Since arriving back in Moscow with 3 little ones in tow, I've been struggling to find a good rhythm for our family. I often feel as though I have somehow, between child 2 and 3, lost any sense of margin. It's difficult to explain, but this one new child, despite the fact that she's the easiest baby we've had, feels as though any kind of space or time to catch up, to cover up, or clean up has suddenly vanished.
Walking home late the other night from a women's day party with our Russian friends and coworkers, I glanced at the time and cringed. I estimated about four hours of sleep that night between feedings for Evie and Peter's joyous, but early, wake up call. The 3rd night in a row. That sleep is gone for good. There is no space to sleep in for another two weeks or so, going to bed early depends mostly on Evie and her evening routine. For perhaps the first time in my mothering life, I have lost control over the basics I didn't realize I had until now. I can no longer hide in long naps, lucky breaks, or even personal ministry. I'm faced with 24/7 of - no, not my children, but my worst self. Never before has my selfishness, my displaced sense of entitlement, and my rusty sense of justice been more on display for 3 pairs of little eyes eagerly soaking in all I say and do.
In an effort to establish some sense of spiritual help in lack of margin, I wrote down some of my new found values on the mirror in the center of our home. They have been so helpful to have close at hand as they encourage me to make wise choices when my reasoning's shot. They remind me that the goal is not margin, rest, or more coffee (though coffee's quickly becoming part of the solution, rather than the problem.) The goal is Christ. The goal is the Spirit-filled life. The goal is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We have a family motto that "being kind is better than being right." Being kind is probably better than just about anything else. And often, it's the hardest thing to be. That's why it's so important. One of my mother's most incredible gifts is her kindness. I cannot remember a time that she even raised her voice to my brother in I when we were young. I often ask myself, "what would my mom do?" And the answer is usually "be kind."
2. Go their speed.
This is a piece of wisdom my mother-in-law gracefully handed down to me even before I needed it; there is not a day that goes by when I either thank her for it, or wish I had taken it. She remembered her time with toddlers and how often it can take up to 30 minutes to put shoes and coats on to go outside. The problem is not the time it takes to get ready, it's the rush to go. I hate the stress of getting somewhere on time, especially because I'm usually the only one who cares where we're going and when we get there. As I can't eliminate all time commitments from our schedule, I try to have as few as possible; and day-to-day, I try to focus on the process of getting out rather than actually getting there. There are days when we spend 45 minutes of our outside play time just getting snowsuits on and preparing to go outside. This can result in just a few minutes actually outside playing, but in reality, the kids are rarely disappointed that this is the case. As my mother-in-law advised me years ago, just enjoy putting on their shoes and all the little things they do along the way to the park. Getting there is not as important as how you get there.
3. Make priority lists rather than "to-do" lists.
It's easy to be overwhelmed. And it's easy to fall so far behind, you don't know how to catch back up. If I have 10 minutes before guests are coming over for a big meal, I take my list of all the things that I'd like to get done and narrow it down to the top 2-3 things that I need to do in order to make dinner happen. Scruffy hospitality - inviting guests into the chaos - has become our new lifestyle.
Perspective changes everything and often, a good dose is sufficient to pull myself out of a downward spiritual cycle. Sadly, I have several friends who have lost children either in the womb or just shortly after. Good friends of mine struggle with infertility. Other friends have lost their children tragically and other children friends of my children have lost their parents unexpectedly. I often think of these friends of mine who would do just about anything to have the problems that I have - who would love to get up for a midnight feeding, who would love to retrieve a fallen pacifier at 3 am, or go in again for just one more hug before turning off the light. I am fortunate to have the life that I have, to experience the joys that I experience, and to wade through the problems that surface day-by-day. I have it easy. And often taking a moment to be thankful can change my attitude about the rest of the hour.
These principles have helped me surface the last few days. And sometimes, that's all you get.