10 Ways to Receive Your Summer Life with Less Envy and More Gratitude

10 ways to receive summer life

Last summer I wrote a post called “How to Receive Your Own Summer Life.” I bared my struggling summer soul, which has a way of overflowing with envy and discontentment during the season that’s supposed to be the happiest, most easygoing time of the year.

I’d love to report that I have matured a year later. Alas, I’m fighting for acceptance and gratitude all over again.

In the midst of this struggle, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it looks like at street level to receive my own summer life instead of pining for opportunities and experiences that aren’t mine to have. This post could be an instructive piece about the evils of envy and how we should instead be grateful and realize how #blessed we are.

And this is true. Envy is bad. Gratitude is where it’s at.

But if the truth doesn’t travel to my heart and make a home there, it’s all just knowledge. I need truth to link arms with me in everyday ways so that what’s in my head can sync with my heart and overflow with love into my real life.

Thus these 10 tactics or suggestions or considerations or whatever you want to call them. They’re helping me in my quest to receive a summer life that does not include an Airstream, a fancy vacation, super lazy days, or even our annual July trip to Michigan.

If your summer feels ordinary or less-than, if you’re fighting to receive your summer life too, I hope these truths set you free to embrace the summer you have, even if it’s not the summer you want to have.

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1. Don’t compare your sink full of dirty dishes with someone else’s summer highlight reel.

Imagine this moment: The day has just begun. You wake up to a headache, last night’s dishes, and children fighting over the iPod charger. You pour a cup of coffee and open Instagram or Facebook, only to see friends on an anniversary trip, skipping through the blue waters of Tahiti. They are so #blessed.

Suddenly your life is the worst.

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You do not appreciate your home, your night of sleep, the food in your pantry, or the fighting children. Because Tahiti.

But real life is not lived in highlight reel moments. When we receive those moments, they are worthy of celebrating. But the mundane moments matter too. And to begrudge them because everyone else seems to be living their best summer life now, well, it makes a mockery of our beautiful, ordinary lives.

 

2. Disconnect if it helps you stay present.

I know, I know. Being “present” is such a buzz word right now. But guess what? We’re still not doing it.

From time to time I simply have to go off social media and the internet. My emotional responses while scrolling through Instagram are almost always a barometer for the state of my soul. Judgmentalism? Envy? Eye-rolling? Anxiety? When those familiar companions show up, it’s time for me to walk away for a while.

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Whether it’s the envied experiences of others or an attention-grabbing post we just have to read, the truth is — we don’t have the capacity to handle all the input that’s catapulted at us day in and day out.

Last Saturday I left my phone on the kitchen counter and went for a walk in the hottest part of the day. I didn’t care; I just knew I needed the space to disconnect. As I walked and sweated and prayed, my head cleared and my soul breathed. An hour later I returned with peace and perspective, feeling more at home in my own life.

We’re the only ones who can put up boundaries and choose what we let in. Each one of us has different thresholds, but here are some things I’ve noticed about myself:

  • When I walk away from the online world, I’m more attentive to the little world that’s right in front of me.
  • I notice the gifts of my own life and feel content to tuck them away in my heart, just for me. 
  • I pay attention to the people who matter most. 
  • I’m more engaged and focused.
  • My mind feels less cluttered. 

I’m not hating on the internet or on social media. I became a writer because I started a blog ten years ago. I earn a living creating online content. I love Instagram. Some of my dearest friends are those I met through the blogosphere. But I’m learning when and how to draw boundaries that help me receive my own summer life instead of feeling like it doesn’t quite measure up.

 

3. Fight back with gratitude.

Apparently Ann Voskamp was on to something when she started that one thousand gifts thing. Here’s a little story from a few weeks ago:

I was in a beautiful place with people I love. But for two days, all of it was shrouded in gloom because I wasn’t getting my way about a few things. There were experiences I wanted to have and none of them were working out. For a while I clung to my resentment, miserable though I was, because there’s a sick sort of satisfaction we get from entitlement. Thankfully I got fed up with myself.

