At the beginning of the year, I shared some reflections for the year ahead, pulling together three themes that emerged from 2016, as well as identifying some goals that would help me be more intentional about living out themes for the year ahead. God has definitely revealed over the years that I have a heart for this blog and a desire to write. For the most part, it's been a storybook of memories of our family, pictures of our kids, and reflections on the balancing act of being a young mom who teaches college kids, likes to throw parties, and loves making things cozy.
But God is pulling me in new ways this year and I feel like the blog is being tugged with it. I've been thinking a lot about how to share bits of my process of living through this year's goals, to hold me accountable, to share pieces of my learning that have reaped rewards for myself and our family, and to inspire others in areas of building a firm, life-giving foundation at home, striving to build deep relationships with others, and living out one's purpose in whatever place we find ourselves. My mind is overflowing with ideas and I need an outlet to share my learning!
I'm going to start a new little series on my blog called, Start At Home. I'm hoping to write about more of the small practices I'm integrating in our family life in order to be more centered and purposeful with our time and our space at home. My hope is that it not only inspires others to consider ways to build up their own families, but will also become a living legacy for our family to look back on one day.
This month, I've been focusing a lot about the structure of our family life, about ways to be more intentional about fostering rhythms and routines that help us accomplish what needs to be done and also enhance our relationship at the same time. After a busy Christmas season and a relaxing but disjointed winter break, I always crave the return of routines with the start of a new year, but have been focusing so much more this year on evaluating how we exist as a family and how we can better make our home a serving, nurturing, and inspiring place. I've also been thinking a lot about our future family, reflecting on the kinds of values, traditions, and rituals I want our kids to remember when they are older, the legacy I want to leave for them, and the small efforts we can foster now that will help give them a strong foundation later on. I feel like it's more common than not to let life take a hold of you, blowing you like a tumbleweed through this busy, hectic life, and I am feeling pulled to identify some anchors to keep us on the ground with a firm foundation underneath us.
"Be very careful how you live - not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." (Ephesians 5: 15-17)
There's nothing like taking a closer look at our family life and structure to make you realize just how much the world around us influences it. Sally Clarkson says, "We live in a swift age, an impersonal age, an age of screens, noise, and constant distraction. Ours is a hurry-up, check-your-goals-off-a-list, get-to-the-next-place existence. We are busy and driven, and even if we have families we prize, we struggle to maintain connection" (p. 14). Taking this quote to heart, I journaled one night about the times in my day when I am most distracted, most overwhelmed by the stress and heaviness of the day. And those are the places I sought to reconfigure and rethink a bit. These areas will differ for everyone, but the first step is identifying them.
For me, that half hour window after walking through the door at the end of the school/work day was front and center as one of my most distracted periods of my day. Often overwhelmed by the work that didn't get accomplished from my day or still thinking about something pressing that occurred, yet doing my best to put it aside and happily transition from work mom to home mom, I often have a million things swirling around in my head at this time of day. As a working mom, you end one job and another one begins the moment those littles wrap their arms around your neck at daycare pickup. Thinking about what's for dinner, overwhelmed by the stack of papers in Cruz's backpack, the forms that need my signature, reading minutes to count, laundry to dry, and the stack of mail in the mailbox, I would often walk through the door, immediately put on a show for the kids, and either rush around the house like a madwoman, or escape to my closet for sweat pants and five minutes on Instagram, mindlessly scrolling through posts as a means to escape from the stress and the immediate demands from the kids for a snack. Instead of decompressing from the day and settling in to the comforts of our home and our family, a new kind of stress would set in upon walking through the door. I wasn't being intentional with that time. I needed to reset things a bit.
This is when I began to think about Sally Clarkson's reading hour routine, a simple idea I read about in her book, The Life Giving Home. She said that one of the best pieces of advice she ever received was from a mom who said, "If you can create the habit of afternoon reading when your children are little, they will keep it going for the rest of their lives" (p. 54). I started to think about what would happen if we would begin our night at home with a half hour of quiet time before I began dinner. If there is one thing I know that I'm quick to neglect, it is making time to be quiet - to unplug and read a good book, to study God's word, to journal, or to pray, and it's easy to look at our day's schedule and say we just can't fit it in. But I started to change my mindset, wondering how God might use that half hour to influence the rest of our night. Instead of giving Him my leftovers at the very end of my day, what if I started my nightly routine this way? How would this impact me as a mom, and the kids at the same time?
