Bill’s “Schedule”

So, to start with, let me begin with showing you what my schedule looks like before I explain:

 

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While Court might be tempted to treat schedules like a savior, I tend to treat them like an allergy.  I can’t be linear to save my life.  If I had a schedule, it would probably look something like this:

  • Get up on a Saturday when a kid finally makes so much noise that I can’t avoid dealing with it
  • Hang out until all the kids are starving and then decide to make homemade pancakes and waffles
  • Possibly clean up the dishes (why do now what I can do later?)
  • Hang out again till I declare out of the blue, “Let’s go to the library!” 
  • Unlike every other day, the kids didn’t start by getting dressed, so they’re still in their PJs—guess we should take care of that before going into public
  • Once home from the library, let the kids at their new books
  • When everyone starts to get a little cranky and moody, I’ll think “What the heck is going on—wait a sec!  It’s almost nap time and I haven’t even given you guys a snack yet!” 
  • Pull together a snack
  • While the kids eat said snack, start working on lunch prep
  • Give kids lunch immediately following snack
  • Head into the afternoon with the kids taking a nap an hour late
  • Et cetera  

Even if I started the day with a Courtney-esque schedule, it would end with a huge black X through it and scrawled words across it saying, “Just do whatever randomly pops into your head at the moment.”  Welcome to my schedule.  And, yes, for those of you who are horrified at how my mind works, you’re right: each day is just like a ride on the tilt-a-whirl.  But at least I think tilt-a-whirls are fun…

Barely related P.S. – Nate Wilson’s Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl is one of the few books that I can highly recommend with no caveats or reservations.  Go read it.  It’s worth your time.  You’ll rejoice in God and his goodness in new ways.  And its total non-linearity makes me feel warm and cozy. -B

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Our Weekday Schedule

So here it is. You can click on it to see it larger.

A few notes: First, this is only a sampling of one day for us. In reality I have a separate schedule for each day of the week. Bill wants me to let you know this is actually much more toned down than what it used to be. See, the mocking has already started. Second, I have another schedule for school hours. This changes each day because it also functions as my lesson plans. Third, my day never, and I repeat, NEVER, goes as planned. Some days it’s difficult to even compare what you see below to what actually took place. This routine is simply a goal, one that is easily changed or scrapped when the need arises.

*Update: It’s important to know that I make no schedule for Bill. To say this is his schedule is somewhat laughable (see next post). I roughly threw in some things to show you what this might look like; however, people pay much closer attention than I expected. It seems many are curious how Bill only works seven hours a day. He doesn’t. He works eight. I quickly tossed Humana in there paying no attention to the times. I say this for clarity and because, well, I have no desire to get my husband fired. 🙂

Making a Schedule

So, ironically, I forgot to schedule this blog post to be published. Hence me being a liar about posting it on Monday. Note that it is Tuesday today.

Here is roughly how I go about making the schedules we have in place. Want to remind you that there’s nothing magical about it. Some of these tips may work for some of you and some or all may not. I will only be embittered toward you if I find out you don’t follow my advice to a tee. So the best solution for avoiding that is to lead me on to believe my tips have changed your life. 🙂

1. Do a time budget. I was introduced to this by one of my favorite frugality blogs, Money Saving Mom. As it sounds, it’s similar to a money budget. You start with how many hours you have in a week, 168. Then you make a list of all the things you would like to include in your week, including sleep, meals, pre-scheduled obligations (job or school, meeting with church, soccer/piano/basket weaving practice) & commutes. She even recommends adding in at least two hours of marginal time a day so you don’t get so easily behind and to deal with any unexpected circumstances. Next, I try to guess how much time I would like to give to each of the things on my list and do simple math to see if I have enough hours to spend on everything, weeding as you go. This is always revealing to me because it helps me see I don’t actually have eight hours to spend cleaning the house every week and that three hours of sleep a night isn’t enough.

