Let Wisdom Replace Doubt: Five Minute Friday

33451581273_645f1d66bf_b

Photo Credit: Neillwphoto Flickr via Compfight cc

I was raised with a very strong sense of duty. You show up on time, keep your commitments even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. I recognized early on in life that there are lot of things you do because it’s right and good, not necessarily because you want to.

Then enter parenthood. Suddenly the list of shoulds became huge and sometimes they contradicted each other. Baby should sleep in bed with mommy vs. Baby should never sleep in bed with mommy. Children need to play independently especially outside vs. Children should never be left alone outside for any period of time.
Other times the standards set felt insurmountable. Children should rarely, if ever watch TV, have sugar, wear clothing made of two kids of fabrics. (Ok, I made that last one up.) Being a mom meant a world filled with new levels of obligation and oceans of new guilt. With every decision I made, there was enough evidence and social pressure from the opposite opinion that I doubted myself constantly. Staying at home, homeschooling, the list went on. It wasn’t that I was too overwhelmed to make choices, just that I was almost never confidence I was making the right ones.

Sometimes even when I was unhappy with the course I’d set, I felt powerless to try and change it. Why put in all that extra effort if it wasn’t necessary, I was still going to feel guilty and tomorrow a study will come out to suggest that my original choice was right all along?

It took me a long time to silence the voices of duty. Honestly, they are with me still. But quieter whispers now instead of demanding shouts. It is easier to ignore them and try instead to replace them with words of truth. Not that I don’t fulfill my responsibilities, I’m just more deliberate what I commit myself too. But I haven’t yet learned to quiet the murmurings of guilt when I read another article or see another volunteer need.

Sometimes I let them become quite loud, and they drown out the beauty and the wonder of this life that I am both carefully chosen and yet accidentally found. (Because so much of life with that strange combination of intentionality and serendipity).

But I’m working hard to pray for mercy instead of cling to impossible standards and ask for wisdom instead of being wracked with doubt. All my shoulds and oughts were covered by the blood at the cross, and that doesn’t exclude my parenting ones.

should-600x600

five-minute-friday-4

There is No Avoiding the Big Questions: Five Minute Friday

32763563942_228d77207d_b

Photo Credit: Onasill ~ Bill Badzo Flickr via Compfight cc

 

I thought that if I made different choices I could have saved myself from this. Then I started reading the work of women different from me. They had teaching ministries and high performing careers outside the home. Yet, they too were struggling with the big questions. Why am I here and how do I really love? I’ve been going through my own purpose of life debates. Wondering if some how the choices I’ve made are going to get in the way of me becoming who I’m meant to be, of not fulfilling or even coming close to my potential.

After years of being an overachiever, I married young, worked mostly meaningless jobs to pay the bills and then became a stay at home mom. I’m not one of those super woman stay at home moms either. My kids rarely do craft, when we do they are never Pinterest-worthy. I don’t bake with them often, because it usually ends in yelling and mess. Needless to say I won’t be winning any awards for most fun mommy. I thought that some how my choices would mean that God couldn’t use me, that I no longer had any “real” work to do for his Kingdom beyond wiping noses and bottoms.

But that was a lie, and it continues to be a lie that I face daily. Because yes, the things I do every day with and for my children are part of the work of the gospel. But also, everyone has these kinds of existential questions at some point. If I had taken on a high powered career, had children at a different time or not at all, I would still have come to this place. We all must face the questions of what were we born for and what are me meant to do.

Right now that means realizing that what I do is only part of who I am. I look at my 17 month old son. He offers no concrete work or objective function. (In fact he makes more work for me.). But he is adorable and winsome and makes my heart glad. Who he is, is enough. I’m coming to terms (again) with the fact that I am loved for who I am.

But I also know that I was created with work to do. I have this deep fear that some how I will miss that work. That on this long and winding road of life I will veer left when I should have gone right and end up off course, missing out on wherever God wants me to be. I often questions my choices and decisions (many of which are joint decisions which affect the separate but complementary callings of my husband and me, and our family). I haven’t figured it all out yet. It’s all part of my acceptance of the process and the journey, which goes against my personality that likes to check things off the list. But I’m also realizing the peace that comes with that acceptance. Knowing that I have a purpose, even if I don’t know exactly what it is or what it will look like in the future, has to be enough for now.

purpose-600x600

five-minute-friday-4

Change the Oil, Rotate the Tires: Why Self-Care Is As Important as Car Maintenance

28505894486_160748cbbc_b

Photo Credit: ND-Photo.nl via Compfight cc

People love their cars. We have apps to remind us when to change the oil, get inspections and perform routine maintenance. Our cars are often equipped with warning bells and lights to let us know when something is wrong and need to be addressed. But we don’t usually treat our bodies, minds and souls with as much care.

