• Lisa Popcak

During the first weeks and months of the year we often want/ or feel pressured to change something or a lot of things.

•Get organized 

•Get fit

•Change eating habits 

•Take on new projects

•Improve a relationship 

•Change ourselves completely!

Some of these desires come from a great place and are truly good things for us. Sometimes they come from a place of lack or self condemnation, so they aren’t as good for us as they seem on the surface, and may produce bad fruit. It is important to pray about and evaluate these desires to determine what is right for us to take on.

Yet even the good changes, the ones God has placed on our hearts, can be difficult to take on or persevere in since we live and work with other people, and already live jam packed lives as mothers. Making desired changes can seem impossible because of all we already do, weakening our resolve and leaving us feeling frustrated with ourselves or our circumstances.

For me personally, one of these desired changes was exercise. While not my top priority, I do feel better when I get some exercise. It gives me energy and clears my mind. However I kept hitting roadblocks every time I tried to incorporate exercise into my daily schedule. 

First, the getting up earlier advice that one reads everywhere, did NOT work for me. Like most moms, I  often need to stay up late for various reasons. Yet my particular body requires at least seven or more hours of sleep to stay healthy. So, I have to prioritize sleep over exercise for my health and well being. Instead of getting up earlier I tried moving my workouts to later in the day. I found a workout I could do at home and began working out every weekday. Three things sidelined that, first there are weekdays I don’t get home until 11pm and I come home exhausted. Second, when I’m home with my family I don’t enjoy spending precious time away from them. Third, but most significant, is that my body kept having a weird reaction. I would get two or three weeks into my workout routine, and be feeling good, and then I would suddenly come down with some really bad illness. I suppose my body was releasing toxins, and because I have a complicated medical history these illnesses landed me flat on my back sick for weeks. Not enjoyable and not good for my family!

So for a long time I couldn’t figure out how to get the movement I wanted and needed without doing myself some kind of harm. I took it to prayer and while I didn’t get an immediate answer, I did begin to approach the problem from a different angle: What could I do that would fit into my schedule, make me feel like I wasn’t missing out on family time, and most importantly wouldn’t cause me to get sick?

Then one day as I was getting ready to start my live radio show More2Life, my engineer said “Thirty seconds” and my husband made a joke about how much we could get done in thirty seconds. He was right. Years of doing radio has taught me how very long thirty seconds really is. If your radio went silent, or your devices stopped streaming for thirty whole seconds you’d think something was radically wrong. And can’t thirty seconds seem like an eternity when you’re waiting for your coffee in the morning?

This gave me the idea to do the smallest thing I could do to begin meeting my goal - a thirty second plank every thirty minutes throughout the day using my phone as a reminder and timer. I know that may sound puny and ridiculous, yet it met my criteria and would give me a chance to work up slowly in an attempt to avoid my previous reactions. It was also better than doing nothing.

After two weeks without getting sick, I increased it to a minute plank every thirty minutes. Then I increased it to a minute and a half every thirty minutes, and when that was going well I started adding sets of v-ups or donkey kicks. It only takes me two and a half minutes, every thirty minutes on the two to four days I can fit it into my schedule. On the days I can’t, I fit it in as best I can with intention but extreme flexibility. 

I also use the planking time to turn my mind and heart to God. I thank him for giving me the miracle of the health and the strength to do it ( something I didn’t always have), and ask him to help me serve him well and know and love Him better. I leave that time feeling energized, instead of spent from over doing, and able to take on the next section of time until my alarm reminder vibrates again. It’s helped me realize that not all change requires huge amounts of time or radical life shifts. Change can be made in tiny doable steps.

Let’s look at how to apply this idea to some changes we often want to make.

Getting organized:  Organizing is usually most successful when a big project is completed all in one go. I did this myself after visiting family left after the holidays. Necessity is often the mother of organization for me. Since our family is in a state of growth, I needed to sort things out and make room for all the new sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, and such that we need now. But the coming few months are chock full of commitments that won’t leave me a lot of time for more organizing. 

So now I’m considering applying this "tiny bits of time" approach to the other organizing I’d like to do. For instance, taking the contents out of a drawer and then for one or two minutes an hour sorting things out, and then continuing once each hour until it’s finished.

Improving relationships: How about when the half hour or hour alarm vibrates, taking a moment to tell your child you love them, pay them a meaningful compliment, give them a hug, or even tell them a silly joke. If you're doing this over text for a child who’s in school, you could change it to a quick text every few hours to let them know you love them. You can even use a special silly emoji that only you two would understand so that your child won’t be embarrassed if their friends see it.

We often wait for a day where we can spend hours together to make a loving connection, and those days are often hard to come by. But connecting in small ways throughout every day will build a loving relationship, and when we do get those special longer stretches of time they will be all the sweeter because of the tiny connections we’ve made everyday.

