What I’ve Learned About Mornings

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We all have heard the quotes and statistics about morning people being more successful, and most working moms desire that for ourselves.  And regardless of your kids’ ages, I’m sure you can relate to some recent rushed or stressful mornings at your house – I sure can!  I definitely go through seasons of doing better or worse with my mornings, but I’m at a much better place today than I was five years ago as a new mom – praise God!  Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Just because I’m not a natural morning person doesn’t mean I can’t become a morning person. Anyone who knows me who is reading this is either nodding along or laughing out loud, because my natural inclination is to be a night owl.  My mom gave me a pair of moose pj’s that say “I’m not a morning person,” and that pretty much sums it up.  While I consider myself an optimist, I’m not one of those Pollyanna types upon waking… I need a few moments to myself, preferably with a hot cup of coffee, before facing the world.  But just because that isn’t my natural style, it doesn’t mean I can’t create new habits to help maximize my mornings.  Speaking of which, there is an awesome free, short e-book that has really helped me in this area called Maximize Your Mornings by Kat Lee, my very favorite mom blogger.
  2. Mornings are the best time for my quiet time.  I heard this for years and wasn’t really sold, but it is true.  If you’re a mom to little kids, you probably don’t have a whole lot of energy or mental power left at the end of the day.  Learning to study the Bible and meet with the Lord at the first part of my day rather than the last transformed my quiet times.  Try it and see.  Now, if you miss your morning quiet time (and I still do often), don’t settle for an all-or-nothing approach!  Make it up some other time during the day, like lunch or before bed.  I don’t think the Lord cares at all what time of day we meet with Him, but in this season of life I feel I can give Him by best attention in the morning vs. evening.
  3. I need accountability to maximize my mornings.  There’s an awesome challenge that I’ve been a part of for several years called Hello Mornings.  It’s an online community of moms around the world who connect on social media for 6-week challenges to encourage and support one another in accomplishing three goals:  Bible Study (God time), planning your day (Plan time), and exercise (move time).  It’s free, and in addition to helping me make the most of my mornings, I’ve met some awesome Christian ladies and participated in some amazing Bible studies like this one by Lara Williams.
  4. Rest is a gift, and bedtimes aren’t just for kids.  I used to be one of those people who halfway adhered to the phrase, “You can sleep when you’re dead.”  Over the course of about a decade, I over-committed myself to the point that I got used to staying up too late and waking up too early.  I was perpetually sleep deprived and often stressed, and through some health issues, the Lord thankfully stopped me in my tracks and taught me the importance of the rest He freely offers.  And that’s probably another post for another time, but it’s true – rest is ours for the taking, but it requires wisdom and obedience to sacrifice of some other things.  One of the best tips I learned from Hello Mornings is that successful mornings begin the night before, and setting a phone alarm for bedtime is a great reminder.  Also, this article about sleep and the aging process is pretty eye-opening.
  5. My kids often adopt my morning attitude – for better or worse.  Ouch.  This one makes me cringe, because it’s true.  The mornings I wake up too late and feel rushed, I end up rushing everyone else, and the bad attitudes come out.  The mornings I wake up before my kids to have a quiet time and pray for them before they wake up vs. waking up to them, my kids still disobey and test me and act like kids, but my reaction is totally different.  Everything just goes oh-so-much smoother; the difference is indescribable.  I’m absolutely preaching to myself here, but I want mornings in my home to be peaceful, so this is an area I’m constantly working toward improving.

What have you learned about mornings?  What change do you want to take to make them better?

The One Thing

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I spent the past weekend at our church’s women’s retreat with some precious Christian sisters from my church at a gorgeous location with two of my favorite things, water and woods.  While there, I heard one of the simplest and most powerful Truths through an amazing Bible Study delivered by our anointed women’s ministry leader, Tollie Meggs.  And she brings the Word.  Just, wow.