My experience is not unique but nor is it limited to women like me, who stay home with their children rather than pursue paid work outside of the home. All of our lives require upkeep and routine maintenance. Without this our minds become stagnant and prone to anxiety, our souls begin to recede and we can feel very much alone. We need to take better care of ourselves. As a stay-at-home-mom, I take care of the majority of my household. I’m the one who makes sure everyone is well fed and has clean clothes. I try to keep the house from descending into total chaos. But my work doesn’t stop there. I’m always thinking ahead; getting ready to homeschool my daughter and serving in multiple church ministries while my mind swirls with ideas for even more projects. I don’t leave much time for myself. I usually end up with the end of night, exhausted hours where I have little left to devote to things that I feel passionate about. My body is too tired to stimulate my mind and I end up feeling both worn out and yet underused.

This is a great picture of burnout and it’s not limited to moms, women or even people working multiple jobs. It’s about whether we make time for ourselves. I don’t necessarily mean making time to do your nails or watch a favorite TV show, though that may play into it for you. It’s about giving yourself space to pursue things you are passionate about; having goals that are just yours and not connected to the rest of your family. For a long time many of my goals have been about being debt free, or homeschooling our kids, or focusing more on healthy family lifestyle. But those things aren’t really about me.

This week I was encouraged by people who love and care about me to take some time for me. Not just a day or an hour when I can find it, because that won’t happen. It needs to be scheduled and regular. A time that I can look forward to and count on when things get difficult, as they always will at some point. A way to give myself physical, mental and emotional space, something that is usually lacking when I spend all day with my kids.

If we make regular time for ourselves, we are less likely to burn out and be forced to rest at times that are not of our own choosing. A car that gets routine maintenance is less likely to die, and leave us stranded on the side of the road.

So how are you taking care of yourself? Or if you aren’t, what are you going to do, change or rearrange to make sure that you are take better care of yourself in the future?

When Laundry is an Accomplishment: Life with a Toddler and a Newborn

It took me almost a year after having my first child to feel like I was getting anything done. Now that I have two I’m wondering if it will take two years this time. Having children necessitates having new and more realistic expectations of what you can accomplish in a day. I am one of those people who is always pushing myself to get more done in less time. My husband bought me Getting Things done for Christmas (at my request) but I haven’t had the time to read it yet. (How is that for irony?) My house in a perpetual mess and I haven’t even had to cook many meals yet, thanks to generous friends and family who have been bringing meals since our son was born on March 19. The idea of trying to return to regular every day life is an overwhelming one. Then I realized something. Regular every day life has changed, again.

It changed when my daughter was born and I became a Stay at Home Mom. It changed when she finally began sleeping consistently through the night at one year and I felt like I had my life back.  It changed again while I was pregnant (twice) and the lack of energy sapped my ability to get much done. Now I am the mother of a toddler and a newborn. What was once normal no longer applies. Slowly I am trying to add back in activities I once did regularly like exercise, writing and blogging. But for now I need to be happy with the things I do get done; whether it be finished laundry (including my cloth diapers) or a dinner ready on time. This is the new normal.

Anti-Student Loans, Anti-Credit Card and other Financial Holier than Thou Attitudes

In the past two years, as we’ve tried to navigate the difficult road of living on one income I’ve immersed myself in the financial blogosphere. It has been an interesting experience to say the least. Some of the philosophies made sense to me. Avoid debt. That was one my parents taught me as a young child. They told me two things were worth going into debt for, a home and an education. My parents each finished college thanks at least in part to some student loans. Though back then student loan rates were in the 1-2% range and savings accounts were earning upwards of 17% interest. (Hard to imagine a world like that, huh? My husband’s student loans are at 6.8% and our savings account doesn’t even earn 1% interest anymore). My parents also had a mortgage on each of the homes that they lived in over the years, including their current one. Granted, back then getting a mortgage was harder; underwriting could take months and a decent down payment was a necessity. My dad was lucky enough to have a good job. He was never unemployed for any period of time during my childhood, though seemingly inevitable layoffs often loomed. He had little or no help from his parents in attending college and yet managed to get a degree in chemical engineering, graduating in 3.5 years instead of the usual 4. (When was the last time you heard of that?) He went into a field that he enjoyed and was talented in, but that also had reasonable earning potential. (Something I’m sure he kept in mind when he took out some student loans to help cover his tuition). We lived in a modest house in relation to my father’s income. My parents kept a sizeable savings account. They always paid cash for cars, never buying new. So avoiding debt made sense to me.

