Monthly Archives: August 2011

Family Night: HOTEL NIGHT (at home!)

Welcome to the SUPER HOTEL...where it's so comfortable, you'd think you were at home.  Oh wait, it IS home!

Last weekend we had another fun family night!  It was our eight-year-old's turn to choose and she knew just what she wanted to do: Hotel Night!  You see, staying at hotels is one of our family's very favorite activities.  There is just something so fun about getting away, all of us crammed in one room, with nothing to distract us from just enjoying one another. Ever since we have had kids, staying at hotels every so often is something we have chosen to invest in. Oftentimes, we don't even leave our city.  And still, so much fun is to be had.  No housework, no computers, no one knocking on our door.  Just togetherness, laughs, good food, and lots of fun. Our kids, of course, love the fact that we allow them to jump on beds at hotels (something we don't allow at home!)

For this family night, though, we thought we would stay even closer to home. We had a "hotel night" AT home! We decided that from "check in" until "check out," we would pretend that our master bedroom was a hotel room and we would all stay together for the night.  When our daughter chose this activity, she wasn't lacking in the creativity department!  Really, she thought of everything. There are even some things that give evidence to the fact that we live overseas and some things are just done differently here.

First, there were signs all over the house!  She had one outside by the "pool" (a fish pond), one in the entry way, one a little farther in, signs on our get the picture.

She also had a check in desk set up, complete with a computerized form.

The kids packed their bags and ventured downstairs to get checked in. We received our keys and made our way to Room 283!

Once inside the room, we got to see some of the other amazing touches that she added.  I love the baby Orajel for our teething five-month-old and the fact that there are enough water cups for the whole family -- something we never get at hotels!

The boys said that their favorite parts of the room were the "free iPad" and the dog!

After we "checked in," we got settled, the kids got changed into jammies (which were, by the way, two of dad's t-shirts since the girls forgot PJ's!). and there was a small dance party.  Next, the pizza guy came!  We can't get pizza delivered where we live, but since it is something we try to do when we are at a real hotel, we recreated the experience by having Jason pick up pizza in town earlier in the day.

After dinner we all crawled in bed and watched a movie and then, blissfully, all went to bed at 7:00 pm (well, except for Jason who snuck out for a bit.  Shhh...don't tell the kids!)

The next morning the pizza guy turned into the doughnut guy and a dozen Dunkin' Donuts appeared at our door! Yum!  After breakfast, we hung out some more and around 9:30 we all got packed up and said farewell to our glorious hotel night.  I can't wait for the next one!

I think my favorite part of the night, other than just being with my family, was seeing my daughter get so creative.  We've stayed at a enough hotels that she knows how they work and she spent a lot of time and energy making sure our hotel room was perfect.  She did such a great job.  We had fun and she had the experience of using her creativity and gift for hospitality to make us all feel welcome.  Kids have such an amazing ability to be creative and to show off their wonderful imaginations!

I highly encourage you to try having your own hotel night! It's easy, it's free, and it's oh-so-fun!

Thoughts on Affirming our Children

When my husband and I were first married, we read through the popular book The 5 Love Languages. It was an interesting read and I felt that I gained a lot of insight about myself. As I shared about what I believed were my love languages, I remember telling my husband that I couldn't really believe that anyone would care about “words of affirmation.” I remember saying something along the lines of, “Words are cheap. Who cares about words?"

Fast forward about ten years. I reread the book, hoping to rekindle a desire to better love my husband. Reluctantly I read the chapter on words of affirmation and I was completely dumbfounded to be sitting there, holding a book, and reading words that described me in such detail. I couldn't believe that I had somehow missed this – that words of affirmation, far and above the other love languages, is what my heart speaks.

So what happened in those ten years? How could I go from thinking that “words are cheap” to a realization that I longed for a regular stream of encouraging, inspiring, and uplifting words?

This is not the place to get into all of the details, but suffice it to say that when I first read the book, my life was so void of affirming words that I didn't even recognize their value in my life or in my heart. Over the past year and a half, as I have embraced this part of who I am, I can see clearly the reasons behind many of my relationship and ministry successes and failures. My heart beats to the tune of affirmation.

