Getting to the heart of your home - Setting Goals

This past weekend I had the opportunity to share with some women about my philosophies and ideas behind home decor and hospitality.  I was rather intimidated by this request, because many of the Godly women at my church have been practicing hospitality and creating a Christ-centered home for decades. I had no idea what I could add to their wisdom!  As I prayed about what to share, God lead me to give a few of my experiences and my motivations - the "why" behind my decorating.  Since I've already created all the content, it seemed to fit nicely into its own blog post as well.  :-)

(pre-children pictures of our fireplace room - decorated for spring!)
"...home happiness depends on the wife. Her spirit gives the home its atmosphere. Her hands fashion its beauty. Her heart makes its love. And the end is so worthy, so noble, so divine, that no woman who has been called to be a wife, and has listened to the call, should consider any price too great to pay, to be the light, the joy, the blessing, the inspiration of a home.

Men with fine gifts think it worth while to live to paint a few great pictures which shall be looked at and admired for generations; or to write a few songs which shall sing themselves into the ears and hearts of men. But the woman who makes a sweet, beautiful home, filling it with love and prayer and purity, is doing something better than anything else her hands could find to do beneath the skies.”

This quote is taken from the book, "Home-making" by J.R. Miller ($0.99 on Kindle!).  It's over 100 years old, so maybe don't read it if you are easily offended by traditional gender roles.  The author makes it plain that he believes biblical womanhood can be beautifully displayed through a happy and hospitable home.  I read it a little over a year ago, and while I don't agree with 100% of the content, it has really influenced some of my worldview when it comes to the power and influence I have as woman through the intentional use of my home.

When it comes to decorating, I view our home as just one more tool in my toolbox that I can use to point others to Christ.  It's not simply to be a museum for nice furniture or great DIY projects, but a way to intentionally influence my family and guests to give them a greater desire to know God.  As I've decorated and put together our house, I've considered my motivations and goals.  Knowing the "why" behind my decorating philosophy has really contributed to the "how" of my decor.

Here are a few of my own goals when it comes to decorating:

  • I want Brad to like our home, and I take his tastes and preferences into consideration when I decorate (even when they conflict with the latest blog and pinterest trends).
  • I want people who enter our home to know what we believe.  One way I've achieved this is to use bible verses as artwork in key places like our main living room and family room.
  • I want people to feel like they can be comfortable and use our other words, I try not to decorate with things that look too nice or frail.
  • I want to incorporate items with history or significance into our house.  This often comes in the from of special furniture pieces from grandparents or artwork from a favorite vacation.
  • I want our children to enjoy our home and have a safe place to play while being cautious to avoid making our home "child-centered" in it's decor.  There is no way to get through the baby and toddler years with no trace of children, but we really do try to keep their things confined to specific areas so that when we clean up after bedtime or before having company, it looks like a fairly normal adult house.
  • I want our home to feel orderly and clutter-free.  We are in a stage of life that already brings with it lots of chaos and stuff.  Therefore, lately I've been keeping my knick-knacks and decorating vignettes to a minimum.  Right now, less is more for us.
  • I want people to feel special and welcomed when they are a guest in our home.  This is one reason why I emphasize or enjoy decorating, because I think that most people genuinely enjoy spending time in a beautiful space.
  • I want our house to feel bright and cheery.  This goal has motivated many of my color choices, specifically the crisp white, grays, and blues - the pops of fun aztec prints and the light curtains.  Where ever I can let in natural light and keep things feeling airy, I do!

For each home, in each stage of life, different goals should motivate the way we decorate our space.  Yours might be completely different than mine!  The key (in my opinion) is to recognize that your home is a powerful tool that can influence your spouse / family / friends / neighbors / guests and then consider how you can use that tool in an intentional way for Christ.  That doesn't have to mean having perfect throw pillows or the latest trends in rugs.  Some of the most wonderful, Christ-centered homes I've been in are simple or even old-fashioned looking.  It's the heart of the homemaker that counts.

What are some of your home decorating goals?

