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Do your plans even matter, mama?

As a mom of young children, I often feel that my plans are in vain.  Regardless of the time spent, the lists made, or the thoughts laid out, I can't have ultimate control over our day.  I can recall a week this past winter where all of our children contracted a virus, and we spent everyday in the house nursing fevers and coughs, completely derailing our calendar.  The following Monday, I was excited to get my "plan" together and start homeschool, only to have a bad reaction to food put me on the couch with stomach pain for hours.  I can think of other days or weeks when I've had childcare arranged, only to have it cancelled or not work out because of an unexpected conflict.  It seems like life is full of moments where my plans fall apart.  Which can leave me wondering...what's the point of planning?

  • Why should I spend time laying out my calendar for the week if it's just going to get rearranged?
  • Why should I work to establish a daily routine or rhythm if it seems like most of our days are "exceptions" to the rule?
  • Why do I need to write goals when they are extremely difficult to accomplish with unpredictable little children in my life?
  • Why put "wake up at 6am" on my weekly plan, if I can't help the fact that my baby might wake up too many times to make that a reality?

It does seem that in the face of these challenges, we have a couple of common options:

We can get really really frustrated.  
Life can start to feel "out of control" when we can't force our plans to happen.  When people or tasks don't bend to our rule, we can become grumpy, bitter, and even downright angry.  This type of disruption reveals our heart of selfishness, and we punish anyone who threatens to take down our task list.  It's easy to see if we've reverted to this strategy, because our response to change is brutal.

We can give up on plans and structure altogether.
The opposite can also happen.  In the face of constant change and adaptation, we can shrug our shoulders and fail to make many plans at all.  We recognize the changing seasons of life, and say, "Oh well, let's just roll with the punches.", neglecting to take responsibility for intentional living.  We can tell we've reverted to this strategy if our home, life and hearts are continually in chaos.

So what does God expect of us?  Are we supposed to make plans or aren't we?  And how should we respond when the plans don't play out exactly the way we hoped? While I'm still working out these thoughts, here are some principles that seem to be evident in scripture. Initially, they seem to be in conflict, but I think they work together:

1.  Prudent planning is good. (Proverbs 14:8)
2.  We should work diligently to accomplish those plans in faith. (James 4:17)
1.  God is ultimately in control of our lives. (Proverbs 16:9)
2.  His plans are better than ours. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

In light of these truths, we don't jump to either extreme.  We can look at our daily, weekly, monthly and yearly calendar without false hope or disdain.  We can set goals and expectations, without crumbling when those things don't come to pass.  If our children get sick, we can see that as part of God's sovereign will - which is ultimately for our good.  If our goals are reached, we can thank God for his provision of time and resources to make that happen.

If I dive much deeper, we'll be talking about theological issues that are more complex than the scope of this article. So for now, I will say that I believe God does want us to live intentionally and make plans, while still trusting his sovereign guidance in the process.

For the mama who feels like plans are pointless, here is some encouragement for you:

  • You can make plans and trust God with the way they ultimately work out. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • You don't have to be worried about what is going to happen with your day. (Phil 4:6)
  • It is smart and wise to make plans. (Proverbs 14:8)
  • You should invite God's wisdom into your planning process. (James 1:5)
  • Your life is going to reflect the intentionality you approach it with. (2 Cor 9:6)
  • God's words should guide your plans. (Psalm 119:105)
  • God has plans for you that are being worked out for your good. (Romans 8:28)
  • You should be a doer of God's word, and that's likely going to require planning. (James 1:22)
At the end of the day, planning isn't a way for us to exercise prideful or fearful control over our lives, but a tool that allows us to live more fully for God's glory and love others well. 

Lastly, I wanted to mention something about planning that I think keeps me (and I'm sure others) from making plans. Because sometimes, making plans means that things in your life seem to get a little bit worse for a while. In order to get those meals on the calendar, get a better handle on your discipline strategy, figure out how to manage your laundry better, or create a box of bible study materials you're going to have to give time to it. And yes, that might mean leaving the house on a weeknight when there are chores still to do. It might mean letting the kids have an off-day to research or map out a better routine. It might even mean that you order pizza one night so you can plan meals for a month. I'm not sure what it looks like for you, but every time I've pursued more intentional plans, I've also had to put up with a little more chaos in the meantime. 

Don't let that initial investment scare you away! Yes it will be hard. But it's worth it. 

Although God's plans prevail, planning still matters mama!

The Mission Field of Motherhood Can Be a Fearful Thing

Entering the mission field of motherhood can be a fearful thing.

