Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Date archives October 2016

Soulful Simplicity / Thoughts

The Truth About You

Welcome friends.

This is day 18 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Life is full of all kinds of messages about who you are and what you need.

They say, “You are sick! You need this product to make you feel better.”

They say, “Your house is a mess! You need a swifter wet-jet to make it clean!“

They say, “You are out of the game! You need to get a new outfit and land an interview for a new job!”

“They” say a lot of things.

“They” say a lot of things that are not true, as well. I didn’t write the toughest ones, because it stung a little too much to see them out there, because even though “they” say those things, I often believe what “they” say about how I look, what I don’t do well, and all the ways I don’t measure up.

I am guessing you might know a little bit about those kinds of thoughts?

Pursuing simplicity of the heart is about carefully discerning if the messages I receive—from an outside source or from within my mind—are true or not. Just as with real clutter, this helps clear away not only the unnecessary things I dwell on, but the untrue things as well. 

The problem with messages — true or untrue — is they require a response from us. There is no message going in that does not prompt a response going out. Sometimes the response is to absorb the message and believe it, even if it isn’t true. This happens often, and many times we hinge even bigger belief systems on a core thought that is not true. Sometimes the response is to identify which messages are untrue and reject them along with the heavy burdens they bring.

Much like I try to keep clutter from coming into my house, I try to keep clutter from coming into my heart as well. Some things just need to be left at the door.

Today I want to tell you some true things about yourself.

You are incredibly valuable.

Your value is not determined by your productivity or your perfection or the lack of either.

The things you believe in are evident in your life, whether or not you talk about them.

Every morning, you have the opportunity to start over.

Your words matter. They will build up or tear down. Words are never neutral because they are loaded with power.

You can learn so much from children–your own or other peoples’.

The mundane tasks you do in your home are much more important than it feels like they are. They are the very things that build a life.

The season you are in will not last forever. If it’s a good one, cherish it. If it’s a difficult one, persevere friend. Ask for help or encouragement if you need it.

You are capable of more than you realize.

You can embark on an adventure anytime. I find imaginary adventures with kids to be the most entertaining.

Your intentions matter, but your actions matter more.

You are resilient.

You are enough.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Life & Faith / Soulful Simplicity / Thoughts

Love Others Well: Be Attentive

Welcome friends.

This is day 17 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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I am thinking of a friend who—every time I see her—leans in for conversation, listens to what I have to say, and engages in a more intentional and interested way than most people do. Whenever I spend time with her, I go away feeling deeply loved by the attentiveness she gives to me whether we have five minutes or five hours to hang out.

This got me thinking about how to love others well, mostly because I see her do it with such grace. There is more than one way to love others, for sure, but the way I want to discuss at the present moment is loving well by listening well.

It takes intention to love others well in this way. We can only listen well, or become attentive in relationship, is if we create enough of a margin in our lives to be able to respond when someone reaches out to us and turn our attention to their needs, spoken or unspoken. Taking a phone call at a critical moment, or rearranging our schedules to meet with a friend face to face can sometimes be the difference between the pit of despair and the bedrock of hope.

Attentiveness is a product of simplicity, and is a highly-valued gift in a culture where time is a commodity that is typically given first to productivity. Attentiveness is more than listening; it is being aware, conscientious, interested, and observant. It is an investment that turns back an unpredictably high return in almost all cases. It reinforces the building or re-building of trust, and when one party is truly attentive to another, there is weight behind whatever response is given to the sharer, because the attentive party has no agenda other than to comfort, acknowledge, support, and resource the sharing party.

In my years-long journey toward inner-healing, I was blessed with quite a few friends who offered me this brand of attentive friendship. Those women have my deep respect, admiration, and gratitude, because the ways they loved me through that season have significantly marked my life for the better. I would say the attentive care of these friends (and also my husband) created the space I needed to sort out my inner turmoil and embrace the good (and sometimes unexpected) things God wanted to do in my life.

I guess I just wanted to say: Do not ever underestimate how powerful it is to listen well. When you offer someone your attention, you are in a unique position to also offer them hope, encouragement, and strength through whatever battles they may be going through. This goes for friends. This goes for spouses. This goes for children. Next time you have the opportunity, I encourage you to give this gift generously and see what beautiful things come of it.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Life & Faith / Prayer / Soulful Simplicity

The Real Price of Worry

Welcome friends.

This is day 16 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Today I want to open a conversation about worry and what you don’t realize it is costing you. In doing so, I want to acknowledge that this might be a slightly sensitive topic for some, and I will attempt to handle it with care.

I would be willing to bet you have a few things you are worried about if you stopped to think about it for a few minutes. You can worry about pretty much anything you can think of. You can worry about money, worry about safety, worry about relationships and falling on your face and what you’re going to wear in public that isn’t stained with baby spit-up. Maybe that’s just me.

Worry is a real and common experience, but most people don’t realize that worry comes at a cost. Worry is costing you peace. It is costing you true rest. It is costing your spouse an engaged and light-hearted companion. It is costing your children an attentive and enthusiastic parent. When you worry, you put your energy toward managing every detail you can to avoid falling victim to the things you are worried about, and that is energy that comes from somewhere else.