You might also like: Intentionally Serving Your Husband - The Master Suite - Part 1 (And Part 2)

Here's My Twelve

Okay, let's lighten up a bit after that last series :-).  
Two people have now tagged me to share my twelve.  See Laura's post from Oakland Avenue and Amber's post from Mommy's Me Time to get an idea of what it is.  I worked on this a while back, so some of my answers for the second half (12 questions) were a bit outdated.  I'm just leaving that part out and giving you random facts paired with some questions for you, my readers.  

pics from doing hair / makeup at Laura's wedding (something I've had the pleasure of doing for both of my sister-in-laws on their big day!)

Twelve Random Facts

1)  I've been to one Harry Potter book launch party...I can't remember which one, but I know I stayed up for like 2 days and read the book start to finish.
2)  In high school I started helping friends do their hair and makeup for school dances.  Ten years later, I still do hair and makeup for weddings and special occasions several times a year.  It's a fun hobby for me.
3)  When it came time to pick a major for college, I had a difficult time deciding what to do with my life because deep down I just wanted to be a wife and mom.  I thought college was important, so I pressed forward with something I was interested in, but the day I got my dream job was the day my first son was born.  I honestly love being a "stay-at-home-mom", even on the hard days...I can't imagine doing anything else!
4)  Brad and I had a short engagement lasting just 11 weeks, and it was awesome.
5)  I've been journaling off and on since I can remember being able to write.  My first journals were literally full of pictures and a few words.  Now, I mostly journal prayers and thoughts on a private blog.
6)  When we first moved from my hometown of Kansas City to Iowa, I was afraid I would always miss city life.  Three years later, Ames feels like home and I can't imagine living anywhere else.  I'm excited to raise our family here.
5)  I was a dancer for 15 years and competed across the country for much of that time.  At 27 years old, having not danced now for almost 10 years, I still occasionally have nightmares that I have to compete in front of judges but I don't have my costume and can't remember the choreography.
4)  When I was growing up, I thought I was a Christian because I intellectually believed in God and Jesus, but I didn't actually become a born-again follower of Christ until August of 2006 when I was 20 years old.
3)  ...The following summer I was baptized at a pool in Holt, Missouri.  I was thankful my family came to watch, even though they baptized me as an infant.  Being baptized as a believer was an act of public profession of faith I felt very strongly about.
2)  All of my children were considered "late pre-term infants"....I had Lewis at 36 weeks exactly, and the twins at 35 weeks 4 days.
1)  I love my sister-in-laws and don't really consider them "in-laws" as much as I do just plain sisters.  They are honestly my two best girl friends and I know I can tell them anything. 

With the New Year and the new little babies in my life, I'm doing some thinking about blogging the coming year.  Writing this blog has been a source of encouragement to me through the recent months, when I've been deep in the trenches of caring for children and haven't been able to do much "adult talk".  In the background I write about 4-5 draft posts for every 1 blog post that actually gets published. This is for a lot of reasons...sometimes the content never pans out, sometimes I fear it's too controversial and I can't do it justice, sometimes it's too long, and sometimes Brad and I can't agree on the post (my husband reviews every post before it goes live).  It feels like I'm often wanting to go so many different directions, it's hard to finish any topics.  So I would love to hear your feedback!

  • What has been your favorite post or series of posts on "From the Jensens"?
  • What posts have you skimmed past because they don't interest you?
  • Is there specific content you would like to see on "From the Jensens" this year (for instance: more on homemaking, more on twins, more on decor or fashion, more lifestyle, more everyday moments etc.)

Thank you for leaving your thoughts in the comments!

p.s.  I tag you, dear Sam and another twin mommy, Allison to do "The Twelve". 

Keeping a clean and tidy home [Practical Tips - Part 4 of 4]

When I went from barely keeping up with our messes to making a daily and hourly habit of keeping things tidy, I needed a plan.

First, I needed lots of God's help because I don't "naturally" keep things neat and tidy.  It takes lots of self-denial and self-discipline to make our bed everyday and clean up after every single meal.  Some of you can relate to this, and some of you are horrified.  It is genuinely hard for me to choose "chores" over doing things that I think are more fun like reading, playing with Lewis, blogging, seeing friends, visiting my husband at work, etc.

Then, through God's help and strength I developed a plan that would work for me.  I told people about it for accountability.  And I just did it.

