Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent Chaos

Advent is kind of a funny season. We try to pack so many things in--concerts and caroling and parties and baking and gift-giving. And then we complain about it being too commercial, too irreverent, too busy to stop and reflect as we think we should. Some people react to that by cutting out all the activity and focusing on Christ instead. This advent has seemed unusually off for us, as we've watched our dear friend endure chemo while she tries to also "make Christmas" for her small children.

But I think it's that tension between chaos and calm that best exemplifies Advent. After all, while we wait for a baby to be born or adopted we fill that time with activity--planning, getting a room and bed ready...the chaos of preparing room in our lives for another life. Mary herself traveled and visited and frantically looked for a place to have her baby. The birth of our Lord was anything but calm and serene--surrounded by dirt and animals and poverty and rough shepherds.

So this advent it feels appropriate to embrace the bustle. Yes, it's important to make time for contemplation. We need to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior. But I think it's also okay for everything to feel a bit chaotic. Maybe even sad at times. And definitely too busy. The mixture of pain and joy and activity that seems to be an integral part of this season is the true meaning of the Incarnation, after all--Jesus coming to be with us in all our sorrows and all our rejoicing. Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Men.

And so, today, I'm not going to feel guilty about the buzz around me. I'm going to work and bake and spend time with friends and plan parties for my children and their friends and live with the mess around me--a messy house and a messy world. I'm going to laugh and maybe even cry. I'm going to squeeze moments of contemplation out of the constant chaos around me, and I'm going to be content with all of that instead of wishing things could slow down. That is how I'm going to celebrate Advent this year.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Peppermint Cookies

On the spur of the moment, I decided to spend the day doing some Christmas baking to share with friends. It was so fun. An acquaintance recently gave me a recipe I had asked for a while back, so I added it to the list  for the day. And oh my goodness, it's now going in the notebook of "things I make every year"! So good...

Peppermint Cookies

1 c. butter (softened)
1 1/4 c. powdered sugar (divided)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/3 c. flour
1 c. rolled oats
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. crushed candy canes (divided)

Preheat oven to 325 F.
In large bowl with electric mixer, cream butter and 1 c. powdered sugar. Add vanilla. In another bowl stir together flour, oats, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture and blend thoroughly. Add 1/4 c. crushed peppermint and mix well.

Roll dough into 3/4 inch balls and roll in 1/4 c. powdered sugar. Place on cookie sheet 2 inches apart and flatten with a fork in criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle with peppermint candy. Bake 18-20 min.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Thankful Month

I've been delighted this month to read so many friends' facebook updates of things they are thankful for. It's been a nice counterbalance to the fact that stores seem to skip from Halloween to Christmas without pausing for Thanksgiving. The discipline of gratitude, so eloquently written about in One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, has been so helpful to me this past year. I don't write in my thankful journal every day, but many days I do, and now I'm up to 487. I even bought my kids little journals this summer so they could keep their own list of things they are thankful for. My oldest has been filling out her thanksgiving countdown calendar with things related to each day that she's thankful for, rather than the usual "family, friends, church" kind of list the others have been keeping so far.

So I wondered to myself this morning why I haven't been counting down the days to thanksgiving with thankful facebook posts. Part of it, no doubt, is that I don't want to seem like I'm bragging, and if I write that I'm thankful that my child mastered a new skill that can come across as showmanship. Part of it is that I don't want to act like life is all rosy when it isn't, or to seem insensitive to the fact that your life might be decidedly less rosy than mine. But I don't think that's the whole story. I think I was missing an important element, something that occurred to me today.

When times are tough, it's encouraging to read what other people are thankful for. On a day like today, when I'm pretty discouraged for legitimate reasons, it's uplifting to be reminded that there are some really great things going on in the world right now, today. Maybe not in my life, but in the lives of my friends. I think sometimes thankful lists, rather than being opportunities to brag, are actually opportunities to encourage. And that's something I can get behind.

In that spirit, here's my list, the first nine days of gratefulness. Not a cheery list that ignores that parts of life are really hard right now, not an opportunity to brag, but an opportunity to say that my great God has given wonderful gifts to me--and He's given wonderful gifts to you, too, if you care to look for them.