Worriers respond to life with a desire to control as many circumstances as possible in order to cope with the weight of the worry. Worriers balance and juggle and jostle around, trying to maintain a safe distance from every danger they see, believing that their worry will actually keep them from pain.

Unfortunately, that is not really how it works out in practice.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a worrier. As a hyper-aware and hyper-sensitive child, I constantly worried about every different kind of hardship that could befall me. From a young age, I remember being on the lookout for danger, never able to truly relax or lose myself in the fun of anything. When I became a mother, this experience only grew more serious and more gripping as I entertained thoughts of all of the terrible things that could possibly happen to one of my children.

Worry actively inhibits our ability to celebrate the beauty and blessings that are right in front of us.

On day 1 of this series I wrote, “The practice of soulful simplicity is a daily intention to clear away whatever is unnecessary to make room for what is lovely and life-giving.”

Worry falls into this category for me. It keeps me from lovely and life-giving things, and as such, I’ve had to figure out how to get it out of my life, or at least keep it in check, which I will admit has been a slow and painstaking process—but one that has been worth every ounce of effort.

It starts with thoughts and where I let them go. What thoughts do I entertain?

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:4-6

This means, I keep a careful watch on what I will put in my mind. It means I think twice before clicking on a link that is going to make me terrified to feed my children anything except food I grow in my backyard, or links that predict the end of the world by whatever heinous means. It means I do not watch psychological thriller movies that depict terrible things that will stay in my mind for years afterward.

It means I diligently seek to fill my mind with true and lovely things like the Word of God and the incredible things He has created.

Do I still worry? Sometimes yes, but I will only engage my worry while I engage in prayer—which means if I start worrying, I also start praying.

When I pray, I acknowledge that I am not in control, but that God is and He is worthy of my trust. When I pray, I put my worry into God’s hands instead of holding it tightly in mine.

Through this process I find relief from worry and instead am able to receive the rest and peace that God promises me. I am not guaranteed tomorrow, but while I have breath in my lungs today, I can breathe out love to those are around me in prayer and in the daily practice of exchanging my worries for His peace.

When I worry for my children, I breathe out prayers for God’s guidance, protection, investment in their hearts as they develop into adults, so they will be equipped and prepared for whatever they will experience in their lives. In prayer, I can remember that God is greater than all darkness (and its actually no contest there).

I will leave you with Psalm 91 and a prayer that you who worry find peace in God’s care.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’
For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.
A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand,
But it shall not approach you.
You will only look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.
For you have made the Lord, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place.
No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent.
For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and cobra, The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.
‘Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.‘”

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“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

 

Family / Homeschool / Motherhood / Soulful Simplicity

Pacing the Day: A Mom Strategy for Sanity (2)

Welcome friends.

This is day 15 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Note: This is part 2 of a look at what it means to Pace the Day. I recommend going back to read part 1!

Yesterday I introduced the concept of pacing the day. As I mentioned there, this idea came to me early in my mothering journey and I have developed and tweaked it over time as our family and our needs have changed. I have used the following technique in a variety of ways over the past several years, and I want to say from the outset, there is no single “right” way, but instead some guiding principles and tools to help you figure out what pacing the day might look like with the personalities in your house.

The following things are required to pace the day well.

1) You have to throw out your notions of a hard-and-fast schedule in favor of routines, which are a little more squishy than schedules but do establish some patterns that your kids will pick up (and thrive) on.

2) You have to step out of frantic/reactive mode and do some observation so you are able to assess where everyone is at, and what they need next. Sometimes I literally find a corner to disengage from the crazy and just watch them. This is a great time for a hot drink near a lovely window.

3) Patience. Some people tell me they just don’t have it, but from my own experience, I will say, patience is a muscle that you can strengthen. I am only a (mostly) patient mother because I have been tested, and tested, and tested, and as I have struggled to respond to my children in a gentle and caring manner, my patience has grown. Perseverance gets you places!

So back to the main idea: Pacing the day is like holding a hand of cards at the beginning of the day, knowing that each card will be played at some point, but the order and timing of when you play it will vary from day-to-day and is a strategic, forward-thinking move. It is a little bit like choose-your-own-adventure. Mothers who want a household to adhere to strict schedules (by the clock) will possibly not love this idea, but I still hope you’ll read along because I think you may pick up some valuable ideas even if you’re a more scheduled person than I am.

If you are ready to pace the day, the cards in your hand are as follows:

Do Ahead, Communicate, Go Mode, Buffer, Margin, Choice, Re-set

Each of the cards has its own role in the mix, and they work together to achieve a (mostly) smooth and peaceful day. I’ll break each one of them down for you, from the perspective of what we usually do, especially in the morning.

Do Ahead
This refers to any task that I am able to take care of ahead of time. It goes nicely hand-in-hand with my Plan One Day Ahead list, and includes things like: filling water bottles, making to-go lunches, making and following a meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so there is no guesswork about what we’re eating and I just have to shuffle the ingredients around. It also includes my personal early morning routine which is to wake and diaper/dress both of my youngest children before I even leave my bedroom. I keep their clothes in my room, and find a lot less resistance to getting out the door if those two are taken care of right off the bat.

