The Bare Bones of a Semi-Balanced Life. {And Permission to Lie Down.}

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{This is Part 2 of Figuring Out Your Priorities. When You’re Bad at Figuring Out Your Priorities.}

I spent four and half years as a graduate student, surrounded by some of the best brains I’d ever encountered. The 17th floor of Patterson Office Tower was home to tenured or soon-to-be-tenured History scholars who spent days and nights cultivating their minds, furthering their research, instructing the masses, overseeing T.A.s, presenting papers at conferences, and scrambling to get published.

I loved these people. I still do. Fascinating and novel and incredibly generous, professional academics have a way of bubbling with an ambition and enthusiasm that’s contagious. I’ll admit, it rubbed off on me during those years and I was gunning for that kind of career. The life of the mind seemed a wonderful sort of vocation.

But dialed down just a notch.

Here’s the thing about those brilliant and prolific scholars. {Keep in mind I’m generalizing here.} They were not always the most well-rounded of folks. Their life was their work and their work was their life. Many weren’t married, though a number of them had tried it.

Over time I noticed that family relationships seemed strained and commuter marriages not uncommon. The younger female professors were panicking to get tenure while pumping breast-milk in their offices. More than one of these academic moms confessed to me that their houses were a disaster and they constantly struggled with guilt.

And while I wanted this to be my life, I got a little scared that this could actually be my life.

Though I did mostly love these marvelous people who mentored me so well during those sweet and intense years, there were some sizable egos on the 17th floor and we all knew who to avoid. Academia can be a vortex of pride, ambition, brains, and sub-standard social skills. Not to mention a complete wasteland of fashionable attire. It was like drowning in a sea of earth tones, coffee-stained oxfords, bad suits, and awkward small talk

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God taught me many lessons during that time in my life, most of them having nothing at all to do with academics. I learned that when you focus solely on furthering your strengths and avoiding your areas of weakness, you may be a rock star academic but a half-hearted spouse.

You may be an impressive crusader but a worn-out parent.

You may have the respect of your colleagues but no real friends.

Now before all the professionals get mad at me, it goes the other way too.

You may be killing it as a homeschool mom but your marriage is merely cohabitation.

You may be queen of the school volunteers while those who matter most get the leftovers. 

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These are simply the obvious outcomes of an unbalanced life. That’s because we’re human. And humans are finite.

I’ve been guilty from every angle.

  • When I was first married, I made an idol of my husband to the neglect of my own self.
  • Later on I focused too much on career to the detriment of my marriage.
  • I’ve put my best energy into being a stellar teacher and been bankrupt of energy for my own young children.
  • Then as a homeschool mom, I gave the best of myself to their education but had zero left for my husband and other relationships.
  • Even now as a stay-at-home-mom / writer, I can easily give away my prime energy to projects or ministry or hopeful pursuits while swatting away the questions of my children or ignoring the presence of my husband.

 

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So what’s the solution?

I don’t have it figured out. But I’m trying to dig through it and words help me do that. Here’s what I’m trying.

1. Anchoring my mind and heart in truth. As I’ve wrestled with these issues of prioritization and balance, God’s impressed certain Scriptures upon me. They’re his words to me that say, “Look, you don’t have to figure this out on your own. I’ve given you a compass. Meditate on these things and walk hand in hand with me through your days along my bedrock path of truth.” Here are some of my anchors.

 

2. Writing down the bare bones. And I mean, the really basic stuff. Just write it on a post-it and stick it on your bathroom mirror. I’ll go first. During this season of my life, the list looks something like this.

  • Love God.
  • Love my husband.
  • Love my children.
  • Take care of myself. {Self care for me includes everything from rest and solitude to margin and creativity.}
  • Manage the home and life that God has given us.
  • Love those who God places in my path.
  • Trust God to provide for our needs.
  • Trust God to help us provide for others’ needs.
  • Be available with my gifts, seeking God’s wisdom.
  • Be available with my weaknesses, seeking God’s strength.

 

You’ll notice that I did not write down: figure out vocational stuff, read more books, be more available to others, be more involved in my church, etc.

That’s because I’m talking about the bare bones here. And the bare bones vary from season to season and from person to person.

Right now I’m in a season of needing to be very available for my family. My kids are getting older and busier. They need to get places and I’m the one who can take them. They eat more than they once did and I’ve found that procuring and preparing food is a bigger deal than it used to be. Their emotional lives are wider and deeper than when they were little and as a mom, this is way taxing. Way.

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In the midst of these needs, I still have a marriage to cultivate. I long to do more than simply keep it on life support during these very full days and years of raising kids.

When my own ambition is nipping at my heels, when the tornado is swirling with blog post ideas and book proposals and laundry and other people’s expectations and other people’s accomplishments and helping out with this ministry and Marian needs a nap forthelove, I have to stop the world for a moment.

Or a long series of moments.

I have to flee from the chaotic land of All The Things and return home to a place of simple trust.

This is so much harder than I make it sound. I can write these things one minute and be in hot pursuit of something unscripted the next minute. I don’t believe that the bare bones rule out all of my personal endeavors. I hope and trust that God will allow them to fit into the small gaps as they should but that forcing them into cramped spaces squashes overrides the bare bones.

