Overwhelmed?

 

This morning I looked through some old files and came across this post that I wrote in November 2008.  It was a weird feeling getting an answer to my current prayers from my old self.  I decided to share it in case it’s helpful to anyone else:

One thing that motherhood has in common with any kind of challenging career is that it’s often overwhelming.  We feel pulled beyond our capacity to accomplish.  If you’ve had children, it’s guaranteed you’ve felt overwhelmed.  I’ve had several experiences that I think fall in the overwhelming category– sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by the tasks at hand and sometimes by my life in general:

Take Halloween night, for instance.  The dusk hour was approaching.  I picked up my brother from the airport.  I tried to throw the kids’ costumes together, but it proved more difficult than I’d expected because they were too excited to actually follow any directions.  At the same time I was trying to be a good hostess to my brother and get something going for dinner.  I still needed to get some towels and things into the guest bath.  Then my mother- and sister-in-law showed up with my niece who was as excited about trick-or-treating as my kids.  Mine were still half-dressed, but chomping at the bit to get out the door.  Plus I still had to get candy ready for a hand-out bowl.  And Matt was on his way home from school to go with all the kids.  For some reason, even though that moment was really insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I suddenly felt incapable of meeting everyone’s needs and I felt totally confused by all the chaos around me.  I didn’t know what to do next, and stuff just kept happening.  Doorbell rang.  Get candy.  Find socks.  Blow nose. Thank Grandma for presents.  Take candy away.  Find baby wipes. Answer questions. Try again.  Sound familiar?  Well, everyone finally made it out the door and the rest of the evening went on in relative peace, but that’s just one example of those frequent overwhelming moments that happen in the daily course of motherhood.

And then there are those overwhelming stages of life, like right after you have a baby and all the family who came to help out goes home.  I remember after I had Grant, I was sitting at the kitchen table eating food for the first time that day because someone had prepared it for me.  I knew my mother-in-law was going home the next morning and I thought WHAT am I going to do?  I was scared by the new reality and my lack of sleep/energy to deal with it.  But I lived.  Then about two and half years later, now with two kids, Grant had a bout with some seizures.  There was CPR and 911 and confused doctors at the ER.  I walked into the hospital room to see Grant convulsing and the doctors trying to hold him down.  I could tell they didn’t understand why it was happening and I was horrified.  I remember running out to the lobby and seeing my friend and my bishop and just shaking my head and saying “I can’t stand it.  I can’t watch!”  The next several days were spent in the Pediatric ICU with brain scans and spinal taps and all kinds of scary things.  In the end, everything seemed to be okay, and we hesitantly and hopefully took our little boy back home, crossing our fingers it wouldn’t ever happen again.  It didn’t.  But I’ll never forget that totally overwhelmed feeling I had about everything being so much bigger than me and out of my control.

Sometimes it seems like every time you turn around, something else is asked of you.  I recently read a talk by Henry B. Eyring called “O Ye That Embark.”  The subtitle quote says:  “Our power to carry burdens can be increased more than enough to compensate for the increased service we will be asked to give.”  This is a talk he gave to an audience of men, but anyone with half a brain can recognize that women deal with these same issues, so I was able to gain a lot from reading his lessons.  He says:

“It is not surprising that we feel from time to time nearly overwhelmed. Your thought that ‘I’m not sure I can do this’ is evidence that you are understanding what it means to hold the priesthood of God [or to fulfill your role as a mother–don’t you think that fits?]. The fact is that you can’t do it by yourself. The responsibility is too difficult and too important for your mortal powers and for mine. . . .When those feelings of inadequacy strike us, it is the time to remember the Savior. He assures us that we don’t do this work alone.”

I think if I reflect accurately on those overwhelming moments in my life– the big ones and the small ones– usually someone helped me through it.  Often it was the Savior who listened carefully to all the mumbled prayers under my breath and strengthened me, but other times a family member or friend stepped in and gave a hand.  Elder Eyring points out that this is just how it’s meant to be:

    “ . . . there are more with you than those you can see opposed to you. Some who are with you will be invisible to your mortal eyes. The Lord will bear you up and will at times do it by calling others to stand with you. . . . That suggests at least two things. One is to recognize and welcome those whom the Lord sends to help us. The other is to see in every assignment the opportunity to strengthen another. . . . Time and again over your life, the Lord has been giving you the experiences to build strength, courage, and determination. He knew how much you would need that to serve Him. . . . I bear you my witness that when we give our all in [His] service, the Lord will give us all the courage we need and the assurance that He goes with us and that angels will bear us up.”

