I know it's impossible to add more hours into a day, but I really thought I'd figured out a way to beat the system earlier this week.
In fact, it seemed so simple I felt embarrassed for not having thought of it sooner. My no-fail solution?
Get up earlier. Like, way earlier.
I'm currently experiencing a season of unusual busyness. Crazy busyness. So busy that my mother has told me she will not be visiting me in the mental hospital because I've done this to myself. She's right, of course. But I know that if I can make it through May, I'll be okay. And I was up for the task. I'm more disciplined, focused and productive than I've ever been and many of the tasks I'm engaged in are life-giving. The ones that aren't I get done early in the day and I've added more time for exercise, prayer and Sabbath to help me survive.
And then my carefully crafted Jenga pile collapsed. On Tuesday we received a notice to vacate our rental property by the end of May. Nothing we did, its just that the Catholic Church needs it back so a priest can move in. It's their house. They can do what they want with it. But that little letter put me over the edge.
That's the thing with seasons of high activity and low margin--it doesn't take much to throw you over the edge.
I was in shock for the first couple of hours, reminding myself that God was in control and I would be okay. I had lots of very spiritual thoughts and believed I was handling it quite nicely.
Until night came. What is it about evening that makes everything seem worse?
It took me a while to get to sleep. My mind was racing. And then I was up at 4:30 a.m. The worst time of morning. I knew it would take me at least 30 minutes to get back to sleep and then I'd have under an hour before I had to get up for the day.
And then it hit me...I should just get up now. In fact--this will be my new start time for the day. Brilliant! I add an hour and a half to my day. That's nearly eight hours in my week! I'll use it to look for houses and pack and organize stuff. See. I'm a problem solver.
I was so productive in that pre-dawn period that I had a hard time reigning it in when it was time to get started with my actual day. By 7:30 a.m. I was out the door with Madison and already three hours into my work day. After dropping her off, I headed to a breakfast meeting--fueled with caffeine--and then off to Oakland for another meeting. Also fueled with caffeine. By this time it was lunch and I'd been up for eight hours. I usually fast on Wednesdays, but today I needed food. I inhaled a quesadilla from Chipotle and stopped at Starbucks for another shot. My brother was in San Francisco for business so I headed across the bridge to see him for a few minutes. I noticed I was feeling shaky and tired and emotionally exhausted.
After spending a few minutes with my brother I headed back home via Highway 1. This section of Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful and it takes me almost directly to my front door. And, in spite of this awe-inspiring scenery and gorgeous weather my mood continued to plummet. By the time I got home I was in the tank. Tired, nauseous and weepy.
I was beginning to think this new wake-up time would not be sustainable.
I tried doing some homework but it was no use. I headed to bed and immediately fell asleep for 2 hours. So much for the hours I added to my day. And when I awoke I was even more depressed. And hungry. I ate junk and became more and more irritable. My family gave me a wide berth. It was really ugly.
The world seemed to be collapsing. Maybe not today, but I could feel it coming. I wasn't sure how long I'd be able to keep up this pace. And to stop now would be to drop a lot of very fragile plates. Loud and messy.
I did get on the elliptical machine in our garage for a quick workout and that helped keep me from sinking further, but after stretching I went directly back to bed. Beside myself with panic but a little wiser about what I truly needed.
And, it isn't more hours in the day. It is continuing to trust God as I keep moving forward. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. One breath prayer at a time.
I may still get up a bit earlier in the coming weeks. But in the end, I don't want to be more productive--I want to be more God-honoring. More loving. More responsive to God's movement in my life and a more vibrant part of the community of faith.
So, I will faithfully walk and wait on God. Of course, it may involve dropping a plate or two. But it's not really about me. Its about the God who loves me and whom I desire to honor with my life.
In my reality, today is the REAL first day of the year. Today is the day the kids go back to school, Richard goes to the office and I get the house to myself to work quietly and efficiently. Today is the day I've been waiting for. Today I'll be able to think clearly again. Today I'll string together a couple of sentences that don't make people wonder if I'm 'special'.
But, perhaps I was a bit too optimistic. Apparently you can't go from stressed-out-babbling-idiot one day to competent, wonder woman, the next. At least, not completely.
A good beginning.
I was so excited about this fresh start that it wasn't even hard to get out of bed early and begin my day with disciplines to aid my emotional and spiritual health. It caused me no irritation when Cade commented that I was up early and then noted that 'Dad doesn't seem to have a problem getting out of bed in the morning' even though Richard was still in bed and I was up being productive.
