New worlds…

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I remember staring off in middle space on warm afternoons, chin in hands on a high school bleacher. My friends scrambled for the football below, thick with sweat, working towards unseen goals, games to win or lose. I tried on different futures those hazy afternoons- What if I became an artist? What if I travelled the world? What if I never got married? What if I did? I would glance down at my friends’ muddied faces, marveling at their perseverance, and then escape back into my thoughts. I never considered that I could do what they were doing- that I could fix my eyes and fight for every inch and make a mark. I know my school girl self. I thought I had faced hard things. Maybe I had. But I was untested in the arena of life, and I couldn’t fathom that I’d have to face storms so wide and deep that I’d swear I was drowning. In some distant way, though, my school girl self wondered what it would like, facing storms. Would it all change overnight? Would it be a slow burn? The heartbeat of the question underlying all those school girl wonderings- will I be able to handle it? Will I be enough? Will the world fall down?

Dear younger self,

  I know you have a lot of questions, but all I’ve got for you is Doctor Who quotes. You haven’t heard of the show yet, but it’s worth it. Don’t skip Nine. (Trust me, it’ll make sense when you get there.) But anyways. Here ya go.

“When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… Grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

Life is going to be so much more than you ever expected. Keep your head up. And when a handsome country boy asks you on a date, say yes the first time.

Love, ME

The truth is, you can only write about it using conjunctive phrases. Youth makes you think that every answer will be exact. Life teaches you that everything is a both/and, and rarely an either/or. The storms will take your breath away and put wind in your sails in the same sentence. Push and pull. Ironies and contradictions. Very, very few absolutes. I can’t help thinking about the Doctor’s wise words lately.

Simply put, we returned to UVA. We had to leave in the middle of night to get to the appointment on time. Waiting for us was the elusive diagnosis that has been lurking in the background for two years, frustrating her doctors, making treatments harder:

Hyperimmunoglobulin D syndrome (HIDS), [Mevalonate Kinase Associated Periodic Fever Syndrome]

Your life changes all at once and not at all. That’s what storms do. You finally know what haunts your girl. She doesn’t act any different. She has the longest stretch of good days she’s had in months, while the Vacutainers line the counter in the lab, her life force distilled into numbers and titers. Life gets insane for days on end with the back and forth, and she stands there giggling, looking for all the world like a healthy kiddo. She plays in the water like her whole life hasn’t changed.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s our new world.

A new world in which she has not one, but two, chronic life-long autoimmune diseases. A reality that means that she will never have a normal functioning immune system, that she will always be more susceptible to illness, and that her anemia will most likely also be a life-long fight, a specter always in the background. Two auto-immune diseases that have no cure. You can add all the math and the answer will always be less than you want it to be.

But it’s our life. Her life. Our new world.

The last two weeks have been ridiculously intense in ways I can’t even describe. There is no such thing as a good mail day anymore. James and I have faced levels of exhaustion we didn’t think were even possible anymore. It’s our life.

The same two weeks, friends slipped in and took care of things we couldn’t. They dragged me away to quiet harbor, they made sure that my children’s curriculum will be taken care of for next year, they made me laugh, they made me think, they made me remember that there is a much larger world outside of this intense storm and that land is close.  Our new world.

I see green on the horizon.

Navigating…

rootsandsky pretties worry

I knew that the drive to Charlottesville was going to be difficult for me, mentally and emotionally. It’s a three hour drive. Three hours for things to churn in my brain: did we make the right decision to come up here? What are they going to say? Is the news going to get worse? Worse still, is it all in our heads? Are we imagining things? and on and on. I had prepared for this eventuality; knew that I need a good companion to keep my steps. Twenty minutes into the drive and trying not to sob outright at Christie’s ability to nail my worry to the wall, I knew I had chosen well. My companion? Roots and Sky by Christie Purfoy. I can’t even begin to wrap words around what her writing meant to me that day, and how her words “are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov 16:24).

