In the last several months it has been difficult for me to blog because I have felt like I have had little direction.  Though, like I explained, I had my hand in my different activities, I couldn’t see through the weeds, so to speak.  I couldn’t make out what was truly important and what was superfluous.  I couldn’t focus on my priorities as well, nor could I go after my dreams and use my skills.

Being over-committed really wasn’t working for me.

As get the new sense of freedom that comes from eliminating some general schedule and life clutter, I’m more clearly able to lay out my own priorities and to evaluate where I am pouring the majority of my energy.

My priorities list hasn’t really changed much in the last 3 or 4 years:

1.  God

2.  my husband

3.  my kids

4.  my work/serving opportunities

The problem lately had been that pesky number 4 kept trying to sneak up past numbers 3 and 2.  I found that if I let them, my work and serving opportunities could take up the majority of my time, leaving me without the time and energy to really love my husband and my children.

After having pared down a bit on the things in category number 4, then of course, putting some more energy into numbers 2 and 3, I began to realize that the things I wanted to be in my category number 4 weren’t.  I was serving and working in areas that were good and that I did find some enjoyment in, but they were not my favorites.  It’s not the things that were filling my time before that were so fulfilling, but rather the things I wish I were doing.  Things like cooking more and being creative in the kitchen, being creative with my homemade bath and body products, teaching friends how to save money in their homes by budgeting, using coupons, and making lots of foods and products at home.

My brain feels freer.  It has the space to think about these things.  I believe I am taking a step in the right direction.

First, I will tell you, that after an hour on a lawn mower, there isn’t a lot that hasn’t gone through your mind.  There is just something magical about the monotony of riding on a lawn mower that truly opens your mind and helps you to sort through thoughts you’ve been holding on to.

Or at least it does for me.

Last week, I had a scary moment with my oldest.  I was cleaning in the house, and she wanted to play outside.  My youngest, though, wanted to stay inside.  As per our house rules, I told my oldest she could stay outside, just so long as she stayed inside the fence.

She has strayed before, and has been disciplined for it, but I know it is never beyond her to follow her whims into the next yard.

After a little while of cleaning, I called Madeline to come inside to wash up for lunch.

She wasn’t there.

I looked on the front porch where she might be coloring with chalk.

She wasn’t there either.

I grabbed Clara and started wandering down the road yelling Madeline’s name.

(Sorry, neighbors.)

On my way back, I decided to knock on our next door neighbor’s door, only to find my 3-going-on-35-year-old-first born sitting on her couch.

Apparently Madeline had helped her bring in her groceries, then sat herself down to relax.

“My mom will come find me,” she told our neighbor.

Of course, upon hearing this I was very upset.  I have been trying to teach Madeline to obey the rules of the house, especially because they all truly have her and her sister’s safety in mind.  The fact that she would blatantly leave our yard without telling me, and sit herself in someone else’s house, was infuriating.

Seriously, how dare she?

It wasn’t until this week, having had many hours to think about it, that I considered Madeline was actually exhibiting some characteristics my husband and I have been working hard to show her.

First, we are teaching our girls to show initiative.  Do no wait to be asked to do something, but do it if you see the need.  This hardly ever happens in our house, but when it does, we go wild.

Serve and help others.  We often ask our kids to help us with tasks, just so they can get used to the idea of helping one another.  We do have Madeline help Clara sometimes, when Clara can tolerate her big sister’s help.

Although it can be frustrating at times, we are raising a very independent, strong, caring, initiative-taking young girl.  Our little Madeline will move mountains one day, I guarantee it.  But until then, she will at least have to live by our house rule.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word “simple” as “free from guile, free from vanity, and free from elaboration and figuration”.

A simple life is one I have aspired to and dreamed of.  I have fantasized about making every single thing we eat from scratch, raising chickens for our eggs, and growing our own vegetables.  I have longed for the time to crochet more and become more skillful at it, as well as learn to sew.  I desire long days at home, working in my home, on my home, and with my children.

Despite not having worked full time in just over 3 years, my life is no closer to this ideal than it was the day I quit my government job.

Why?

I’ve asked myself this for a couple of years, and more intensely over the last several months.

How is it possible that after removing the largest time commitment from my schedule (my full time job) I am busier than ever?

Of course, having a second child has made life busier; there is certainly no question about that.

There has to be more to it, though.

Certainly.

In looking at my life just several weeks ago, I could see I was trying to do everything that was good, but not doing everything with the appropriate energy and enthusiasm.

I worked part time, I watched my nephew on the days I didn’t work, Madeline was going to both ballet and Cubbies (Awanas), I was taking care of the finances in my MOPS group, I served with kids on Sunday mornings at our church, I was making breakfast for the worship band once every 6 weeks, and my husband and I were leading a small group, all in addition to cooking, cleaning, raising babies, and trying to have a healthy marriage.