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“Fine!” I said to no one in particular. “I’ll start counting the gifts.”

By the time I’d named even a few things I was grateful for, the entitlement began to melt away and thankfulness took up residence in its place. Self-pity and  resentment are powerful emotions. But here’s the good news: gratitude is a powerful emotion too. It’s like Ann says, “Fight emotion with emotion.”

It works.

 

4. Remember that selfishness never takes a vacation.

It’s why families still fight at Disneyworld, the happiest place on earth.

This ever-present brokenness is something it’s taken us years to remember and to plan for. But summer, with its more relaxed schedule, special travel plans, and happy expectations, is one of those seasons when I subconsciusly expect all sunshine and no rain. Ironically, some of our worst marital conflicts have actually been on vacation. And some of our kids’ ugliest moments have also been on vacation.

Also, these lazy days of summer seem to bring out the worst sibling squabbles. IMG_4531

Knowing that brokenness travels with us wherever we go and accompanies our families in each and every season — it’s strangely helpful. When family togetherness goes off the rails, we don’t fall into a shock-induced despair. We know that we’re messy people living in a messy world. We look to God to fill us up with grace for ourselves and for our people.

Which is the perfect segue to my next point.

 

5. Lower your expectations.

I have an honorary doctorate in high expectations. This applies to myself and to those around me. Bless us all.

But when I allow for my life and my people to be messy, for things to not go as planned, we’re a much happier lot. I call it “expectational margin.” This point about low expectations may sound dismal and lazy, but I like to think of it as grace.

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I will forever love this photo of my niece. Is she depressed that she’s swimming in a rubbermaid container on Aunt Marian’s driveway and not at a beach resort? She is not. Tiny Tabitha has delightfully low expectations and is just happy to be here. #blessed

 

6. Know that every day doesn’t have to be a memory maker.

Raise your hand if it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to make all the summer days special-ish. We live in a Pinteresty, Instragrammy culture of bucket lists, of moments we can hashtag, of documenting every adorable experience. And while that can be fun, the cumulative effect is that it makes our everyday moments feel like they’re not measuring up.

My kids tend to remember summer not for all the special things we’ve done but for the break from school, the later bedtimes, the relaxed schedule, and watching TV together as a family. That’s how I remember the summers of my childhood too.

Summer is its own stand-alone kind of special. This reminds me that the pressure’s off.

 

7. Remember that the free stuff is often what we remember most and best.

My boys found a bunch of wiffle balls at the park and it was like Christmas.

My youngest son is watching dog training videos on YouTube.

My daughter and I are partaking in the glorious Ministry of Netflix again this summer.

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I was reflecting this week on what I loved most about summer as a kid:

  • Playing with kids at the church softball field and how the water fountain leaked enough for us to make mud pies in the red Carolina dirt
  • Riding my bike down to the creek and the freedom I felt
  • Watching the Sunday night ABC family movie
  • Having picnics in the living room
  • Catching fireflies

 

Childhood is its own sort of vacation.

 

8. Celebrate summertime with story time.

Novels, audiobooks, read-alouds, movies. Summer begs us to slow down and get lost in good stories.

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Even if I’m staying at home all summer, a good book or evening movie feel like ridiculous luxuries. Especially if there’s ice cream in the house.

 

9. Consider each summer season’s pros and cons.

Every season of parenthood has its summertime pros and cons. When my kids were little, taking them to the pool felt like an Olympic sport. {Guess what I don’t miss? Swim diapers.} But then those exhausting cherubs came home exhausted. They took naps and I had time to also take a nap or read a book or paint furniture or write. Bonus: They went to bed earlier and we enjoyed kid-free evenings.

These days they can get dressed and take showers and fix food ALL BY THEMSELVES. It’s glorious. But I’ve been crazy stressed because summer hasn’t felt relaxed. I’ve been driving people to and from places. A lot. And it’s a challenge to find long stretches of time during the day to get my work done.

It’s a busier summer because the people who live here are older and have more scheduled lives.

