Tuesday, July 28, 2015

on Contentment and Taming Time

Time management isn’t just a stuffy priority for driven Wall street executives and CEOs with killer deadlines.  My moments on the homefront, hours in the kitchen, my days here are the very stuff that I’ll stand responsible for before my Maker one day.  I long to live in such a way as to give to the Lord the best offering that I can from all the time He’s given me.

Months ago I began thinking of time and tasks differently.  I wrote out my pondering and I talked with friends, and one mentioned to me the book What’s Best Next, by Matthew Perman.  This book really got me going.  It’s gold for Christians who want to “make the most of every opportunity” and “redeem the time because the days are evil.”  

Now that I’ve read Perman’s book and let these ideas sink in and simmer in my mind and in my own planning for half a year, I feel gratefully and quite radically transformed with a new goal and approach to planning my days.  It’s not an app. (You definitely should be laughing.  Of course I will not be coming up with an app, though I was curious about the possibilty for a few too many weeks this past winter!)  But I feel like I’ve been learning a few things that are helping me to distinguish and Focus on the most important things and Rejoice and be content in the good work that the Lord has given me (rather than being depressed that I didn’t get more less-important things crossed off my idol-list in a day.)

Until late last fall, I planned my days with a straightforward to-do list.  My husband, who grew up blessed with a heritage of Franklin Covey planning strategy  taught me to prioritize my list with A, B, and C.  But I was still pretty stuck on needing to get my whole list done every day.  Perman, who praises much of the time management plan of David Allen in his book Getting Things Done, said that though Allen means for his list-keeping plan to make your mind “like water,”  Perman found it made his brain rush “like a tsunami.”   Not desirable!

I lived with that tsunami too. I was far too easily tuned in to my to-do list rather than into the relationships or the everyday responsibilities that I have because of who I am.  There was pressure and it could get ugly if I was pressed up against the end of my time and not yet the end of my list.  What was on my list?  I don’t even know now… but it was long and it all felt terribly urgent and it drove me most every hour, every single day.  

Then I started challenging this pressure plan and began thinking of “Role Planning,” or what Perman calls “Time Mapping.”   It’s just the idea that instead of trying to do everything, all the time, that I can mark out what roles I need to attend to at what times every day, and at those times, work on only the tasks associated with that role.  Perman helped this idea sink in with his write up on the example of George Washington… how his days were quite set with what responsibilities he attended to at what times.  “People operate best from routine, not a set of lists,”  urges Perman.  

For example, school mornings at 8:30AM, I homeschool our big kids.  In that time, I need to fully attend to teaching, giving my attention to our kids, and the lessons before us together.  I don’t need to be busy with any tasks beyond being a good teacher. I will be investing my time best if I give myself wholly to lead and teach and serve and love my kids well as their teacher in our homeschool time together.   

None of the bills to pay, floors to mop, or emails I need to write matter in those homeschool hours.  There’s a slice of time devoted to admin later in the day, and I can do that then.  And what doesn’t get done in my admin time, can be moved to the next chunk of admin time because though there are a few truly urgent things, not everything is urgent all of the time!

Another fun and helpful slot in our days at home is chores.  We do chores together right after breakfast, right after lunch.  I grew up with chores checked on once a week.  Maybe that's the thing to blame for learning to procrastinate so very well?  And maybe procrastinating- and it's doable functionality- is to blame for so much stressful pile-up of pressures sometimes?  But chores don't add up with the same intensity when we're doing them all together at the right time every day. 

Focusing on my role rather than just tasks was the first transformation for me and my drive-me-crazy to-do list.  The second change has come without me recognizing it until I’ve been able to look back on it with the clearer vision of hindsight.    I began realizing several months ago that focusing on roles was gradually leading to shorter lists of tasks that I felt were so urgently associated with each role.  I wondered if I was just getting lazy?  

I had thought that I needed a list running of all my responsibilities (I used the free Wunderlist app to keep track of my roles and the tasks needed under each role.) I had lists of all that needed to be done for homeschool prep and lessons and admin jobs I must complete and friends we need to invite over and cleaning to be done.  But I began to see that as I tuned into simply attending to my right-now job, I could get the work of that job done with creativity and focus if I simply gave it my whole heart and attention now, instead of feeling like I needed to fill it with some extra special meaning (extra tasks to do to make it better.) I know how to be a mom, with my kids, caring for our home, making meals, blessing guests.   I know what I’m responsible for and I can do this, by the grace of God, and I will call it good, and take deep joy in the work that’s been given to me.  

