Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Being Old and Full of Days"

I am on the cusp of a new week.  Sunday night, the night when I sit down and look at the week ahead and make a "plan."  I always feel a little overwhelmed when I think about all the things I need to/would like to accomplish in the coming days, and yet I don't really know why.  Most of what I do doesn't have set deadlines.  

I think feeling overwhelmed is just part of my nature, but it's something that I consciously try to change about myself every single day.  I have always dreamed of being someone who is relaxed, spontaneous, present, and carefree--someone who is not busy and who people know they can call on a whim if they want to hang out or if they need to talk.  I am making progress on this goal, as I constantly try to simplify my life, say no to commitments that will make me stressed, and manage my time better.  But it's a work in progress.  I'm a work in progress.

In high school, I noticed that one of my best friends was starting to distance herself from me, and when I asked her why, she said, "Oh you're just so busy.  I don't want to be one more thing you have to fit in."  A little hurt, I responded, "But I would always make time for you!!"  I will never forget her response.  She looked at me seriously and, without an ounce of malice, said, "Rachel, no one wants to feel like their best friend is 'making time' for them."

I have never forgotten her words, and they are so so SO true.  So I am working on this.  

I want more than anything to be present with my kids.  I don't want to waste their baby years checking things off my to-do list.  I never want them to look back and feel like I simply squeezed them in between cleaning and projects and to-dos.  I recently heard a sermon in which a busy, young, wise mother was quoted as saying, "Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling.  You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps.  It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in.  It is what God gave you time for."

That last line has stayed with me, and I have thought of it often.  Motherhood is what God gave me time for.  

My days with the kids are simple and sometimes frustrating, but I have been praying lately that God will give me "eyes to see" the beauty in this current stage of my life--to see beyond the surface and to recognize the gifts underneath.  As I look around my house and see train tracks scattered across the floor and dirty baby bottles lining the kitchen counter, I try to see the blessings instead of the mess--the blessing of having a creative, active, thriving little boy underfoot and a snuggly, hungry, healthy baby girl in my arms.   

These days are precious.  They are also repetitive and mundane, but they are all pieces of the mosaic that will become my life--and they are pieces of the mosaic that will become my children's lives.

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about who I am, who I have been, and who I want to be.  Sometimes I miss the "old Rachel" who adventured across the world and had endless energy to accomplish anything and everything (did I really start an international volunteer program while in the midst of my first year of teaching when I had 207 students??  WHO WAS THAT GIRL?!?!).  Sometimes I can't figure out how to reconcile the girl that I used to be with the girl that I am now--and yet I know in my heart that I am the same person with the same core beliefs, values, and characteristics.  How can I honor what has been and never forget it, while also honoring what is and what will be?

It was in that mindset that I recently discovered the last verse in the book of Job, and it has been a long time since a verse of scripture has spoken to me so directly.  As the final words to the story of an amazing life, the Bible simply says, "And Job died, being old and full of days."  

Understanding flooded over me as I read and reread those last few words: "Being old and full of days."  Each day of my life builds on the last.  I am full of days.  Each experience, each trial, each adventure, each joy, each sorrow, each friendship, each bedtime story read to Noah, each lullaby sung to Sally, each conversation snuggled up with Ryan--they become part of my foundation, they are still part of who I am.  

This image makes me happy--the idea of being full of days.  It gives me peace.  It helps me to cherish these routine moments at home with my kids, these days that are adding to the breadth of who I am becoming.  

A wild-haired Noah eating yogurt and watching a show.

A wiggly Sally, climbing all over her Daddy (who is always and forever reading a book).  

A messy house, full of the evidence of Noah's current favorites: trains and forts.  

Date nights with Ryan, holding hands and walking the trail at the bottom of the canyon as we discuss our children, his career, our hopes and dreams, our future.

These are the moments that I want to be full of when I reach the end of my lifetime.  This is who I want to be.  

Tonight as I head to bed, readying myself for the new week ahead, I am feeling comforted in the knowledge that nothing is ever lost.  Days build upon days, and moments build upon moments--the good and the bad, the ups and the downs--they all count, they all make me who I am.  

And when I die, I, like Job, will be old--and full to the brim with a lifetime of remembered and forgotten, meaningful and mundane, simple yet profound, days.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Walking on Water

Today is Easter, and I have been thinking about Christ all month.  I am somewhat amazed that the Easter traditions and activities that I planned to do with the kids this week actually worked out (!!!), and it was a spiritual, fun, peaceful week of learning for all of us.  I love when I am able to teach Noah about the things that matter most to me.