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They no longer go to bed early. (Boo!)  But we can all stay up late watching movies together that aren’t animated. (Yay!)

Each season has its own gifts and its own burdens. Being mindful of this reality helps me receive this current summer season with more grace and optimism.

 

10. Take time to nourish yourself.

I did an Instagram post a couple of weeks ago about how fixing myself a proper breakfast mid-morning changed the emotional trajectory of my day. I had been up half the night for no particular reason. Which meant I slept through my alarm. By the time I woke up, the kids were fighting and resistant to responsibility. I’d lost precious early-morning work hours, and I commenced to stressing and hollering.

My default is to grab coffee and race downstairs to crank out some work. But I went against my instinct. I slowed down. I cooked an actual meal for myself. I read for a few minutes. This 30 minute time-out nourished my body and my soul. It’s hard to be kind to others when you haven’t been kind to yourself.

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I really do love summer, but each year it’s an adjustment. This introvert mom has frayed nerves by the end of the day. Because I work from home but my kids are also at home, it gets a little cuckoo around here. Nourishing myself in small ways, like a real breakfast {or that ombre pink drink from Starbucks}, feels like kindness.

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I’d love to know how you receive your summer life. You can share in the comments, shoot me an e-mail, or leave your thoughts on social media.

Happy ordinary summering, everyone!


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10 Things I’ve Learned This Spring

10 things learned spring

It’s the start of a new season and that means it’s time to share what we’ve learned lately. These posts are some of my favorite to write because the serious and the silly get to hang out in one post.

“What We Learned” is hosted by one of my favorite people, Emily P. Freeman. It’s an invitation to “reflect on the past season before we move ahead into the future.”

You can find this community link-up over at her place, so join us!

On to the things I learned, in no particular order:

 

1. The Fitness Marshall is just as delightful and infectious in person.

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My sister-in-law turns 40 this year and each month of 2017, this sweet, laid-back, homeschool mom of 4 is trying to do something a little bit crazy. She introduced me to The Fitness Marshall months ago and it only felt right that since he was coming to Charlotte on his spring Tour of Booty {not making that up}, we’d join in the fun.

And IT WAS INDEED SO FUN. It felt like church. Or at least the way I want church to feel. All ages and shapes and sizes and colors all gathered together, showing up as we are, getting lost in the wonder and experience of it all.

There’s something magical about being in the presence of someone who is doing what they were made to do and sharing it with the world, whether that “world” is a giant stage or just the small gathering of a few. Caleb Marshall loves to dance, loves to encourage, and loves people. I’m so grateful he didn’t keep all of that to himself. {His cardio hip-hop videos are free on You Tube and so super fun.}

2. Sometimes it’s good when people have too much time on their hands.

Because they invent the wonderful ridiculousness of things like the Magic iPod. My brother sent me this text a couple of months ago.

“Themagicipod.com. You’re welcome.” : )

If you’re familiar with late 90s / early 2000s music, you’ll love this. You drag one of the songs on the left to one of the songs on the right and it mixes them.

magic iPod

My favorite? Mix Bubba Sparxxx with Vanessa Carlton. But not when your children are listening because the Bubba Sparxxx song is called, “Ms. New Booty.” {As if the 3 X’s in his name weren’t enough of a clue.} I know, this is a family blog and I’ve already typed “booty” twice. My apologies. Will I get illicit comment span after this?

 

3. You can return your most recent Audible book if you didn’t enjoy it.

I subscribed to Audible this year because I have a child who struggles a bit with reading and we needed a better way to get through some of the assigned books for school. But I’ve actually enjoyed having it for myself. I find that a lot of the “mundane” work in my life {driving, cooking, laundry, etc.} feels less mundane when I have the companionship of story.

Here’s the thing about audiobooks. Sometimes books should be read and not heard. One book that I won’t mention had lots of relational conflict and yelling. Guess what? Hearing someone do all of that yelling stressed me out so bad. But I had to find out what happened in the story so I finished it. It wasn’t one of my better decisions. So when I found out that I could return the book for credit simply because I didn’t enjoy the experience, that felt like a win.

