Tag Archive for peace

How I Created a Budget: A Story Involving a Church Plant, a Spreadsheet, Cash, and Envelopes

Yesterday, my post on 12 Tips for Saving Money resonated with you. Within 4 hours, this blog post quickly moved to fourth on my list of most-read blog posts. The three posts receiving more hits than that one are these:

#1: Running around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More
#2: Up In the Clouds or Down on the Ground: When Marriage Is Difficult
#3: Why I’m Uncomfortable with Mother’s Day

Since you seem somewhat interested in money and how to save it, I decided to follow yesterday’s post with another post on this topic. Today, I’m writing about how (and why) I created a budget and what it has done for me and my family. This process involves a story, a spreadsheet, cash, and envelopes.

Cash System

First, the story. In 2006, Shane and I lived in Gatesville, Texas. We had been married for four years, and Shane was a preacher at a church there. I had just finished my Ph.D. in May of that year and began working at Baylor in August of the same year. I was finally making a salary after so many years living off of Shane’s salary and a meager graduate school stipend. We were excited about almost doubling our income and beginning the process of paying off school loans and other debt we had accrued, including our car loan, loans on some appliances, and our mortgage. Luckily, we did not have credit card debt. We only had one kid. We didn’t really need a budget.

Shane liked his job, and we loved that church (our first child was born there and those people and that church will always hold special places in our hearts), but we felt a desire to reach out to “non-church” people. People who didn’t know about Jesus. People who hated the church or who had been burned by “church people.” We wanted to reach out to, meet, and befriend the so-called “unchurched” or “dechurched.” We had heard about Mission Alive, a church-planting organization, and became interested in this thing called”church planting. After many months of praying and planning and preparing, we decided to move to Waco at the end of 2007 to plant The Grove Church.

During the transition time (or the “in-between” time as Shane called it in one of his blog posts at the time), from the time we decided to plant until we moved (which was about one year), I began to think seriously about our money. Like I said before, I’ve always been a saver, but now we were about to have to raise money for Shane’s salary and the church’s operating expenses. This was not a part of the church planting process that we liked. So much was unknown. We didn’t know how much money we could raise or how much money we would need to live on in Waco where we would soon be moving to a new, bigger, and more expensive house. We did not want to rely on the generosity of others for very long (less than three years). In the worst-case scenario, I wanted to be prepared to live off my salary alone if we had to.

So, in late 2005 at the very beginning of our dreaming and conversations on church planting (years before we took any action), I created a budget in an Excel spreadsheet. I looked online to determine what categories I needed for my budget. I decided on 18 categories, ranging from Household Purchases, Saving, and Groceries, to Giving Student Loans, and individual bills (cable, internet, phone, water, electricity, etc.). I then input Shane’s salary (I was writing my dissertation and bringing home zero dollars) and divvied up the money according to his paycheck. I followed the budget for three months, all the while adjusting it according to what I really spent.

After I started working and bringing money home a few years later, I decided to implement a cash envelope system. Here’s what this system entailed: I wrote out all the categories in our budget on various envelopes (see picture), which had been extended to about 35 different items.

Some of the Budget Categories I Use

When we got our monthly paychecks, I went to the bank and took out the amount of cash I needed for that month’s envelopes. I then put the right amount of cash in each of the envelopes. We used the cash until it ran out, and we were very diligent about not stealing from one envelope if we had run out in another one.

I took the envelopes with me when I shopped. I even found a nifty checkbook-size organizer that had eight different sections in it to carry around the cash I needed when I shopped. The system worked great. It did take me a while to get “caught up.” What I mean by this is that before beginning the cash system, I paid my bills based on the paychecks for that month. With the cash system, however, I had to have enough money in the envelopes before I spent the money. This meant that I had to have money in the envelopes and the bank. It was a process to be able to save enough money for this to happen, but it did.

Around this same time, I also decided to read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. I found many of his principles helpful, especially the ones about reducing debt, namely paying off the loans with the least amount of debt (which we did with my student loan, our freezer purchase, and two of our car payments). I also liked his suggestion to have a $1,000 emergency fund for use in, well, emergencies. If you had to use the money, then your immediate goal was to replace it.

