Being present in the age of apps

When I learned our theme for MOPS was living life to the full, my mind immediately went to the idea of being present. Present for my kids, my husband, my friends…even being present for myself. I just knew that this fairly attainable notion was not the current reality in my life, and I’d venture many of you struggle with being present as well.

A better titled piece for me to write would be “How NOT to be present: An expert guide.” I could give you all kinds of tips on the art of ruminating on the past. Perhaps a paragraph about all the best apps for getting distracted throughout the day? And don’t worry, there’d be plenty of content regarding how to fear the future and unknown. Lots of time could be wasted on that, the possibilities are endless! My article would end with a tutorial on how to disengage the screen limit on your iPhone. That’s something I could write about and feel pretty confident about my knowledge.

But that wouldn’t be very helpful to you, would it? So instead, I’m going to share my struggles and how I hope to tackle them. I’m going to give some encouragement and practical steps to take. I’m going to ask you to set aside some time for your own reflection. Just maybe not in the middle of a conversation with your husband, okay?

Without a doubt, my trouble with being present revolves around my phone usage. My phone is the second thing I check when I wake up (baby’s monitor is first as it’s usually waking me up in the first place), the last thing I check before getting into bed, and it’s my go-to mini escape throughout the day. I enjoy long walks on Instagram, romantic meals scrolling through Facebook, and absentmindedly staring at projects I’ll save on Pinterest but never complete. I text, email, write for my freelance blog, call my mom, take numerous pictures of my beautiful children, stare at said pictures once the kids are in bed…daily. And yes, I am embarrassed to admit that.

Now, before you start engraving my “World’s Worst Mother” trophy, I should be clear that I am fairly good about limiting any phone use while my kids are awake and in my presence. I make a point to engage with them as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t sneakily checked social media while they’re around. And in the short bursts of time alone, I’m immediately on my phone. And when I really start to think about it, what a waste of my time and energy! It’s certainly not living life to the full.

Before reconciling this issue with being present, I needed to dig in about the root cause for my phone use (dare I say addiction?). I started auditing what times of day I used my phone most, and tried to remember to consider WHY I checked my phone each time I picked it up. Most of the time, I was mindlessly scrolling social media early in the morning and late at night. And the short checks throughout the day? When I stopped and wondered why I was checking my phone, I didn’t have much of an answer other than it had become a habit. A habit I’m ready to break.

Practically speaking, I needed to set boundaries for myself (and my husband) regarding phone usage. No phones during mealtimes, reminders to keep each other accountable if we have our phones out in front of the kids, and trying to carve out time in the evenings for meaningful conversations. In person. Without phones. I also have social media limits set for myself, and have become determined to not get that obnoxious hourglass icon indicating I had met the day’s limit. More mornings are spent reading my bible and being intentional about my day. It’s going to be a long journey, but I’m determined to be more present. Life just wasn’t intended to be diminished to staring at a screen.

When you imagine yourself living life TO THE FULL, what does that look like? Does it look like you right now, without having to make any changes? If so, congratulations! That’s honestly really great, and I hope to be more like you. But if you close your eyes and see a woman more alive and in the moment, and engaged with those around her, it might be time to meet her. I’m with you, and I am so excited to be on this journey alongside you.

grace under fire

I spent all day rejecting grace, until it burst into flames. 

I was in the darkest depths of not living up to my own pre-Thanksgiving expectations when my husband yelled out “FIRE!” 

The day before turkey day, furiously washing dishes at the sink while murmuring my frustrations about everything going wrong, his shout caught my attention and I whipped around to see that in fact there was a fire. In our oven. That I had started while angrily deciding at the last minute that I was going to bake a pecan pie. It’s my grandmother’s recipe, a family tradition, what’s one more thing? 

Except I was already bubbling with internal pressure. The weight of my to-do list was an Instapot of emotions about to burst. Hosting Thanksgiving while also mothering a toddler and breastfeeding a baby, going to THREE different stores to find ham hocks for the green bean recipe, coordinating multiple families about arrival times and side dishes…

My social media feed was brimming with words of encouragement about not worrying about the perfect holiday and how important it is to be present with family instead. But instead I became a frantic madwoman trying to do it all and basically failing at everything. The rolls I attempted from scratch ended up tasting like gummy biscuits. The more I cleaned the more I saw a need for more cleaning. The washer started leaking. I ignored all the nice platitudes about giving yourself grace and started seething at my inability to do anything right.