She divides the book into seasons, and I barely made it to the end of Autumn before we arrived at our destination. I’m saving the rest of the book for our return trip, which we will make on Tuesday. I wrote that day that:

I feel like a huge burden has been lifted. The specialist and his resident were really wonderful; quite a change from what I’m used to dealing with. I feel nothing but relief, even though it means our life is going to get even more complicated in the next month. (We also have a slew of appointments at Children’s the week following this co-team appointment up north.) Call it outrageous hope, but I think the answers everyone has been looking for are just around the corner. And after that, *healing* for Ellianna. Mighty powerful word, that.

With nearly a week’s reflection, I still feel that way. Many of those unspoken questions I was trying so hard to ignore on the trip up were answered, fully and honestly. I had questions answered I didn’t even knew I had. Yes, Ellianna is a sick little girl, and yes, her body is struggling, and yes, we need to do x, y, and z between now and the next appointment, which I’d like to be a co-team appointment with a rheumatologist. Has she seen a rheumatologist at all? (She had, nearly two years ago, in the hospital, but not since.) He and his resident explained some of the symptoms, why they happened, what was Celiacs, what was the anemia, and how all these other symptoms didn’t fit with either of those or with the mononucleosis she had previously. They also mentioned how the mono alone could give rise to other issues, especially in someone so young. Do you know how rare it is for a child under the age of ten to have it? Even more so a child three and under? The statistics…. (yes, we had known that.) He discussed how the diagnsoses Hematology were considering might explain and might not explain things, but how her blood work didn’t seem to match up with the one diagnosis, but that with Hematology seeing her soon, they would explain their own thoughts. The most in depth of questions were asked, all of her blood work was reviewed and looked at closely. He looked at me somewhat ruefully and said, we won’t be doing anything concrete today because I want my colleagues to see what I’m seeing, but take heart mom, we’re going to get this straightened out, and you’ll have many more answers when we see you next. We just need a little bit more time to study her case in depth and get them on the hunt. And so, in just three short days, we will rise in the wee wee smas of the morning and travel back north.

I am choosing, with Christie’s gentle guidance, not to give memory a power it has no right to hold, and grabbing hard and fast to Isaiah’s prophecy.

Where you lay your head…

pretties worthnoting Dogwood.

A few weeks ago, I woke up with a terrible crick in my neck- the type you get when you’ve slept all funny. You know the type. It’s mildly annoying but usually fades by midday.

Tight as a drum, my neck never did loosen that day.

When I woke up the next morning, it was even worse.

This continued for four or five days. At that point, I began wearing eight hour heat patches on my neck, because without them I could hardly move. Driving was excruciating (and probably dangerous) because I really couldn’t properly turn my head.

By day three or four, James and I were both discussing that perhaps I should make an appointment with our doctor. I was beginning to get knife like pains all down the one arm, and we began to wonder if I had aggravated a head and neck injury I had sustained falling down the stairs a few years back. I kept demurring, saying that if it hadn’t gotten better “on Wednesday, on Friday”, I’d call Dr. B.

One day slipped by, then another. The pain didn’t go away. I knew I should call, but I just couldn’t do it.

I didn’t really want to know.

I’d rather live with the pain, I told myself.

We couldn’t really afford for me to visit the doctor. Just a week prior to my neck starting to bug me, the kids had come down with awful colds that sounded like they were turning into bronchitis. I waffled about what to do, calculating in my head that it would cost $150 just for my six children to see the doctor, not counting the cost for any medicines they might need. In shock, I posted this alarming revelation to Facebook, where, thank goodness, a dear friend suggested we try a mucus-reducing medicine that we could get over the counter. This did the trick, and the children all improved pretty quickly after that. Crisis avoided.

I am struggling to come to terms with this aspect for us. In a normal year, having to pay $150 for all the kids to see their pediatrician would not sink us and would be just a blip on the radar. I’m sure I’d have groaned a bit but it’s not like it would have really “hurt”; now every single penny is queried and interrogated before we send it off. It’s just hard.