Communicate
My older kids are able to do many tasks on their own. When they wake, I instruct them to dress all the way to the shoes before they eat breakfast. If we happen to have a day we are not going anywhere, I will have them get started on independent school tasks instead, and serve them breakfast as they’re working on penmanship or English. I try to communicate well about what we have going on for the day, and offer a 1 hour, 30 minute, and 10 minute warning before we need to leave the house. I verbally toss out what they might want to have in order to be prepared for whatever activity we are headed for, but they know it is their responsibility to have shoes on, have a coat, have a filled water bottle in hand. Most often, the youngest two are already dressed by breakfast, and everyone (except me) is ready to leave 10-15 minutes before our target time. While they wait, I assign them a small clean-up job that can be completed before we leave. During that time, I am typically doing my hair, pulling a lunch together if I didn’t do it ahead of time, or last-minute changing a diaper.

Go Mode
This one requires a bit of practice to get your kids motivated, but when they have a hold of the concept, nothing will be able to stop you! We use go mode as we do household cleanup, engage with school tasks or prepare to leave the house. I have one child that is a day-dreamer and moves about life at a relaxed pace. Family quirk story: This child is wildly imaginative. She struggles to attack a job or a task with focus and tenacity, but if she can pretend to be an animal, she will kick into gear and get things done. Ever since she watched Jurassic World, she has been enamored with velociraptors, and in an effort to get some fire under her one day, I invited her to complete her tasks with, “velociraptor speed.” The kid turned into a velociraptor and cleaned up everything in sight. Weird, but hey, if it works! I also explained to my kids that sometimes in the last few minutes before we need to leave, I need everyone to get up, get moving, and handle their individually assigned tasks while I’m tending to my last details. We call this “Busy bees”, and when I call it out, everyone knows that it is Go Mode time to leave the house. We also do timed challenges and sometimes have rewards to practice this skill.

Buffer
With six kids, I hear a lot of questions and get many requests from the kids throughout the day. They range from ultra-simple things like “Can you please tie my shoe?” to things like “Can we meet up with X friend at the park today?” Honestly, it is question after question around here. Questions are great, and I encourage them, but I don’t give an immediate answer to anything that is asked of me unless I’m sure of the answer I want to give. Because I try to make good on anything I agree to, I am a little stingy with my “yes” answers. I also don’t revel in saying “no” all the time, so instead I create a buffer with a statement like, “I know you would like to do ______ today, but I will need to think about what we have going on today before I give you an answer. If I’m not able to fit that in today, we will find another time for it.” My children love this because they nearly always get what they want (if its reasonable), but they get it at a time and in a way that works for me. I think its a great idea to practice creating a buffer anytime other people in your life ask you for things as well. It buys you a little time to decide if you really want to commit to something or not by acknowledging their request, and setting a small boundary that you will not leap into just any request that comes your way. It makes your choices intentional. This is one way I have simplified my life…don’t answer immediately!

Margin
This one is pretty simple, but not always easy. Keeping a margin in your day means that you do not overschedule yourself. It means keeping a block of time somewhere in the day that is left open for whatever is needed, or it might mean being willing to drop a commitment from the day to re-set instead of keep on going. Margin is one of the biggest reasons I homeschool my children…it gives me the flexibility to be in charge of my entire daily schedule and not have to live by a school calendar or daily bell schedule. I am not in the car for hours a day (unless I want to be), and my kids are not sitting still in desks for hours a day (unless I want them to be). Now that I have tasted the sweetness of having margin in my day, I can’t go back to the busy life. No way.

Choice
This is toddler parenting 101, but I think its an important card to hold when you’re managing a household of kids of all ages. Regarding choice, it comes down to this: I supply the options, they make the choices. There are many times that a child comes to me and says, “I want to play video games right now.” We don’t use our game system on weekdays to encourage more productive learning activities (and if I’m honest, preserve the helpful, positive attitudes of screen-free days), so I have no problem responding with, “That is not a choice right now. You may do _____ or _____,” and I supply their options for them. There is usually not much of a fight, because they already know the parameters for video games, but more than that, I don’t often insist that they do one particular thing. I give them two choices, and they take it from there. They love their autonomy, and I love that I still have a handle on the direction we’re going.

Reset
This might be the most important of all pacing the day strategies. Knowing how to re-set if the day has turned upside-down is a desperately needed survival skill for moms. What works for one person may not work for another, but I would encourage you to give some thought to making a list of five things you can do to re-set your day if it comes to that. Some of the things that land on my list are: quiet time (everyone separated—usually in their beds—to read or quietly play until a timer goes off), go outside (I used to be a mostly-indoor mom, but I have learned there is something to getting out and letting everyone have their space from each other), do something with my kids that helps us connect (read a book, paint together, have a silly dance party), do one-on-one check-ins (I do these sometimes during quiet time and invite the kids one by one into my room for a few minutes to talk about whatever is on their minds), or my last-resort: lay a blanket out on the living room floor, put a bunch of snacks out, start a movie and take an ears-open nap on the couch while they’re glued to it. << This is typically how I survive the toughest parts of pregnancy and/or being sick.