Carving out these bite size times on a recurring schedule, and adjusting them when needed, has given me a real sense of the power of the intentional use of time. Even if I have a day that has me going constantly, I can usually get thirty seconds or a minute when my alarm vibrates to do something small toward my goal. That is time I probably wouldn’t get if I waited to have an hour or a day to get something accomplished. 

These tiny intervals aren’t meant to become a terrany, suddenly controlling every 30 seconds of your day. If your in the middle of something else that you shouldn’t interrupt when the reminder goes off, just set another alarm for a half hour later, or whatever time might work. It’s a reminder to make a small space to do something that you have decided to do for yourself, so you can stop waiting for your turn to take care of yourself. This is away to give yourself little gifts of self-care that add up through out everyday, not something that makes you a slave to a timer. If you try it and it doesn’t bring you joy or a sense of satisfaction, then don’t do it. Pray for a unique idea that would work for your life and personality. I’m just sharing an inspiration that has worked for me. 

So if you find yourself getting weary trying to keep up with the new things you want to do or changes you hoped to make this year, consider creatively breaking it down into tiny, repeated bites of time, be gentle with yourself and celebrate every small accomplishment. You may find those changes and resolutions actually happening this year!

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Well, it’s now getting dark earlier and without a doubt the holidays are right around the corner. No matter how you feel about the holidays, one thing is certain, for the next couple of months our responsibilities as moms multiply like crazy. Because of this we can get overwhelmed, burned out, and cranky, or at the very least too busy to experience the joy of the holidays.

On top of that, there are a trillion ways to celebrate the holidays. Some have been handed down to us by families of origin, others come at us at a million miles an hour from every source of media. They all look so pretty or meaningful and we can often want to do them all. On the flip side, we can get so overwhelmed that we can just want to throw up our hands and not do anything at all, and can often come up with a lot of reasons to justify that stance.

Let’s be honest, sometimes our attraction to all the holiday doings comes from a place of absolutely loving the holidays and wanting to savor every moment, and sometimes our view of the holidays is influenced by reactions to the holidays of our childhood (negative or positive).Whatever our influences, as mothers we are now at the forefront of how our families experience the holidays this year and how they remember holidays for a lifetime. (On some level you are aware of this already, so please don’t get mad at me for being the one to acknowledge it.)

Holidays truly are important times set aside, by their religious nature or by public decision, to take time to pause from the ordinary every day and come together to remember that we are meant for more than the mundane. We are meant for gratitude, joy, and relationship with God and others. Holidays are meant to feed our souls. 

But how do we moms do all that is needed to create a holiday celebration - all the preparation, providing for everyone’s needs and hopes, feeding everyone, the additional social and service expectations, etc. -and still stay sane and perhaps actually enjoy the holidays and have our own souls fed?

Full disclosure, this has been a huge learning curve for me, so any tips I share here have been hard won. Perhaps they’ll save you some of the growing pains I’ve experienced.

Here are some questions I’ve learned to keep in mind to determine if a certain activity should be part of our holiday experience. 

1- Do I enjoy this activity? Does it add to the joy of my holidays? 

Yes, we are actually allowed to enjoy the holidays too. Not just produce them for others. Now let’s be honest, we’re not going to enjoy every second of all the holiday preparation. It’s often hard, other centered work. But if we start with this question, we can at least pause and evaluate each task and see if it’s worth it to us because it gives us joy, or at least gives others enough joy to make it worth it. 

For example, I may not enjoy lugging boxes of holiday decorations up from the basement, unwrapping the each piece, and cleaning up the residual mess, but I love decorating with my family and remembering together how each ornament came into our lives, and I really cherish the joy we all share from being surrounded by it all throughout the season. So that makes the work worth to me. Intentionally recalling that allows me to overcome my dislike of difficult parts and put my focus on the part that gives me joy, thereby making the part I don’t like a bit easier to get through.

2- Am I capable of doing it physically, financially, emotionally, or time wise?  

I may find every form of decorating, cooking, crafting, or event attending attractive when it comes across my radar, but if it’s going to wear me out physically, or overextend my family financially, or leave me cranky or in a depleted puddle of tears then we’d all benefit more from me moderating those desires and choosing only those that I am actually capable of taking on well, or finding a different way to meet that desire.

For example, years ago a dear friend of mine found that wrapping Christmas presents was putting her right over the emotional edge. She had five children ages eight and under, including newborn twins. She had no time to secret herself away to wrap gifts, and really no arms, as they were always rightly filled with babies. But having wrapped gifts under the tree on Christmas morning was important to her. So she decided to pay her teenage nephew, who needed some extra shopping money, to wrap them all for her and everybody benefitted from her being humble enough to acknowledge that she couldn’t do it all.

3- Is the holiday activity age/ability appropriate, both in skill level and ability to capture the meaning?

As mothers or grandmothers we often get so excited about sharing the holidays with our family. But sometimes we can set ourselves and the kids up for frustration. It’s important to assess whether this is the right time or circumstance to take on what we have in mind with an eye toward kindness and sanity. 