Not everyone has "words of affirmation" as their main love language, but everyone needs affirming words. Children need affirming words. They need to be told that there is good to be seen in them. Children need to recognize their worth and value in the eyes of their parents and in the eyes of God. Without affirmation, a child becomes cold and dead inside. If no one points out the good in what they say, do, or in who they are, it is far too easy for a child to believe that there isn't any good in them. Everywhere they look in this world they will see people who are prettier, more athletic, smarter, wealthier, more charming, and more popular than they are. If we don't affirm them, if we don't shine the light on the beauty of who they were created to be, they will always be discontent, longing to be like the person next to them. It is only when an adult can help them see the image of God within them can they begin to feel happy about who God made them and then become capable of taking who they are and using it to serve others.

In addition, without affirmation, child discipline won't do its work. Sure, you may produce obedient kids (or you may not) but they will not be kids with tender and loving hearts. Think about it. If a person cannot see the good inside themselves, how can they ever see the good in others? How can they truly believe that people were created in God's image if they can't see that image in their own hearts? And if they don't see God's image in others, they will never have compassion on those who need it, they will never see another person as worth serving, and they will never be able to look past the faults of others and see the beauty that is inside. That's what happened to me.  Growing up, as much as I longed for affirmation, I was awful at giving it to others.  Rather than praising the good in other people, I instead became critical, judgmental, and completely incapable of seeing good in anything or anyone.  I'm made some improvements, but I have a long way to go. And thankfully, affirming my children isn't something I usually struggle with.  I thank God for that blessing because with the amount of discipline that has to happen with five young children in the home, there are large doses of affirmation needed as well!

You see, affirming our children goes hand-in-hand with discipline. Discipline without affirmation leads to either self-loathing or arrogant pride. Affirmation without discipline leads to inward and outward rebellion of any and all authority. Hand-in-hand they must go.

Here are my "to remember" points when it comes to affirming our children:

  1. Affirmation is not the same as flattery or “building self esteem.” The desired effect of affirmation is that our kids will see the goodness of God within themselves and then recognize the potential of what that goodness can do in the lives of others.
  2. When we affirm our children we should be pointing out the evidences of the image of God we see in them. Every person – believer or not – has been made in the image of God and therefore is an image-bearer. The purpose of affirmation is to make much of God, not to much of our kids. Thankfully, in God's beautiful design, affirming in this way gives God the glory and our kids get the joy.
  3. Be specific with affirmation. Tell them what you see in them and how it makes you feel.
  4. Look at your children when you affirm them. There is no quicker way to make your words unbelievable than to not be able to stop what you are doing long enough to look your child in the eye.
  5. Be truthful in your affirmations. Don't tell them something that both you and your child know aren't true.
  6. Sometimes we have to praise the potential good or the smallest steps of improvement.
  7. Don't couple affirmation with a criticism. The only thing your child will remember is the criticism.
  8. Affirming in the presence of others multiplies the effect. There is nothing more uplifting than to hear someone speak highly of you in the presence of others. There is nothing more devastating than to hear someone criticize or complain about you in the presence of others. (And may I gently remind you that this includes your Facebook status updates? )
  9. When you pray with your kids, let them hear you affirm them in your prayers. “Lord, thank you for the kind heart you have given our daughter. When I see her serving others in her family, I am just so thankful that you are working in her life.” Point the affirmation back to God. He gets the glory, we get the joy.
  10. Practice it. Affirmation doesn't come easily to some people and it can be really hard when there is so much disciplining to be done. Be intentional. Be on the lookout for things to affirm. Make it your ambition to regularly point out parts of God's character you see in your children. Write things down if you have to and then look for ways to point them out.

If this is an area you struggle with or are unsure about, I would highly suggest reading Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree.  This book is so enlightening, so refreshing, and so needed by someone like me.  It opened my eyes to new (and better) ways to affirm my children and convicted me of my complete sinfulness in my lack of affirmation of others.

I'll be back in the coming weeks with more thoughts on discipline and affirmation. A number of these points deserve a closer look. If we don't take these two needs of discipline and affirmation and diligently work on using them effectively, we are missing out on a huge part of our role as parents. God disciplines.  God affirms.  If we are supposed to be like Christ, then we need to practice both.

Next Post: Family Night -- A Hotel Night at Home!