I found three baskets in our basement and went on a scavenger hunt around the house, collecting a variety of materials for both Cruz and Mila. Since Cruz is supposed to be working on his reading minutes every day anyways, I included lots of easy readers in his basket, along with some search and find books, a kid's magazine, a dry erase marker board, a little jar of dry erase markers and newly sharpened pencils, and some flash cards I had purchased from Target's dollar bin years ago. Mila's basket was a little trickier since she is not reading yet, but I found a Frozen stamp set, a few coloring books, some lift-the-flap books, and a few other fun little activities to engage her. And maybe most importantly, I filled my own metal basket with all of my favorite things: my current read, my Anchored Press planner, my Rifle Paper notebooks, my Journal the Word Bible, and my own little jar of my favorite writing utensils. Having this all in one place, right next to my desk, was a step in itself - having this pretty stack of books visible and accessible reminds me and motivates me to stop and dig in when I have a few free minutes, minutes that I would otherwise pull out my phone.
Every day except Tuesday when I teach a night class, we get home from school, hang our bags up on our hook, and settle in for 25-minutes of "quiet time." I set the timer on my phone, then put my phone in the other room, and encourage the kids to find a cozy spot in the house with their reading baskets. The rule is quiet time for 25 minutes, with five or ten minutes afterwards to share something we learned from our reads. Cruz gets his reading done right away, I get to start my night with a few chapters of a good book, and Mila usually starts with her basket, but soon meanders to her room and quietly plays with something for awhile. We are only three weeks in, but we've managed to be pretty consistent with it and the kids look forward to it. And I'm pretty sure I look forward to it even more than they do!
It's pretty amazing how this small change of 25 minutes has impacted so many other parts of our night and our family in such positive ways. Devoting 25 minutes of quiet time for me not only models positive habits for the kids, but completely resets my attitude for the night ahead. I can feel the stress of the day melt away as I focus that attention in my book, my journal, or my Bible. It's helped us unplug - the TV rarely goes on after school now, and I'd rather pick up my book than my phone when I know I have set aside 25 minutes for it. The stuff I thought I had to start right after walking through door now carries a different melody to it after we've given ourselves a few minutes to rest and breathe and be quiet after a noisy day. I feel renewed, re-energized, and ready to spend the rest of the night with my family.
This quiet time ritual doesn't always go as smoothly as it looks on paper, as rituals with kids never do. Yet, I've always been surprised how kids seem to thrive with well structured routines and plans, and this new routine has been one we've all looked forward to. It works for us to fit this in right after school, before Beau gets home from work, however, this might not be the best time for you. I would encourage you to think about the times of day when you feel most distracted, then identify ways you might reconfigure your current routine to carve out space to give God some of your first-fruits - then sit back and see how He uses that time to "love you back to life."
"I felt the Lord reminding me, urging me to give Him firstfruits of my time: specifically nap time. Rather than scurrying around the house cleaning up, doing laundry, etc., I was called to FIRST sit and be with Him. Then AFTER do my tasks. And it changed everything. I don't mean to say that life became sunny all the time, but it was suddenly manageable. My attitude was better. I had a full grasp of things. Jesus loved me back to life."
-Teresa Swanstrom Anderson
A few of my favorite "quiet time" resources:
For Beginning Readers:
-Mo Willems' Gerald and Piggie books - We love them all!
-Pete the Cat Super Cool Reading Collection
-Search and Find Books (like this one)
For Mom Readers:
-Rifle Paper Co. notebooks for journaling
-Anchored Press Weekly Planner & Quiet Time Journal
-Val Marie Paper Gratitude Journal
-Sally Clarkson's The Life Giving Home