But then the other popular financial blog topics made their appearance. Don’t use credit cards, they are evil. Well, I can understand the potential problems with credit cards. My parents had taught me about interest and how in the end you owe more than an item is often worth when it is bought on credit. But my parents definitely had credit cards. They weren’t often used, but when they were, the balance was paid off each month. I got my first credit card right after I was married at 20. My husband has just paid off past credit card debt and swore never again to use a credit card. So we compromised. We each got a card for the purpose of building our credit. (Yes, I know there are other ways to do this, but I didn’t have the fear and hatred of credit cards that many in the financial blogosphere do). My card was used for gasoline only. His card was used for groceries. For everything else we used the debit card. This helped us better track our budget in the early days of low income. (I believe he was making $25,000 before taxes and I was a fulltime student). We never carried a balance and we never spent money we didn’t have in the bank. We treated them like debit cards.

Then there is the infamous, college is too expensive and student loans aren’t worth it argument. Possible solutions including working part to fulltime while in school and/or opting not to go to college until you had saved enough to afford it. Now I grew up in a family that placed great value on education. My parents are probably some of the last of a generation who believe that college is not just there to help you get a good job, but to help you become an educated, well-rounded person. (My mother is a perfect example. She was the first generation in family to go to college, yet she ultimately became a stay-at-home wife and mother. Something she has rarely, if ever regretted. But never has she spoken of her college education as a waste. She is one of the smartest, best educated people I know. She has never let that go to waste even if she isn’t in the traditional workforce). Which school would give me the most value for the education was deciding factor when I was doing the college search. Ultimately I chose a school that I loved, and who offered a good financial aid and scholarship package. However, it was not the least expensive option. After discussing it with my parents we concluded that finances were not the only consideration. For that matter neither was prestige. The question was, where would I learn the most and where would I get the best possible education? I lived on a small quiet campus were partying was rare. Most students there were there to study and seek other academic pursuits. I probably didn’t take advantage of extra curricular activities and networking events as I could have. But I learned a great deal, much of it in subjects outside my major that have affected who I am as a person in very positive ways. I also managed to graduate a semester early, saving more money, something I couldn’t have done at a larger or more prestigious school. I consider it money well spent. (Oh, and thanks in part to my incredibly hard work in high school and my parents support I was able to graduate loan free, even though I did qualify for some loans that I could have taken advantage of to make my experience more luxurious. Instead I worked summer jobs to pay for my yearly spending and book money.)

Now, my husband attended college at age 26, and did it all on student loans. Do we regret that? Yes and No. If he hadn’t returned to school he would probably still be making $25,000 a year in a dead end job he hated. Do I wish it had cost less? Absolutely. But at the time there was very little other choice. Looking back, he doesn’t feel that his education had the same value as mine, while in the end it did cost more. If we had it to do over again, I think we would have tried to find ways to pay off some of the bills as we went instead of waiting until the end to pay the giant balance. But we can only move forward from here. Those two bachelor’s degrees that my husband obtained have opened doors for him that he would still be banging his head against right now had he never returned to school. While our income is still relatively small (apparently we are considered legally poor by theU.S.government), his income earning potential has been significantly increased, and his work has become a source of self-value rather than a drudgery. When our children approach college age the system will likely be very different. We would like them to avoid the debt cycle, but we both still believe in the value of education. Colleges today are not always (in fact, rarely) producing well-educated, well-rounded people. Those students who emerge as mature, educated adults owe more of that to their own efforts than anything special the university system itself is offering. The education is still there for the taking, you just to look harder and dig deeper for it. Otherwise you could very well graduate with a piece of paper and very little actual education.

My husband and I also purchased a home with no downpayment. Was it ill-advised? Perhaps. Is it frustrating to see our home with so little equity, even after 5 years? Definitely. But I can’t say we regret the purchase of this home. With rising rents and other local housing issues, we would likely still be living in our two bedroom apartment in a very sketchy neighborhood and probably paying almost as much in rent as we do now for mortgage. We’d probably be spending more for heat and electricity too. We would never have started our family.

It’s easy to stand on the outside looking in and make declarations about the financial decisions of others. Heck, I do it too sometimes. It’s hard not to. I love how much I’ve learned from the financial blogosphere. It has encouraged me to review my own values and make sure that my financial decisions reflect those values. I’ve learned about frugal practices I never would have considered before I found financial and lifestyle benefits. I now try to see my finances in a more long term way. It would be easy to make the minimum payments on the student loans and just accept the long haul to debt freedom. It feels so overwhelming at times.   But I’ve learned that making small sacrifices now can mean reaping rewards later on. I now see a debt free lifestyle as more appealing than a more luxurious one. (I’d rather live in our little house with no mortgage than move to a bigger one and face mortgage payments for the rest of our lives).