1) My husband went on an amazing two-week missions trip, and the six of us left at home managed to be mostly patient with one another and have a good time. Win-win.

2) The way my two-year-old prefaces statements with "guess what?"

3) God reigns for all time, regardless of who is in office any given year.

4) Wonderful, supportive friends. When the going gets tough, you find out what your friends are made of. Mine are pure gold.

5) Timeless, thoughtful worship. The fact that we have centuries' worth of hymn tunes and texts that express Biblical truth in winsome and beautiful ways.

6) The fact that at any given time one or more of my children are doing really well. I may be discouraged in this parenting journey, but usually one or two kids are showing maturity or growth that makes me feel like in spite of my flaws, our faithful God is helping them turn out okay.

7) Our recent bout of stomach flu (which occurred mostly while I was a single parent at home) wasn't too bad or too long.

8) A car that works. One of the doors is broken so we're only using one side door, but the car itself is working just fine. And the broken door served as a reminder that given the car's age, it is remarkable that it is working at all!

9)  The joy of treasures found at a resale store--in this case some castle legos and a new snowman for my collection.

So there you have it. Some of the things I've been grateful for since November 1.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Good Enough Mom Becomes a Runner (Sort of)

I write this by way of encouraging myself to get back in the exercise groove, which is so much harder for me during the school year with its busy schedule and cold mornings and dark afternoons . . .

If you asked me what my hobbies are, I don't think exercise would make the list. I view it as a necessary evil, one which I sometimes subject myself to and sometimes do not. And running has always been one of my least favorite of all the exercise options.

So when daughter #2 asked to do the same school-based girls' running program that daughter #1 did a few years ago that involves a parent running a 5K with their daughter, I looked at my out-of-shape and on-the-bad-side-of-35 body, and I said, "sure, I can do that!" And then the next day I started running. Well, really it was shuffling. This time around I actually had to start on week 1 or 2 of the couch to 5K program, rather than jumping in at week 6 like I used to be able to do. It was pathetic, really. But I did it.

So here I am, 8 or so months later, and I can run 3 miles without stopping in under 30 minutes. Or I can run 5-plus miles with a few stints of walking. Here's what I've learned in the process:

1) Running is a good way to clear your mind. I still find it somewhat unpleasant while I'm running (although running outside on a trail makes it almost enjoyable), but I always feel better afterwards, and now I find that I look forward to running because I like the way I feel after I'm done.

2) Running will not necessarily help you lose weight, but it will tone you and help you feel better in whatever body you have. Weight loss would have been nice, but I'm satisfied that it's still been worth it even without that.

3) Anyone can run. Really. You may be shuffling for 1 minute at a time and thinking it'll kill you when you start out, but stick with it and you'll get better. I promise. And if you feel like everyone is secretly laughing at your pathetic shuffle, they aren't. They are either thinking "good for her!" or  "she's shuffling just like me!"

4) You have to run regularly, but 30 minutes three times a week is enough to make progress. All spring and summer I ran at least every three days. If I took 2 days off, I made myself run the next day because I was afraid otherwise I'd never get back to it. And sometimes I did better after taking 2 days off than after taking only one day off. In theory, an hour and a half a week is such a small amount of time that anyone can fit it in, but I have to admit it's been very hard for me to even find that much time since school started.

5) Tracking your miles is very motivating. I used mapmyrun.com, but there are many ways to do this. My plan for next year is to set a mileage goal for the year.

So there you have it--sort of a non-runner's running guide. I still marvel at people who can run marathons, or who take months at a time off and can still go out and run a 5K with ease, or who can have a baby and then a few months later run a half marathon like it's no big deal (Abby and Leah, I'm talking about you!), but at least I can run a little, and I'm in better shape at 36 than I was at 26.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Introverts and Worship

I've been thinking a lot about church worship lately and trying to analyze why I've been so happy at the church I go to that has a very traditional worship service. (And no, that's not my church, that's George Herbert's church in Bemerton, England.) I've come to the conclusion that although I think there are some very good theological reasons for a worship service using a traditional order of worship (an order which most contemporary services don't follow--although they have their own sort of "liturgy" that is the same week after week), that's not the real reason why I don't know if I could transition to a contemporary styled service. After all, I could follow the same model of call to worship, confession, affirmation of the faith, service of the Word, response to God, etc. in my own home and view corporate worship as a chance to worship less formally. I think the real reason I feel uncomfortable in a contemporary styled service is that I am an introvert.