In this post, I talked about how we tend to complicate being a mom.  And you know what else we tend to complicate?  Simply being – our entire lives. We were made for one purpose – to worship.   Everyone who is alive is worshiping something or someone.  Specifically, we were created to worship God – our Creator, Provider, Sustainer – and His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To do anything else is to waste our lives.  To attempt to put anything else – work, goals, dreams – before worship is to totally miss the picture.  Worship must be the origin of and must be pervasive within all that we are and all that the do.  I can tell you what work, including spiritual service, will do to a believer who got worship out of order in the equation – It leads to exhaustion and eventually burnout.  I know this firsthand myself and know far too many other ladies who know what it feels like to work hard for the Lord without having worship in its proper place, and it’s not a pretty picture.  To learn and live out true and acceptable worship will first and foremost please the Lord, and it will also spill over and impact every single area of our lives.  I am convinced that a mom will never be all she can be without worship at the center of her life.  But we don’t do it for ourselves; we do it because God is worthy.  I had the head knowledge of worship but needed a refresher on the heart knowledge.

It’s life-changing stuff, if we will simply submit to the Lord’s leading, obey His commands, and make time to learn to truly worship.  And, despite our modern church vocabulary, worship is not synonymous with music or song.  Worship is a way of life that can be expressed through song, but it doesn’t begin or end there.  Because my words are pitifully inadequate in describing the depth and breadth of the command to worship and its accompanying promises, here are a few of many verses on worship.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. – John 4:23 (NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  – Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  – Matthew 23:23-26 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  – Hebrews 12:28-19 (NIV)

My prayer for myself and for anyone who reads this is that we will be filled by God with a renewed desire – a consuming hunger and thirst – for His Word and His commands, to seek His face and truly worship him with all we have and above all else for all of our days.  To get that one thing right will be to have succeeded in all our roles in this life, as well as the one to come.

 


The Answer to Mom Guilt

Moms, especially working moms, often struggle with guilt – some of it unfounded and some probably legitimate.  Running between my activities this morning, my mind was spinning thinking about what I needed to do to get kids to/from all the places they needed to be today, ready to leave for our church women’s retreat this afternoon, and fit in a virtual meeting with a student, some other work tasks, and an unexpected dr. appointment to have my foot x-rayed.  I was feeling guilty for skipping my quiet time the last two days, guilty for not having something homemade for my husband and kids to eat while I’m gone, guilty for not exercising today, guilty for not having finished my work to-do’s yesterday, guilty for not returning a friend’s phone call from earlier this week.

And then I caught a few minutes of this sermon on the radio.  And it was a timely reminder that there’s only one real answer and hope for our guilt – Grace.  The amazing grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that God lavishes freely upon us, undeserved as we are – once for salvation and repeatedly for sanctification.  Pastor Begg reminded me of the power of that grace in shining hope and expectation on Satan’s accusations that we are not enough.  He quoted a phrase from this song (one of my favorites from church), which I hope you’ll listen to and take hope in today.

When Satan tempts me to despair

And tells me of the guilt within

Upward I look and see Him there

Who made an end to all my sin

Because a sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me

Our only hope is, was, and will be Jesus.  I often joke that I need a few more hours in the day, but the truth is that, if we’re fully relying on Him as our strength, power, and direction, He will turn what we are and what we have into more than enough for His glory.  Be encouraged today in this reminder that His grace is sufficient, friends!

10 Tips for a Clean-Enough Home: Part 2

fallmantelIn my last post, I shared about my struggle and some strategies to keep a clean-enough home.  While I’m not yet where I eventually want to be in housekeeping, I’m definitely at a better place than I have been!  And I continue to remind myself that perfection isn’t the goal but progress.  To add to my previous list, here are a few more tried-and-true tips and resources I’ve found to be extremely helpful along my journey as a recovering slob. 🙂

