Walking When the Way is Hard

It’s February.  Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which means six more weeks of winter, and well that just makes February that much harder. I don’t know what it is about this month, but motivation is about as low as the temperature outside. It was a cloudy 25 degree Monday morning today filled with flurries and frowns. I told my kids that the weather nor our moods will change the fact that we have to get dressed, eat breakfast, and get out the door in time for our co-op. We made it out the door, dragging our feet to the cold van, reluctant to leave the warmth of beds and blankets.

Here’s the thing. Even when the way is hard, we still must walk. We often begin the day with Psalm 118:24- “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” If every day is the Lord’s, then so are the February days. Life is filled with Februarys- cloudy, cold, ordinary days with little reprieve. And yet sometimes it is in the Februarys that we grow and discover more of who God is and who He is making us to be. We have to let this happen, though. We must have faith that even when the way is hard, God is still working in and through our lives. And we walk the way in the strength of His Spirit.

The Word helps us. Also, knowing our own limitations and God’s power helps us to walk in humility before the Father. Paul had a thorn, Jacob had a limp, Moses stuttered, Jeremiah was depressed, David was pursued, and Elijah felt alone. There are countless people in Scripture who felt their limitations and yet they continued to walk in the center of God’s will. “But I don’t want to!” is a common complaint voiced from my kids, to which I say, “Well, I didn’t ask if you wanted to do this, but I’m telling you that you will.” And then I’ll say a borrowed phrase, “Not what I want to do but what I ought to do.” Is it easy? No. Is it fun? No. But this is where growth takes place. This is how our maturity is formed. In the Februarys. In the mundane routine and rhythm of life. We will be as dreary as our perspective is, so we must find ways to walk in the midst of it with joy.

3 Simple Ways to Walk When the Way is Hard

  1. Plan for out-of-the-ordinary, happy moments. 

Valentine’s Day fun, a movie, visit friends, a family fun night, etc. Being intentional with the calendar in February for fun can make a drab month a fantastic one!

2. Take a day off. 

If you can, give yourself permission to go off the script. It may be a day just for mom, or for the whole family, but taking a day to do life differently may be just what is needed to jazz up a bland week.

3. Spend extended time in God’s Word and in prayer.

Sometimes we feel the well is dry and we need a re-filling from God. Carving out a Saturday morning, or getting up early to spend uninterrupted time with the Lord can prove beneficial for spiritual renewal.

There are many other things we can do or change to help us walk when the way is hard, but these were just a few. Don’t grow weary doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. There may be things we need to give up, like sin. But we must never give up doing the good things, especially with all the bad going on around us in our world today. God is always working- in the exciting days when all is high and up, and in the days that are mundane like February days. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

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5 Ways to Manage Mental Clutter

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One area of concentration for me this year is overall life management. Is that all?! Though this may seem ambiguous and daunting, in my mind it really isn’t. I’ve discovered that a lot of small difficulties can be managed better if I address the elephant in the room. For me, the elephant was mental clutter. If not directed well, my brain will run like interconnecting bridges over a busy freeway with traffic going 75 mph. So, I’ve come up with about five ways to reduce mental clutter, enhance personal productivity, and maintain some level of peace in my heart and home. It is working for me so far. Here’s what I’m doing:

1. Write it down. 

I bullet journal in the simplest way possible. Basically, I keep a calendar, monthly goals, weekly tasks, daily tasks, menu planning, and long-range goals. I use Evernote to jot quick notes, or to make lists. I keep a pad of paper in a basket by my desk for quick notes, phone numbers to be recorded later, or anything that needs to be written down temporarily. I have to brain dump more than ever these days. I keep a commonplace book when I read to remember important quotes or passages. I have a prayer journal and a devotional journal too that I keep in a basket by my desk with stationary, paper, and pens. For some, this may be too many things to keep track of, but for me everything in this way has a designated home to go to instead of whirling around in my head.

2. Work in chunks

Since I calendar everything (bullet journal and Iphone…I have one foot in the digital world and one foot in the analog world), I write down the necessary tasks that must be done each day. If I am lesson planning or working on a project I will try to spread out the task over several days so that I do not get overwhelmed or completely take up a day to accomplish one or two things. Doing my work in small chunks helps me tackle more in my day and makes me feel less burdened.