Introversion has been written about more in recent years, perhaps most notably here and here. The theory, as I understand it, is that introverts and extroverts process things differently in the brain, and therefore introverts get overstimulated in loud, people-full environments and need to get away by themselves to process. It seems to me like this idea has implications for worship. Could it be that I like a more reserved approach--without a worship leader and drums--not out of personal preference, but because I get overwhelmed and distracted from worshiping when something is too showy and noisy? Is it possible that my discomfort over someone too overtly expressing their worship with body swaying, hands raised over their heads, etc. is because I'm an introvert and prefer to not have someone so in my face with their internal thoughts? And, by the same token, if extroverts process their thoughts externally, do some extroverts need to sway, lift hands, etc. to feel like they have worshiped? Are they left cold and unmoved by the choral anthem that I find elevates my heart to worship far more deeply and easily than a contemporary chorus, however Biblical its words may be?

I don't know if I'm pegging this right, but it just seems to me that my discomfort in live contemporary worship settings is not a matter of taste. It's not like I'm trying to feel uncomfortable in such places--I'm trying to worship. I just find that I can't. Even if I know the songs and like to sing along when they come on the radio, somehow when they are sung in a roomful of people I start looking longingly at the nearest exit. So if my goal is to worship, and I know and like the songs, it seems like there must be some underlying cause to my discomfort--and my current theory is that it might have something to do with my being an introvert.

Even if I'm right in thinking that my preferences in worship have an underlying cause that is in some way biological, obviously the answer isn't that introverts and extroverts should have different worship services. We are all the same family, children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. So we need to find some way to make it work. We all need to grow in our worship and learn from one another. But I do hope that the 75% majority of extroverts don't ignore the needs of some of us introverts for reserved, predictable worship services. The kind of places where we are not distracted from focusing on God by the worship leader's showmanship or personality being injected into the service. Where we can think and process and not be made uncomfortable by the unpredictability of what might happen next (are we going to sing the chorus again or end it now?). Where we can in some way be alone with our thoughts even as we are sharing a common worship experience.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


by Alison Taylor (age 9)

Yellow is a color that makes you feel warm
that makes you feel happy when feelings are worn.
It's the color of popcorn and butter on bread
the color that makes you feel smart in your head.
Yellow is heat on a hot summer's day,
the day that you got invited to play.
It's lions and tigers--but bears are not such.
Their fur is brown and their smiles are not much.
Yellow makes children think happiest thoughts
the day that they fell down or nearly got lost.
Yellow is better than green, blue, or red
cause it makes you  not sick or curled up in bed.
Yellow makes us feel all happy inside
and now you've met yellow--with ME as your guide.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Storing September

September is such a great month. It's often sunny and still warm enough to be outside, but there's a crispness in the air that reminds us that fall and winter will be upon us soon. It's a good month for savoring the last bits of summer and storing up goodness to get us through the cold months ahead. This little poem about September sums it up well.

You ask me what I did today,
I could pretend and say
“I don’t remember.”
But, no, I’ll tell you what I did today--
I stored September.
Sat in the sun and let the sun sink in,
Let all the warmth of it caress my skin.
When winter comes, my skin will still remember
The day I stored September.
And then, my eyes--
I filled them with the deepest, bluest skies
and all the traceries of wasps and butterflies.
When winter comes, my eyes will still remember
The day they stored September.
And then there was cricket song to fill my ears!
And the taste of grapes
And the deep purple of them!
And asters, like small clumps of sky. . .
You know how much I love them.
That’s what I did today
And I know why.
Just simply for the love of it,
I stored September.

-Elizabeth Rooney

This particular September we took a trip back up to the lake house in Michigan to grasp at the last bits of our wonderful summer. We had glorious weather, wonderful food, and precious playtime. What a great way to store up September.

