I crave sleep the way a starving person craves food.
My body is starting to rebel at the abuse I'm submitting it to. I've gotten sick a handful of times this past month and I just can't seem to get over the illnesses the way I would if I was sleeping well.
My defenses are down.
Retrenching has helped some, as I've cut out a lot of extras -- photoshoots, blogging, and most notably the long walks I was taking with a good friend (and just when I finally found a consistent walking partner!). I've been spending more time on the foundation of a clean and organized home. Despite my exhaustion, things around here are running pretty smoothly and I'm amazingly (with Heaven's help) able to handle patiently most of the demands on me.
But still, I've broken down into tears a half dozen times this month, feeling that the weight of everything just might crush me. Every problem, from messy bathrooms to irresponsible children, seems to require more of me and I feel so stretched as it is. I'll spare you the details, but a couple of big, weighty problems have been thrown at me lately and I just don't feel enough to handle them -- I'm not smart enough, rested enough, mature enough, or good enough.
But despite all that, there are good things about going through tough times. I've had experiences I know have come from God, times when I've received peace, comfort and reassurance that God knows me and loves me and honors the work I'm doing and the sacrifices I'm making, even as He whispers that I need to experience this and that the exhaustion is likely to continue for some time into the future.
This past weekend was our Church's General Conference, a time when we are able to hear counsel and direction from our leaders and those we honor as modern-day prophets. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke of what we can learn from tree-rings and turbulence. (you can listen to his message here or read it here.)
In times of stress, a tree's growth slows down. In times of turbulence, an airline pilot (President Uchtdorf's former profession) needs to set the pace at an optimum level, which is often slower than usual. It's tempting during turbulence for inexperienced pilots to want to fly faster, thinking to get through it quicker, but instead, the answer is to slow down and focus on the basics of flying the plane.
We need to do the same, President Uchtdorf encouraged. We need to simplify and focus on the essential things of life during times of stress and difficulty.
For me, the basics are my own spiritual strength, with daily prayer and scripture study, followed by the needs of my marriage, my family, and my home.
As I contemplated Monday morning how I could further simplify my life, I received a clear answer. Next week, our family has a fun trip planned to San Diego. I was looking forward to it, to spending time at Legoland for the first time, to enjoying our fun family time at the beach, and to taking lots of beautiful photos.
A month ago, when I'd talked to my husband about ways I could cut back, we put it out there that maybe I could stay home from the trip and use the time to rest. It was an option we'd consider, but I didn't really think I'd stay home. I'm going, I thought. Surely, by the time the trip happens, I'll be sleeping better, the girls' naps will be coordinated better and I won't be sick anymore.
But the month passed and things haven't improved. My defenses are down, so it's time to get creative with a new defense.
I'm staying home from the trip. As soon as I decided that, I felt a great peace. It is absolutely the right thing to do for my health and the health of my family. I'll stay home with my oldest daughter (who was thrilled at the chance to go on a fun field trip she didn't want to miss -- no regrets on her part!) and my two littlest. I'll spend some time getting some badly-neglected areas of my home in order. I'll enjoy a clean house and some quieter time, and I'll be able to nap quite easily and catch my breath.
Just think -- a whole week with just two little ones to care for. My house will stay clean! I won't have to do much cooking! None of that after-school juggling, where everyone shoves at me their permissions slips and problems while I try to help the twins through their math and reading homework. No guarding the hen house at night (that's what we call sitting in the little girls' room until the three of them fall asleep. We have to do that or they run around, read books, play games and have a grand old time all night long). No arguments with a certain child who thinks I'm out to get him (he told me the other day that I'm just looking for him to mess up. It's like I'm Snape and he's Harry Potter.)
I should be thrilled, and I know I will be. After all, aren't Daddy trips my favorite time of year? And what a huge blessing to have in the midst of my tough time a week to recuperate. Not to mention I have a pretty awesome husband, who thinks traipsing across the country alone with five little kids is a grand adventure.
But is it okay if I cry a little about what I'm giving up? I wanted to go. I wanted to enjoy this family vacation. I especially wanted to see my kids hanging out on the beach, looking at rocks and shells, chasing waves, catching hermit crabs.
There will be other times, I know, and lots of them (our family is a little obsessed with trips, have you noticed?), and this really will be a wonderful week. I hope to emerge on the other side of it more rested, more excited, and more ready to meet the challenges of my life.
After all, I have the best job there is. I get to be the most important person in the world to eight amazing, beautiful, wonderful children.
Who could ask for more than that?