Now, I tweak our schedule several times a year, but I only do this first step once a year or so. It’s a big time commitment but one well worth it to help you make decisions about where priorities should lie. It can serve as a beautiful evaluating tool, but I don’t find it necessary to work through this step super often.

I was going to show you my time budget from a few months ago but couldn’t find the file. So instead I borrowed one from the Money Saving Mom blog I mentioned earlier. Hers was actually for 24 hours instead of 168, so I multiplied her times to show what this could look like as a weekly budget:

3 1/2 hours Bible reading/journaling
7 hours with Jesse [her husband]
28 hours of homeschooling, reading and playing with the children
7 hours of exercise
3 1/2 hours shower/dress
14 hours cleaning/home management
49 hours sleeping
14 hours meals/meal preparation
28 hours blogging/computer work
14 hours of extra/”margin” time

2. Begin to plug your items into your preferred schedule. Start with your pre-scheduled items as mentioned above. You have no control over these hours, so you’ll have to work other things around them. Then begin to work in the rest of the items on your list. There will be more tweaking once you see how it practically divides among your days. For example, Sundays are particularly heavy for us with pre-scheduled events, so though I would like to have two hours of marginal time per day and technically have enough hours in the week for it, it doesn’t actually work out that way on Sundays once I see it on paper.

As far as the form of your schedule, anything goes. As I’ve mentioned, mine is pretty much the extreme of details. I’ll be posting it tomorrow (if I remember to schedule it), so I won’t go into many details today. I use an Excel spreadsheet broken into eight columns, one for hours of the day and the other seven for each member of our family. I divide the day anywhere from hour-long segments to fifteen minute segments. I can’t emphasize this enough. This kind of detail doesn’t work for most of my friends. They find it stressful. So don’t think this is the bee’s knees. It’s not. It simply works for my personality.

There are many other ways you can do schedules, so I’ll just mention two other favorites. One is to break your schedule into larger time increments and list what you hope to accomplish during that time period. A good example of this was done at the Girl Talk blog several years ago. One of the authors, Kristin, listed a simple summer schedule for her boys.

A second idea is to break your day into three segments—morning, afternoon, and evening—and have goals of what you would like to get done during those times. I even know some who don’t break down their day into any time periods. They simply list the items of their day in rough order. All are good options. If you’re new to this, you’ll probably need to play for a while to find out what works best for you.

3. Let it go. I know I’ve probably gone overkill on saying something along these lines, but your schedule is a tool, preferably one that helps point you and your family to Christ. If you find yourself getting frustrated that your schedule isn’t going the way you planned, you are becoming the servant and the schedule is becoming the master. As parents, we all know that NO schedule ever goes as planned. There are explosive diapers, random tears, discipline that needs to happen, teachable moments, little “helpful” hands that seem to take everything three times as long to do. One of my favorite authors, Carolyn Mahaney, often says that all interruptions come from God. We can choose to see it as an annoyance or joyfully and expectantly go with it. Let’s hope, through Christ’s work, that we can choose the latter.

If It’s a Hindrance, Why Do It?

Wednesday I confessed how schedules oftentimes become a savior to me. I develop a dependency on them that convinces my heart that the schedule itself is somehow solving life’s problems. But schedules aren’t the only thing that can block my view of the cross.  Exercise, reading my Bible, talking to my husband, teaching my children, cleaning my house, hospitality, serving others, managed finances, reading the right books, buying the right things, saying no to the wrong things.  I’ve got more.  But when I’m trying to safeguard against temptation, is my only option cutting these things out entirely?  If so, I would have to drop all the things I just listed along with many others. In fact, I might just need to lock myself in a padded white room for the rest of my life, though I’m sure I would find the color white to eventually become a stumbling block as well.