Suddenly, I had a clean house pretty much all the time...and it wasn't as impossible as I expected.  In fact, it was manageable.  I felt like a person who started a weight loss journey and just achieved the first 10 pounds.  After I got past the initial week (which was admittedly very hard because things had built-up over time), I was cleaning clean things every day.  Wiping down counters and bathrooms was a quick and easy task because they were hardly dirty.  Picking up Lew's toys was no problem because there were only a few on the floor.  Keeping our bedroom tidy was simple because there was only one or two clothing items to deal with per day.  I thought keeping our house clean was going to mean I cleaned ALL THE TIME, but within two weeks I was AMAZED at how much time I had to do other things...guilt free!  Another incredible thing happened...I actually got AHEAD.  Because the basics were already clean, when I had time to tidy something, I got to work on an area of the house that hadn't gotten attention in a long time (think dusting window sills and wiping down cabinets).  Seriously?  What busy mom has time to clean her window sills?  I didn't think it was possible, but it is, is.  (okay, don't actually examine my window sills when you come over)

So here are a few things that really helped me:

1.  God's grace.
This is kind of obvious, but I really could not have done any of this without his amazing grace and power to deny myself the instant gratification of idleness.

2.  A motto:  Don't do it it now!
I read this blog post and became totally convicted about my spirit of procrastination (it's a must read if you have the same issue).  This was the number one phrase I said to excuse my messy ways, "I'll get to it later".  I really meant well...I really thought I would get to it later but I never did.  OR when I did get to it, things were already so built up that it was a huge task.  God helped remind me in each situation..."Emily, don't put this off until later, just do it now."  Changing my thinking about cleaning was a major hurdle to cross before I could actually maintain my work.  I had to keep remembering to die to myself and my desire to do something fun that I wanted to do and instead take up my cross and be an industrious woman.

3.  A schedule.
The word schedule is slightly offensive to me.  I don't like planners, schedules, and lists...but I'm finding that they are crucial to organization, homemaking, and cleanliness.  I created a simple 5 day cleaning plan (with an every other week rotation) and hung it on our fridge.  I literally cross off what I do every night (and my husband's gentle encouragement to do this).  I don't get the whole list accomplished everyday, but even if I do 75%, our house is in great shape.

4.  Motivation.
I'm not one of those competitive, internally motivated people.  I need some external motivation to make things happen.  When I am feeling sluggish, and I REALLY don't want to do the dishes or make the bed, the holy spirit graciously brings things to mind to motivate me like...

  • The feeling of confidently welcoming Brad into a tidy home after work and hearing him say, "the house looks wonderful, thanks honey."
  • The feeling of being able to invite anyone into my home with little notice because I don't have to hide my mess first.
  • The feeling of freedom and rest during nap time when I actually don't have hours worth of cleaning to frantically accomplish, so I can actually relax without any guilt about the tasks I'm avoiding.
  • The feeling of doing what I know is right...there is blessing in obedience.
  • The feeling of being caught up.

I remember that these are the fruits of my labor...the fruits of obedience.  I might not be able to "enjoy" the easy thing and get the instant gratification of avoiding some dishes, but later I'm so glad I pushed through and persevered...because the rewards are worth it.

Women:  let's repent of our heart attitudes that reject sacrificial living and accept comfort and laziness.  Let's repent of our excuses, and our thinking that being clean and orderly doesn't really matter.  Let's dive into the word of God and develop a passion for living to the glory of Jesus Christ in our everyday environment and activities with the help of the holy spirit.  Let's be women that can be hospitable to outsiders, and offer refuge for our families.  Let's take our influence in our home seriously, and use it as a light for Jesus.