I hope that gives you a bit of a glimpse into how I manage my days at home, and possibly some ideas to incorporate into your own version of pacing the day. You’ve got all the cards, so choose which ones to play when they are needed. I try and take in the cues my children give me and steer them toward “Go Mode” tasks (being out of the house, household cleanup, school time) or Margin/Reset time if Go Mode isn’t going very well.

I would love to know if you find any of this helpful, and if you have any questions for me, please feel free to be in touch.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Homeschool / Motherhood / Soulful Simplicity

Pacing the Day: A Mom Strategy for Sanity (1)

Welcome friends.

This is day 14 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Note: As I wrote out this post, it grew longer and longer, so I have broken it up. Part 2 will be up tomorrow! 

Yesterday I shared on my habit of planning one day ahead, and today I would like to follow that with a practice I refer to as “Pacing the Day,” a technique I have employed with my family for quite a few years. Please note, this is not a complicated concept to implement, but it is a little tricky to describe, so please bear with me, and if you have questions by the end, I am glad to hear them!

Ok. So you plan one day ahead and know what is coming at you from the perspective of tasks that need your attention, and details you need to keep in your mind, but you also have these wildcards children who might be on board with your awesome one day plan, or they might figuratively tear your plan to pieces with any of a number of sly moves—terrible attitudes, fits of screaming, stubbornness, apathy, selective listening, getting suddenly sick, squabbling over the tiniest things…are you with me? So what is a mom to do when she has a list and the very real possibility that accomplishing her list might be completely impossible that day?

Pace the day.

If you have young children, you already know that one day to the next, you have no idea if the house will still be standing by bedtime. You have no idea if your children will cooperate at any level while you try to get them out the door. You have dreams of being able to perfectly execute your to-do list and soul-care and child-care, but you know that it is not ever going to look like what it does in your dreams. It’s called reality, and mamas know exactly what I’m talking about.

Reality is what it is, but the way we look at it—or the perspective we take on it—makes a huge difference in how we respond to it.

Pacing the day is about sharpening your intuition to recognize the cues your children give so you can anticipate their needs instead of respond to them after the fact, and employing proactive strategies for smoother days. I am specifically referring to non-verbal, nuanced cues that give you insight so you can design the flow of your day as it unfolds around the present needs of your family. This allows you to capitalize on your kids’ energy when they have an abundance of it, build in times for rest and connection when that is prudent, and hopefully allows you a measure of peace in the midst of a challenging but wonderful season of life.

Most mothers pace the day at some level instinctively, but I’d like to look at it in more detail because like anything interesting, the more you dig in the more you discover.

I have a tiny backstory for you. I first started putting these thoughts together when my second baby was about 6 months old. With my first baby, I was a young mom with a steep learning curve (i.e. zero previous infant experience), and I mothered her as an infant with this cycle: baby cries, mom responds, mom tries everything she can to make the baby stop crying, baby stops crying; repeat x100 daily. It was an endless cycle of cry, satisfy, cry, satisfy, and I was all over the place trying to satisfy that child. With my second-born, I started to notice that my son had specific subtle cues when he was getting sleepy or hungry. He wasn’t yet crying, but he was subtly communicating. I was able to recognize little signs before there were big tears and tend to needs early with very little crying. I have had four more babies since then, and over time I have come to believe that little ones are absolutely capable of telling us what they need if we are able to observe and respond to their cues proactively instead of reactively. I have been able to anticipate their needs before we’re in all-out-frazzled mode, and as such my babies have not spent much time crying.

Please note, every baby is different and this is in NO way intended to insinuate that if you just do xyz, your baby will never cry. If they do cry, it is not a poor reflection on you or evidence that you can’t do this. This is not a formula, and not a prescription—simply a look into what I have discovered within my family in case it helps you.

The wonderful thing about the discovery of this concept: it works with older children too. It is possible to anticipate what the best next-step will be during the day by evaluating where your child is at. It takes far more energy to put out a fire than to prevent one in the first place. Is it always possible to prevent fires? No, of course not. But if there is a way to cut down on the number of fires I have to put out each day (spending my precious limited energy to do so), you can bet I will put a little effort in on the front end to save a lot of effort later.

That is the main idea behind pacing the day.

I use the term ‘pacing the day’ because motherhood feels something like a sprint on a marathon track. We wake to little faces with big needs and funny personalities, and we have to be on our toes all day long. The thing is, we have to be diligent regarding this mothering task not only for the day in front of us, but for years to go.

Motherhood is a marathon, and if you run it like a sprint, you are going to injure yourself or your children somewhere in the process. 

Pacing the day is an invitation to slow down and make strategic decisions about how help your children develop healthy habits, communication skills, and ultimately emotional intelligence—all in the course of an ordinary day. Pacing the day is about attentiveness. It is about staying engaged with your children and understanding the leadership role you hold in your household system. It is about recognizing that you have tools at your fingertips that can help you proactively manage the environment of your home. You do not have to hunker down and brace yourself for the drama, but you can gently direct and guide your children into a pattern of healthy habits that will serve them in the present and long after they leave your house. There may still be some drama—but you are not obligated to participate in it. You can instead strategically respond to the cues your children give you about the best next-step for the day. Pacing the day is about understanding that a mother is uniquely gifted to stand at the helm and steer the family ship with intention and wisdom.

