Only one thing is needed

On the first of November I logged onto Facebook and, in the midst of everyone’s sweet posts beginning their “days of thankfulness,” I unloaded.

“I HATE THURSDAYS……sorry, needed to vent.”

I don’t actually hate Thursdays.  Three-quarters of the day I love; that’s the day my mom comes over and we play.  We get coffee and run errands if we need to; we have most of the day together to just enjoy each other’s company…..and then she goes home, and I have to face the fact that I played all day and that nothing got done.  Any other day of the week, that would be an easy recovery, but Thursdays are my daughter’s gymnastics night; which means she and I eat dinner together early, and then head out the door for a good chunk of our evening.

This particular Thursday was especially bad.  Mom and I had played that morning, but then spent the afternoon at home with the still-new-to-us dog, since I don’t yet know if I can trust her for much longer than three or four hours.  Mom and I sat together in my living room; she worked on cross-stitched Christmas presents while I tried to coax a GoogleDoc to work for our Sunday School’s class Christmas party.  I would like to say it was a cozy and comfortable afternoon at home; unfortunately I was stressed out from the uncooperative document and an even more uncooperative laptop.

After she left it was a collision of things:  get the kids from school, drop them off at home, run the dog to her first vet appointment, run back home, scarf down dinner, throw my daughter in the car and run her to gymnastics, where I texted some more info about the Christmas party to others on the planning committee.  While I sat with my phone in my lap, responding to texts, it suddenly began ringing, and I recognized the name at the top of the screen as another friend who, I knew, was calling about a meeting we had the following morning.  And I admit it:  I saw her name and I groaned.  (Yeah, I’ve already ‘fessed up to her, so it’s okay to write about it.)  I answered the phone with the statement, “That’s tomorrow, isn’t it?”

That night was so bad my daughter didn’t get bathed.  That night was so bad I actually asked my husband for help.  (He’s great to pitch in….you’d think I’d ask him more often.)  That night it was all I could do to get the kids into bed without a meltdown (me, not them), and crash on the sofa, and unload my seven little words on Facebook.

As I thought about it that night and the following morning, some thoughts began to gel for me.  As I watch people run from one thing to the next, as I see our lives crowded with “stuff” of the time-kind, not just the material-kind, I started to realize something.  My mind went from rambling thoughts to more specific thoughts and finally, I realized, I could reduce these thoughts to two words:

Who says?

Some examples, from conversations I’ve had with people over the past few months:

Who says we have to sell popcorn to the school kids the first Friday of every month?

Who says the high schoolers need a coffee bar, staffed by parent volunteers?

Who says we should have gymnastics practice two nights a week, with competitive meets every weekend?

Who says our class party needs to be a catered affair at a venue instead of a potluck in someone’s home?

Who says we need our kids in every activity our church home offers?  (If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a chipper, “If the doors were unlocked, we were there!”)

Please understand….none of these things are bad.  But every time someone has another “good idea,” that idea has to be carried out and run by other people.  Which leads to well-meaning people being overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they’re doing.

It’s ironic that I’m even writing about this….I’m not a “joiner.”  My kids are in the bare minimun on extra-curricular activities, because I think being home, as a family, together, is more important than most stuff they could sign up for.  (My son is currently involved in–gasp!–nothing.)  I’m not that bad at saying “no;” I had a great amount of practice last month when our trip was closing in and making me feel overwhelmed.  It’s really struck me, though, how easy it is to get sucked in; especially when the ideas are so “good.”  How quickly we become “the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”  (Matthew 13:22)

Or we turn into those invited to the banquet:

“At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  But they all alike began to make excuses.  The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.  Please excuse me.’  Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.  Please excuse me.’  Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ ” (Luke 14:  17-20)

I can hear Jesus saying to us, ” ‘Martha, Martha….you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ ”  (Luke 10:41-42)

As I read through the Old Testament, I’m struck by the continued, repeated instruction given to the kings:  Seek Him.  Follow Him wholeheartedly.  And listen:

“They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them.  So the Lord gave them rest on every side.”  (2 Chronicles 15:15)

I realize the verse refers to peace instead of war, but truly….doesn’t rest sound good?


Back to school…

So…that’s where I’ve been for the past week.

