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.

So settle in with your steamy mug of whatever or your breakfast. {If you’re one of those who forgot to eat it.} I’m going to share a few stories from the Ghost of Marian Past and introduce you to the freedom I’m discovering as I learn to live with intentional individuality.


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.


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.


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.}



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.



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.”}



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.



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.

How does real life attempt to undermine your priorities, values, or limitations? Or how does comparison rob you of the confidence to carry on in a way that works for you?


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