I found I was spending almost more time in the car going places than I was tending to my family and my home.  This existence was not simple.  Things had to change.

And change they did.

I carefully looked over and prayed over the many activities I had.  I considered which were most important and which were least important.  I considered which ones required the most time commitment or made me feel the most harried.

The first to go was Madeline’s ballet class.  Although it was very inexpensive, the class was way across town, it was difficult to get there without waking the girls up early from their nap, and Madeline was too shy to dance anyway.  Why was I bringing her then?  Did Madeline love it?  After talking to her about it, it turns out Madeline would rather pretend to be a ballerina in our living room than dance in a roomful of other little girls.

Decision made.

Next to go was making breakfast for the worship band.  Although it was a small time commitment, breakfast had to be at the church by 8:15 am, just 10 minutes before I had to be in place for my normal Sunday serving.  It was always a struggle getting kids ready while making sure I wasn’t burning biscuits or undercooking an egg casserole.  I knew this was not a commitment I should hold on to, but I had a difficult time letting go of it.  It took me almost 3 months to finally tell the coordinator, no, I cannot continue to serve in this capacity.

Phew.  Two down.

This month I had to make the difficult decision to step down from my leadership position in MOPS for the next year.  I’ve been attending MOPS at a different church than my home church, and although I had never felt like an outsider, being on the leadership team just didn’t feel right.  In addition, Ryan and I have already committed the next two years of our lives to five couples from our home church, and leading in MOPS was taking time, energy, and my very minimal socialization capacity away from that small group.  This decision was the most difficult to make, by far, because I will deeply miss the ladies I served with this year, and I will miss MOPS.  It’s truly a great program.  It is simply not for me anymore in this current stage.

After taking just three things off my plate (one that won’t even be gone until the summer), I feel I can breath deeper, smell the fresh air around me.

I notice my patience increasing.  I am less short with the girls and much more grace-filled in my mothering.

I am finding more time to connect with my husband.

How can you begin to simplify your schedule and your life?

1.  Be Realistic:  Write down everything you are committed to on a sheet of paper.  Write the amount of time each commitment takes.  Write down how each commitment makes you feel.  Write down any conflicts these commitments have with everyday routines (meals, naptime, etc.).

2.  Prioritize:  Order your commitments based on what is best for your sanity and for your family.  If your 8 year old is signed up for soccer, which has two 2 hour practice per week, but he hates it, it’s not a high priority!  Your Tuesday morning bible study that you look forward to after dropping the kids off at school might be higher on the list because it gives you time to study the Word with other believers.

3.  Work from the bottom up:  Start un-committing to things from the bottom of the priority list.  If you are always saying “yes” to everything, this first “no” will be very difficult, but so very satisfying.  Once you feel the freedom of one little spot in your schedule, the next “no” will be much easier!

Join me, friends, in simplifying life and living more fully.

(My husband will seethe over this, but I’m starting with a quote.  From his least favorite inventor.)

“I have not failed.  I have only found 10,000 ways that do not work.”

-Thomas Edison

Since September, our family has been “lightly homeschooling”.  Our oldest is only 3 1/2, so we are just doing basic preschool things, but it seemed more fitting for our family than sending her to preschool since we hope to homeschool (more formally) eventually.  She is a smart little girl, and really loves to be engaged and challenged, so my husband and I knew she would love learning new things.

What we hadn’t anticipated is that our oldest daughter tends to be quite a perfectionist, even at this tender age.  As a self-proclaimed non-perfectionist, it is very hard for me to wrap my head around a lot of her behaviors.

She will attempt putting puzzle pieces together once, but if she cannot get it on the first try, she gives up.  She will refuse to “guess” a letter or number if she isn’t 110% sure she knows what it is.  She will ask the same question several times over to make sure she understands the answer.

I, on the other hand, am happy with a poorly-made bed, just so that there are some sheets on there and the comforter isn’t crumpled up.  Although I try my hardest, I don’t wash all the dishes in the sink every night before bed.  I don’t put away laundry immediately after folding it.

Seriously, who does that?

Madeline probably will.

My husband and I are finding that in a lot of areas of her life, we have to coach Madeline to even try something new.  In roomfuls of other children, she will often shy away from trying what is being taught.  I have seen this first hand in the preschool-aged Sunday school class at our church.  I used to have a group of five year olds, and during worship time, all kids 2-5 worship together.  I watched as Madeline sat in a corner, not singing, nor dancing, watching the other children.  Having seen her sing and dance these songs with exuberance at home, I gently asked her to join everyone else, to which she refused.  She did not like to sing and dance with the other kids, she explained.

It is taking careful words and lots of conversations to help Madeline realize she can give things a try and fail a few (or many) times.  Even in front of friends or strangers.

