31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 31: How’d You Do?

It’s been 31 Days! How did you do?  I’d love to hear from you! What was your favorite day … what should I think about adding?

Teresa-21Thanks for joining me on this 31-day adventure! If you made it all the way to the end, post a note in the comments. If you comment before September 1, 2017, I’ll send you a free copy of my Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta … a little inspiration to destress during the days leading up to Christmas!

God bless you,


31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 29: “Yes” is a Powerful Word

water_security“Yes” is a powerful word.
Yell it or tell it or
speak it real soft.
Cry or create it or
raise it aloft.
Sing it, and bring it
alive when you’re lost.
Yes, “yes” is a powerful word.

“Try” is a weakening word.
Tentative tendrils of
Like shimmering shells
‘neath a thundering sea.
I don’t recognize her,
this shadow of me …
For “try” is a weakening word.

And “space” is a magical word.
A silent expanse of
promise glides by.
Pushing aside every thought,
terrified. Amplified.
Till hope finds a home,
and expands on its own.
Says, “Absolutely. Yes.”


What is your powerful word?

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 28: X-amine Priorities Through a Child’s Eyes

cuddle“Mommy, will you play with me?”

“Mommy, can you rub-tickle my arm?”

“Mommy, I wanna snuggle…”

I imagined that by the time my children reached middle school, they would stop seeking my company quite so actively. When I was in seventh grade, I used to climb out on the roof outside my bedroom window to escape my mother. Outside, with the biggest book I could find — usually a Reader’s Digest Condensed. My parents had a whole shelf full of the things. I’d start at one end, and work my way to the other side.

Looking back, I probably should have asked my mom to take me to the library. We didn’t have a television, and only the Christian radio station was allowed. So books were my escape.

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, my kids don’t like to read. I’ve tried all the usual things: reading aloud, and offering a variety of books, and getting them books on tape. No dice. And I’m not entirely sure why.

Is it possible that a love of reading is genetic, rather than environmental?

No, when my kids are stressed out, they want … Contact. Close physical proximity for as long as I will let them. Like junkies looking for a fix, they sidle up beside me, and nudge my arm until I lift it over their shoulders. Sarah bounces against my “air bags” (as she calls them) contentedly, while Chris simply leans against my shoulder, pulling the closest soft blanket over us all. Even in church (then it’s without the blanket), they lean in purposefully.

Sometimes I enjoy it. I mean, what mom wouldn’t relish the feeling of being their child’s whole world? Other times, it can get a little claustrophobic. Like they don’t stop until they’ve drained the last drop of attention. Still others, I wonder if I’m feeding a monster, if I would be doing them a kindness by weaning them from the constant need to touch, clutch, and snuggle.

But then … I have to examine things from their eyes. All the change, all the fear, all the loss, all the feelings … it has to go somewhere. it has to diffuse somehow. And mom is the rock that makes them roll.

And when my life is stressed, from all the change, and the fear, and the loss, and the feelings that threaten to swallow me whole, sometimes it helps to find a place to cuddle, snuggle underneath a soft, fleecy blanket.

They may not be readers … but they’re pretty smart.

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 27: Wear Something Pretty

beautiful womanIt’s a chicken-and-egg kind of thing: Do we feel good when we look good, or do we make more effort to look good when we feel good? Maybe it’s a symbiotic kind of relationship.

I will tell you this: For the past several weeks when I’ve woken up, I’ve been so sore I could barely roll out of bed and into a pair of sweats. One of the perks of working from home, I guess. But after a night on a new-to-me featherbed, I jumped out of bed, showered and slathered on my favorite face cream, and put on a GOOD work outfit. Yes, just to stay home.

And I feel … great!

I’ve been thinking about my mother, who has been in a hospital for the past two weeks. She doesn’t want to be there, but she can’t go home yet. This morning I’ve been thinking about how to help, eight hundred miles removed, and I remembered a time when I was in the hospital after my car accident (I was 18), and someone unexpectedly lifted my spirits.

Crabtree & EvelynThree weeks in bed will leave anyone a bit grumpy. One day my friend’s mother surprised me with a visit. She had a basin and several large plastic bags. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” she smiled. Arranging the bags underneath my shoulders and torso, and the basin under my head, she washed my hair and shaved my legs, then slathered on Crabtree and Evelyn body lotion. (The scent of gardenias still makes me smile.) Finally, she did my nails and makeup.

Thirty years later, I still remember her kindness.

And now, remembering that day, I know just how much it will help my own mother, to feel like her beautiful self.(For those who need a little bedside beauty, try this portable wash basin!) bed wash basin

If you’re feeling stressed out and grumpy, maybe it’s time for you to primp and pamper yourself a bit. Wear something beautiful — a pretty scarf, a soft sweater, a new pair of shoes. It won’t change the journey … but it might just put a spring in your step!

