On Ministry, Faithfulness & Focusing

A New Ministry
In January of 2016, my sister-in-law and I embarked on a new ministry for moms. Our hope was to see God use our voices and conversations to reach moms with Gospel-minded encouragement. We saw our brokenness, imperfection, and inadequacy for the task, but by faith, we hit "record" week after week. In short discussions, we began to tackle the topics impacting our everyday lives - potty training, mom uniforms, messy houses, anxiety, birth experiences, and more. We did all of this without knowing what this ministry would need from our lives and hearts, or even how long it would remain beneficial for others.

By God's grace, this week we will release our 38th episode in 2016, with steadily growing listenership month after month. We are beyond humbled and amazed as we've expanded from just a podcast to a website, along with multiple social media platforms. What we've discovered is a group of moms who are also eager and hungry - even desperate - alongside us. Who can't sweep up another mess from under the table, or wipe another bottom, or be awake another hour in the night, without drinking the life-giving water that Jesus offers.

We are overwhelmed with joy to be behind a mission that so many others want to be part of: Motherhood in light of the gospel. 
Motherhood in God's way for God's glory. 
Motherhood in light of our eternal hope. 

Desiring Faithfulness 
All of this has been a cause for rejoicing, but it's also been a cause for change in the way I approach ministry in this season. With faithfulness to the gospel as my ultimate goal, I'm starting to close doors (knowing I can't effectively disciple others when I'm spread painfully thin).

So in August of 2016, I snuck away for a couple of days to be alone with the Lord and better understand what this next season looks like in terms of my outside-of-the-home ministry investments. Some conclusions were unsurprising (i.e. my relationship with God and personal growth must come first, and being faithful at home is of the utmost importance). But a couple of changes also came to the forefront:

  • God has laid on my heart a greater desire for ministry in the local church. Although my capacity will vary from season to season, I want to make sure I'm not so slammed with other things that I can't say "yes" as God leads. The body needs my gifts, and I desperately need the local body!
  • God has also laid on my heart the pressing need for my personal engagement in discipleship and evangelism within my own community. While the internet has opened up incredible opportunities for ministry, it has also become an easy place to hide. In some ways, typing behind a glowing screen can be easier for me than loving on our adopted-college student or talking to the mom in the waiting room at the doctor's office. I hope that my online ministries never become an excuse to neglect flesh-and-blood gospel ministry.
  • Finally, God has laid on my heart a desire to be "all in" with Risen Motherhood!!! For many months, I was trying to juggle many personal social media accounts along with my blog, my blog's social media platforms, and all things Risen Motherhood. I knew this level of complexity was unsustainable with a house full of little ones, but it was hard to let go of something I'd invested time in for so many years. But as soon as I made the decision, it was a huge burden lifted! I'm so excited to move forward with Risen Motherhood, and invest my efforts there with an undivided heart.

Finding Focus
So with all of that being said - it's not farewell, but "come find me over here!"

Here's where you can find me:
  • PODCASTING weekly at Risen Motherhood: Check-out the website to see the archives, keep up-to-date with new shows, and connect with us on social media.
  • MICRO-BLOGGING & CREATING STORIES on @Risenmotherhood's instagram: For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, micro-blogging is exactly what it sounds like...mini-posts! These are much faster for me to churn out, and still exercise the writing muscle. 
  • CURATING CONTENT & CREATING VIDEOS for Risen Motherhood: On both Facebook and Twitter, Laura and I are regularly sharing our favorite resources for motherhood and even occasionally do a live video to supplement the podcasts.
  • CONTRIBUTING CONTENT to other websites: As I have time, I hope to continue contributing original articles to other websites. I'll keep all of that up-to-date on my "Other Writing" page!
Here's what's changing:
  • For the foreseeable future, I won't be updating this blog (Emily Jensen Writes). I'll keep the archives for reference, and a the website as a landing zone for those who want to know where I'm producing new content!
  • I'll also be letting my "Emily Jensen Writes" social media profiles go dormant. You can interact with me on social media through Risen Motherhood, or if you know me (online or in person), feel free to friend request me on FB / Instagram! 
Thanks for all your support, and I look forward to interacting with you through Risen Motherhood!


