Grace in the New Rhythms. Part 3: Know Your Own Life & Walk in Freedom

new rhythms title pic

{This post is part 3 in a series. Here’s part 1 and part 2. Thanks for journeying along with me.}

The only thing that’s one size fits all is a scarf. It’s why they make great gifts. It’s why most anyone can accessorize with one. Scarves are awesome like that.

Rhythms and schedules and everyday life? Are not like scarves.

I know a few people who live very regimented lives. Their routines are clockwork and predictable. If they’re mothers, they were likely the ones with babies on well-timed schedules. They don’t deviate from the monthly meal-plan. Regimentation comes naturally for them and they likely find a great deal of security in their well-ordered days.

The rest of us live somewhere on the downward slope from that, ranging from “there is a reasonable amount of order embedded in my days and weeks” to “Meal plan? I don’t even know what I just ate for breakfast. Wait, did I eat breakfast?”

I’m glad that it takes all kinds to make the world go round.

Confusion, guilt, and striving enter in when we think we have to do life the way someone else does life. And it really gets dicey when someone who is at one end of the spectrum gains influence over a crowd through their platform of the “one best way.” I’m all for freedom of speech. And as a writer, I’m all for putting your message out there if it’s this burning thing in your soul. But I’m hesitant toward “one best way” books and blogs and experts. Just because someone has found the best way for them and it resonates as a best way for some others too, that doesn’t mean it’s the best way for you or even for most.

{This post is rather long so settle in with your cup of whatever or your breakfast. If you’re one of those who forgot to eat it.}

Fourteen years ago I was pregnant with my first child. After three pregnancy tests and a sudden disdain for coffee confirmed that there was a 6-week-old human being growing inside my body, I did what all overthinking, researchy, perfectionistic expectant mothers do. I hauled my nauseated self to the public library and checked out a stack of books.

And thus began my identity crisis as a mother. Was Babywise the right way to go or Dr. Sears? Do I co-sleep or put her in a crib? Will bouts of crying cause prolonged emotional devastation and detachment? Do I nurse her “on demand” or every three hours? Epidural or natural childbirth?

I wanted someone to hand me my label as a mother. I could see pros and cons to each approach but it seemed so all or nothing. I needed the “one best way” to do this scary thing called being a mom. How did our foremothers know what to do or who to be without All The Books?

I’d give absolutely anything to travel back in time and tell overwrought, angsty, pregnant Marian this bit of hard-won truth:

There is no best way, honey. There is you. There is your baby. There are your needs. There are her needs. Rejoice! You can stop reading books and start taking more naps. This baby of yours won’t sleep for the first two years of her life anyway so stock up on those zzzzz’s while you can. Mother her in the ways that works for you both. If she sleeps better next to you and you’re still able to sleep, do it. 

Girl, you like options. You need freedom. Just embrace it. Don’t try to conform to a way that will feel constrictive and unnatural. Do what works for you in this season and quit feeling guilty. It will take some time, lots of trial and error, plenty of observation, a lowering of standards, and so much grace. Get used to it because that’s what parenting in general will require. 

I was almost 28 years old and in grad school when I birthed this sweet insomniac of a girl. My husband was in school too. We both had lots of work but flexibility in the way we went about life. We lived in an area where I could walk everywhere – my office, local coffee shops, the library. And because our sweet baby loved being out and about and also believed that sleep was optional, I ended up taking her with me everywhere.

We didn’t stay home because it was nap-time or because I was tied to a schedule. Despite my efforts, she would not conform to any of my preconceived ideas of baby obedience and sleep. She would not conform to the books that the experts wrote. As it turns out, I did not give birth to a robot; I gave birth to a human being with a will of her own.

A very, very strong will of her own.

Without being conscious of it, I went about the business of making life work for us. I put a curtain up across my office cubicle “door” so that I could nurse her there. We splurged on a fancy running stroller and I bundled her up and took her with me on long runs, just the two of us. I’d strap her wiggly self to my body with in Baby Bjorn and we’d sit in coffee shops and share a scone.

It was a life. And a lovely one at that. My days were flexible. I only had one child. We lived in a fantastic place. My daughter and I bonded in those early months far more than I was even aware of.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to cherish most of it and do you know why? Guilt. Because my way didn’t look like any of the ways the baby-experts and their best-selling books were talking about. It didn’t resemble the lives of the young mothers in my church. It was just…our way. And because it didn’t feel like a “best way,” because it didn’t feel like any way but ours, I walked around guilty and unvalidated. I assumed I was managing my baby and my life all wrong.

