10 Favorite {Grace-Filled} Resources for Making Real Life Work in a New Season

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So, are you sinking or swimming as you’ve begun a new season? Or maybe you’re simply treading water and calling that a win?

Because on some days, not drowning is totally a win.

Most everyone has probably started back to school and is in the process of settling into new rhythms. We’re about a month in and I’m here to tell you, the eagerness and responsibility of new beginnings has already begun to wane.

Oh, I see you didn’t clean out your lunchbox yesterday and now that half-eaten apple has churned its own applesauce that’s settled nicely into the fabric piping and begun the fermentation process. Sure, just buy the cheeseburger plate today since the lunchbox that now smells like hard cider is actually the back-up lunchbox and your new lunchbox hasn’t turned up in the lost and found. Or so you claim.

True story and it’s only Tuesday.

Why do you think I needed to write this series? Because the Vischer family {and the mom who somehow got the this senior management position with no experience} is in serious need of grace as we settle into our own new rhythms.

In case you missed the series or some of the posts, here they are all together.

Grace in the New Rhythms. Part 1. 

Part 2. What’s Your Real Motivation for Wanting to Be Awesome?

Part 3. Know Your Own Life and Walk in Freedom.

Part 4. How to Manage Your Days When You’re “Type-ADD” Instead of Type A

Part 5. 4 Reasons Why Failure is Your Friend

I also thought it would be fun and helpful to provide some resources that may bring further encouragement as we order our days, manage our families, and keep the plates spinning. Here you go:

Books

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung

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I mentioned this book last year in a series I did on busy-ness and priorities. I cannot recommend it enough. And it’s so short, which means you can definitely fit it into your crazy busy life. And if you can’t? Well, you might be too busy.

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Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion for Life by Crystal Paine

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I received a review copy of this book when I attended the Allume Conference last year. When January rolled around and I was feeling all resolution-ish, I read the book from cover to cover in a day. I’m wary of “systems” and one-size-fits-all ways of doing life. But this book isn’t that at all. It’s straightforward inspiration and real-life hacks about doing life on purpose. For me, I finished the book feeling inspired and empowered rather than discouraged and guilty. Love it when that happens.

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And for those of you who homeschool, The Type B Homeschool Planner: The Planner for the Rest of Us by Sarah Mae.

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Can I get an “Amen” for the title of this book? Where was this planner when I homeschooled?

There’s no shortage of “how-to-run-your-homeschool-like-a-boss” products geared toward well-meaning parents. And they are fine and good if you are naturally wired with military DNA. I am not. And I always felt like a failure when I tried to do school the way someone else did school and it didn’t work for me. I haven’t actually purchased or used Sarah Mae’s Type B planner. I simply love the title and the concept. I’d totally buy it if I was still homeschooling.

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A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

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I’m sort of cheating by throwing this one in the mix because it’s not about organization or new rhythms. BUT…the Kindle version is only $1.99 right now! I’d be a fool to not let you know about it because it’s one of the favorite books on my bookshelf.

And it is actually a perfect book to read right now as we’re knee-deep in the routines of laundry and dinner, carpool and work. This book challenges the notion that only the painters and the poets are the real artists, that only the creatives can offer beauty into the world. The truth is, we’re all artists. We all have something lovely and unique to offer the world whether we’re folding the clothes or stirring the soup or teaching the students. Just writing these words makes me want to pick it up and read it again. {You can read my review of it here.}

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And finally, this book that inspired an entire post which gets at our real motivations for wanting to be awesome and then hating ourselves when we come up short. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Timothy Keller.

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It will take you 30-45 minutes to read. And then you’ll pick it up and read it again and again because it’s that important.

Meals

How to Make a Meal Plan That Will Save Your Life and Make You Pretty.

 

Kendra is hi-larious and an actual baker and I think this very real-life, you-be-you approach to meal planning is just perfect. Plus it makes you pretty so there’s that.

And then there’s this post I wrote about how I do groceries and meals. I am not an actual baker but it’s also very real-life and you-be-you. It works for us. And Shannan Martin told me she does groceries and meals almost the same way so there you go. I’ll count that as an unofficial testimonial.