But I’ve also learned to take financial philosophies with a grain of salt and see how they fit into my own life. I still hate the idea of ever having a car payment, but it may very well be something we have to resort to in a few years. I think credit cards are a tool to be used for convenience or even profit (let me tell you how often those cash back checks have come in very handy at times we needed a little extra money most).  Sometimes it’s easier to have a holier than though attitude regarding certain financial issues like credit cards, car payments, student loans and mortgage down payments. (Hey, even mortgages sometimes. When people tell me how they paid cash for their houses and I should too or I’m making a financial mistake I try not to laugh. In our area, with our income, I might have become a homeowner just in time to retire by the time we saved enough to pay cash for a home, even a small fixer upper in a rough neighborhood). I’m finally to the point where I don’t even comment on discussions on the above topics anymore. The cacophony of voices all of whom agree with each other is loud enough. Any compromise I might try to express would only be shouted down. Besides, I don’t need to defend my financial decisions to anyone by myself and my husband, much less the anonymous blogosphere.

The truth is I’m Ok with my credit cards. I’d like to pay down our mortgage and student loans faster. No, I’m not saving 10-15 % of my income toward retirement, nor do I have 20% a month going into my emergency fund/savings account. I don’t have a year’s worth of income saved in the bank and it will probably be a long time before I will. But I do have an amazing two and a half year old daughter that I love and who drives me crazy. I have a baby boy due to make his appearance in the next month or so. I have a husband who has a job he enjoys but is still working towards a career he will love and I have the rare opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom who dreams of being a professional writer. I like watching some TV in the evenings (online for free of course) and I like to read just to fun, even when it isn’t necessarily educational or informative. I may not follow all the traditional financial tenets and I certainly won’t be moving to my retirement villa inTuscanyat age 50, but I have a life I enjoy and a family I love. Oh yeah, and I also pay all my bills on time. What more could I ask for?

Unexpected Blessing When Needed Most

It’s amazing how sometimes your needs get met before you even have time to worry too much about them. I’ve been worrying about various financial concerns lately. Mostly regarding our finances after the new baby arrives in March. One worry was how we were going to afford to cloth two children on our very limited budget. Since we are having a boy this time around, our use of hand-me-downs will be rather limited. We were barely able to get through this year and keep our daughter clothed. But then this week I received an email from a casual friend offering me several bags of boys clothing, most brand name and in good condition.

My other major concern has been how we are going to pay our various medical bills associated with the delivery of our son. We have some money in savings but since we don’t know exactly how many days I will be in the hospital, we don’t yet know how much the bill will be. I recently received a phone call from my boss asking if I could work a few more days a month in the office and increase my at home responsibilities because their current full time assistant has given her two weeks notice. (This is the fourth time this has happened since 2009 when I left to have my daughter). I thought I was walking away from this job almost three years ago, and every time I feel like I’m transitioning out, something changes and I find myself with more work. I can’t complain, while this is not an ideal time to be increasing my work responsibilities.  This is the financial provision I was looking for, just not the source I was expecting.

Going from SAHM to WAHM: How I Accidentally Became a Work At Home Mom

I accidentally became a Work at Home Mom. No, you didn’t misread that. When I left my job as an administrative assistant for a small non-profit two years ago just weeks before the birth of my daughter I really thought I was walking away forever. That fall the assistant they hired to replace me quit, so they asked me to help out for a few days. Then I came to help with the biggest event of the year in January. That spring they were without a full time assistant again and asked if I would consider coming back to work part-time. My daughter was still not weaned and my husband didn’t really like the idea of me going back to work. To be honest, I didn’t either. But I still felt some sense of loyalty to the organization and the extra money would have been nice. But after talking and praying about it, I said no. I returned again last January to help out with the big event, satisfied that my involvement would be limited to once or twice a year. Then this past March I received a phone call. Would I come back to work just two days a week? I said no again. A few weeks later my boss offered me a compromise. Would I work from home and come into the office only as needed during major events until they could hire a new assistant? This was something I was willing to consider.

I will admit it felt kind of good to know that I was valued. I never thought the job was all that challenging, but three other assistants had quit or been fired in two years time. I worked from home for two months and while I enjoyed the extra money, I also found it hard to balance the part-time work with the full time plus job of being a wife, mother and household manager. I always thought working from home would be easy. It isn’t. At the end of May I helped produce a large event for a local business leader and supporter of our non-profit. After the event ended my boss asked if I would continue to work from home indefinitely. “When you decide you can’t or don’t want to do it anymore, let me know and I’ll hire someone,” she said. I wasn’t surprised, but I was a little unnerved. This would mean I was officially a working mom. Yes, I’d be working from home and mostly setting my own hours, but it would still mean one more thing to manage. Deadlines would have to take priority over household tasks as well as my own projects, my novel included.

So far it’s been doable. My mother has graciously watched my daughter on the few occasions where I needed to be in the office or coordinate an event. I’ve been able to make a couple of small extra student loan payments on my husband’s sizeable student loan debt and set aside money for future car repairs and Christmas presents. I don’t know how long it will last, but for the time being I have to stop referring to myself as a Stay at Home Mom.

How do those of you who work outside the home or from home manage to get it all done? Any organization tips?