One note about the book: I did not implement Ramsey’s principle of abstaining from giving (or “tithing”, as he called it) until you are completely out of debt. No matter how much money you make or have or how much debt you are in, I think it’s important to give some of it away throughout the process of getting out of debt. If we all wait until we are completely debt-free, we will NEVER give anything. Remember the widow in the Book of Luke? She gave all she had, even in her poverty. One of my friends did recently tell me, however, that he has since revised his stance on this issue (good!), but I’m not sure what he advocates now.

For several years, I carried around a lot of cash. Cash for groceries, household purchases, baby, haircuts, medical expenses, and a few other categories. However, this all changed two years ago when my husband and I went to see Wicked at Faire Park in Dallas. While we were eating lunch, someone stole my big organizer with all my cash right out of my purse (my driver’s license, social security card, and credit cards were also inside–ugh). I lost thousands of dollars.

I thus discovered a flaw in the system. A HUGE FLAW.

I began looking for other ways to utilize this system. I decided to still utilize the cash system but to do so without having to take out so much cash each month. I decided to organize it all in a spreadsheet and to just keep track of it electronically. It has worked even better.

Today, our budget contains 57 items in the list. Shane thinks I’m crazy for how detailed it is, but it works for me (and him, I think). I am constantly adjusting the items and the amount designated to each item because different expenses come up as your situation changes.

And what have been the results? We have a balanced budget. I don’t stress over money. I adjust the budget when necessary. We have paid off or gotten rid of at least seven loans (2 school loans, 2 car loans, 1 furniture loan, and 2 large appliances). We have not accrued any more debt. We now save in advance for cars rather than paying for them after we buy them. We only spend what we have. We have gained financial peace.

I want to leave you with a list of five budget categories that have helped me in one way or another. These may not be the typical items you will include in your budget, but they have been helpful to me so I’ll share them with you.

1. “School Fees”, one envelope for each child you have (this includes teacher gifts, school supplies, school pictures, field trip money, t-shirt money, and all those other expenses that come up once kids start school).

2. “Extracurricular Activities.” Includes tee-ball and other sports for your kids, as well as piano lessons, swim lessons, or art lessons. It can also include art, cooking, or tennis lessons for yourself (This category could also include the gym, but I typically have a separate item for it when I have been a member of the gym since it’s a recurring fee). You could also include going to the movies or other family activities.

3. “Babysitting.” If you want to have a Date Night with your significant other, or if you are a single mom/dad and want to go out at night, this envelope is a MUST. Saving for a babysitter is also good incentive to actually go on the date. You already have the money saved, so go spend it.

4. “Christmas.” I have a “Gift” envelope for birthday parties, holidays, and other special occasions, but I have found that I am more conscious about how much I spend on Christmas and what I buy when I have a special envelope designated for Christmas. Beginning in January, I start putting money in this envelope. By the time Christmas comes around, I know exactly how much I have to spend, and it is there before I spend it. No worries. No fuss. I have also noticed that I spend much less than I did before. It’s not because we don’t necessarily have the money to spend; it’s just that I became aware of how much money I spent on Christmas and realized that it was way too much…and not even what Christmas is about for me anyway. If you don’t celebrate Christmas (or if you don’t spend enough to warrant a separate enveloped), then maybe you can think of a different occasion.

5. “Work Expenses.” I have two separate Work envelopes–one for Shane and one for me. We both have expenses for our jobs (most of them are for books we need to buy). It’s important to itemize all of these small items so that you don’t mess up the budget.

Thanks for reading.


We Were Swinging

Some family visited us this weekend. City folks. My mom and younger sister Kellee and her adorable daughter Olivia.

Olivia at 17 months

Sweet Olivia

My mom is from Houston and my sister is from Dallas. We live about halfway in between the two cities, so they met in the middle at my house for the weekend. We enjoyed ourselves. We didn’t “do” much–not as much as we would have had we gone to one of their homes, or to my other sister Kim’s house in Austin. There, we probably would have taken the kids somewhere to do some activity (i.e., a museum, a splash pad, a well-known park, a great restaurant, the movies, shopping). The activity would have been a lot of fun, but it would probably have cost a lot of money and we would have been on-the-go the whole time.

In this small town, we don’t have as much access to these kinds of experiences. Sure, we could have driven to Waco, which is about an hour away, but Kellee’s house is only an hour and fifteen minutes away. Why would we do that? And our small town does have some enticing places to eat as well as a wonderful state park just a few miles away.

