Freedom from Busyness: Part 2 – Choosing Activities Wisely

Well, let’s just jump right into this. Some of you are going to love today’s topic, and some of you are going to be haters. I’m okay with that. We can still be friends, right?

Before we jump into today’s somewhat controversial topic, I’d like to introduce you to Sarah, a like-minded friend whom I met in college. Sarah is a full time working mom with two adorable children. She has been collaborating with me on this series, lending the perspective of a simple lifestyle while working full time. I am grateful for the input that she has shared and am excited to share her wisdom with you all today! Welcome, Sarah!

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Looking at my calendar used to give me anxiety. Each day had at least one activity for our kids, not to mention any activities that my husband or I were involved in at the moment, too. The thing was, it was all good stuff: story time at the library, pottery classes, gymnastics, piano lessons, Bible studies, homeschool groups, basketball leagues…you get the picture. While it was all good, it was also all exhausting. My husband and I would race through our weeks, often feeling like we didn’t actually get a chance to see each other until the weekend.

Isn’t that what parents do, though? Isn’t part of our job to make sure that our children develop interests and chauffeur them to a myriad of activities? Well…yes and no.

Yes, it is part of the parent’s role to play chauffeur. However, we always need to keep our limits in mind. Here are three questions to ponder before signing kids up for activities:

  1. Can I handle this commitment and does it work with our family schedule? At our house, my husband and I have learned through experience that we can manage running kids to activities two nights per week. That’s our limit. Family time is a priority for us, and being gone more than two nights per week leaves us feeling harried and disconnected from our kids.

    At Sarah’s house, one night a week is what works for them. Eating dinner as a family is a priority at their house, as well as allowing a healthy amount of down time for both the parents and kids to regroup each day.

    We both have spouses with somewhat erratic schedules, so it is also important for both of us to weigh out whether we can handle carting kids to these activities without our spouse’s help.

  2. Is there a lifelong benefit to participating in this activity? This is an extremely subjective question, and the answers will vary wildly depending on a family’s values and interests. My kids love Star Wars, and taking a class called “Jedi Training” sure sounds fun, but is there any lifelong benefit for my kids in this class? Probably not. They also love participating in the AWANA program and youth groups at our church. My husband and I feel that these programs have lifelong benefit to our kids, as they are developing relationships with positive peers and adult mentors, as well as growing in the knowledge and relationship with Christ.Sarah says, “I started my kids in swim lessons quite young because I believed in the lifelong benefit of this. We spend a lot of time around water in the summer, swimming, fishing, kayaking, etc. This was something I felt strongly about my children doing. Since the age of three, they have both been in swim lessons in the summer. I have also done one round of swim lessons in the fall, stopped for the winter (because I didn’t want that commitment during the winter months) and then started again in spring. We will continue to do this.”
  3. Does my child show demonstrated interest in this activity? While I always want to encourage my children’s interests, I also want to make sure that we are focusing our energies where they are truly interested and invested. My kids have never shown interest in playing soccer; thus, I am not going to sign them up for soccer. However, my daughter did show an interest in playing ukulele. After discussing it for several months (to make sure it wasn’t a short-lived interest), we found a wonderful teacher who gives online lessons. This was a perfect for for our family, and my daughter is thriving in these lessons!Sarah has a different approach to this question. “I have brought up activities that I have wanted my children to try, or thought they may like to try, sometimes before they have expressed interest. I think it is important for my kids to try different activities to see what they like and don’t like. So, on and off from a young age, both of my kids have tried a variety of things. Most of this has taken place during the summer, when I am not working. They have both tried gymnastics, soccer and going to a day camp.” The key to this working for Sarah is to doing what works for her family schedule – in this case, doing these activities during the summer, when she is home with her kids.

Okay, these questions are all well and good, but how does one narrow down the choices with their kids? I think Sarah has a brilliant approach to this: “When my child has to make a choice between activities, she always compares everything to swimming (her most favorite activity), and so far has always chosen swimming over everything else.” Teaching our kids to make these tough choices early on will help them see where their interests truly lie, as well as instill in them how to live a balanced life. And that’s a legacy we truly want to leave with our children, right?

