By the end of the school year, I feel like a roast. As in, put a fork in me…I am DONE. Done with school work, homework, lesson plans, or get-in-the-car-and-go-anywhere-plans.
Since my girls finished school last week, I kicked off summer with a celebratory nap. I asked the girls if they would give me thirty minutes of quiet, thinking I would need to close my eyes for twenty minutes or so and then be good to go again. An hour and forty minutes later, I opened my eyes…and told my girls they had given me the best gift for which a mom could ask!
But while I started off summer on a good, restful note, the temptation for me is where there is margin to nap, or rest, or read, or simply do nothing, I start packing in more. Signing my kids up for one more camp. Inserting more activity into slow, lazy afternoons. Making more lists of what needs to be done instead of enjoying the fullness of what’s in front of me.
At our end of school assembly last week, our head of school, Neil Anderson, gave us permission to do less rather than more over the summer. Less activity. Less screens. Less hustle and less bustle. Because margin doesn’t just happen on its own. You have to plan for it, make room for it, and be willing to embrace it…even if it feels like missing out.
In my case, I needed someone to give me permission to make room for margin. I needed someone to stand up and tell me, “Woman, rest. Resist the temptation to fill up the margins and give God room to speak and your family the capacity to listen.”
So this summer, I am giving you the same gift that someone gave me – permission to rest and permission to insert margin instead of more activity. Yes, do some camps, kick some soccer balls, make a few popsicle stick projects at VBS. But at some point, give yourself permission to purposefully and thoughtfully slow down and listen to the One who is waiting to speak into the spaces we give Him.
Here are some ideas for creating margin in your summer:
Insert some margin into your time with the Lord.
I have found summer to be a great time to linger longer over my prayers. To really learn to pray and process through things with the Lord with a pen in one hand and a Bible in the other in a way I cannot often do during the school year when everyone has to be out the door by 7:30am. Resist the temptation to sign your kids up for too many camps where you have to be out the door every morning at an early hour. Give yourself margin to linger long with the Lord.
Here are some devotional ideas:
- I just finished an excellent study on 2 Corinthians by Kelly Minter called All Things New. I enjoyed every moment of digging into the pages of the study and the chapters in 2 Corinthians. I found great principles to help guide me navigate the realities of living real life alongside of real people.
- If you battle fear or anxiety, a friend of mine, Margaret Austin, who has guest written on this blog before, recommended a study called When I Am Afraid, by Ed Welch. Summer is a great time to allow the Lord to work on some those hard to reach places in our souls that often are pushed to the side during seasons of busyness.
- And here is my personal favorite: the second edition of Waiting on the Lord. You can pre-order your copy on Amazon now, and it is due to be released on June 11th, just in time for summer. Waiting on the Lord is not for the faint of heart. This is a study that helps peel back the layers of disappointments, hurts, and make-shift bandages in our lives and enables us to see there is a God standing in the shadows, waiting to heal and fulfill the deepest desires of the human heart. If you are in a place of needing to hear, see, and taste God in places you never thought you would see Him, then this study is for you. And summer gives you the margin you need to do it. What’s great about this second edition is that the teaching sessions are on video format and can be accessed at susannahbaker.com by June 11th as well. They are perfect to watch or share with a group if you would like to walk through the study with others.
Insert some margin into time with your family.
- Have one night a week where you all cook dinner together. Include even the youngest members of your family by letting them “help” by decorating the paper napkins with stickers or artwork or put a chair by the sink and let them pour water from one bowl to another while the rest of you prepare the meal. During the school year, dinner time is usually such a time of hustle that I look forward to making a meal together we can all enjoy without me saying, “Hurry up!” one time.
- This idea came from Neil Anderson as well, but after dinner, clear your plates off of the table (or, if you are like our family, throw your paper plates in the trash can), and make time to create together. Paint, color, draw, play the guitar or piano, write a poem, or a write a story. But use your time together to let each person’s creative juices flow in the way God has gifted him or her.