All of my roles and relationships-  as worshipper, wife, mom, homeschooler, friend & hostess- are responsibilities that I alone can care for and complete in this world.  What a grace to get to serve in these ways!

Maybe it’s been my heart that’s changed in ways I can’t quite verbalize.  What I do know for sure is that I’m not as task-driven, not as obsessed with more and more to-dos all the time.  I am responsible to serve faithfully today and to “plan noble things” (Isaiah 32:8, as Perman points out) and I don’t need to cram pack my future now.  More and Busy isn’t always better.  (Maybe it isn’t better?)   Somehow, there’s been a sweeter, hopefully humbler heart in learning to be faithful to my responsibilities for today, to take joy in the work given to me to do, in planning for His glory and in trusting the Father to bring things into being in His time. I’m feeling the peaceful grace of a newly gentle friend ~ time~  that Bradley Blakeman spoke of when he said “You tame time through routine.”  

Be content with the roles you’ve been given, Jill.  Receive these gifts and be faithful and diligent to the work that Master has given you.  Attend to your responsibilities- to caring for the relationships you’ve been so generously gifted!- in such a way as to hear Him smilingly say, when He comes, “well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Master.” 

As I see it, there are two pieces of What’s Best Next that set it wildly apart from other time management books or planning systems I've seen.  First, in his section about “mission statements” and “life calling statements” and why they’re helpful and how to create one, Perman spells out for his readers that writing a Mission Statement is easy.  Other time planning gurus will tell you something like “find the most important thing to you” or as “what is it you want most?” But here, Perman switches from Project Planner to Pastor and tells us that as Christians, our Mission Statement is chosen for us by our King and declared in His Word.  He urges us that our highest goal needs to be something along the lines of “To glorify Christ and make Him known,” or at least, it’s approximately that substance in whatever words sound best to your soul.  

The second part I loved about this book is that Perman zealously urges every reader to consider in their planning weekly, daily, life goals… all of it…  “How Can I Serve Others?”  “How, this week, can I make some contribution to eliminating local needs and sorrows and even global ones?”  How excellent to be pressed toward this in a time management book!  I can’t think of a time when I’ve read anything about time management (outside of the Bible!) that urges me so straightforwardly to not be selfish with my time, to give myself away, to prefer others above myself and serve their needs first, with the best of me….  But could it be a Christian approach to Time Planning, if it didn’t?  Perman zings the bullseye.  What a deep and abiding blessing I believe it is and will be in my life and family and community as I learn to focus on the Best things…

Another example of the wisdom and helpfulness of this book is a section that Perman includes on how much to plan and schedule.  He urges readers to avoid the rush-hour crunch of traffic in their personal planning.  Leave your roads (your schedule) filled to 70% capacity.  If you pack too much in, the roads don’t flow smoothly.  It takes more work and wastes time if you need to rearrange one item and, also critically important, the 30% margin leaves needful, healthy space in a schedule for creative, thorough thinking and finishing up on work.   He firmly believes that planning our time to be about 70% filled, will help people get more done than trying to set tasks and appointments filling our time to the brim.   There’s a lot of peace pressed into planning like that!

Perman wrote his helpful, sharpening wisdom aimed, I think, a bit more at folks working in outside careers.  My few ideas to share here have been very much influenced by his writing but have also been tweaked to best suit freelance-creatives and women blessed to get to labor in and outward from their homes.  

Here’s my little plan:

I have a Grand Planning page which includes 1) my life mission statement, 2) my seasonal calling statement (what is the work of God for me in this season of months or years?) 3) my roles (closely connected to my relationships), 4) values-characteristics-principles (whatever you want to call it!) and 5) normal routine- my role plan.  

To Plan Each Week:  
Pray.  Review your grand planning page to reorient yourself with your priorities and ask for wisdom to see what’s most important to accomplish for the Father’s glory, to be a faithful to the responsibilities He’s given you, to bless and serve others to advance His kingdom.   

Perman talks about having a few lists- not one for every role- but a few that feed into your roles and weekly schedule.  My Lists are:   Needful (urgent and important), Hopeful (important, not urgent), Books to Read , Emails to write, and Posts to write.   With my mind aware of my priorities and these few lists, I can set out to plan each day.  

To Plan Each Day:
My days roll according to roles, not tasks.    The routine I build for my time includes time to worship and read and journal, time to clean up and lead our kids in chores after breakfast and dinner, time for homeschool, meal prep and groceries, language study and visiting with friends .   Some roles are in the same place every day, but some roles are only assigned to specific days...  Think of the old idea of Monday being baking day, Tuesday being wash day...   