Even more so, I just truly, really, didn’t want to know. We have been through so much that it felt a bit traumatic to even consider why my neck wasn’t healing. What could it be now? What will I have to go through? I can’t afford x-rays or MRIs or CT scans. I just couldn’t even make the jump.

I’m sure that sounds strange in a way. It would sound strange to me if I hadn’t gone through all we’ve been through in the last two years. There’s a weariness and a reticence to lift our heads. Sure, perhaps the vista will be okay, beautiful even, but after two, almost three years of train after train hitting us, we’re pretty afraid of what the light ahead might be. We say to each other “one foot in front of the other” daily, this mantra that keeps us steady- but every day that slips by it feels harder and harder to lift that foot. You get to a point where your prayers are simple and wordless and near-groan. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. There isn’t anything else left. Just that.

Something being wrong with my neck or shoulder just felt burden beyond us. Both in denial, we let it float.

About the eighth day of intense pain, as I was crawling into bed, I realized my pillow felt a bit funny. (I’d honestly been too tired and distracted prior to this evening to really pay attention to it.) I have a hybrid memory-foam/air pillow that can be inflated or deflated depending on need or personal taste. Even with the air completely deflated, the pillow is far more supportive than your average feather pillow. We had invested in this pillow years back when we realized it relieved the constant pressure that my mild scoliosis causes me.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

My pillow’s air valve had somehow come loose, releasing all the air in the pillow, leaving only the memory foam. I refilled it to the point it should have been and went to sleep, a curious hope filling me.

The next morning, I awoke in substantially less pain. A day later, and the pain was completely gone again.

That subtle change- the air missing in the pillow- multiplied by the stress I’ve been feeling lately equaled excruciating neck pain.

Something so very small, just a tiny shift in perspective.

I laughed and honestly, cried. Such a small, seemingly foolish thing. My brain had begun to churn “what else is wrong NOW?” James and I were trying to figure out how to adjust to some new threatening reality, and the reality was a simple air-valve.

I’m not saying that everything is so easily fixed, but it has made me wonder. It’s a new conversation I’ve having with myself in addition to the “one foot in front of the other”- where’s your head? I think—it’s good for me to step outside of things and check for air valves. Or, at the very least, I’m starting to wonder if we can switch metaphorical pillows- thought processes. It’s hard, I’ll openly admit. I’m struggling to really process at all. I feel very a-emotional, unable to really engage, shut down. I’m told by my priest that this isn’t unusual- it just comes with the weariness of such a heavy load for so long, the way of a mind protecting itself from stress. Just don’t get stuck here, he says.

Even as I write this, as incredibly heavy as things feel, they are beginning to shift yet again. The doctors tell us that Josiah is as stable as he will be for quite some time; that he’ll only require occasional outpatient evaluations from time to time, and, with great hope, healing. From what they are telling us about Ellianna, even as they narrow down the culprit, she is stabilizing. Both possible treatments for both possible diagnoses will be more medication than treatment based; we probably won’t have to spend long treatment days in clinic. I can feel that our life is starting to settle down; that recovery and healing are on the horizon. Our life will never be the same as it was before, but it will be a much more stable life than it has been for the last year and a half, especially. It is taking everything within me to trust this bright hope.

We head to University of Virginia today to see a specialist they want Ellianna to see. It’s a three plus hour drive; a new chapter in her journey. I have no idea what it will bring and I can’t conjecture what it might mean going forward, but I am choosing to look on this with hope, not fear.

Trellised or tied down?

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If you’ve ever seen a tree of a certain age, a gangly teenage tree, that has been previously supported by stakes but now has a tight ring squeezing ’round the trunk where the gardener forgot to remove the support straps, you’ve seen the difference between a rhythm/rule and a schedule. I never could really parse the difference for many years. Within the homeschool community you might also hear words like block scheduling or looping, too. The Schole women (Sarah Mackenzie, Pam Barnhill, and Mystie Winkler) have done such good work in helping homeschooling mamas find rhythms and routines that ease. Take your pick- there’s probably some time management theory you’ve heard of that you really like but, upon applying it to your own life and family, find it not to be as useful as you expected.