*headshot courtesy of Libby Assay Studio

When You Just Want Your Kids to Leave You Alone

I've been there.
Recently, I was trying to complete a few meager chores (namely cleaning up from breakfast before it was time for lunch), when my three oldest boys broke into a fight. I heard shrill screams and offensive banter through the kitchen window, and whipped my head up to see what the commotion was all about. You know what it was? Worms. They were having a verbal sparring match over who was holding the longest worm.

After I dealt with the worm incident, the breakfast mess was still calling my name. But I didn't get more than three steps closer to the sink before muddy feet pushed their way through the door to tell me something else that was absolutely urgent.  Okay, hold on again dishes. Looks like I'm not ready for you yet. Nearly twenty minutes later, I was still responding to issue after issue.
This is the stuff that makes me want to mutter, "Why can't you guys just leave me alone?"

These "interrupting" moments make up more than just late-morning sibling rivalries. It's the feeling of laying your head on your pillow, snuggling in perfectly after an exhausting day, only to hear a piercing cry the exact moment you close your eyes. It's the way you suddenly have magnets on your knees when the phone rings and you actually need to have an adult conversation for less than two minutes. It's when you just want to use the bathroom in peace without hearing something fall over in the other room.
I just want to get my clothes changed.
I just want to talk.
I just want to finish this one thing.
Why won't you just leave me alone?!!

But do we really want our children to leave us alone? Not exactly. We just want some healthy space. The lack of which drives us to irrational comments and extreme emotions.

Did Jesus want children to leave him alone?
Jesus experienced similar needs and demands. Throughout most of his ministry, he had people following him around with odd bodily functions and illnesses. People who demanded his attention at that very moment. People who pleaded for him to touch them, hear them, and heal them as soon as possible. While he did go to a quiet place to retreat to commune with his Father in prayer, he still engaged the crowds.

And one day, we have on record that Jesus' disciples were standing around as children approached. Loud, pushing, worm-fighting, task-interrupting children. Just how he loves them.

His disciples responded exactly how I would have. "No. Leave Jesus alone. He is busy and you are being an annoyance." (my paraphrase) But that wasn't Jesus' response.  In fact, the disciples made him indignant. He said "Let the little children come to me. Do not forbid them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:14)

Jesus gets something that we don't. It's not the task masters, the strivers, the controllers, and the prideful adult spirits that dwell with him forever. It's the needy, the dependent, the cling-on's, and the childlike. It's the ones that can't leave him alone that ultimately come with him.

Who we worship determines who we welcome
If we worship ourselves, our task list, our comfort, our quiet, our needs, and our control, we will demand to be left alone. We will take it up as our right, because our goals are not rooted in a desire to shape hearts for the glory of God. Our goals are rooted in a need for temporal relief.

So I still understand the desire to use the bathroom without the fear of a domestic war breaking out. It's okay to expect your children to do something productive and patient while you use the phone. But let us be cautions in our murmuring about being "left alone." Let us hear the hard-hearted sound of the phrase "leave me alone,"  and exchange it for "come to me." In this we image Jesus, we honor him, and we point our little ones to the cross.

For a look at how we can disciple and bless our children as we train them to wait patiently, contribute, and play independently - read this

Speak the Truth in Spite of You Fears

After I finished recording that morning's episode of Risen Motherhood, I felt the all too familiar feelings of fear. My stomach was in knots, and my thoughts ran wild with phrases like,

  • "You said the wrong things."
  • "This is a stupid project."
  • "You don't know what you're talking about, and people are going to hear that."
  • "You should be embarrassed."
  • "No one wants to hear this."

When this first started happening years ago (around the time that I started writing more gospel-centered content on my blog), it took a while to get used to. But now I know that whenever I'm in the heat of pouring out truth about Christ and giving glory to God, I'm also going to experience a string of lies, attacking that desire. There is a real spiritual battle happening that I can't see, and a real enemy that wants me to talk about anything but the good news of Jesus Christ.

However, knowing this is going to happen and having the strength to resist it, are two different things! On too many occasions, I've let fears, accusations, and hesitations keep me from sharing things (in person and online) that might have encouraged someone to look to Jesus. I'm confident these experiences aren't unique to me.