For each day I note 1) Needful things (the stuff with a deadline- be honest, not everything is urgent) 2) Role Goals (see below) 3) a verse to pray or character issue to work on in my own heart or prayer request to lift up 4) scheduled events and needful preparation.  On the side of each week's plan, I also note the books to read this week and emails and posts to write for odd moments that may possibly be unfilled.  

Perman also suggests noting what you need to do and what you want to do every day.  For me, it works better to consider what I want to do, in the place of time (in my role plan or "time map") where I can care for myself, which is most often done in time alone with the Lord or with my husband, or occasionally, with friends or to be alone maybe to work creatively on a project or read.  

Each day I aim my heart at what I call Role Goals.  In each main role of the day, what is the most important thing to attend to?  It might be a character issue to pray for or model and train my kids towards.  It might be spending quality time with one of my kids.  My Role Goal is my gold for making it a good day.  I might not even need to write anything down because the best work for me to attend to now may be already known and richly, deeply entrenched as a pattern in my day.  Simply being faithful to the work given to me, is enough for me, that when I'm reviewing in my mind if this was a good day, I can be content, knowing that I have served the best I can for the relationships and the work that was given to me this day.  Extra productivity is not required to sustain or increase my value as a person, or my acceptance to my God.  Faithfulness, excellence, creativity, being wholly present in attending to the work the Lord has prepared for me... this is what matters.    This is what builds my life, the offering of my life that I one day will present as my offering to the Lord.  May it be the best I can possibly make of it... by His grace, for His glory.


We recently hosted a Creative Arts Concert at our house for several precious homeschooling families to join us to celebrate and encourage our kiddos.  There were more than a dozen performances and more outstanding masterpieces displayed in a gallery viewing time.

Here's to celebrating the music lovers among us who are learning to keep time...
There are some fantastic big girls in our community that we're so grateful our girls can enjoy and admire.
their performance, "The Beauty of Ballet" was Marian demonstrating the five positions in ballet and then a minute of free-form dance from both of them... it was creative and beautiful (at least to their own mom and dad!)
he's playing Vivaldi's "Spring"....  love hearing him make such beautiful music!
Our sweet John only displayed his "Peregrine Falcon Lego Flyer" but he was clear that he didn't want to have to stand up besides it and talk about it.  He'll get there.  Sorry, no pics of his creative construction!

“You need to keep your eyes focused on what you are here to contribute, not simply to do.  You need to direct yourself to effectiveness- the right outcomes- not mere activity.  Therefore, don’t ask “what tasks need to be done?”  Ask yourself “what outcomes need to be accomplished?”  Then determine the activities that will get you there.”  
~ Matt Perman, What’s Best Next.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

the cool down...

We've been baking....  I've never been so tuned into the weather forecasts and I'm counting hours til next Tuesday is over and the heat is supposed to not rise over 96 again for the rest of this summer.   We live on the sixth floor and our bedroom is on the seventh floor and it's HOT in our room, hot in our whole home with no AC.   This week three things fell off the walls (one string behind a picture snapped and two things stuck with putty peeled right off.)  We're all melting.  Good thing the baking chocolate is in the fridge!

I love our patio here but I've never been more grateful for it than I've been in the past two weeks of intense heat.  We can eat up here for a bit more breezy dinner and we can blow up this ole' beauty for some water joy....

Good thing there's two sections to blow up because we can't keep the top part filled with air for more than a few minutes!  Thankfully, the bottom parts stay full enough!
The water is *cold* and laying down on the hot tile is the perfect warm-up.

I sure don't need to warm up at all though.  It's hot!  Yesterday, I shouldn't have looked at the handy little thermometer on the alarm clock in our bedroom.  I was guessing it would be somewhere in the low-mid 90s but instead it was 101.4.   We're learning some tricks to deal with the heat though... like soak your pajamas in water and use a damp towel to wipe down your bed before you lay down.  With water, a fan works fairly well to keep us cool enough in this dry climate.  

This sweet girl is Marian's closest friend near us.  She told me yesterday "I love being with you" and "I haven't been this happy all summer!" (about being in our little pool.)  We're so grateful for these dear friends in our lives! 
nail polish time.
I didn't even know the word for this in Chinese but Marian was immediately on the job once her friend mentioned it!  Once again, thanks for the supply of brightness and beauty, Grandma and Grandpa!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Oh! Summer Days

Our crew here is getting dark, perfect farmer tans only they're earning them not in rows of crops but on the baseball field.  Matt has our big three at 5 mornings of baseball a week and Vivi is in school for 4 mornings too so I'm getting some time.... alone, quiet, to think, to finish things, to read, to be... (did I mention it) alone?

