Autumn arrived this week. Well, maybe not here in South Carolina...yet. As seasons change I am always reminded that this too shall pass. No matter what we are going through, it will end or it will change...it's just a season. This brings hope and encouragement that life won't always be this hard or this tiring or this demanding. God doesn't break bruised reeds (Isaiah 42:3).
I realized this week that I have been feeling down. Homeschooling the children takes time and focus...and it's taken from the time and focus that I have almost exclusively given to my homemaking and creativity for the past two years as part of God's guidance to heal from burn-out. I really miss quiet days of homemaking and sewing. It's just not happening right now. And I realized that it may be not so much due to all of the children being home but being due to the fact that I have newborn. I want to find out ways to balance both homeschooling and homemaking.
I poured out my heart to the Lord in my journal the other morning about this frustration. I prayed for contentment, fresh ideas, and recognized that where I am right now with the children is where I need to be. "And yet, Lord, I want to have time and a fresh vision for my home again."
Just thirty minutes later I stumbled onto wonderful ideas to get inspired for fall! I realized that all my summer stuff is still out and wouldn't it be fun to go in the attic and find some fall decor to put out and maybe even put together a wreath for the front door? The changing of the season was a new opportunity for me to have fun, be creative, and nurture my family at the same time.
So I declare that we all need to have a Seasonal Decorating Day (or weekend!). Go buy some mums for your front porch. Make a leaf garland for your mantle. Look for fun ideas of autumnal crafts to make with your children. Put out some fresh candles. Gather goodies from nature to decorate the dinner table with. Look at decorating blogs or magazines for simple tips on adding fall elements to your home. As we decorate our homes for a new season, it's an acknowledgment that there are always new beginnings, good changes, and fresh living to be had.
I think it's brilliant that God made four distinct seasons. It keeps life exciting and from getting stale and boring.
A friend came over this morning to help me go through and organize clothing. I removed all of the maternity clothes (and boy, that felt good!). I went through a bag of little boy's clothes that I had been given. Cleaned out newborn clothes that Luke has already outgrown...and toddler clothes that Will has outgrown. Pulled out bins of my oldest son's old clothes to see what would fit my 6-year-old John for the fall. Piles and piles of clothes.
What amazed me was all of the excess. Too much of all of it. So much to sort. So much to organize. I was shocked at how much clothing my children have. My heart felt sad at how much I had stored up when so many children around the world go without. I think that sometimes it's easy to accumulate too much when you ARE frugal...I shop thrift stores and consignment shops, and since they are so inexpensive then I justify buying more and more more. Wouldn't that extra bit of money be better used to give to those in need instead of buying more stuff? And guess what all of those clothes lead to? More laundry! No thanks!
All of that excess just weighs me down. It's clutter...both physically and emotionally. It makes the closets and drawers too full. It makes for more laundry. More organization and work for me. Too many choices for the children when I tell them to get dressed. They feel overwhelmed and then I do too! I just read a recent post that talks about the Waldorf philosophy of clothing children simply...I didn't agree with all of the ideas, but most of it made a lot of good sense. A few basics is all that anyone needs.
So I am paring down the closets. Each child only need 2-3 pajamas, one package of underwear, and one package of socks. About seven shirts and pants. One or two nice outfits. One pair of tennis shoes, one pair of Crocs, and some nicer brown shoes for church or eating out. A little more shoe variety for Katie since, well, we girls like shoe-color variety :)
I need to get rid of shirts that don't wear well now that I am nursing again...and also purge the closet of random clothing I have bought at thrift stores that never really fit well to begin with. And declutter my purses and canvas bags. And shoes...
We really don't need as much as we think we do. And it feels so good to let things go. To lighten our home of excess. It somehow frees our souls. And with the holidays coming, it's a good idea to declutter and freshen things up now before the hustle and bustle begins.
Take 20 minutes and tackle a closet. Drive the items to a clothing drop-off bin (we have them in our grocery store parking lot!). And then be intentional not to bring in too much clothing the next time you hit a sale! Just because it's a "good deal" doesn't mean we need it!
And then do something good with that extra money you saved. Buy a friend a cup of coffee. Send someone a gift. Support a missionary. Sponsor a child. Ridding ourselves of excess frees us up to love and give to others in a new and fresh ways.
May the "excess" in our lives be an excess of love and kindness and goodness and service...not of stuff. Give us the grace to make it so, Lord Jesus.