About a month ago, I admitted on this blog that I was feeling burned out as a mother. The constant cycle of cleaning, diapering, meal-making, picking up, disciplining, dressing—it had just started to wear on me.  The day after day after day of the same mundane tasks, the constant effort to be patient, the helping get shoes on, the whining whining whining…I was suddenly just over it. 

I think this is normal, and I think all parents go through weeks of feeling especially worn out and frustrated—and then somehow, and sometimes without apparent reason, the fog lifts and life seems manageable again.

But one of the things that was weighing on me the most during that week or two of feeling utterly depleted was that I didn’t see an end-in-sight.  I thought, “Is this really what I have to look forward to for the next decade?  Being a stay-at-home mom and cleaning up messes for whining children?  I used to go to work and do something that I knew I was good at.  I used to feel accomplished and successful at the end of the day.  Now it’s impossible to measure how I am doing, and I just feel exhausted at the end of the day.  Do I really have to do all of this again tomorrow?”

Fortunately, my perspective changed one afternoon as I was reading Noah a book before his quiet time.  He had requested the Bible Stories book, and as I read to him about Peter walking on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:25-32), Noah asked me, “Why did he start to sink, Mama?”

Not thinking much of it, I said, “Because he stopped believing he could do it.  He took his eyes off of Jesus.  He looked around at the stormy waters and the wind, and he thought, ‘What am I doing??’ and he got discouraged and fearful, and he started to sink.”

All of the sudden, the words I was saying registered.  And I knew that there was probably a reason we had opened the book to that particular Bible story that afternoon.<

I was like Peter.  I had taken my eyes off the Savior.  I had forgotten that these children of mine are a divine blessing from him, that my role as their mother is sacred.  When I had looked around at the storm and all of the challenges of motherhood, I’d started to sink.

This story can be universally applicable, I think.  We all have struggles and challenges of various types and degrees that leave us wondering, “Can I really do this?  Can I defy this storm and stay afloat another day?”

Yes.  Yes you can.  If you keep your eyes on the Savior, you can accomplish miracles and do things you would never imagine—things you could never hope to do without His help.  Doesn't mean it will always be easy, doesn't mean you will never feel discouraged; but it does mean that you will be able to make it through one more day if you simply keep your eyes on Him.

Snuggling Noah close, I read him the rest of that Bible story—how Peter called out to Jesus and He reached out His hand and pulled Peter back up to safety.  Something in my heart told me that I could do the same.  I could ask Christ to help me out of the pit of discouragement I was feeling.  I could reach out to Him, and He would be there to save me.

I am grateful beyond words for Him.  I am grateful that He loved me—me!—enough to suffer for my sins and my sorrows in the Garden of Gethsemane, to be tortured and then killed on the cross. I am infinitely grateful for His Resurrection, which means that I will get to be with Him again, with my mother again, with everyone whom I love on this earth again.

He bore my griefs and He knows how to comfort and lift me in the midst of my sorrows—even the small ones, such as a discouraging week as a mother.  I have felt a difference this Easter season as I have turned to Him and kept my eyes on Him—and as I’ve tried to teach my family to do the same.

"Thanks be to God for His unspeakable, unspeakable, gift."   2 Corinthians 9:15 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Favorite Memories from January, February, and March

It feels too daunting to get caught up on this blog, to document every detail of our trips, traditions, and treasured moments these past few months.  But here are the highlights!
*Two family weekends at the cabin in Sun Valley when Ryan was working at the office and hospital there.  My dad even joined us for one of those weekends, and it was so great to see him interacting with my kiddos.  He is the best Bapa.  One evening, I took him on a daddy-daughter date to a fancy restaurant at the top of the mountain.  Funnest.

*Family day trips and outings on Ryan's day off.  We try to do something a little "extra" and fun that day of the week, such as a trip to the nearby hot springs, a family hike, a father-son ski day, or a family bowl-off at the local alley (I lost, yes, even to my three-year-old).  These family outings are some of my favorite moments of all and stand out to me even more than the trips and holidays.  I love letting go of all distractions and spending a few hours with my people.

*A little holiday magic with the reappearance of Secret Cupid and the "half birthday" cake!

*A weekend in San Diego with my sisters--kid-free!  We ate way too much delicious food and spent way too much time talking and laughing.  I think this should be an annual tradition, ladies!

*Lazy days at home with Noah.  (And Sally of course--but that goes without saying!)  Noah is my little buddy and my little helper lately, and we have fun hanging out and getting stuff done.  He helps me here and there, watches too many shows on the iPad, makes lots of messes (his most recent thing is fort-building and he likes to use every pillow and blanket in the house!), accompanies me on walks to see "our horse" Little Brown, and just keeps me company and makes me laugh/drives me batty depending on the day and moment within the day.  I love him.  I don't know what I would do without him.

