like just another task at that moment), and the question was “what is God saying to you today?”
Stop fighting. Just stop.
I didn’t hear an audible sound, but I very clearly felt that still, soft voice whisper “stop fighting.”
And in that moment I realized that I didn’t know how to stop fighting. Fighting is who I am. Fighting is what I do. Fighting is how you get. it. all. done.
But now that my husband is worried about my newfound habit of crying alone in parking lots and my God is asking me to stop fighting, it appears that it’s time for me to explore a new way. Perhaps a way that is countercultural for women in today’s world.
I’ve spent the last month on a mission to figure this one out, and here’s where I am so far:
1. I’M LEARNING TO EMBRACE THE SERENITY PRAYER
There’s a reason it’s so popular. In the really tough family stuff, it has been so important to realize the difference between the things I can change and things I cannot. When I accepted what I could not change, it freed my heart in a powerful way. The outcome may not be the picture perfect ending that I envisioned and fought like hell for, but I was kidding myself believing I had the power to change the will of another anyhow.
2. I’M LETTING MYSELF BE SAD
This seems like a natural thing to do, I know, but not for me. For much of my life, I believed I couldn’t be sad for long and that I had to be strong for all those around me. Then came a point recently when I realized how much I needed to grieve.
So some days, I just sit down and cry when I feel sadness. I’m not running from that any more, and I’m getting better about being honest with those that love me and care about me so that they can support me on those days. It’s not every day. It’s not every week, but it comes here and there and now I just let it.
3. I’M WAVING MY WHITE FLAG
When life throws you unexpected hardships, it’s ok to let some things go while you wade through it all. For me that always looks like giving up on perfection because it doesn’t serve me well, yet it’s always my natural go to. Lately I’ve told myself that, since I’m in charge of some stuff at our church that I really feel committed to, I’m not going to take on stuff at the school or elsewhere. It’s been hard for me to not immediately volunteer to do all the things, but I’m realizing the value in giving myself the space I need to feel balanced again.
I’m also learning that while I feel like I have to be all things to all people all the time, no one else expects that of me (or if they do, I’m learning to not care that much about it).
4. I’M DOING THE THINGS I NEED TO DO TO FEEL PEACE
This has been the most shocking realization of all. My self-care looks a lot like this:
- Nutrition (eating real foods with nutritional value and occasionally chocolate ice cream)
- Intentional time with people I love
My feminist little sister and niece would cringe if they read that. That is the most basic sounding housewife stuff around, but I can’t even lie. When my life is stressful and I’m fighting like hell to lean-in, all of these things go straight out of the window. I do not make time to pray. I eat like crap and feel bad. I do not make time for exercise. The laundry piles up. The counters clutter with stacks of school forms and bills. And I fake a smile while my kids talk at me and my mind is racing off to the next thing I know I need to get done. When things get to this point, my life feels unmanageable.
So for me (as basic as it is) making some time for all of the above things is how I know that my heart and my mind are balanced and on track for sustained, healthy living. I don’t think my list will work perfectly for you, but we all have the things that keep us feeling centered, and I encourage you to know those things and evaluate if you have no time at all to address those things for yourself.
5. I’M CREATING SOME JOY
Some days that looks like turning on good music while I do the after dinner clean up and Matt bathes the boys in the other room. Some days it looks like eating at the Mexican restaurant on a school night. Some days it looks like playing a game of charades in which the answer is always going to be either Star Wars or Pirates of the Caribbean. Some days it’s a chai tea latte, a walk down the beach, or a stolen smooch from the husband while the boys play.
Oftentimes life hands you stress you didn’t ask for and it’s never fair or easy when it does, but when it’s inevitably your turn, I pray you find your strength in being still instead of leaning in.
Because as I learn to be still, I’m seeing smiles I was overlooking. I’m snuggling a little tighter. I’m dancing more often. I’m crying a little more too, but they are tears that were more than ready to fall. I’m praying and getting really comfortable with the big mysteries. I’m learning to be intentional with my time rather than letting life just have its way with me.
Above all, I’m a better mom.
I probably won’t win PTO mom of the year. I probably won’t be the talk of the town for all that I can accomplish, but I am more patient, more understanding, and most importantly, more present.