Food Friday #2

Food for the Soul

"While the world may judge our children against the temporal standards of intelligence, appearance, money, power, and fame, God will judge them by their hearts -- 'The LORD does not look at the same things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart' (1 Samuel 16:7b).  We are raising our children for God's approval." -- Clay and Sally Clarkson, Educating the Wholehearted Child

Oh how we need to remember this!  As we make decisions for our children -- how they will be educated, what activities they will be involved in, who we let them spend time with -- we need to always keep in mind that it is hearts we are cultivating. If our highest aspirations as parents is that our children will get good grades so that they can get into a good college so that they can get a good job and "be happy" then we have completely missed the mark of what parenting is supposed to be.  We have to ask ourselves where our parenting time and energy is going.  Is it to make our children look good on the outside -- good looks, popularity, fitting in, hopes of a good salary, and "happiness" -- or is it spent on our children looking good on the inside -- hearts that love the Lord, desire to serve others, and long to fulfill their God-given potential?

What are your deepest desires for your children? What are your deepest desires for yourself?

Food for the Tummy

Out of everything I have ever made, my husbands favorite -- by far -- is Homemade Soft Pretzels.  I am not sure why he loves them quite so much, but he does, and if pleasing him is that easy, I'm all for it!  We've now made these a number of times and I have to admit, they are tasty!

Soft Pretzels (from Martha Stewart)

  • 2 cups warm water, 100 degrees to 110 degrees
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • Coarse or pretzel salt
  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray
  1. Pour warm water into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. In a small bowl, combine water and sugar, and stir to dissolve sugar. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.
  2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about 10 times, or until smooth. (Note from Janet: since I don't have a stand mixer and I read somewhere that a wooden spoon would work just as well, I tried it.  It turned out great! Just mix for a minute or two after it looks combined.)
  3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
  4. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray.  (Note from Janet: I found that greasing a baking sheet does nothing!  I was constantly trying to scrape pretzels off the bottom.  Then I tried parchment paper and it worked wonders!) Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each), and wrap in plastic.
  5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip.  (Note from Janet: Again, at the advice of someone else, I rolled my dough out on an UNfloured surface. Perfect!) Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; 8 will fit on each sheet. Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda. Reduce to a simmer; transfer 3 to 4 pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
  7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for 2 days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.
While my husband loves the salted pretzels my kids prefer cinnamon sugar!  I skip the salt and then just brush melted butter on when they come out of the oven and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.  Apparently they taste even better when they are in the shape of your initials!
Next Post: Affirming our children

Thoughts on Child Discipline

Dealing with the behavior of children is a tricky thing. It is complex. It is ongoing. It is crucial. It differs for every family and with every child. No two children can ever be treated exactly the same and therefore both discipline and affirmation will look different when applied to different kids. That said, I believe there are some key points to remember with both. This topic is far too deep (and far too important) to try to summarize in one post and therefore it will be a topic I return to regularly.

However, even with the enormity of this subject, I challenged myself to be succinct with what I believe are the main “to remember” points. I pray that these will be brought to my mind on a daily basis.

When disciplining a child, always remember:

  1. Kids are kids. “Foolishness is bound to the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). This is a fact. Time, maturity, and diligent parent training are the cure...not our angry words.

  2. We must have realistic expectations for our children, based on their age, ability, level of tiredness, and level of hunger.

  3. Child training doesn't take place in a moment. It takes place over hours and days and weeks and months and years. Don't be surprised to hear yourself saying the same things over and over again. How many times does God have to tell you something?

  4. Discipline must not just be reactionary (they do the behavior, we react). Scripture tells us that there are four types of discipline: teaching, rebuke, correction, training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Two of these are proactive. Two of these are reactive. You must make sure both kinds are taking place in your home.

  5. Discipline and training must be consistent. There is no excuse to ever simply ignore bad behavior.

  6. That said, often a gentle reminder or a quick compassionate glance can be enough to remind the child. There are many ways to discipline and we need to pray for wisdom and discernment for which is the best method at a particular moment.

  7. There is a big difference between disciplining for inappropriate behavior (behavior that goes against Scripture, including the command to obey mother and father) and disciplining because we are annoyed and/or inconvenienced. One is crucial. One is selfish.