As I mentioned before, I drafted this series quite a long time ago when Lewis was still crawling and I was still in an fairly easy stage of pregnancy.  It is interesting for me to read all of this, because on one hand, I still very much agree with all of this although I have not been able to put it into practice over the past few months.  Just last week I felt like I was at my mommy breaking point, and some of it was due to the fact that our house was in shambles.  I felt so tired of Brad coming home to a mess, Lewis playing in a mess, and digging through burp cloths strewn everywhere to find a clean one.  I finally had to hit my knees and cry out to God because the realization struck me again that I can't be the wife, mom, homemaker, daughter, friend, etc. that He wants me to be without His grace and strength.  It was kind of a relief to give up my own trying.  When I went back to the tasks at hand, I wrote down several rooms that needed to be picked up and told myself, "just 10 minutes per room, that's all I can handle!"  It was miraculous what happened.  God gave me energy and really expanded my time!  Just a short hour later, the whole house was picked up again and I felt loads better!  Not just because things were tidy, but because I was reminded that God is on my side and His help is real.  That afternoon Lewis's behavior improved and so did my mood.  When Brad came home, we had a relaxed evening because we weren't all scurrying to clean up after the kids went to bed.  It was a relief, and reminder to me that even in this really busy season, there is some value to keeping a clean and tidy home even if it means I can't mop the floors or deep clean the bathrooms.  

I'd love to hear from you!  Where are you at on this journey?  Is is a struggle?  How has God helped you manage your home?

Catch up on the series:
Part 1 - My Journey
Part 2 - Why it Matters
Part 3 - Avoiding Legalism

Keeping a clean and tidy home [Avoiding Legalism - Part 3 of 4]

Okay.  First we talked about my journey to valuing a clean and tidy home.  Then we talked about why it even matters.  So after all of that holy stuff, some may be wondering...
"Isn't that kind of legalistic?"
Images of a 1950's housewife might be flooding your brain.  You might even be re-living a particular experience you had over at a "clean" house where you felt un-welcome and couldn't touch anything.

Yes, keeping a clean and tidy house might become legalistic and even an idol.

Like all good things that God intends for us, when we make good things ultimate things (things worth sinning for), they no longer honor God.  It all comes down to our HEARTS.

  • If your heart is to control your environment through cleaning because you love that feeling of having everything perfect...
  • If your heart is to maintain your "stuff" to a level that makes people uncomfortable because you value it more than your relationships...
  • If you feel horrible condemnation about yourself for leaving some dishes out and not having freshly mopped floors...
  • If you refuse to entertain people at your house because you might have a dust bunny or two...
  • If cleaning takes up so much time and energy that you are no longer caring for your husband or children as you should...
  • If you like the compliments you get on a freshly cleaned house and enjoy impressing friends and family...

Then you might have the right behavior on the outside, but your heart isn't right on the inside.

We only bring glory to Him in our actions when we stop doing things in our own strength and let him work through us to be light to others.  We keep a clean and tidy house not because we have lots of extra time and energy that we are just dying to use on laundry, but because He helps us.  He gives us grace, expands our time and energy, and gives us resources we didn't know we had.  Then, cleaning the house becomes a testimony about God.  It points to Him and how He is able to work in us to do things that we can't do ourselves.  It shows others that we aren't perfect homemakers, but we have a God who we love that helps us follow him down the path of righteousness.

And that is one goal of a disciple of Christ.  Pointing people to Jesus.  The arrow in this case just happens to be a clean and tidy space.

But let's talk for a minute about another question...are there times when it is NOT wise to spend a lot of time keeping a clean and tidy house?  Ladies, we are not super-woman types; able to work full-time, raise good children, have romance with the husband, enjoy thriving friendships, keep our slim physique, maintain important ministry involvement AND keep a tidy home.  Something has to give!

There are life circumstances that might prevent us from keeping a clean and tidy home for a season, and once again, we must look at our HEARTS to determine when this might be.  For instance...

Maybe you have something that physically prevents you from cleaning...
Maybe you are experiencing first trimester pregnancy exhaustion...
Maybe you are sick or you are caring for a sick family member...
Maybe you just had a baby or just experienced a major life transition...
Maybe you just lost someone you love...
Maybe you truly have your hands full with commitments that God has called you to be faithful to...

I don't know all of those seasons, but I have been through many of them (and I'm in one right now!).  When those times hit, we must find our identity in Christ and know that it's not our homemaking skills that define who we are.  Don't let condemnation creep in, because it doesn't belong in the Christian woman's heart.  You are no less of a daughter of God because you can't keep up with your house at the moment.

It's okay to not have it all together.  If we did, we wouldn't need Jesus.