Did I mention that we brought all of our kids home to learn this year? A newborn along with four other children of such varying ages and needs has been a challenging yet crazily satisfying path. It's not easy. There are afternoons when I sit teary wondering how I can figure out a way to clone myself. Every child needs me, and many times there just doesn't seem to be enough me to go around.
I have had to find a good yet flexible routine for all of us. To say no to the temptation to chase perfection. To be realistic. To be gentle to myself and my children (I fail on both counts regularly). To ask for help. To remind myself that this is a "season". To meditate on Truth. To realize that I can't do it all and that's okay. Really.
But there have been practical things that I have implemented to help my days be a bit more smooth, a bit more peaceful, a bit more do-able. Things that can create "white space" on the page that is my day.
Early to bed and early to rise. I have always tended to be a night-owl, but no more! I feel so much better when I go to bed between 9 and 10pm...it helps me get more sleep since I am getting up several times a night. Mike is "in charge" of the baby until midnight which gives me precious hours of uninterrupted sleep. And if I can get up before the children, have my coffee, and give my day to Jesus, then I can greet my day and my children calmly and happily instead of frazzled and grumpy.
Wear earplugs. Luke sleeps in a bassinet in our room...and my mama-ears get on high alert with every grunt, groan, or whimper. That makes for a light and agitated sleep for me. So with the urging and gift of a good friend, I began to wear pink earplugs every night. What a difference! I can't hear all the little noises, but can easily hear him if he starts fussing. And Mike's snoring isn't waking me either :)
Use the buddy system. I gave each of my two older children the job of being the buddy to one of the two younger children (my "buddy" is the baby :). The older children are in charge of making lunch for their younger buddy, helping them get dressed, getting them drinks, etc. This has helped SO much and has eased much pressure on me.
Accept all offers of meals. We were so blessed to have many friends bring us dinners throughout the first four weeks. When someone would ask me how they could help, I would say "if you would bring us a meal, that would help a lot!" And now I think I am going to buy a few weeks worth of dinners from Super Suppers.
Go on dates. I have now hired a high schooler to babysit for Mike and I twice a month so that we can have dates. We have never done this consistently and really feel the need for dates during this season. We have older children who stay up late and young children who get up early so we feel as if we never have quiet moments together without interruption in our home anymore. Our sitter is coming one Saturday morning a month...so that we can be together when we aren't so tired and worn...and then one Friday night a month.
Hire house-cleaning help. I have also hired a college student to come twice a month on Friday mornings to clean all of my floors and all of my bathrooms. Can I tell you how nice it is to delegate this out so that I don't feel that pressure to do it all? It's awesome to spend that time having fun with my kids at the library and playing tennis instead of cleaning!
Put the younger child in preschool. I have put my over-the-top-bundle-of-talking-energy named Will in preschool two mornings a week. He LOVES it. He is there from nine until noon and let me just say that it makes a tremendous difference in our mornings. I am really able to teach and guide my older children without chronic interruption and Will gets the opportunity to play and sing and have fun in a safe and kind environment. Why didn't I do this before?
Use workboxes. I am re-implementing this homeschool organizational strategy this next week. I did it with Sam in the Spring, and it really really helped him work independently and challenged me to be creative in what I gave him to do. I really believe that this will help me balance teaching my two older children while giving my 6 year old the attention that he needs (because so far I haven't been able to find a good way to make it all work).
From this list you should be able to see that I have finally realized that I can't do it all and that I need help. We all need help and we need each other. I have always tried to "do it all" on my own...homeschool, meals, cleaning, and on and on. I have finally realized that it's okay to ask for help or hire help so that I don't burn-out.
This list is all about margin. It's all about recognizing my limitations. In order to give of ourselves in one area may mean asking for help in other areas. We are part of a Body...we are not THE Body in and of ourselves. I am just a pinky fingernail that needs to be attached to a finger that is attached to a hand that is attached to an arm that is attached to a Body of many other parts.
So right now I am finding my way. The new normal. Figuring out how to continue to live with balance and health and service and grace in the midst of a lot of responsibility. Praying for wisdom. Asking for advice. And resting in Sovereignty. Ultimately that is what brings me a deep settled peace...knowing that He has my little family in the safe and gentle palm of His hand. His grasp is sure and nothing can take us from that place. Nothing.