When Richard did get up he volunteered to take Madison to school so I could stay in the groove. Awesome! This day is getting better and better. With Cade off to school and Richard taking Madison, I basked in the quiet and stillness. I sipped my coffee, enjoyed the warmth of the fire and congratulated myself on a very good beginning.
A few blips I think I handled very well, thank you.
A few moments later I heard the car in the driveway as Richard arrived home. The door opened and Madison appeared. Strange. It occurred to me immediately that I had not doubled checked the first day of school for her. Oops. It's tomorrow.
Other than the disappointment of being up too early, Madison was excited to have the whole day off. I , however, was a bit disappointed. (I might just poke my eyes out if I have to hear/watch another episode of 'Chuck'.) But, since she's a much better person than I, she had already contacted her mentor to see if she needed help in her classroom today. Minutes later, I was alone again. Crisis averted.
After paying bills, planning this week's menu, creating my weekly task list and putting the roast in the crock pot (Yes. You read that right.), I sat down for a long day of productive work. And that's exactly what happened. Weird.
I did stop for a minute to make a delicious carrot-beet-strawberry-tangerine juice for lunch, but other than that I was on a roll.
Then I pushed my luck. I felt a little guilty for being so glad the kids were gone for a few hours that I decided to bake chocolate chip cookies for an after-school (or after teacher's aid) snack. I've found a plethora of parental transgressions can be overlooked when the smell of warm cookies greets a child upon entering the home.
There were two slight problems with this evil plan (besides the fact that it was a guilt offering):
I learned today the new lower element works really well and I definitely need to put cookies on a higher rack in the future to avoid burning the bottoms and, even burned, its extremely hard to resist a chocolate chip cookie after having a salad drink for lunch.
But all in all, the real first day of the new year turned out pretty well. Probably unsustainable, but truly enjoyable for however long it lasts.
Katy Perry's song Roar hit the airwaves en force last month. Since then it has become an anthem for discouraged, seemingly-defeated-but-resilient people everywhere. Just yesterday Richard showed me a YouTube video with kids in a children's hospital lip-syncing to this song. There's no way around it--I'm inspired.
Given my 'no love' stance toward Taylor Swift, you might assume Katy Perry was on my 'do not listen' list as well. But you'd be wrong. If I were interviewing nannies, I would go with Taylor, but otherwise--Katy's my girl. I can't help it. She has talent and soul. And, every once in a while I see remnants of holy in her.
With the release of her new album, Prism, this week she's been widely interviewed about the inspiration for her songs. It doesn't take a degree in poetry to gather that she's writing about a time of difficulty in her life. In her interviews she confirms that she went through a period that took a toll on her self esteem. But it was out of that darkness that Roar was birthed. (Apparently hyper-sexuality was also part of the healing process, but I'll leave that alone for now.)
As a woman who has a daughter and who works with women leaders to help them find their voice, Roar should be my theme song. You can't hold me down! I'm a fighter! You hear my voice...like thunder, gonna shake the ground! I'm a champion! Roar!
But I tell you...
There's only one problem. God isn't asking me to roar. I'm not saying that having some fight isn't often what's called for, I'm simply observing that the way of Jesus is, more often than not, a much quieter path.
Today I wanted to roar. I'm physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. As I meditated and prayed this morning I secretly hoped I would emerge from this time feeling energetic and ready to take on the world. After all, isn't that how the agreement works? I plug into the power source of the Holy Spirit and, just like my iPhone in the morning, I leave fully charged and ready for another day of productive activity?
I'm currently taking a class on the Disciplines of the Spirit and one of our textbooks is a favorite of mine...The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun. This week we completed a brief assessment designed to surface where God might desire to shape us. I faithfully completed the assessment and moved on to the reflection questions. What I hoped would come out in my reflection was a sense of deep rest and encouragement. I found myself drawn to the disciplines of Sabbath and listening to God.
Inwardly I crouched, waiting for my time to roar.
And then, he spoke.
"Kelli, ask a friend to show you your blind spots."
"Kelli, you've wounded another friend. Ask for forgiveness."
So, let me clarify. I feel tired and vulnerable and God wants me to invite someone to point out areas of weakness of which I'm blissfully unaware. And then he wants me to admit to another that I've neglected our friendship.
Just what I was hoping for.
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
After accepting his invitation I am more amazed at God's faithfulness and grace. But I do not feel like roaring. On the contrary, I feel more dependent, quieter, still tender.
I love Katy Perry, but, for now, she'll have to roar without me.