I know perfectionism to some degree has its benefits.  I know that when Madeline tries to do something, she works very hard to do it right.  She will not leave me a mess to clean up (most of the time).  She will not leave a sloppily made bed in the morning.  She makes sure she does chores in the order she always does them (first she feeds the dog in the morning, THEN she gets the vitamins; she cannot switch the order).

As her mom, I pray I have the strength to encourage her in her strive for excellence, as well as the ability to teach her to give herself grace for her own short comings and mistakes.  She is not perfect, and never will be.  She needs to know that.  But she needs to know that she can improve any number of skills by trying, falling down, and getting back up again.

 

I have a confession to make:

I am a blogger, and I am not so great at communication.

Don’t believe me? Ask my husband.

Amongst friends I can be talkative, energetic, tell lots of jokes, and generally be outgoing, but I have a difficult time holding a conversation with someone I’ve just met. That is just not my gift.

This was what scared me most about going on the Thailand trip. In fact, it was one of the biggest things weighing on my mind when I considered signing up for the trip at all.

The majority of the Thailand trip is meeting new people and striking up conversations with them. We go into bars, buy drinks, and talk to women there. We start conversations with the women at our table at the Christmas party.

And most of them don’t speak English fluently. I worried the Lord wouldn’t use me in Thailand because I couldn’t easily have conversations with new people, like the women we were ministering too.

Of course I was wrong, and God showed me that through many beautiful women, including this lady.

She sat next to me the second Christmas party night, and her sweet smile assured me that I could be real with her. Our team leader gracious gave us a few questions that we could use to start conversations with: “What’s your name?”, “Where are you from?”, “How long have you been working?”, and “Do you have an children?” By the last question with Hom (name changed), she had taken out her phone and was showing me pictures of her four year old daughter.

Her and her daughter love to do everything together, she told me. They rode bikes, they visited gardens, they went to the beach, they watched movies. They loved being together. Her teenage son was studying to be a monk, and each time she pointed him out in pictures she beamed with pride. I could connect with Hom. She is a woman who loves her two children and is working hard to do the best for them. I shared some photos of my two daughters, two and three years old. Hom and I talked easily about our girls, then about things we liked to do. She worked days in a restaurant carving fruit and vegetables into beautiful flowers, and she did some soap carving as gifts for people she loved. We talked through most of the night, and said sincere goodbyes, wishing it were more of a “see you later”.

God used me many other times that week to connect with many other people. He put people in my path that were so easy for me to talk to and feel comfortable with. I had leaned on Jesus to carry me through every conversation I had that week, asking what to say next, and as He always does, He delivered.IMG_1916

FullSizeRenderThe harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.   -Matthew 9:38 (ESV)

I read this verse Friday morning during my time with Jesus, and thoughts of Bangkok came rushing back to me.

The harvest is plentiful there for sure.  Besides the many women stuck working in the sex industry to help support their families, the government is corrupt (although less so than before the 2014 riots), children are trafficked for begging, many upper class families are “secretly” polygamous, and the whole city just feels heavy with the enemy’s oppression.  I’ve found that the more I’ve talked to friends and journaled through this experience, I felt like I had to hold my breath for most of the trip.

And not just because Bangkok is one ripe-smelling city, either.

The place felt so dark that at times I couldn’t relax, I could barely let the tension go from my shoulders.  It wasn’t until we were with Bonita and Ann, or the girls at Beginnings, or in our small prayer sessions with our team that I could really allow myself to exhale the hours and days of defensive tension in my muscles.

The laborers are few there.  About 2% of Thais are Christian, and though there are full-time missionaries in the country, they make up a minuscule portion of the population.

After praying for God to continue to bring more laborers for His plentiful harvest in Bangkok and in the rest of Thailand, I realized I hadn’t formally thanked all of the individuals who helped me participate in the experience.

Although the trip was dark, and it was not one of “big wins”, so to speak, it was a life-changing experience.  It opened my eyes to the reality of what the sex industry looks like in Bangkok, as well as the experience of Christians in a corrupt country.  It has forever changed my gut feeling when I say the word “prostitute”, and it has shown me that there is hope, even in the darkest of places.  I have worked alongside some of the bravest young women I have ever met, and  I have set at the feet of and listened to a strong, Godly woman not afraid of breaking cultural norms to show Jesus to others.

For all of these things I am grateful

To those of you who contributed financially, I have sent you a “thank you” card.  It is the least I could do to express my enormous gratitude that you chose to spend your hard-earned money on my missions trip.  I am moved by the generosity of my friends and family to help others fund their missions trips, as well as fund missionaries living overseas.

To those of you who have prayed for this trip, for our local team, for the work in Bangkok, and for me, I thank you.  I cannot send you all “thank you” cards because I cannot know how many of my friends and family have prayed for me.  I have appreciated this immensely.  I have felt the warm embrace of your intercessory prayers before, during and after this trip, and they continue to comfort me as my mind and heart readjust to “normal” life again.

THANK YOU.