For example, attending church at midnight on Christmas Eve is a beautiful and deeply moving family tradition. But your daughter-in-law might not find it to be so if you insist she attend during the years she has young children and babies to care for. So with an eye toward kindness and everyone’s sanity, choosing different church arrangements during those years might create happier holiday memories for years to come.

I learned the importance of asking myself this third questions through a few moments of trial and error over the years. For instance, years ago I was hoping to add more religious tradition to our season. One of the traditions that caught my attention was the Jesse Tree. It’s a lovely tradition that teaches salvation history as each piece is placed on the tree throughout Advent. I saw advertised what looked to be a lovely kit. The description said that even small children would enjoy making each piece and discovering its meaning while adding it to the tree. But when the kit arrived it turned out to be several large bolts of felt and a very large sheet of patterns requiring each piece of the intricate pattern to be cut out with tiny sharp scissors, then traced onto the felt, then cut out of the felt and assembled. This was NOT a project to do with small children! I was disappointed, and a bit conflicted. But rather than make us all miserable attempting to do it because I felt guilty for not doing it - because I had spent the money on it, or because other moms did it - I chucked the whole thing in the garbage and did other things that my kids and I could have fun doing together. And all these years later my kids have learned and embraced their faith even without that maddening kit, and the mom police have not come and arrested me for not doing that project.

4- Does the activity give you time together to enjoy each other?

Making choices that allow us time to really enjoy each other is how warm holiday memories are made. So in evaluating whether or not something should be part of your holiday celebrations ask yourself if it will separate your family through time apart, or stress induced grumpiness, or will it give you time together doing something enjoyable that creates connection.

Pausing to evaluate your holiday planning with these four questions in mind can help you create a warm and happy holiday season for not only your family, but for you as well.

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  • Lisa Popcak

I want to remind you that what you do all day, everyday, has deep spiritual significance for both you and your child?

Each and every act of  maternal care is an act of faith, hope and love. Through all those moments of love and service we moms, aided by God's grace, express assent to some truth of God, acknowledging that we and our children are created in God’s image, worthy of love and care. What we do moment by moment is not just tasks, chores, or drudgery, but instead a deep cooperation with God in forming souls - our children’s and our own.

In a world where information is a click away, products can be delivered to our door the next day (or sooner), and microwaves honestly seem to take forever, the repetitive acts of motherhood can often lead us to question their worth.

In other areas of our lives one can ask, “What did you do today?” and there is likely an answer that expresses accomplishment. For example, “I closed a deal.”, “I finished the plans for the fundraiser.”, “ I finished editing the video for social media.” Whatever the answer, we state what we accomplished, receive some kind of positive feedback, and then the conversation continues leaving us feeling like we justified our existence for another day.

But when it comes to the things we do in our role as moms it’s harder to have that experience. If you ask a mom what she did today she will probably grasp for any other talking point before she would say something like, “I held my baby for five and a half hours straight because that’s what he needed today.” or “ I spent the whole evening going over the 3 times tables because my child is really struggling with them.” or “I listened to my teenager go on and on about her recent heartbreak because she really needed me to listen without distraction.”

Because there is no immediate conversational payoff, nor are we likely to get that look of approval from the person asking the question, we tend to devalue that hard work, and the commitment and perseverance it took. We even sometimes devalue ourselves a bit.

But what we are deeming unworthy because of a lack of immediate payoff, is actually the most significant, beneficial, and spiritual work we ever do. We are planting seeds of worth, love, tenderness, perseverance, and trust in our children’s hearts and brains. 

I was thinking about this a few days ago after I finished planting daffodil and tulip bulbs in 8 containers and placing them to overwinter in my garage. It’s a habit I got into several years ago knowing there would be a big gathering at my house the following spring. I’m blessed that the wooded surroundings of my home look naturally beautiful in summer, autumn and snowy winter. But in the early rainy spring (when most parties for sacraments and college graduations occur) it is muddy and bleak. 

Hoping to create a beautiful, festive greeting for our guests, I planted an array of bulbs in containers and hoped for the best. 

Six and a half months later, as I prepared for the party, I checked in the containers that I had hardly thought about all winter. They were all bursting with green and about to bloom into gorgeous riots of color. I kept them protected until two days before the party and then brought them outside where, touched by the sun, they burst into bloom. They gave everyone who saw them such joy and hope as nothing on the trees had even started to bud yet. I’ve done the same thing every year since.

This year I snapped a picture of a couple of the pots just after I finished planting the bulbs because I was thinking of how much the acts of faith, hope, and love we do as mothers often look like this to our hearts. Just plain dirt. Nothing beautiful to show off. 

But when we see what we do in that that way, we must look beyond the surface and remind ourselves that providing nourishment (physical, spiritual and emotional) and a proper, supportive environment, and exercising A LOT of patience is life giving! Just as the soil and shelter is to the bulbs. And not just to our children’s bodies, but to their hearts and souls, and ours as well as we go through the spiritual exercises of loving and serving and growing in the virtues we need while we parent our children.

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