That narrative has repeated itself many times throughout the various seasons of my life. I still sometimes struggle with it even today.

But I’ve learned so much along the way, all of it through trial and error and taking an honest look at who I am and who we are as a family.

How “should” it look for me?

Good question. How does this knowledge of ourselves, our kids, our spouses, and our lives make a real difference in how we manage our everyday?

Here are some of the variables I take into consideration, variables I wish I’d considered fourteen years ago. If you’re naturally a self-aware person, you’ve likely considered these things already. If you’re not, it’s time to be on your introspective hat and dive in.

Personality

Introvert or extrovert? Are you drained by social interaction or energized by it.

Do you like to be at home or would your rather be out and about?

Are you a high-energy person or do you need a fair amount of downtime?

Does the idea of “routine” fill you with eagerness or make you break out in a rash? Are you somewhere in between?

How much do you value flexibility?

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

When is your brain at its best?

{And these questions are the same ones to consider when you think about your kids or your spouse.}

 

Priorities

So we could write a book on establishing priorities and people certainly have. But it’s easy to make this too complicated. It’s also easy to think everything should be a priority, especially in today’s culture.

But if everything is a priority, then nothing is really a priority. 

Certain priorities may be obvious — jobs, marriage, children, your faith and your faith community. But here’s where I’m going to meddle: What are your priorities “on paper” versus your real, functional priorities?

I’ll give you an example. I homeschooled for five years and during those five years I was also a wife, a manager of my home, and a fledgling blogger. In addition, I taught little kids one day a week in our homeschool group. Oh and I also worked part-time at our church during part of that season.

In theory, my marriage was a priority. In reality? Not so much. Homeschooling and parenting and interacting with tiny humans all day long took the best of me. My husband received the leftovers, which amounted to a scattering of crumbs on most days. Tired, sad, pitiful crumbs.

My number one priority suffered because my best time and energy went to things that should have been further down the list, but had somehow found their way to the top.

For a number of reasons, I no longer homeschool my kids. I’m slowly learning what real prioritization of marriage actually looks like. It’s hard work. I’m bad at it. Like, really bad. Old habits resurface on a daily basis.

But trying to make our marriage a priority has implications for the rest of my day when my husband isn’t even here. Because I recharge through time alone, I can’t over-schedule my week interacting with others. I have to be mindful of social interaction because even though I am relational, I’m also drained by people. My kids and my husband need a mom and a wife who hasn’t used up all her words and who still has the energy to listen to them. This doesn’t mean I don’t ever meet someone for coffee. I actually love saying yes to coffee with a friend. It simply means I am careful with my social commitments; I have to “ration” them.

I also consider my husband’s needs just as he considers mine. Every guy is different but one of the ways I show him love is by not overcommitting myself to the world around me. This matters to him. Everything comes at a cost. Every yes is a no and vice versa. Though I may be doing good things and helping others and even using my gifts, it costs something. It doesn’t mean that every opportunity is an automatic “no”; it simply means I weigh it carefully and I consider how it will impact those I love most and those God has called me to serve first in this season of my life.

Writing it all out makes it sound like I’ve got this down. I don’t. It may be a lifelong struggle. But I’m aware of how we want things to be. I’m trying. Change is slow but life is gradually beginning to reflect our priorities more than it has in the past.

 

Values

These overlap with priorities. I’m not going to look up the official definition of “values” because I think we know what it means in everyday terms: What do you hold dear?

Again, it’s easier to share how this looks in my everyday life rather than write down a list for you.

Obviously we value family and we value our faith. This means that we make decisions so that family and faith are protected and prioritized, cherished and fostered. It looks like eating dinner together most nights as a family. It looks like Friday family movie night. It looks like reading from the Gospel of John at the dinner table even though it feels like no one’s paying attention and our youngest child gets sent from the table almost every night. It means that corporate worship is a priority. It looks like everyday situations as a springboard to talk about the Gospel. It means serving where God has placed us. And it means that most of the time, we say no to other things — good things — that would encroach upon these values.

