It had been a l-o-o-o-o-n-g week.
Somewhere over the last few months, this recovering people pleaser and chronic yes-sayer had lost her New Year’s resolution to say “no” (mostly to HERSELF), and too many “I-would-love-to-do-that”s had culminated in a two-week period where I was in charge of a church outreach day for Gold Star families, planned and booked the outdoor activities section of a school carnival, ran a Friday morning walking Bible study, assembled a class auction basket, volunteered in multiple kiddo classrooms, participated in a school district military advisory council and served at events for both the military and adoption ministries at my church, all between running superheroes to swim, guitar, piano and martial arts classes, writing multiple organization monthly newsletters, keeping up with correspondence in the six email accounts that I administrate, working from home part time as the editor in chief for a publishing company and attempting to preserve some personal sanity without my dinnertime day-saver walking through the door each night to give me a hand and a nap.
(Dear military, someday I’m going to FIND that secret link you have to my personal calendar and prevent you from taking my man away during the busiest weeks of my entire year. Beware.)
By the time the boys and I arrived home last weekend from the last birthday party, which immediately followed the last tae kwon do performance, which immediately followed the last service project, which immediately followed the last night of three hours of sleep I hope I’ll have in a long time, we were all toast. So when my sweet, precious beagle, who was just last month on death’s doorstep and who apparently hung out with the wrong crowd at the doggy kennel over spring break and returned to us a rebellious, reenergized underwear eater, got into the trash can, I kind of crumbled.
That’s when Superhero 1, recognizing the instability of his completely exhausted, sleep-deprived mama, leaped in front of me, put a hand on my chest and demanded, “No, no, no, Mom. You stay here. Too much stress over there. I’ve got this.” And then rushed to the laundry room, where he gathered the broom and dustpan and cleaned up the guts — now beautifully decorating the kitchen floor — of all the food and meat he had so graciously prepped for me earlier in the day.
Superhero 2 grabbed my hand and led me to the other room, where he said, “Come here, Mom. I need some loving.” (He didn’t. He knew this physical touch girl did.) And then proceeded to just hug and hold me for a minute while Superhero 1 cleaned up the mess.
Superhero 3 just flashed his contagious smile from across the room and obliviously belted out “This Land Is Your Land” in the background.
And in the arms of Superhero 2 and in the care of Superhero 1 and amid the musical stylings of Superhero 3, it hit me that THIS — not more “good things” on my list or more “great opportunities” on my calendar or more volunteer titles added to my name — was what I needed more of.
This is what WE ALL needed more of. Minus the stank of day-old meat container pieces littering the floor.
I’ve been here before. Two years ago when I was buried in multiple responsibilities I absolutely LOVED as a company FRG leader and a church greeting team coordinator and a life group host and a traveling motivational speaker who was working from home with a preschooler and a new child just off a plane from China. Sleep-deprived. Insanely busy. Doing lots of “nice things” for lots of nice people. And sadly not having enough energy to BE the kind of nice I wanted to be to my own family.
While others got the best of me, if I'm just being honest, there were days when my family got the LEFTOVERS of me.
And yet I find myself here again, two years later, caught in this endless military cycle where, after being completely overwhelmed at the last duty station, I read a book on the drive to the NEW duty station about maintaining balance and saying no (I now have about 700 of these — borrow from my personal “Be a Quitter” library anytime), only to spend the first year cautiously involving myself in only one or two activities.
Only by about year two, Jesus, as He always does, rocks my boat and, instead of prayerfully jumping into one or two areas where I can meaningfully give and serve, I dive head first into WAY too many responsibilities while a husband is away … only for him to come home to an overcommitted spouse, run-ragged kids and no one with enough motivation to get dinner on the table. (This activity overload also apparently causes chronic run-on sentence writing, a condition for which there is no remedy.)
I’ve realized that by the time I get to the end of year two at any given duty station, I HAVE ALWAYS MOVED. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than 2.5 years in my entire married life. And as I passed the two-year mark here last month, I found myself buried in commitments … but with no Permanent Change of Station around the corner to save me.
I don’t get to just turn over my plate and dump it at the feet of all the people I wave to from the back of my moving van. A PCS cannot save me from my madness this time. Only I can.
Which means instead of just throwing my hands in the air with a wink and a smile and a “Darn, too bad so sad we’re moving and I’ll have to hand back these 100 duties now,” I’ll have to actually make big girl choices as I clean up and clean off my plate. Ruffle feathers. Hurt feelings. Maybe even disappoint.
The thing is, these aren’t easy choices. No one is asking me to deliver pot brownies to daycares or play with matches in preschool parking lots. They’re asking me to do things I love for people I love in organizations I love for causes I love. They’re giving me beautiful opportunities to make a real difference in real lives.
But I can’t love those opportunities and those people more than I love my family.
And when I (read: WE) am so busy serving the people and things I love outside the home, I lose the energy, joy and SLEEP to love the people inside this home WELL.
I need margin in my life to refill. To refuel. And to honestly just be STILL for one moment before my rejuvenating, reenergizing, joy-filling God.
I don't need more ways to SERVE Jesus. I need more JESUS. And more space to enjoy and observe and praise Him for the beautiful gifts He has given me. So that I can BE an encouraging voice, NOT a draining one with a list of things to do a mile long. So I can play that pick-up game of F-O-R-C-E (because these Star Wars freaks no longer play H-O-R-S-E with their basketballs) for more than five minutes. So that the joy of the Lord, not a bottomless cup of coffee, fills my soul and spills out onto these people I get the privilege of interacting with throughout the day.
So that I don’t miss out on the OTHER opportunities before me — the opportunities to love those God put right before my eyes well with the precious gift of unscheduled time.
Because it’s in that unscheduled time that I find our family really RESTS in the Lord. It’s in that unscheduled time that we make the memories that endure PCS moves and rapid deployments. It’s in that unscheduled time that we ironically find ourselves spontaneously serving the people we love — the new mamas, the overworked teachers, the friends in hard times — with the meals, cards and encouragement that flow effortlessly out of well-rested, grace-filled, abundantly grateful lives.
There’s no time for gratitude when we don’t even have the time to thank God for the lukewarm packed sandwich we eat in the car driving from one volunteer commitment to the other.
Even when I get it wrong, and even when I get it wrong AGAIN at the next duty station, these superheroes help me remember why I need to get it RIGHT.
Because every time I say “yes” to another great opportunity, I have to say “no” in some way to the BEST one.
Because every time I say “yes” to the latest fundraiser, club, community event or service project, I have to say “no” in some way to serving my favorite club — the superhero league before me.
Because every time I say “I will” to someone outside my family, I’m inadvertently saying “I won’t” to someone inside it. I WON’T have the motivation to make a decent dinner tonight. I WON’T have the energy to read that second story at bedtime. I WON’T have the wherewithal to NOT burst into tears when the dog gets into the trash can and the house is covered in sticky prints and I’m out of life-changing, drowsiness-killing coffee because I haven’t had time to stop by the store.
The best gift I can give the boys who made me a mother this Mother’s Day is not more activities or playdates or volunteer opportunities or service projects. It’s more TIME.
That’s worth a total plate rearrangement.