Doing the last bit of shopping for what the kiddos need, while trying to not duplicate what we already have.

Savoring the last two days of summer break.

Labeling school supplies and loading backpacks.

Squeezing in one last big trip to the library.

Meeting teachers, student teachers (for both kids!), and checking in with past teachers.

Consoling my tearful daughter, often, about going to “all-day” school, aka first grade.  (“Why can’t we just go half-day?  I liked half-day!  I’ll miss you!”)

Settling the kids in their classrooms and then spending an entire day with my mom; coffee, lunch, shopping….

Doing my normal, day-to-day housekeeping things….with an added benefit of kid-free grocery shopping.

Praying for my little ones, as they start this new year.

Tucking notes in lunch boxes, hoping they give at least a bit of encouragement (especially for “all-day” daughter).

And fending off question after question after question, all phrased a bit differently, but all asking the same thing:  “What are you going to do with all your time?”

Truth:  I’m not 100% sure.  Day Three of no-kids and I haven’t approached anything like a “normal” day yet; the year is still too new to have established any true routines.  Even my normal morning routine has been upended this year; forced into something different and still not truly set.  What will my days look like?  What will I be doing with this time?

I’m fairly sure He will show me.

Goodbye, summer….

Admittedly, the first day of fall isn’t until September 21st, but school starts for us next week.  It’s been the hottest summer I can remember, so in a way, I’m quite ready to see it go.  There’s still that part of me, though, that dreads the up-and-out-the-door of the school year, no matter how nice the weather is.

Before school was out, clear back in May, I took a piece of paper and the kids and I brainstormed every single thing they wanted to do (or would do) this summer. (Interestingly enough, this was weeks before I read a post about filling your summer with summer things, which just confirmed my plans.)   Their page included a wide range of ideas, from “grocery shopping with mom” and “eye doctor” to “go to Six Flags” and “NOT set an alarm” (offered up by my constantly sleep-deprived daughter).  We covered the paper with every single idea they could come up with, from the basic to the ridiculous; once finished, the grand total was sixty-eight items.

There were a few “sorry, guys, there’s no way” ideas, especially as they listed every possible amusement park/water park etc. within a reasonable drive, and threw in a major league baseball game to boot.  (Seriously, if we’d done all they wanted to do, we’d be beyond broke by now.)  It also pains me that one of the things that didn’t get done was “work in the garden with mom;” no one wanted to be in the garden this year, it was so hot.  But in spite of all the things that didn’t get done, we actually did fifty-three out of the sixty-eight things they came up with.  Fifty-three!

That, my friends, is a summer…in spite of 105 degree temps.

What’s next?

It’s a strange feeling to look outside right now.  The grass is browning.  Some leaves are actually falling; there’s a carpet of brown leaves lying under the maple tree right outside our kitchen window.  If I let myself, I can almost pretend it’s fall, since this is essentially what our yard should look like in late September or early October.  But it’s not fall; it’s July.  Which makes the view that much more surreal.

I wish it was fall….day after day of 100+ degrees and drought is wearing thin.  I discovered advertisers are quite ready to grant my wish:  a catalog arrived in the mail recently with a “Christmas preview,” and I admit I looked through each and every page; not actually wanting to buy anything, just wanting to be reminded that it wouldn’t always be miserably hot; that fall and winter were right around the corner.

Stores and advertisers are always happy to help us move on, aren’t they?  They spin it as letting us “plan” and “prepare.”  My most recent example was trying to buy a lawn chair the day before the Fourth of July….but the lawn and garden section had already turned into the lawn and garden aisle, and employees were unloading school supplies in the empty space left behind.  It happened to me last Christmas, too:  finally on break, finally ready to find a craft for the kids to do as gifts, and aisle upon aisle of Christmas craziness had turned to just two; with no projects my children had any interest in doing.  I’ve tried to explain to my kids that stores don’t carry snow boots in January, or swimsuits in August; but it really does seem a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Right about the time we get settled in to enjoy, when we can finally really get into a season, advertisers take off:  on to the next big thing!  It’s always the next celebration or season we need to prepare for; it’s always what’s coming up, what’s approaching, what’s next, leaving us no time to enjoy where we are.  No room for contentment and gratefulness for the now.  No peacefulness in our present.