We also value rest and margin, both as individuals and as a family. This doesn’t mean that our life is leisurely, always restful, and stress-free. But it does mean we say no to opportunities that rob us of the necessary margin we need — physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally. A life without space and buffer and breathing room is an anxious life indeed. I know because I’ve had that life and I’m still paying for it to a certain degree. We’ve learned about this one the hard way and we’re thankful for the grace to begin anew and to reign us back in when we forget. {I wrote about this in a series last fall entitled “A time for everything, but not everything all the time.”}

 

Limitations

This is a bad word in today’s “if you can believe it, you can achieve it” culture. We want a limitless horizon. We don’t just need to achieve; we want to over-achieve. We live in fear that our kids won’t find their niche if we don’t expose them to every good opportunity under the sun. We push our budgets, our time, our energy, and our families to the max because it seems like everyone else is getting ahead and we don’t want to be left behind.

But Scripture teaches something different, that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Everything isn’t crammed into a single season and when we try to do that, we’re going against God’s design. But we have many seasons over the course of a lifetime, each one cradling its limited amount of activity.

Scripture also uses the concept of being “hemmed in,” a concept that has brought great freedom into our lives as we’ve accepted its loving protection and boundaries.

A few days ago I was reading Psalm 139. It’s one of my favorites because it’s all about the intricacy with which we’re known by God. It’s about our uniqueness and God’s complete knowledge of everything from our thoughts to our whereabouts.

Psalm 139:5 says, You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

Do you see that? God guides us, loves us, and protects us by limiting us, by hemming us in. This gives me peace on the days when I’m tempted to think that I should be doing more or my kids should be doing more. Limiting ourselves is a way of trusting God with what He’s given us and with what He’s not given us. It’s truth we’ve used when we’ve told our kids why they’re not going to get to participate in something and truth that’s been our own consolation when we can’t get what we want.

Just when I think I’ve moved beyond this, something ignites a sense of panic that I’m not doing enough. Several days ago I was listening to a story on NPR about kids and sports. Some expert was talking about “sports sampling” with kids and how all the research confirms that the best athletes are not necessarily the ones who specialize early but the ones who sample a variety of sports for as long as they can.

And just like that, I questioned the decision my husband and I had made to not let our boys do an official fall sport this year. They’re each going to do a winter and spring sport and we wanted some margin in our calendar. So we said no to soccer this fall and yes to more time as a family, playing golf in the backyard, and basketball in the driveway.

backyard golf

But the guy on NPR made me question all of that. Oh no, we are not sports sampling! My boys are doomed as athletes! They will blame us when they don’t make it to the NBA!

And that’s why values matter. Values have to pull me back in when I’m tempted to jump ship and overcommit my family. Values guide my decisions and guard the ones I love. Values can even provide limitations. We’ve said no to our kids {and to ourselves} when we have so wanted to say yes. We’ve said no to activities because we were limited financially. We’ve said no to great opportunities because we were limited by time and energy.

You have limitations that I don’t. I have limitations that you don’t. We each have different gifts, different financial portfolios, different family sizes, and different values. Though I’m still prone to forget, I’m learning to see limitations as gifts.

In her book, The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful, Myquillyn Smith has an entire chapter called “Lovely Limitations.” It may be my favorite chapter because it’s really about freedom and embracing what’s ours instead of striving to attain what’s not. I started reading Myquillyn’s blog years ago and she’s the one who inspired me to show up in my home with what I had instead of focusing on what I didn’t. She’s the one who had me “mistreating” my windows with scraps of fabric and upholstery tacks instead of waiting on expensive silk drapes and fancy curtain rods.

Here’s what she says about the beauty of limitations. Though she’s talking specifically here about our homes, the concept applies to the attitude we have about being “hemmed in” as we move through the ins and outs of our days.

We may think it would be easier to work without the limitations of an odd-shaped room or a tight budget…but having no limits can be debilitating. When you have no limits, you put off making a decision because there are so many options. I’ve gotten to the point of craving limits, because I know that some of my best projects have come out of what I didn’t have.  

That’s freedom and grace. That’s seeing our personalities, our priorities, our values and our limitations not as enemies but as friends. Wise and wonderful friends who sit down on the sofa next to you and hand you a cup of tea. Friends who remind you that your life, your family, your home, your schedule, your budget, and your meal plan shouldn’t look like someone else’s or be ripped from the pages of a Home Economics book.