I almost don't know what to do with myself.  I Love It. There's projects to finish and so many words I'd love to read and words I'd love to write.  And not all of it's getting done.  But I'm grateful.   And I still have a bit more time...

We've also had friends to visit.  Precious friends from out of town (Can't believe I didn't get better shots of the girls altogether!  The boys are below.)  and some sweet fellowship with families in town too.  And the recent joy in local friendships?  There are stories to be shared elsewhere.  Crazy, amazing, wonderful grace!

happy fourth! 

Words that I've been loving so far this summer-

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (by Nabeel Qureshi) Such a helpful read for anyone wanting to know more about Islam and wanting to understand how Islam can be called a "religion of peace" when the IS is dead set on slaughter in the name of Islam.  I loved getting to see the elegance and piety and sincerity of Qureshi's parents in the book, and how Qureshi explained the differences in generations and cultures that he grew up in and around.  My favorite part-  the hunger that grew and demanded that he must find what is True about God.  

Saving Leonardo (by Nancy Pearcy).  Crazy good.  Every youth pastor needs this.  And every parent.  And every Christian who wants to be able to make any sense out of this world today and how easily duped we all can be by crowds and currents and pretty pictures.  I'm just getting into this one and feel profoundly blessed to be able to read these pages of such wisdom and insight.  Grateful for this woman who has taken such time to pour out her understanding in these pages.

Monday, July 6, 2015

For the Lamb

If you need some encouragement, as I have, for your own heart and for your country....  have a listen here, remember the praise-worthy sovereign God we serve and too,  see these ambassadors of their generation.  Lord do your work in our hearts and in our land!

This one too... Ever Glorious...  Oh Yes.

And if you want just a taste of what many in not-my-country, but my-home-land live, their daily reality... watch just the first 4 minutes of this video.  We pray, with some of the words that finish the pages of Scripture... Even So Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, June 22, 2015

mountain days

Last Sunday we enjoyed a special outing day with the two families with whom we worship.  We drove out for a day at this magnificent state park for worship and fellowship together.  How amazing to live just an hour from this beauty!!

(And as for web etiquette and protocol... I'm sure I'm blowing it with way too many pictures.  Sorry about the overkill, I'm just thinking of the Grands here :)

This guy is continually building a fort these days...  I love how he's a planner, builder, designer.  I love Isaiah! 

And I love his daddy!  #mostwonderfulhusband  #smittenforever  #wifeforlife  #onlyalittlebitgushy

(the green grass was showing up as greenish skin so that's why I went with BW for this one!)

Have I told you she has a goofy silly streak?  She was tickled about something and kicked her feet and laughed herself crazy in the hammock like she was a regular little monkey.  She's a treasure!
heading home
they played hard 
And as the kids snoozed after their glorious day of play, Matt and I hunted for a place to stay out there by the mountains.  We've been feeling a great need for rest.   Surprisingly and super gratefully we found a little countryside inn to stay in (think Chinese bed and breakfast / hostel combo) that hit the spot.  Completely a provision from the Father for us!  So I washed up all our dirty laundry Monday and we took off again Tuesday morning to stay two nights in this sweet little place... This was our last chance for a summer break because Matt is coaching baseball Mon-Thurs and double headers on Saturdays all summer long.

It was a perfect Rest & Relaxation trip for our family and it even covered my birthday- an unplanned but delightful treat!  We just walked around our place, checked the mountains nearby in the mornings, picked wildflowers and let the kids ride bikes (Matt dismantled and squashed two bikes into the back of our van so they could take turns).  In the afternoons, for the first time ever!, Matt and I talked long and worked on writing some letters and a paper he's got due while the kids played by themselves and (kind of) gave us time alone.  It mostly, really worked!  And we got yummy Chinese food cooked at the place by the super sweet grandma who ran the inn with her husband.  Gracious gift for this tired mama!  First time for a truly restful family getaway.  I couldn't be more grateful!

His big brother's bike is just a bit big for him, but he made it work!  (and those are the mountains we looked right over...just beyond the flatlands where we stayed)
hide and seek in the wildflowers.  (Matt's shot)
Can you believe how perfect a hand me down bike this is for our girl?  We have super generous amazing friends!

"our place" in the country, near the mountains, the getaway that we love...

