Our preacher shared some very wise observations last week in his message, as he usually does. Even though he wasn’t primarily preaching on the concept of Sabbath, he mentioned it as part of his larger picture, and it seemed to dovetail beautifully with my recent focus on self-care.

He said (I’m paraphrasing):

“The idea behind Sabbath is to stop – simply because it’s time to stop. Each of us must carve out Sabbath in our own lives. It doesn’t have to be Judaism’s sundown-to-sundown, nor the 1950’s Blue Laws either. It just has to be a time when – no matter what – we will be with God.”

…which made me think: taking a Sabbath rest is a critical component of self-care.

When we slow down, take a break from our labor, listen to God’s Word and His Spirit, pray or meditate – we center ourselves. We remember to care for our soul. Since it doesn’t feel hunger pains the same way as our stomachs, it’s easier to neglect to feed a soul. Since it neither atrophies nor plumps up before our eyes like our muscles, it’s easier to forget to exercise a soul. But it’s still vital for us to care for our spirit.

In my last post, I only mentioned spiritual self-care briefly. Today, I thought I should offer some suggestions to that end.

Is your spirit parched, mama? Is your soul hungry? Sit yourself down, and be nourished.

 

  • Prayer. You know, talking to God can take so many different forms. Those “popcorn” prayers you toss up all day long – repeating something written centuries ago – jotting your needs in a journal – praying both for people you know and strangers you see in your day-to-day. In some seasons of my life, I’ve found it really hard to pray for myself, but that’s when I can usually still pray over other people.
  • God’s Word. You can go old-school: grab your Bible, flip it open, point to a verse at random, and read that for the day. Or you can go artsy and get a journaling/art Bible. If you’ve always got your phone nearby anyway, there’s an app for that – you can sign up for a devotion series and your phone will ‘ding’ you a notification reminder to log in and read the daily selection. Whatever it takes to fit your life – there is certainly a way to focus on God’s Words to you. (Remember, dear heart: your relationship with God is a relationship in every sense of the word. God loves to hear from you in prayer, but you also need to listen to Him and listen for Him. Can you imagine if you had a friend who ran into the room, talked non-stop for ten minutes, and ran back out – every time you saw her? I’m guessing that you would soon know all about her – but she wouldn’t know you very well. Listening to God through His Word is vital to a deepening relationship with Him.)
  • Meditation. Maybe it’s only two minutes to start with, but that’s okay. If you’re in one of those phases with very young children or lots of plates spinning in the air, two minutes out of your day is a lot. Have you heard the story of Susanna Wesley? She was the mother of John and Charles Wesley – the founders of the Methodist tradition – as well as 17 other children (nine of whom died in infancy). Apparently, Susanna taught her children that when they saw mother with her apron covering her head, they were not to disturb her because she was praying. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could teach our littles that a certain sign or symbol meant “Mom’s meditating – do not disturb”?
  • Music. Maybe it’s hymns, maybe it’s modern worship music, maybe it’s classical compositions. Maybe, like a pal of mine, you feel the spirit of the Lord when you listen to the Indigo Girls. I believe music is a gift from God, and finding the tunes that soothe your soul can be an easy way to make spiritual self-care part of your everyday experience.
  • A Sunday afternoon nap. Yes, seriously. Have you managed to take a Sunday nap lately? There is something mystically restorative about a nap on Sunday. It leaves me feeling twice as rested as it possibly could any other day of the week. I can’t do it every week, but whenever possible I’ve started trying to give myself permission to take Sunday naps. It’s a blessing I can’t quite explain.
  • Service. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: you’re already tired, you do a hundred things a week, and now I’m suggesting you do more WORK? How is that restful and restorative? I’ll tell you: it’s a holy mystery and I don’t understand it fully myself. (Caution: if you are a people-pleaser at heart, or if your personality type struggles to say no, you’ll need to exercise heaping helpings of caution and discernment here. It’s easy to do too much in the name of service and end up burned out.) But each of us is wired for service. Each of us is gifted in unique ways to serve people around us. Some of us are well-equipped for ministry – we can serve the people of God within the global church. Some of us are designed for mission – serving the people of the world who don’t know God yet. When you choose to serve, there is something energizing and invigorating that occurs. Even as you pour out your energy and time, you are filled in a deeper way.