What if the life that yields to limitations, that yields to what you don’t have, can better reflect your uniqueness, your priorities, and your values? I believe it can because we’ve experienced it first-hand in myriad ways. Some of my most freeing decisions and even some of the hacks I use to manage my days have been born out of limitation.

In embracing what I offer and what I can’t offer, I’ve found that life is more fulfilling and honest.

I’m not saying that freedom is a license for chaos and crazy. Freedom is simply permission to live with unique intentionality based about your you-ness, your family’s their-ness, and your life’s limitations. Freedom is the infusion of all of these things with your values and priorities. Toss it all together and you get a gift — a beautiful, one-of-a-kind gift.

It takes courage to live with intentional individuality. But once your start, you get a taste of freedom and realize that it’s going to be okay after all. It might even be kind of great.

driveway

 

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I know, I know. We haven’t gotten to the strategies or “hacks” yet. That’s coming next, I promise. But as with everything I write, it’s three parts thinking / memoir to one part doing. That’s on purpose. If the doing comes before the thinking, I find that I may be spinning my wheels in all the wrong ways or spinning them according to someone else’s ways and for all the wrong reasons.

The next post will deal with things like why I can only go to the store before I have to be somewhere else and why I don’t clean up my house before I sit down to write. It will cover the {kind of embarrassing} ways I have to do things because my personality is so wonky with its whims and distractability and unbridled-ness. And hopefully it will get you thinking about your own unique self and some creative ways to boss around your time so that it doesn’t keep getting the best of you.

And if you are still reading, I realize that this post has broken all the rules of the blogosphere. It has way too many words. It gives you too much to think about. Whenever I write a series, my posts get too long. I try to break them up but then it feels all wrong and drags out the series. As with everything else, maybe blogging doesn’t always have a “one best way” either. That’s what I’m hoping anyway.

Thanks for spending your time here and for providing your own thoughts along the way.

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Grace in the New Rhythms. Part 2: What’s Our Real Motivation for Wanting to be Awesome?

new rhythms title pic

This is Part 2 of a series as we begin a new season. Here’s Part 1.

When you decide to write a series like this, one that’s about managing your days with grace, take into consideration that your days may completely fall apart in the process.

I spent several hours last Saturday morning working on this series. Knee-deep in big thoughts and notes and highlighted sections of text, I was feeling rather wise and pleased. In fact, I was so deep in all of my big thoughts that I kept writing at least an hour after I’d planned to stop. And when I noticed the time, I realized I needed to throw some brownies in the oven and get a shower because we had a party to attend at 2:30.

Except that the party began at 2:00 and not 2:30.

As I flew around in a panic, foregoing a shower and lunch, bossing everyone around, hating myself for writing down the wrong time, a certain child suddenly realized the whole family was going to this party and commenced to have a meltdown because we are “embarrassing.”

Another child, who had felt sorely mistreated the whole day and deemed that particular Saturday as “utterly cursed,” commenced to running away from home.

The third child was just trying to find a bathing suit that fit because all the suits had been thrown in one big bin and this child often comes out wearing clothes that don’t actually belong to him.

And I, the illustrious organizer of the whole troupe, commenced to dropping the glass pan of hot brownies onto the concrete driveway on my frantic sprint to the van.

As my husband pulled into the driveway after retrieving the runaway, he surveyed the mess — the glass, the mountain of gooey chocolate, the bewildered wife standing speechless and motionless over the scene — and decided that the party would not be a family affair after all. He would clean up the mess and deal with the other two kids. I would take just the one child to the party. Without the “embarrassing” siblings. Without brownies. Without my wits.

Without much grace, if I’m being honest.

photo (35)

{Here’s proof.}

And just like that, my approval rating plummeted. I was no longer pleased with my big thoughts and big words. I was no longer sure of myself. I wanted to scrap this series altogether because who am I to write even two words about establishing new rhythms and managing my days and being upheld by grace? I cannot even manage the correct time for a party. Or a pan of brownies.

Friends, I need this series more than anyone. I’m in the trenches of trial and error. I am my own Exhibit A every single day. I’m the living, breathing definition of a non-expert and that means I take nothing for granted. I approach this issue with a heart that is desperate and days that are messy.

Maybe you’re in the same place.