Photo Credit: “Always” by Stella Im Hultberg, from “Smashing” magazine’s “50 Beautiful Feminine Illustrations”.

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 26: VET Your Assumptions

naughty kidSometimes when life seems to pile on, the “skin” gets stretched pretty thin.

An off-hand Facebook comment that ordinarily you would have ignored or dismissed with a simple eyeroll, makes you hit the “unfriend” button so hard your pointer bleeds.

A sibling’s casual comment about an upcoming vacation feels like an unspoken taunt.

A child’s exuberance at the dinner table irritates you enough to snap and send him to his room.

In every situation, the little voice in your head assigns motivations and accusations that merely add to your stress.

What can you do about it? “VET” your assumptions: Verify … Engage … Transform.

Verify: “When you posted that comment about parents who allowed their teens to march in Washington this week being negligent, did you realize our church took a busload to the event, and they narrowly escaped having an accident? I’m so glad they made it back safe!”

Engage: “You’re going to a writer’s conference in Hawaii? Wow . . . that sounds like a dream vacation. Maybe I can join you next time! Are you bringing any proposals with you?”

Transform: “Sweetheart, I know that your focus medicine is starting to wear off. Let’s save the scatological humor until AFTER dinner. Now, if you’re finished, could you please start clearing the table?”

The “VET” approach breaks the emotional reaction and shifts the focus from me to the other person.

With whom are you going to play “VET” this week?

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 25: Understand Your Limitations

time suitcaseAre you a “drama junkie”?

When I was a kid, my Sunday school teachers taught me that “joy” was about “Putting Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.”

What they didn’t say is that is also the recipe for resentment, when the balance gets out of whack.

I’ve had to learn the hard way, for example, that holding down a full-time job and full-time family means that there is only so much I can do for someone in crisis. Pray. Call. Take a meal or send a comfort box. Perhaps work out a short visit. But I cannot in most cases make the problem go away — and if I spend too much time helping my neighbor tend his garden, the weeds begin to take over my own.

It often doesn’t feel like enough. Selfish, even. But is it selfish to recognize that I have limited resources (time, energy, money) and need to prioritize giving my family what they need?

Sometimes, my “drama junkie” tendencies win, and I rush headlong toward a crisis, trying to eradicate any trace of the problem — there’s a rewarding kind of emotional rush that goes with it. It took me a long time to realize this, but this is a very real form of selfishness, abdicating the responsibilities of my own vocation in order to over-extend myself in someone else’s garden.

The last time I did that — taking over the care of three boys whose mother was fighting leukemia — put my own children at risk (something we discovered, and paid for dearly, a year later). Sure, my friend needed help — but my children needed protecting even more. That experience taught me the importance of understanding my own limitations, and of not letting the “drama junkie” win.

Do you have to fight your inner “drama junkie”? Is there any area of your life where you are over-extending yourself, and need to acknowledge your limitations?




31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 24: Talk to God

Have you seen “My Afternoons with Margueritte”? In what may be his most endearing role ever, Gerard Depardieu plays a simple gardener who befriends an elderly schoolteacher. The fruit of this unlikely friendship transforms them both.

Like Germain, the uneducated oaf with the heart of a poet, I sometimes feel as though I am blundering through the circumstances of my life. Perhaps you can relate. Thankfully, I have also been gifted with my fair share of “Maruerittes,” who have come alongside me and illuminated the path.

This happened most recently when I stumbled on Meg Kilmer’s “50 Ways to Talk to God” post. Meg reminded me that how we pray varies not only from person to person, but from moment to moment. Sometimes we pray for others. Other times, for ourselves. Yes, sometimes I’ve even been known to toss up a quick SOS just to shift the burden of the day from my shoulders to God’s infinitely stronger ones.

Growing up, I learned to talk to God just like I was talking to a friend. An invisible friend, yes. A friend I sometimes had issues with, to be sure. But a friend nonetheless. It wasn’t until I became Catholic at the age of 30 that I discovered the benefits of rote (memorized) prayer, like the Rosary. Fingering the cord of beads, especially when the rest of my life was in turmoil, felt as though I was holding a lifeline. And when my mind started down a dark rabbit trail, I could glance at the beads and get myself back on track. In my mind, I would imagine placing each bead in the hand of God, entrusting it to him. Soon the calming rhythms would take over, and either my mind would clear or the tension would ease.

What’s your favorite way to talk to God?