What makes your list for spiritual self-care? I’d love to know what works for you. Comment, tweet me, or tag me on IG.

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A few weeks ago, I hired a photographer friend to take headshots for me. Head shots? Oh geez. I know. It sounds a little hoity-toity. But I had a good reason.

For one thing, I’m pretty sure the last time I had  photos taken of myself –just me!– was when I was pregnant with Susannah (and the last time I had professional photos taken of myself was, oh, the tenth of Never).

For another thing, I was in the midst of the blog redesign and knew I wanted to include a new spot on the front page with my smiling face and a little note of welcome to readers. It just seems like the friendly thing to do!

So Christella met me at a nearby park and took a ton of pictures. She’s just such a sweet, kind hearted person. She blogs about her beautiful family, too – check her stories out over here.) We chatted and laughed and had a great time and then a week later she gave me a CD packed with dozens of great photos. How to choose!? Eeeek.

Here are a few (of the many!) that I just loved:

IMG_5289  IMG_5341  IMG_5419 B&W IMG_5384   IMG_5423

It was so much fun (and it totally counted as one of my self-care hours for the week!) and I’m really loving the addition to the front page of the blog.

 

 

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Self Care for Moms

I woke up this morning thinking about self-care, and how different that looks now than at any point in my adult life.

For one thing, I now know and use the phrase self-care and I don’t even feel too awkward or embarrassed about it. Well. I still feel a little awkward, to be honest. Taking care of my self has not always been easy for me.

Briefly: when I was in college, many of these things came very naturally. Part of that can be attributed to the environment I was in (I was surrounded by friends, literally living with my best friend, and living in the middle of a place where I felt valued and respected. My academic career, my campus jobs and volunteer opportunities, and my sorority all packed those years chock-full of caring for myself – but back then, I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening.

Which meant that as adulting hit break-neck speed (we got married, Chris started chemo, I started my first job, we moved, he started medical school, we had miscarriages and then eventually a baby and another and another), I didn’t realize some of the things I needed to do to nurture my self.

Eventually, I started to realize I needed care because I was starting to crack. And over the years, I have figured out a lot of ways to take care of myself – and over the years, I’ve been all over the board in terms of how much time, money, and energy I’ve had to devote to self-care.

I thought that it might be helpful to share some of what has worked for me, in case you:

  • are pretty gosh-darn broke
  • are a  single mom or a “work widow”
  • are knee-deep in the baby stage with a little one who can’t be left for long
  • are up to your eyeballs with multiple kids at multiple ages
  • finally have a little bit of fun-money to spend
  • just got out of the baby stage and have a few minutes to yourself now and then

…because I’ve been at ALL those places. Each of those circumstances have their own challenges, but self-care can still happen.

**********

What does self-care mean, exactly?

Self-care is anything you do that feeds your spirit. It recharges your batteries and connects you to who you really are. It may involve caring for your physical body, your mental health, your emotional state, or your spirituality.

I think I get it. But I need examples! 

Okay, good. That’s what this post was supposed to be about, anyway! Here we go. A quick guide to the notations:
$ (when you’re super broke)
$$ (when you have a little cash)
$$$ (when money’s no object)
SW – single mom or work-widow mom
NB – newborn nearby
MK – multiple kids
FT – finally have a little free time

 

Coffee/Tea
$ – A quick cuppa can be crazy-cheap if you do it at home. It’s more about the time and the ritual of slowing down and enjoying it.
$$ – With a little investment in a French press and a beautiful mug that makes you smile, you can upgrade those just for you moments with some sparkle.
$$$ –  Get yourself your favorite treat from your favorite place. Bonus points if you manage to go in the coffeeshop and sit down for a few minutes.

