On crazy busy life and “The Best Yes” by Lysa Terkeurst

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a review.  While I have certainly read some good books, I haven’t managed to sit down and write about them.  But this one requires passing on, The Best Yes, by Lysa Terkeurst.  Our flurried, broken, overextended-in-every-way American culture is a living, breathing example of many examples of “you reap what you sow”.  Instead of breaking down that reality, may I just say that despite very intentional efforts not to live inside the crazy…sometimes it seems impossibly hard to step back, step aside, step OUT of the continual myriad of activities.  Nearly all of them GOOD things.  The amount of extracurricular options is staggering.  Whether you are married with kids or without, single, young or old….there is nary a shortage of ways you could spend your time and energy.

One particular aspect of this that I find it difficult to navigate is the mentality that if you don’t offer your children a plethora of options, be they flute lessons, karate, a spot on the baseball team, chess club, horse back riding lessons, 4-H, drama class, choir, soccer, art lessons and tickets to a play or five at the local kids theater, that somehow they will be cheated of a “well rounded” and “rich” upbringing.  The array of “good things” here is at best mind-blowing.  And at worst, well, I don’t know.  I suppose I would just venture to say that this way of thinking is a plague in our culture and in fact, learning to have some white space or margin in your life is perhaps one of the very best tools parents should empower their kids with.

It sounds easy right?  But its not.  Even having moving out of the city into a more rural area, there are so many things one can do!  I have done much quiet thinking about it this past year, a year that left me gasping for breath and feeling like I could not, would not possibly be able to continue on the same path.  A wise mother said to me just last Tuesday while listening to me wrestle out loud with the too-many-options dilemma, “I have come to a place where I honestly believe, if my child has a very exceptional, genuine kind of gift at playing piano or baseball or something….that talent will well up and emerge regardless of my ability to provide copious amounts of lessons and instruction in its realm.”  I breathed a sigh of great relief.  And my heart agreed.

If I believe that God’s plans for the lives of my children will not be thwarted by my inadequacies and imperfectness as a parent, then I can instead invest in loving them well, building strong, healthy relationships, providing a solid, vibrant foundation for their lives. Which I’ve come to believe MUST include having a weekly schedule that has room in it to breathe.  I absolutely must, as a mother who seeks to walk in wisdom, learn how to make thoughtful decisions for our family and for my own life that reflect a measure of having ‘counted the cost’ of each and every spoken and unspoken YES in my life.

This is where the book by Lysa comes in.  I ended the summer feeling terribly unready for the year ahead.  Still struggling to bounce back from last year.  When I read the tagline under the title, Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands, my head just nodded and I clicked ‘place my order’ before the book had even been released.  It is practical and so well breaks down the reality of every “yes”.  Yes to one thing means a no elsewhere, this is the part I hadn’t learned to think through very well.  I just kept on with yes’.  I would liken it to writing a check on an empty bank account, eventually the debt is in your face and you have to deal with it.  Lysa  breaks down, wonderfully well, various ways to learn to cultivate this sort of wisdom and also delves into why it matters so much.

I am learning to weigh my yes and to really sift through all the implications it will have.  Slowly, albeit, but learning nonetheless.  Just yesterday we were at the pumpkin patch, having great fun with my sister as we have done every year for at least 8 years in a row.  I started to get anxious being there, knowing that in two weeks our homeschool group is going on a group trip to another pumpkin patch.  I feel obligated to go, my mind had already relinquished to having to go.  But as I thought more, talked it out loud a bit, it was so clear.  Yesterday was my “best yes”.  Two weeks from now will be my wise “no”.  And in that, I get to practice something I am not good at, giving grace to myself.  Grace to say “one pumpkin patch trip with my six children is all that I can manage this year and that is okay, more than that, it is wise and good”.

If life feels a bit over the top and you aren’t sure how to proceed or how to grow in this aspect, this book is an excellent, very worthwhile read.  Really, just about everyone I know fits into that description in some way!  My copy is heavily highlighted and written on, which is one of my best measures of good books.  Beyond that, my life is incorporating the practical wisdom from the pages and that is surely the best part.

Here are a few snapshots of our one and only wonderful pumpkin patch trip this weekend:

big boys Oct 2014
Finn's pumpkin
Lib and mama
Lib Oct 2014
nana and girls
three girls
photo 4
photo 5

Favorite authors

Before pictures of kids on sandy beaches start popping up on our blog I wanted to make sure I responded to being tagged by sweet Aundrea to list my ten favorite authors….due to lack of time and packing I can’t give much commentary on each one but here they are in case you are looking for some good reads, here you go!

1. Sally Clarkson – if you read my blog much you already know the impact this woman and her writing have had on my life.  She boldly speaks to the valuable and key role of mothering against the tide of mainstream culture.  I am so grateful a friend passed me one of her books 6 years ago, I’ve not been the same since.

2. Francis Chan – partly because of when I read his book but mostly because the message is rock-your-world powerful and awesome, he has to make the cut.

3.  John Piper – though slow for me to read because they tend to be pretty deep, everything I’ve read by him has brought me a deeper, better understanding of spiritual truths.

4.  Henry Cloud – during times of healing and counseling in my early 20’s his books provided a great framework for me as I worked through stuff

5.  L.M. Montgomery – writer of the famed Anne of Green Gables, these books are the first I remember reading and falling in love with as a teenager

6.  Danny Silk – only read one book of his but it was an incredible introduction to the place of grace and being intentional as we raise children

7.  Ann Voskamp – though her first book is only available to pre-purchase before it’s release in January, her blog has ministered to me more than most books I’ve read.  She is a tremendously gifted writer and in the last two years I’ve sat reading her words at my computer and wept as God spoke to my heart through her.

8.  The Author of Life – and all the amazing God followers who listened to the voice of their Maker and had a part in bringing to light the most transformational book in all the world…the Bible.

I’m out of time and going to stop here instead of not post because I’m not done!

Making time to read

Time and energy for reading comes and goes in seasons, with a new baby, big change or new schedule goes time for reading.  We’re a couple years past new baby times but headed that way again.  The benefits for my brain and soul that come from taking the time to read I’m starting to realize make it a priority regardless of the season.  Funny how the old phrase “You make time for what matters to you” rings true almost every time.

My pattern over time has leaned toward reading books and not the Bible (gasp!).  As I read other people’s perspective about such and such thing, if I am not rooted in truth then it can be pretty easy to adopt their way of thinking about something without wondering why.  It can be easier and more engaging to pick up a riveting novel or hot new book about something of interest.   I’ve been on a quest to curb this for several months, mainly because I truly believe that the Bible is the best food for my heart and spirit, even when it might not seem interesting every single day.  By having written down what I’m reading for each day and/or listening to the Bible in the car and/or just reading one verse because that’s all I can do, it has become more of a habit than at any other time in my life.

So currently, finding the balance between Bible and books is a continual thing but making time to read is a constant.  With little kids it’s easy to mentally check out and not challenge your thinking.   Pregnant brain turns into new baby brain and it all can seem like mush!  Even if it takes a month to read a book, I would argue it’s still a worthy investment of time.  Especially if it makes you ask questions, makes you laugh or encourages your heart.

Last month I read Palmer Chinchen’s True Religion in 3 days.  I was captivated by his heart and message.   Though I can’t pack up and move to India tomorrow, I can still “take pieces of heaven” to people or places around me that need it.  I agree so deeply that our hearts should hurt for the hurting in the world, that we should care about poverty and injustice, not just because it’s hip or trendy but because GOD DOES.  If I want my life to be spent for Him, then I have to let Him grow my heart and that means hurting and caring about “hell on earth”.  It means sponsoring two more children through Compassion International.  It means looking again at how time and money are invested and what that reflects.

A couple weeks ago I also read Mary DeMuth’s Thin Places in a couple days.  It is an incredible first person memoir account of one woman’s life journey.  Her experiences of sexual abuse as a five year old girl broke my heart.  But the way Jesus found her and led her to encounter the deepest, heart level healing.  It is an incredible picture of redemption.  We all have places that ache and burn and long to be redeemed.  Even though her story isn’t like mine, it reminded me of all the ways I’ve watched God weave beauty out of ashes in my life and so many around me. It is one of the great mysteries of life and I will never tire of reading or hearing it.

Next up this fall is The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wells, highly recommended by my friend Tina and Radical: Taking back your faith from the American Dream by David Platt.  I’m still wading through Future Grace too, by John Piper.  Super deep and profound and blessing my socks of but slow reading, even for me!

What would Mrs. Piggle Wiggle do?

Absolutely one of my favorite things about homeschooling is the feast of words which we are indulging in together daily.  We are discovering old books from discard piles and thrift stores that hold magical, rich stories with all sorts of vocabulary words that sometimes I don’t even know how to say.  Today we’ve logged over three hours of reading aloud together or the kids reading their books to me.

Yesterday we finished Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald.  I remember reading her when I was young, it in fact is older than my mother even, written in 1947.  Now reading it as a parent my perspective is so different.  The kids were so tickled listening that I couldn’t even get them to pick a favorite chapter, they found them all so funny!  I think the most laughs came from the “Answer-Backer Cure” chapter when the cure was that the sassy girl who talked back to everyone had to live with a snappy parrot who was even ruder and more disrespectful than she was.   It was easy for me though to pick a favorite paragraph, let me share…

It certainly was fortunate for Patsy’s mother that she thought of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, because although Mrs. Piggle Wiggle has no children of her own and lives in an upside down house, she understands children better than anybody in the whole world.  She is always ready to stop whatever she is doing and have a tea party.  She is glad to have children dig worms in her petunia bed.  She has a large trunk of scraps for doll clothes and another large truck full of valuable rocks with gold in them.  She is delighted to have children pick up and look at all the little things which she keeps on her tables and when Hubert Prentiss dropped the glass ball that snowed on the children when you shook it, she said “Heavens, Hubert, don’t cry.  I’m so glad this happened.  For years and years I have wanted to know what was in that glass ball.”  Mrs. Piggle Wiggle takes it for granted that you will want to try on her shoes and go wiggling around on high heels.

There are rich parenting gems in there I believe, the one that stopped me in my tracks was that she was always ready to stop whatever she was doing for a tea party.  It is the easiest thing in the world to go about the day, do the tasks at hand and miss the little sweet moments of actual, purposeful interaction with our children.  I am constantly reminding myself of this and taking note of time spent with each one.

The no-nonsense, reality-based discipline of Dr. Kevin Leeman is what came to mind as I read this book to my kids.  It made me want to dig out the book I read by him last year “Making Your Children Mind without Losing Yours“.  His basic premise is that parents need to let reality teach kids the consequences of life.

While Mrs. Piggle Wiggle address’ many common ‘ailments’ of childhood like kids who won’t bath, kids who fight with their siblings or kids who take too long to eat – I want to know what she would prescribe as the remedy for “Binky-itis” for my 3 1/2 year old boy who is absolutely, interminably in love with his binky.  It’s not in the book sadly.  And I’m starting to wonder if he’ll be taking his binky to college…with a dreadful overbite to go with.

Punishment or incentive?

I was talking with a friend this week about their job.  The work environment is is poor and morale is at an all time low.  Management has created an environment of fear through a variety of methods.

As we talked I honestly had to hold back tears trying to imagine myself in the shoes of the workers who had been hung out to dry especially in this tough economy.  I could not help but draw parallels between this method of leading a team of employees and the leading of a family.  In both situations many things are similarly true.  Sometimes behavior or actions must be changed.

What struck me though was how sometimes I see myself falling into a pattern as I raise my children of implementing a list of punishments and consequences in order to obtain the behavior or compliance of my children.  Sometimes in desperation I yell.  No matter how much I want to get it right and shape the lives that are in my care in a kind-hearted, gently spoken and forgiving way – I fail on a regular basis.

There are moments when instead of seeking to facilitate an environment of grace, I unintentionally facilitate an environment of fear.  While the fear of punishment may produce results, it is so not the home I want to abide in with my family.  I want the love and acceptance our kids feel here to be such a draw that they want to be a part of it.  Fear and punishments really isn’t that appealing for the long haul.  And I constantly hear from veteran parents, “The stakes just get higher with choices as they get older.”  Sigh.

While I don’t need to berate myself for getting it wrong some days, I really believe that I do have the responsibility to keep aiming for something greater.

First on my reading list for the new year is a book that is unlike any parenting book I’ve ever read.  I wrote about it here back in March.  In his book “Loving our Kids on Purpose” Danny Silk lays out a great framework for loving our kids the way God loves us.  If ever there was a model for loving with grace, it’s God’s model.  As I understand more God’s love, I understand more HOW to love the children in my home and every other person who comes across my path.

That kind of love is the answer to a good many problems in life I’m convinced.

It’s beautiful, perfect and unchanging.