This was the problem the Pharisees had. They put their hope in all the boundaries and rules they set up for themselves instead of in the promises of God himself.  The moments I begin to worship some routine I have in place, the issue is not the routine itself. The issue is that I’ve taken my eyes off Jesus and have placed them on my own works. Therefore, the solution is not to drop the routine so it’s no longer an obstacle for me. The solution is to remember who I am and what has been done for me, to keep my eyes there and then just let the routine (or lack thereof) be just that: a routine.  No one needs a routine. We only need Jesus. Sure, sure, I have things like Bible study worked into my schedule, things that can be helpful to keep my eyes on the cross, but those things have the same function as the schedule–a tool that can help keep my eyes focused.  And a tool is only as good as it is actually useful.  And there’s never any confusion about if the tool serves the worker or the other way around.

Here’s the deal: I’m not gifted in many organizational areas (look in anything that’s covered by a door or drawer in my house), but I am gifted in time management. It’s not laborious for me to whip up a routine for my family.  But I’m not not not gifted at keeping up with all the kids and what they need to be doing along with my own workload, sans schedule. When the kids are off from school for a week here and there, I almost always drop the schedule just to give everyone a break. It’s super fun, but I become kind of like a baby who sits and drools all day. I get to enjoy the kids in out-of-ordinary ways which is completely worth it, but my family tends to live without clean clothes, home-cooked meals that move past PB&J, and baths. While that’s actually awesome for a week or so, it obviously wouldn’t work on a regular basis. I have many friends who are super stars at having zero routine in place and get more done in a day than I can in a week. And I despise admire them for it. I was not gifted for the same calling.  And I’m good with that.

We use routines and schedules, but only so far as they help us.  Bill and I later in this series are actually going to post what the day would look like if he stayed home with the kids instead of me to display how absolutely different we are in this area. And you know what? Our family often follows Bill’s “schedule” on the weekends, and they are some of the sweetest, most gospel-centered moments we have together. Regardless of whether you use a schedule, the goal of each day is seeing Jesus more clearly.  If schedules help us do that, then great.  If not, then great.  And despite my temptation to savior-ize schedules, they still help keep me from just sitting and drooling while the kids rampage the house.

Monday I’ll pick up with some tips on how I go about plugging things in my beloved excel file.

Schedules, Routines, Time Management, Oh My!

One of the biggest topics I get asked about, and coincidentally one of the biggest topics for which my close friends pick on me, is the routine I have with the kids. I have one. It’s a detailed one. Like really detailed. And some of my kids are obsessed with it, which means they may grow up to be like their mama. Oh boy.

Schedules can be great. They add order, help everyone understand what’s coming next, show you how much time you actually have, help you accomplish your to-do list.

Schedules can be terrible. They can add stress, rule you so you forget what’s really important, take away flexibility and spontaneity, cause dependency issues like one has to crack.

I have struggled with schedules and routines for many years. Early on, I understood God had gifted me in time management. I am super blessed to have a mother who is a rock star at this stuff, and many of those genes were passed down. I have applied those giftings since the day Liam (firstborn and so far only man-child) was born. I can put anybody’s day in an excel spreadsheet and make sure all priorities are in order.

EXCEPT, almost always schedules become a savior to me, and that’s just dumb because there’s only one Savior, and it seems moronic to try to substitute him with anything, especially a Microsoft product. Nonetheless, when I feel down or stressed, I don’t reach for a Hershey’s bar. I reach for the computer so I can brainstorm. Here’s my line of thinking: “Things aren’t going well right now. The kids and I are really jacked up. It feels like constant chaos. I know if we were more focused on Jesus things would be better. Oooo! I know! I’ll rework our schedule. I’ll make sure to add more order and more Jesus. Then all will be well!”

It seems to go well for a few days. Then we’re back to the same jacked-upness.

As Bill has been talking about in his last posts, we want to parent by faith in Jesus and nothing else. Schedules are fine and can work as great tools for our family, but only if they spring from an admiration for Christ, not as a means to force that admiration or to produce joy.