  1. Adopt a weekly cleaning schedule that works for you.  By schedule, I’m meaning a simple list that identifies one task/area for each day of the week.  I’ve failed at tried several different cleaning schedules over the past few years, but I finally found one that works for me (at least when I actually stick to it!) – Clean Mama.  I initially found her on Instagram through another person’s post, and I love that her approach is simple, realistic, and easy to follow.  An added bonus is that seeing her daily Instagram posts reminds me of each daily task and often inspires me to (at least partially) do it.  She claims that this system has worked for her as both a working and stay-at-home mom, and love that she uses and makes natural, non-toxic cleaning products.
  2. Use the one-minute rule.  A couple of years ago, I read The Happiness Project (a great read!), and Rubin shared about how she created a policy for herself that anything that could be done in a minute or less should be done immediately, and she raved about the results of this simple rule in getting things done and reducing clutter in her home.  While I don’t use it as much as I probably should, when I do I see big results!
  3. Cut the clutter.  Speaking of clutter, the most impact any cleaning tip I’ve ever tried has brought is hands-down this one.  It makes so much sense that the less stuff you have, the less time is necessary to clean and organize it.  This summer, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and while I don’t agree with all of the book’s content (that inanimate things have feelings, etc.), I must say, getting rid of large amounts of clutter truly is freeing.  While I still haven’t decluttered my entire house (because it does take some time to go through things), I have gone through several areas with awesome results.  I really liked this article about applying the method with kids.
  4. Involve your kids.  It’s so much easier to just clean up after our kids than teaching them to help… but it’s such an important life lesson to learn to clean up after ourselves – plus, they need to learn that families work together to help one another, and they have an important part to play.  When I was an elementary teacher, it was obvious which parents took time to teach habits of responsibility to their kids, and I want to equip my girls to be responsible and take initiative.  This summer, when we were all home all day together, I had success in getting my five year old to do a short list of simple “chores” by working them into our routine in a fun way.  Now that the school year has started, I’ve totally dropped the ball on this, but it’s on my list of goals to make a simple checklist inside a page protector on a clipboard to reminder her of her morning tasks without me having to remind her four times.
  5. Make it fun!  I think one of the main reasons I don’t like to clean is the feeling that there’s always something more important or fun to do.  I got the idea from Inspired to Action to put headphones in and listen to podcasts while cleaning, and it’s my favorite tip ever!  My dishwasher broke for a few weeks in February, and I didn’t even mind (too much) thanks to podcasts.  I also love listening to praise music either with headphones or out loud – It really helps to reset my attitude to thankful vs. complaining.
  6. Keep it real.  So, this is #11 in a list of 10, but it’s too important not to include!  So many times, I clean up before friends or family come over more than for my husband and kids, but I sometimes wonder why.  What am I trying to prove?  In this day and time, anyone can create any image they want to portray through social media and blogs.  I’ve heard it said that it’s dangerous to compare your “behind the scenes” with someone else’s “front and center,” and it is… because you have no idea about the pile of toys located ten inches to the left of a blogger’s picture perfect fall mantel display or the fight that occurred five minutes before the Pinterest-worthy kids’ craft chronicled on Instagram.  Maybe the best gift we can give one another as working moms – and moms in general – is honesty that we don’t have it all together all the time.  There’s great strength and support in that kind of transparency; it points us away from our own pride and self-sufficiency and back to our constant need for Jesus.

In the middle of the mess, it’s easy to get overwhelmed… and stay there.  Trust me, I know!  I think it really helps to have an end goal to work toward.  I want my home to be place where my family feels safe and peaceful and where fellowship and ministry can take place… and while most guests are forgiving of an imperfect house, tons of clutter and dirt don’t exactly scream “calm and inviting.”  Take a couple of minutes, jot down your dreams for your home, and then take baby steps to work toward that vision one at a time.  Anyone reading this who knows me in real life is probably laughing at the irony in my giving cleaning advice, but I’m just humbly passing along what I’ve learned along the way from others that have helped me to make small but significant positive changes.  If someone as naturally disorganized as me can improve in this area, so can you!

10 Tips for a Clean-Enough Home: Part 1

I have friends and family members who are classic Type A’s – compulsive cleaners with houses always company-ready.  As a creative with a more laid-back personality toward cleaning and organization, I am most certainly not in that camp. And while my husband is brilliant and has many other awesome talents, unfortunately I am the most organized member of our family.  Add two full-time jobs and two high energy kids under five into the equation, and you can imagine the typical state of our house – probably a lot like yours, if you’re a fellow working mom!  The struggle is real.