When we leave the hospital with a baby in the backseat, the objections begin, and they aren't easily silenced...
  • What if I have to give up too much for this child?
  • What if I lose valuable career opportunities to care for them?
  • What if my body never returns to "normal"?
  • What if I never get a full-night's sleep again?
  • What if I'm not "cool" anymore and I have to start choosing practical over aesthetic?
  • What if I give my all to raise up this child in the Lord, and they still rebel?
  • What if there is a complication and I lose my life or they lose theirs?
The "what-if's" of motherhood can be all-consuming, and they can cause rainclouds of burden to hover over our hearts. I mean, we want to make disciples. We want to love our children well. (But maybe not to the point of true discomfort or great loss.)

Here's the honest truth from my mom heart to yours:
Yes, there are great risks to entering the mission field of motherhood.
Yes, there are great risks to loving our children like Christ loved us.
Yes, there are great losses when we decide to make disciples of our children instead of just bringing them up in the ways of the world.

But there is good news! Jesus is very familiar with the risks and losses, and he still calls us to go. Jesus understands the costly nature of disciple-making more than anyone. To bring the gospel to us and show us how to walk in the way, he lost:
  • his comfort
  • his dignity
  • his physical well-being
  • his honor
  • his rest
  • his friends
  • and ultimately, his life.
He gave up everything so that we could have eternal life with God. He gave his life so that we could live with hope, having peace with God. Grace was costly. Disciplemaking included tears and and even some frustration. True love was about giving his life for ours, not about self-preservation.

And then, Jesus says, "follow me."

So why, mommas, do we think that the mission field of motherhood will be a relatively comfortable, easy, or self-glorifying task? Why do we go into it with limits on what we will spend, pour out, or give for this calling? Why do we fear the potential risks and losses?

Because Jesus is clear that a love like his is EXPENSIVE

The mission field of motherhood is a fearful thing, yes. People and the culture are going to object to the risks, the things you are going to lay down, and the parts of your life you will lose* to give life to another. 

But, momma, it's also worth the price.
You don't sacrifice yourself on the altar of motherhood for the sake of your children. Your children's good is not your ultimate purpose! But you do give yourself to God as a living sacrifice, valuing what he values - treasuring the exchange that life-giving requires. You treasure the lives he's entrusted to you, doing what it takes to live for God's glory and teach others to do the same.

Your motherhood isn't ultimately about you, anyway. About how good or bad you are, about how much you give up or how much you get. Your motherhood is about being an image-bearer, a disciple-maker, and a big billboard that points to the greatest treasure - Jesus, himself.

And because Jesus gets it,
And because he went first,
And because he did it for you,
YOU can do it for THEM.
Giving them the good news that will hopefully bear the fruit of faith in their lives forever.

Momma, the mission field of motherhood can be a fearful thing, but you can entrust your fears to a faithful God while doing good. Now, go forth and make disciples of all nations - from the crib next to your bed, to the room down the hall, to the neighbor down the street, all the way to the other side of the world.

*Of course, mothers are also notorious for neglecting their own legitimate needs and that's not what I'm advocating here. A woman who has proper nutrition, adequate rest, and healthy opportunities for fellowship will likely do a better job of loving her children than a mom who hasn't taken care of herself at all. But in our culture, the pendulum often swings too far in favor of a mother's "right" to her "own time" because "she deserves it". It is this heart attitude that I don't see modeled in the life of Christ. A mom whose heart treasures Jesus, desiring to love others as he loved, will adequately consider how her self-care positively contributes to her ability to fulfill the great commission.

The Only Way to Keep Your Life

Leaving Sodom & Looking Back
On she ran, stumbling over rough terrain, being pulled by the firm grip of a strong hand. Just minutes outside of her home city, the thoughts were driving her to doubt her direction. Everything was fine until these men showed up and started bothering her family. Maybe Lot was a little hasty in offering up their daughters, and maybe she should have helped serve them the feast, but she certainly didn’t do anything to warrant this type of terror from strangers. Now she was being removed from everything she held dear, following only out of forceful obligation.

The thoughts wouldn’t stop coming as her family hurried to escape the destruction. She heard the screams and commotion, even the sobs of her daughters. The smell of sulfur and smoke caused her to choke and cough. Despite the opportunity to escape, her concerns now turned to her friends and neighbors back in Sodom. What was happening to them? Would she ever see them again? She considered her favorite pottery, her linens, her usual marketplace, and the children down the way. Was this fair? Couldn’t she have one last look?

It was overwhelming, and her instincts were taking over. The stitches in her side made it hard to breathe, and she didn’t understand why no one else cared enough to check the status of their beloved city. Didn’t Lot love them more than his Uncle Abraham and Abraham’s God? Tears flooded her eyes, now streaming, leaving marks in the soot on her face. It was too much, she had to look upon this place one more time, and she didn’t care if it cost her a few seconds in the journey. It was in this moment, when her heart treasured her earthly home more than her coming safety, that everything ended. She turned her gaze and lost her life.

