On New Beginnings and Self-Discipline

My alarm clock goes off every morning at 6 am. I am in an immediate conversation with my feelings, a tug-of-war for what I need vs. what I want. I try to quiet the argument quickly by telling myself simply to “get up”. Sometimes I go ahead and get dressed and make the bed, and other times I simply head straight down the stairs to the couch. My basket of invitation is sitting there waiting– a prayer journal, a Bible, some non-fiction Christian books. I begin with Anne Ortlund or Elisabeth Elliot, my soul craving women whose lives were marked with singular focus of surrender, obedience, and service.

I am not a naturally consistent person. I live in the realm of feelings, of inspiration, of hoping that I will feel right and then do right. I have never liked the slow road of faithfulness, but prefer newness, possibility, honeymoon periods. Daily repetition of tasks, here a little, there a little, has been something I have had to grow into over years and years, choosing what I believe is right even though it can often feel “bad” or feel like nothing. Some people crave sameness, repetition, consistent routines. Not me.

This summer I realized that my life has been marked by the thrill of entertainment for the past few years. I have had an unhealthy drive towards movies and shows, staying up too late, not receiving the real nourishment my soul needs. I actually was building a life of consistency around the wrong things. I enjoy the art of whole-hearted acting, of interesting story-telling, compelling characters, and a message that makes you think and evaluate your life. This is good + beautiful. But my life was being shaped by the inane, the mostly ridiculous, crowding out space for deeper growth, intellectual stimulation, and closeness with Christ. My appetites were disordered, and I was feasting on the lesser things of life. If there is a spiritual food pyramid, then the top of it, the part that is to be small, had been flipped, now becoming the foundation.

Conviction and repentance are the sweetest gifts, good news from a far-off land. I feel so grateful for God’s grace in gently showing me that I had disordered priorities. Through preaching and books, He showed me that He was not preeminent in my life. How do I know? I look at the pages of my calendar. How we spend our time is how we spend our lives. Our spent time is a mirror to what we hold most dear. I was staring at hours of time spent on arranging comfort, entertainment, believing it was giving me real life, a quenched thirst, a fullness. I didn’t realize how emaciated my soul really was. Only the Spirit could reveal that. I pride myself on being in tune with myself, knowing where I am, but I was yet again misled in my beliefs that I know the deeper story.

And so I begin again. And again. I read in an Anne Ortlund book that even as a long-time believer, she had new spiritual awakening and renewal at the age of 46. I had tears slide down my cheeks when I read that, because I am newly 46, and it felt like the comforting hand of God on my shoulder, seeing me and offering a beautiful invitation. In the middle years of life, when it all feels routine — repeated cycles of housekeeping, errands, and availability to the needs of dependents — God still offers us spiritual awakening! He wants to meet us, speak, renew, and deepen us, not just at the decade marks, or in the midst of big life transitions or decisions, or at the cusp of a new stage of life, but right here, right now in the boring days of unsexy 46.

That warm Hand on my shoulder drew me near and gave me the “want to” to repent, reorder my priorities, and to have my time reflect that. I want the pages of my days to reflect the deeper places of my heart, honoring my love relationship with Him by reserved time in the early hours for just us. I want to choose that tender morning quiet over a late-night Netflix binge, the drone of football commentary, or the fast pace of a gripping novel. In this season of raising children and the daily meeting of their legitimate needs, I have to make intentional choices of how to spend the margins of the day. Will I consistently choose the routes of emotional escape or will I show up to the well of living water, of intimacy with my Lord, of conversation and listening to Him? These choices seem simplistic, but they aren’t. It feels like real loss to give up what your flesh craves. There is a daily, sometimes unconscious, mental argument over decisions of how to spend our time.

Lord, help us with the small, daily, repetitive decisions. Prompt us to choose Life over ease, intimacy over escape, nutrients over emptiness. Reorder our minutes. Speak tenderly to us in the seconds. May our days be marked by companionship with You, keeping in step with the Spirit. Filled + renewed + matured in You. Amen.

On Planning for a School Year

“The importance of the invisible! This is true of any life as well. If all of our life is visible to others, from the time we get up in the morning until we fall into bed at night, then we’ll be as unsteady as a ship with no keel. Indeed, more of us is invisible, hidden from the world in quiet, in study, in planning, and in prayer, the more effective our visible life will be.” -Anne Ortlund

I have been steadily preparing for our new school year since July 15th. That date is my boundary date every summer for when my focus needs to turn from rest and play towards planning and preparing. I have learned that it is best for me to steadily get my home, lists, ideas, curriculum, school supplies, and calendar prepared over several weeks instead of waiting until the last minute with a low-level anxiety settling over my soul.