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And if you’d like to follow my “What’s for Dinner?” or “Soup” pinboards, here you go.

Follow Marian’s board What’s for Dinner on Pinterest.

Follow Marian’s board Soup on Pinterest.

Most of the meals are things that I’d actually make and that my kids would hopefully eat, not to be confused with the stuff I would like to make in a perfect world with a limitless food budget for Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and the organic farmer’s market and kids who will eat quinoa and sushi.

 

Tools

“The Calendar.” We’re now on our second school-year with this $5 gem of a lifesaver. It’s the only thing on the front of our fridge. Ours is from Staples in the Martha Stewart section. I write our meals for the week along the bottom and just that simple act makes me feel like I’ve got a plan.

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I found this one on amazon and I kind of like it better since it has more room. It’s half-price right now and $9.99. Seeing just one week at a time is helpful for me and I feel less overwhelmed than when I’ve tried a “month at a glance.” Seriously, how do you “glance” at a month. A month is 30 whole days. Call me a wimp but a month needs full fledged digestion. Like, sit down and study all of those many days with a cup of coffee. A week is glance-able.

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Posts

This series from last year here on the blog. It’s a series about time, margin, and opportunity cost.

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And finally, I loved this post by The Nester on rhythms and routines and why knowing the difference is important.

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I hope that maybe just one of these posts or books will provide help and encouragement in this new season. As always, I heartily welcome your ideas and resources that help your stay on track. Or at least adjacent to the track.

And now, a Seasonal Blessing:

May your fall bring fresh perspective. May your rhythms remain steady and grace-filled. And may your lunch-boxes not smell like beer.

 

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4 Reasons Why Failure is Your Friend {final post in the series, “Grace in the New Rhythms”}

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Make friends with failure? It goes against everything our culture preaches, whether it’s from the pulpit or the newsstand.

We lampoon those who have screwed it all up and landed themselves on front pages and the nightly news. We give them their own hashtags and have a good laugh along with the late-night comedians. We think we’re better because we haven’t fallen so far. Or at least we haven’t done it publicly. And in doing so, we don’t know ourselves. We don’t acknowledge our appetites or our frailties. We don’t acknowledge our humanity, that we have come from dust and will one day return there.

And of course we’re all envisioning the epic failures — the professional athletes who cheat and abuse, the politicians who lie to us. We’re recalling the public scandals and the public figures who have launched them onto our TV screens.

That’s failure in an epic sense, right?

But what about the everyday kind of failure? What about the scorched dinners and the snapping at our kids that we regret as soon as they leave for school? What about failing our spouse because we’re more interested in the must-have information on our Twitter feed than we are in giving them our full attention? What about the bill we forgot to pay or the friend we’ve neglected? What about the absent-mindedness or disorganization that cost us something big?

And in case you’re wondering, yes — I’ve been guilty of all of the above just this week.

I specialize in the everyday failure — it’s like, a gift — and enough of it stacked against you will eventually begin to feel as big as the story splashed across the nightly news. We wither under the unacknowledged weight of our everyday shortcomings like my straightened hair withered under the heavy weight of that coastal humidity when we were trying to take a beachy family photo last summer. {hashtag epichairfail}

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And perhaps the diversion of someone else’s epic waywardness is a welcome diversion from our own. It’s just a theory.

I’ve spent my whole life avoiding failure, blame-shifting it onto someone or something else, denying it, or wallowing in it to the point of not being able to get out of bed. Failure and I — we have not exactly had a healthy relationship. The root of it is pride. I think too much of myself, plain and simple. Arrogance and self-loathing are flip sides of the same coin.

But lately there’s been a shift. I’ve decided to make friends with failure. I’m learning — so very, very slowly — about the blessedness of self-forgetfulness. And I’m learning that failure can be my life coach, my teacher, and even my partner in everyday hacks.

Let’s get to it.

1. Failure lives in the everyday lab where we learn and create. We try and we sometimes succeed. We try and we sometimes fail. Scientists do this for a living. Inventors do this for a living. Artists and teachers and strategists of all sorts — they try and then they try again because this is what we do as we proceed along the road of finding what works. We experiment. And we all know that in experiments, it usually takes a lot of wrong answers to find the right one. This is the creative business of living and of making a living.