We’ve established our limits, prioritized our activities…and next week, we’ll take a look at the idea of rest. See you then!

 

 

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Freedom from Busyness: Part 1 – Know (and Respect!) Your Limits

It was auction day at work. I needed to leave extra early that day to make sure that I had time to park in a field far from our office, catch a shuttle, and still be at my desk on time. The thing was, I was already late. Habitually, I would sleep until the last possible minute, throw myself together, and careen out the door at a time that would get me to the office at exactly 8 a.m. No sooner, no later.

I sped along our country highway for approximately two minutes before I saw it: the telltale flashing lights of a police car in my rear view mirror. I was doomed. I knew the speed limit was 55 miles per hour. I knew I was going well over that speed limit. Now I would not only be late, but I would also most likely be issued a hefty fine for breaking the law.

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I knew my limits, blew right past them, and paid the price. 

Although I haven’t had a ticket since that long ago experience, I have spent much of my life living in a similar manner. I knew my limits – what I could handle while remaining healthy physically and mentally, but that wasn’t enough. I always needed to work harder, take the project to the next level, squeeze that extra event into the day, say “yes” to another commitment…the list goes on. In the end, someone would end up paying the price, whether it was myself dealing with tension headaches and exhaustion, my kids dealing with an exhausted, snappish momma, or my husband taking on extra work for an overextended wife.

The hustle and bustle of the average American life was not healthy for me or our family. I felt overwhelmed by our schedule and exhausted by the many demands on my time. I needed room to breathe, space in our schedule to go for a leisurely stroll or bike ride, and time to sprawl out on the furniture together watching a show. I needed change.

One of the first steps that I took toward a slower and simpler life was to know and respect my own limits. The old “oxygen mask” adage rings true in this situation: I needed to put on my own mask (in this case, respect my limits and take care of myself) before I put on my family members’ masks. I needed to establish boundaries as to what was healthy and manageable for me as a parent, chauffeur, employee, and all the other hats I wore every day.

How does one go about setting limits, though? What does that look like? Here’s where it gets a little tricky, because everyone is wired differently. As an introvert and highly sensitive person (HSP), my personal limits may look much different than those of an extrovert. However, there are some general questions that everyone can ask themselves when it comes to setting healthy limits:

  • Do I feel overwhelmed and exhausted much of the time?
  • Am I able to consistently spend time in God’s Word?
  • Am I spending quality, unscheduled time with my family on a regular basis?
  • Do I have time to pursue my interests?
  • Do I have time for those relationships that are important to me?
  • Do I have time to practice self care?

Take some time to think through those questions. Jot down some thoughts on areas where you would like to see change – more family time, more time to practice self care, etc. Next week we will start to tackle the nitty gritty on how to simplify your schedule and create room for a healthier you and a slower, simpler life!

 

 

 

White As Snow

We woke up to a snow-covered world this morning. Honestly, the first words out of my mouth were, “What the what?!” (I claim no responsibility for any words that come out of my mouth before coffee.) But then I started thinking about it.

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Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. We go to bed on Good Friday with the heartbreaking knowledge that Jesus loved us so much that He would rather die in our place than spend eternity without us. That is a depth of love and sacrifice that we can hardly fathom, much less repay.

Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. We wake up the next morning, and our world is literally covered in white. What a beautiful visual reminder of what He did for us! Just as He covered the ugliness of our sins and made us clean through His death on the cross, He covered all of the early spring ugliness with a clean, white blanket of snow.

So I am embracing the snow today. Thank you, Jesus, for this beautiful reminder of what You have done for us.

Blessings on your Easter weekend, everyone!

Choosing the Slow Life

Several weeks ago, my youngest daughter spent almost the entire day sitting in a lawn chair, perched high atop a small mountain of rocks and clay. Bundled up in warm clothes and her winter gear, she sipped soda while watching a new house take shape around the corner from us. Constructions workers were buzzing around like bees while a crane set wall panels into place with precision and grace. It was one of the happiest days of her life. She was fully alive in the moment, engaged in the experience and enjoying it to the fullest.