Our family has less than three weeks until school starts again.  We have swimming lessons and vacation days still in front of us.  I plan on enjoying–to the best of my “I hate heat” ability–these last few days of summer break.  I’m going to sit right in the middle of it, to make sure we do as many summer things as we possibly can, to savor (to use my kids’ favorite word) every last minute of it.  I know I will have to take a moment to acknowledge the future and buy school supplies….but outside of that shopping trip, I’m choosing to live in the present.  Even if it is presently 103 degrees.

Simplify your life in less than thirty minutes!

Yeah, this was sort of a “cheat” post title, but there is some truth to it.  I’ve discovered an amazing secret to simplicity:  Cut six inches off your hair.

Less shampoo, less conditioner, less mousse/gel/insert “product” here.

Less water to wash it.

Less time to take care of it (lots less time to dry).

Less weighing you down.

Less heat smothering your neck in the middle of summer.

If you know and trust a stylist at a reasonably priced chain salon, it can be less money for the cut, too.

And yes, it did take a little less than thirty minutes to have it done.

I suppose it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely working for me.  🙂

Summer routines

The summer rule at our house is “no screen time until after noon.”  It’s been that way for a few years, when I realized that once the TV went on, it didn’t turn off easily.  It’s not so hard keeping the kids from starting it… can be quite difficult getting them to stop.  So we solved the problem by slapping down the rule, which also covers the computer and time on the Wii, and we really haven’t met with too much resistance.  I truly don’t mind the kids watching TV in the afternoon, especially in July when it’s one hundred nasty, sticky degrees outside.  Flopping down on the floor of an air-conditioned house sounds pretty appealing to me, too; and with the DVR we can watch when they want, and skip the ads.

That leaves the morning for errand running and playing outside, before it gets too hot out.  Then we tend to hibernate for the rest of the day (though not necessarily in front of a screen).

What I didn’t expect was my reaction to our rule this summer.  I was a little shocked at how much I felt the pull to get on the computer; I was really angry with myself, for awhile, for how difficult it was for me to give up my own “screen time.”  But then it hit me:  it was messing with my routine.

For an entire school year I’ve dropped the kids off at school, come home, grabbed my coffee, and hit the computer.  I’d balance the checkbook first thing, and then move on to checking e-mail and other assorted tasks.  That’s nine months of establishing a habit that I was suddenly forced to break.  It’s not so much that I’m addicted to the computer or screen time or e-mail or any one of those things; it’s simply this is what I do next.

That realization was a great comfort to me.  Instead of getting angry with myself for being so drawn to the computer, I can simply remind myself gently that it’s hard to change a habit.  Our summer schedule is so much simpler:  I’m loving my time with my kiddos, our extra snuggle time in the mornings, and not having to be out the door at 8:00AM sharp….if I can enjoy all these other changed-for-summer routines, surely I can get over any lack of computer time.

How far we’ve come…..

I’ve made all my snobby pronouncements about how people waste time on the internet:  too much Facebook, too much Twitter, too much Angry Birds, etc.  I can sit on my high horse and make those comments because I’m rarely spending time on them.  Checking in on Facebook once a day hardly takes over my life, and I’m not on Twitter at all.  I’ve even (gasp!!) never actually played Angry Birds.  Maybe if I did I’d really like it…..but I haven’t bothered to try it yet.

So now I’ll ‘fess up to how I waste my time online.  (And I can really, really waste some time with this.)

I look at houses.

It started out of necessity:  every time we’d move and be, literally, house shopping, I’d hop online and look at houses; sorting which might be a possibility and which we could rule out.  Even after a move, though, and even now when we’re done moving (knock on wood), I love to look at houses.  When I’m driving the kids to school, or coming home from the grocery store, seeing a new “For Sale” sign in a yard prompts an immediate thought of Oh!  I’ll have to look that one up!  The app on my phone should be disabled, and instead I downloaded another local real estate app.  (Because some listings have more photos, that’s why.)  I can spend an embarrassingly long time scrolling through “Nearby Homes For Sale.”  When it was a hundred degrees last summer, I humored myself by looking at houses in Maine.

I have absolutely no pangs of discontent as I look; I’m not dealing with envy or jealousy, or frustration with our own home.  (I like this house so much that my response might be something like, that’s a cool house, but I’d rather have mine.)  I’m not desiring “more” or “better.”  I just like to look at houses.

