This is a phrase buzzing around our house. My son started middle school this fall, and so he has brought this concept into our life. At school, when a teacher issues a “check and reflect” it seems to mean that a student’s behavior has crossed a line. The student needs to fill out a form answering about the behavior and a parent signs it. It is a good system for many reasons – on a personal level, from a teacher’s perspective, and for family engagement with the classroom. I’m sure it is meant to provide an opportunity for the teacher to check in and provide a chance for the parent and child to reflect together as a family as well.
What I have gleaned from the phrase though is on a personal level. From a broader perspective, this phrase has grown into a meaningful one for me over this past fall. I realized that I need to check and reflect myself more often. I think I have checked in and reflected long enough – my last post was in August! I am recognizing though that checking and reflecting is an ongoing process – one that has an everyday requirement and one that needs more space and time to allow for the bigger picture to develop or come into focus.
To start, for the past twelve years, there was little to no time to check and reflect. Maybe on the fly or with some time on a car trip I could stop to think or sit and talk about where I am and where we all are as a family – in all aspects of life. As a family, we try to do this on a monthly basis with family meetings to check in together on feelings, gratitude, praise for each other, goals and plans. Just circling around person by person typically at a dinner out, but also crammed in a car ride home together. One thing emerged over 2020 and leading into 2021 from my perspective for our family as I checked and reflected: we were outgrowing our first family home.
Looking back, buying our first home for our family was a fast-paced, time-pressured matter of weeks as we moved back from an out-of-state year of working. We ultimately were very lucky to find our home and buy it. At that time, I was pregnant with our oldest child and working full-time as an attorney. I basically helped settle us in to our space and then directed my entire focus to building a safe haven for our baby to be. I spent a significant amount of time preparing the nursery and not enough time organizing and unpacking the rest of our home. Distracted by caring for a newborn and continuing to practice law after my maternity leave, I left boxes in our crawlspace for a long time. Sporadically, my husband and I did small projects on the house, but mainly during those first years we were addressing the collection of baby stuff that we had accumulated. We tried to find places for everything, but mostly failed to keep any strict form of organization. At that point, we had only lived in our house about three years so the thought of moving hadn’t even occurred to us and really wouldn’t have made sense for our small family. Meanwhile, our second baby, our daughter, was born and with my continuing to work full-time as well as my husband’s intense work schedule, we were surviving as young parents and managing the home as best we could. We had done small makeover projects here and there – changing the gold fixtures and door handles and having some wooden trim painted white.
Over the course of the next four years, we definitely didn’t even think of taking a moment to check and reflect about our space and whether we should move. But we were starting to think about it. We even found a home for sale in our neighborhood that prompted us to consider moving in 2016. The sale didn’t work out, but it did prompt us to do more makeovers in the house including painting the kitchen.
We had settled in again to stay longer, when in 2017, our house flooded. This caused a ripple effect on our decision to move. We decided after having all the water damage remediated to renovate the first floor and basement, specifically updating the kitchen and transforming our home for the better, to stay. Overall, we lived in our first home for longer than we had ever really envisioned. However, after selecting every fixture, appliance, and feature of the renovation project, we wanted to enjoy the new space and live in it to see how it all worked. We enjoyed it for four years, and then 2020 hit. At the same time as we were living more often inside our home, I realized our children were physically outgrowing the home size and space.
Looking back, the check and reflect process for the move began in the beginning of 2021 with the snow. It’s funny how God has presented us with varying elements of nature that have caused us to make changes in our physical environment. First with the flood that caused our renovation, then I felt we were inundated with snow during last winter. It may not have been any more accumulation than the previous winter, but the feeling I had with all the in and out due to hybrid learning, made it seem like more mess than usual. The ability for the kids to play in the house during the winter months also maxed out during 2021. The kids’ bedrooms needed to be more evenly spaced as each of them was growing up faster. There were so many different factors that led to our decision to buy a new home and sell our very first family home. However, none of this would have happened if we hadn’t done some form of a check and reflect.
I found our situation to be one in which we had reasons to move and the ability to choose to move thanks to God, and we were listening for guidance. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5. For sure, I was searching for answers on how to make our home living situation better for our whole family, but I was praying for God to make our path clear. And I continued looking for the right way with Bible devotionals to start my day. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105. Any time I could relate to a verse as I continued to think about our move, I was thankful to God for giving me it.
Making the decision to move at any time to any new place is difficult, but having the faith then to move forward is even more of a challenge. It is a leap of faith for sure, and we are in the midst of that leap having moved into a new house recently. We have started a three floor renovation with a construction crew and are attempting an overwhelming number of home projects to make it our own. However, every step of the way, God is guiding us and reminding me to be thankful and be grounded in my thoughts and actions. For me, recognizing that I will not always understand or be in control of my family’s living situation is a humbling walk to take. But every time I do practice giving it to God, I feel better.
Now that my son has brought this phrase into our life, I realize that checking and reflecting caused so much to happen over the past year. It has been good, and at the same time it has been hard. One quote I keep saying, maybe even using as a mantra, is from Brene Brown: “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t choose both.” I feel like this applies in so many aspects of my life.
I needed the courage to make this change and move, but I also need the courage to jump back into a work setting this past school year as a substitute teacher in our local high school. Starting last March, I entered the high school system for the first time, always having wondered what it would be like to be a teacher in a classroom. It is definitely not my comfort zone, but I find that I enjoy giving back to my community in that way.
Even the process of writing is one filled with challenge and reward. When I checked and reflected, I realized I needed to get back to writing and posting. Too often, ideas can swirl around in my head to write about, and at some point, I have to put myself in a chair and type. I completely can let myself be distracted by big things – moving – and small things – grocery shopping. The whole idea of check and reflect for me is to have internal time and space for thoughts, ideas, writing, revisions, hopes, and journaling. Too often I shut this time out, and keep making myself busy with distractions. But the check and reflect is sorely needed I am finding for myself. I need to check and reflect in order to grow in so many aspects of life – as an individual, as a parent, as a friend, as a spouse.
Truly, checking and reflecting is the whole premise of keen living. Maybe this is why I have found this post so daunting. I believe keen living is about digging deeper, challenging myself to push through whatever has become my status quo, to get outside any routines that are not beneficial, to build a life using whatever gifts God has given. Keen living is all about perceiving, feeling, thinking and then believing enough to act on thoughts and dreams. Keen living is a challenge. It definitely puts me outside my comfort zone, but there is no growth or progress in that zone. It takes courage. Stagnation is not an option. Making mistakes is allowed. For me, I have had to check and reflect on what it means to me to practice law or to be a writer. I have had to reevaluate my definitions. The practice of writing much like the practice of law takes trial and error. It is the process of the day to day writing and trying that leads to improvement. The habit of writing can only be just that a practice over time with no finish line in sight just steadily trying with great effort to get better and better with each finished piece. I have been inspired to practice writing and posting again by the words of Teddy Roosevelt; I was reminded of one of his famous quotes in a history classroom I was in recently:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Teddy Roosevelt, April 23, 1910, Paris. Available at: https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Learn-About-TR/TR-Encyclopedia/Culture-and-Society/Man-in-the-Arena.aspx
With these inspiring words, I am jumping back in the arena, and daring greatly, as Brene Brown advocates, to try and fail; check and reflect; and always to choose courage over comfort.
© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail