You Don’t Have To Do It All…Pick One Thing

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Your life as a mom is a mess and you don’t even know where to start.  Has that been you?  Is it you right now?  Your house is cluttered and the mess overwhelms you daily.  No one appreciates the fact you cook every single night.  You need to shed a few pounds but you have not exercised in months.    You love God but you cannot seem to get to church.  You feel guilty about not doing daily devotions so you put it out of your mind.  You know your stress affects other peoples’ behavior, but you are not sure how to control it.  Before you throw yourself another pity party, please hear me out.

We have all been there if we are not at that place today.  We have all struggled with one or more of those things…maybe not all at once…but we have felt overwhelmed the demands of being a mom.

This was on my mind as I read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Duhigg shares about Paul O’Neill who took over as the CEO of Alcoa, one of the largest aluminum corporations in 1987.  The corporation had been struggling with product quality, effective employees, and a whole host of other issues.  When he addressed his investors for the first time at a meet and greet in Manhattan, he began by addressing only one issue:  worker safety.  He wanted to make Alcoa the safest company in America.

Duhigg says

The audience was confused.  These meetings usually followed a predictable script:  A new CEO would start with an introduction…then promise to boost profits and lower costs.  Next would come an excoriation of taxes, business regulations…Finally the speech would end with a blizzard of ‘buzzwords’–‘syngery,’ ‘rightsizing,’ and ‘co-opetition’–at which point everyone could return to their offices, reassured capitalism was safe for another day…O’Neill hadn’t said anything about profits.  He didn’t even mention taxes.  There was no talk of ‘using alignment to achieve a win-win synergistic market advantage.'” (98)

By the time he retired in 2000, Alcoa’s annual net income was five times larger than before he arrived. By attacking one habit–worker safety–it set off a chain reaction affecting other habits.  He believe there are big habits or “keystone habits” that begin a process and can transform everything.

Duhigg says one of those lifestyle habits is exercise.  He says:

When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, other unknowingly.  Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work.  They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family.  They use their credit card less frequently and say they feel less stressed.  It’s not completely clear why.  But for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”

For me personally exercise gives me more energy (even though I have to wake up earlier).  I crave fruits and vegetables versus junk.  My moods are more stable.  I get outside air and feel refreshed.  I am more likely to do things with my kids like go to the park, ride bikes, and roller skate.

Some of our moms were told in the 1970’s they can have it all.  I see many moms today trying to be it all.  While we try, we end up in a mess of “mom” issues. Maybe we don’t need try to clean up the whole mess in one sitting.

Pick a keystone habit. Over time, your life might evolve into something that is not quite so overwhelming. I no longer set vague goals for myself.  For instance one year my goal was to chill out and not take my anger out on other people.  How can I measure that?  All the sudden I yell at my kids for fighting. Did I already fail?

This year I simply set one goal.  I am going to read the Bible everyday following a simple Read the Bible in One Year program.  It even has an Ipad app.  This is one keystone goal that seems simple yet takes discipline and it has been transforming other areas in my life.

Although Duhigg’s book focuses on the psychology of habits and not necessarily on our spiritual lives, we can apply it to our walk with the Lord.  If our keystone habit is to focus on God using whatever spiritual discipline we feel called to do (prayer, Bible reading, studying), we can trust that God will lead us in every single area of our life.

Lent Day #2 Giving

My garage is full of stuff right now.  Stuff I need to get rid of.  Or sell.  Naturally I am not a hoarder.  I love to get rid of things.  However, I am having a harder time parting with baby items and toddler clothes.

I am realizing that my life is more than all the “stuff” I acquire.  Making sacrifices and giving away…especially to those in need…is something I can do more of.

During this Lenten season I am reminded that Christ gave us way more than we can ever give anyone.  It is a gift we receive with no string attached.  He gave us his life.  How can we not stand in awe of that and how can it not motivate us to give willingly and freely to others in need?

18For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  – 1 Peter 1:18-20

Lent Day #1: Prone to sin

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I was talking with one of my children last night and he/she was saying how he/she is good all day long at school and rarely gets his/her name on the board anymore.  He/she gets his/her work done on time and does not distract others.  This child was saying how difficult it is to come home and “keep being good.”  It is hard to follow the rules all day long, sit still, listen, and be kind to others and then come home without falling apart.