- Be creative with your family devotions. Sometimes it feels like our devotions are about as dry as a mouthful of dirt. As parents, we are tired of talking, and I know our kids are tired of listening. So a few nights ago, instead of talking about a passage in scripture, we drew a passage of scripture. I read Psalm 37 about trusting in the Lord, spent a little time dialoguing about what that meant, and then let everyone get out paper and markers and go to down. Everyone created something that helped them process the Psalm. The results were so great, they have been hanging up on our book shelves ever since.
- Remember to enjoy simple, outside things with your family. I know we hear it a thousand times, but it’s true – kids don’t care what we do. They just want to be with mom and dad. So get outside. Take a walk together. Go swimming, and moms (myself included), get your hair wet. Sit down and just watch them play instead of responding to texts on your phone. Ride bikes together. But whatever you do, be fully present in the moment, in the margin, enjoying your children, and allowing them to enjoy you.
- Pick a book to read aloud together this summer. I saw this new edition of Hinds Feet in High Places, and it looks amazing. This might be our new read aloud book this summer.
- Go to the library…often. Visit used book stores and make it an adventure. There’s an amazing ice cream store right down from the Half-Price Books we like to go to, so they know if they pick a book, they also get to pick their favorite flavor ice cream.
So there. Permission given to rest. To make room and margin for less, not more. And the irony is, by the end of the summer, I have a feeling that in the “less,” we will have found more than we could ever imagine.
Holidays are full of expectations, Mother’s Day included.
Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that it helps to pay attention to my expectations before the actual day arrives and try to line them up with reality as much as possible. That way I’m not disappointed and the day goes smoothly, even if things don’t go exactly the way I was expecting them to.
Like it or not, embedded within our hearts are certain expectations that we, as mothers, will feel honored. Appreciated. Given time off to take a nap, get dressed for church or lunch at a leisurely pace, avoid any and all food prep at any cost, and given a gift that is handmade or homemade from our kids and appropriately thoughtful and economical from our husbands. Something not too extravagant but not too cheap either. I’m just saying. Like it or not, these expectations are what’s in our heads, even if we know how slim the possibilities are that any of the above will actually occur.
I’ve learned over the past twelve years on Mother’s Day that life with kids is still life with kids, no matter what day on the calendar it is or what kind of expectations the day holds.
The reality of getting four girls (five, including myself) dressed, fed, ready for church and out the door by 9am on Sunday morning is simply summed up in one phrase: damage control. Someone will stand in the bathroom crying about her hair, someone will stand in front of her closet upset about her dress, and someone will scramble in the car missing a shoe. This is what happens on Sunday mornings.
Food prep in the kitchen will most definitely occur because let’s face it: feeding four kids who need to eat three times a day (can’t they ever just skip a meal every now and again?) is easier to do within the confines of your own home than out in a restaurant.
And the chance of getting to take a nap is 50/50. If my daughter wins her softball game and is still in the playoffs come Sunday, she will have an hour and a half of practice. There goes my nap. (Is it terrible to say I wouldn’t be too sad if they lost, and we were done for the season sooner rather than later? She is only seven…)
And let’s talk about another expectation for a moment: in Houston, where I live, embedded within church culture is the expectation that all mothers and daughters should look especially pretty on Mother’s Day. Your dresses need to color coordinate. In fact, let’s back up. Everyone should have on a dress, your hair should look especially non-greasy, your makeup should be done, and a pretty, relaxed, happy smile should be on your face when you walk in the church doors. Oh, and you should be holding the hand of at least one of your children.
Listen, some of my girls are in full-blown adolescence. There will be no hand holding walking into church. Someone will be mad at someone else, someone will hate their dress, and someone’s hair will not be doing what it should be doing. There will be tears. There will be pouts. There will be all kinds of “I’m not walking with you, mom; I’m walking behind you” business going on this coming Sunday morning.
And somehow, the cute, spring dress I bought several months ago in anticipation of the expectations of this day will just not look as cute on my body as it did on the hangar. I know this from experience. My husband is a wonderful man. In fact, he does a fabulous job of filling my cup by letting me know how pretty I look in his eyes on a regular basis.
But last year on Mother’s Day, he made the mistake of telling me that my dress looked like a bathing suit coverup as we were heading into lunch with his family. A bathing suit coverup. On Mother’s Day.