Originally I’d planned to talk about our “real motivations” at the end of the series. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that we need a framework first. Corporations and institutions craft vision statements and then the particulars of what they do flow out of that vision. It’s just as important for us as everyday people juggling homes and careers and families to think through the whys and the implications before we walk around in the real.

I’m not going to tell you to write up a mission statement for yourself or your family, though you can if that’s your thing. I’m going to ask you a simple question:

What’s motivating you to manage your day, your family, your life with more finesse or “success” than you currently feel you’re bringing to the table?

Think hard and honestly about this. I’ll wait.

It’s only fair that I go first. These are not the answers I “should” provide; these are my real and true motivations. Ready?

1. I want to feel like I’m doing a fine job running my life. I want to be awesome at this. I’d like to feel successful. I want fewer dumb and embarrassing mistakes.

2. Productivity. I’d like plenty to show for my day and for my life. Plain and simple.

3. Less stress. We moderns are used to living stressful lives. At times we even communicate that we’re rather proud of it: I’m so busy! Life is crazy! I’m exhausted. In a way, we are saying to the world, I am so busy and juggling all the important endeavors in my over-scheduled, important life and yes it’s stressful and exhausting but I. am. on. it. We want the world {and ourselves} to either by impressed by us or feel sorry for us. Either way it’s about stress and it’s about us and therefore problematic.

4. Simplicity. I complicate things. And by “things” I mean almost everything. I find that life is better for everyone when I don’t do that. Whether it’s meal-planning or clothes or our schedule, simplicity breeds margin, less physical and mental clutter, and more overall peace. Complication breeds crazy. I’ve noticed a movement toward intentional simplicity. Blogs about simplicity. Shows about simple, smaller houses. Books about minimalism. I’m drawn to all of that. But then the implementation of it feels like its own sort of complication and I’m right back where I started: stressed and guilty and crazy and binge-watching Scandal. Because that feels simple.

5. I’d like to manage my life in such a way that it blesses those around me. Finally, a somewhat virtuous answer. We all have those whom we love. We each have a sphere of influence. We have families. We live in community. We are created for relationship, to love and to be loved.

When I manage my time and my tasks well, the blessing of that spills over into the lives of those I love. In practical ways, it means I may have dinner on the table in a timely manner or laundry washed and in the drawers. It means I’m not multitasking to the point of being distracted when my husband and kids are trying to tell me something. And when that actually comes together in real life, it feels so good and right.

Less stress and managing my time well means that I am available and listening. It means I’m a nicer, gentler, more attentive person and those gifts overflow into my home and my world. It’s a taste of “shalom.”

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All of my answers could be posts in and of themselves. But that’s not the point. The point is to think through the real motivations of our hearts, no matter how noble or unsavory they may be. Scripture reminds us of how influential our hearts really are:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. 

Proverbs 4:23

You don’t have to be religious to recognize that our internal lives have a lot to do with how to we live our external lives. Our fears, our faith, our ambitions — they are powerful internal forces that guide us in what we do…or choose not to do.

Back to our answers. Most of us probably agree that there’s nothing wrong with my answers. There’s probably nothing inherently wrong with yours either. What’s bad about wanting success? Fewer mistakes? Less stress? Blessing others?

On the surface, nothing. Necessarily.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some ugly.

You’ll find a whole lot of pride masquerading in surface-level virtues.

When I’m honest, I admit that every day, throughout the day, I am the gavel-in-hand, black-robed judge of my own life, issuing verdicts all day long like the ticker tape that travels across the bottom of the CNN news feed. Or I’m imagining that everyone else is the black-robed judge of my own life. Either way, I’m always on trial. I’m motivated by a host of unsavory characters: fear of failure, my performance, the praise of others, the criticism of others. And all of these flow out of the most insidious, shape-shifting bad guy of all — pride.

Several years ago I listened to a sermon by Timothy Keller called “Blessed Self-Forgetfulness.” He uses a passage from I Corinthians to teach about the human ego and how the Gospel promotes an utterly different approach than either ancient or modern cultures. The Gospel’s approach to ego isn’t about high self-esteem. It’s not about low self-esteem either. It’s about something that’s entirely off our maps. And that something is “the freedom of self-forgetfulness.”