2. Failure informs us and asks how we’ll receive it. As we move into a new season and seek to move into new rhythms, we surrender to the gift of trial and error. And it is a gift — if we choose to see it that way. I learn everything from when my brain is at its best for writing to what sort of things drain me so that I’m not at my best for those whom I love the best.

Will you choose to take note of what works and what doesn’t instead of sinking under the weight of your mess-ups and bad guesses? And will you choose to be grateful for the failures that inform you of ways to go about it differently in the future? That’s the beauty of trial and error — we get to choose how we receive it. We can be grateful or guilty. I’m trying to make a habit of choosing the former.

3. Failure reminds us that we are dust. When I mess up, I should sit down and have a big laugh. I usually don’t, but I should. Failure reminds me of my humanity. I am not God and it’s a good thing I’m not. I’m not perfect and I should quit trying to be. Often our failure isn’t intentional; it’s simply a by-product of our finiteness.

But sometimes we do know better. Either way, for the Christian, failure keeps us at the foot of the cross — acknowledging our need for repentance and forgiveness, grace and mercy. At the cross I find both a Savior and a friend, One who says It’s okay. This has been paid for and I love you! Let’s begin again, shall we? At the cross I find love that is lavish and unconditional. Is there any better place to be?

4. Failure makes us compassionate.  When we truly acknowledge who we are, we judge less and love more. We make friends with mess. We extend grace because we’ve first received it. When I am feeling extra-judgey toward someone else — which is often — I know I don’t have a proper view of myself.

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What does all of this have to do with new rhythms and new seasons? How does it inform our everyday hacks as we try to manage our days in such a way that things work and bless those around us?

Simple. Failure doesn’t issue condemning commands. It extends inquisitive invitations:

  • Yeah, you keep messing up at this one. Why don’t you find a friend to talk to? Perhaps you could use some accountability and encouragement in this area instead of trying to go it alone?
  • Okay, so this week you ran yourself ragged and now you’re exhausted and crabby with everyone around you. How can you find some rest and arrange next week’s calendar differently?
  • Well, that didn’t work but you tried. Let’s find a new angle. Or maybe just try again?
  • Yes, that was ugly. You know you shouldn’t have cut him to pieces with your words like that. Where do you need to go? To him and to the cross. True, it’s a well-worn path but it’s no walk of shame; it’s the road to restoration. 
  • That’s appalling, what that guy did. And yes, he deserves what’s coming to him. But consider his pain and consider the road that led him to this point. And acknowledge that we don’t ever truly know someone’s road. Besides, that could have been your road, but for grace, but for a million and one variables over which you’ve had no control. Be grateful and be compassionate. Condemnation accomplishes nothing. Pray for him. Pray for her. Pray for yourself. 

 

See? When we turn failure on its head, it becomes a gentle guide. We get to choose. And I freely admit that I don’t usually choose well, but I’m getting better.

This is what it means to establish new rhythms upheld by grace. It’s not about figuring it all ahead of time. It’s about forging ahead, knowing we’ll get it wrong a lot and knowing we’ll get it right sometimes too. It’s about living in the lab of the everyday and not being afraid of trial and error. It’s about trying anyway and knowing that grace is the safety net.

What if the greatest lessons, triumphs, and tipping points across your life are actually born out of failure — both your own failure and the failure of others toward you?

What if failure and disappointment could change you in the best ways far more than unending success every could?

I believe it’s possible because it’s the story of my own life and it can be the story of yours too. If you choose to receive it that way.

So will you?

Will you choose real life and redemption? Will you receive your own messy, disappoining, hopeful, beautiful life?

Let’s join hands and do it together.

Let’s make friends with failure.

Let’s walk the well-worn path of forgiveness, grace, and new beginnings.

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This is the 5th and final post in a series, “Grace in the New Rhythms: The ‘Non-Guru’s Non-Guide’ to Running a Small Country. Or Your Family. Or Just Your Day. When You’re Not Very Good at It, Like Me.”

Here are the rest of the posts in case you missed them.

Grace in the New Rhythms. Part 1. 

Part 2. What’s Your Real Motivation for Wanting to Be Awesome?

Part 3. Know Your Own Life and Walk in Freedom.

