Getting What We Need
Alex had fallen asleep while literally laying on top of me on our bed. I heaved myself up and carried him to his room and tucked him in leaving a kiss on his head. I wandered over and planted a kiss on Olivia’s cheek and only got a, “mmm” from her. She was out. I closed their door and walked the 8 feet down our hall. All of the lights were off save one lamp in the living room, and as I rounded the corner, I stopped. Chris was dead asleep on the couch, his Kindle sitting on the coffee table. I smiled, and let out a deep breath I didn’t know I was holding. It wasn’t even 8 pm and everyone in our house was asleep except me.
Chris and I had talked about watching a movie after the kids were in bed, but I could tell he wasn’t in a nice light sleep. No, he was OUT. And I knew how much he needed the sleep. As we’d gone into the weekend we’d talked about the need to not make plans with others and just do family time. It’s what we needed.
I looked around at the dark kitchen and realized that in the process of getting the kids to bed and people falling asleep the kitchen had gotten forgotten. Usually Chris puts away the remnants of dinner and I do the dishes. Without turning the lights on I quietly cleaned up the table, rinsed the dishes and stacked them. They could wait until the next day for once. I wiped the counters and tidied up. I took a shower and put my pyjamas on. I grabbed a book. Then I curled up on the second couch and read for an hour while Chris slept. I realized in that moment that it was us being together, just in a different way.
I also realized how quiet the house was. I think it resonated because our house is never quiet. We live in about 900 square feet, and our kids are energetic. It’s small. It’s feeling more cramped. There’s always noise outside to heap on to the noise inside. But, in that moment, things were still and quiet, and it was perfect. I’m a person who recharges by having time to myself, and time that is quiet. If I don’t get that I start to feel overwhelmed. As I peacefully read I felt my soul filling up again and realized, that I had stepped into doing something that I desperately needed, without planning it. I needed quiet within my own walls. No demands on my time, just time to regroup. That night we were all getting what we needed. It may have been called by different names for each person, but the root of it was rest.
The last month has been hectic. It’s been full of good and wonderful things, but they have all been busy things. Regular work/ministry stuff. Filming a promo video. Visitors. Training class. Social get togethers. State holidays. Trying to squeeze in exercise. Dance class. All good things, but all together it wears us out.
Years ago, before Alex came into our lives, we were going through some hard things. It was several years of hard things starting when Olivia was just over a year old. We learned not so quickly that even though we tried to protect her from our stress that she was incredibly sensitive and picked up on it. She would start acting out in different ways and we would rack our brains and try to figure out what was up. Then the lightbulb went on and we realized that no matter how much we were trying to compartmentalize things, we weren’t able to do it all and it was still oozing out. The solution was stepping back, and being intentional about caring for ourselves and our family. Instead of protecting Olivia from the stress, we needed to walk through the stress in healthier ways together. It meant setting boundaries. It meant having family time. It meant recognizing when we needed rest. It meant sometimes missing out on fun things so we could take care of ourselves. But, we realized how important it was, and over time have gotten pretty good at knowing when it’s time to step back a little.
That said, we also know that sometimes there are just times where you don’t get a lot of say in how the busy comes. You just have to do it because that’s what needs to be done at any given moment. And sometimes all the things land in the same week or month and you just have to keep going. And they aren’t always bad or hard things, but good things that have good reasons and good outcomes and that you enjoy doing. But, at some point, it will start to wear and you have to know when it’s time to step back.
This weekend was the first weekend in about 6 weeks where we didn’t need to be doing one thing or another. Aside from not really wanting to do a lot, we more recognized that we needed to take a weekend off or something was going to break. And while I would love to paint the picture of us having excessive amounts of wisdom, it was really mostly evident by the fact that we were all losing it. Chris and I had been fighting more because we were stressed and snapping at each other. He’s been going in ten different directions all week and feeling frazzled. We’re pouring the foundation for the house on Monday, so the last week has been a big one of making sure things are set up right and correcting mistakes. We get one shot at this. Our kids have been watching and picking up on this and doing all kinds of stupid and crazy. I’ve gone through half a box of Band Aids because Alex has been getting hurt every 5 minutes. He’s been whining more. Needing more snuggles. Olivia has had attitude. We’ve had issues of being ignored (us, not them) and disrespected. While it would be wonderful to be able to blame all that on them or some third party we know that stuff stems from us. When things feel “off” at home the kids act out. It was time to step back and regroup.
Halfway through the week I had to put the breaks on me going out. I usually swim a few times per week, Olivia has dance on Tuesdays after school, I have Bible study on Thursday evenings, a couple of friends have had birthdays in the past two weeks that I was out for… it’s felt like I haven’t hardly been home. On top of that, now that I have a working computer, I’ve spent the last week getting everything set up on it and trying to get back into a work groove. Let’s just say I haven’t been very available for my people. Wednesday I skipped my swim because I felt like it was more important for me to be home. I still did Bible study on Thursday because I lead it, but by Friday the decision was made that we weren’t inviting anyone over or making major social plans until Sunday afternoon when we host our regular missionary fellowship/Bible study get togethers.
Just saying no lifted a load. We could just be.
Friday night we ate nothing more than baked potatoes for supper, because it involved little to no work. Then everyone fell asleep and I filled up my heart with quiet and time. Saturday morning we all slept in, because we needed it. And the morning started with lazy cuddles with Olivia for almost an hour before Alex even surfaced. He needed more sleep than the rest of us I guess. Yesterday morning we watched a movie with the kids and I made banana pancakes and we slathered them with Nutella, a treat from some visitors. We spent the morning reading and being lazy. The kids played outside, partly because they were given no option since they still had more energy than we did. In the afternoon I took them down to the pool so they could swim. We met friends there and had a great few hours relaxing and having fun while Chris got to take a nap and have alone time. When I get overwhelmed I tend to not want to engage in cooking and keeping up with things, even though when I do those things I end up feeling more pulled together and clear headed. Knowing that, I was intentional about making us a good dinner and enjoying the process. We tucked the kids in, finished watching a movie from a few nights before, and then I went to read until I fell into an amazing sleep.
We worked on getting what we needed – rest. And each other.
Today we’re all in a much better place. We’ve re-calibrated. Re-grouped. Re-freshed.
I’m thankful for the wisdom to know when it’s time to stop and step back. To know when the problem isn’t external things, but us not caring for ourselves. To know that sometimes we need to just do what is in front of us, then harness the first opportunity to slow down and ask the hard question of what do you need? Being in Haiti long term has taught me to be willing to ask that question. Sometimes the answer is hard to stomach because it might mean saying no to something that would otherwise be a good thing. Sometimes it means coming to terms with my own junk. Sometimes it means recognizing that I’m not doing the work of self care. In the end though, it’s worth it.
What are you needing right now? Time to take a step back and regroup? What helps you get there?
All photos are from our vacation last summer. Took them with my iPhone as we drove up from Vancouver, Washington, through Oregon, then back into Washington and to Loomis to visit friends. The light and clouds and everything were amazing :)