I have put a few meals in our freezer. Some pasta dishes, browned taco meat, poppyseed chicken. I have menu-planned through Plan to Eat for the next few weeks. Their drag-and-drop system makes it so quick and easy. I am stocking up on paper products so that I don’t have to think about them for a while: paper plates, napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper.

I bought all of our school supplies through Walmart Pick-Up! How great to not have to sift and dig for the specific school list that I have. All have been labeled and are ready to go. This doesn’t take long so love your future self by doing it now. I am sifting through the boys’ clothes this week and making the final list for what their clothing and shoes needs are.

I am trying to find consistency in my morning routine. It’s time to implement that again before the busy days where I feel yanked along by the demands of the house, meals, education, and sports. The best thing to do is to write it down. Make your morning self follow it exactly and don’t allow your emotions to make the decisions every day. Decision fatigue is real so we want to save our decision making for the big things that come to us, not the small things like when to brush our teeth.

I spent time today updating my Simplified Planner, and making sure that all the meetings that have been trickling in through email are written in my calendar on both the monthly page and the daily pages. I responded to emails that I have allowed to back up, and deleted a bunch of newsletters that had piled up. I am deleting podcasts that don’t fit this season and only listening to and reading posts that are encouraging me towards faithfulness at home and in mothering. Sometimes we need to curate our input so that we don’t get distracted especially in times of transitions and new beginnings where we feel especially vulnerable.

The most important thing that any of us can do as we plan and prepare is to submit again to the Lordship of Jesus as our ultimate authority. I have been convicted this summer of being the lord of my own life, focusing on what I want, what I feel, what I desire, instead of praying for and submitting to His leading. Do we follow the culture or the King? Is our theology and views based on convictions from the Word or from the preferences of what the culture accepts and applauds? Are we pleasing man and not God? These are always important questions, and even as long-time believers, we can quietly and easily be led away from taking up our crosses daily and submitting all of our ideas and desires to Him.

“Our invisible times of quiet determine the stability of our lives”, says Anne Ortlund in Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman. A new school year needs all the stability we women can offer, and the way to be anchored, to be steady, is to plan, prepare, and pray in the quiet spaces. We can find these spaces in the early mornings, during the afternoons, when children are tucked in bed, at a local restaurant, the library, or a night away. Quiet is there, and we can find it if we choose to deny ourselves distractions, ask for what we need, and make it happen. Find the quiet, receive stability.

May the peace of Christ flow in you and through you in the weeks to come!

On Lifelong Mothering

I was at a local thrift shop, running in for a quick peek, while my teens waited patiently in the car. I was excited to find 4 place settings of the Happy Holidays Christmas china with scalloped edges that I collect. As I stood in line, the woman in front of me was having a conversation with the cashier; they were discussing their grown children.

“Please pray for Jim–he has arrived at a fork in the road and I’m praying for guidance and discernment for him.”

And the cashier replied: “I know exactly what you mean, and watch my children go through these same challenging times. How old is he?”

“Late 30’s.”

Cashier: “Yes, my son is in his 50s. We have to pray and trust the Lord with them, don’t we?”

Y’all, this interaction poured warmth and love deep into my soul. This is a conversation that two women have on elementary playgrounds, over coffee during the teen years, on the back deck as their children marry, over the phone when the grandkids come, and in thrift shops when children face mid-life crises. The burdens of our children come and go, and we are witnesses of them over a lifetime.

We never ever stop being a praying mother.

That day I was reminded again that the heart of a caring, engaged mother stays present and prayerful into the deep years of white hair, hip replacements, and Easy Spirit tennis shoes. Other callings may come, change, and end. Some are for seasons, and then God calls to something new, but the call of motherhood is from child’s first breath to mother’s last breath. In the midst of our own mid-life changes, careers, or ministry expansion, receiving times of greater freedom with our schedules, we will always have the opportunity to stay present, watchful, and prayerful over our children.

When mine are in their fifties and I am in my eighties, I hope that I’ll pray with the heart of a nurturing, engaged mother, sharing those burdens with other mothers, always invested in the growth and goodness of my children.