But reality struck when we got home--trials little and big, as I wrote about a few days ago. And it's got me thinking. We never know what's coming up ahead. We might sail along great for a long time, or we might be faced with terrible things tomorrow. Financial disaster. The breakup of a family. A medical diagnosis with life-changing consequences. The death of someone near and dear. If we can store up the wonderful moments of September to get us through the winter, can we also use times of calm to store up something to help us through the storms of life?

I think we can. We can store up relationships, caring for them in the day to day so that in times of stress or busyness they can stand up to a bit of neglect. We can store up Scripture and blessings in a journal to open and read down the road. We can store up happy moments, taking a weekend off to enjoy our lives instead of always trying to do, do, do. We can store up tidbits of knowledge that we don't need yet, but may need soon. We can store up the feel of our child's hand in ours and the smoothness of their skin when they are little. The sound of their mayhem and laughter. The joy of sharing a sunset with someone we love. We can store up all our little glimpses of heaven.

So as I go about these weeks when a dark cloud hangs over me as I watch loved ones struggle and persevere, I don't want to waste these moments. I want to store up things I'll need when I have an opportunity to encourage them, the same things I'll need when my turn in the fire comes. I want to store up all the Septembers of life to get me through the snowstorms of January and the dark sludge of February, until glorious June comes again with its promise of sunny days ahead.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Rule of Threes

The rule of three in literature tells us that things are more interesting when they come in threes. That's why there are three little pigs, Goldilocks and the three bears, and three blind mice. That's all well and good in the imaginary world of fairy tales, but it also seems to apply to real life in unfortunate ways, at least to me.

In my experience things never break on their own, it's always in a group of three--car/computer/washing machine or microwave/dishwasher/dehumidifier--to mention two examples from our house in the last few years.

This week it's felt like bad news has hit in a group of ten. Things have been going along swimmingly, with only tiny little bumps like a mouse invasion (okay, I'll admit that one was a big enough deal to me that my screams woke the children--but in the grand scheme I realize it's small potatoes) and broken appliances and a schedule that's packed a little too full . . . and then suddenly I've been blindsided with a lot of bad news in one week. Big, life-changing stuff. None of it directly impacts me, but it still weighs on me and gets me down.

Sometimes I have a hard time processing bad news. I want to do something. To fix what's broken. To mend hurting hearts. To make everything all right. The problem is that I can't do that. These things are out of my control, and in this world there's a lot that's broken.

Here's all I have to offer, the plain and simple truth: Jesus can fix anything, and He is in the process of fixing everything. It may not be how we want or when we want, but someday everything that has been broken by sin will be made right. What terrific news! In my better moments I share this news, like the little kid who goes around saying, "don't worry about that broken toy. My dad can fix it!" Sharing that hope makes me more hopeful and sometimes spreads it to others.

So now I share it with you--what I think are the most encouraging words in the whole Bible, and the ones I need to hear today as I go about my day with these heavy burdens on my heart. Maybe they'll encourage you too:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new. . . . It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.'" (Rev. 21:1-6)

I sure hope your week is going better than mine is, but if not, I hope these words help you refocus your heart like they've helped me refocus mine.

Friday, August 24, 2012

For Those Who Sent Someone to School This Week

This week was back to school for a lot of us. And I just kept being struck by the fact that in all the transitions and send-offs, mom is the one who feels it most. We're the ones who wish we could nurture our babies and help them over every bump and hurdle. We're the ones hiding behind our sunglasses so as not to show our tears. We're the ones left behind, wondering what's next for us now that less of our time is spent in direct contact with our favorite kiddos. 

Did you send somebody to school this week? Whether it was for the first time or the fifteenth, whether it was down the street to kindergarten or across the country to college, you did a brave thing. You probably wished you could hold your baby captive for a little longer, safe and sound in your own home. But you didn't.

You sent them off to fight their own battles. You sent them off to explore new worlds and meet new people. You showed them that you have confidence that they'll do just fine without you. You taught them to do the next thing even if it's a little scary. 