But like I always tell my oldest daughter (and remind myself!), just because we aren’t naturally good at something doesn’t mean we can’t become better at it by learning and working hard.  I refuse to settle for being a slob even though that’s my natural inclination! I have come to realize that there’s some middle ground between having a spotless home and living in what resembles a recent tornado – having a generally picked-up home that is inviting to others and sets a peaceful backdrop for my family.  It’s only taken me 9 years of marriage to figure out some methods that work for me (what can I say, I’m a quick learner), but here are a few tips and resources I’ve found helpful in learning to keep what I like to call a clean-enough home (some days at least):

  1. Forget perfect; make friends with clean-enough.  Working moms are busy with limited family/home time, and there’s likely no way you’ll be able to keep the entire house in tip-top shape during the work week.  Unless you outsource cleaning, readjusting your self-expectations can go a long way in improving your attitude toward the state of your home and toward cleaning it.  Take it from a recovering perfectionist who knows!
  2. Identify your hot spots.  Which areas of your home drive you the most crazy?  Focus your attention there first, and save other tasks for afterward, if time permits.  For me, clutter and dishes on kitchen counters and strewn couch throw pillows make me insane.  We have an open concept floor plan, and the kitchen/living room are the first part of the house seen upon entering from the garage.  If I walk into cluttered counters, my day feels out of control, but empty counters calm me.  Writing that sounds a little crazy, but it’s true!  Fly Lady first made me aware of the magic of daily cleaning your kitchen sink when my oldest was a baby, and it really is true that small actions go a long way in helping you regain control of your home.  Your hot spots are likely totally different from mine, but take a moment to figure them out, and I promise the results will be life-changing!
  3.  Set a timer, and get something done!  I picked up this tip from my mom (who, unlike me, set a wonderful example for keeping a lovely home), and Fly Lady also advocates the power of a timer. I can easily get overwhelmed and feel paralyzed to do anything, not knowing where to begin. It’s amazing how much time we think dreaded tasks will take vs. the reality.  For example, I can get my dishwasher fully unloaded and re-loaded in 10 minutes total.  Making a bed takes about 3 minutes.  One of my favorite ways to motivate myself to clean (because, let’s be honest, who really likes to clean) is to set a timer for 15 minutes and see how much I can get done.  I can almost always get my kitchen counters cleared and living room picked up in that time.  As my kids get older, I often invite them into my “cleaning challenges” as well, and all moms know that competition is a surefire motivator!
  4. Make your bed every day.  I have no idea of the psychology behind this, but I can attest that it works.  For some reason, after years of leaving my bed unmade the majority of the time, about a year ago I decided to start making my bed (I’m sure my mom is proud that her efforts have finally paid off 33 years later, LOL!).  It doesn’t get made every single day, but about 75% of the time, which is a whole lot better than just when company comes over!  This article talks about the power of daily bed-making as a positive habit that often spills over into other areas of life.
  5. Figure out what works for your style.  At some point, I had an epiphany that I needed to seek out  systems and strategies for cleaning and organizing that fit with my natural styles and preferences.  Just because a schedule or method worked well for a friend or for someone on Pinterest or a blog doesn’t mean it would work at all for me.  For example, as a creative, I’m more of a stacker than a filer.  So, 3-ring binders and baskets work really well for me; whereas a complicated file system would be better suited to someone else.  As I shared, I have a more laid back cleaning style and have to work harder at organization, as it doesn’t come as naturally to me, so I’m drawn to blogs like this one and this one by like-minded creatives.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this post, where I’ll be sharing the rest of my “clean-enough” tips and resources!

The Power of Reset

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I didn’t really intend to take five days off writing, but I was badly in need of a break from deadlines and screens. The end of an overly busy week with a string of too-late nights grading midterms blended into a family vacation to the beach over a long Fall Break weekend… and being away from my laptop for the first two days felt so refreshing to my soul that I decided to keep it up for the rest of the trip. Somehow, the posts I had planned on the importance of self-care seemed hypocritical if my writing time sacrificed much needed sleep or family time. In the past, I would have probably plowed through and did whatever I had to in order to stay on my self-imposed “schedule,” but I’ve learned a few things about myself in the course of the past year – among the most important, my limits and need for rest and refreshment following times of striving and stress.