But, they didn’t really come here to spend more time in the car. They came here knowing we probably wouldn’t do very much. They came to rest. To relax. To take things slow. To get away. To enjoy the slow pace.

And it was the simplicity of our weekend that they seemed to enjoy the most. This says a lot coming from my mom who likes to be busy and “doing” things. She is constantly on the go and likes it that way. But not this weekend. She was the one who kept insisting that we just take things slow.

Friday night, we did have one event. We went to Elizabeth’s t-ball game. She played the best game of her (3-year!) career, and it was a lot of fun.

Elizabeth at t-ball game

My mom with Levi

Nana with Levi

Saturday morning, we watched the kids swim in the kiddie pool and play on the jungle gym.

My mom, Kellee, and I sat in one of our porch swings for much of the day, drinking our Sonic drinks and talking.

Kellee and Olivia

My sister Kellee and niece OliviaLevi (9 months) playing in the pool

Swinging awaySaturday afternoon we walked over to our church to attend a Fish Fry. None of us really knew what to expect and, to be honest, we were a bit skeptical of how the food would taste or what it would be like.

I guess some people from my church are reading my blog because one woman was very surprised that I had never attended one before because “it isn’t a country thing; it’s a lake thing.” My family went camping two to three times a year when I was younger, and we would fish. We caught perch and catfish, but we always threw it back. Even if we were to catch something worth eating, my dad didn’t have the supplies to clean and fry the fish, so we always threw it back.

But there’s just something about fresh fish. It is scrumptious. The fish we ate was breaded with flour and coated with a delicious mix of spices. It was flaky, yet crispy and so very tasty. We also ate our fill of hushpuppies (which Peyton kept calling “cheese balls” because they were so soft in the middle), cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, and all kinds of desserts. I hope I can attend many more fish fries while I’m in the country (And it was really nice not to have to cook it but to enjoy someone else cooking for me for a change!).

After the fish fry, we went back home, put the kids to bed and sat in the backyard on the swing for the rest of the evening. The breeze rustled the trees. The birds tweeted and chirped. Our dog Shiloh ran around and licked our feet (they did not like that). It was even cool enough that my mom wore a lightweight jacket. We enjoyed the smell of the night air and the cooler weather, knowing it would not last much longer. Summer heat and humidity would be coming soon.

And we kept swinging. Even long after it got dark. We were swinging, back and forth. Enjoying the quiet of the country.

This was a relaxing weekend for us all. It was peaceful, restful, and simple. If you were to ask us what we did all weekend, I would say, “We were swinging.” I was glad that my family got to experience a little bit of my life, to see why this city girl likes the country.

 


12 Reasons I Like Living in the Country

I did not choose to live in the country.

My husband took a ministry job in a small town outside of Waco, and I followed him here (just as he followed me when I went to graduate school). I was skeptical of moving to the country. I grew up in Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States. And I liked it.

When I left Houston for college, I moved to Abilene, a small West Texas town. I thought it was a small town (about 150,000 people). It was small. And, when I moved to Central Texas to work at Baylor, I thought Waco was a small town.

But my definition of “small” has changed since living where I live now.

I live in a town of about 7,500. I still consider myself a “city girl,” but I do like some things about the country. For today’s Twelve Series, I’m going to write about reasons I like the country.

1. The wide, open spaces. I love the Dixie Chicks song, “Wide Open Spaces,” but this has new meaning to me living here. Most people here, even those who live in town, have large yards (front and back) and quite a bit of space between homes. Many people own acres and acres of land.  I like having my own space; it doesn’t feel like people always know when I’m coming and going or what I’m doing (I do live in a parsonage, though, but that’s a different story). If I ever do move back to the city, I would like to have some land, if possible. Not much, just some. 

Even the idea that things are slower here really appeals to me. Even though I still run around like a crazy woman, I also slow down. Sit on the front porch, watch my children play in the background, and enjoy life.

2. We don’t need a Farmer’s Market; we have the farms! I love going to the Farmer’s Market, and one concern I had moving to a small town was that I would no longer have access to the Farmer’s Market I had visited for years. Come to find out, one of the farms represented at this Farmer’s Market was from the town I now live in! So, I can now drive 3 miles to the farm and pick out all the produce I want. And, unlike the Farmer’s Market I visited before, which was only open from May through September, this one had a year-round farm stand. Buying my food from them makes me happy. I also like that my children are learning where food comes from, how it’s grown, and what it means to buy local produce.