I think it’s taken a year’s worth of “You look really pretty, babe” compliments to get him over that one.
And let’s finish talking about expectations by talking about gifts.
Men, I mean this. I really mean this. Whatever card or gift or homemade creation you hand your wife on Mother’s Day simply needs to reflect that you thought about it. In advance. Meaning, for more than a panicked few minutes before the gift-handing-over moment. As moms, we care more about the thought behind the gift than the actual gift itself.
My favorite gift-giving expectation from Mother’s Day happened five years ago.
Several months before Mother’s Day, I started dropping hints, laying the groundwork, prepping the soil of my husband’s heart, if you will, that I wanted…an iPad. I know, I know. It was a big ask. And I was fairly certain the heart of my husband was not going to be moved in the general direction of an iPad when what he had in mind was probably a gift certificate for a new pair of workout pants.
But it was worth a try.
I even enlisted my sister-in-law, Cara, who is the master of persuasion, to help me in my cause. And even she failed. Something she was not too happy about.
Mother’s Day morning came, and went, and no iPad. Flowers, yes. A card, yes. A smaller, more appropriate token of his affection, yes. But not an iPad.
But then came Mother’s Day evening.
His family had come over for dinner, and at the end of the evening, we were in our driveway walking everyone to their cars when Jason noticed our cat pawing at something in the street. He walked over to check it out, bent down, and came up holding…a snake. A twelve inch long twisting, wriggling, curling around his arm snake.
And out of nowhere, Cara, Jason’s sister, said, “I dare you to eat that snake.”
Now I think it would be entirely appropriate to pause here for a moment and ask, “What kind of a person sees another person holding a snake and immediately thinks, ‘I should ask that person to eat that snake’?” Probably a person who grew up as the only girl in a household with three brothers. But even then, her question gives me pause about a whole lot of things concerning my sister-in-law.
And as quick as lightening, Jason came back with, “I’ll eat it. But only if you buy me an iPad.”
“Done,” Cara said.
And in that moment, time froze. The ten of us standing in the driveway stood there with our mouths hanging open as Jason opened his mouth and then shoved that whole writhing snake inside.
Children started crying. My girls were screaming because they thought their daddy was going to die from eating that snake. Cara’s children were crying because they thought they were going to have to give Uncle Jason their iPad. My mother-in-law who thought she had seen it all in raising four children stood there with her mouth hanging open, cleaned out banana pudding dish in her hand, watching her son in horrible fascination. Even neighbors turned on their lights, opened their shutters, and came outside to see the cause of the hubbub we were all making.
And through it all, Jason chewed that snake. And chewed. And chewed. And chewed. He stood there for five minutes chewing that twelve inch long, wriggling thing with his sister beside him the whole time saying, “Open your mouth. Let me see. Nope. It’s still not all down. I said all of it.”
And every last bit of that snake disappeared into his mouth down into his stomach. I didn’t kiss the man for a week. But guess what I got for Mother’s Day?…an iPad. Thank you, Cara. Thank you, Jason. And thank you, Mr. Snake.
So, like I said, Mother’s Day is full of expectations. Some of them don’t always turn out the way you think they will. Sometimes you get the gift you want; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you look cute in the dress you bought; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes your kids behave and hold your hand walking into church; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes your husband eats a snake; sometimes he doesn’t.
But no matter what happens this Mother’s Day, I want to remember is this: expectations are fine to have, but real joy, real life happens in the mess. It happens in the car-crying moments and in the snake-eating moments. It happens in the gift-giving moments or the not so great-gift giving moments. It happens if I get a nap in or struggle on through the afternoon.
Because Mothers’ Day isn’t so much about being celebrated as a mother as celebrating those around me who make life sweet, children or no children. iPad or no iPad. Nap or no nap. Lots of food prep or no food prep. Finally, twelve years in the making, I am learning to delight in the people He’s given me to fill my cup, my plate, and my life, no matter how the events of the day unfold.
And by all means, if you see a woman this Mother’s Day who looks like she has a bathing suit cover-up on, and her children are all standing about ten feet behind with tear streaks on their faces, give that woman a hug and say, “Good job, momma. You look great in that spring dress of yours. I hope you get a nap this afternoon, and a free iPad by dinner. And if your husband ever needs to know how to eat a snake, I know someone you need to call.”