Tomorrow, I will share in complete detail how I use this method in my family. Between now and then, if this idea happens to resonate with you,  would you think about a mama you personally know that might benefit from these ideas and share this post with her? I would love to encourage her with my experience, and I hope you’ll be back to check out the juicy stuff I have for you tomorrow. It’s going to be great.

“He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40: 29-31

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Motherhood / Organization / Soulful Simplicity

Plan One Day Ahead

Welcome friends.

This is day 13 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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I wasn’t always a plan-ahead type. I have a bit of a creative streak, and gravitate toward spontaneous and unscripted, but over time I have realized that flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants is much harder to do with a bunch of kids. Each has their own personality and way of doing things, and even if I rally to get them moving in the same direction, there is always a risk that one or more of them will choose a critical moment to make it extra challenging to get things done. Having kids in the mix requires extra effort and extra patience to stay focused.

I’ve learned our days at home are only going to be as smooth as I have the vision for. I now have six children whose attention and motivation are my responsibility to capture and steward well, which is no small task. If I have no plan for the day, and I have given no thought to how I will begin the morning, what I will be engaging for the day, and the small details I will need to remember on a list where I can remind my tired mom brain what in the world needs to be done, I can almost guarantee you all of us will struggle through the entire day. If I do have a plan, the day often goes much smoother.

Having a vision for the day doesn’t necessarily mean everything will go well, but it does give me the best shot at a day that accomplishes some or all of what needs to be done, and with minimal disruption to the family peace. I know the idea of having a plan for the day is nothing novel, but despite its simplicity, it is something I now do every day because it helps me that much.

Looking ahead one day allows me to hone my vision on what my top priorities are for the next 24 hours, tailoring my effort and attention toward those tasks.

To plan one day ahead, I find a moment in my day (usually evening for me) to sit and jot down a list of what is coming at me in the next 24-48 hours. What errands need to be run? What appointments do I need to make or show up at? What is our meal situation? Who do I need to connect with by email or phone? What are the top priorities around the house? How can I group or combine or delegate tasks effectively?

These are all questions whose answers end up on my list. The list allows me to complete everything in an efficient manner so I don’t expend any more energy than necessary, and all the high-priority items are addressed. I put anything and everything that requires my attention so that when I look back on my week, I can see on paper what progress I’ve made. Going back to the list to remember the small things I’ve done helps me to remember what even happened in that blur of days and helps me celebrate my small victories.

I personally keep these lists along with doodles and random writing in a moleskine journal, which I’ve now been doing for at least 8 years. The rules of my journal: no tearing out pages, no stressing about neat writing or anything looking a certain way…just fill those pages with the bits of life that are pertinent to me or happen to be on my mind at that time. I sometimes jot down writing prompts and ideas. I write out lists of goals or things I want to accomplish for the week, but mostly, it is something I return to every few days to make my “Plan One Day Ahead” list.

My version is not terribly fancy, but it is along the same lines of this new term I’ve been hearing around called bullet journaling (the is new to me, but the process is not). Avid bullet journalers seem to have an affinity for fun colors, nicely designed journal pages and fancy writing, but I opt for anything-goes largely so I don’t waste a bunch of time trying to make a “pretty” list. For me, its all about function. If you search around for bullet journaling, you will find a number of great resources that explain the method, and you might find you benefit from having a pen-and-paper thought organizer for yourself.

If you feel like you struggle to keep your focus through the day or you end the day feeling frustrated about what you didn’t get done, this idea might help you clarify your vision and keep your energy that otherwise might be lost going toward tasks that help you get ahead.

Do you have a method that helps you keep your focus? I’d love to hear about it.

“I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.” Psalm 101:2b-3a

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Home / Motherhood / Soulful Simplicity

Laundry & Dishes: Strategies for Keeping Up

Welcome friends.

This is day 12 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Let me take you on a little tour of my house.

Right now, I have laundry in drawers, laundry on the floor, clean laundry on our downstairs couch, dirty laundry in 3 big bins, laundry in the washer and laundry in the dryer.

I have dishes on the table, dishes in the sink, dishes on the counter, dishes in the cupboard, and dishes in the dishwasher.

In short, I am constantly chasing the elusive feeling of ever being done with anything. It’s not just laundry and dishes…it is all the tasks a mama must tackle again and again day after day.

I need to make dentists appointments (again) and buy new curriculum (again) and update a few of the kids’ wardrobes (again). No matter how recently I have finished a task, it seems like the same task is hanging over my head, needing to be done again soon.

Keeping up is really tough, if not impossible at times. For this reason, I champion the soul-care of mamas with fervor. You have to insert that time somewhere or you risk sinking into total discouragement. I speak from experience.

Today I want to share a few strategies to help any mamas who might be reading this that don’t know how to hop off the hamster wheel every now and then, and a few strategies that might help you feel a little less overwhelmed with all the doing of motherhood.