3. Set a time limit

Once I get involved in something it is hard for me to pull away. I get in “the zone” and I tend to lose track of time. So I schedule everything and give each task a time limit. When I look at my day I try to determine how much realistic time I can devote to something- preschool drop off and pick up, schoolwork with the girls, errands, chores, cooking, phone calls, emails, writing, etc. Once time is up, then time is up and off to the next task. Some tasks overlap, like going over spelling lists with my oldest while browning meat for dinner.  But for the most part, just like everything has a place when it comes to physical organization, every task has a place in the day with time management.

4. Delegate simple tasks

The kids have chores, but I am enlisting them to do more, because they can. I am getting better at asking for help from Travis too when I need help. I still have a lot of room for growth with this, but I’ve noticed positive changes. Delegating simple tasks enables me to focus on what I feel is important for me to do. Dusting is not one of those, so the kids can do that. 🙂

5. Make space for wellness

I don’t necessarily write down when I rest, exercise, or what I eat, but I do make space for these things. Well, exercise has taken a backseat recently, so I need to prioritize my workouts again. Nevertheless, I am in process to prioritize my wellness. I make myself go to bed even though I may want to stay up to finish tasks. In setting time limits within my schedule I give myself permission to “clock out” after I get the kids to bed. Usually. There are and will be exceptions. I have a personal diet that works for me, including oils and vitamins/probiotics. If I don’t prioritize wellness then I won’t have the energy and health to do the things I value.

Mental clutter like physical clutter needs a place to go. For me, it goes to a variety of places in a variety of ways, but for you it may need to go somewhere else in another way(s). Finding tools that help us manage our lives better frees us to enjoy our lives more and steward our time well. These are just some of the tools and methods that are working for me so far, and may be helpful for others as well. The important thing is to find what works for you within the context of your own life, praying for God to give you guidance on how to manage it well. I truly have prayed for weeks before I set these practices in motion for God to give me wisdom with time management, and I credit Him with helping me through the clutter.

Your Work Matters

For a long while the idea of the “Proverbs 31 woman” seemed a bit mythological to me.  I mean, her “lamp never goes out at night?” Does this woman ever sleep?!  Unless she has a lot of babies one after the other, then I can understand the conundrum.  My lamp has been burning going on seven years now between a child with sleep apnea and another with frequent nosebleeds.

“Who can find a wife of noble character?” the writer asks. If you look in the right places you will find her. Well, at least glimpses of her. She is not an instantaneous wonder. She evolves over time- in the back-breaking, wisdom seeking, truth believing, knee bending worship of her Lord. But this happens “all the days of her life,” not on day one.

Travis read Proverbs 31 when he proposed to me, and of course I was flattered and swooned, not necessarily because of what he read but because he was on one knee and there were candles and a ring. I knew I wasn’t ready for such lofty descriptions. I had not earned the praise yet. I still haven’t.

And yet I see the Proverbs 31 woman pop up in the church in various ways. Sometimes she is industrious, running a business. I see her in women who serve the poor in the community. Other times I see her planting a garden or tending to chickens. She makes things with her own hands and sells them. She is thrifty and knows how to provide food and clothes for her family from what she earns. She laughs. She is wise. She is busy, never idle. She fears the Lord most of all.

And this is the point. It is not that a woman who does all the things is to be praised. It is the woman who fears the Lord who is to be praised, and only then will her works “praise her in the gates,” meaning that only then will her work truly matter. Because it is not about what we do, or how much we do, but how we do what we do.

I’m leaning into this presently. There are a list of things I would like to do, and in an idealist version of myself believe I could do, but the truth is that only when I do what I am supposed to do while fearing the Lord will my work be fruitful and praiseworthy.

Whatever we set out to do in 2018, though it may not seem lofty or praiseworthy, if we fear the Lord above all we will do well. And what does this mean- to fear the Lord? It means repentance, praise, thanksgiving, forgiveness, devotion, meditation upon God’s Word, and humility. It is the beginning of wisdom. We start here. Not with a set of resolutions or a planner with all the plans, but with the fear of the Lord. Then and only then will we know that our work matters, whatever the work is. Because it is not about all the things we do, but how we do what we do and for Whom we work and give the glory in 2018 and every year that follows.