Keeping a clean and tidy home [Why it matters - Part 2 of 4]

In the previous post, I shared with you about my journey when it comes to keeping a clean and tidy home.  Please note:  I'm still on it and will never fully "arrive"!  I've only gotten far enough down the road of repentance to see some changes and growth.  In fact, due to our current season of life my hands are literally so full of caring for children that housekeeping has taken a major backseat.  Even so, I'm still trying to take little chunks out of my day to tidy up where I can because I do think it's important for our family!  Here is part 2...
[funny - but also a little convicting?!]
One thing that has equipped me and encouraged me on those days when I REALLY don't FEEL like doing my "chores" is the knowledge of WHY it is so important to keep the house clean and tidy.  I want to share some of those reasons with you, in hopes that they will encourage you as they have encouraged me...

1.  Because it reflects the character of God.
When I reflect on creation, I see things in order.  The world isn't just slopped together with everything falling out of place, but it is perfectly and systematically created with everything working together in harmony.  Of course since sin has entered the world, things are messy sometimes, but this was not God's intention.  When I reflect on biblical stories about the building of the temple or the tabernacle, I marvel and how precise and intentional God in his placement and instructions.  There is nothing out of place or without purpose.  I can imagine that a clean and orderly home reflects these same principles; order, harmony, and intentionality.

2.  Because our home is to be a place of refuge.
Do you like to seek refuge in a chaotic or dirty place?  Me neither.  I like the idea of a spa or somewhere calm and quiet.  As homemakers, with or without a husband or children, we are to create an environment of hospitality that makes others feel the welcoming love of Jesus.  When there is a family involved, it is the woman of the house who primarily sets the the mood of the home which impacts everyone else.  A tidy atmosphere can make others feel safe and relaxed.

3.  Because Jesus values hospitality.
Jesus was always hospitable to others, wanting to love and serve them (even when he was in other people's homes!).  When Martha was too busy paying attention to dinner and not her honored guest, Jesus noticed and gently rebuked her.  Hospitality is an important way that Christians evangelize and share with others.  It becomes more difficult to welcome people into your home if it is very messy or in a condition that makes you feel embarrassed to entertain.

4.  Because we should steward our possessions well.
Nothing that we have is really ours.  It belongs to God, and he lets us take care of it for a little while.  If you lend something to another person, do you hope that they keep track of it and maintain it well?  God doesn't give us things to waste and misuse.  Keeping possessions well maintained is a sign of a grateful heart for what God has provided.

5.  Because it decreases stress and increases freedom.
When my house is messy and out of sorts, I feel out of sorts (and I'm not even an A-type personality).  It is hard for me to feel free to accept invitations because I know that I really need to be cleaning up my out of control kitchen or bedroom.  I can't fully enjoy when I do accept invitations, because a tiny part of me feels guilty for choosing something I want to do over something I really need to do.  When my house is relatively tidy and clean, it's amazing...I'm not always cleaning.  It's like reverse psychology.  The more I keep it clean the less I have to clean it because it's already in good shape...which leaves more time to do what I wanted to do in the first place!

6.  Because it can help save money and stop waste.
As our stuff goes everywhere with no system in sight, and I can't figure out where things are, I end up compensating by adding more stuff.  Instead of using what we have (because I can locate it is and it's in working order), it becomes easier to just buy new.  When everything is put away in its correct place, I'm more likely to be resourceful instead of spending more time and money (and brining more "stuff" into the space).

These are just a few reasons why I think keeping a clean and tidy home is important.  There are many more that I haven't touched upon here, and I would love to hear your most motivating reasons in the comments!

I think one other thing to remember is that it's always easier to NOT do the righteous thing.  It's always easier to avoid the dishes and the laundry and the paperwork and the toys.  It's HARD to live a holy life and do things that give glory to God.  That's why we need the holy spirit...and even when he gives us the grace and's still HARD.  Being a Christian and following Jesus isn't about getting our way and doing what is most comfortable to us, but it's about laying down our comforts and agendas to do what he asks of us.  Even if it means putting away Pinterest or spending a few extra minutes during a coveted nap time to clean up.  It's worth it.