Part 4. How to Manage Your Days When You’re “Type-ADD” Instead of Type A

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Thanks for joining me on this journey as we begin a new season and evaluate our everyday rhythms in the process. I hope it’s been helpful and encouraging. And I am always looking for real-life hacks that make the days and the tasks proceed with a bit more finesse and less gnashing of teeth. Share them with us?

Thanks for your generous feedback and grace to all of you as you seek to establish new rhythms and maybe even let Failure come along for the ride.

{I do have some helpful resources to share. I’ll put them in the next post.}

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Grace in the New Rhythms. Part 4: How to Manage Your Days When You’re Type ADD Instead of Type A

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Perhaps most productive people approach their days like a speed skater — eyes on the goal, undistracted, full-steam ahead. If that’s the case, then I approach my days like a figure skater – twirling and cutting figure 8′s and over-applying lip gloss. And sometimes crashing into the wall because I’m not paying attention.

It’s painful to admit but I’m a Type A wannabe trapped in a distractible Type ADD person. Not in a hyperactive, high-energy way but in a dreamy, overthinking, struggles to complete a task before starting five others kind of way. Instead of conquering goals through a systematic, linear approach, I am sort of…circular. {See above reference to the figure 8s.}

I drive myself crazy with my haphazard ways.

The only thing I can sit down and complete from start to finish without distraction is writing. Believe it or not. But because I have laser focus and intensity while writing, I can easily neglect or forget about other things that need my attention. Things like laundry and housework and eating lunch and picking children up.

Kidding about that last one. Mostly kidding.

I would drown in the depths of the everyday if my Type-ADD-wanting-to-be-Type-A self hadn’t picked up a few hacks along the way. And with each triumph or failure, I continue to pick up more.

So this is the part of the series where I share the love and continue to embarrass myself along the way because who really wants to admit to going about life in such cuckoo ways?

Whether we’re really conscious of it or not, we all tend to develop compensation skills as we move through life. {It’s important to note that “coping skills” are not same thing as “compensation skills.” If Ben and Jerry or pretend online shopping show up on the scene, one might be coping, not compensating. Just thought I’d throw that out there.}

Here’s Marian’s list of personal hacks, the compensation skills I bring along for the person I am and the life I have, not to be confused with the person I wish I was or the life I sometimes wish I had.

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1. What helps me focus? {Since my brain is in overdrive all the livelong day.}

  • Taking notes when I need to really pay attention. {As you can see, I’m a big fan of the bullet point.} If I’m reading a needful article or book, if I’m organizing my thoughts, if I’m studying anything at all, I’ve got my pencil and journal. It’s the only way I don’t drift into Neverland.

 

 

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  • Leaving my phone out of reach. Yeah, my smart phone has actually made my dumber because it has has only contributed to my distractibility and inefficiency. So I choose to sometimes leave it out of reach. I purposely leave it in another room or with the ringer off in my purse. I obviously can’t do this all the time because the school may call with a sick kid. But when everyone’s accounted for and I simply need to read, rest, or get work done, the iPhone gets banished.
  • Not multitasking when I’m doing work that matters. When I do, I’m prone to put dinner on the table and then tell all the kids to brush their teeth because it’s time for dinner and when I say such things, they will look at each other and laugh and say, “Mom, did you mean to say wash your hands instead of brush your teeth? And I will reply Yes — now please do what you know I meant to say and not what I actually said!” Sometimes multitasking is good. I don’t really talk on the phone much but when I do and I’m at home, I use the time to unload the dishwasher or some other dreaded task. But most of the time, multitasking only leads to multi-wreckage instead of increased productivity.

 

2. What helps me complete necessary tasks and goals?

Built-in accountability and deadlines. Plain and simple. I need these things for everything from getting the groceries in a timely manner to studying the Bible. The right amount of “pressure” forces me to accomplish my goals. Some people don’t need much external accountability to be productive. Some of them are even my friends and I’ve envied their efficient, self-startery ways. But we’re all different and I’ve accepted that I absolutely need external accountability for pretty much everything. Here are a a few examples.