3 Areas of Focus for 2018

Aren’t they cute?! Seriously, I love this bunch so much I could burst. We rang in the new year in typical Fleming style. A simple meal on our Christmas table cloth with sparkling grape juice in plastic champagne flutes. We ate by candlelight with some jazz music in the background. Over the weekend we spontaneously recalled the ways the Lord has blessed us and showed us His mercy in 2017.

This is probably the first year that I am not making resolutions, at least not in the formal sense. Don’t get me wrong. I love a plan, and setting goals is my jam, but I’m approaching 2018 in a different way. Between homeschooling, extracurricular activities, church events, basic home management, birthdays, and holidays I realize that I do not need to come up with a list of things to add on to an already full life. Sure, there are adjustments and improvements that need to be made in a whole slew of areas, but when I come up with resolutions I mentally craft a set of ideals that never materialize because I live and breathe in a real world as the real Jenna.

So this year I am committing myself to three focus areas that are simple, but necessary to maintain some sort of order for my life.

3 Focus Areas for 2018:

  1. Prayer
  2. Habits
  3. Systems

Prayer…

Earnest, steadfast, and persistent in conversation with the Father seeking Him in all things- with this a more focused, attentive, and deeper devotion to God’s Word. I want to write out my prayers more, with specific words from Scripture spoken over people and situations, giving everything over to the Lord. In the words of Corrie Ten Boom, I want prayer to be my “steering wheel” not my “spare tire” in 2018.

Habits…

The daily, disciplined practice of the doing the things that matter allows me to say “yes” to the important and “no” to the unimportant. By committing myself to just a few things, not ALL the things, I give myself permission to leave boxes unchecked. And I love boxes to check! This is hard for me, but coming out of 2017 I have learned more of my own limitations and utter dependency upon God.

Systems…

Having a plan is one thing, but having a process to work out the plan is a whole other thing. Sometimes the frustration that comes with a messy house, busy schedule, parenting, personal time, etc. comes down to the absence of systems. For instance, this year we set up some clear and defined chores for our girls to do each day.  Our 2 turned 3-yr. old also had daily room clean up responsibilities. Even though they only contributed to maintaining the house in a small way, the work load on me was lessened. And they are beginning to learn about work ethic, familial responsibility, and stewardship. There are other systems I plan to employ this year regarding personal care, finances, writing, and home management. For me, if I can order my life even under my limited control, things tend to run more smoothly.

That’s it! Cut and dry. Simple. Not real specific, but the nitty gritty will get worked out in my daily planning and trial and error of working things out. I am an early riser, but I have been a bit sluggish in the mornings at the end of this year.  2017 leaves me tired. So, I see a need for more margin for rest, exercise, and scheduled days away from everything.

One recent lesson I learned is that I can’t be faithful today and tomorrow at the same time. “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Anxiety is a time waster. When I am preoccupied with tomorrow I cannot be productive with today. So, prayer is key. I have been brought to my knees a lot lately, with parenting struggles, sin, spiritual warfare, and simply feeling the rush of life zipping along desperately seeking stillness before God. And He is here. He was there in 2017, and every year before, and He will be here in 2018 and every year that follows. It may be a new year, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Many things may change this year, but I am thankful that He never will.

 

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

There is nothing sweeter than announcing the birth of a baby.  We were graced to make three announcements ourselves as we welcomed our babies to the world. At Christmas I cannot help but imagine what it must have been like to be one of those shepherds doing his nightly duty keeping watch over the flock when suddenly an angel of the Lord appears shining in God’s brilliant glory announcing the birth of our Savior.  Luke tells us that the shepherds were “filled with great fear” (Luke 2:9). I would be afraid too! This is the usual response to angelic appearances in Scripture- fear. Even Mary was troubled when Gabriel visited her. But, Gabriel’s response to Mary was the same as the angel to the shepherds, which was “Fear not.”  The silence of God for hundreds of years was broken with this birth announcement:

“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

I cannot help but wonder at this. Did Isaiah come to mind when the shepherds received this “good news of great joy?”