For those of you who live in Houston, I have an exciting opportunity. For three weeks in June, I will be teaching a Bible study at Houston’s First Baptist church on prayer. We will be using my prayer guide and journal called Secure, due to be published and released right before the study in late May. There is no need for you to register beforehand; just come the first night of the study ready to enter into a time of learning how to securely attach to a good Father who loves to connect with His children through the daily habit of prayer.
The study will be the first three Tuesday evenings of June, June 5, 12, and 19, from 6:30-8pm in the Reception Room at First Baptist. The address is 7401 Katy Freeway / Houston, TX / 77024.
I hope to have the privilege of seeing some of your faces and meeting you there!
May is upon us. It’s here, breathing down the necks of all moms whose kids are in the final throes of the end of school. Paperwork piles up on our desks. End-of-year teacher gifts haunt us in our waking hours and the treats we forgot to take up to school for the hundredth very special end-of-school-year-party haunt us in our dreams. And in the midst of all the mayhem, playoff games, recitals, and final exams, we are expected to still have routine things like dinner on the table every night and groceries in the fridge. True confession: tonight, I am making tacos for the third time in seven days. My family just might refuse to eat them, but I don’t care. At least there is some sort of resemblance to food on the table. Any and all margin for creativity in my brain exited the building when the month of May entered.
May is tough. It’s fun, sort of, but it feels more like jumping blindfolded off of a cliff rather than finishing the end of a long school year race.
And there’s just no way to do this part of the year perfectly. I am learning this. I am learning this when my daughter’s research paper was typed and ready to be turned in to her teacher (the paper I spent all weekend helping her type), and she forgot to turn it in. And we got points taken off. Wait, did I just say “we”? I mean she. Sort of.
I am learning this when my daughter gave her big history presentation, and I left the written portion of her project on her clipboard at home. And I got a text from her teacher. A very kind text, but still.
I am learning this when there isn’t turkey for lunch boxes in the deli drawer and there is literally nothing to pack in their lunch boxes. Not even an old, expired can of spaghetti-o’s. I am learning this when I show up to a field trip in sweats and everyone else is in big people clothes with makeup on. I am learning this when I am late on writing deadlines, my inbox is overflowing with emails, and I feel like I can’t manage to stay on top of even simple tasks.
And when life becomes full to the point of overflowing, my tendency is to become taught, my nerves stretched thin, and all of a sudden I snap, pop, or break at the slightest provocation. Or, really, what I’m learning, is I snap at the slightest hint of failure. Failure at staying on top of my kids’ school schedules, failure at staying tuned in to my husband’s needs, failure at fitting in to a certain group of moms that have achieved “perfection,” whatever that means.
But last week, a really wise person told me something that is helping me handle the imperfections of May with a little more stability. She said: “What matters is not the fact that you are broken or have failed. We are all broken, and we have all failed. What matters is the thought that immediately follows your failure. You need to learn to follow your brokenness with this statement: ‘Yes, I’m broken and far more of a failure than I ever dared to realize…BUT…praise God, my value and worth, my significance and beauty, is not tied to my failings but to the perfect, whole, completing love of Christ.'”
Or…”Yes, I blew it today and forgot many things…BUT…I rest in the hands of One who never will forget me.”
Or…”Yes, my glory is fading and life is imperfect…BUT…God’s glory is secure and heals my past, gives grace to my present, and ties my future to His perfect home.”
I’m learning, in my brokenness, to give less importance to my failures and more value to the thought that immediately follows my failures. Are my thoughts full of shame and condemnation, and a subtle, or not so subtle, beating up of self and others around me? Or are my thoughts full of the grace and redemption that is promised to unravel all of my failures and renew every single one?
Paying attention to my thoughts and aligning them with the truth of God’s Word rather than the hopelessness that whispers in my heart is helping May be a little bit more manageable. Not perfect. Not flawless. But manageable. And I’m learning to think in all of my failings, there is One who is perfect who holds me together and follows up my brokenness with His perfect, redeeming love.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5