  8. The purpose of discipline is to help the child grow in Christ-likeness, not to “get them to do what we want.” Discipline needs to be done in a way that the child knows and understands that our unconditional love for them motivates our discipline.

  9. We can never expect a child to display behavior that we don't consistently model.

  10. There always needs to be forgiveness offered freely and easily.

Child discipline and training is not optional. It is a Scripture-mandated job of parents. It isn't something that can be simply overlooked or passed off to teachers, principals, other parents, counselors, or Sunday School teachers. As parents, it is our job. It isn't always easy. It definitely isn't fun. However, one of the outcomes of diligence in this area is being able to truly enjoy our children and to be excited in knowing that they enter the world beyond our homes as a blessing to others. “Even a child is known by his actions, whether his conduct is pure and right” (Proverbs 20:11).

Please, please come back on Monday when I share the other side of the coin: affirmation. We must affirm our children. We must recognize and voice the good we see in them. Discipline without praise and affirmation will lead to an obedient-- but dead-- soul. A dead soul cannot love. A dead soul cannot give. A dead soul cannot empathize or sympathize . A dead soul cannot feel or recognize happiness, even when it is right in front of them. A dead soul cannot grasp that there is a heavenly Father that loves and cherishes them.

And that, my friends, is a scary, scary place.

What if the Numbers Translated?

I have been reading a lot lately about recognizing our natural and God-given personality and giftings.  I think it is something that is very important. By knowing ourselves, we are better able to minister to others in effective ways. I am sure that I will, at a later date, be sharing about some of the things I have learned.  For now though, I wanted to highlight something else that caught my eye in one of the books on knowing your strengths. In the book Strengths Finder 2.0, the author was speaking of engagement in the workplace.  Years of research has shown that employees are far more likely to be actively engaged in their jobs (i.e. work hard and enjoy them) when their supervisors focus on their strengths.  The information presented looked like this:

If your manager primarily:                          The chances of your being actively disengaged are:

Ignores you                                                      40%

Focuses on your weaknesses                        20%

Focuses on your strengths                               1%

Although I am not in the working world, I found this information fascinating. And, it was easy to understand why the results looked the way they did.  Who would want to work hard in a job that they hated and with a supervisor who only mentioned to them what they needed to improve in?  I wouldn't last.

And it got me thinking...I wonder how closely this research would translate to the home.  What if the numbers looked like this?

If your PARENT primarily:                          The chances of your being actively disengaged (from family) are:

Ignores you                                                      40%

Focuses on your weaknesses                        20%

Focuses on your strengths                               1%

I am not saying that research does say this, but I bet it wouldn't be far off.  What child would want to live in a home with a parent who only focuses on what they do wrong?  (I am not even addressing the issue of a parent who simply ignores their child). Parents that only mention where a child falls short can't even begin to hope that their child will actually enjoy being with them when they are older.  No one wants to be around someone who makes them feel bad about themselves all the time.

The problem is, our job as parents involves a lot of bringing attention to the negative.  We are not only mandated by Scripture to train and discipline our children, but also we are doing a service to society and to every single person our child comes into contact with if we teach them qualities like kindness and self-control.  Proverbs 22:15 tells us, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."  As parents, we are expected to bring attention to the negative.  But how can we do this without making children feel defeated?  How can we do this without a child feeling like he or she doesn't "measure up" to a parent's standard? If the above research is revealing, we can see that focusing on our child's weaknesses can easily lead to disengagement from the family. No one wants that.  Is there something that we can do to prevent it?

As I have been thinking and praying on this issue, I have been trying to focus on what a healthy balance between praise and correction looks like. I know that I need to do both and I want to do both in effective ways. I'm not interested in raising puffed-up and arrogant kids who think they can do no wrong and neither am I interested in raising kids who cannot see or understand that they were created in the image of God and that they bear a unique part of His personality in all its glorious worth.  So please bear with me over the next few posts as I "think out loud" on these issues and take stock of how I am doing as a mother.

If you have any words of wisdom for me, I'd love to hear them.