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In thinking through this issue for yourself, here’s a helpful question, one I’ve heard others ask as they’re establishing priorities:

What are the things only you can do?

Here’s what I’m talking about.

Only I can be my husband’s wife and my kids’ mom.

Only I can reflect the workmanship of God with the one-of-a-kind combination of strengths and weaknesses and backstory He’s given me. This means I choose to prioritize studying and writing, beauty and continued healing. They are the ways I reflect the world around me, give voice to the world within me, influence the community that surrounds me, and bring glory to the One who created me.

Though I’m the designated domestic engineer for now, the reality is this: Other people can prepare our meals {like the deli or a restaurant.} Other people can be hired to clean my house or get the groceries. Right now we do these things ourselves but another season may come along when I give more to a vocation and we hire out the tasks I currently provide.

What I can’t outsource is a wife for my husband or a mom for my kids or a heart that communicates exactly like mine. Though I’m tempted to think someone else would be far better at those first two, I trust that for better or for worse, I’m the one they’ve got. I might as well show up for the job like I mean it, less than stellar track record and all.

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If your own life feels topsy turvy, if all the things and all the people seem important all of the time, coming back home can be as simple as pen and paper:

1. What are my truth anchors?

2. What are my bare bones?

3. What are the things only I can do?

4. How has God gifted me and how can I honor those gifts right now?

5. What are the daily non-negotiables, even though they highlight my weaknesses? Might I pray to honor even the weaknesses, to lean into the everyday less-than-loveliness, knowing that God comes in with his strength, grace, and yes, even joy?

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God has placed you in a unique place, in a unique time, surrounded by specific people, and equipped with one-of-a-kind gifts. He invites us to trust him with everything — our big ambitions and our seemingly small days.

When we begin to get angsty, envious, or discontent, we may find that it’s rooted in a lack of trust.

A funny thing happens as I humbly acknowledge that there is a time for everything and every season and therefore I will surely not squeeze a lifetime’s worth of endeavors into this one season…

Instead of frustration, I actually find freedom.

And also a place to lie down.

I suggest you find one too. Because Marian is bossy about naps and knows that rest is often the most fruitful thing an overwhelmed gal can do.

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Though I’m grateful to live in a time of so much possibility, I’m easy overwhelmed by … so many possibilities.

What are your thoughts on staking down your priorities, living a quiet life, and focusing on the bare bones in a world that invites you in a hundred different directions at once?

 

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Treat Yourself: Goodies for Your Weekend

winter treat yourself

 

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that our house is on the market. This means that at any given moment, I can receive a text that someone wants to see it. This means that at any given moment, I can have plans to do one thing and then cancel those plans in order to down a cup of coffee and make our very-lived-in home look not-at-all-lived-in.

Having a few hours to destroy all evidence of five humans and one dog is fifty shades of fun, let me tell you.

It means that my hopeful shop sale for yesterday is now going to be early next week.

It means I drive around town with this in my trunk. Plus the dog in the back seat. Plus our kids.

 

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These are classy, classy days.

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Here are some things I’m loving this weekend. {Besides my temporarily tidy home and hard-working minivan}

 

1. This text from my brother last night.
Gloria 1

 

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2. My latte maker. Because it’s cold. And lattes are lovely. And I need mojo to keep up the cleaning frenzy.

 

Z

 

3. This easy and ridiculously yummy Chicken Pot Pie. It’s the definition of comfort food. {I add diced potatoes in with the frozen veggies. Trust me on this.}

 

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Hope you find warmth, laughter, and comfort this weekend! And possibly a random Scholastic biography.

 

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on the blog lately

How to Figure Out Your Priorities. When You’re Bad at Figuring Out Your Priorities

 How to Dress When You’re In Between Sizes // The Real Gal’s Fashion Files No. 3

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How to Figure Out Your Priorities. When You’re Bad at Figuring Out Your Priorities. {Part 1}

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It’s embarrassing for me to admit but I have a tendency to make all of the things important all of the time. In any given minute, my mind is like the tornado scene from the Wizard of Oz with people and places and projects all flashing in front of my eyes and I can’t figure out what to focus on before something else appears into my line of sight.

Far too many days have ended with a perplexed Marian wondering how she stayed so very busy accomplishing nothing.

January is still upon us and for that reason, our minds and motivations are still fresh with hope and possibility for new and improved versions of ourselves. I don’t have any hard and fast resolutions, nor have I scribbled down a single goal. But new beginnings invite us to ponder our priorities and I’ve been doing just that.

It’s the second year that all three of my kids are at school from 8:00 until 2:30 every day. I daresay I’ve gotten my bearings and settled into this new life of discretionary time and energy. It is both wonderful and challenging.

Wonderful because I’m able to recharge and come up for air as long as I maintain margin in my daytime schedule.

Challenging because I’m not 100% sure what I’m supposed to do with my life. It’s like I’m 18 again and wondering which direction to go, but with the responsibilities and upkeep of marriage, children, a home, and graying hair. Oh and half the energy of my late-teens self.