A book review: The Mom Walk

mom-walk1

Sally Clarkson is one of my favorite mom-ish writers.  In moments of desperation I have bought many kinds of parenting books.  I probably have 15 or 20 at this point.  Most of them have been started but not finished.  It is a rare day for me to finish a book.   My friend Kim gave me a one to read several years back called The Mission of Motherhood. I read it, skimmed it, didn’t really get all of it.  I knew there was a great deal of rich truth in it, I just was so new to the journey and was quite possibly fairly overwhelmed with a firstborn who had significant health problems and a new baby who was extremely challenging in other ways.

About two years ago I read another one of Sally’s books, The Ministry of Motherhood.  I finished it in two weeks.  It resonated so much with the heart that God was beginning to develop in me for this new task of parenting. About that time  someone very close to me, whose opinion mattered greatly to me, told me something I’ve not been able to forget.  We were talking about a family member and another woman in our lives.  She said the same thing about them both.

“They have poured themselves so much into raising their children. They have given everything they have.  They haven’t made time for themselves to do other things.  I wonder if they even know who they are anymore. ”  But it was said with such a disapproving tone.  One that communicated volumes to me.  It told me that the investment they made was somehow not enough.  That they needed to be also working at a ‘real job’, volunteering at church, taking up hobbies for fun, signing up for graduate school, something more.  It left me feeling like I didn’t measure up to her standard and that somehow I should be able to have both worlds.  Hobbies, work, volunteering, school and mothering too.

I was seriously thinking about quitting working my part time job at the time.   I didn’t do it for a long time.  I wanted to be able to ‘maintain my own self and life’ to ‘earn money and contribue to our finances’ and to ‘get another degree behind my name’.  My marriage suffered.  My kids suffered.  My heart was split down the middle.  Working with a needy population as a social worker.  Taking care of 3 kids 4 and under.  A husband in a challenging ministry position that meant our life was observed by a lot of people all the time.

I finally did quit working.  When I did I felt like I let so many people down.  I could not do it all.  I could not have this great job and raise these sweet kids and serve at church and support my husband the way he needed me.  I simply couldn’t do it.  In those overwhelmed, trying-so-hard-to-live-up-to-it-all months I heard God whisper to my heart over and over…they need your whole heart, you have to let it go, trust me to provide for you, let go.  This job was something I adored.  It was fulfilling, I saw people’s lives changed, I could provide tangible help for them.  I was proud of the 7 years I spent doing it.  It broke my heart to move on.

This may seem like a big tangent from the book, but all this to say that Sally’s perspective on mothering is unique and bold in that she is not afraid to speak to the issue of mom’s being at home and raising their children.  I am quite sure it has cost her, it isn’t a popular opinion.  But it’s what God has spoken to her heart and it is powerful.  The Mom Walk was refreshing and just the reminder my heart needed for where I am at.

If there is one area almost all mothers I have ever talked to complain about, it is how inadequate they feel to fulfill their roles as good mothers…There are so many standards they feel they must live up to….Our teeth should be white, our bodies tight and sleek, our clothes ever hip.  Our house must be straight, organized and decorated as perfectly as a Pottery Barn catalog home.  Nutritious homemade meals should be an every night affair.  Reading to our intellectual children should be a daily habit after we’ve hosted stimulating devotionals….this is a recipe for discouragement and depression.

When I am accepting the limitations of my life and learning to dance through each day because of the joy I have from being accepted by God, my attitude helps fill their cups and make them feel that they are a part of a happy home…it sets a tone of love and joy in my home that feeds their own hearts with life and love.

Goodness, this has gotten too long.  All this to say, it’s taken four children but I am learning to let go and to walk confidently in the role God’s given me for this season.  I didn’t apply for grad school, I didn’t keep working at the job I loved, I didn’t keep giving of my time at church, I didn’t limit God’s plan for our family to include two children like I thought I wanted to, I didn’t pursue new hobbies or even keep up with old ones,  I didn’t keep slaving away in efforts at top notch cleanliness, I didn’t do a lot of things I felt great pressure to do.

But I am doing the things I’m supposed to be doing right now.  I am spending my days with four energetic little loves that amaze me and bless me and exhaust me.  I am loving my husband the best I know how.  I am trying to simply love and bring life to whatever people cross my path every day.

The books I’ve read of Sally’s are the most written in, loved ones on my shelf.  They speak deeply to my heart.  They have encouraged and equipped me to do what I am doing right now…trying to get wild crazy boys to sleep without biting their heads off in the process.  Choosing relationships with my children over rigid rules is a overriding theme in her books and it’s one that is continually shaping the way I interact with my kids.

Sally’s blog is always a blessing too, it can be found here.