I think that's what motherhood is all about--letting go when we would rather hang on. So pour yourself a cup of tea, shed a few tears about the passing of time if you need to, and give yourself some grace if it takes a few days to get back into the swing of things. Letting go is hard, and you did it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Flair Pens and Other School Supplies

I now refer to it as the flair pen incident of 2006. My oldest child was starting first grade, so I dutifully took all three children (ages 6, 3, and 1) to the store to buy school supplies. Consulting the list, I checked off items one by one: folders, paper, notebooks, pencils...and then I came to item number 175: black flair pens. Unfortunately, Target was sold out. So the four of us went to Office Max. Also sold out. And the grocery store. Also sold out. And Walgreens. Also sold out. And Carlson's art store. Also sold out. I think I finally ordered them online and paid exorbitant shipping costs because obviously my child needed 2 flair pens for her first day of school. It was on the list, and I was a rule follower.

Fast forward one year. I had learned a few things, among them that half the things on the school supply list don't get used, or are put into the teacher's cabinet for general classroom use and they really don't go through 30 boxes of dixie cups. 30 boxes of kleenex, probably. Flair pens were on the list again in 2007, and we sent in the ones that had come home at the end of first grade, having been used once. In 2009 I ordered a jumbo-sized box of 30 flair pens that we're still working our way through.

So no, Alison, I am not going to go shopping to three or four stores looking for an expandable that has eight pockets. All the ones at Target had seven, and I think you can make do. Double up on subjects if you need to. And no, Bethany, I don't think we need to send in four composition books for gym class on the first day. When you've used the first two I'll buy you another one. And Meredith, the list may say Ticonderoga pencils, but I think Dixon-Ticonderoga is close enough. I am never again dragging three children to five or six stores looking for flair pens. I've learned my lesson: close enough is good enough.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Glorious Boredom

Summer vacation starts in just a few short days. As you saw in my post last week, I've been in an organizing frenzy. I think I'm trying to get a hold on my sanity before the kids are home. All day. Every day. Including the days when I'm packing for our vacations, which as you saw in my other post last week are a lot of work. I have a plan for how we'll all get by this summer, which I may share tomorrow. Or I may wait to see how well it works.

I want to let you in on a little secret that I don't think my kids know: I think it's good for them to be bored. When they come to me with wails of "I'm bored! I have nothing to do!" I don't panic, I secretly rejoice. And then I offer to find them something to do, which of course they decline because they know it will involve work on their part.

The thing is, I think it is in boredom that creativity is birthed. Boredom necessitates growth. It drives kids to think and do new things. Dissatisfaction dissolves as simple joys are rediscovered.

If we fill boredom with constant outings and mom-directed activities and that brain drain called TV, it never achieves its purpose of creative discovery. But if we let it fester for a few minutes, or even a few days, it's amazing what happens. New games are created.
(okay, this was maybe not my favorite game, and that's obviously an old picture, but I couldn't resist including it.)

Old toys are rediscovered.

Siblings become friends.
 Children curl up in corners with good books. 

Culinary masterpieces emerge from the kitchen.

Stories are imagined.
 Artistic masterpieces appear on bedroom walls as if by magic.

Scientific experiments are unveiled.

Tadpoles are captured and observed.
Entire cities are built (yes, this picture is a few years old too).

So as you start this summer, go ahead and make your bucket list. Hit the waterparks and museums and mini golf courses. Take advantage of the wonderful treasure that is summer with kids. But on your days home, don't be afraid of a little boredom. Don't view it as a problem to be fixed or feel guilty if you haven't kept your kids happy and busy every single second. Don't pressure yourself to maximize every opportunity for activity or feel like a failure if days go by in which you accomplish nothing. Embrace the boredom, let it simmer for a little while, and then see what wonderful discoveries your kids make. And if you can find time for a little of your own boredom, that's even better!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vacation Tips for Families

I remember someone once telling me that after you have kids you never go on vacation again. You go on trips, on which you do all the stuff you normally do for the children, only it's harder because you don't have the conveniences and routines you have at home. Happy thought, isn't it?