Maybe you can recall a time when you wanted to speak boldly about the gospel, and you stopped yourself out of fear...
Maybe you have friends or family members who you would like to disciple more intentionally, but your insecurity gets the best of you...
Maybe you want to serve God by walking in your giftings, but you feel like you aren't qualified to share simple truths about Jesus...

Whatever your insecurity or fear, I know it feels real, but I want to encourage you to speak truth to yourself in those moments of hesitation.
Here are some of the common fears that can hold us back:

"I don't know enough."
We are each at different points in our spiritual journey. Some are new to the faith, and only know the basic message of the gospel. Some have been believers for decades, and come armed with lots of deep theology and memorized scripture. Regardless of where you are at, God wants you to share what you know and love about Jesus. He can use the humble to teach the proud. Just because you aren't a bible scholar or theologian, doesn't mean your voice is useless. In fact, imagine how much the kingdom might advance if every normal person shared what they are learning about trusting God in the midst of their everyday conversations? How many more would be reached with the gospel? You might not know everything, but you do know enough to share something.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 ESV

"I'm going to say something wrong."
Yes. Yes, you are. The tongue can be a wicked thing, and out of the same well can come blessing and cursing. You won't communicate spiritual truth perfectly, and if people want to, they will find some error in what you say. But that still doesn't mean you should stay silent. We have to speak with wisdom, not proudly trying to explain doctrines that we're still working through, but we also need to trust that the Holy Spirit is able to overcome our weaknesses. When we speak the truth of the gospel from a heart that wants to glorify God, we have to believe that he is going to be faithful (even in our sad attempts). We have to believe that people are going to be amazed by the living and active words of God, and not be so worried about our fallible words.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind... - James 1:5-6a

"I'm not perfect."
In this life, we are never going to be sinless or "arrive" at some spiritual ideal of maturity. In fact, as we mature and grow closer to God, our awareness of our own sin becomes more heightened. But this can't stop us! Our awareness of sin keeps us humble, and allows us to share truth from a place of "me too" instead of "you're bad and I'm good". We can use our weakness and sin to relate to others, making the good news of Jesus more beautiful. If I let my failures in motherhood keep me from pointing other moms to Jesus, I would be completely silent. If I let my shortcomings as a wife keep me from encouraging a young bride to love her husband, I would never have a right to speak. At some point, we must accept God's grace, know that we won't ever be perfect, pursue authenticity, and go ahead and share!
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. - Luke 19:10

"I'm going to look silly."
You might. There are people (believers and nonbelievers) that think zeal for God is ugly and weird. They wish that Christians would keep their faith to themselves, and talk more about worldly matters. They aren't going to like that you keep turning the conversation to Jesus, because they would rather just discuss the latest article they read on Facebook. While we want to do our best to be relatable and easy to be around, we also are called to be bold in our sharing. There need to be more Christians who are willing to talk about the gospel in everyday conversation, even if it annoys some people. Besides, your boldness might astonish unbelievers and allow them to take a second glance at Jesus!
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. - Acts 4:13

"I might offend someone."
Yes, that's a given. The gospel is offensive,  it's foolishness to those who don't believe and Jesus is a stumbling block. Whenever you open your mouth or type words to share about him and his message, there are going to be people who hate what you're saying. This doesn't make it easy to speak, but don't forget that it's not really YOU they have a problem with, it's God. And he can surely take it. The more we find our identity in Christ and feel secure in him, the easier it will become to face the world's rejection.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, - 2 Timothy 3:12 ESV

So no, you aren't going to share perfectly, you aren't going to feel like you know enough, you probably won't deliver the truth as well as you could have, and you will offend someone - but talking about Jesus is still worth it. Satan is going to use every tool in his tool belt to keep you silent, including harsh accusations.

As time goes on, I pray that I'm growing in my desire and ability to speak boldly for the cause of Christ, but I still experience moments, days, and even entire seasons where I second-guess myself into complete silence. But sharing gospel-truth is worth the risks, and God can be trusted as our refuge - even if we mess up the delivery a little bit.

Whatever lies you are believing today, combat them with truth. Go forward and share with that hurting friend, ask to help out with that ministry, contact that woman you are hoping to disciple, and start using your time left on Earth for the advance of the Kingdom.

Even in your insecurities, I promise - you won't regret it someday.