That sermon has since been printed into a small booklet that’s been keeping me company lately. In The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy, Keller says this about the everyday courtroom in which we all live:

We look for that ultimate verdict every day in all the situations and people around us. And that means that every single day, we are on trial. Every day, we put ourselves back in a courtroom…That is the way that everyone’s identity works. In the courtroom, you have the prosecution and the defense. And everything we do is providing evidence for the prosecution or evidence for the defense. Some days we feel we are winning the trial and some days we feel we are losing it. 

I know what you may be thinking. Marian, I thought this was going to be a tidy little series with gentle strategies to manage my days and my family with ease and grace. You are going too deep, sister. You’re getting theological and philosophical about this. Can we just get to the part about time-management already?

We could. But I’ve found that until we take a long and squinty-eyed look into the recesses of our hearts and uncover the true motivations, we may accomplish some of our goals but we’ll still be striving. Constantly striving. We won’t find real and sustained rest. We’ll still have fear and performance and the black-robed judge nipping at our heels all the livelong day.

Because sometimes we really do need fresh and new ways of doing things. But more than that, we need honest ways of thinking about how and why and for whom we do all the things.

I’m a Christian and that means my motivations will be different from those of you who are not. I so wish I could write about motivations and verdicts in a way that’s for everyone. But I can’t. The practical hacks coming in the next post? Those are for everyone. But this part, for me, is deeply rooted in my faith and I can’t write honestly without it.

In all other religions and even for those who don’t believe in a god, our daily and cumulative performance leads to a verdict. We need the verdict to confirm all that we’ve been striving for. Not so with Christianity. And this leads us back to the Self-Forgetfulness book. Keller asks this simple but profound question:

Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?

…In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His Family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict…I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people — not so I can feel better about myself… 

This is the Gospel. This is how the life, death, and resurrection of Christ impacts everything from how I spend my time and govern my days to how I think about how I’ve spent my time and governed my days.

It’s simple. But don’t confuse that with easy.

Living a Gospel-saturated life begins with thinking through, praying through, talking through, and reading through Gospel-saturated truth. It is a Gospel-driven intentionality in all that we do. Because only the Gospel can spur us on to say and to live what the Apostle Paul was able to say and to live when He wrote to the church in Corinth.

I care very little if I am judged by you or by an human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear; but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  I Corinthians 4:3-4

For me, for the way I’m wired with all of my neuroses and fear and people-pleasing, those six words — I do not even judge myself — are some of the most powerful words in all of Scripture. I need them emblazoned across my forehead and bathroom mirror and window above the kitchen sink.

This is Gospel-centered freedom. Jesus frees us from our self-obsession and our success-obsession. His great love and forgiveness frees us to live out of our gifts and out of our weakness. To live and to serve in our spheres of influence. To enjoy moments of great success and stellar performance, and to not self-destruct in moments of great failure and stinging criticism.

And this is the Truth and the Person that must ground everything from getting five days worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners made to juggling the weekly calendar for a family for five. This is the freedom that steadies me and readies me for the days that go as planned and for the days that come out of left field and leave me slack-jawed over a pan of brownies in my driveway and a runaway child. This is the freedom that can motivate me from a place of real, Gospel-centered love and also console me when I get it all wrong.

The days are both too short and too long. Our lives are tangled and complicated. We’re satisfied with too little and also too much. And in the midst of all, we hear a thousand voices tell us how it’s supposed to look. Most of all, we hear our own voice telling us how it’s supposed to look.

But Jesus speaks with a different voice. A voice that silences the others because the verdict is in and the judges can all go home. He speaks with approval and affirmation and forgiveness.

We are not any more loved or free or important on the days when we get it right than on the days when we get it wrong. Whether we forgot the baggies or forgot their soccer practice, whether we met the deadline or messed up dinner – the only verdict that matters is already in.

Yes, our work matters. It is good and sacred. It blesses our families, our businesses, and our world. But it’s not our true identity. That’s found in the One who has already performed perfectly.

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The next posts will start breaking things down. We’ll get practical. We’ll think through our individualities, talk about when our brains and skills are at their best, learn to compensate for the ways in which we are not so awesome, and hopefully see the beauty of trial and error. I’ll share some of the strategies that work for me and for my cuckoo personality type — strategies that are still very much in formation. {Strategies make it sound so very professional and legit. Let’s be clear. These are everyday hacks, nothing more.} I’d also like to share a few resources that have helped and would love for you to share some of yours too.