3. The close-knit community. In some ways it feels like the bar in Cheers where everybody knows your name. Shane and I have gotten to know so many people, far more than run in our “typical” circles. People who (in some ways) are different from us but who are living life and trying to do the best they can. We love this community. No, it’s not perfect, but the people here will always be very close to our hearts.

4. The stars. The wide open spaces allow for us to see so many stars at night. “The stars at night. Are big and bright. [clap, clap, clap, clap]. Deep in the heart of Texas.”

5. No traffic. I grew up in traffic. I went through 32 (red) lights on my daily commute to school. Traffic was a part of life. Sometimes it took an hour to go to a friend’s house. When we traveled for junior high and high school sports, the trip could take an hour and a half, each way. My dad worked Downtown, 19 miles from our house. It took him well over an hour each way. Driving long distances and and waiting in traffic was a part of life. I didn’t know any different.

Even though several major highways (both state and national) go through our town, traffic is not much of an issue. It’s easy to get around and there isn’t much waiting. Now, when I go back to Houston to visit my parents or to Austin to visit my sister or Shane’s parents, I dread the traffic. It takes 20 minutes to go two miles (and that’s good!). Shane and I comment each time we go that we are glad we don’t have to experience traffic like this on a regular basis. It’s a perk.

6. The opportunities to be involved in many aspects of the community. Getting involved is easy. There are so many ways to help this community, and we like getting involved, serving others, and making our community a better place. I like to feel like my life matters, that there is a purpose greater than myself, that I can use my gifts to help others.

7. My big backyard. Having a huge garden and still enough space to run around and play games with the kids is amazing. We don’t have neighbors beside us (on either side) or behind us. It’s quiet (when the neighbor down the street isn’t playing the drums!) and relaxing.My Backyard

8. The ecumenical nature of the churches here. We have a great diversity of churches here–all types of denominations. We even have a Mormon church. In large cities, people often get together with other churches from their same tribe (Baptists with Baptists; Presbyterians with Presbyterians; etc.). Here, though, since there is typically only one church for each denomination, the churches work together, play together, and serve together. Recently, we had an ecumenical prayer walk. It was so neat to see all these people coming together to pray to our one God.

We do have people from other religions living here, but I do not know of synagogues or mosques in the area; the great majority of people here are Hispanic, and most of them are Catholic. 

9. The diversity. Even though I come from a big city where people from all walks of life live, I also live in a town that is extremely diverse. Approximately 80% of the population are racial minorities (45% Hispanic, 30% African-American; 25% White). This is a very, very poor town, and my kids go to schools with other children they never would have been exposed to in the suburbs or in private schools (at least not at the same percentage–Elizabeth is one of 3 White kids in her entire class). The rate of people with college degrees is very low, but it does allow for us all to learn from each other and to see how to live together even though we come from different backgrounds and places.

10. Our church. I love the church community of which we are a part. Our church is at the top of our list on things I like best about this town. Great people with servant hearts. I’m glad to be a member here. 

11. The teachers and principals and counselors and nurses and administrators and paraprofessionals and janitors at my daughter’s school who know our children and us very well. Attending a small school has its perks, especially how “everyone knows your name.” These people care for the children and know where they come from, which, I think, makes a difference in being able to meet (and exceed) each individual child’s needs.

12. The numerous small businesses in the area. Many people who live here decide to open small businesses. Retail stores. Quaint boutiques. Delicious restaurants. Consignment shops. And other unique places. This entrepreneur mentality helps our community in many ways.

If you live in the country, what do you like about it?
If you don’t live in the country, what do you think you would like the most? The least?


Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my routine doctor appointments last year, pregnant with Levi. After hearing the baby’s heartbeat and finishing the exam, my doctor, who was now seeing me through my third (and final) pregnancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feeling about life and motherhood and work and all the other commitments I have.