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!

Lean Living: Why One Family of 6 is Living With Less

Buried in stuff & stuck in "survival mode"
When I (Emily) was pregnant with our fourth child, we were living in an extended season of "survival mode", and we were starting to feel buried in stuff.  Kids' clothes were pouring out of closets, little books were strewn about and shoved into tight cabinets, toys were disorganized and littered every room of the house.  When we didn't have time to pick-up, we became pile people. Our files were bursting from the "to-be-filed" box, with little hope of being looked at any time soon.  All of us were exhausted by the "stuff management" dominating our daily routines.  Before the arrival of our sixth family member, we knew something needed to change.  I started by doing small organizational projects when I had margin in the day, which meant changes were happening, but slowly.  Then, late last fall my husband, Brad (who has a background in engineering and a love for excellence) was caught up with a passion for managing our possessions well.  

At first, I was a little defensive.  As a homemaker, it seemed like he was inserting himself into my domain, in essence saying, "Since you aren't taking care of this problem, I will."  But I've come to see that his help and influence on our family in this area has been tremendously valuable.  Our house has done a 180 degree turn from where it was a year ago, and it's still in the process of changing.  Laundry responsibilities, toy pick-up, filling, and keeping track of our things has become significantly easier.  
While this isn't an external fix to our internal heart problems, God is still using this to teach us about entitlement, contentment, and what we really treasure.
I wanted to interview and bring him alongside me to share about this, because I really can't take much credit for it!  Also, he speaks this language* really well, and is the best person to inspire others to make a similar change.  I hope you enjoy this interview I had with him about the concept and heart behind our desire to live with less.  

*For clarity sake, we are defining the word lean in the business industry / manufacturing sense, which is the systematic process of eliminating waste.   When you make something "lean", you make obvious what adds value, while reducing everything else.  (Brad applied this concept to our home)
Basically, lean living is a way of life that strives to eliminate uninspiring, wasteful, or non-functional possessions in an effort to maximize time and space for relationships and things that matter eternally.
Q & A with Brad:

How would you define "Lean Living":
I'm not sure of the official title for it, but to me, lean living is an intentional way of being mindful about the way you spend resources (time, money, and abilities) with the goal of making room for the things you most want and need to do in your given roles.  It's both increasing the value-added things (the things only you can do and want to do) and decreasing the things that take away from your most important responsibilities.

What made you think our family needed to adopt a "Lean Living" philosophy?:
I got tired of feeling out of control in the big and little things.  Our evenings (as a couple) were spent restoring the home; picking up, cleaning up, and preparing for the next day.  The reality of facing that for the next decade wasn't very exciting.  Also, our family is still growing, so we really needed to put boundaries and systems in place that enable functionality at a level beyond just "survival".  There is a baseline of work that has to get done, no doubt.  But I wondered, "Are we making it easy or are we making it harder for ourselves?"  Parenthood is tough enough as is, and if there are a handful of things I can do to make it easier, they should be considered.
For example:  If we have a tub full of toys that the boys can tip over in two seconds, we're really just creating work for ourselves later.  With too much stuff, the boys become de-sensitized by the quantity and are unable to focus on one thing.  Limiting their access and options has made clean-up faster for us and playtime more enjoyable for the boys.
For example:  When I'm looking for my cell phone charger all the time, I'm wasting 2, 3, 4 minutes an evening trying to find where the charger is...or where the fitbit charger went.  One evening, I got a container from Lowes to store our remotes, headphones, jump drives, chords, memory cards, chargers, etc. in one place.  Now it's all co-located, so now Emily and I aren't going "where's that thing at?".

How should someone get started with "Lean Living"?:
1.  Just do something.  It can be paralyzing when you consider the amount of work, but start somewhere and you'll make progress a little bit at a time.
2.  Start with yourself.  Pair down your own wardrobe before digging into your spouse's part of the closet.  Get rid of your own college textbooks before going insane trying to decrease your children's' book collection.  Once you've set the tone, you can bring the family along with you.
3.  Find a process.  There are methods and philosophies you can read up on.  Do your research and find what works best for you.  I think you can make a huge dent over a couple of months, but then it's continuing the practice.  You have to start thinking lean.