Strategy #1: Schedule your soul-care time in advance

Every mama needs to have a measure of vision and momentum to tackle everyday battles in the home with any success. This might be accomplished by carving out morning devotional time, exercising, having a coffee date or play date with a friend, spending an evening with a good book, or getting out for a date night with your sweetheart. If you wait for space to magically open up for these things, you will be waiting a while, so do yourself a favor and put some on your calendar ahead of time.

Strategy #2: Simplify your systems

This might include paring down clothing so that your laundry cycle only contains in-season clothes that are correctly sized for your people. It might mean serving lunch on napkins or family-style (sandwiches and finger foods are great for this). This might mean making a meal plan that allows you to prepare foods ahead of time in batches so you’re not staring at the stove at 5pm wondering what to eat. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, I step back and ask: How can I possibly make this easier on myself?

Look for ways to streamline household tasks so you can spend less time doing what is necessary and more time doing things that you enjoy.

Some ideas to get you thinking:

Put a date on your calendar once per season to pare down clothing. Invite a friend to help you and offer to return the favor. Chores are always better with friends.

Keep a box or receptacle to toss items for donation that are too small, no longer wearable, not liked, or too big, and weed those things out continuously as you go through your regular cycle. I invite my children over 5 years old to voluntarily toss clothes in there that fit the requirements, and since implementing this, I have had some relief from this task.

Make a meal plan that includes spaces for breakfast lunch and dinner daily. You can use the same plan over again weekly, or if you are feeling more ambitious, make a meal plan for a month and reuse it again the next month.

Before serving a meal, prepare the sink with a soapy tub of water so at the end of meals, your kids can scrape their own plates and plop them in the water. Then, when you go to wash the dishes, there won’t be any crazy scrubbing to do.

When I am preparing to leave the house, I ask the kids to clean up 10 things from the floor, or I ask them to spend the last 10 minutes before departure times to re-set as many things as possible in our common area so whenever we return from our adventures, it is relatively tidy. They receive special treats for this, because it is a special treat for me to arrive home to a clean house.

Make a kit in advance for the car that contains non-perishable snacks, water, change of clothes, and anything else you might need out if you forget (or choose to forget) items on the way out the door.

These are just a few ideas (most of which I currently use myself) that may help you stay ahead of the tidal wave. Brainstorm some ideas of your own that can make your household systems easier!

Strategy #3: Communicate with your spouse

It has taken me a number of years of marriage to realize that my husband can’t read my mind. He also can’t read my clues, even if I think they are totally obvious. He needs me to say out loud (with kind words) what I need help with, and most often, he leaps into action to help me get caught up when I’m especially behind. I know that not every family has the same dynamic, so this may not yield the same results for you, but my point is that sometimes spouses are very willing to do what they can to help or encourage you if they know what you really need. Since I’m the at-home parent, I try to handle 90%+ of anything that needs to be done at home, but there are times I just can’t catch up without a hand, and communicating about it has made a huge difference.

Strategy #4: Involve your children in the process

Children are very capable of helping with household tasks. Sure, there is a stage where they undo every last thing you try to accomplish (hello 1.5-2.5 year olds…I know your game), but that stage doesn’t last forever, especially if you recognize early that even young children can be involved in the care of their home. I reserve a few tasks that I see as solely my responsibility (a personal choice) and all other household jobs are available for children to complete at my request. Age four is when I begin to require tasks to be completed to a satisfactory standard, but my kids begin helping alongside me at a variety of tasks when they’re 2. They love it. I love it. It also goes a long way to establishing strong work ethic, personal responsibility for the space they live in, teamwork, and character-building. It’s not all roses, for sure, but with diligent effort over time, you can have a team that is working together for the peace and order of your home.

Strategy #5: Take a shortcut when it is prudent to do so

Do you feel like you are doing dishes 20 hours a day? (I do!) Paper plates can alleviate a tiny bit of that. I don’t use them all the time, but if I’m in an especially overwhelming season or week, you can bet I’ll serve on paper plates a few times without any guilt.

Do you look at a closet clean-out or laundry pile and feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the job? Set a timer and hit it hard for 5 straight minutes. Then you can decide to keep going or walk away for a bit. Often, I will just keep going because I’ve found my stride, but when I need to walk away after the 5 minutes, I never feel bad about it, and there is always a good dent in the job when I come back to it. Or if you have a handy 8 year old around, ask them to start the job for you and see how far they can get in 5 minutes. Then when you jump in, there will already be forward momentum…not that I do this or anything. (Actually, I’m 100% guilty of this.)

One last help: I keep a convenience meal in the freezer at all times, for the days that my dinner plans just don’t come together. This might be a homemade casserole or a store-bought dish that can be popped in the oven at a moment’s notice. If my goal is to see that meal stay in the freezer for up to a month, it helps me stick with my meal plan, but never leaves me in a lurch.

So there you go, mamas. I would love to hear about your strategies for keeping up! Leave me a comment or send me a personal note!

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Motherhood / Soulful Simplicity

Stuffing Schedules Full: Lies Moms Believe

Welcome friends.