What’s fun, on occasion, is to pull the map over to where our first home was; to zoom in on our old neighborhood and click to see homes for sale.  Looking through those photos, all those little identical ranch homes…it really does take me back to where we were, years ago.  And I’m torn about the change in our standard of living.

Our first house had three bedrooms and one bath, which would have provided our (then non-existent) kids with their own bedrooms; though I suppose one bath could have made for some occasional discomfort.  It had a living room and a nice-sized eat-in kitchen and a one-car garage.  Laundry hook-ups were in the kitchen.  What more, really, even now, do we need?  Admittedly, jobs dictated moves, but I wonder if we’d stayed in that town how long we could have lasted in that home; how long we could have made do with what we had and made it work–probably pretty well, actually.  At what point would we have been crowded and uncomfortable, with two kids in that little house?  Would we have just sent them outside more often?  At what point would I have been completely frustrated with a one-car garage?  When would I have decided that huddling in a hallway listening to tornado sirens wasn’t enough, and I wanted a basement, now?  I truly don’t think we would have stayed there forever.

My husband actually mentioned our first home recently (commenting that we would have had that house paid off by now), and I asked him if he thought we would have stayed put, if jobs hadn’t interfered.  He smiled and pointed out that I would have found some classic Craftsman bungalow closer to “downtown” and we would have ended up there instead.  (Sigh.  So true.)

I look around three moves later, though, to see the accumulation of the fourteen years of stuff after that first house, stuff that has grown and expanded to fill the space offered, and I do wonder how to get back to what we need.  To peel back the layers of excess and get down to the basic needs of running a home.  Not a bare, spartan home, but not an extravagant home, either:  a comfortable, peaceful home, where people have what they need and aren’t buried by any more.


          Sometimes, I think we’re really confused.  Sometimes, I want to grab people and shake them and yell at them about what’s truly important, and what just doesn’t matter at all.  Sometimes, I think people have their priorities completely backwards and upside down.  And then, sometimes, I see something like this:
My girl recently lost two teeth, and went to kindergarten roundup, my boy is just about potty-trained, and my baby is almost sleeping through the night.  Time is going by too too too fast. In light of these recent events, I have decided that I want to spend more time enjoying my beautiful babies and less time doing things that don’t matter, like playing on Facebook, returning emails, and obsessing… over keeping the house picked up.  I don’t want to look back on these precious, fleeting years with regret.  I’ll still update y’all periodically, but I’m not going to spend so much time reading about you all. Forgive me for not keeping up with your business.  And, if you happen to come to our house, you may have to step over a pile or two of laundry, you may trip on some Thomas trains, and our beds may not be made.  You have been warned.  🙂
…and I’m struck by the idea that there are people who “get it.”  They may be few and far between, but there are people who understand where their priorities need to be.
          I’m convinced that there’s a generation (or more) of us that are going to suddenly look up and realize that they spent their entire life online; that, once tallied, their “downtime” playing Angry Birds or checking Facebook actually ate months of their total life.  That we are someday going to be old and gray and dying, and realize, as we look back, that we forgot to actually do any living.
          My husband recently withdrew from an MBA program; with his work schedule, it was a second evening each week away from home and family, and it was very unclear if the degree would really help him in any way, job-wise.  (He jokes that he did a “cost-benefit analysis.”)  The first Tuesday he didn’t go to class, he was playing football outside with the kids.  The second Tuesday, he attended the art fair at their school, and we all went out to dinner together.  There’s no doubt that you could create a persuasive argument that his decision “hurt” our future; that he might stall out in his job, that he could make “so much more” if he’d stayed with the program.  But our children are children only once.  We get no do-overs.  And I’m unbelievably blessed to be married to someone who chooses family.
          I’m dealing with choices as well; as my mornings fill up, my kid-free writing time has nearly disappeared.  My goal of a post a day, Monday through Friday, was pretty much shot with the arrival of spring break.  Am I going to sit parked in front of a computer when my kids are around?  Or am I going to actually be a mom, and do my best to enjoy my kiddos while they’re here?  I’m voting kids.  Because I don’t want to look up one day and realize that they’re grown and gone, that I’m nearing the end, and that I spent my life sitting in front of a computer, even if I was doing something worthwhile and productive.
          What are your priorities?  If someone on the outside watched how you spend your time, would your priorities be clear?  If you logged each and every minute of how you spent your day, what would that look like; what would it show?  Would it prove you value what you say is important to you?  How are we spending this life we’ve been blessed with?  Because I think we forget that someday it’s gone.