Mani/Pedi
$, NB, MK – Grab a new color while you’re at the grocery store, and DIY. With a baby, either schedule your nails for the MOMENT your little one falls asleep, or as soon as they hit that happy spot after a meal and you know you’ll have ten calm minutes. Resist the urge to do something you “have to” do. You know what you have to do? You have to take care of yourself! With multiple kids, try running a bubble bath (or have an indoor pool party – throw them in the tub in their swimsuits, if you’ve got kids spread across genders and ages that don’t work for community baths anymore) and paint your tips while they splash a little.
$$ – A monthly trip to a salon? If you’re the extroverted type, take along a friend or sister and double-up the self-care by getting a dose of chatter. If you’re an introvert, take along a book to your pedi so the manicurist won’t feel the need to talk and rob you of the energy you’re trying to find!

Exercise
$, NB – Try walking in your neighborhood. Bonus points if you get a little vitamin D while you’re at it. This is another option to do solo if you’re introverted and need alone time, or with a pal if you’re extroverted and need to connect.
$$ – Pick a gym or a boutique fitness spot and get a one-month membership. Sometimes new members get great introductory rates, and you might learn a few moves you’ll be able to continue to do at home. If you’re a single mom, look for a place with in-house childcare. If you’re a married mom but your spouse has a challenging schedule, look for a place with accomodating hours (5:30 a.m. boot camp or 7:00 pm Zumba – it’s out there!)
$$$ – Hire a personal trainer, and target exactly the fitness issues you want to focus on and the types of exercises that really work best for you. Because your body is a temple.
Blanche Devereaux treats her body like a temple

(And note: if the idea of exercise is not a JOY to you, but instead is something you HATE, don’t put it on your list. Your own personal list is going to be filled with things that make you happy and cared-for. Don’t write down ‘exercise’ because you have to. Promise? Okay, moving on.)

Professional Care Appointments

$ – Your insurance may cover a certain number of visits with a chiropractor or counselor. That can make those visits free or very nearly so.

$$ – Services like babysitting, hair appointments, massage therapy, or chiropractic out-of-pocket.

 

Hobbies
It’s hard to break these down by the codes, because people’s interests vary so widely, but I’ll say this: what do you like to do, just for fun? Just because it makes you happy? Just because it lets you stretch your creative muscles or feel playful and young again? Find a way to do that again. For example:
-reading (free via library, cheap via e-reader, spendy via hardbacks to fill your shelves)
-sewing or knitting (we all know you can make these as expensive as you want, but if you need to save pennies you don’t have to quit altogther – bargain shop! Thrift stores and garage sales can be your secret weapon.)
-scrapbooking (cheap if you make it all digital, various degrees of spendy if you print an album or do classic albums with pics and ‘need’ a million stickers)
-singing, dancing (cheap via community choirs, churches, and boogie-ing in your PJs, more if you take classes or join performance troupes)

 

Naps
Always free, but I know: challenging if you are a S/W and have NB or MK.
With a baby and being solo, I’ve always loved the idea to make one room in your house totally baby-safe. Close the door, lay down on the floor with a pillow and blanket, and let baby crawl around and explore happily while you doze. It won’t be deep, solid sleep – but it can be surprisingly restorative.
If you have a partner or a pal, asking for help is okay. Someone else can play with your kids (bonus points if they take them out of the house!) while you get an hour’s rest.

 

Bubble Baths
This is the one thing I feel the most stupid about forgetting, back when I was neglecting self-care. When we had no pennies for splurging and I had babies to care for 24/7, I still could have managed to fit in one or two bubble baths a week. If it’s been a long time since you’ve indulged, I beg you: as soon as you finish reading this post (because I don’t want you to drop your phone into the tub!) go have a long, bubbly soak. Chandler knows what I’m talking about:
Chandler Bing relaxing in bubble bath

 

Laughter
What makes you laugh, mama? Good, deep, hard, belly laughs that bring tears to your eyes? Whatever it is, go after that.

I’ve got a “Humor” board on Pinterest that cracks me the heck up. Sometimes I just lock myself in the bathroom for ten minutes and stare at those videos and memes. It lifts my spirit and reminds me that I have a sense of humor – and sometimes that’s all it takes to get through a day, am I right?