In Luke 17:28-32, Jesus referred to the bold imagery of Lot’s wife and the destruction of Sodom. He explained to his disciples the nature of the second coming, comparing it to two judgements they would have been familiar with.  The parallel would have brought to mind the picture of Abraham, interceding on behalf of Lot and his family, whose lives were spared as they trusted God’s plan for escape.  The disciples would also remember what happened to Lot’s wife, the woman who beheld her earthly life more than she sought refuge with Abraham’s God. Jesus goes on to proclaim something many Christians can recite today:

“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”
Luke 17:33 ESV

Who will hold your gaze?
As is the case with many frequently quoted bible verses, the meaning of Jesus’ words can grow dim to me. It’s always a wonderful challenge to meditate on the striking reality of the gospel message, and the way it offends my self-importance.

After reading about Lot’s wife and Jesus’ warning, I picture myself, scraping dried, hardened cheerios off the dining room floor. I pause to get a child a drink and switch over a load of laundry. Everything is average about the afternoon. I stand to look out the kitchen window, noticing all the toys in the yard that need to be picked up. Then suddenly, I hear what sounds like a blast of music from the largest, strangest instrument I’ve ever heard.

My heart leaps and the butterflies in my stomach cause me to trip and brace myself on my kitchen sink. Although I’ve never heard that sound before, something deep in my soul recognizes the call beyond a doubt. The thoughts race through my mind, and at once my eyes are filled with tears of joy, and “at last”, and that raging desire to be with one’s greatest love.

With the force of a bride who has been separated from her husband for too long and the eagerness of a child who knows daddy is just beyond the door, I bolt from my kitchen - through the dining room and out my front door. I don’t know where Jesus is yet, but I know that I want to run to him. He’s returned!

There is no fear, no turning back, and no hesitation. The holy spirit in me keeps my eyes fixated on the prize, not stopping to behold and mourn the loss of my earthly home. It’s not that I don’t care for it, but that I’ve been waiting for this, for Him, and nothing is more important to me than our physical reconciliation, where I will see him face-to-face and be transformed in an instant.

Of course, this simply a fictitious meditation, meant to stir my heart and consider what I will treasure most in those last moments. I’m trusting God that if Jesus returns in my lifetime, he will give me the faith to run as fast as I can from the destruction of the temporary to the loving arms of my intercessor, redeemer, and king.

But for many around me, this will not be the reality. They will respond like Lot’s wife, hearing the trumpet and grabbing their valuables. Maybe, they will cling to their children, their husband, their friends, or their co-workers. They will reach to their cell phones, pack a back of provisions and contemplate a plan to go into hiding. They will tweet and text and start posting videos to snapchat. They will find their wallet and mourn having to leave their carefully crafted home. They will seek to preserve their lives, and trust in any earthly means of survival. And they will be destroyed, along will all of their treasure. It will be too late. The last moment will simply reveal what they have already valued, not providing an opportunity to reverse their folly.

Which is why each of us needs to ask ourselves what we treasure most in this life. 
  • Is it our relationships?
  • Our dwellings?
  • Our possessions?
  • Our achievements? 
  • Our communities? 
  • Our causes? 
  • Our good behavior? 
  • Our spiritual piety?
  • Our ability to speak eloquent words?
  • Or even our service to our families?
The only way to keep our lives forever is to lose them in Christ. We won't do it perfectly in this life, but we can trust the holy spirit to keep our eyes fixed on the prize, "the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:14)

Adding Structure to the Chaos: Living intentionally with your littles

Things Are Always Changing 
Every few months our house undergoes a routine change.  Someone drops a nap, starts waking-up or going to bed at a different time, we alter our family commitments, or the outdoor season changes our activities.
When these things occur, I often notice that :
  • I start to feel stressed and frazzled
  • I start crutching on screen time to get by
  • I find myself wanting to check-into survival mode 
  • I become a "firefighter" mommy; walking around responding and reacting to all of the fires happening in our home instead of being proactive
These signs are warnings for me.  Red flags and indicators that it's time for me to shake things up and change our routine.  I used to think that I got into these situations because I wasn't being a good mom, but now I know that these transitions are just a part of life, and we always need to be growing - doing what's best in each season.  
- Our winter life looks different than our summer life.
- Our life with a napping, nursing baby looks different than a life with children who just take one short nap a day.
- Our life with children that can communicate verbally looks different than life with children who are crying, grunting or whining.
Instead of fighting that, I'm learning to embrace it and see each new stage as a chance to evaluate our family's needs and live accordingly.

The Evaluation Process
Practically, what does this look like?  In a word: planning.
A few times a year, as needed (see warning signs above), I schedule 1-3 hours of time away to evaluate our family life and make changes accordingly.  