She has known me for several years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writing my dissertation. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doctor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doctor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emotions came gushing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my children: about being a working mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not taking them to or picking them up from school because I have an hour commute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my computer too much; about working too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or screaming or being unforgiving.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my job: about having a family; about having children that prevent me from being as productive as some other of my colleagues; about living so far away.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my husband: about him having to fill so many of the typical “motherhood” roles, such as doing the laundry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or carting the kids to and from school each day, particularly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is wonderful!); about every conversation we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep during a movie we’re watching together; about him being the go-to parent so much of the time; about not having time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my sisters, family, and friends: about not keeping in touch better; about not being there more when I want to be; about taking forever to send thank-you cards, or not even sending them at all; about not seeing them as often as I like; about not noticing when they are struggling or going through a hard time; about not calling to say hi.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cooking a homemade meal each week for potluck; about not signing up for nursery duty because my husband needs me to be in there listening and supporting him as he preaches; about not fitting the typical preacher’s wife role (whatever that is); about being shy.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my body: about being overweight; about using food to stifle my emotions; about not having time to exercise; about my body changing through 3 pregnancies and 2 c-sections.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my relationship with God: about not praying or reading the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks without even talking to God; about wondering who God is; about doubt, doubting certain things I grew up believing but that I now question.

Guilt.

About everything.

Thinking and talking through many of the ways I was feeling guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doctor after all). When I was done, she said she understood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feeling so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feeling guilty about not living up to my own or society’s  expectations of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Superwoman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words resonated with me. I went home from the doctor feeling better. I resolved not to feel guilty. My children love me, my husband loves me, my parents love me, my friends and family love me.

I can give up my perfectionist tendencies. I cannot do it all; I am not Superwoman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.


Anxiety Abatement: 12 Ways to Simplify Your Home

Today is the first post in my 12 series.

I write today about simplifying your home by clearing out the clutter–physical clutter, such as toys, books, and decor; environmental clutter that increases anxiety; and emotional clutter like distraction.

I have my own issues with clutter. Last fall, I stayed home with my new baby. I work outside of the home, but my wonderful university gave me a semester-long maternity leave when I had my baby at the beginning of the term. During this time at home–almost every single day–I came to realize that I did not like being at home. I was shocked by this revelation. I really thought I would like staying at home.

I have a nice home. And I like my stuff. But I disliked being at home because of the constant mess. I didn’t like looking at the junk, and I mostly stayed in one or two rooms so that I didn’t have to see the rest of the house. Too much clutter.

I decided to do something about it.

Today, I present to you 12 ways to simplify your home, to de-clutter your home so that you can find the emotional sanity you need and truly live your life in focus. These items are not ranked in order of most important, but I chose to number them to make it easier to skim the list.

1. Consign, sell, or donate at least 2/3s of your toys. Seriously, do it. Over the past several months, I have been cleaning out the toys. It’s been easy to get rid of the ones my kids have outgrown. If we don’t need it anymore, I’ve gotten rid of it. I also tried to get rid of toys that limit creativity or originality, toys that come in such a pre-form package that they do not allow children to use their imagination. My daughter’s Barbie dolls are the only things that I have yet to throw out in this vein. She has about 10 of them. I told her she can keep 2. She’s deciding which ones and then they are gone.

The hardest part for me has been to dwindle down the toys to a very small stack. But I have tried. I only have one more room to do. The results? It’s been freeing for my children. Their rooms are neater. Cleaning up is not quite as big of a task. They don’t seem so stressed out or overwhelmed when I ask them to clean up. I’ve also noticed that they are playing more. They aren’t coming to me saying their bored. They know where their toys are, and they want to play with them and then pick them up. As I was separating the toys into consignment or donation piles, I also added one more pile–a rotating pile. I put the rotating pile into one storage bin and moved it to our garage. Eventually, I will rotate the toys in the bin out with the toys in their room. My kids are enjoying their clutter-free spaces. And I am enjoying their better attitudes and their renewed interest in the toys they have.

2. Cook the same meals (or types of meals) each week. I like to cook gourmet meals. I like to eat good food. I like to watch cooking shows and discover new recipes. And I must admit, I’m still trying to put this one into practice. We have simplified our weekly menu by instituting Pizza Night, a tradition going strong for several years now. The problem here is that I’m the only one who’s known about this weekly event. I cook and plan the menus and having one weekly meal on my list has made meal-planning and grocery-shopping easier. My kids know that we have pizza a lot (it’s my daughter’s favorite food), but until recently, I didn’t call it Pizza Night. I am learning, however, that children need to experience anticipation, so I plan on communicating meals like “Pizza Night” to my children. Over the summer, I plan to institute “Meatless Monday,” “Pasta Night,” and a “Mystery Dinner.”