I don't drive in the slow lane. At least not until last week. Now I'm hooked.
Here's the story.
I didn't set out to conduct a personal experiment--it just sort of evolved. Last week I headed over the hill to San Jose to see my spiritual director. On my last visit I was pulled over for the first time ever and politely handed a speeding ticket. This time, I decided to leave early and drive the speed limit.
This is new territory for me. I left in time to arrive fifteen minute early and I instantly felt guilty. There is so much I could have accomplished in that fifteen minutes if I weren't driving. But within minutes I decided to make a game of it. What would it feel like to stay in the right lane for the whole 45 minute drive? I felt ready for the personal challenge.
Slow is stupid.
As cars sped around me I felt an initial tinge of anxiety. It was really more a sense of inferiority. I was driving slowly and I felt stupid. Recently Madison and I saw a car with this sign taped to the back--"New driver. Just learning stick shift. Sorry." I wished I had that sign on this particular drive.
(Quick aside--if you're a right lane driver already, this blog will only disgust you. I've got problems and let's just acknowledge that you're better than me and move on. You don't need to read to the end because you've already mastered the art of slowing. )
Things I learned about myself.
The first ten minutes were a battle of fighting my well developed impulse to move as quickly as possible. The next ten were a battle of fighting my new self-awareness. It didn't take long to uncover some serious pathology brewing beneath my need to speed.
Here are the top four:
Image Management. I drive a mini-van and I feel the need to represent mini-van drivers everywhere. We are not unskilled or unimportant. We have places to be too. For some reason, I believe that my superior driving skills will leave people with a good impression of me. For what end? I do not know.
Competition. I like to win. And most things can be turned into a competition--even if I'm just competing with myself. Can I get there faster than I did last week? Can I accurately decipher traffic patterns? Can I safely weave my way through the checkerboard-like traffic? It's a sickness--until you need me to get you somewhere fast, then suddenly, I'm your best friend.
People Pleasing. I hate to be in someone's way. So, if a driver gets up too close on my rear bumper, I usually feel bad. Like I did something wrong. The least I can do is get out of their way so they can move forward at the pace they desire. This is closely linked with my desire that other people get out of my way when I'm in a hurry (which is most of the time).
Over Optimism. When calculating how long it will take for me to get from point A to point B, I am always optimistic about the conditions. I know which lanes are fastest at any given point of a commute. I know that if I make the light at King, I'll have to speed to make the light at River. I know to take King on the way to school and Mission on the way home. I know short cuts going either way on Morrisey. But I never factor in a car turning left or an accident or a pedestrian throwing off my groove. All things that occur regularly. Truth is, I over estimate the positive factors and pretend the roadblocks don't exist or that I can find a way around them without much cost. If that isn't a metaphor for my life, I don't know what is.
Twenty minutes into this experiment and I was hooked. It was so calming! I didn't worry about changing lanes or getting out of people's way or calculating how to get around slow vehicles and I could feel my blood pressure dropping. Plus, with all that strategy-building space freed up in my brain, I could think about other things. Creative things. Prayer, even.
I arrived at my appointment feeling relaxed, peaceful and centered. Weird! After that I headed up to San Francisco for an extended time of reflection and then an evening meeting. I decided to drive slowly for the entire day. What I found fascinating, was that everything was less irritating. Traffic jams didn't faze me. Slow cars in the fast lane had no negative impact on my day. Someone wants to merge in front of me? Go right ahead! All emotions completely foreign to me in a commuter setting.
On the last leg of my journey I elevated the challenge. I was actually running late as I left Golden Gate Park to head to my meeting. But I decided to continue my pattern. Even running late, I found slow driving to be a balm to my soul. And, when I arrived at my destination I was more settled and less frenetic. I listened more attentively and was less tired after an evening of extroverted activities. And, even with open highway, I easily stayed within the speed limit on my 90 minute drive home.
And, yes, I'm aware we are celebrating my success at simply obeying the law. Just go with it.
This is a real thing.
It occurred to me in the slowness, that I'd heard about this before--this wasn't my idea. When I returned home I pulled out my Spiritual Disciplines Handbook and looked it up. Sure enough, there is discipline of slowing. And--get this--one of the suggested exercises is (and I quote) "Intentionally drive in the slow lane."
"If you can't take time to do nothing, you're a slave to doing. Doing nothing is a radical, revolutionary act. It frees you from the universal slavery of our age; slavery to the clock. The clock measures doing, but not being."