 

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Grace in the New Rhythms. A Series.

new rhythms title pic

I specialize in long subtitles, as you can see from the above photo. That’s because I don’t want you dear readers to be misinformed. I don’t want you to think this is a “7 Ways to Be Awesome at Everything” sort of post, written by an expert at being awesome. If you are already awesome at everything or even at many things, you can stop reading and get back to your Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Because we’re only four days into the new school-year and I’m already hearing the judgey voices that chatter about in my head, the voices that tell me I should be managing life with a little more know-how and finesse.

How did you run out of baggies? For the love, it is the first week of school.

I can’t believe you mindlessly wandered the aisles of Walmart for that long. 

Why didn’t you realize they’d lost all the ice packs from last year? Their cheese sticks will be warm and soggy by lunchtime. 

You shouldn’t feel so tired today. You are a stay at home mom / writer and all of your kids are in school. 

Most of the nagging guilt during my days has to do with time and energy management, things I’ve always stewarded rather poorly. But ironically, one of my most cherished commodities is time. Preferably time alone. This is partly because I’m a mother and partly because I’m an introvert who recharges through time alone and not feeling rushed or needed. And because I love my time like it is a small, furry, cuddly pet, you’d think I’d be better at managing it.

Things get kind of complicated when you consider that I’m also sort of ADD {I prefer the terms “spontaneous” or “distractable”.} And I have a bothersome addiction to wanting to be productive and efficient.

Combine these characteristics with being a daydreamer from as early as I can remember. And an over-thinker. And a creative. And a recovering academic who can’t shut down her critical thinking skills. And maybe a perfectionist.

What do you get?

A hot mess, that’s what. An angsty, fearful, scatterbrained, overthinking, overwrought mess of a person. You get someone who outwardly looks okay but is actually an inwardly frazzled grown-up whose goals for the day are constantly being sabotaged by the thoughts and whims that go rogue, one whose real-life outcomes can’t quite catch up to her ideal-life expectations but that sure doesn’t stop her from trying.

It’s a messy ride when one is such a mixed bag. Maybe I’m not the only one.

I’ve been doing some cleaning out, going through old letters and journals, even stumbling upon my report cards that date back to 1979. These artifacts have triggered a lot of memories and observations. Though I was a decent student through school, I also recall completely zoning out for entire class periods — particularly math — and then frantically trying to learn later what had been taught in class, usually from a friend or by going in to meet with the teacher or staying up late with the textbook. I never quite learned to capitalize on the best time / task combination. I ran away with my thoughts when they came to me {whether I was traipsing through a meadow when I was supposed to be Geometry-proofing or imagining that the boy I liked actually liked me back.}

Somehow, somehow I usually reached the necessary goals but with a ridiculous amount of stress, anxiety, blame-shifting, and last-minute panicking. I may have been daydreamy and bad at math but I was still ambitious. As early as middle school, I stayed up as late as I needed to and did whatever I could to get the job done. Not turning something in wasn’t an option. But sleep and sanity seemed negotiable.

Looking back, I realized that young Marian could’ve used a little more help governing her life and responsibilities. And possibly a little bit of medicine and a lot more sleep.

I’d love to tell you I’m different at 41 than I was at 14. Alas, we are pretty much the same girl / woman. Only now I will usually choose sleep over an unfinished task. And I have a lot more self-awareness.

But if left to myself, the trajectory of my day can easily jerk from contemplation to consternation, from peacefulness to panic. And so I’m prone to live in a state of reactionary whiplash and much of this comes down to the issues of priorities, time, and accepting who I am.

I say that like it’s easy. The truth is, acceptance is a daily fight when you’re too introspective and a living, breathing paradox. This does not make for tidy categories or tidy living. Because how can you be Type A and also Type ADD and not live in a perpetual state of frustration and condemnation? I wouldn’t know.

Most days I feel like a cosmic joke, like God said to himself when He made me, “I’m going to fill this one up with enough contradiction for a hundred people. She’ll be like a wind-up toy that whizzes around in zig-zags and circles…and then she will run out of both zig and zag, come to a screeching halt, and fall on her face. It will be hilarious.”