If you were to take this tip one step further, you might even designate the exact meal: chicken spaghetti, soup, chicken tenders, breakfast-for-dinner, lasagna, etc., so that the meals are simplified even further. I don’t think this would work for me because of my own interests as a cook, but if it works for you, great. Go for it. The goal here is to simplify meal-planning, cooking, and eating and for all to experience joy at the dinner table.

3. Get rid of all those extra cookbooks on the shelf. Admit it, you probably don’t use half the cookbooks you have on the shelf. I just went and counted my cookbooks. I have at least 50 (and I just got rid of about 30–still working on the others!). I probably only use 8 of them. But the others are special to me, so I’ve kept them. I still have too many, though. My sign should be that they don’t all fit on the bookshelf I have in my kitchen. Still trying…

4. Play a game. Indoor or outdoor. As a family. With your child. By yourself. Play a pick-up game of basketball. Play Horse or Knock-Out (I recently played this with my 7-year-old nephew and my brother-in-law Derek, and it brought back so many memories of playing these games in middle school and high school. I loved it!). Play a baseball game where the trees in your backyard are your bases. Play board games like Candy Land, Chess, Monopoly, or Checkers. Play Double 9 dominoes, Uno, Spades, or Memory. Anything your kid likes. Or, make up your own game, complete with materials and rules.

5. Try to filter out the adult world from your children. Try this for one week: No fights with your spouse. No negative comments about other adults (friends, teachers, church people, the president, politicians, relatives, in-laws). No inappropriate content coming to your children through the TV (especially the morning and evening news or certain video games that can desensitize us to violence). Instead, be present with your children. Talk to them at the dinner table or when they come inside from the backyard. Listen to them. Learn about their world, their interests. And let me know how it goes.

6. Donate all those books on your bookshelf to your library. My husband and I both went to graduate school, where we were required to buy hundreds of books for our courses and our research. Most of those are at our respective offices, but many have entered our home. If you don’t use it or think you will use it, get rid of it.

But graduate school books are the least of our worries when it comes to books in the home. Novels, Christian books, self-help books, biographies, and children’s books are of much greater concern. I must admit that I am cheap when it comes to books. I don’t like to spend money on books. I go to the library at least once a week. Any book my local library doesn’t have I can get through my university’s interlibrary loan service (which is awesome). That being said, I still have a lot of books. People give books to me because I am an English teacher, and, hey, I like books. But I don’t like books to clutter my shelves. I used to think having books in your home was a sign of intelligence and brilliance and being smart. Just think of all those movies where smart, rich people have these amazing libraries with the movable ladder. But now I don’t really care to live up to that standard. Books and bookshelves lead to clutter. So, get rid of your books. Getting rid of the children’s books has been the hardest part for me. I put some of them in the rotating pile and got rid of at least three shelves’ worth. I now have three shelves of books–one shelf for each kid. That’s still a lot, I know. But we do read a lot and we read a lot of the same books, so I’ve kept a few.

7. Consign or donate your unworn clothes. Seriously, do it. It is liberating. Go through your clothes, your spouse’s clothes, your kids clothes. Consign clothes that don’t fit or that are out of style. If you have gained or lost a lot of weight recently, get rid of the clothes in the different size. Even if you lose that weight (or gain it back), those clothes will be out of style. And it will make you feel better when you are getting dressed each day not to be staring at those other sizes.

8. Turn off the TV. At least 2 days a week, no TV allowed. Try it. It’s amazing how much more time you have to do things you love to do–and things that will make you feel so much better about yourself than watching 4 hours of TV every night. Read, write, cook, eat, talk, scrapbook, exercise. Find a passion and turn off that screen.

9. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed at the mess, take 15 minutes to do a quick pick-up of the house. Toys and mess can be overwhelming for adults, too, and setting a limit on how much time you spend picking up is good for you, too. Get the kids involved. Make it a game. We did this recently and it was the fastest, most fun clean-up we’ve ever had. I set the timer and provided an incremental countdown of how much time we had left. The older kids were so excited. They kept coming back to ask, “How much more time?!!” Fun will be had by all.

10. Read more. Take the time to read that mountain of books on your nightstand. You will have more to contribute to discussions with your husband or your friends. You will learn something. You will feel good about yourself. You will grow as a person.