Friday Food #1

Although I am not usually one for blog gimmicks and I don't like having a blogging schedule that I have to follow, I did think I would enjoy posting Friday Food.  My thinking was that I could share a bit of what my heart/mind is enjoying and a little bit of what my tummy is enjoying.  So each Friday I plan to share a recipe and something that has my mind stirring and whirring.  And so I begin this week with Friday Food #1.

Food for the Soul

"I believe that much depression, discontent, and unhappiness revolve around the fact that individuals are not working, serving, or ministering in their areas of strength.  They fail to realize the spiritual dynamic at work.  God made all of us for a purpose and then wired us a special way to help accomplish His purpose.  We will feel truly content only when we are fully engaging our strengths."  -- Live Like You Mean It, T.J. Addington

I've been mulling over this idea for a while...reflecting on times of ministry in my life where I have failed (and there are many) and where I want to spend my time and energy now. Knowing my strengths, and being content and confident in them, will allow me to be more of who God created me to be and will pave a way to being more effective in the paths He leads me on.

I wonder, too, how this applies to us as mothers.  It is so easy to let "mommy guilt" come in for all the things that those "other moms" do. But God created each of us for a purpose.  He chose us for these kids. I feel at liberty to generalize the above quote to say that our contentment in mothering will only come when we are fully engaging in the parenting strengths that we possess.  I am pretty convinced that trying to be "that other mom" will only leave us feeling drained and defeated. We can't be the perfect mother, but we can be the perfect version of us.

The question is, though, what are your parenting strengths? What do you have to offer your kids?  How did God wire you in such a way that you are the best person for your children? Find your strengths and act on them with all your heart.  Only then will the contentment you long for in this parenting journey show signs of life.

Food for the Tummy

Cruising around Pinterest, I came across this recipe.  I have a slight obsession with all things peanut butter and even though my husband would be perfectly happy to never have a peanut butter baked good grace our kitchen again, even he said these were good.  And they were.  They were really heavenly.  And that's why, even though the title of them was originally Halfway to Heaven Peanut Butter Cookies, I took the liberty of getting rid of the halves, doubling the batch, and going all the way to Heavenly Peanut Butter Cookies.  In addition to this recipe making twice as many cookies, I also used a different filling recipe.  Something to do with me not believing her instructions to not use natural peanut butter.

Heavenly Peanut Butter Cookies

3 cups quick oats 1 cup flour 1 cup sugar 1 cup brown sugar 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup honey roasted peanut putter 1 cup unsalted butter, softened 2 eggs

Preheat an oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, mix the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix butter, both sugars, egg, peanut butter, and vanilla. Pour oat mixture into peanut butter mixture, stirring until just mixed. Place rounded teaspoonfuls of batter on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving 2 centimeters between each one. Using your finger, pat dough down so they form small flattened circles. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool completely on cookie sheet.

Filling (This is the recipe I used.  It was adapted from Wilton's Buttercream Icing recipe.You can see the original filling recipe here).

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups powered sugar

1-2 Tbsp milk

In large bowl, cream peanut butter and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.

On a work surface, place half of the cookies upside down. Dollop 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each upside down cookie (I used a pastry bag and large circle tip).  Place second cookie on top of filling and press together until filling just comes to the edges.

Enjoy with a hot cup of coffee or tea. Or a tall glass of milk (if you live in a country where you can get milk that tastes good if milk is your thing.)

I hope you have a great weekend!  We're heading off for a little getaway!

Next Post: Praise and correction...such a tricky balance!

Making the Most of my Time

Twenty-four hours. No one has more. No one has less. Or, as my friend Steph likes to quote, “None of us has the corner on the market of busy, we all have the same 24 hours in each day.” As much as I would like this fact to not be true, as much as I would love to add another twelve hours to my day (while my kids are sleeping), that just isn't going to happen. I have to trust in God's infinite wisdom that 24 hours– no more and no less – is exactly what we need. It doesn't always feel that way, but that doesn't make it untrue.

As I look at my priorities – and the way those priorities affect my family – I have to be honest with myself that I can't do everything. I just can't. I had to laugh at one line of a strength assessment I recently took which said, “Your inventive mind usually generates more possibilities than you can handle or fund.” Yes, that's me.

And that is why I need to prioritize. I need to think, pray, decide, and know what the most important things in my life are – and what they are not. I refuse to whittle away my time on frivolous things that won't last. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40). Right there are my priorities: loving God and loving others. And as I wrote about earlier, love is more than a feeling.