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 23: Sense the Mysteries

child in churchDo you ever tire of the Catholic “mommy wars” over proper parenting at Mass? Cry room vs. front row pew; pro-breastfeeding vs. anti-Cheerios; attending as a family vs. letting each spouse go separately. The only subjects more likely to get fur flying are head-coverings or Marty Haugen. Or maybe pants, eh Simcha?

Now that my children are young teens, part of me actually misses going to Mass when they were younger. Sarah would sit on my hip and sing her version of the hymns (“Amazing grapes…”), while Chris would remind me to listen for the angels when the priest raised up the Eucharist. (I had told them that their guardian angels wanted to join the other angels in heaven at the consecration, but if they were naughty, they would have to stay behind, and would be most put-out.)

One of the most wonderful parts of parenting is being able to experience, vicariously, the wonder of the invisible world: God and angels and saints and heaven … and electricity and Tooth Fairies and Mommy Magic and microwave popcorn and musicals and Mozart. So much of life is conducted behind the scenes, like the miles of tunnels beneath Disney World. Gifts and serendipitous moments are as much a part of life as bedtimes and vaccines. Through our children, we learn that if we spend too much time focused on the minutiae, we lose the sense of wonder, and deplete our own joy.

So … just for today, lets give the taskmaster the day off, and take some time to sense the mysteries and remind ourselves of the innate goodness of life.

*  The explosion of a vine-ripened tomato in a mouthful of garden salad

*  The heady aroma of home-baked bread and the simmer of soup.

*  The gentle flickering of a votive lit in a countryside chapel.

*  The crunch of compacted snow frosted with a shiny veneer of ice.

In these moments, time stands still and we catch a glimpse — however fleeting — of life as it was meant to be lived, experienced, and reveled in. These sweet mysteries whisper of the destiny of all human beings: Not constrained by obligation and responsibilities, but liberated to experience life at its transcendent best.


31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 22: Rest

alone yet not alonePeople are calling the Oscar nomination for the title song of the limited- release film Alone Yet Not Alone not just a “dark horse,” but an “invisible horse.” Yet the passion and conviction of the title song’s message must have resonated with the Academy, despite the movie’s blatantly pro-Christian (and less than “PC”) message.

The deceptively simple title song, performed by the indomitable Joni Eareckson Tada, captured the spirit and courage of this woman (who lived the song long before she sang it).

The ability to let go, to trust in the goodness of divine providence, and to (wait for it) REST is not something that comes easy in times of crisis. And yet, it is precisely our ability to do that — to cultivate “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” — that prevents us from becoming bitter, and enables us to learn and grow even from the darkest experiences of life. Even (in the case of Tada) being confined to a wheelchair for life — and learning to paint with a brush between the teeth.

Tada 2

Photo credit: “Heaven — Your Real Home” by Joni Eareckson Tada/Joni and Friends

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 21: Quell Your Inner Nag

PricklyPearFruits“My name is Heidi.”

(Hi, Heidi.)

“I’m an incorrigible nag.”

(Cue crickets chirping)

Yes, it’s true. When  my stress level goes through the roof — say, the day before guests arrive, when I go into what my husband calls “tornado mode” — SuperNag makes an appearance. Suddenly Craig remembers he has something to do in the basement that will keep him there all day, or until the storm blows over (when he’s feeling particularly generous, he remembers to take the kids and dog with him). It’s part of the magic that is our marriage.

While it might have helped the stress if he had picked up the working end of a vacuum cleaner (and he has been known to do that, too), the truth is I prefer  solitude at times like this. Assuming, of course, I can quell my “inner nag” long enough to find that elusive peace and quiet.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed out, my inner “sound track” takes a toxic turn. I find myself berating everyone around me — silently, but with exceptional vigor — for doing or NOT doing, a long litany of offenses only I know about, many of them having nothing to do with the immediate problem.

Thankfully, I’ve found a solution that works for me: I set down whatever I’m doing, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and say (out loud, in my best “Mommy voice”), “NO!”

“NO! Of COURSE he didn’t do that just to annoy me.”

“NO! My life would NOT be better if we sent her away to that convent with the thirty foot wall.”

“NO! I will NOT let my need to channel Martha Stewart make everyone around me miserable.”

And then I make myself a cup of tea (or something a bit stronger, if I really need to relax), find a comfortable chair, put on a little music, and mentally “declutter,” replacing the toxic, naggy thoughts with appreciative, thankful ones. Thankful for my home and family. Thankful for a strong body to get the work done. Thankful for friends who give me an excuse to restore order and beauty in my home.

Thankful that, when the Nag makes an appearance, I can choose not to let her in. Because a nag-free mom is a de-stressed mom.

How do you cope with your “inner nag”?