What have been the most difficult parts of this process (for you and for the family)?:
The hardest thing for me?  The changes haven't happened fast enough!  I would like to have the world stop for two weeks (ship the kids off so Emily and I can crush every room of the house).  Obviously that's not possible or practical.  It's a huge elephant, so we have to eat it one bite at a time.
The family has had a difficult time making choices about what to keep.  Whenever you are purging, giving away, identifying duplicates, and deciding what to keep, friction can happen.  We have perceived freedom when there are lots of choices (although the reality is, we have much decision fatigue).
For example:  We've gotten rid of 20 mugs that we've collected and purchased.  It's easy because there are some obvious ones we've given away, but then you get down to a few and you really have to think critically.  One of the things we try to ask is, "Have we used it recently?  Does it excite or inspire us?"

What are your goals for "Lean Living" - how will you know when you've accomplished your goals?:
One of my goals for lean living is sustainability.  It's easy for me to get fired up about something for a season, but I don't want this just to be a fad.  I'll know I've accomplished that goal if a year from now, we're still using this lean vocabulary, employing the new systems, and being aware of the things we bring into our home.

Do you see any dangers or drawbacks to "Lean Living"?:
"There is more joy in owning less than can be found in pursuing more."
- Joshua Becker 
As with most things, there are disadvantages.  But in my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.  The biggest critiques are probably that we are de-owning "perfectly good things" that we could technically use.  For instance, we consigned a bunch of clothing that was very very gently used.  The cost per wear ended up being higher than we'd like, but we learned from that.  Sometimes you have to radicalize the process and start fresh with less.

Also, you do run the risk of having a more "spartan" home (barren, bland, bleak), especially from an aesthetic perspective.  But I think most people say, "Hey there is a spot, I need to fill it with something!" (a chair, dresser, shelf - that eventually has 30 things on it).  When you don't do that, it might give the impression of coldness to some.  But I think the home, and a creating a hospitable environment, is much more complex than that.

What would you say to a wife or a mom who feels overwhelmed with her home making responsibilities?:
1.  That's good.  It's the woman who thinks "I've got it" that probably isn't in tune with reality.
2.  You're normal.  Everybody feels overwhelmed at certain points.
3. "Focus on doing that which only you can do."  You have been uniquely gifted and called by God to be a first follower of Christ, then a wife and a mother (assuming you are married with children).  Take your callings very seriously, because reflecting Christ with excellence in those roles is essential and no other woman can replace you.  What are you spending your best, most productive moments on?  Are you distracted by your interests, shopping online, blogging, browsing the internet, or interacting on social media to the neglect of your home and family?  If you are spending your most precious resources (time and energy) on other things, you might need to evaluate your priorities.  When you are bogged down with pressure to do non-essential things, you need to re-focus on your identity in Christ and your God-given purposes.  Get perspective on what's most important from the word and other wise women.

How could a homemaker influence her own family to make a similar change?:
  • Educate yourself.
  • Start small.
  • Start with your own stuff.
  • (and if you have kids, include them)
How do you see "Lean Living" as a practical reflection of biblical truth?:
There are a number of biblical references affirming the fact that our possessions don't bring true joy (and they don't last).  And yet, we are filling our homes and our time with copious amounts of "stuff".  There is nothing inherently wrong with having possessions, but we can't put our hope in material treasures.  If we aren't careful,  stuff can start to become a substitute for the only thing that can satisfy, God himself.  The truth is that our lives aren't going to be any better (in a lasting and meaningful way) because of that cool new shirt, the latest iPhone, the trinket on the shelf, the beautiful piece of furniture, etc.

What lessons have you learned throughout this process?:
1.  I'm shocked at how quickly our lives, closets and basements can fill up with stuff.  In our case, it's 7 years.  Without even trying, our home is chocked full of things from just living everyday life.  You have to actively resist this.
2.  The benefits are immediate AND long-term.  Which is good - most things have just one or the other.  There is immediate progress and potential, but there is long-term promise.
3.  There is a lie that I've bought into that says, "I'll start living the way I want to once things change."  For me, the specific lie has been "I'll be able to focus on loving our family more once I get the house under control.  If I can just organize all our files, get rid of the old stuff, and get the crayon box figured out, then I'll obey God's call to engage my family."
And that's just not true.  I will never reach a point of perfect - there will always be another "thing" to get done in the house as before we can start living the way we're called to live.  
I'm very linear in my thinking "Let's do this and then I can do that" but life is much more parallel.  My boys are still getting older each day, and I need to spend time with them and with Emily.  Life will only be in this stage once.