11. Make it a goal to have 2 entire days or evenings of unstructured time at home. Nothing planned. Nothing scheduled. Except being with your family and letting your kids run free. They can know you are there and come to you when they need you, but don’t plan an activity–even in the home. If your kids get bored, tell them, “Well, then, something amazing is about to happen.” Just be. Your kids will appreciate it in the long run. And you will, too.

12. Pray more, and dwell in the presence of the Lord as often as possible. In the rush of my busy life, I must admit that personal time with God often gets lost first. I used to have quiet time in the morning. But with young children, such a goal is idealistic rather than realistic, and I won’t beat myself up over not being able to have this peaceful time the same way I did as a single woman. Instead, I have learned–through the gentle love of some older, wiser women–how to integrate prayer and God into my day rather than save a single time or space for it. I like this idea. I’m still not very good at it, though. I am trying, though.

This list is far from comprehensive. These changes take time. Change is a process, not a one-time fix. I merely offer some things that have worked for me. They’ve helped make our family closer. They’ve allowed my kids to open up to me in ways they hadn’t before. They’ve decreased my own anxiety and have helped me deal with the feelings I have being in my own home.

What tips do you have to make your home a peaceful place?


Crazy Woman, Part II

In my last post about running around like a crazy woman, I discussed how parents tend to over-schedule and over-extend their kids. Between sports, music, dance, and all sorts of other lessons, our children are not allowed enough time for unstructured play, or free play time. According to the author of Simplicity Parenting such lack of free time is harmful to our kids.

Why? Many reasons, but one that resonated with me had to do with sports. I played team sports as a young child. In sports, rules are already created. Children playing structured sports (whether team or individual) must adapt to the rules. In unstructured play, however, children make up their own rules. They use their imagination. They are creative. They work with others to problem-solve how they can play a pick up game of basketball. What will the rules be? What is acceptable behavior and play?

Today, I give a brief anecdote. Saturday, my oldest two children had t-ball games. They had team pictures hours before their games. My husband is coaching both teams so he had to be there early for both pictures. They came home after the pictures to pick me and the baby up.

I woke up around 6:30 that morning. I packed a bag for my baby Levi (food for lunch, 2 bottles, diapers, wipes, and all the other stuff babies need–except sunscreen, I forgot that). I packed a lunch for both kids to eat before or after their game, depending on which kid it was. I packed drinks and snacks for them and me during the games. I found my chair and a kid’s chair and set it out to be loaded in the car, along with the stroller for Levi. It was my turn to bring snacks for the girls’ game, so I also packed snacks and drinks for the team. I got the camera and the video camera and the baseball and softball bags and on and on and on.

I was busy loading and packing and getting myself ready for over 2 hours (yes, it didn’t take this long). What I haven’t yet mentioned–and the main point of this story–is that while the kids were taking team pictures at the fields with their daddy and I was packing and preparing for the games, 8-month-old Levi–poor Levi– sat on the floor crying uncontrollably. Not just crying, but screaming. With his head bent over on the floor. From 6:30-9:15 am, except when he was drinking his bottle, the little guy was crying.

You see, what my words up there did not express in the telling of the details of my morning were the emotions going on–the feeling of my home at that moment. I was tense. I was stressed. I was trying hard not to forget anything.

I was running around the house like a crazy woman. I was not setting a good tone or rhythm or pace to my life.

And little Levi was the one telling me how much my schedule–our schedule–was impacting his little life.You see, even though I was having to do a lot of preparation for the games, Levi was the one most impacted by his siblings’ schedules. He was the one missing out on mommy-and-me time. Right when he wanted it the most. Levi wanted me to stop what I was doing–to pause for a moment. He was begging me to STOP. To sit on the floor with him. To make faces. To play peek-a-book. To tickle him. To do all those things I love to do but didn’t have the time for that day because of our plan.

Levi wanted his mom, and I was not there.

He also wanted a peaceful home. A home free of anxiety and tension. A home full of spontaneous moments.

When Elizabeth was 8-months-old, we didn’t have t-ball games. There were no older siblings. The same is true for Peyton. But Levi, he just wanted some time to play on his own or with me and experience a carefree day, but instead his whole day–even long before the game started–was spent crying because no one was paying attention to him. Because the house he lived in was full of one busy queen bee running around and stinging all those who stood in her path.