I know, I know. God’s not like that. But I question — all the time — why I think and operate in such complicated, non-linear ways. It’s hard to feel so incongruous in everything from my tastes to my habits. {Or lack thereof.}

I need order and rhythms and knowing what’s ahead, but also creativity and spontaneity and surprises. I crave organization, but often find myself scribbling notes, appointments, and thoughts on whatever piece of paper / gum wrapper / back of hand that’s closest to me. I’m passionate about delicious food and I love to cook, but dread the dailyness of dinner.

And then there are the big, consequential ironies. How all my life I dreamed of being a wife and a mom and also Martha Stewart. But then marriage and motherhood and domesticity came along and I had finally to accept that they are such unnatural roles for me. Being a nurturer and loving to be needed and having compassion for paper cuts — so not part of my natural skill-set. But very much a part of my real-life responsibilities.

I can tell you the theological terms for this sort of tension. How this is for my “sanctification” and all of that. And it is. It definitely is. But that doesn’t change the fact that nineteen years into marriage and thirteen years into motherhood, I’m still kind of Neanderthal about the whole thing: “Me wife. Me mommy. Me go make fire to cook dinner. Me go kill animals and get skins so you have clothes to wear. Me pretend feel sorry for boo-boo. Me want alone-time.”

On many occasions, I’ve asked God what I’m doing being married to an actual husband who deserves a wife with a clue and molding the lives of actual human beings who will one day be grown-ups, hopefully of the non-Neanderthal variety.

{Clearly I have digressed to the outer reaches of this topic and am now using my blog as a virtual confession booth. Forgive me.}

Here’s the point I am circuitously trying to make. We’re not necessarily “good” or naturally gifted at showing up for the life we really have. We may not be adept at doing life the way we should or the way we think we should. We may find that we don’t have the skill-set we’d hoped to have for the life we’ve actually chosen. And sooner or later, we will definitely find that we don’t have the skill-set for the life or the season or even just the day that we didn’t choose but have been handed anyway.

It’s the theme of everything I’ve written about for the last six years: receiving your own life.

It’s about the intersection of real life and grace and redemption. It’s about moving forward with acceptance and hope instead of resentment and bitterness.

It’s about freedom. Freedom from comparison, freedom from blame, freedom from pretense, freedom from trying to live someone else’s life and instead, embracing the one right in front of you. The one that’s messy and sometimes feels like a joke. The one that holds more beauty and possibility than you can see on an everyday Thursday when you burned the taco meat and forgot to pay that bill and feel like you’re getting it all wrong.

So in this little series on new rhythms and grace, I will continue spilling my pathetic guts to the whole wide world and it’s a little embarrassing. Why would anyone do such a thing? Because I want you to grasp that I’m a person who desperately needs to receive grace as I try to establish rhythms and practices for myself and my family at the start of a new school-year. I’m a certified non-expert, a hack. And as you can see, rhythms and routines and stellar time management don’t come naturally to me.

Neither does grace.

Maybe they don’t come naturally to you either. Maybe you feel like a distracted, struggling, Neanderthal and you could use a pep-talk like this series written by a struggling non-guru like me. If so, welcome. Me glad you here. Grunt. 

This short series isn’t exactly a how-to on organization for the absent-minded person or how to be more disciplined! or anything like that. I don’t promote “systems” because there is no one-size-fits-all way of doing anything. But I am learning a few things about establishing workable rhythms based on my personality, my priorities, and my individual family. I’m learning which variables needed to be taken into consideration.

Most of all, I’m learning a lot about the undercurrent of grace that holds us all up through the trial and error of it all.

Originally I thought this was just going to be one post. But sometimes you get going on a theme and discover you’re 1,850 words in and there’s much more to say than you first realized. A series is just a fancy way of saying that we’ll continue this conversation next week. I hope you’ll join in.

If you don’t want to miss a post in the series, you can subscribe by e-mail in the box below. Feel free to unsubscribe anytime you like.

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So what about you? Do you struggle with time management? Are you good at establishing rhythms but not-so-great at maintaining them? Do you structure your life based on what works for someone else instead what works in real life for you? Do you see trial and error as a gift or as failure? Are you struggling to keep up with all that you’ve committed yourself to? These are some of the thoughts I’d like to explore as we all begin anew this fall.

I’d love to hear from you as you navigate these issues in your own real life. I welcome your questions and thoughts. We can dish about them in the comments or on the blog’s facebook and twitter pages.