Keeping a clean and tidy home [My Journey - Part 1 of 4]

This series was drafted a long time ago, waiting for the right moment to be posted.  Maybe the right moment is when I have a bunch of other posts in the works without much time to bring them to completion!  Also, it seems like with the New Year, many people want to focus on developing new habits particularly with cleanliness and organization.  I hope this series can be an encouragement to those wanting a fresh start when it comes to keeping a clean and tidy home!  Full disclosure though - even though I still affirm what is written in these posts, due to the season of life we are in right now (up with twins at night and managing three under 17 months during the day), I am not doing a very good job of putting these things into practice at the moment!  With time, I do hope to go back to good homemaking habits!  Enjoy!

I was the teenager with the messy bedroom.  I was the 18 year old with a cluttered car.  I was the college student who had notes galore spread out everywhere.  I was the new wife who couldn't seem to keep up with two people's dirty dishes.  I was the hostess who didn't want to invite people over on a whim because our house was too messy.  I was the mommy who was constantly falling further and further behind on cleanliness and organization.

Some people are born with a desire for neatness and order (all of you A-type personalities are still recovering from that first paragraph).  I was born with a desire for fun, comfort, and creativity; no order needed!  Why would you make your bed when you are just going to climb right back in it?  Why would you put away those jeans today when you are planning to get them out again tomorrow?  As my mother-in-law so wonderfully puts it, "we are be-ers, Emily...not do-ers" (we always exchange a smile over this comment).

Slowly I've learned to cope with my personality tendency towards all play and no work.  In college I learned that I couldn't keep up with deadlines, studying, and classwork unless I organized everything into binders.  At work, I learned that I couldn't stay on top of my responsibilities if I didn't clean my desk everyday.  And at home, I at least knew that I couldn't let things get out of control for too long or it would take a whole week to get the house back in order.

Things started to really change at the beginning of my recent pregnancy.  I went through a phase where I was EXHAUSTED.  Like...more tired than I knew a person could possibly be.  More tired than when Lewis was up nursing multiple times a night.  Tired like I ran a marathon and had the flu at the same time.  Our house barely survived.

The dishes and papers and clothes and stuff that I barely kept up with before the pregnancy was now closing in on me.  I was overwhelmed by my inability to get any type of housework done, and I was tired of feeling behind everyday.  I also didn't like having to watch my gracious husband (who worked very hard all day), come home and do the dishes while I laid on the couch.

Now, this was thankfully a phase, and as I got further along in my pregnancy (and found out about the twins...which explained a lot), my energy levels increased.  However, I don't regret the feelings I had during those weeks, because I was finally fully convinced and convicted about what it means to be a homemaker who keeps a clean and tidy home.  The "why" of cleaning finally started to sink in...and I majorly needed God's help to change.

I began to see that my habits were not a good example for our children.  How would I ask them to keep a clean room and help with chores when I don't do chores and pick up my own clothes regularly?  How could I instill in them a hardworking spirit if I liked to lounge to the detriment of our home?  I was also subtly affecting my marriage.  My husband, while extremely tolerant and kind, helping me anytime I needed it, really should be able to come home to a peaceful and stable environment.  Who wants to come home to a kitchen covered in dishes, an unmade bed, toys scattered on the floor, and a wife who is in a frenzy after enduring the stresses of the office all day?  Not only was this about my family, but it was about hospitality.  I regularly turned down opportunities to have people over to our house because of "the mess".  Things were either clean (because I planned for guests), or they were in no state to entertain.  This was a bigger deal than it seemed.

The next step - repentance.  A realization that my identity wasn't in my messiness or my cleanliness but in Christ.  There is no condemnation for my sin.  I belong to Him and need to lay down my life to take up the life that He has for me.  With the help of the holy spirit, I must continually die to myself and my sinful habits and tendencies and replace them with righteousness (something only available to me on the basis of what Jesus did on the cross).  I wanted to live a life that glorified God, even in the mundane daily activities.  I didn't want make excuses for my sin anymore, but instead desired to turn and run towards God, asking for His help in this area.

And (as he always does when we genuinely repent), God who is abundant in mercy began to help me overcome my desire for "being" and started to equip me to "do".

Can you relate to this struggle to keep things clean, tidy, and organized?  Not to a level of perfection, but even to a practical level of necessary functionality?  If you can relate, or if you often wonder why it matters to have a clean and tidy home, stay tuned as we explore why this homemaking discipline is biblical and important.
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