But I do think travel is worth it. It builds memories and bonds you together as a family. Even the worst vacations you will one day look back on with fondness. Well, maybe not the one where more than half of the people at the 60-plus person family reunion got the same stomach bug. No fond memories there. But even the hours of squabbling in the car yield happy memories down the road. And the night we tried car-camping after a full day on the road with a four-year-old and a crawling baby. The four-year-old was delighted with the tent and would not stop singing. The baby spent the night crawling all over us because she had been cooped up in the car all day. Daddy, who had driven many hours that day, was not happy. Not a whole lot of sleeping took place, and we never tried that again. And yet we look back on it with a certain nostalgia.

So, in my twelve years of packing and road tripping with children in tow, here's what I've learned:

1) Pack light. Figure out what you think you need and then put half of it back. Especially if you have access to a washing machine--it's nice to come home with most of your laundry done anyway, so there's no need to pack outfits for your entire time if you can do laundry while you're there. When I was a kid we took trips to England every other summer or so, and the rule was that each kid had to be able to carry all their own stuff. It wasn't easy for my mom to pack, I'm sure, since we were gone for six weeks at a time, but somehow she managed, and it made it much easier that each child could carry their own suitcase into their hotel room. And this was in the days before wheeled suitcases, so we actually carried our own bags.

We always travel by car, so that rule isn't quite as important. I used to give each kid their own suitcase with the idea that they would pack it, carry it out of the car to their room, and then repack when it was time to head home. That never really happened, so I've recently developed a new tactic: pack all the kids' clothes in one big plastic tub.

It is a lot more compact than individual suitcases, and they unpack their stuff once we get there anyway, so the suitcases just sit empty and in the way for the week. Plus it's only one thing for my strapping husband to carry in and out, rather than five.

2) Pack toys that your kids can play together. Think legos, cars, sports equipment, craft supplies, dolls of the same type. Have the kids agree on one or two categories of toys and then put them all in a box or two and then that's it for the toys. And look, it all goes in one big box with a lid! Make that two boxes: one for indoor toys/games and one for beach stuff and outside toys.

3) Pack light for the car. If you have video games or a DVD player in the car, indulge them with unlimited screen time. I used to pack a box or bag for each kid. Now I have one tall soft-sided cooler-type box with a zipper lid and their stuff all has to fit in it. DS's, music, books, stuffed animals, stuff to draw with, etc.

If it doesn't fit in the one box, it's not going. (Well, other than that tiny little backpack for the littlest tyke.) I've found that if I pack a lot of stuff for them to do they just make a mess getting it all out and they really only do one or two things the entire trip anyway. Having a lot of things to do in the car seems to not make the kids any more content than they are with only a few things to do--so make the car neater and your life easier by packing light.

4) Don't waste stops on eating. Find nice rest stops where the kids can run around, and then set up a game of tag or get out a soccer ball and kick it around. When it's time to eat, eat in the car because that's a great form of entertainment. McDonald's playlands are great too, of course, especially if the kids are old enough to play independently while you eat in peace.

5) Books on CD are great. I've found that it is a little hard to find things that are interesting to a variety of ages and appropriate for all listeners. Bill Cosby and even Garrison Keillor are not as appropriate as you might think (we discovered the hard way)! Here are a few we've enjoyed: The Princess and Curdie series by George MacDonald, the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis, the Redwall books, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, and the Fudge books by Judy Blume (although parts of those books had me cringing).

6) Come equipped with a few things to do on a rainy day. I save craft ideas throughout the year, and then when we go on vacation I bring supplies for one craft we've never tried before. I always feel more relaxed if I have a few surprises up my sleeve for those times when the kids are bored and then grown-ups don't want to go out.

7) Don't forget those medical supplies. It's no fun to have to run out at 10:00 at night in a strange town for some baby Tylenol or Benedryl cream for that strange rash.

So there you have it. I've just saved you a dozen years of trial and error!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

If You Clean a Cupboard

If you clean your kitchen cupboards,

you'll realize how disorganized your bathroom is. You'll go to clean that up

and find a crayon, which will remind you that the craft and summer "school" stuff is in disarray. While you're cleaning that
you'll realize that you need to get rid of stuff from the cabinet to make room for the crayons. While you're cleaning that you'll notice an old table cloth. 