He certainly has faith in us and equips us to succeed, even when our circumstances seem overwhelming.  And what about our own expectations for ourselves?  I think we are our own worst enemy in that area.  I’m the only one who treats my to-do list like a divine decree and then considers myself a failure if it doesn’t all get done.  Unless those lists start appearing on my pillow right after I say my prayers, maybe I need to remember it’s all about what I expect of myself and not what God expects of me.  This scripture quoted by King Benjamin comes to mind:

  “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.” Mosiah 4:27

When I read that today, I realized something new.  I always thought that “in order” meant “organized,” like when you put your home in order, but maybe it just means one-at-a-time, like when you follow the steps of a recipe in order.  Just one thing at a time.  We don’t have to do it all or do it all at once.  That seems so much more manageable to me– just do one thing, try to do it well (not perfect), and then move on to something else.  I’m just going to assume that God understands that when you throw children in the mix, even getting one thing done can be interrupted 54 times, and I guess that’s where the “diligence” part comes in . . . just going back to the task and not giving up or losing faith (in God or in yourself).

Reality bites.

I woke up this morning with a headache. I ate Frankenberry cereal (that I bought for Halloween, but my children had already ripped into it by the time I got out of bed) and Aleve for breakfast today. [Hangs head in shame.]

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I keep wandering around my house in a fog. It looks like Toys R Us threw up on my playroom floor.  Mount Kill-me-now-jaro is piled high in my laundry room, and two beds in this house were peed in last night (luckily, neither was mine).

Natalie asked me for a sippy cup, so I found one, along with the one clean lid that was accessible. Does anyone else have a 3:1 ratio of sippy cups to lids? I paced back and forth in the kitchen looking for the milk I know someone opened this morning and then said, “Oh, it’s still on the dining room table,” to which Natalie quickly replied,

“Silly mommy. You are a disaster.”

Yes, yes I am. Bless your bright, perceptive and evil little heart. But you know what? If God can take matter unorganized and make worlds without number, then I’m going to have faith that He can help me make something productive out of this day. Mark my words, I will go to bed tonight patting myself on the back for a job well done.

Guilt: The Motherload

responsiblewoman

I consider myself a practical woman.  I don’t expect to be an all-encompassing superhero.  I scoff at the idea of quilting my own bedding, growing and canning my own vegetables, keeping my home in magazine-ready condition, scrapbooking in any form that includes more than sliding photos into plastic pockets, making recipes with more than four or five ingredients, and teaching all my children to play classical musical instruments.  Now I don’t scoff at most of these endeavors individually; in fact, I’ve dabbled in some of them and tried to learn new things.  But the concept that I should be doing all of them (or even several of them) in my life in order to be a “whole” woman is absolutely preposterous.  Holding yourself to a standard like that is emotional suicide.

However, I have a firm testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I want to be the best person I can be.  Sometimes I look at my world, and the acquaintances I have, and other people near and far that I know and love, and I have a thousand ideas of things I wish I could do to help them–  to do good deeds, to better fulfill my own responsibilities, callings, and commitments, to be a servant in the Christian sense, and to make the world a better place.  And then I have days where feeding my children and picking up one room and restocking the toilet paper in all the bathrooms is all I get done.  A lot of days are like that.  But in the back of my mind is a long to-do list of things to be and deeds to carry out.  And once they sit on that list for a while, they start to feel heavy to me.  They gnaw at me.  They turn into a feeling.  They become guilt.

I want to make clear that intellectually I know that’s not right.  I know that my work with my family is the most important work I can do.  But I struggle sometimes with realistic expectations about what else I should be accomplishing.  It’s difficult to gauge how much of that is my own wishful thinking, how much of it is inspired direction from the Lord, and how much of it is simply my fears about what someone else might expect of me or how I might be judged by others.  During my daily devotional time on Saturday (otherwise knows as a shower), I thought about this question and the thought that occurred to me and sort of clarified this issue for me is that the Lord does not expect more from me than what I have already covenanted with him– my simple promises that I made at baptism and when I renew those promises while taking the Sacrament or worshipping in the temple.  He doesn’t hold me to a standard higher than that.  I felt like this was a right answer and I had it on my mind most of the day.

That night, I attended a fireside by Sister Julie Beck, the General Relief Society President.   She was in town doing some training and invited all the local women to come and meet with her in the evening.  I love Sister Beck.  I’ve posted several times before about her and her messages to women, and how those messages have helped me in many ways.  She shared her testimony at the beginning of the meeting and then opened up the rest of the meeting for questions and answers.  Even though I felt like I had received an answer to my question that morning in the shower, I kept feeling prompted to ask my question out loud.  So toward the end of the meeting, I barely raised my hand in front of my chest, her eyes fixed on me and she called on me.  My best guess is that there were an excess of 2,000 women in attendance.  An usher wriggled his way through the crowd and brought me the microphone.