How does this look practically? (emily):
As I was interviewing Brad, he kept giving great practical examples (many I couldn't include to preserve the length) of how this is playing out in our home.  Of course, these changes are unique to our family, and in no way should be legalistically applied to others.  Our hearts have just been so greatly impacted by this change in thinking, that we hope it can help other families who might feel overwhelmed!  As we were talking, we thought that the practical examples would best be described in a follow-up post or video.  But we'll leave you with a couple pictures from our main living areas to give a snapshot of what our home looks like on an average day.  These photos weren't staged!  They were taken after my normal naptime cleanup routine.  While our home doesn't look this "perfect" when our kids are awake (there are toys around, food scraps under the table, pillows on the ground etc.), this is an example of how much easier it is to pick-up when you have less to manage!

A Bad Moment Doesn't Have to Become a Bad Day

A Rough Start
My alarm went off at 5:30am, and due to an 8:30 bedtime the night before, I actually felt somewhat rested (even though the baby was up 3 times).  I crawled out of bed and did the shortest but most effective self-care activities I could manage before coffee, which included putting on jeans and washing my face.  With the house still quiet, I crept to the kitchen to brew a hot pot of coffee before my husband left for work.

This was shaping up to be a great morning - it had all the marks of success.
At 6:00am I had a Skype meeting with my sister-in-law for our podcast, which was fun.  She, my husband and I had some lighthearted conversation, and I was hopeful for progress on our projects.  We started checking things off our to-do list when I heard a door opening down the hall.  Shortly after, two grumpy, bleary-eyed twins were standing in front of the Skype window.  Within minutes, they were fighting over a toy hammer and screaming at a pitch that shouldn't be allowed before 9:00am.  Naturally, this woke up my oldest son.

Before 6:40am, my three oldest children were milling around at my feet.  I kept moving the laptop from room-to-room, hoping to finish a sentence in our meeting without having to say, "hold on".  I felt like I'd been invaded.  A television show helped for a few minutes until their morning hunger incited whines that I couldn't ignore.  The meeting would have to be finished another time.

At 7:00am, I make them all cinnamon swirl toast with cut up banana.  But this was not good enough.  Each of them said, "I no want it." (but I was in no mood to be a short-order cook).  "This is what we're having.  If you don't like it, don't eat it."

By 7:45am I'd been up for over two hours, and realized I hadn't eaten anything.  But before I could scarf down some toast, the baby wanted to nurse.  Eventually, I had a few moments to eat a disappointing and unhealthy breakfast and pour my 3rd cup of coffee (did I actually drink the other cups?  I can't remember now).
This morning, which was supposed to be restful, wonderful, quiet and productive had turned noisy, needy, and difficult.  
When I regrouped after breakfast, I found myself wondering, "Does this have to be the start of a bad day?"

3 Things to Remember When the Day Starts off Badly
I'm a sucker for letting hard moments define my day.  If the enemy can get me started off on the wrong foot, I'm pretty quick to keep walking down that path.  I quickly give into "survival mode" at the first sign of a struggle.  But on this particular morning, I stopped myself and thought through the following things:

1.  A bad moment doesn't have to make a bad day.  
I tend to be the type of person who gives up on healthy eating quickly, because if I "splurge" and have a bad snack, I give up the rest of the day and say, "Oh well, I'll start again tomorrow".  But once, someone told me, "You don't have to throw the whole day away just because you messed up..." and the same thing is true for my hard moments. In Christ, I'm a new creation.  I'm a redeemed creature with a forgiving God and the Holy Spirit inside me.  Just because I reacted wrongly or experienced a few hard moments, doesn't mean I have to continue walking in that throughout the day.  My hard moments don't define me.  I can repent, seek refuge in God, ask for wisdom, pray and regroup.  That won't necessarily change my circumstances, but it can change my outlook.