The problem with any of these very lovely and useful ideas is that we so very often try to “whole hog” apply them within our lives instead of picking and choosing the best gems and leaving the rest according to our family’s unique needs. A Rule helps us clarify what will be helpful and what won’t. Does this go inside the fence or outside of it? As I said in my last post, the idea of a rule by the very name sounds very oppressive- something that shackles. What I have discovered, however, is the exact opposite. Far from being a didactic, one-size-must-fit-all-approach, a rule is as unique as the person that follows it. In a monastery, no two rules are alike- for how would all the myriad needs of the monastery be met if the inhabitants only did the same things? (And, let’s be honest- how boring!)

So how do we tell the difference then, between what works and brings life and what does not? How can we tell a good support from something that ties us down and restricts us?

The tree, when young, most definitely needs the strong supports to help it form strong and true growth patterns and not be easily knocked by the wind. At a certain stage of growth, however, those supports must be removed or they will choke the tree, preventing it from further proper growth. Certain plants in the garden must be trellised and trained from the very beginning, like tomatoes. As tomatoes mature, the sheer abundance of fruit and weight of the plant requires that it have a trellised support to assist it in doing the work a tomato does- without it, the plants often collapse and the fruit rots on the vine because the nutrients have been cut off.

I think, as mothers and as women, we are both the tree and the tomato depending on seasons and needs.

As peculiar as this sounds, I believe home care chores like laundry, the kitchen, the bathrooms and the like are a tree situation. Yes, when you first enter a marriage or a new home, there is absolutely a need for a strong support, a schedule that reminds you what should be done and when. It shouldn’t ever be a thoughtless following of a list though-it should fit the home you’re in, the people that are present, the abilities and needs of each. But like the tree, there should come a point where home care becomes so instinctual (and thought-less) that a need to consult a schedule diminishes entirely. Signs that your support have become oppressive and are triggering perfectionist shut down? When you’re doing far more than is realistic in a day. When you’re following an idea or list that doesn’t fit your family or needs and you’re doing ridiculously piddly stuff like scrubbing baseboards with toothbrushes because the book or the list tells you to, every week. (For the record, mine get wiped down maybe twice a year.) Each house is different. Our main bathroom has to get cleaned far more often than most people’s would because of Josiah’s needs. Certain rooms get much more trashed much more quickly than others. When I finally realized that I needed to make a home care schedule work for me and not the other way around, caring for my home stopped overwhelming me. It took a bit of thought and trial and error to find the sweet spot, but I did eventually. Now we carry on easily, and the children can often move through a whole day’s chores without being reminded or nagged, because we all know what comes next.

There are other aspects that lean strongly towards a tomato’s needs. Homeschooling and meal planning are two great examples of where I will always need steady support in order to function in my vocation well; I will quickly collapse under the weight of the needs in both areas if my trellis is not in working order. I am quick to point out here that my trellis and your trellis look different, automatically. You do not have Celiacs children. I do. You may not be homeschooling six. I am. So what I need and what you might need are completely different, but we probably both need a steady support in certain areas. What’s interesting to me here is the uncomfortable truth that when I start to get overwhelmed, downtrodden, and my perfectionist is rearing her ugly head- nine times out of ten, I have been leaning too far from the trellis- I have not been disciplined in following the systems that I know bring life and order. I have skipped one too many planning sessions and now find myself lost as the kids sit down to the table for their lessons. Too many skipped errand days and suddenly I’m crying in front of the pantry at four thirty realizing that there is nothing to make for dinner. (This is far more catastrophic for us than most- there is no cheap quick fix for us with our gluten free needs. No running out for a pizza. While it’s available, the cost is far beyond our pocket.) In order for me to bear good, healthy fruit in these areas, I have to stay supported and trellised.