“You’ve touched on this a little bit in some of your other answers, how we go to church and read scriptures and learn so many things we can do, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.  I would like your insight on the role of guilt in an LDS woman’s life.  I know there is good guilt and bad guilt, but what role should guilt play and what role should it not play?”

I want to share some of her answers.  Part of it was in direct response to my question, and part of it came up throughout the rest of the meeting, but they all gave me greater clarity and direction, and feeling the Spirit as she shared these things confirmed for me that God was behind this advice.

  • Any thought that tells you “You are not good enough” is from Satan.  If the thought tells you “You can do better, and I’ll help you,” it is from Heavenly Father.
  • There will never be enough of you to do all your heart wants to do.
  • Pray, eliminate your distractions, and follow the Spirit.
  • We impose things on ourselves that the Lord would never impose.
  • Be an example of joyful gospel living.
  • Beg for miracles every morning.  Recognize and give thanks for them every night.
  • Navigate this experience you’ve been given with dignity, faith, hope and charity.
  • She recommended a three-column to-do list every day:  #1) The essentials (short list of things that are eternally important:  Pray, read scriptures, maybe some days the list will include temple or service or family time), #2) Should do (feed children, clean clothes, go to work, etc.), #3) Nice to do (wish list).   Whatever you do, make sure the essentials happen, and work hard on your should list, and you’ll be surprised how often you get around to things on your “nice to do” list.  She also said that women cannot work all three shifts in a day.  We can do one well, one pretty well, and we need one shift to rest and take care of ourselves.  She recommended deciding which shift was the most important time of the day when we need to be at our very best (for her it was the afternoon into the evening when kids came home from school and prepared for bed, etc.), and then use the other shifts to help us prepare for and get ready for the important shift (maybe prepare dinner in the morning, rest well at night, etc.).
  • Women are leaders.  “Influence is ultimate leadership.”

Anyway, I walked away from that meeting with a greater understanding of how much good simply doing the essentials in our life can do, and does do.  When we do them, we ARE changing the world for good. I also sensed that God is much more proud of what we ARE doing than he is worried about what we’re NOT doing.  And I also learned (again) that I need to pray harder and more sincerely to get specific direction each day, and to let the Spirit help me navigate my priorities.  I felt the confirmation that He will help me with that if I give him the opportunity.  And I learned to give myself permission to ignore the guilt and embrace the important accomplishment of simple obedience.  Guilt is totally overrated.

Image credit:  “The Responsible Woman” by James Christensen

How do people who are REALLY busy do it all?

I’m just keeping it real here.  I am feeling way overwhelmed lately.  And it makes me feel like a whimp.  I have been trying for several days to catch up on blogging my Women’s Conference summaries.  I think I only have one or two left, but I can’t seem to get it together.  I’ve felt so busy that it’s left me a little uninspired.  The ridiculous thing is I can’t figure out what I’m so busy at.  My oldest child is in kindergarten and he plays on a baseball team.  I have Sunday responsibilities.  Other than that, I’m not calendared out to the max.  And yet, I feel like I’ve been running full speed for a couple of weeks and I can’t seem to catch my footing and approach things rationally.  I’m doomed when my kids have full schedules and I get some real responsibilities.

Here are a few of the things that I know I should be working on, and their deadlines are looming over me like a great weight…. but at the end of the day, I want to crawl in bed and sleep my worries away because I don’t have the energy to think through them like I know I should.

1.  In less than two weeks, I’m teaching 8 classes for EFY at Brigham Young University (actually only 4 classes, each one taught twice).  I am so not ready right now.  I’ve only taught one of the classes before and all 4 of them need a lot more preparation before I will feel comfortable and ready.

2.  This weekend I am in charge of a quarterly Activity Day for my Primary kids.  Anyone have any brilliant ideas I could use for an “Article of Faith Field Day”?

3.  I still have so many thoughts floating around in my  head from Women’s Conference that I feel like I need to turn into tangible goals.  I want to make a plan, a strategy really, to help me incorporate those promptings into action in my life and in the life of my family.  I feel an urgency to think it all through and plan it all out before I lose the ideas and the ambition.

Well, that’s it I guess.  Those are kind of the big ones that keep drumming around in the back of my mind while I hash out all the details of the day-to-day.  Laundry’s going.  The sink is full and needs some attention.  I refuse to look at my play room right now.

So say something to inspire me.  Go.