  • Get groceries before I have to do something else — like pick up the kids from school. It gives me a built-in timer. Otherwise I will wander the aisles of Walmart like a lost child and buy $4 earrings I don’t need. {Like I did two weeks ago.} This is also why I love Aldi — tiny store, fewer choices, in and out.
  • Going to a Bible study that gives me directed study during the week and the accountability of meeting together. Otherwise I will try to study something on my own but not understand it and not have questions to keep me focused and I will stare, glassy-eyed and distracted, at the same page of Hebrews day-in and day-out. {Like I did this summer.} Or I won’t do it all because I lack direction and discipline.
  • Friends, deadlines, and dressing in workout clothes first thing if I want to work out. So I have done this many different ways depending on my schedule and season of life. I’ve gotten up crazy early to run but only if a friend or friends are waiting on me. Otherwise I will not get out of bed. Right now I’m injured and unable to run and this year’s schedule prevents me from going to the gym crazy early. So I got an early-bird membership at the gym. It’s cheaper but it also means I have to go before 11am, which means I do it in the morning or not at all. Getting dressed in workout clothes first thing tends to help too.

 

3. Compensating for my absent-mindedness. {Which is just downright embarrassing. I forgot my own anniversary last month if that tells you anything.}

  • Set alerts on my phone for everything. From remembering that I have carpool on a certain day to making a doctor’s appointment, my phone is literally my personal assistant.
  • The Weekly Calendar on our fridge. I am obsessive about this. Not because I am organized, but because I am not.
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  • I transfer the schedule from my phone onto the dry-erase calendar at the beginning of each week. Seeing the week in black and white helps all of us to know what’s going on and also allows me to create margin when it’s missing. If I know I’ve got a crazy Thursday, it means I need some margin {code for nap, a nature walk, or a date on the sofa with my book} on Wednesday or Friday or both.  And if the schedule is more jam-packed than I realized, I look at what’s negotiable and try to reschedule or just erase altogether. This is also the place where I write our dinner plans for each night. I can always change it but having a plan is 99% of the battle. Seeing just one week at a time keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. An entire month is a bit much for me.

 

4. Compensating for my utter dread of mundane but necessary tasks. {Like laundry, meal-planning, and cleaning.}

  • Binge-watch a show while you binge-fold the clothes. I am not systematic about laundry. Surprise! I know lots of fine and efficient ways to keep up with it and yet? I do not. The only thing that seems to work is letting it pile up to a reasonable amount {but not to a crazy, overwhelming, I want to go in a closet and cry amount} and then knock it all out in one fell swoop. Besides, this is the only way I’m able to keep up with quality television like Scandal and Parenthood. This is probably a terrible way for most people to do laundry but it works for me.
  • Watch Hoarders when you need to clean the house. Guys, I wish I was joking here. If my husband finds me watching Hoarders while folding clothes on a Saturday, he might say something like, So…I see you’ve got some cleaning planned. That crazy show truly lights a fire under me. I guess fear and disgust are powerful motivators. So is having company over. Oh and I also clean when I’m unbelievably stressed or angry. Basically, if I watched Hoarders every day, planned to have company once a week, and remained in a constant state of anger, my house would positively sparkle. {And let me just say this. If you’re a mom who works outside the home or works from home, consider hiring a house-cleaner. I so believe in this and have done it myself during seasons of work, even though we are not rich. We can’t do it all. Your time and energy may be better spent elsewhere.}
  • Put your kids to work. My boys clean their bathroom on Saturdays. The kids all clean their own rooms but this doesn’t mean they stay tidy. I make them do a clean sweep once a week so things don’t get out of control. Plus they’re learning to help with laundry and the dishes and it really makes a difference. As they get older, they’re contributing more. I don’t do chore charts or a fancy system. It’s more of a “Hey, your room is a mess so please clean it before you can go outside” or “I see you’re playing your iPod and therefore not busy so will you please unload the dishwasher?”
  • Find a meal plan that works for you and use it. There’s no perfect way for everyone. Some people are cook-in-bulk, freezer-meal people. Some of you have each meal written out for a month. Some may do coupons and then plan meals from your stockpile. My own process is pretty simple and has arrived after plenty of trial and error. I wrote about that process here if you’re interested. I don’t do this every month but it’s what I aim for. Because when I do, it saves major time, stress, and money.
  • Make lunches the day before. If I wait until the morning to make lunches, my children leave for school in tears. I’m not a morning person which basically means that I do not want to speak or be spoken to, nor do I want to rush or have to process lots of information. Once I’m awake, morning is my favorite time of day. But the process of waking cannot be rushed without soul-crushing consequences. I’m also not a late-night person. Apparently asking anything of me when I’m tired is just a bad idea. This means I avoid making lunches late at night or early in the morning. Instead I make them in the afternoon or while I’m already in the kitchen with dinner prep. This small accomplishment seems huge in my mind. And on a good day? I put out my boys’ clothes ahead of time too. {All of this to avoid the late-night or early-morning beast.}