Before you go, yeah, yeah, that’s all nice and all, but my life is crazy, I work, etc., let me stop you right there. You know what our life looks like right now. With all the hospital visits, the doctor’s appointments, the back and forth- and the sheer irregularity of it all- we never really know from one week to the next what we’ll be facing. It is nutty, to say the least. I get how crazy it can be. Absolutely. I’m telling you- if you’re willing to be faithful in this one area, it will relieve so much of the crazy-making for you. The decision fatigue, the overwhelmed feeling- they will disappear. The rest of your life might still be absolutely crazy and unpredictable, but you’ll have a pocket of peace to slip into within the midst of it all.

I can’t really hold to any predictable pattern in most areas in a way that I could say to you, yes, we loop in our homeschool scheduling. We use this list for our home-care needs. That’s not so much because we don’t, but because it changes so quickly. When things are normal we tend to have a sort of block setup for homeschool lessons. As soon as hospital stuff starts to ratchet up, our lessons take on a looping schedule, picking up wherever we left off the day before. At the worst points when things have grown too crazy or difficult, they drop to a bare bones schedule. The common thread, the trellis, underlying our learning is simply that we value it and we will always make time for it in some way, shape, or form, every day. It requires a lot of forethought on my end over the weekends to assess what is the best fit for our needs that week, but it is something I absolutely commit to because it is important to me and to my family. I’ve found this year that the farthest interval I can go is two weeks of planning, and so I’ve committed to that interval. Originally, I had planned by terms.

The same can be said for any aspect of my home in many ways. According to my rule, I know what things are most important for me given the challenges I face during a particular week. As soon as I get a chance, I will bring the laundry current, clean our main bathroom, and reset our refrigerator and pantry. This is our bare bones. On a semi-normal week, I follow my general rhythm of a deep cleaned kitchen, a swept dining room and living room, both bathrooms cleaned, laundry done every day, and, if I’m lucky, some of our second and third floor spaces swept. On a normal week, each day has an area (mondays-kitchen, tuesdays- dining room/living room, etc) in which each space has a dedicated 30 minutes to an hour of care given it. On these days, the kitchen gets a proper scrub down- the stove eyes and cupboards get wiped down, the windows cleared of smears, the refrigerator and pantry get cleaned and straightened and the meal plan made for the week. I often shop on Mondays, and I often do a lot of cooking and baking ahead on those days when we have a truly quiet and normal week. It doesn’t always happen that way, but that is the rhythm I listen for and work towards as much as I can.

What I’ve found is that the more I can commit to our full, normal rhythm, the more it pays dividends on the really awful, crazy, wacky weeks that are completely beyond our control. If I’ve been following my Rule closely in the weeks leading up to a hospital visit, chances are things do not fall off the rails near as much. Sometimes I know a hospital stay is coming and I can plan ahead on each week- making a bit more to freeze in the kitchen, for example, on the designated day. I hit harder and faster some deeper projects that I might have taken more slowly if I didn’t know whackadoodle was around the corner, accelerating our cleaning schedule so that we basically leave for the hospital with the house in vacation condition and all the meals ready and planned for.

As I’m sure you can see, if I began to hold to just one particular schedule, one particular theory, I’d be absolutely sunk. The chains of all I could not do given our family life right now would slap pinching hard around my wrists and ankles. I’d drown under the weight of my (perceived) failure. Leaning into the freedom of my Rule, I can do what I can when I can, to the best of my abilities, and pay no mind to external pressures that might otherwise enslave me. As I said before, this takes time and discipline, but the dividends paid are priceless.

Bloom where you’re planted…

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On Instagram the other day, I shared that I was re-reading A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot while waiting at park. A friend asked what, on the surface, was a simple, probing, question.

I’ve been wondering if I should read that. I can’t decide if it would be validating or fuel for my perfectionist fire. But you liked it?