It made me think how much easier it is to sin at home.  It is easier to take my anger out on my husband or the kids at home versus places like the grocery store or church.  It is easier to complain at home in front of the captive audience of my family who I know will continue to love me versus friends who may come in and out of my life.  It is easier to harbor anger towards those I am close to and act like they owe me something instead of choosing to forgive and move on.

I am grateful for the Lenten season because I am reminded that I can’t earn my way into good standing by following all the rules of the Christian life.  We tell one another not to be so hard on ourselves and now wallow in our mistakes.  Yet we also need to ponder how EASY it is to sin.  In our more natural setting like home, it is our tendency to choose grumbling instead of gratefulness or resentment instead of forgiveness.

It is the season of Lent.  May our hearts be humbled.

Getting Your Kids to Clean

Cleaning and de-cluttering is an emotional issue for me.  I struggled with it for years and years.  Which makes me feel like I may not be the best person to dish out advice.  However, I have learned a lot over the years especially from my husband who is more naturally organized.  So please understand most of what I have implemented is from lots of trial and error and learning from my own mistakes.  I did not want to blog about it until we had several weeks of “drama free cleaning” and I can safely say we have.

Last spring the kid’s bathroom was getting so nasty last year with toothpaste blobs all over the sink, laundry thrown all over the floor, and toys from the family room somehow ending up on the counter. I about lost it.  We actually kicked the kids out of their bathroom for a couple of days and they had to use the one in the laundry room on the other side of the house.  I got tired of their rooms becoming cluttered, their beds being sloppily made, and laundry thrown everywhere but the hamper.  I found myself organizing their rooms only to see them go back to that state a week later.

I started to feel like the “mom martyr” declaring how I was the only who cared and I am the only one who cleans.  If that’s you, the problem is you are not giving your kids enough responsibility and they don’t care about the mess because they don’t have to.  Why clean if Mom is going to do it anyway?  Or I don’t know what to clean or how to clean because Mom never showed me how.  So by that point I felt overwhelmed by the mess, and I also felt like a bad mother for not giving my kids enough responsibility.  Once my pity party was over, I could actually make some changes and see some results.

We tried a number of different things and settled on something quite simple.  I make a chart each month–one column per week.  Each weekday the kids have the chance “to earn a star” which is a simple sticker put next to their name.  To earn a star they have to 1) make their bed properly for their age level (I have had to do Bed Making 101 a couple of times and sometimes they need reminders) 2)  have their room mostly clean (no laundry on the floor, toys put away etc.)  I tell them if I can vacuum without sucking up toys, it is usually clean.  3)  bathroom mostly clean.  Most of the time they have to pick up towels and wipe down counters.  They don’t clean the toilet, bath tub or mop the floor during the week.  This needs to be done before school.  So sometimes this means packing their lunch (which I don’t do at all anymore–they do it), laying out clothes, and getting homework finished the night before.

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My husband or I inspect usually right before they leave for school or right after.  They have not gotten a star everyday.  They are starting to feel the pinch when they don’t get one.  It is motivating them to try harder the next day.  All three kids have different personalities and some are more organized than others.  But all three have adapted to this system and are motivated by it.

If they earn a certain number of stars (we say 4 per week which gives them one day of grace) they get some type of reward.  It has been anything from a doughnut from the bakery, a candy bar, or a can of pop.  In January we tried earning stars for the whole month and they got lunch from Mc Donalds delivered to them at school.  I think I like the weekly reward better–it is just more work to find weekly rewards that are not expensive.

It hasn’t happened yet, but it could happen that one child does not earn the reward while the others do.  That is life–you don’t do the work, you don’t get the reward.  However we do try to show grace and give lots of encouragement for certain situations.

The heavier cleaning like the toilets and sinks, vacuuming, trash, and disinfecting high traffic areas gets done on the weekends–typically Saturday mornings.  We divide it up among the kids.  The kids have been doing this on Saturdays for over two years now and it is part of their routine.  Since I started in home child care, we also have to do some cleaning Sunday late afternoon to get ready for Monday.  If we did quite a bit on Saturday, this does not take very long.