A Different Kind of Clutter

I was sitting on the sofa at the end of the day when my husband asked me if I was feeling all right.  “No,” I admitted, “I’m not.  And I have no idea what’s wrong.”  We’d had lots of sickness in the house at that point, and I just attributed it to “maybe I’m starting to come down with something.”  I let it go.

As I lay in bed later, though, it finally hit me.  I’d had no time alone in….let’s see….I began to count back.  I hadn’t been alone in the house for almost three full weeks.  I’d had something to do, places to go, or the kids had had days off school for three weeks.  As a full-fledged introvert, it’s no wonder I was feeling so “off.”  Once I’d made that realization, I immediately started feeling better; just knowing what was the matter helped me improve, and I could start thinking forward to when I could make “alone time” a possibility in my future.  (Even knowing it was almost a week away gave me something to hope toward.)

I realize there are millions of Type A people out there, who thrive on “lots to do” and “busy-busy-busy!!”  I am not one of them.  So when I got to that point of being overwhelmed, I didn’t even recognize it for what it was.  I had too much “stuff” in my life:  not material, tangible possessions, but “stuff” on the calendar, which had filled up so gradually I hadn’t really noticed it.  I’d joked with other moms about how each “kid-free” morning had filled up with something to do; how quickly it went from “Gosh, both the kids are in school!  Freedom!” to “Gotta run!  Too much to do today!”

When things get too bad, too busy, I try to remember a quote referenced in Celebration of Discipline:  “I find He never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness.”  (pg. 128; from Thomas Kelly.)  I need to remember:

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”  (Psalm 23:2-3)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”  (John 14:27)

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  (Isaiah 26:3)

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”  (Psalm 34:14)

I challenge you to evaluate your calendars.  Do you see “peace” or an “intolerable scramble?”  I pray “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Philemon 1:3)

Two thoughts about Time….

I was trying to clean up after dinner on one of my “husband’s gone” nights.  It was one of those nights where you look at the mounds of dishes piled all over the counter (even after the kids load their own stuff) and just want to crawl into a hole and not come out.  I also wanted to get the kids in their respective tubs so I could be “done” for the day, but I knew that I didn’t want to come back downstairs to the dinner mess, once everything had congealed and gotten even nastier.  The kids were heading to the basement to play a new “game” they devised that always started out with lots of laughing and wrestling and always ended with them just beating the crap out of each other; I really wanted to head them off at the pass and say, “No!  Upstairs and into the bath!”…but again, I wanted to be done with the kitchen mess.  So I compromised.  I informed them that I would set the timer for ten minutes.  They could play and I would clean for ten minutes; then it was straight upstairs into tubs.  I figured no one would get too injured in only ten minutes of playing, and even if I didn’t get everything in the kitchen finished, I would have at least gotten started.

Ten minutes.  This is what I got done in ten minutes:

Completely emptied the dishwasher.

Rinsed and loaded all dinner dishes, including the crock pot insert.

Wiped down the table and all counters.

Pitched recycling into the blue box in the garage.

The only thing that didn’t get done in those ten minutes was setting up the coffee pot for the next morning.  I couldn’t believe it.  Now, I was booking it; I don’t usually move that quickly.  But it really is incredible how much you can accomplish in a small amount of time if you just do it.

My second observation on time involves me being a total jerk.  Do, please, forgive me for being a nag, just this once, and humor my rant.  For all the people who say they just don’t have any time…..

Skip one TV show.

Get off Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest for fifteen minutes.

Drop five three-minute You-tube videos.

Give up a round of Angry Birds.

I said to my husband the other day that it’s amazing the amount of time we spend not actually doing anything.  I found out how much I could accomplish in a tiny amount of time….but I still have to decide to use my time wisely.  It’s my choice.

Lecture’s over.  Thanks for your patience.  I will now return to my attempts to encourage and not berate.