I’ve considered going back to my former vocation of college teaching.

I would so love to write for a living.

And I’ve considered tabling all of my personal endeavors and dreams until the kids are grown so that my family can receive my full energy.

I entertain all of these possibilities knowing that I’m a better wife, mom, and all around individual when I’m engaged in work that channels my God-given gifts and desires.

Yet I also believe that the toughest and most fruitful refining is born out of the places where I labor and serve even though I feel completely ill-equipped.

The gaps between my giftedness and my everyday callings are sacred places where my weaknesses invite God’s strength.

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The end-of-our-rope days usher in humility and stamp out pride. If we got to pick and choose our tasks based solely on our strengths, well, we’d be rather full of ourselves but emptied of God.

I’ve learned that I’m not as naturally gifted as I once assumed I would be at mothering. And nurturing. And homemaking. I appreciate the fruit of these pursuits done well. But I am not innately equipped with the strength to do them well.

Perhaps it’s a modern American thing. Or just a spoiled people thing. But we are all about our strengths these days. We feel rather entitled to the pursuits that only use our gifts instead of our grunt-work. I’m as guilty as anyone.

Using our strengths isn’t a bad thing. But zeroing in on our giftedness to the exclusion of the hard and necessary labors of the everyday isn’t a fruitful mindset. We may begin to resemble the Crawleys and friends on Downton Abbey, wanting the downstairs help to handle all of the unpleasantries for us {like getting dressed and fixing food and plaiting our silky aristocratic hair} so that we can get about the business of being the nobility and living a meaningful and important life. {Nothing against the Crawley family. I say this as if they’re real people who might actually read my blog and get offended.}

Lately I’ve become increasingly aware of my out-loud complaining of cooking and cleaning and making lunches and the constant laundry, forgetting that these things are the most fundamental and needful ways I can love those who mean the most to me.

Forgetting that these tasks are necessary, even though they’re not impressive or always enjoyable. Forgetting that God Himself has much to say about the dailyness of bread, the washing of feet, the importance of clothing those in need, the daily receiving of new mercies.

I’ve quoted her before but I love how Kathleen Norris writes so beautifully about these things:

The Bible is full of evidence that God’s attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us — loves us so much that the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life.

It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is indeed refreshed like dew-laden grass that is ‘renewed in the morning’ or to put it in more personal and also theological terms, ‘our inner nature is being renewed everyday.’

Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous details in Leviticus involving God in the minutiae of daily life might be revisioned as the very love of God. A God who cares so much as to desire to be present to us in everything we do.

― Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work

 

This topic of motherhood and priorities and vocation — it’s one that has nipped at my heels for years, long before I even had children. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure it out, trying to bend it into a formula, looking for a bullet-point checklist in Scripture, reading books, squinting for a role model.

And at the end of the day, all I can come up with is Christ.

I write that as though this is a let-down or consolation gift but it’s the exact opposite. It’s surprise more than anything.

Here I am running around with all my books and my questions and my deep longing for answers. And instead, Christ shows up as the answer. I cry as I even type it out. My searching always lands me at the feet of Jesus.

The One who was both a servant and a savior.

The One who had a private life and a professional ministry.

The One who could have impressed us with his splendor but instead chose humility.

The One who is both our example and our strength, whether we’re male or female, ancient or modern, stay-at-home mom or high-profile attorney.

He calls us into all spheres and He promises to goes with us — into the boardrooms and lecture halls, kitchens and laundry rooms. He’s with us as we take up our microphones and also our toilet brushes.

He ordains the seasons and calls us to live abundantly and expectantly, but with acceptance in each and every one.

As women, our lives don’t all look the same and aren’t we thankful for that? Our differences offer such beauty. But our differences can also lead us to a place of insecurity and indecision. We’re prone to compare and compete and convince ourselves that we’re getting it wrong. Or we judge others and say that they’re the ones getting it all wrong.

That’s why we have to get back to the bare bones of our actual lives and our individual seasons on a regular basis. It’s why we have to grab the tornado by the tail and tell it to stop spinning.

When my mind is dizzied by too many possibilities and too much comparison, I’m prone to run ahead into places that aren’t for me. At least not for me right now. Every so often I need a good sobering up so that I’m able to evaluate my real priorities with purpose and intention.

Maybe you’re feeling a bit dizzy too and you need a companion to take you by the hand and lead you back home.

In my next post on this topic, that’s where we’re headed.

But it won’t be the very next post. First we’ll take a detour…

Because the very next post will be the next SALE!!! *throws confetti*

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click here to find out more

 

I’m hoping to have it up Friday but it’s going to be tough so if not Friday, hopefully Monday. And I have the sweetest lineup of sweaters that will work now and carry you right into spring. *throws more confetti*

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I’d love to know your thoughts and questions on this complicated issue of life’s seasons — balancing family and vocation, honoring our God-given strengths yet also leaning into the weaknesses that our everyday roles require. It’s tricky, isn’t it?

We can dish in the comments section or on Facebook or Twitter.

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