Fast forward to that weekend. Each day was an empty square – no commitments, no plans – a rare occurrence and pure bliss. Apart from a little Saturday cleaning and Sunday morning church, we spent the weekend resting, reading, and pursuing interests both individually and together.

This is what I want for our family.

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A life rich in experiences that resonate with who we are as individuals and as a family. A life that is intentionally slow but full of opportunities to explore, learn and grow. A life where not only do my kids have freedom in their days to be creative and imaginative, but where my husband and I also have space to pursue our dreams and desires.

That sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

The truth is, though, that developing a life like that is challenging in today’s culture. In a world that worships busyness, it is dangerously easy to be swept up in a current of people running here, there and everywhere. There are so many wonderful opportunities available and so much pressure to be involved. Is it even possible?

I think it is.

We are approaching April and May, which rank right up there with November and December as being the busiest months of the year at our house. Easter celebrations, end-of-the-school-year activities, birthday parties…all good events that are worthy of our time and attention. It’s also spring time – our Midwest winter is finally melting and giving way to all shades of green. After months of shivering in parkas, our bodies are longing to stretch and absorb warmth and vitamin D in the beauty of God’s creation.

How do we strike a healthy balance of school, celebrations, family time, and still find time to rest and rejuvenate our bodies and souls? Over the next several weeks, we will be exploring how to choose a slow life amidst a whirlwind culture. We will be evaluating different areas of our life that can lead to a slower rhythm overall, regardless of whether we work full time, part time, or are at home.

I want to enjoy the upcoming months. I want to sit on that mountain of dirt with my daughter and share in the wonder. I want to celebrate loved ones and be fully engaged in each moment and activity. I think it’s possible. Do you?

 

 

Why I Encourage My Husband to Watch March Madness

Guys, there’s this whole March Madness thing going on right now, and I don’t have much of a clue what it’s all about. I know there are brackets involved, which require very serious contemplation and weigh heavy upon many sports-minded souls. There are upsets that can wreak irreversible damage upon said brackets. I know there are phrases thrown around like “Sweet Sixteen,” “Elite Eight,” and “Final Four.” And, as with any sporting event, there should be a bevy of beverages and snacks.

That’s about the extent of my knowledge, and honestly, that’s about all I care to know.

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What I do know is that I want my husband to watch March Madness. Now, before you unfollow my blog, hear me out. I haven’t always felt this way; in fact, I used to resent the time he spent watching sports. I didn’t grow up in a sports-minded family, and the idea of someone choosing to spend a sunny afternoon glued to the TV was foreign and disconcerting to me. I admit that during the early years of our marriage, I was often resentful and even angry about the few hours he would spend watching college football or NASCAR.

Over the years, though, God has worked on my heart and allowed me to see these truths about my husband:

  1. He works hard to provide for our family. We have been a single-income household for the past decade. He has worked long hours in challenging environments in order to ensure financial stability for our family. On top of that, he has put in many weekends remodeling our house for years, so that we could save money by doing the work ourselves.
  2. He finds it enjoyable and relaxing. I don’t find sports enjoyable or relaxing – I relax by diving into a good book or sometimes watching a TV show. He would rather spend an afternoon scraping his fingernails along chalkboard than watch an episode of “Call the Midwife.” However, we both understand the importance of giving our bodies and minds the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate, and we are respectful of the fact that we relax in different ways.
  3. He has his priorities straight. He has a clear set of priorities and lives them out on a daily basis: God first, family second, and sports third. I know that he chose to take a long walk with me this weekend over watching basketball, and that he turned on “House Hunters International” not because he was itching to watch it, but because he knows it is a show we enjoy as a family and it sparks interesting discussions. I know he will always choose family over sports, and so it is an easy decision to bless him with the opportunity to catch some extra sports time.
  4. I get to read more books. To be truthful, I’m not entirely unselfish about this whole March Madness thing! If he is indulging in some extra sports viewing, I have zero guilt about indulging in some extra reading time. I read an entire book while he was watching basketball this weekend, and it was delicious.