Maybe you’re an in-person laugher. You might need a regularly scheduled girls’ night out with your best pal who always has you in stitches.

Or if you like quirky jokes or pratfalls or adolescent potty humor, there’s a Netflix category for that, I promise! Stream a movie or a comedy special. Yuk it up!

 

**********

Okay, hopefully a few things from my list have helped you start to imagine what a life filled with self-care might look like. I don’t do all of those every single day. But, I’m at a stage right now where I have a little pocket money; I have multiple kids but due to school and parent’s morning out I have six child-free hours per week; I’m still a work widow but not as drastically as a few years ago. So I try to do at least three things for myself every week – time with a hobby, time with a friend, exercise, a care appointment, reading a book while ignoring the laundry…. Sometimes I spend money (now that I can) but sometimes the best, most restorative things I do are still the freebies.

 

So how do I get started?

Step One: Reflect

Not all of my suggestions will sound comforting or energizing to you. Some of these would be torture and you’d run away screaming for the hills. That’s okay. A few of these will work for you, and maybe they’ll help you think of other things that recharge your batteries. Craft your own personalized list.

Step Two: Reserve

Your list of things that give you warm fuzzies won’t be worth the crayon it’s scribbled in, if you never make the time to do something you wrote down. Reserve a few minutes for yourself.

Now, it’s a Self-Care Law of the Universe that saying YES to yourself will require saying NO to something else. (Remember that law of the universe from science class about how one bit of matter can’t occupy the same space as another bit of matter? Or something like that. I wasn’t great at sciencing. Anyway, it’s just like that.) The 24 hours in your day can only accomodate so many to-dos. Reserving time means that you have to prioritize. Feed your kids and make sure your house isn’t a health hazard, but let the rest go for fifteen minutes or an hour. It’s okay.

Because! There is a fascinating corollary to the Self-Care Law of the Universe! Whenever you say YES to something from your list, something that only exists because it cares for your self, you will reap energy you were missing before, and that usually means that you can accomplish so much MORE than you could when you were telling yourself no and operating in a depleted state.

Step Three: Review

After a few weeks, check in with yourself. Get somewhere quiet and observe:  do you feel calmer in your own skin? Have you found yourself smiling for no reason? Are you happier and sweeter with your family members? If the answer is yes, then it’s working. Keep doing what you’re doing. If the answer is no, then go back to step one. Maybe the things you picked were self-care tasks that “sound good” but don’t feed your spirit. Maybe you wrote a self-care task on your to-do list every day for a week but never actually got around to it. Take stock and see what you need to change.
I’d love to hear from you. Are you in a phase of life where you’re struggling with self-care? Did I leave your favorite one off my list? Please drop me a note in the comments!

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I feel a little bit like that scene in every movie ever where a character comes [into a room, down a staircase, out from behind a curtain] and s/he suddenly looks their very best and everyone gasps because this was the potential all along. Like, “Hey, we always knew you were [smart, funny, talented] but now your outside matches your inside!”

Yeah. I’ve been blogging since 2005. I started out, as most of us do, on a free site. I had nothing fancy to look at, and I was writing primarily for our long-distance extended family. Eleven years later, I’ve got my own URL and this space finally looks like what I’ve always envisioned. (even if my audience is still family and a few friends. I’m okay with that.)

The genius behind the look is Elaine at Elaine Griffin Designs. She was so easy to work with! I didn’t want to be one of those people who goes, “Um, I don’t know what I want it to look like, but, um, make it pretty and put a bird on it.” I hear that drives designers crazy. Luckily, Elaine has a great questionaire tool that helped me narrow my focus so that I could put into words what I really wanted for the blog. And she managed to turn that page of questions and answers into this! (imagine me making jazz hands all around the room) I adore my logo. 🙂 Don’t you? I think it’s absolutely lovely. (And look up there in your browser tab – she even made a coordinating favicon. Squeee!)

