Yikes. It’s January 19th. My computer tells me I started this draft on January 6th– so, here we are 13 days later.
I remember well in my years before moving to Guatemala and becoming a mom that I would carve out a few hours at the end of each year to reflect. I would curl up in a cozy coffee shop on the mesa, a few blocks from where I used to live, and write and dream and make lists of what I wanted to do in the coming year. I remember 3 of my best friends and I used to go out for dinner at an Italian restaurant, the ones that have the white paper on top instead of a table cloth- perfect for small children, or ambitious 20-something’s. And over rosemary bread dipped in olive oil, we would each write out our 5 goals for the year. We wrote and dreamed about things that most 20 years old want: new relationships and work opportunities and traveling to new countries. I remember distinctly one of those years I wrote something like, “Learn Spanish.” Ha, funny how life works out.
. . .
But this season of life feels different. If feels harder to carve out a few hours to go sit in a coffee shop just to dream and write and plan. In between washing diapers and washing dishes, and coordinating schedules and planning meals, and answering emails and arranging transpiration, and doing all the good stuff that goes into making a life and a marriage work, I find that I have less and less energy and time for me, or for writing, or for even talking to a friend.
But I know first hand it’s not a problem of not having enough time, it’s a problem of having said, “yes” to too much. I have felt this before: this slow stress that comes creeping up and then blindsides you and all of the sudden, you wonder why you’re crying in the parking lot at the grocery store. Yeah, that one. It steals the joy away from whimsical moments, whispering what you should be getting done the moment you stop to rest or play. I know that feeling, and I know I don’t want to go back there.
But, let me tell you people. It’s hard. At least hard for me. If my time and energy were indispensible, I would be saying yes to everything, to leading this and planning that. I would be teaching classes and scheduling events and on-the go-go-go. And the thing is, I probably would get it all done, but often at the expense of those closest to me: my husband and my daughter and myself.
. . .
There was a movie that came out years ago, a total teacher-nerd kind of movie, “The Freedom Writers.” And although not central to the story, there is one scene that I will never forget. The lead (Hilary Swank) is rushing around trying to get ready for one of final big event with her students. The very students she has been mentoring and investing in and for all-important purposes, I mean, she’s helping to changing their lives! She’s a stellar teacher, but you see the sub-plot unfolding. She begins devoting more time to her classroom, and less to her marriage. And in one 3-second scene, she comes home from work to find a note from her husband on the dresser, saying…he’s leaving. I remember sitting on the couch next to my roommate as I was grading my own student’s notebooks, and I started crying.
Something convicted me. It’s like I saw myself. I knew that could easily be me one day. And it scared me.
. . .
Fast-forward 6 years later, I left the public school sector and I am living in a different country, now married and mothering and working with a non-profit organization. I have put my classroom teaching days on hold for now, mostly because I know the days of teaching and playing with my little girl are fleeting.
But two weeks ago, the director of the girls school where I used to teach, asked me if I would be interested in teaching at the junior high? (she just so happens to also be my sister-in-law:). You remember the girls school??!! This one, where I wrote about how I go to their 6th graduation every year and so few of the girls continuing studying because they have to help their families. And now that very school is opening up a jr. high! I was thrilled. I almost said yes, on the spot. I love teaching, and love those girls. It seemed like an easy answer.
But I told her I would talk to Gerber and get back to her.
I shared with him one morning, while standing over the sink, toothbrush in one hand, make-up brush in the other. He listened, and nodded and then remained silent.
He asked a few questions. I got defensive. He said it seemed like our life already felt really full, between juggling work and schedules and groups and caring for our child. He asked why I wanted to add one more thing when he often hears me complaining about not having enough time for things I enjoy?
In my head I rattled off all of my usual mantras, I will be more productive with my time. Everything will get done. I can do one more thing.
He looked at me, as I tried to brush powder on my face and toothpaste on my teeth and said, “I trust you. You can decide what’s best.”
. . .
So I did what I usually do, I prayed while I drove to work that morning and then, texted my best friend.
Usually, what I hear God say and what she says, line up. So that must mean something, riiiiight???
She wrote back, “I know you love teaching, but I think Gerber’s right. It’s ok to say no, sometimes. Your marriage and family may appreciate it.”
Then I heard God say, if you and Gerber aren’t equally excited for something, maybe you should listen to that.
That sounded pretty wise. I swallowed, what I knew was my pride, and called my sister-in-law to say that I wouldn’t be able to teach this year. It was hard, but felt good.
. . .
I know it’s an age-old rule, but sometimes saying no to one thing, means saying yes to something else.
I know myself, and I know that I will always have the propensity to put my work above my family. I know in whatever field I am in, it will be a struggle. I don’t necessarily like this about myself, but I know there is a reason why that movie scene hit me like it did 6 years ago. And I know I need to consistently keep choosing what’s really important. Because just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should.
I saw something Shauna Niequist or Laura from Hollywood Housewife posted a few months ago and it stuck with me: Don’t Disappoint The Wrong People. And I decided that is my mantra for 2015. That is what I want to repeat to myself this year ahead. This is what I am going to write on a post-it note in my calendar.
Don’t Disappoint The Wrong People.