 I was not in a place that was willing to pray or look to God. I knew I should, I knew my priorities were screwy, but I was deliberate in my stubborn ways. I chose to stew and ruminate and continue to get more flustered. And that’s when the sticky contents of the pie spilled over to the bottom of the oven. 

Upon seeing that I had in fact started a fire, thankfully I reacted quickly. Thankfully the expandable sink faucet could reach the flames and the fire was put out fairly easily. Thankfully my husband was in the other room and saw the light of the fire. Thankfully our biggest problem afterwards was cleaning up a smoke filled, puddled pile of burnt corn syrup and not anything more serious. Thankfully my husband extends me grace far more often than I ever offer it to myself. And thankfully our toddler now thinks I’m some kind of hero because I put out a fire while he watched in amazement. 

I was a total brat leading up to the night before Thanksgiving. But with this forceful shift in perspective I can now prepare my heart for true gratitude, an acceptance of grace, and a slightly tinged slice of pie.

Laps in the kitchen

I know God hears me as I pace the kitchen at 3:00 in the morning, my newborn son nestled against my chest in the stretchy knit of a baby wrap. It’s become our new routine, me groggy from a few weeks that have felt like one never-ending day, He faithful and encouraging.

I feel His presence wrap around me like the sling in which my sweet baby has found peace. It’s not lost on me that like this baby so desperately needs to be settled down after a period of fussing and crying, I so desperately need these late night hours with God to be soothed by the one who loves me unconditionally.

As baby and I circle the kitchen island for the seventeenth time, He’s here. He’s with me while I silently exclaim my simultaneous gratitude, exhaustion, praise, and worry. I know He hears me while I mumble worship songs as lullabies, hushed so as not to wake the rest of the house.

It’s become the only stillness in my day in a time when honestly I’m just trying to survive…

my C-section recovery, the wound still raw and sore

our first born still grappling with how rocked his little world has become

my husband still scrambling to support me when more often than not he’s unsure how

and this tiny, precious, little miracle, still adjusting to life outside the warm embrace of the womb…

Nothing is figured out. Nothing is cohesive. Nothing seems certain. Nothing, that is, apart from my date with God at 3:00 AM.

He settles me down and walks me around, hushing and swaying in a soothing rhythm. He’s reminding me that though sleeplessness is circumstantial, His faithfulness is forever. And in hearing Him, we walk on.

He needed it more

It had been a day. The demanding, whining, limit pushing kind of day. The counting down until bedtime kind of day. You know, where you start fantasizing about how you’ll spend your time once the kids are asleep? It was about forty minutes before bedtime, a Netflix marathon of Great British Baking Show dangling right in front of me, when I realized our toddler needed a bath. 

There was no way we could push it back another night, we had already stretched those limits as it were. I started dreading the task, fully knowing he would fight it. I was low on energy and not sure I could summon the patience needed to pull this off. 

I started thinking about how much I needed some self care, a bubble bath perhaps. After the day I had, I really needed a luxurious way to unwind and reset my mind. Then I looked at my sweet boy, genuinely struggling with his own emotions and burnout, and realized he needed it more. 

He had been fighting a virus that kicked his butt all week. His energy was drained and his emotions high. He didn’t know that eventually he would feel like himself again, all he knew was in this moment he felt crappy and it might be like this forever. 

Moreover, his teething baby brother was consuming most of mom’s attention and time. His tank was running on empty, and the only way he could express that was through outbursts and tantrums. As the adage goes, “he wasn’t giving me a hard time, he was having a hard time.” 

We often meet our children’s nasty attitude with reaction rather than empathy. But in that moment I realized my ugliest moments are often met with God’s strongest grace. And while I would have loved a spa worthy bubble bath experience, he needed it more.

He helped gather all the necessary supplies: bath bomb, candles, bubbles, a relaxing playlist. We dimmed the lights. I even dug around in his closet for the soft robe he got for Christmas last year. He practiced smelling the bath bomb’s fragrance as it disintegrated into the water. It was altogether adorable and a little ridiculous. It was certainly ‘extra,’ but that’s also my little guy, he’s as extra as they come. 

Eventually the mellow music was replaced by the Lion King soundtrack and the bubbles were popped with a splashing gusto, but for a few minutes our guest bathroom was transformed into a luxury spa. And after that bath, wrapped up in his robe and towel twisted atop his head, he smiled and hugged me. He may have needed that do-over, but I needed it more.