When you put that on the table you'll realize that you're a little hungry. You'll go to the kitchen cupboards to get a snack and realize just how nice they look. Which will remind you that it would be really nice to clean your bedroom. But then you'll remember that first you have to organize the sock pile.
And you'll decide to just enjoy your coffee and well-deserved cookie and hope that the sock fairy shows up.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Couples' Prayer Challenge

I'm going to let you in on a dirty little secret: Although I am very happily married to a man who is a strong spiritual leader in our home, we haven't prayed together very often in our 13 years of marriage other than at meals or with our kids before bed. We didn't think we liked to pray together. Life is too busy. We get up at different times. We stay up too late. We have good intentions to pray together, but they never quite materialize.

But when you teach an adult Sunday school class, every now and then you have to challenge yourself to establish new spiritual disciplines. Well, actually, you have to constantly challenge yourself. And so, two weeks ago my husband stood in front of our adult community and issued a challenge: pray with your spouse 5 days a week for 6 weeks, for a total of 30 days. The 30-day Prayer Challenge. Starting with us.

So for the last almost three weeks I've gotten up about 45 minutes earlier than usual (not because we pray for 45 minutes, but to be up before the kids), my husband has put on a pot of coffee so I could keep my eyes open, and we've prayed together. It's been a challenge, but not as big of a challenge as we anticipated. Here's what I've learned.

1) We actually like to pray together. It's not hard and the time goes by quickly. And now that the habit is established, I think we'll be more likely to pray about issues we're concerned about instead of just discussing them.

2) It helps a lot to have something specific to pray for. My husband has been putting together a prayer guide for each week, but here's one you could try if you want to try your own prayer challenge:

Monday--pray for your kids

Tuesday--pray for your church (ministries, church leaders, people in your small group, church members who are ill, etc.)

Wednesday--pray for missionaries you know or support and/or children you sponsor

Thursday--pray for each other and your various roles and activities

Friday--pray for national and international issues you're concerned about (legislation, national leaders, persecuted church, etc.)

3) Starting a new habit like praying together only works if you set the goal together. If I had decided this would be a good thing to do and dragged my husband along for the ride, I think it would've last about one day. And it's even better if you're in a community where other couples are praying together too.

4) It's a lot easier for me to concentrate on prayer when I'm praying with someone else. It eliminates distractions to speak and listen in prayer.

5) I've learned new things about my husband and about prayer. I've glimpsed facets of his priorities and desires through what he prays for that I wouldn't hear in ordinary conversation. He prays for different things and in different ways than I would, and there's much to be learned from those differences.

6) There's nothing in the world as encouraging to me as being prayed for by my husband. I hope he feels the same way when I pray for him.

7) Getting up early is a good thing. It helps me face the day feeling more on top of things and ensures that I get my Bible reading in before the kids start running wild. Unfortunately I seem to need to relearn this lesson every couple of months.

I'm so glad my husband issued this challenge. I don't know how many other couples in our Sunday school class are still going strong at the halfway point, but if nothing else has come out of it, I'm thankful that we're praying together regularly during this busy spring season.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wordless Wednesday--Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Life can get a little crazy with four kids who are old enough to have stuff going on but not old enough to get themselves to any of their activities. Yesterday was a case in point: a birthday, kindergarten visitation, preschool, preschool end-of-the-year program, playdates, and after-school activities were all on the docket. And I threw in some yard work for good measure.

Monday, May 14, 2012

One Good Thing

My last post on slowing down this summer got me thinking about what else I'm aiming for this summer. It's great to have plans for the kids and scour Pinterest for fun crafts and think about how you'll help them develop new skills and maintain old ones during the months off of school. But sometimes we moms spend all of our time helping them, and we forget to help ourselves. We make goals for our kids but not for us. We take care of everyone else first and neglect our own needs for devotional time, book-reading, relaxation, or time with friends. And everybody suffers when we do that.

For the past few years a few friends and I have had a summer book study. We schedule one evening a week to get together at someone's house and discuss one chapter from whatever book we've chosen. Our favorite so far is this one:

Most weeks, of course, at least one person is missing. But we just carry on and do the next chapter anyway. It's been a great discipline for us in those months when formal church Bible studies are "off" for the summer and church attendance is spotty due to travel.