Matt spent quite a while trying to fix a bike that belonged to the grandson of the innkeepers.  It was a valiant effort... but the "fixed" chain only lasted a block.

the sixth...

We got to celebrate our little big boy's birthday with a Pilot Party.... thanks to the amazing grandparents who sent a package of toy planes and cool Auntie Heather who found kiddo aviator glasses and a fun piloty shirt.

We folded and folded and I'm still finding more folded paper airplanes and most the evening was spent trying to hit targets or to shoot planes out of the air with the nerf gun that Isaiah and Marian bought for John.    It was a silly fun evening all around!

Happy Birthday John! 
Auntie Heather, you rock.  He *Loves* these Glasses!
you can hear that sound effect, right?
eyes on the target

We love you crazy much sweet boy John Timothy! I'm so proud of how you're reading, how you care for your little sister, how you listen to read alouds and sermons even when I think you're a million miles away.  I love how silly-goof-ridiculous you are sometimes (a lot of times) and how great a little athlete you are.  You are a joy to watch growing up to know and love the Lord.  Our hearts most earnest desire for you, son, is that you would cherish Christ and cling to His Word and serve His church with everything in you.  May your life be richly satisfied as you seek first the kingdom of God...  We are for you and love you endlessly.  Mom and Dad.  

flower girls... and one handsome little man in a suit

on the way there...  nervous and excited more than words can tell

my little wedding party
We just love this bride and her maid of honor as much as can be!  On the left is Isaiah and Marian's math teacher and the bride is their Chinese teacher.  So special for us to get to be at this celebration with both of them!

I was surprised how western looking this wedding was.  But there were still lots of traditional elements to the wedding too.  In fact, this wasn't the wedding ceremony but the reception, the celebration, after the imams had already performed a prayer service that was the real wedding earlier that morning.  We hung out with the bride and her friends in a top room at the reception until a few hours in, when the groom came in, brought her flowers and walked her downstairs to where all the grandparents were waiting to receive them and bless them.  Then there were a few more hours of dancing and feasting....  (We actually didn't get to stay that long but that's another story...)

waiting for the groom

Here's the guy who wanted to play baseball with his big brother this afternoon, until his buddies handed down to him a suit that they had worn in a few weddings previously.  That changed everything for him.  Not only did he get a suit, but shoes too, and a tie that matched the maid of honor!
coming downstairs to the reception hall
the girls were very serious about their job of laying down flower petals...
and also very sad about having to give back the baskets when they were done!
 We're excited to get to see this marriage grow for this precious young couple.  We love them and pray God's grace and help and joy for their new lives as one!

Sunday, June 21, 2015


So... I'm too far behind to try to quantify it.  I thought I was about 2 weeks, which would mean I maybe had a few hundred photos.  But it turns out there were 1, 744 photos waiting for me.  It's been more than a month since my camera's shared it's treasures.  It's been a busy, wonderful, hard month.

Finally, here's a bit of our best memories to share... more pics coming in the next few days hopefully!

Children's Day was a bit too much pressure for Vivi... just standing in front of the mob of proud parents all watching their kiddos receive their good attendance certificates about did her in.
his class did a yellow pom-pom dance number...  can't say it was his proudest moment but he made it through 
the director of their preschool loves these two
eating popcorn with the pretty princess, precious friend and legend extraordinaire...  our little neighbor & Vivi's best friend from school
Children's Day afternoon we had a whole crew of cool kids here playing.  The girls got creative with hairdos and dances... 
...and the boys made battles of one kind or another.

(And this mother called them all Wild Things.)
salsa making...  just thought it was pretty  
sleeping late
This boy is  consistently the latest sleeper of our crew... except for that time when he woke up soon after the sun (is sunrise this early everywhere?!  it's about 4:30 AM here now!) to play with the crazy amazing birthday gifts he received.  Come to think of it, this just might have been day #2 of his sixth year.  Birthday photos coming soon...
To say that this day was a highlight for these kiddos is a ridiculous understatement.  That we got to be there and be a part of honoring and celebrating this bride with her groom, and even her maid of honor (our big two kiddo's best-ever Chinese and math teachers) was an incredible joy for all of us.  I have a whole post of photos to share from this magnificently beautiful celebration.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy Father's Day Matthew Love

Here's the Daddy of this crew that we're wild to get to celebrate tomorrow... down beneath the heap of laughing, tired out kiddos.  He's one gloriously loved, tickled-out and still triumphant at wack-tackle-battle daddio.  That I get to be married to this man is shocking and thrilling to me still.