I’ve now returned two Audible books and chosen other books in their place, all for zero dollars.

{If you’re interested in giving Audible a try, click here and you can get two free audiobooks for signing up. And yes, that’s an affiliate link but I’m a fan regardless.}

4. The 10-10-10 principle for prioritizing.

Historically, I’m terrible at prioritizing. All the things feel important all the time. Sometimes this lands me in a place of anxiety and sometimes it lands me in a place of paralysis. I’m always on a hunt for the “secret” that will unlock a cure for this disorder of mine. I don’t think it exists but sometimes I stumble across something that helps shift the way I think.

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Recently I was reading through a January 2014 back issue of Real Simple and I came across an article, “Balance or Bust” by Marjorie Ingall. The subtitle reads: One indefatigable woman takes on a marathon research project (2,330 pages of self-help!), determined to master life’s juggling act — even if it kills her. 

It’s one of my favorite features they’ve ever done. She boils down all of the wisdom she’s binged and shares the basics with her readers. This one has stuck with me.

Whenever you face a tough decision, find your answer by considering the consequences of each potential choice in the next 10 minutes, the next 10 months, and the next 10 years.

I’ve started using this principle for everything from taking the time to read to my youngest, to choosing not to write as much because my scant spare is better spent on relational opportunities that are fleeting. Sometimes I apply this principle when I’m in a moment of panic, “Ten minutes from now I’ll still be in a bad state but ten years from now I won’t even remember. Deep breaths.”

Books she mentions in this article that I actually purchased {and have not yet finished because no time #irony.}:

In Search of Balance: Keys to a Stable Life by Richard A. Swenson, author of Margin, one of my favorites.

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz {her favorite of all the self-help books.}

 

5. How to take vitamins.

My friend wanted me to try these vitamins so I took them for a week and actually felt better. {I’m going to buy some on my June order and see how I feel long-term. I’ll keep you posted.} Anyway, while doing some research, I stumbled upon this video of a darling gal with the sweetest accent and purple hair telling me how to take 6 vitamins at a time.

Y’all. It’s magic. It totally works. And it actually makes taking vitamins or any pills seem less daunting.

 

6. How to cook spaghetti squash.

As I type this I’m 26 days into a Whole30, something I swore I’d never do. I’m an “all things in moderation” gal and I don’t have any food allergies. I may have actually made fun of restrictive eating trends and regimens like this one.

But I turned 44 this week and let me tell you, hormonal shifts are no joke. Over the last year I’ve noticed a direct correlation between the sugar / bread / junk I consume and my mood / energy level / yelling. More protein and less other stuff keeps me stable..ish. Plus someone I love wanted to do Whole30 so I took it on as an act of solidarity.

w30 snack

What my afternoon pick-me-up looks like. “I’m jealous of that awesome snack” says no one.

Which is why I’m eating things like spaghetti squash. There are a gazillion links on the internet about spaghetti squash but here’s the big thing I want to tell you. Most people are cutting it wrong. If you want long “noodles,” cut the squash width-wise instead of length-wise.

This post and video from “Eat Within Your Means” taught me all about it.

 

7. The Popcast with Knox and Jamie is everything.

I know. Could I be any later to the party? So I’d heard about The Popcast for ages but didn’t check it out because I thought it was just a podcast version of People magazine. I love People. But I’m sooooo out of the celebrity culture loop that I figured it would all be lost on me. Also? People without the pictures had zero appeal.

But it’s not that at all. The Popcast “is a weekly podcast that educates the world on things that entertain, but do not matter.” And they absolutely live up to that bold mission.

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Knox and Jamie could talk about how to boil water or how to make your bed and guess what? I would still tune in because they are that hilarious and endearing. I started listening in January and haven’t missed an episode since. My favorite so far: Episode 181. “Misunderstood Songs and Misheard Lyrics.” 

 

8. Hemp Protein Powder is the worst.

On a quest to pump up our smoothies with extra protein that didn’t have a bunch of fillers {this was pre-Whole30}, I bought Hemp Powder. Thinking to myself, “Well, the more nutrition the better so I’ll just load these smoothies up with several giant scoops of health.”