 

5. Strike while the iron’s hot. Do the mundane while the iron’s not.

  • Work when your brain is at its best. As a writer, I know when my brain is at its best. I do 95% of my writing between 9am and 1:30 pm. I’ve found that when I spend my morning running errands and don’t get home until late morning or lunch time, I’m tired. My brainpower has lost its edge. So I’ve learned to put off other things and get. to. work. while my brain is at optimal capacity to produce.
  • Save the mundane for when you’re dumb. I can clean the kitchen, tidy the house, and make lunches when my brain has shut down its creative juices. I can do these things while my kids are working on homework at the kitchen table. When my kids first went to school, I thought I had to do all of the housework while they were gone and get my writing done. It never worked and I felt guilty all the time. For some reason, using the daytime to write and study and be a hermit felt wrong and indulgent. But I’ve learned that I actually have to do it this way or both things — my intellectual work and my housework — are done inefficiently and with much grumpiness and distraction.
  • Take advantage of ideas and impulses when they show up. We can’t always do this but I’ve found that when I’m feeling creative, I need to be creative. When I motivated to clean, I need to just stop the world and clean. When I’m inspired to work on the finances, I should. Why? Because I’ll complete the creative task or the cleaning or the budgeting with so much more gusto and efficiency than I would have otherwise. Real life means that we don’t always have the luxury of doing things when we feel like it and that’s not what I’m saying. But for flexible people like me, harnessing the specific energy that’s on the scene can work and it can work well. I wish I’d embraced this sort of life earlier instead of trying to cram unnecessary rigidity into my life and then always feeling guilty.

 

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You might be thinking that Marian actually sounds way more organized and productive than she claims to be. So many tips! So much inspiration! Just ask those who live with me and they’ll set you straight. All of these hacks are very much in process. Forty-one years of process. I don’t always manage my days with these tips in mind. I mismanage each and every day to a certain extent because I’m a person, not a machine. But each day I begin again. Each “failure” provides valuable information for trying a different way next time. And it goes without saying that life is fluid and unpredictable. Needs arise whether we’re prepared or not and days get thrown off course all the time.

The tension comes when we try to impose someone else’s personality onto our days, when we’re blind to our natural bents, or when we freak out each time life throws a curve ball.

Acceptance is always the first step.

For the most part, we can’t change our internal wiring and we definitely can’t change the “interruptions” or emergencies. But we can take a hard look at ourselves and reconcile our tasks and responsibilities with who we are. We can receive our days with grace and acceptance when the unexpected comes calling.

As you move forward into a new season, take inventory or who you are and your family’s needs. Then take inventory of the strategies that work well for you, regardless of how crazy they are. Start slow. Pick one. Hacks and habits don’t overhaul a life all at once. Be mindful of adopting a system that overwhelms you or that’s too complicated.

I have one more post in this “New Rhythms post.” We’re going to talk about the beauty of trial and error. As I’ve written this series, I’ve had some days that have literally blown up in my face. I’ve wanted to stop writing about this topic altogether. But failure provides the best data for each new day and I’m learning to see her as a friend rather than an enemy to my new rhythms.

If grace can’t keep us afloat through the days gone well and the days gone train wreck, we’re tempted to give up altogether or to try harder with clenched fists and teeth bared. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to live in either extreme.

Here’s to a new season and new rhythms upheld by grace.

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I would LOVE to know what works for you as you manage the everyday. What personal hacks and simple solutions have you found? Nothing is too crazy. Go.