*A massive organization project!  It all started when I organized the pantry as one of Ryan's Secret Cupid gifts--and then it spiraled out of control from there.  With Ryan's help, I completely organized our entire house, including the garage and laundry room.  It feels heavenly.  As Noah said to me one day, "Bins, bins, bins!  What's with you and bins, Mommy?"  Hahaha!  I do adore a clutter-free space.  I have problems.

*A trip to Denver to see my sister and her husband perform as featured soloists in the Easter oratorio "Lamb of God."  It was a fantastic production, and I was so glad to be able to be there to support Sarah and Logan--they were incredible.  I felt the Spirit and love of Christ touch me so deeply as I watched the production.  It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment to be listening to such beautiful sacred music for the first time, sung by two of the people I love most. 

I decided to make a week-long trip out of my visit to Denver, so my kids got to spend lots of time with their cousins (Noah even got to go to Callum's Wild Kratt's birthday party!), their great grandparents (who still get on the floor and play with my kids--be still my heart), and their aunts and Bapa.  As exhausting and chaotic as it is to travel with the kids (especially without Ryan!), it's so worth it to see my family.  I miss being close to them.

*A weekend in Utah on our way home from Denver.  We got to stay with Derek and Alli and celebrate D's 34th with the family, and we got to have a picnic at the park one evening with Katie and Drew.  Double win!  We love all of these good people in our lives and know that we are beyond blessed.

So there you have it: the highlight reel of Quarter One of the Nielsons' 2015.  I have much more to say about what I have felt and learned these past few months, particularly about motherhood and being present with my kiddos, but that will have to wait for another post!


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sally Wally, 8 Months Old

Noah has given his sister a new nickname, and it seems to be sticking: Sally Wally.  Sometimes we even call her "Wally" for short. :)

This baby girl is pure joy.  She is such a delight.

She can crawl on hands and knees but still prefers to army crawl because she can get around so much faster that way.  I recently read a Baby Center email that described different types of crawls, and I laughed aloud at this description because it so perfectly fits our Sal: "a soldier bellying through the underbrush."  Yes, that's exactly what it looks like.  She is so strong, fast, and determined when she's on the move.

This past week, she started pulling up to standing, and it is the cutest thing ever.  Problem is, she hasn't figured out how to sit back down so she gets super angry once her legs get tired.  This has made naps interesting. :)  Always something!

She still gets sick a lot, and it breaks my heart.  She has a perma-runny nose.

She is really busy and climbs on and grabs at everything.  She learned to climb stairs earlier this month at Bapa's house.  Unfortunately, she still hasnt learned how to turn backwards to come down.  (Good thing we don't have any stairs in our house, though she does climb the one step to the fireplace.)  At this moment, she is trying to climb on my lap and type you all a message.  It is quite difficult to type with a wiggly eight-month old on my lap... :)

She loves her reflection.  She finds herself in everything--windows, appliances, the van door, and of course mirrors.  It's so cute because the minute she spots herself, she waves.  I'm sure she doesn't consciously know what she is doing, but she just likes to see the movement of her hand and body, and it's like she is greeting herself with a cheery hello.  She actually waves at people a lot in response to them smiling at her or waving at her, but I don't think she knows what she is doing--just practicing moving her body.

She has the most delicious cheeks and jowls.  She is our baby bull dog.

She loves to play with doorstops.  She could sit there and boing them for 20 minutes and never lose interest.

She loves to put anything and everything in her mouth but has never been able to use a pacifier because she has a tongue-thrust.  She eats lots of table foods.  We kind of skipped the whole baby food thing.  I was too busy with Noah (or just too lazy?) and she wasn't that interested in purees.  Now we just give her pieces of whatever we are eating at meals, and she gums it down.  Still no teeth but she does surprisingly well with food, and most of her nutrition still comes from her bottles anyway.

I said in the last post that she is sleeping through the night, but I think I jumped the gun on that one.  She is usually up once a night at some point, ranging anywhere from about 2 a.m.-5 a.m.  It's not too bad for Mom and Dad.  And she is so snuggly when you feed her at night--lays her head on your shoulder and cuddles in to the crook of your neck when she's done eating.  It's one of my favorite moments with her.  

She is portable and will take cat-naps in her carseat if we are out and about.  She doesn't usually take long naps, even at home in her crib, but she's generally happy when she's awake, so I try not to let the lack of naps bother me.

She has the sweetest temperament. She makes her needs known if she is really tired, sick, or hungry, but even when she's fussy, she's still pretty easy to manage.  We hit the jackpot with this pretty little lady.


We can't get enough of our little Sally Wally!
Stop growing up so fast, Princess!!