I chuckled a bit as I recognized a fellow perfectionist and then thought for a while, responding:

Ooh, that’s an interesting question. I feel like I’m a recovering perfectionist in a lot of ways. I read this about two and a half years ago, kind of in the midst of absolute nuthouse medically; I wasn’t actually homeschooling at the time…I was, as she describes, feeling like I was working three full time jobs and failing at all of them. I think what has stuck with me the most since I read it the first time *is* the freedom and peace and a release from that drive to “get it all done”. I think it’s helped that I’ve spent a lot of time with monastic types since then, too. But perhaps the most notable thing I’ve learned from both the book and the monastics is the almost ruthless need to say no. My life now looks *very* different now (much much quieter, much simpler) than it did when I first read this book. If anything it’s taught me to measure carefully how my heart/mind and our kids are feeling in the given situations. I understand so much more profoundly now that if I don’t have time to pray my schedule is messed up. I hope that helps! I’ve found it to be quite a gift but I can see how the book could also be a burden depending on your situation…

It’s a thread of thought that my mind just hasn’t let go of since.

There was a part of me that wanted to laugh and say- perfectionism? Want to rid yourself of perfectionism? Have two chronically ill kids! That’ll cure it right quick. As much as it makes me laugh to think of it, it is absolutely true. Talking to one of my favorite priests whom I hadn’t seen in awhile, I quickly summarized what had happened since he had seen us last thusly: I needed some humbling. This too, was said with a chuckle, and he laughed right along side, but we both knew the truth underneath the words. Watching a child suffer from illness- flesh of my flesh– will bring into stark relief just how little control one has on things, show you all the things you need to let go of. Chronic illness will constantly throw in your face how what you think and what you want and what you hope for just might not be in the plans for the day, week, or year. There are many moments along the way where you just survive in a sleep-deprived fog.

I would never have learned to say no, ruthlessly and without apology, to the needs and whims of the world around me had we not walked this incredibly tough road of having two children with constant (and in Elly’s case, mysterious) illness. Hospitals have a way of stripping things to bare essentials. You’re not thinking about dirty laundry or crunchy floors. You’re not thinking about who won the Super Bowl. You could care less if your home was magazine perfect- you just want your kid to be able to come home. What is truly necessary and essential will often stand out starkly to you in a way that makes you wonder why you ever wondered about it in the first place.

You realize you need to say yes far more often than you have before: yes to reading another book, mama. yes, your picture is really interesting, why don’t you tell me about it? yes, I’ll snuggle with you while we watch a movie. Yes, my dearest Beloved, I love you. How could I do this without you? Yes, I will spend this hour in prayer because I don’t know what else to do. I’m so scared, God. Have mercy on us. 

To say yes costs many a no.

No, I’m sorry, I can’t serve on that ministry in this way anymore. No, I’m sorry, we won’t be doing co-op this year. No, I will not work overtime. No, I can’t take that trip right now. No, this workload is too much. No, this is a beautiful dream, but it is not God’s timing for us right now. No, not right now. 

I’ve watched a few dreams fade to near nothingness over the past three years, and in so doing, I’ve realized what really ignites my passion. It’s hard to sit on the sidelines when there are dreams setting fire to my bones that I cannot pursue, because to say yes to the dream would mean what little emotional, physical, and mental capital our family “owns” at the moment would be spent injuriously and far too quickly. How hard it is to learn patience. I will wait till I know we have the “capital” in reserves.

Sick children have taught me to pray first, instead of last. Often, walking maze-like halls of hospital corridors turns labyrinth for prayer because there is literally nothing else you can do; to sit and wait for news will drive you half-mad. Very quickly, prayer becomes an abiding comfort- the one place you can escape into peace.