I was de-cluttering their rooms while they were in school when I had an afternoon off from child care.  This was happening once every 4-6 months.  Then my husband remarked that it is their room and they need to be involved in the de-cluttering. Is it more work?  Yes.  But they don’t learn responsibility if you did it all for them. So we decided we would do this with them about once a month or at least every other month.  Some of the kids need it more often than others.  My husband and I take turns helping them with this.  I did it at the beginning of the school year and he did it closer to the holidays.  Some of the kids need it again soon.

As for cleaning other areas of the house, I don’t have a great rhythm for that right now.  I tend to clean throughout the day rather than one block of time.  I know areas get neglected so I may go back to a chore list.  I try to keep the laundry at a steady pace so I don’t spend an entire day doing laundry.  With busier weeks, this gets difficult.  Laundry is one of those areas I need to help the kids take more responsibility so this is a goal for 2015.

What has helped me the most is having my husband on board and taking initiative in their chores.  I am not one of these moms who thinks they can do it all.  It has always come very natural to us to share in the housework, cooking, shopping, etc.  We both work, exercise regularly, are involved in our church and kid’s school–it makes sense to share in the housework too.

All in all I am happy my kids go off to school with clean rooms and a decent looking bathroom with little to no drama anymore.  They are doing so much better taking responsibility and I know they are learning valuable skills that will pay off when they fly the nest one day.

What is wrong about being crazy busy

I have noticed that we as moms tend to be “all-or-nothing” about many things.  Take eating for instance.  We are either a slave to My Fitness Pal obsessing over what to eat for lunch hence not using up all our precious calories.  Or we enter into what I once heard a speaker call “Screw-itsville.”  Just love yourself.  Accept your body for what it is.  Eat that doughnut.  You probably deserve it anyway.

Or take keeping the house as another example.  Daily chore charts, cleaning schedules, and to-do lists cover the refrigerator.  The laundry must be all caught up and the floors swept daily.  Or throw the charts out the window, clean whatever you can in the short time you allot, and as long as the kids have socks and underwear–who cares about the laundry.

I have noticed we are the same way when it comes to “being busy.”  We feel like we need to be the “busy martyr” running kids from one activity to the next, cooking a meals that hit all areas of the Food Pyramid, buying snacks for the basketball team, leading Bible Study, and planning our friend’s baby shower until we crash into bed and wake up at 3 AM with our mind racing about all we need to do the following day.  Or we feel like we need to be “zen like moms” with time to breathe, relax, and visit the day spa.  Pamper yourself.

There needs to be some sort of balance.

Life is a rhythm of “busy” and “inactivity.”  Finding that balance means “working hard” and “resting hard.”  Sometimes I feel like I am too far on one side and not the other.

I have been a runner for many years, but it was two years ago I discovered track runs.  I used to think running laps around the track was boring and monotonous.  Until I learned of actual track workouts such as running fast 800 meters and then running slow 400 meters or sprinting a 200 and then walking/running slow another 200.  Put in fast paced techno music on your iPod or run with a couple buddies and you got yourself a great workout with more variety than running laps which might give you bad flashbacks to 4th grade PE.  It is that slower lap known as the recovery lap that is equally important as the fast lap.

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Kevin De Young describes it in his book Crazy Busy explains it like this:

People like to say life is a marathon, not a sprint, but it’s actually more like a track workout.  We run hard and then rest hard.  We charge a hill and then chug some Gatorade.  We do some stairs, then some 200s, and then a few 400s.  In between, we rest.  Without it, we’d never finish the workout.  If we want to keep going, we have to learn how to stop.”  (93)

The problem is some of us who struggle with “chronic busyness” and we skip that recovery lap.  We think we don’t need it nor we do we have time for it anyway.  The problem is we are not completing the workout.  We are drowning in a bunch of unfinished projects and clutter.  Those of us living in the land of “Screw-its-ville” are only doing recovery laps or we’re just hanging out on the bleacher watching everyone else run by.  We are living are our days with no plan, no goals, and no structure.  You know the old saying, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it.”

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God may call us into big careers, daunting projects, or to be moms to thirteen children.  Busy lives?  You bet.  We cannot live the kind of life God called us to live if we are not resting in His Word and abiding by Him.  God gave us the gift of the Sabbath to worship Him.  For how many of us has Sunday become another day of run around chaos?