There’s something so powerful about getting away from the daily grind of life, even if for a short time, to help us step back and “see the forest” instead of our day-to-day view of all the trees.  During a morning walk on the beach, the thought came to me that vacations – the relaxing variety at least – are the human equivalent to a “reset” button. When our computer, phone, or other device has been on too long and is acting wonky, we can push a button or series of keys and magically restore everything to normal functioning. The same is true for us; we need times of reset in our lives as well. Time to get to know ourselves and our loved ones all over again, time to reconnect with our Maker on a deeper level, time to reflect on what’s working well and what we need to change, time to eat good food without counting calories, time to laugh and spend quality time with those we love most, and time to lay worry and stress on the sideline for a brief period and just focus on living in the moment.

My absolute favorite place in the world to reset is the beach (once or occasionally twice a year) – There’s something almost magical about being in front of the ocean to put in perspective how little we are in the scope of the Lord who spoke it all into existence and holds all our todays and tomorrows in the palm of His hand. On a more regular basis, I find it helps so much to just get away for an hour or two at a time, and my favorite local retreats are anywhere overlooking the water (I’m blessed to live in a town with both a river and lake), a coffee shop, or the library. I’m a people-loving introvert, so I need a quiet place away from my home and people I know in order to truly “reset.” On a daily basis if I have just a few minutes, my best retreat is anywhere outside with my running shoes, ear buds, and a playlist of favorite worship music.

After the past week, I’m especially thankful for four days of reset – and to return with renewed perspective, priorities, and resolve.  Are you in need of reset – or at least a little time unplugged? What’s your favorite location or activity to gain perspective and refreshment?

How to Make Every Day the “Best Day Ever”

IMG_5927I love my girls with my whole heart and sincerely desire to be the best mom I can be, but I am far from perfect and continually fall short (and if we’re honest, don’t we all – including those who put off the impression that they have it all together).  I sometimes lose patience and yell at my kids, forget to wash nap mats, and ditch the meal plan for takeout more often than I’d like to admit.  All moms struggle with guilt from time to time, and I think working moms especially do.  No matter how much of an effort we put forth to be balanced in our work and home lives, there’s always that nagging feeling that we aren’t doing “enough” with or for our kids.  I’m sure stay at home moms experience this to some extent as well, because they are juggling different responsibilities – constant upkeep of the house, volunteer projects, etc. – along with kid time.  While most of it is probably unjustified, and undoubtedly made worse by our social networked comparison-happy culture, feelings of “mom guilt” are very real and, if we dwell on them, can hold us back from experiencing true freedom and joy as we fulfill our significant God-given role of shaping our children’s lives.

Something I’ve noticed in my short time of being a mom is that we really make the job so much harder than it has to be.  My five-year-old often remarks that days that seem uneventful in my adult eyes are “the best day ever.” Kids are very easily impressed, especially young kids.  The world is their oyster; everything is new, shiny, and exciting to them.  I was reminded of this today, after my daughter’s first field trip, which she declared to be “the best field trip ever.”

Kids want one thing from us the most – our undivided attention.  Our former pastor used to say that children spell love t-i-m-e, and I agree.  Giving our full attention to our kids paired with a simple but fun or unexpected activity is a surefire formula to make each day “the best day ever” in our kids’ eyes.  Forget complicated Pinterest crafts, forget fancy animal-shaped snacks, forget planning elaborate outings that leave everyone exhausted… and focus more on the quality of your time rather than the number or complexity of activities, or how good the photos turn out (or even if there are photos!).

So, if you want to be the “best mom ever” and make your kids’ days “the best ever,” stop measuring minutes and instead, give freely of yourself – your attention, your presence, your smile, and your joy.  Whether you have three hours in between work and activities or all day to spend with your kids, set aside some special times to focus solely on them.  Plan a fun, simple activity to do together (or better yet, let them choose), put your phone far away, and spend time looking into their eyes, listening to them, soaking up their laughter, and marveling at how much they’ve grown and changed.  In this over-scheduled world where technology constantly protests healthy boundaries, there’s truly no greater gift to our kids than our full presence.  No matter how badly our day or week has started out, there’s no better time than the present to turn it around one intentional choice and action at a time.  When I feel discouraged, I take great hope in Philippians 2:13:  “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone, but this was on my heart today, and I felt led to share!  What can you do differently to make tomorrow – or even today – “the best day ever?”