So, if you happen to stop by our house this coming weekend, don’t expect him to answer the door – my hope is that he will be too engrossed in basketball to hear the doorbell. For that matter, I might not answer the door, either – I have a sweet stack of library books calling my name. The most you can probably hope for is that our dog will greet you at the door, but don’t hold your breath. She likes March Madness because it means she can sleep next to me while I read. 🙂

Clinging to the Immovable

Once upon a time, not too many years ago, I served on the worship team of a small country church. They had a need for both vocalists and accompanists – I happened to have experience in both. It seemed like a heaven-ordained opportunity to serve, except for one small thing: I was in the midst of dealing with severe anxiety.

My anxiety would manifest itself in the form of shortness of breath and, more often, spells of vertigo. The vertigo would come upon me unexpectedly and at inopportune times, but was more likely to happen while under stress. Just being in front of a group of people was stressful, much less singing or playing piano. It was a prime situation for vertigo to strike.

I was determined that my anxiety would not prevent me from serving, and so I developed a coping mechanism: the piano. Heavy, solid, and virtually immovable, that piano wasn’t going anywhere. I, on the other hand, was not nearly as stable. So, I would position myself in a spot where I could cling to the piano the entire time I was on stage, knowing that no matter how I felt, I had a firm object that would help me stand strong.

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And you know what? It worked. I spent many a Sunday morning desperately clinging to that piano with sweaty palms, trusting that the strength and solidness of the piano would help me remain upright.

Do you ever feel like that? Like daily life is a precarious thing, and at any given moment a situation might set you reeling? I know I sure do. Life is unpredictable, and there isn’t always a piano available for me to hang on to!

Here’s the thing, though: we have something even better than a piano. Always with us, never forsaking us, is our solid, unchanging Father in heaven. Matthew 28:20 tells us that He is “with us always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). In Joshua 1:9, He promises that that “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (NLT). And in Malachi 3:6, He flat out states, “I am the Lord, and I do not change” (NLT).

What promises! What hope those words bring to an unstable, ever changing world!

These days, I only find myself on stage occasionally. When I can feel the anxiety starting to build within me, rather than leaning on a piano for strength and assurance, I choose to lean into the words of the worship songs. Rather than fearing an episode of vertigo, I choose to trust in the promises of God, that He is present in the moment and that He will carry me through.

The Quiet Work of Healing

Things have been pretty quiet on the site this week, not because I haven’t been working on posts, but because the one I’ve been working on has been so. very. hard.

This week (February 26-March 4, 2018) is National Eating Disorders Awareness week. I don’t talk about it very often, but some of you know that I was diagnosed and struggled with anorexia nervosa during my college years. Therefore, this week is particularly near and dear to me.

I fully planned to share my story this week. In fact, I have the draft for part one saved in my files. I came very close to publishing it, except for the still, small voice that kept saying, “Not yet.” It wasn’t the voice of fear; while it has been very challenging to revisit that time of my life, I have no fear in sharing my experience. Rather, it is a sense that I should hold off, as if the story isn’t quite finished yet. I don’t know exactly how it will all play out, but I DO know that when I sense that still, small voice, I believe it belongs to the King of Kings and you bet I listen!

In the meantime, this week has been good for me. I’ve visited hard places and revisited memories that I’ve kept locked away for 20 years. It’s been exhausting and painful and awful and healing. I’m so very thankful for where God has me today.

Incidentally, my family and I have plans this spring to visit the area I lived when I developed my eating disorder. (That’s not the purpose of the trip, thank goodness!) It’s a lovely, quaint area and we are all looking forward to it. I know it is going to bring up more memories, and I’m ready to sit with them and work through them. I am looking forward to seeing places that are part of a painful past, rejoicing in where God has me today, and making new memories with my sweet family.

I encourage you to visit the National Eating Disorders Association’s website and familiarize yourself with the risk factors that may contribute to an eating disorder. And if you suspect that a loved one or yourself may have an eating disorder, please have the courage to seek help for yourself or learn how you can be a support to your loved one.

And someday, I will share my story. When He says it’s time.