De Young also says:

“It’s not wrong to be tired.  It’s not even wrong to feel overwhelmed.  It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos.  What is wrong—and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable—is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need.”  (118)

My friends it is not trying to do everything perfect by the book with lists and schedules and systems even if they look beautiful displayed on your refrigerator. When we try and try to be Super Mom, often times we feel much worse.

But it’s not saying “Screw it either.” Which feels great in the moment, but not so much when we’re feeling directionless.

It is abiding with Him. It is making him the center of your day and the Lord of your life.  The daily rhythm will change, but you will not be walking it alone.   You will find direction and you will find peace.

Books 2014

In 2009 I read 16 books, in 2010 I don’t think I kept track, in 2011 I read 22 books, in 2012 I read 27, and in 2013 I read 32.  In 2014…I read…drum roll please…41!  Here they are…

Fiction

  1. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klinel
  2. Wonder by Al Palacio
  3. Island Girls by Nancy Thayer
  4. The Pieces We Keep by Kristina McMorris
  5.  Moloka’I by Alan Brennert
  6. Barcelona Calling by Jane Kirkpatrick
  7. Look Again by Lisa Scottoline
  8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
  9. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling
  10. Breaking Rules by Tracie Puckett
  11. PIE by Sarah Weeks 

Non-Fiction

  1. Shattered Dreams:  My Life As An Polygamist Wife by Irene Spencer
  2. The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
  3. I Want My MTV by Rob Tannenbaum & Craig Marks
  4. Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller
  5. Wild:  From Lost to Found On the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
  6. The Other Side of the River by Alex Kotlowitz
  7. Lost Boy by Brent W Jeffs
  8. Better Together:  Restoring the American Community by Robert D Putman
  9. Answering 911:  Life in the Hot Seat by Caroline Burau
  10. The End of the Suburbs:  Where the American Dream Is Moving by Leigh Gallagher
  11.  Dogtripping by David Rosenfelt
  12. My Story by Elizabeth Smart & Chris Stewart
  13. Overwhelmed:  Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time by Brigid Schulte
  14. My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel
  15. Life Is A Wheel by Bruce Weber
  16. Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow
  17. Sober Mercies by Heather Kopp
  18. A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
  19. The Complete Christian Guide to Understanding Homosexuality by Joe Dallas and Nancy Heche
  20. Unsweetined by Jodie Sweetin
  21. Naked and Unashamed by Rob Toornstra
  22. Maxed Out by Katrina Alcorn
  23. Growing Up Duggar by Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger Duggar
  24. Hope Against Hope by Sarah Carr
  25. Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy
  26. Stopping Stress Before It Stops You by Kevin Leman
  27. The Fantasy Fallacy by Shannon Ethridge
  28. Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver
  29. It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd
  30. All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior

First of all the best book I had the honor of reading this year was written by my husband.  He spent many evenings going across the street to the coffee shop after the kids went to bed to write. He solicited editing help from our friends and my brother.  He learned with writing that there are many “no’s” before a “yes.” His book “Naked and Ashamed” began long before we were married when he had to write about the Calvinist perspective on sexuality in our Calvinism class in college.  I encourage you to check his book out.  It’s available on Amazon and in the Kindle edition.

And once again I read way more non-fiction than fiction.  Some of this due to a writing project of my own I took on that may or may not amount to much more beyond this blog.

My second favorite book was Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time.  This book shook up my world for a couple weeks and caused me to take a good hard look at my schedule and life goals.  I daresay God used this book to help me this school year. I have been able to manage my time better and keep my commitments at a manageable level.

Some others I recommend:  Breaking Rules is a YA fiction, and I could not put it down.  The writing was good and the characters come to life.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

I know some memoirs by people in the news or Hollywood stars are poorly written.  The whole time you read it you are thinking–“How did they get a book deal?”  My Story by Elizabeth Smart and Chris Stewart is very good–heartbreaking at times.  You get a picture of what actually happened to her and her strength to overcome the trauma she faced.

I also recommend A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres.  It is the untold stories of the Jonestown Massacre and people of “The People’s Temple” cult of the late 1970’s.  This all took place when I was an infant so I never followed it in the news.  I have always been fascinated by the control cults have over ordinary people.  The author is originally from the same hometown and church as me (Lafayette, Indiana).

If you want other recommendations, let me know.  I am always up for book suggestions too!