My husband thought I had made his smoothie with soil and drywall mix. If you must use Hemp protein powder, for the love, moderation.

 

9. We need silence, not just rest.

I loved this article because it unpacked what I’ve found to be true for myself but am so quick to forget.

For a number of reasons, in April I took a 3 week hiatus from social media and the internet in general except for what I needed to do for work. And instead of listening to podcasts or stories or music, I mostly didn’t. It felt like a reset button for my brain and my spirit.

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The Harvard Business Review article explains it this way.

Cultivating silence isn’t just about getting respite from the distractions of office chatter or tweets. Real sustained silence, the kind that facilitates clear and creative thinking, quiets inner chatter as well as outer.

This kind of silence is about resting the mental reflexes that habitually protect a reputation or promote a point of view. It’s about taking a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities: Having to think of what to say.

Yes please.

Silence is free. It’s simple. But it’s also awkward, foreign, and even uncomfortable for us moderns who have a constant feed of information and noise at our fingertips all the time.

For me, choosing silence is a discipline I want more of.

 

10. The small griefs matter too.

Despite all the gifts of the past year, I’ve also wrestled with loss. I was telling my husband Sunday night that for twelve solid months, I feel like I’ve lost all my rhythms and some of my identity.

Because this season of life and motherhood and responsibilities has been surprising and unique in what it’s asked of me, my life-giving disciplines have been (at best) haphazard and (at worst) non-existent.

I’m not able to write as often. Certain creative projects that mean the world to me are sitting on a shelf. I crammed for my Bible study way more than I wanted to. I had little occasion to journal and be still. Some weeks I’d exercise 4 times and then go three weeks without doing anything. My days and weeks have been highly scheduled yet also wildly unpredictable.

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The internet hasn’t helped. Sometimes social media has felt like a sea of people all going one direction, passing me by with their pursuits and fulfilled dreams while I sit in a rowboat, working hard but seemingly getting nowhere that I’ve deemed worthy. I know this isn’t necessarily true but my perspective has been fueled by envy and self-pity, both of them terrible counselors.

I’ve faced far more painful things in my life than this. I’ve experienced real grief and walked hard roads. Which is why these lesser griefs and frustrations are embarrassing to admit. Recently I’ve confessed and processed with a couple of trusted souls who have been kind to affirm that the lesser losses are also worthy of our tears. Something about bringing them into the light has felt freeing.

If you’re feeling the same way, I wrote a little while back about overwhelm and these lesser griefs — and how I found safety and consolation in a strange and unexpected place. You can find it here.

So what have YOU learned this spring? I’d love to hear. We can dish about it in the comments and don’t forget that you can also join in over at Emily’s.

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For All the Defeated Moms {You’re Actually in a Good Place}

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It’s Mother’s Day weekend and that conjures up a million different feels depending on your relationship with your mother, your kids, or motherhood in general. Despite Consumerism’s conspiracy to convince us it’s all flowers and diamond heart necklaces designed by celebrities and fancy chocolates, we all know the truth. Mothers and kids and and mothering — it’s all downright complicated.

I have such mixed feelings about Mother’s Day {even though I love celebrating my own mom who is a saint for surviving the moodiest teenager in the history of the world.}

For me, my Mother’s Day ambivalence boils down to two things: 1.) I don’t deserve the hoopla, what with the yelling at kids and falling so short of my own standards. And 2.) I absolutely deserve ALL THE HOOPLA because motherhood is hard for this introvert mom who doesn’t love being needed and I am doing all the things for all the people and want some freaking credit. And also cake. {Which is a problem because I’m one week into Whole30, something I swore I’d never do. Give me all the sugar.}

So now even Mother’s Day lunch has become a metaphor for my ironic angst about all things motherhood.

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Anyway, you may or may not have noticed that the blog has been quiet. There’s no drama or scandal. This season of life simply isn’t accommodating to the writing life. I will weep if I write any more words about that so let’s move on.