The title of Holly’s book alludes to an idea called a prayer or spiritual rule, which is part of a monastic’s main job within a monastery. Of course, they work in the kitchens or the gardens or sing in the choir or scrub the floors, but a monk or nun first and foremost is called to prayer- unceasing intercession for the world. As they join the monastery and gain strength in prayer, their Abbot or Mother will work with them to decide on a prayer rule unique to them- a set idea of prayers that they will pray each day- the number of times they might say a particular prayer, etc, what disciplines they should engage in. This is to help them in their vocation, a way to order their days. As Holly explains in her book. there is a tremendous amount of overlap between what a monk or nun do and what mothers are called to do, daily, and considers what it might be like to take on similar paths within the vocation of motherhood. It’s truly a beautiful and life giving book, and I can’t recommend it enough.

However, as I said above, I can see where perfectionism and the idea of a rule might just cause a tremendous road block. I read the book for the first time just as our medical nightmare was just beginning. I was reading the first half of the book while sitting in the hospital with Ellianna that first time. Of all our hospitalizations before or since, that week was the most terrifying.

It was also the biggest mess for us, logistically, financially, emotionally- of all of them, simply because we had no idea it was going to happen and we had no routine in place for basic things. The refrigerator and pantry were empty. There had been an awful winter storm the week before and our pipes had frozen; the laundry had barely begun to get caught up, if at all. Everyone had to scramble to cover the other kids, take off work. Three separate adults had to figure out the food for at least two or three days….it took my mother almost the full week to get our laundry back under control, only to have every single child get very sick with a stomach bug towards the end of Elly’s hospitalization.

I was sitting in that hospital room going, oh my word, you want me to have this set time for everything? Time to pray? Chores reasonably done every day? Are you insane? My life just turned upside down. I don’t even know what “bare basics” would look like for my family. I was absolutely hyperventilating at the thought. My INFJ, first-born mind was so wrapped up in perfectionist thoughts “I’d never be able to do this [right][perfectly][the first time]!” that I had just about talked myself out of continuing to read, let alone even trying some of her suggestions.

But…I was pretty desperate.

I stuck it out, and I tried what I could. It probably took nearly a year and a half, but by the time Josiah went into and out of the hospital five times in two months the following Spring, I had (and have) a Mother’s Rule- one that I will probably keep in similar form for many years to come. It is like night and day.

There is a tremendous amount of freedom in a Rule. It’s the whole open space of a playground inside the bounds of a fence. In a counter-intuitive way, obeying a rule- a fence- brings death to perfectionism. You know what’s important- you learn how to do it well- you learn how to do without even thinking. You make space for things that bring you joy.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about perfectionism, it tends to rear its ugly head when we are experiencing a fish out of water moment. It’s not something we’re familiar with, usually. It’s a way of being and doing that usually runs counter to our personality. Perfectionism is pride. It’s the toddler saying “I do this myself” (and not properly tying his shoe because he hasn’t quite learned and won’t allow anyone to help him.) How many times do you fall flat on your face because of your shoe-laces before you consider something new? Maybe you need velcro shoes!

As one of my friends once joked, perfectionism happens when you are a pile-er by nature but you try to file everything in color coded folders.  A perfectionist who is working against her nature would religiously keep that color coded file system for about a week. And then, little by little, the desk would get messier and messier. Till what? “I can’t do this right!” “I give up!” In contrast with an outside force, someone who has considered her personality and way of working would realize that instead of filing things, she needs to use open baskets that she can “see” at a glance. So it’s not what Real Simple recommends. Who cares? Are the bills getting paid on time? Yes. Does she know where to find important documents? Yes. Doe she know where to put paperwork when it comes in? Yes.

This is a simple example, but Holly talks you through far more complex thought processes. When forming a Rule, you’re going to learn to listen to your family’s (and your own) unique needs and temperaments and  make space accordingly.

Any time you start to feel a ‘slave’ to the Rule- newsflash– it’s not your Rule, most likely- it’s your own attitude.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light. How I used to wonder at that verse! How could this be possible? Two and a half years of following a Rule, and I’m starting to understand how it is so. I am so grateful to be relieved of the burden of perfectionism and guilt that wasn’t mine to carry in the first place. Every once in a while it tries to climb back on, but my Rule helps me to kick it to the curb. Get back outside the fence, Satan. You have no power here.

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