But practicing the discipline is not the end goal. It's simply a way to make space for God to do his transforming work. In this discipline, I may see some of the following fruit (again, taken from the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook):
I'm reminded that this experience essentially resulted from a speeding ticket and my desire to not have that happen again. Funny how God gets our attention sometimes. But I'm ever so grateful.
I'm looking forward to more days in the slow lane as I engage in the revolutionary act of "unproductive" living for the joy of sanity, freedom and trust in the long, slow work of God.
How about you? What is it like for you to choose to do things slowly? How do you react to a slow sales clerk or a child who is dawdling? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
When I'm running, "all downhill" is a sweet phrase. But in this post, I mean it in the "I've arrived at the peak and now I'm on the way down" sense.
At the Summit
Or the "it can only get worse" sense. Not because I'm a pessimist, but because there is nothing in my history to indicate that I'm capable of sustaining this for any length of time.
I'm only telling you this because I want people to remember me as I was at the peak when they find me mumbling and drooling while I feed my family Costco pot pies for the third week in a row.
On most every personality indicator I've completed I am told I have an ability to adapt to different environments. I am able to quickly assess what is required to thrive in a situation and perform accordingly. (It doesn't take much brain power to figure out how those powers could be used for evil as well as good.)
Over the years, Richard has affectionately named my adaptations. They are all genuinely 'me', but I do act in predictable ways in many settings. Kind of like Malibu Barbie and Townhouse Barbie--they're the same doll in a different wardrobe.
So here are a few of my favorites:
Vacation Kelli: This Kelli is nonstop fun. She doesn't take naps because she doesn't want to miss a thing. She doesn't worry about money because 'she's on vacation!' and will probably never get to do this again. She stays up late, gets up early, and can't soak up enough of the sites. She begins dreading her return to real life as soon as she arrives and may mourn for as long as a week upon returning home.
Upfront Kelli: This Kelli is full of energy and passion. She talks fast, sings loud and generally expresses a full range of emotions. In spite of years of practice, she still usually regrets about half the things she says in this mode.
Celebration Kelli: This Kelli freaks out at every birthday celebration, major holiday or special event that involves a formal or informal gathering. Afraid her efforts won't adequately portray her affection for the honored guest or her creative skill, she spends way too much money on things like streamers and glitter.
Burnout Kelli: This Kelli can be found playing games on her phone, checking her facebook and laying in her bed reading. Anywhere, really where there are no people. If forced to be in a social situation she is distracted irritable and impatient. A real charmer, this one!
Domestic Kelli: Ha! Just kidding. There's no domestic Kelli.
Introducing....Getting It Done Kelli!
This week I discovered another possible adaptation--Getting it Done Kelli. This Kelli lists her roles at the beginning of the week, then considers the primary tasks she must accomplish in each of those roles. She crafts a to-do list for the week, including exercise, social interactions, and spiritual desires. She creates a menu on Monday, along with a shopping list. Each day she revises her to-do list to reflect what she has already accomplished. She actually does the things on her to-do list (this may be the key!). She spends quality time with her family, she leads a small group, and sends encouraging texts to her niece and son--with Bible verses, no less! She does laundry, exercises every day, and spends time with God each morning and evening. She writes three pages of ideas each morning as part of her 'morning pages' ritual and actually returns emails and phone calls in a reasonable amount of time. She prepares the budget for the next month and completes all the coursework for her online class. She makes dinner two nights in a row! She writes even when she doesn't feel like it and finishes projects. She reads for fun!
How much do you hate this women? A lot! And I was her for five fantastic days!
And now for a dose of reality...
Its not that there aren't some really good things that came out of this refreshing experience, its just that all the stars had to align for this to happen. It is nice to know that, if I were able to control everything, I really might function more effectively in the world. But the reality is...life happens. Kids get sick. They need the car. They damage the car. We run out of money. I get sick. I get depressed. I lose a job. I never make it to the grocery store and we're eating cereal again. I write and write and write and its all crap. You know how life works.
Not to mention that, at this pace, one little hiccup and "Getting it Done Kelli" quickly becomes "I'm Freaking Done! Kelli"
So boys and girls, what have we learned today?
I'm actually not trying to be a downer. In my own sick way, I'm celebrating! I had a really good week. I'm going to remind myself about this week many times in the next few months. But I've also learned to hold experiences like this loosely. To soak up the gift without demanding a new standard. I trust I'll have some more weeks (or hopefully, at least hours) like this in the future, but I'm growing in my acceptance of my imperfection and weakness and inconsistency. And in my ability to recognize the grace that was afforded to me this week by God. All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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