Because I desperately miss this place and I miss all of you and I don’t want my blog to die from neglect, here’s an edited repost from the archives, just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s one of my favorites and, no surprise, I needed these words all over again. It’s as if I never wrote them. But I’m so glad I did and I think you need them too.

May you get all the hoopla and an extra-large piece of cake this Mother’s Day! You’ve earned it, despite what your ambivalent mom-self tells you. : )

Love, Marian

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Lately, I’ve been dropping my kids off at school in the morning, breathing a deep sigh of relief, and audibly saying “thank you” as I drive away in my dusty minivan. Is public school a means of grace? For me, right now, yes.

It’s safe to say that these are trying days in the parenting department. Not in an extreme, “I just bailed this one out of jail” sort of way but more of an “I’m absolutely clueless / I have no business being a mom / Everyone go away / Let me lie down” sort of way.

I never said I wore I supermom cape.

Last week I absolutely came to the end of myself with this whole mothering gig and it was really the most needful thing.

I sat at my desk, weary and overwhelmed. I prayed and cried and asked Jesus Himself to please show up with a miracle, to help me love in a way that transcends reason and rebellion and my own severe limitations.

And He did, gifting me to love in a way I’d never experienced. I had glimpses of wisdom that came out of nowhere. Compassion and real empathy sprung from a supernatural well. By Saturday I was like, “Yes! I can do this! We. Are. WINNING.”

Then Sunday showed up with more battles and stress and willfulness than I knew what to do with — theirs and mine. Just like that, I relapsed into the familiar comforts of preachiness and anger and entitlement and why is this sooooo hard?

Dealing with behavior is one thing. Caring for sick souls is quite another.

While I don’t feel I know much as a mother, I am 100% convinced that moralism and charts and systems may get the desired results on the outside, but they won’t begin to touch the inside. In fact, good behavior may be so convincing to both kids and parents that everyone ignores the heart altogether. But a sick heart will kill a person, even one that looks perfectly healthy on the outside. Ask me how I know.

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And so our home lately has felt like a triage unit with gurneys of wounded people and splayed-open hearts — theirs and mine.

On days of victory and progress, I feel like I’ll never taste defeat again. But then I do and such defeat makes me want to throw in the towel and tell everyone to please raise themselves from now on. I’ll provide groceries and find them a good therapist. I’ll even keep driving them around. But I cannot maintain a surgery ward.

Winning is a distant memory.

It’s in these valleys of defeat that I remember what carried me to the mountaintop of short-lived victory to begin with: being in a prior valley of defeat.

I face the uncomfortable truth that the Christian life is not about sustained winning. It is about sustained dependance.

When will I learn?

So I once again sink into the ground of humility and throw myself at the feet of mercy. I ask for power that I don’t have and am too tired to muster anyway. I ask for grace that is laughable. {Because true grace always is.}

I ask for the courage, companionship, and example that is Christ Himself — a gloriously scandalous God who knows that undeserved love, not lists and lectures, motivates a person to love — be it parent, child, or spouse. We love because we were first loved in such a way that it still makes us our heads spin. {Please God, let it make our heads spin.}

Always, we can shake off defeat and begin again because of the love-drenched grace and compassion we ourselves have been shown.

Dear defeated mom, motivate with love as you are motivated by love. Because love begets love. And isn’t real obedience simply an expression of real love?

At the end of a long week that followed an even longer week, I realize that being a mother is simply being a wounded healer, ministering to and interceding for sick souls with the presence and power of a loving Jesus.

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You may also enjoy these favorite posts

How a 92-year-old woman taught me the value of my right-now work

For the Overwhelmed Mom of Little Kids: 8 Things I Wish I’d Known

The Ministry of Netflix

For the Mom Who Needs a Simpler Way

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New here?

I’m all about  helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life. Each post provides courage, companionship, and resources for life lived real.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

And I have a free gift for subscribers. : )

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If you’re overwhelmed by the many educational options for your kids, if you’re curious about the most important questions to ask, I have a FREE resource created just for you!