Maybe a book study would be good for you to try this summer. Call a few friends and see if someone wants to join you, or at least hold you accountable to doing it on your own. Or maybe that's not doable but you could make some other goal for yourself. Not for the kids, but for yourself. Maybe you would benefit from taking a prayer walk a few times a week. Or maybe you need to go in your room, lock the kids out, and read your Bible for fifteen minutes every day this summer. Maybe there is a stack of books on your "to read" shelf and you should promise yourself fifteen minutes of reading time every night before bed even if it means the dishes don't get done until tomorrow. Maybe there's some great book everyone has been talking about that you really want to read but haven't gotten around to reading yet. Give yourself permission to do it by making it a goal instead of an "extra." Whatever you choose to be your one good thing for this summer, promise yourself you'll do even if it means the laundry has to wait one more day. Don't let it be the thing you'll do if you have time, because we all know that doesn't happen. Doing one good thing for ourselves requires intentionality or we'll never get around to it.

So, what's one good thing you plan to do for yourself this summer? Share it with us so we can be inspired!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Slow Summer

Well, it's that time of year again. My heart is filled with equal parts excitement and dread. The kids are just filled with excitement. That's right, summer vacation is around the corner. When I was a kid that meant long days playing in the yard, bike rides to the ice cream shop, outings to the farmer's market and the library, and some boredom. It meant writing stories and watching movies and playing cops and robbers in the neighborhood and going to evening concerts at Memorial Park.

I don't think that's what it means to my kids. To them, summer is a week of this vacation Bible school and a week of that music camp and two weeks of summer camp. Playdates with friends are often hard to schedule between our summer activities and theirs, so those have to be scheduled in advance. We usually get out for a few of the evening concerts and ride our bikes to the popcorn shop for classic car night, and we certainly don't miss opportunities to go to the farmer's market. But by and large summer is busy. And expensive. And scheduled.

Now I don't think there's anything wrong with all those activities I sign my kids up for. In fact, I just signed them up for something last night. But somehow I want to get summer back. My kind of summer. Long, lazy days spent playing and reading. Impromptu outings to the zoo. Slow living.

How to do that? I'm not sure. One thing that seems to work for us is to schedule vacations. And not just Williamsburg/Disney kind of vacations where we're constantly on the go. This year we've rented a house in North Carolina for a week, and it's pretty remote. It doesn't even have an internet connection. We think it'll be good for our family just to be together, away from it all, doing outdoorsy activities for a week. We also have a couple of beach vacations on the calendar, and those are great for helping you slow down. When the only thing on the schedule for the day is going to the beach, you've captured a great summer day.

My strategy for summer has changed this year too. I used to feel pressure to get my kids involved in things, to hone their talents and interests. I didn't want them to miss out on something their friends were doing. Secretly I think I didn't want them to fall behind. But this year I'm letting go of that competitive spirit and trying to give them a nice summer for the least amount of money possible. Yes, there is a great music camp they could go to. Maybe it would move them along in their piano lessons. But we're not going, and our calendar and our pocketbooks thank us. There's a great drama camp they've done before that they want to go to again, but when faced with the choice between spending 300 dollars for a few kids to do that versus going to our family reunion for free, I'm choosing the family reunion this time around.

Now, lest you think my kids will be sitting around all summer, we are sending two of them to camp. It's expensive, but so worth it. The spiritual development and independence they gain there just can't be duplicated in any other setting. For us, that's money well spent.

Maybe slowing down in the summer is mainly a state of mind. Making time for what you want to do instead of succumbing to the pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Making lists of ways to spend time together instead of lists of activities the kids could be involved in. Quieting the voices in your head that tell you a good mom would take the kids somewhere instead of sitting on the hammock and reading a book. Trusting that if you slow down the kids will learn to be content with less activity rather than fearing endless days of "I'm bored!" Finding simple things to do at home or at a park instead of making every outing elaborate. Letting the lawn mowing wait another day to make time for s'mores in the back yard.

I don't know how to do this slow summer thing, but I know I'm going to try a little harder to figure it out this year. It seems silly to say that my goal for the summer is for all of us to learn to slow down, but that's what I'm going for here. How about you? How do you slow down?