My mommy heart ached seeing this child so upset. I wanted more than anything to hold him and soothe him (I tried, of course, but he could read my motives, which said, “Please stop crying so that I can finish what I need to get done.”). But I needed to finish my tasks (due to a complicated schedule we created). So, Levi’s needs were not met. The schedules of his older siblings determined his day and set the tone for him. And he did not like it.

As they age, younger children must get more used to being carted around to practices and performances and games because they do not throw the same type of fit that Levi threw on Saturday. But Levi’s 8-month-old self was speaking to the very depths of my soul when he told me, “Slow down. Hold me. Pay attention to me. The other stuff is not as important.”

I am learning lessons from my babes. What lesson have you learned lately?


Running around Like a Crazy Woman: Why Less Is More

Simplicity Parenting book coverI am currently reading Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids. This book, by Kim John Payne, a school counselor and an educational consultant, has challenged me to re-think the way I parent my children. He has encouraged me to consider the ways my good intentions as a parent may have negative consequences on my child. This book is challenging, provocative, and inspiring.

Right now, Elizabeth is 6 years old. She is playing t-ball. Beginning next week, we will have practice or games 3 nights a week.

Peyton is 4 years old. He is playing t-ball. Elizabeth and Peyton are not on the same team. Shane (my husband) is the assistant coach of Elizabeth’s team and the head coach of Peyton’s team.

For the next 8 weeks, we are going to be eating, breathing, sleeping, and thinking t-ball. T-ball every night of the week, except Wednesday when we have church. T-ball on many Saturdays. Several nights, both kids have a game, so we’ll be at the t-ball fields for close to 4 hours.

But we love t-ball. We like that our children are engaging in activities (we think) they (will) like. I enjoy chatting with other parents and getting to know adults and children in our small community. We like that our children feel good about themselves by playing and accomplishing something. We like to be Jesus to the community by serving them. We like being involved. We like our kids starting and finishing something.

But that’s not all. In the Winter, Elizabeth played basketball. In the Fall, Elizabeth and Peyton both played soccer. And through it all, we had a newborn baby who is now 8 months old to cart around.

I pause now to ask myself, “What are we doing to our children by enrolling them in all these extracurricular activities?”

In the United States, parents are told the following dominant narrative: “You must enroll your children in as many activities as possible at very a young age. The more the better. Ballet. Dance. Swimming. Soccer. Summer camps. Team sports. Individual sports. And on and on.”

Just look at some of the examples of prodigy kids. Tiger Woods began golf at 2 years old. Andre Agassi started playing tennis around age 4. Cild actors like Drew Barrymore and the Olsen twins began acting when they were young. I’m sure there are numerous other stories (if you know of some, leave them in the comments).

In short, if you want your child to be good at something, start them early on the activity/task. Malcolm Gladwell even points out in Outliers that to become good at something, perfect at it, you must put in over 10,000 hours of practice.

So what have we done to make our children successful? We begin early. We want them to reach that 10,000 hour mark well before their teenagers and it is deemed too late. Just consider the book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (which I will write about soon). If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably heard about the book (it was quite controversial) and her “Chinese way of parenting.” The author–a law professor at Yale–spent countless hours every single day making sure her children had mastered the piano and violin. They practiced all the time–literally. Even on vacation. Everywhere. Every. Single. Day.

But Simplicity Parenting asks a simple question really, “Why?” 

Why do we do this to our children? What do they really gain through these activities? And what is the cost of this attitude of more, more, and more? What are the results of our over-scheduled, over-stimulated, busy lives? Especially on our children?

Throughout the book, he answers these questions, and in quite provocative terms. Put simply, he says that “less is more.” Seems simple, but when you unpack this idea in terms of schedules, television, screen time, clutter, toys, your day having a rhythm, order, and flow, stress, anticipation, sleep, food and eating, an ordinary day, and filtering out the adult world from your children, you can see how this idea becomes even more convicting.

Less is more.

We have forgotten the gift of boredom.

Less is more.

Our children need unstructured play time.

Less is more.

We need to clear away the clutter.

Less is more.

The true power of less is that it creates smarter and more imaginative, energetic, independent, creative, self-confident kids. Kids that know how to solve problems, get along well with others, figure things out, and build a deep relationship with their parents and others.

Simplicity parenting is worth the try.

For those of you interested in learning more about the book, you might like to watch this informative four-minute video by the author.