2.  It's never too late to have time with the Lord.  
Just because my children woke up earlier than I'd planned (as I was hoping to get my meeting finished and have time in God's word before I was greeted by sleepy faces) didn't mean I couldn't open my bible that day.  While I have a million things I like to use my "after breakfast cartoon-time" for, on this particular day, it was evident that the dishes needed to wait.  The word of God and prayer are powerful, and having alert children in the other room didn't mean I couldn't open my bible.  In fact, I hope they have many memories of a mommy who was meeting with Jesus in the everyday moments.

3.   I don't want to be a mommy-martyr.  
Who wants to be around someone who has a pity-party every time things don't go their way?  Is that who I want to be?  Someone who whines and complains (just like my children) when events don't play out according to my preferences?  No!  I want to be a person who recognizes that God is ultimately in charge, and this is about his will, not mine.  I want to model joy and contentment, even in the face of less-than-ideal moments.  Besides, the bible says that my children are a blessing.  It might not always feel that way, but I want my thoughts to be defined by truth, not my selfish obsession with personal convenience.

A Grace-Filled Day
So, did my day snap-to-attention and suddenly afford me all the comforts I hoped for?  No.  But maybe my heart wasn't so quick to give up after that.
  • It might be winter outside, but it doesn't have to be cold inside.
  • My children might whine and complain, but I don't have to.
  • I might be tempted to reflect my children's attitudes, but I want to let Jesus control me (not my 2 year olds).
  • There might not be anything "fun" or "special" on our calendar, but that doesn't mean I can't view our lives as a gift.
Are you there with me?  Do you ever have a hard morning, only to throw your hands in the air and "give up" for the day?  Basking in how hard you have it and how much no one understands?  If this is you (as it usually is me), remember that in Christ, we have eternal and unquenchable hope.  We aren't defined by other people, we are defined by Jesus.  We are a part of a bigger story, a bigger mission, and a greater plan.
These moments aren't trivial, they are the moments that make up our life.  They are the moments that God is using to shape us more into the image of his Son.
So stop and let God change you as his truth renews your mind.  A bad moment doesn't have to become a bad day.

Risen Motherhood Episode 5: Marriage & Motherhood

In this episode: Emily and Laura discuss common issues and challenges that moms face in marriage, including encouragement for investing in our most important earthly relationship.  Whether through date nights, physical touch, or just staying on the same team, a thriving marriage glorifies God (and blesses your children).

Show Notes: 

Blog Posts, Articles and Books:
Emily Blog Posts:
Laura Blog Posts: 
For More:
  • To subscribe: on iOS, go to our iTunes page and subscribe. On Android, click this podcast RSS feed link and select your podcast app. You may need to copy the link into your favorite podcast app (like this one).
  • Leave an iTunes review. These are huge for us! The more reviews, the greater chance another mother will find us.
  • Like Risen Motherhood on Facebook and follow on Twitter for the latest updates and related information.
  • Let us know your thoughts! We'd love to hear more about the conversations you're having. Shoot us and email, or find us on on social media.
  • Tell others. We truly hope this podcast fosters conversations and deeper discussions between mothers to seek the gospel in their daily activities - we'd be honored if you shared and encouraged others to listen in.

Next week’s podcast: A devotion to encourage moms in their mission.

Risen Motherhood Episode 4: Gospel Instruction For Young Children

In this episode: Emily and Laura discuss the beginning stages of sharing the gospel with your young children, and some of the common challenges. They will share practical ideas for getting started and making it work for your family.

Show Notes: 
Emily Blog Posts:
Laura Blog Posts: 
For More:
  • To subscribe: on iOS, go to our iTunes page and subscribe. On Android, click this podcast RSS feed link and select your podcast app. You may need to copy the link into your favorite podcast app (like this one).
  • Leave an iTunes review. These are huge for us! The more reviews, the greater chance another mother will find us.
  • Like Risen Motherhood on Facebook and follow on Twitter for the latest updates and related information.
  • Let us know your thoughts! We'd love to hear more about the conversations you're having. Shoot us and email, or find us on on social media.
  • Tell others. We truly hope this podcast fosters conversations and deeper discussions between mothers to seek the gospel in their daily activities - we'd be honored if you shared and encouraged others to listen in.
Next week’s podcast:  Marriage & Motherhood

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