Here are some informal questions I ask myself:
  1. What isn't working in my day?  Are there recurring times when myself or the kids are continually melting down?  If so, what is causing it and can I help that time of day go more smoothly?
  2. Am I getting enough time to rest and feel energized?  What time of the day is this happening for me?  Am I trying to squeeze it in at an unrealistic moment and then feeling frustrated and distracted later?  How can I make this a bigger priority?
  3. What tasks am I finding difficult to complete?  Why?  Are those things that can be delegated, hired out or shared with my husband?  Do I need to be more intentional about building those tasks into my week?
  4. Am I providing the kids enough structure, supervision and imaginative playtime?  Am I giving them the security of a routine or are we all over the place?  How have I been doing at protecting their rest and giving them time to wind down?
As I answer these questions, I start to get a feel for the problems in my heart or in our home that need to be addressed, which might be done in one of the following ways:
  • Sometimes I need to repent of sin in my own heart - often laziness, self-centeredness, and just failing to train my children according to God's word.
  • Sometimes I need to change a practical habit - changing a mealtime, adding a snack, moving a naptime, adding time outside, integrating different toys or limiting access to certain areas of the house.
  • Sometimes I need to drop some of my responsibilities because I'm doing too much - talking with my husband to figure out what things can be done by someone else, making sure I'm prioritizing the right things and not getting caught up in worldly expectations.
  • Sometimes I need to be more intentional about prevention - being more organized so that cleaning is faster and I can find what we need, spending time energizing my soul (spiritually and emotionally), recognizing and planning for times of the day that I know are going to be hard (side note: why do I always act shocked that the kids are melting down right before dinner - this should be something I expect and prepare for!)
The Planning Process
Although just getting to this point can feel a little exhausting, you've already done the really hard part!  Once I get a handle on the problems and solutions, I can approach my weekly calendar with more clarity.  

When I get to this point, I have a pencil, post-it notes, crayons or colored pencils and my insights from my brainstorming session nearby.  I start with a piece of paper with the weekdays across the top and times along the left side.  This allows me to time-block.  Here's my process - start with PENCIL:
  1. Plug-in the non-negotiables:  naptimes, your personal time with God, mealtimes, homeschool time, recurring commitments (like a work schedule, a bible study, a class, your child's preschool, etc.).  This provides a structure...now you can see what time you're ACTUALLY working with.
  2. Plug-in the non-urgent but important:  here's where you can really be proactive.  If you want to read more to your kids, then put "reading" into your daily routine.  If you want to exercise, read the bible, clean up the toy room or do the laundry more faithfully, write it down!  This process really makes the difference between a mom who is just randomly caring for her priorities and a mom who is making progress in her priorities.  You have to plan for it or it won't happen!
  3. Plug-in some margin:  literally - we have "free time" on our calendar.  Why?  Because we'll take an unexpected play date, visit my husband for lunch, run an errand out of the blue, or we just need some down time.  I've found that planning things down to the 15 minute increment sets me up for failure.  But if I build-in non-scheduled time, I can still accomplish everything I need to do AND be spontaneous.
Once I get everything blocked-in, I color in like items so it's easier to read at-a-glance.  Then I review:
Did I address my "problem" times of the day?
Did I give myself accountability where I'm struggling?
Does this schedule give me freedom and excitement, or am I feeling more burdened by it?
And that last question is REALLY important, because the point of all this isn't to tie your hands behind your back or make your life harder - it should free you to be doing the things you really care about, like loving Jesus and your family well.  

How it Plays Out
Honestly just the process of planning, writing and coloring it in is enough to put it on my brain and my heart.  I often display our calendar on the fridge and pray about it.  But even though it's in a visual place, after about a week or so I rarely reference it because it just becomes our new rhythm.  The first days are the hardest, but with continued commitment and accountability, I find our family getting to a better place.

Also, I try not to get discouraged when we have an off day or week.  These happen.  Kids get sick, I go through phases where I feel less motivated or more scatter-brained.  Sometimes we're too busy.  The main thing is that I don't want to let that become a pattern, just giving up our structure altogether because we aren't following it with 100% perfection.  Our whole family does better when we keep going back to our plan, refocusing on our goals and mission.

Finally, I always have to remind myself that my hope for a "good life" isn't in the perfect structure of our day.  Yes, structure is helpful to our children (and to me) and practically things DO seem to go better when we follow a routine - but falling out of our routine isn't an excuse for me to fall apart.  With my hope securely rested in Jesus, I can take the day the Lord has given me with gratitude and flexibility - not needing it to always look my perfect way (easier said than done!).  It's important not to judge your whole life against the standard of how well you're keeping your calendar.

I'd love to share a bit more specifically about what our day looks like right now (I've had so many requests for that) - but I'm always a bit hesitant to jump right to the practical.  No one else's family needs to do it like ours - but maybe that would be a good follow-up post to put theory into practice.

Hope this was a helpful snapshot of our planning process in each season of life!
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