As I look through my stated priorities for this year it is easy for me to feel overwhelmed. I feel sad realizing how some of the things I love have to take a backseat to things I love more. I feel scared that I won't be able to balance it all or that I will lose “me” in the process. However, God has made it abundantly clear that this charge to prioritize my life is from Him and therefore I step forward, sure that the wisdom needed to make wise decisions will be there when I need it.

In order to make these priorities work in my life, I am committed to three things. Before I share those, let's refresh your memory on what I stated as my priorities.

As I look over these fourteen items I know that I cannot focus on them equally each day. For that reason, I have committed to the following things:

1. Pray for wisdom: My first commitment comes from a life-changing conversation with a former supervisor. I was lamenting the fact that there was simply too much work to be done and not enough hours in the day to do it all. There really wasn't enough time. The job was too big and I was always feeling as if I was failing in some way or another. My supervisor said to me, “What you need to do is to pray that God will give you the wisdom to do know what is most important to do today.” I have treasured that advice for many years now. She was so right. There will always be more to do, things that could be done better, and things left as dreams instead of realities. We can't control that. God gave us the same 24 hours and it is only possible to get a finite amount of things done. In light of that, I am committing to praying for wisdom to know, each day, what God would have me do on that day. Today it may be spending a long day cooking in the kitchen with my kids. Tomorrow it may be school planning. The next day it might be meeting with a friend who needs a listening ear. I don't always know what needs to be done, but God does.

2. Cut out what is not needed or beneficial at this time. This may in fact be the hardest area of commitment because it involves sacrifice. Often the things that are “not needed” or “not beneficial” are things that we really enjoy. However, they can be the “empty calories” of our time and they provide us with nothing. I have already cut many, many things out of my life and schedule. I watch almost no TV (I probably average one hour a week). I skip many websites and blogs that I enjoy but aren't pushing me towards my top priorities. I've cut out many activities that drain me. I've put most of my craft supplies away knowing that now is not the time. Cutting out the worthless – or even the good! – in order to make room for the great is a hard but profitable action. I still have areas to work on, but I know I have seen improvement and I look forward to the continued refinement.

3. Make the most of my priorities. On my bubble sheet I listed fourteen things that I want to prioritize over the coming year. There are three “big bubbles", five “medium bubbles,” and six “small bubbles.” In order to make the most of these priorities, I am striving to combine them in ways that makes the activity far more advantageous. Let me illustrate, using baking as an example.

If I spend an afternoon by myself baking in the kitchen, it is just a “small bubble” in my life. I really enjoy it and I find it both relaxing and satisfying. This is not a bad thing, but it could very easily take up a good amount of time and keep me from focusing on bigger priorities. If, however, I can combine baking with other priorities, then the time spent becomes much more beneficial and reflective of the intentions of my heart.

If I let my kids help me in my baking, then I can add the family bubble (spending intentional time with my kids) and school (teaching them kitchen skills). If we bake on a day when we are having people over, I can then add the bubble of hospitality (welcoming people into our home and cheerfully sharing food, shelter, and spiritual refreshment with those God brings into our lives). If after baking, I take pictures (I love food photography!) then I can add the photo bubble too. And finally, if I then write about what we made and share the recipe with others, writing gets to be added as well. What we end up with is a really BIG bubble and time that was well spent.

There is so much more than can be shared on this topic. Many books and articles have been written on time management, life plans, prioritizing, and organizing your life. In sharing this little bit of my journey, my hope is to encourage you in your process of thinking and praying through your priorities. After thinking and praying comes writing and after writing comes implementing. Without a plan and purpose for our time, it is far too easy to let other things get in the way of us prioritizing our priorities. To say that we are “too busy” to do something (like spending quality time with our children) is, in effect, saying “you are not a priority.” And that, I pray I will never do.

If you have any words of wisdom for me, I'd love to hear them!  I'll be returning to this topic at a later time and I am excited to know how you have progressed!

And if you're curious about the cupcakes in the photo at the top, it's just one of the fun things the kids and I baked this summer! You can see more here.

Next Post: I'll lighten the tone around here with a new favorite recipe!