So if you need some web design awesomeness, please head Elaine’s way.

Aaaaaaand… I’m not quite finished. I have one more surprise coming, probably next week sometime – but that will get its own post. 😉 (imagine me happy-dancing away)

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Sweet Abi started taking a ballet/tap combination class this school year. She so adorably loves it. Every Friday morning, she gets all decked out (and even lets me fix her hair! #girlmomperks ) and after class, regales me with chatter about what her teacher did and what her friends said and all the movement games they played.

I love it for her.IMG_6661

When I was about 11, I took ballet when we lived in Texas. I think I took classes for about a year, and I remember loving the music, the movements. It was probably the first time I felt aware of my body and proud of its strength. But when my dance teacher told us that she wanted me to move up to the en pointe class, I got scared. She said I was younger than most of her pointe students, but she thought I would do well.

Even as a kid, I had a bad case of paralyzing perfectionism. The idea of going into a new class where I would be the youngest, the least experienced, and therefore probably the worst? No way, nuh-uh, not happening.

So I quit ballet.

That was the first of many hobbies and interests and activities I would begin, excel in, and abruptly quit.

Piano. Baton. Horseback riding. Sewing. Spanish.

I’m so thankful that my parents continued to let me try new things.

But I hate how my anxieties kept me from enjoying them longer. I wish I had been able to push myself past the part where the new skill got challenging. When I could no longer play my piano pieces through after a single practice session, I decided that meant I didn’t really have “an ear for music,” and I stopped taking lessons. After my first parade, I realized that other {older, experienced} baton twirlers could do a zillion more tricks than I could, and figured since I was still struggling with Move X, I’d probably never ever master my way up to Move Y. So I quit that, too.

The thing I’ve realized as an adult is that a lot of that tendency was due to my particular brain. Lots of gifted kids exhibit this little quirk: so many things come so easily to us upon first blush, that we get accustomed to everything coming naturally. We also get stuck in a feedback loop, where adults praise us for mastering things that seem very simple and effortless: therefore we think that effortless=praiseworthy. We see kids around us struggling with mastery and {yes, it’s true, we kinda can’t help it, many of us start off pretty egotistical and only learn empathy later} we assume that struggle=stupidity. Then, the first time we hit a task that’s going to require some WORK on our part, we spiral into cataclysmic thinking.

This is hard. -> Stuff is supposed to be easy for me.  -> If it’s hard, that means I’m stupid {about this}. -> Feeling stupid is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. -> I’m going to quit {this} and do something where I’m comfortably smart, instead.

In my life right now, I’m figuring out how to push through that old pattern and not get caught on that spiral. Part of my new ability to do that comes from my meds, and I’m okay with that. The other part comes from some good therapy and learning some new types of self-talk. I had to figure out how to recognize the pattern, the voice in my head that whispers that LIFE AS WE KNOW IT WILL END IF MICHELLE FAILS AT SOMETHING PUBLICLY aaaaah eeeeeeek oh noes and I had to figure out how to approach opportunities rationally. There are certain key phrases my brain uses when it’s in that mode. They are my red flags that what I’m thinking and feeling isn’t really grounded in truth.

Having a friend or loved one to springboard ideas has also really helped me. A local bestie who knows me well, my husband – both people who can “gut check” me and will kindly but truthfully tell me when I’m hung up on old notions and operating out of fear.

https://smilescanbecatching.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/what-if-i-fall-oh-but-my-darling-what-if-you-fly/

One of the things I want desperately for my kids, then, is to grow up without the whisper of paranoid perfection in their heads. I pray that I’ll see the warning signs if they feel pressure to be perfect. I hope that I’ll know when to nudge them to keep going, to persevere, to take another step, to leap, to fly. And on the other hand, that I’ll know when they really do need to heed their inner voice and lay something down, take a step back, stop.

I don’t want Abi to stick with ballet because I have visions of her onstage beside Misty Copeland someday. I want her to stick with ballet for as long as it makes her happy, and if at some point it doesn’t, I hope I’ll be able to help her find another outlet that does bring her joy.

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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