Last month, I had the privilege to attend the IF:Gathering in Austin, Texas. I was struck by how many different speakers were represented at the conference and how contrasting their skill sets were, and yet when each of them used their gifts like they were created to, it felt like we witnessed a beautiful symphony. Jennie Allen spoke with charisma and passion, Rebekah Lyons shared with depth and sensitivity, Lauren Chandler taught with insight, Bianca Olthoff preached with humor and boldness, Angie Smith shared honestly, Jen Hatmaker spoke with conviction…the list goes on. As I watched them use their gifts well, I couldn’t help but be encouraged to want to do the same with how God is leading me.
I came to the conference with many thoughts swirling in my mind about how I feel God wants me to use my gifts in this season of life. It was rejuvenating for me to have the time to think, pray and dream uninterrupted from my sweet girls so I could take the opportunities to really listen and ponder. I soaked in all of the insights each speaker shared and wrestled with how this played out in my every day life once I returned home.
After two days of refreshment, it was time to board the plane back to reality. Little did I know how true that statement was! Before my plane even took off from Austin, I found out that my family had been hit with the stomach bug. I returned home to putting new sheets on the beds and diligently applying essential oils to everyone’s feet to nurse them back to health. Being right back in Mom Mode left me little time to reflect on the lessons learned in Austin.
That night as I collapsed into bed exhausted with taking care of everyone, I realized the reason I don’t dream as often as I’d like about how to use my gifts or follow my passions is because as a mom of young kids, I am basically just trying to survive the day. If you’ve read this blog for the past three years, you have watched me grapple with these realizations of wanting to use my gifts well but unsure how to juggle them while meeting the needs of my one and three-year-old as well as my hard-working husband.
Many of these thoughts came to the surface at the beginning of January when Jared and I took a few days to get away together and reflect on 2015 and plan for 2016. It was much needed because the last time we tried to get away for our babymoon, you may remember our plans were hijacked by a hurricane.
While away, I did a lot of thinking about my life with two girls, a husband with a very busy work schedule, and a yearning to do more with my gifts but not sure what that looked like during these full days. In between the introspection and conversations with Jared about all of this, I soaked up the opportunity to read an entire book (gasp!). I picked up Jen Hatmaker’s new book For the Love, and was struck just a few pages in when she wrote about an example of a balance beam and how that related to the age-old question to moms, “How do you balance work and family and community?”
“I’m not doing it all. Who could? I can’t. I decided what tricks belonged on my beam and dropped the rest or figured out a way to delegate…
Cooking and sit-down dinners? Live-giving for me. On the beam.
Coffee with everyone who wants to ‘pick my brain’? I simply can’t. Off the beam.
After hours with our best friends on the patio? Must. On the beam.
Classroom Mom? I don’t have the skill set. Off the beam.
You get to do this too. You have permission to examine the tricks and decide what should stay. What parts do you love? What are you good at? What brings you life?…
When I see another woman fighting for her balance beam, I am inspired because if she has permission, then I do too. Wise women know what to hold onto and what to release, and how to walk confidently in their choices—no regrets, no apologies, no guilt” (6,7-9).
The part that particularly connected with me: “Frame your choices through this lens: season. If your kids are under five, you cannot possibly include the things I can with middle and high schoolers. You are ruled by a tiny army you created yourself. This is just what it is right now.”
Yes. She said exactly what I have been thinking and what I needed to hear. It corresponded effortlessly with the quote I then read in the MOPS Magazine, Hello Darling, “The practical application of my gifts depends on my choice, my talents and my stage of life” (Alyssa Alexander, “This is Who I Am”).
Over the past year as I’ve prayed and pondered how to use my gifts in this season, I have felt a resounding confirmation to continue to write. I have missed that part of me and though I know that there are things I have to give up as a mom, I am realizing I need to find a way to make writing happen because it’s really good for my soul. Writing needs to stay on my beam.
So I have committed in 2016 to waking up at least two mornings a week before my girls to write. For this non-morning person, this is a big commitment, but I’ve realized that if I feel led to write, I have to do so when it’s quiet and that is about the only “guaranteed” quiet time in our house during my day. I have also had to let go of these long stretches of uninterrupted writing blocks and accept little pockets of writing time (as well as cute interruptions like Olivia currently sitting next to me chatting away because she woke up early from her nap).
One of the things falling off the beam these days is spending as much time as I did previously browsing social media. It makes common sense but if I’m going to get out of bed when the alarm dings, I’ve got to get to sleep at a reasonable hour and that means putting the phone down—which takes some discipline for this people-loving-night-owl. This doesn’t mean I don’t ever check Instagram or Facebook but I am learning to place limits on myself; usually for me this means setting a time limit for how long I will browse and then putting my phone down and moving on. Let’s just say there are some days I add extra minutes onto my browsing but overall, it’s been a really wise tradeoff for me.
Another thing off the beam is deep-cleaning my house. I feel silly admitting that we’ve hired a cleaning lady because isn’t it a stay-at-home-mom’s job to clean her house? But after talking it through with Jared, we realize that my “me” time is very limited right now and if I want to be using the time I do have to write, then getting a cleaning lady is worth the investment right now.
There are other things staying on the beam as well. Serving on the MOPS Leadership Team allows me to meet with women, engage in conversation about faith and motherhood, and connect with moms. Teaching professional development inservices to teachers with the Ohio Writing Project uses my gifts of teaching and writing. Meeting with my Supper Club each month gives me an opportunity to get to know friends on a deeper level. All high priorities that are on the beam.
This is not to say I have all of my priorities totally figured out. Spending more of my “me” time writing means I haven’t been as on top of other things (you should have see the pile of dishes in the sink as I write this!) but it’s worth it as I tap into my gifts and seek to nurture my whole self as a woman. (Shout out to my very tidy husband who has put up with lots of piles on the counters and laundry on the couch as I figure out this balance and then lets me say it’s worth it!)
As I examine what makes my heart beat fast and what gifts God has given me, one question from Lysa Terkerst’s The Best Yes has helped frame this even more: “What’s that soul-thing for you, that God-honoring thing that keeps slipping away because there’s been no time to set aside to actually start?” (27).
In wrestling with God about this answer, I know “that soul-thing for [me]” is writing. My prayer is this year I continue to learn how to say yes to things that feel life-giving–like writing, teaching, meeting with fellow moms, and even party planning (a blog post more about that coming soon!)—and no to the things that leave me feeling depleted (though somehow folding the laundry and cleaning the dishes are still on the list—ha.).
As I was finishing this blog post, I took Olivia to gymnastics and as I stood there watching her hold her arms out and point her toes as she walked across the beam, it clicked. The most important part about gracefully walking on the beam? Looking straight ahead rather than down at my toes. As I watched Olivia put one foot in front of the other, it reminded me that’s all I need to do too in this mission to use my gifts well in motherhood. Take one wobbly step at a time, keeping my eyes firmly planted on the One who created me with my gifts and passions in the first place. Then I can focus on what tricks belong on my beam instead of trying to balance everything perfectly in this season of motherhood.