] The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy; …

6For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:2-3, 6-7)

Not only “unto us” was this child born, but unto the world: “You have multiplied the nation..” (Isaiah 9:3), “for all the people…” (Luke 2:10), “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). I love how Christmas is for everyone who believes in Christ. Lowly shepherds, kings, the simple, the wise, Jews, Gentiles, the young, and the old. Everyone can find comfort and joy at Christmas, because of that birth announcement some 2,000 years ago- the barren, the lonely, the fatherless, the widow, the poor, the afflicted, and all who grieve. Joy is within our reach- this unspeakable, inexpressible joy that both comforts and stills us. As the old English carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” reminds us that Christ came to save us from “Satan’s power when we have gone astray.” So we can rest. So we can rejoice. So we can both receive and give tidings of comfort and joy at Christmas and always. So, dear friends a Merry Christmas to you and yours indeed!

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Giving Thanks Together

One of my favorite aspects of Thanksgiving is togetherness. The English who in 1620 journeyed through many difficulties to establish colonies and worship God freely were together. The Wampanoag Indians were a tribe who dwelled upon and worked the land together. Both the English and Indians feasted together, giving thanks for the harvest.

One of the things I am teaching my children is that we do not give thanks to God only when we feel good.  We give thanks to God always, for HE IS GOOD! Our memory verse for this week is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” There is always something to be thankful for, and when we make thanksgiving a practice in the natural rhythms of life we will not be as susceptible to grumbling or complaining. We can’t both whine and say thanks at the same time! So, with this season, we take time to feast, say thanks, and be together.

Before I started with baking and prep for tomorrow I had the kids gather round the kitchen table to write down some things they are thankful to God for. Judson scribbled a picture of mama and sisters. Analise drew a snowman and said she is thankful for Christmas. Kara wrote that she is thankful for her dog, Buster. All of us will write or draw some things we are thankful for as they come to mind over the next few days.

Next, we made Pilgrim Hat cookies. These were a lot of fun, and easy to make! I think the ratio of eating to creating the cookies for Judson was 5:1!

Most of all, we are thankful for Jesus! He gives us every reason to give thanks because He died for our sins, rose again, and is preparing a place for us. He is the greatest gift! Here is a fun and easy craft we made together- Thankful for Jesus Cross

We finished reading The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh.  I love the last paragraph of this beautiful book: “The Pilgrims did not forget the hard times. They knew there would be difficult times to come. Still, they felt they had many things to be thankful for. They had food and houses and warm fires. The Indians were their friends. Free to work, to make their homes, to worship God in their own way. Perhaps they sang the hymn they had brought to the New World with them: ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below…’ ”

We sang The Doxology, and then we made these cute Pilgrim hats!

From our perky Pilgrims to yours, Happy Thanksgiving! May God richly bless your time together around the table tomorrow.

Steadfastness and Being Busy in the Best Way

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Is it possible to go against the current of dizzying demands laid on mothers today? Maybe the greatest threat to our homes is not worldliness outside, but busyness within.

In our schedules.

In our hearts.

Restlessly eager to show up everywhere on time, prepared, and ready to go to the next thing.

I had a conversation with a friend the other night about feeling behind in life, and how if we had a reset button we could get things in order and then let our marriages, kids, and ministries proceed as usual.  Of course, we would be living in a fantasy!  Because life has no reset button, and nothing will wait for the laundry to be done or every call, email, text to be made. Some things, many things, are left undone.

Truth is, none of us have it all together. If we were honest we would say we feel out of sorts on many days. Bad attitudes, anxieties, dirty dishes, hormones, fatigue, clutter, sickness, unmet goals, and marriage and parenting challenges can contribute to discouragement and feeling off balanced. We wish we could call a “timeout” to get our act together.

But then I was reminded this week of how God calls us to remain steadfast, and that the Christian mother’s life is an extended season of testing. The only timeouts we get are when we get before the feet of Jesus.  Only He can offer what our hearts are yearning for.   I love how James says that the testing of our faith “produces steadfastness” (James 1:3).  We don’t muster it up, it comes to us as we joyfully endure the trials and testing of life.

So I say, yes, it is possible to go against the frantic current of busy motherhood.  Not that it is wrong to be busy, because “I have seen the business that God has given [mothers] to be busy with,” and “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11). It is not in being busy, but how we are busy that matters. It is in being busy and at rest at the same time, content with incompleteness and not having it all together that we thrive as mothers. Because “when steadfastness has its full effect,” we will have it all together- “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).  God is shaping us to look more like His Son, and it is His grace to use marriage and motherhood to sanctify us in this way.