Next week we will cross that all-important milestone of the halfway mark of winter. Whether you’re a glass half empty type (we’re only half way?) or one of those half full folks (the end is in sight!), there’s no denying that this season, with its harsh weather and post-holiday slumps, is difficult for many, including myself. Throw in inflation, Omicron, culture wars, and pandemic fatigue, and we’ve got a recipe for a very schlumpy time of year.
To combat midwinter blues, I’ve made it a practice to commemorate winter’s halfway point by reflecting on a few things that are “saving my life” in this season. The reasons for this ritual are numerous: I find it’s helpful for me, when life feels tough, to reflect on the GOOD things that bring me joy and are keeping me afloat. The simple act of committing this list to paper (or computer screen) is enough to pull me out of a slump. And recording this list gives me a spot to refer back to when I’m feeling down, a reminder of the life-giving tools in my coping tool basket.
My hope is that these annual saving-my-life lists are helpful for you, too: perhaps you will spot something on my list that will benefit you. Or maybe reading my list will prompt you to create your own roundup of things saving your life in this season. At the very least, inviting you into this practice is my way of helping you see that if your winter is feeling tough, you aren’t alone, but we don’t need to suffer; there is still good to be found.
Past lists have included everything from creature comforts to new rhythms to important reminders I’d been holding close. Many of those habits, hacks, and practical items have remained with me through the years, moving beyond things getting me through a season to how I get through life. I have a feeling some of this year’s items will also be sticking around for a while, too.
That little nightly pill.
Last year at this time I was in a very low place. I’ve written a lot about that dark period so I won’t rehash those horrific days here, other than to say that I am immensely thankful to have that time behind me. This January feels SO different—not perfect, by any means, but lighter and more hopeful. That underwater feeling is almost entirely gone and vitality has taken its place. One year later I can think, feel, and cope in ways that were impossible last winter, and antidepressants are largely to thank for this shift.
I want to be very careful in sharing my experience with medication: on the one hand, there is often a stigma around antidepressants, particularly in Christian circles, and I want to combat that. As with all medicine, I believe that mindful antidepressant usage is a helpful tool that in no way indicates a lack of faith but can be used for healing. For those of us with a true chemical imbalance (as I have come to see that I was experiencing), medication can be helpful—even necessary—in the same way that insulin shots help those with Diabetes or glasses help people with impaired eyesight. However, I do think that antidepressants tend to be overprescribed and can be a crutch for those who want to manage the symptoms of their mental woes without getting to the root of their issues. In attempting to normalize antidepressants, some have over-celebrated them and this, too, can be harmful. I can’t speak for others and their mental health needs, but for me at this time in my life I am SO THANKFUL for my prescription which, in conjunction with therapy and other mental health practices, has helped me regain my sanity and experience life again.
Our recreation center/gym.
I’ve written a lot about our gym and my love for this place, but it’s awesome enough to earn yet another shout out in this year’s SML list. I’m especially appreciative of this space after more than a year away during the worst of the pandemic. We go to the gym several mornings each week and I love that the kids get an hour of playtime with other kids and the FANTASTIC babysitters in the childcare room while I work out and/or read. (Full disclosure: some mornings—with the rec center’s blessing—I don’t ever make it to the elliptical; I simply camp out in the lobby with my Kindle or my journal; I’ve even used the time to fit in a phone call with my parents.) There’s a part of me that feels guilty for this little indulgence, but most days I manage to push the Mommy Guilt away and simply feel grateful for this space that gives our family an easy and inexpensive morning retreat. (Pictured below: the babysitters threw a small surprise birthday party for Charleston. Like I said, they are the BEST!)
I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but I think I’ve become a morning person! For years I’ve let my kids dictate my morning wake-up time, but for the past few weeks I’ve been setting my alarm for an hour before they usually wake up to fit in some “me time” before the chaos starts. I get ready for the day, unload the dishwasher (while listening to my Bible podcast), then spend some quality time in prayer and God’s Word before the twins begin to stir. Because I’m getting up earlier, it means that Charleston and I are able to start school by 7:00 and get the bulk of our day’s schoolwork done before breakfast at 8:30. Shifting our mornings in this way means that Luke is around to help out with the twins before he has to get to work, which has been a game changer (as managing the twins during school time was my biggest homeschooling hurdle). Morning school also puts less pressure on the afternoon (when Charleston and I are not at our best) for finishing up his work.
I’m getting up earlier these days, but old (bedtime) habits die hard and I still haven’t managed to get to bed any earlier. I am discovering that I can be both an Early Bird AND a Night Owl, but these shortened nights mean that I’m crashing by lunch time. Thankfully the twins take long afternoon naps and most days I join them. (Well, not with them in their crib, but we nap at the same time.) Charleston uses the time to finish his independent work or play, or some days he joins me in a nap. We all wake up by 5:00 feeling refreshed and ready for the evening ahead.
Good and Beautiful Math curriculum.
Our old math curriculum wasn’t working for us. So we switched to something new and we are LOVING IT! Math has always been Charleston’s best subject, but the old curriculum had turned him into a math hater. This curriculum, which lives up to its name of good AND beautiful, has helped him fall back in love with math. The lessons are engaging and easy to follow, and we like that they incorporate manipulatives and games into every lesson. The content is challenging but not so hard that Charleston wants to give up, and the lessons do a great job of reviewing previous concepts while introducing new ones.
This curriculum really is saving our homeschool life, but more than the curriculum itself is my willingness to try something new when what we were doing wasn’t serving us. I’ve always felt that one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is its built in flexibility, and I’m so glad I embraced this option to make a mid-year shift when I felt one was needed.
Old spiritual rhythms, repurposed.
Over the years I’ve established some healthy spiritual routines when it comes to Scripture reading and memorization, prayer, and journaling. The benefit to these tried-and-true routines is that they have become standard practice, creating space for the Lord to meet me each day. Without changing things up, though, my spiritual life can get a little stagnant as I (to paraphrase Scott Erickson) become so familiar with the mechanics of these rhythms that they lose their sense of wonder. To combat mindless adherence to my routines, I’m making some subtle shifts this year: I’m reading through the Bible again in 2022, but following a new reading plan. I’m reading books related to my word for the year, but I’m reading one per month rather than one per season. I’m memorizing a broad section of Scripture rather than choosing a random verse each month. I bought a new prayer and devotional journal and am recording these things in a different format; I even got new pens. There’s nothing magical about these changes, and God could meet me in tired old practices just as easily as in these repurposed ones, but I like that they have me excited about the mechanics of my spiritual walk, which sets the stage for even closer communion with the Lord.
Telling myself the truth.
You’ve been watching me do this in real time in my Truth Chronicles series. This practice of identifying mistruths I was believing (out of convenience or genuine confusion) and replacing them with the TRUTH has been transformative for me. I’m rewiring my brain and reconnecting to reality in crucial ways, and my mind and life are reaping the benefits as I refuse to accept the enemy’s lies about myself or my circumstances. I’m learning through this practice that the truth isn’t always as easy or straightforward as I would like it to be, but this tension keeps me coming back to the One who is unwavering in Who He is and how He feels about me. On those days when life feels so crazy, when time seems to be going to fast and the world is changing too rapidly for me to keep up, I recall one of my favorite truths about God: that He is the same, yesterday and today and forever. He is reliable. He is trustworthy. He is steady and will not shape-shift or change. And this truth is saving my life!
How are you doing this mid-winter? Are you floundering or flourishing? What is SAVING YOUR LIFE right now?