This is day 11 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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I remember when my firstborn was nearing preschool age. I was an early-twenties young mom living in a fast-paced city full of successful career-oriented women who delayed having children, most until their forties. I only mention the age difference because it was a significant aspect of the self-doubt I wrestled with for a few years as I tried to make sense of adulthood, motherhood, and all the decisions that are to be made in those arenas.

I saw these women—established, confident, and eager to ensure their children would be successful in the future—sign their kids up for every activity under the sun at age 3. Preschool, music classes, sports teams, museum workshops, swim lessons, acting classes, language tutoring—you name it, and I could tell you about someone in my sphere who had their kid in it. Many of them had these activities stacked back to back in the same day or daily throughout the week, meaning they were constantly going from one thing to the next without any space for anything else.

I am not saying any of these things are bad. All of the above experiences can be wonderful for children, and they absolutely have their place, but I spent a stretch there feeling like I was messing up my child’s entire future because I didn’t have her enrolled in five different things at the same time. It took me a few years to develop my own sense of what makes a childhood wonderful.

In time, I have come to realize that there are a number of things that weigh heavily on moms that lead them to stuff their schedules full for all the wrong reasons.

Here are some lies that many mothers believe:

Everything urgent is important.

I am obligated to do what others expect of me.

My child must be entertained at all times.

All moms are spread thin, there is no way around it.

My child will not be deprived of anything if I sign them up for enough activities.

There is not enough time in the day.

I can outrun the loneliness of motherhood if I keep myself busy enough.

If I take advantage of every opportunity, my child will succeed in life.

I don’t love being busy, but I don’t have any other choice.

I could keep going, but I will stop there, and counter every one of those statements with a different idea.

Not everything that is calling out for your attention is worthy of it. Some things are not important. You can decide which things those are.

You are not obligated to meet the expectations of others. Healthy boundaries are important, and must be set often and with confidence.

Your child doesn’t need to be entertained at all times. In fact, you might find that their imagination and creativity come alive when they are not being entertained.

All moms have the propensity to be spread thin, but there are some who make hard decisions that place healthy limits in different areas for the benefit of everyone in the family. Not all moms live spread thin indefinitely.

Children who are chronically over-scheduled can be just as deprived as any other child…they can be deprived of rest, deprived of space to explore and create and imagine, deprived of opportunities for resourcefulness and self-regulation…and the list goes on.

Every day has time enough to do the most important things, and anything that isn’t completed on one day can be tackled the next.

Loneliness is real, especially in motherhood, but it is not fazed by a busy schedule. Loneliness can only be cured by real connection, which can be difficult to forge if one is too over-scheduled to make room for quality time with a spouse, friend, or mentor.

You have no way to guarantee your child’s success in life. Yes, you can expose them to information, help them build skills, and give the experiences that shape who they become, but what if their success actually hinges on the innovative spirit they cultivate while spending hours a day outdoors? Or on the emotional intelligence they develop by creating a strong bond with family members? Some things that a child needs to succeed can’t be taught in a classroom.

And last but not least: You have a choice. There may be some things outside of your control. There may be limitations and challenges. There may be sacrifices, but you hold an incredible amount of decision-making power, and you can choose parameters for your schedule that fit your family’s needs, and allow you flexibility to make adjustments for everyone’s benefit.

We stuff our schedules full when we believe we have no other choice except to be busy, over-full, and spread thin. It is ok to sometimes choose busy, but it should be an intentional choice not a default one.

“By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches.” Proverbs 24:3-4

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Home / Life & Faith / Motherhood / Soulful Simplicity

Put Clutter in it’s Place

Welcome friends.

This is day 10 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Have you ever wondered why the storage container industry is as lucrative as it is? Consider this cycle: A person buys some bins to hide the volume of their things away from view. More things find their way into the home. Person decides there is nowhere to put the new things because the existing bins are full of other stuff and it seems easier to add bins than to empty some. Person visits the container store for more bins. Not that I know anything about this cycle or anything.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we need more things in our lives in order to find more peace. Marketers put a lot of effort into sending us messages about what we ‘need’, and often we buy it (pun intended). Letting go of a few dollars feels less painful than the deeper, harder work of dealing with and clearing out the unnecessary things, so we settle for a temporary fix instead of engaging a real solution.

I feel like I should offer a confession that I am not the tidiest person, and organization has only become important to me in recent years because of the growing number of people who live in my house. Decluttering has become a necessary survival skill. Eight people living (and learning and making and eating) in a house can be a quick recipe for mayhem. It is simply not a choice to forego decluttering at regular intervals if I want to have any sense of order here.

In the past, clutter has been a source of shame for me. I am well aware that organization is not my forte, and have had a dramatic relationship with clutter for a lot of years. The constant, persistent, unending clutter cycle is at the top of my list for “things that make me frustrated”, and I have gone through cycles of ignoring it for as long as possible, followed by manic episodes of tearing apart every corner of the house–trying to purge unwanted stuff and not allowing anyone touch, play with, or make anything if it meant making a big mess to do it.

I have made a lot a progress in this area over the years. I don’t have any magic-bullet secrets for you, but I’ll share a few of the things that get me through.

Remembering my priorities and the purpose of my home helps me approach clutter and household organization with new eyes and intention.

