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?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

(Not Quite) Wordless Wednesday: Scrapbooking

This is why I scrapbook . . . because every year or so the kids take them out and pore over them saying things like, "Did I really say that?" and "Oh, I remember that!" Family memories are worth every penny I spend on these books and every hour I spend agonizing over them. I declare June scrapbooking month around here (because it ain't gonna happen in May). I figure once the kids are out of school they can take care of themselves while I get crafty. Who's with me?

And the other reason to make scrapbooks is to have a way to save pictures like this for posterity:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mondays with Martha: Mother's Day

Martha has some great ideas for Mother's Day--a huge list of gifty crafts that look lovely and not too difficult. Maybe you can print off some of the ideas and leave them in strategic locations around the house for your kids to find.

Which reminds me, occasionally I have a good idea. This year inspiration struck and I decided to have some of the girls' friends over to make mother's day crafts. They made cards...

And they made gifts...

But I can't show you the finished product because it's a surprise.

The great thing about this was that it was fun for the girls but also a nice gift for their moms. When kids are little their teachers help them make something nice for mom, but by about third grade that ends and it's up to the kids. Or the dads. And sometimes the gifts are either nonexistent or, let's be honest, a little bit lame. But since this is the one day a year that moms get honored for all their work, it's nice to help the kids come up with something their moms will actually want (hopefully). And to spend more than five minutes making a card, which is my favorite thing to receive on Mother's Day. This was so fun that I think this may become an annual tradition around here.

You still have one week left before Mother's Day, so you can find a craft and have some kids over to make something nice for their moms. As Martha would say, it's a good thing.