I’m not a fan of perfectly organized homes at the expense of real-life lived with love, connection, and teamwork within the family. For me, remembering my priorities for family harmony help me both dig in to the decluttering process when its needed, and let it go when its not. My motivation is to hold the purpose of our home in high esteem, and all the effort I make to declutter and organize my home in light of that is made on purpose, not out of obligation or fear of the judgement of others.

Small steps toward order really make a difference. 

I see my household spaces a little bit like my refrigerator that can store what I put there for a time, but must eventually be inspected, cleaned out, and refreshed for the next items that need the space. When I take care of one small thing, that is one less thing left to do, and when I purpose to take a small step at a time, I don’t feel so overwhelmed by the larger need/project/task. Starting somewhere is the very thing that gets you places.

I try my best to deal with clutter matter of factly instead of getting caught up in clutter-drama.

I already know that I have to tackle the clutter monster at my house on a daily basis in order to create space for us to learn together, eat together, and rest together. I set micro-goals for myself to accomplish as I’m able (10 minutes on a timer with music in a particular space, one bigger organization project per week, etc) and find that knowing my organization/decluttering goals are met for the week help me continue making progress without allowing this stuff to hijack my other priorities. If I start getting discouraged, excessively frustrated, and less-than-kind with my kids about it, I will set everything down and come back to it when I have shed the drama. Most often, these are the times I’ll pack up and head to the park where there are lovely trees overhead and laughing children—all at a distance from me so I can clear my mind.

If I’m decluttering a room, I work from the perimeter and sweep or move everything into the center of the room where it can be seen. 

My kids know that when the pile starts forming, it is their job to find like items in it and put them together and/or put them away. On the spot, someone gets assigned lego (since there are lego bricks in literally every room of my house at all times), someone gets assigned recycleable items and prowls around with a paper grocery bag to get all the recycling into it, someone takes on shoes and laundry, etc. This real-time teamwork provides us a good amount of momentum, supplies an opportunity for the kids to work together and encourage each other, and has been more effective for me than assigning specific chores to individual children to be completed separately. It also makes clean up time last about 10 minutes when it would easily take me an hour by myself.

If I’m decluttering a closet, pantry, or closed container, I find a staging area and dump everything out where it can be seen. 

Then I instruct the kids to go through the same process of sorting and returning things to their proper places, with a heavy emphasis on things that go in the donate pile or trash bag. These are often the “once-a-week” deeper projects I engage, and once one is done for the week, I turn my attention to other things until the next week. I feel like this process keeps it manageable for me

Clutter seems to have the biggest hold when I don’t see it for what it is: stuff that takes up space but has no place or purpose in my home.

I find it easier to say goodbye to what is unnecessary when I can look at it and realize that it serves no purpose other than to make more work for me. No thanks, and out it goes!

What are some ways that you put clutter in its place? I’d love to hear your wisdom on this topic.

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Family / Life & Faith / Motherhood / Soulful Simplicity

The Purpose of Home

Welcome friends.

This is day 9 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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What is the purpose of home? It may seem obvious, but I think its a worthwhile question. After all, home is more than walls and rooms, floors and ceilings. If it were merely a building to keep some things in and some things out, we wouldn’t differentiate homes from any other building.

But home isn’t just any other building. It is a particularly special place where some understated-but-important things happen on a daily basis. To illustrate, I compiled a list of what home is—some from my own sentiments of what home is or ought to be, and some from a few close friends who weighed in for me about what they believe the purpose of home to be. I hope some will resonate with you and assist in the process of helping you to soulfully-simplify your home for the benefit of your family.

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Home is a refuge. It is a place of comfort and rest; a sanctuary and soft place to land.

Home is a place of worship. It is a holy space where I engage ordinary tasks as a demonstration of gratitude for what God has given into my care.

Home is a greenhouse. It is a carefully curated environment intended to nurture, support, and develop the character of little ones into honorable, upright men and women.

Home is a kitchen. It is a place where hearts and bellies are filled with goodness, and where our table becomes a gathering place to offer my family gifts that nourish their bodies and their souls.

Home is a workshop. It is where we build a life together, fusing memories and shared experiences into a bond of lasting love for one another.

Home is a place for hospitality. It is a place where insiders and outsiders alike are welcomed in, are seen and heard, and generously poured into with attention and care.

Home is a garden. It is a place that has a season for planting, a season for blooming, and will one day produce a harvest revealing what is sown there.

Home is a workplace. It is a place I must show up to daily, ready to work diligently on mundane tasks that establish and preserve the peace of my household.

Home is an anchor. It is a place that reminds me of what is important, and acts as a hub to return to when adventures and seasons come to an end.

Home is a dance party. It is a place to sing at the top of my lungs, dance silly with my wide-eyed littles, and scoop them up for whimsical twirls and cuddles.

Home is a heart. It is the place that pumps life to the family, and a place that—when deeply damaged—is difficult to heal from.

Home is a family. It is where we all invest in each other, journey together, and sharpen each other. It is where we grow, learn, forgive, and laugh together through everything we experience.

Home is sacred. It is a essential space that serves to grow, nourish, and strengthen a family. Clarifying the purpose of your home will help you know how to best spend your energy in it.

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-8

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!