Over the next few days, we’re going to be talking about the blessings and dangers of schedules, why our family uses them, give you some pointers on how you can go about making one for your family if it seems to be a good fit for you, and eventually show you our current schedule. That way you can join with my close friends in their snickers…

Raising Kids in Jesus

In my last post, the point I was trying to make is that we’re not writing a parenting blog that’s working on the premise of making you look like Jesus.  In fact, my point was that we all (whether Christian or not) try really hard to reach whatever unattainable standard we set, and we fail hard all the time.

Look, folks, on this blog we’re going to spend a ton of time talking about how we do this whole parenting thing.  And we hope it’ll be helpful for you.  But if you only see this blog as the 65,985th “How to Be a Better Parent” blog (I googled to see how many other better parent blogs there were to get an exact number—ok, no I didn’t) , then you’re not really hearing us.  I have no clue if this blog will make you a better parent.  I don’t know if with each passing day we’re becoming better parents.  In fact, as more time goes by, the more clearly I can see just how much I stink as a dad.  And if you’re looking for a place to make you a better parent, well, this isn’t it.

This is what we offer: a bigger Jesus for the ever-failing parent.  We’re not proclaiming a Jesus that you just believe in so that he’ll take all your troubles away and make life easy.  We’re not proclaiming a Jesus that takes you “just as you are”, but then will pistol-whip you if you don’t immediately stop being just as you are.  We’re not proclaiming a Jesus who is a fairy godmother that waves a wand and makes your mundane life suddenly magical.

We’re proclaiming a Jesus who did everything for you already.  And we’re proclaiming that he saved you because he loves you, not because he wants to be your new spiritual trainer that keeps you on the treadmill of trying to be better and better all the time.  Does believing in Jesus bring about change in the believer?  Definitely.  But thinking that way misses the point: Jesus didn’t save us so that we could become self-obsessed with personal improvement.  He saved us to give us the joy of seeing him more clearly while more constantly forgetting about ourselves.  As Tullian Tchividjian says,

The truth is, we spend way too much time thinking about ourselves, and we justify this spiritualized navel-gazing by reasoning that this is what God wants us to be doing.  I’ve said this before but let me say it again: there is nothing in the gospel or about the gospel that encourages me to focus on me. Nothing! It’s never honoring to God when we take our eyes off of Christ “the author and finisher of our faith” and center our eyes on ourselves. Never!

Will focusing on ourselves and our parenting and our methods and our hearts and our motives really make us better parents?  If anything, it’ll just make us more self-absorbed so that we become the center of the universe.  Is the only other alternative to focus all our energy on our kids and their hearts and their motives and their behaviors?  If so, then we’ve just made our kids the center of the universe and taught them to believe that’s what they are, too.  No, the third and only way to proceed is to focus on Jesus and his perfection and his love and his death and his resurrection—not as an example of what we should be, but as our substitute who has already accomplished everything on our behalf.

So what does that mean for us?  We don’t have to be afraid that we’re going to screw up so much that God will reject us.  He’s already accepted us in Jesus.  We don’t have to fear that we’re going to destroy our kids.  God has saved us despite (fill in the blank) from our past.  We don’t have to worry about whether we’re doing all the right things or not.  Our God is with us through Jesus and he will not depart from us.

The tagline for the blog is “Raising Kids in Jesus”, which means (at least) three things.

  1. We’re raising kids by faith in Jesus, humbled and grateful that he was perfect and because of that, we’re released from the pressure of having to be perfect.
  2. We’re raising kids by abiding in Jesus (think John 15 and Romans 6).  This isn’t some cutesy “I’ve got Jesus in my heart so I’m happy all the day” concept, but the very real truth that by faith we are truly in Jesus, both in his death and resurrection.  And by virtue of that, his Holy Spirit lives in us.  So, we don’t parent like we’re all alone, but with assurance that God dwells in us and works through us by faith.
  3. We’re raising kids to live in Jesus themselves.  I take seriously the promise that forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t just for parents, but also for “your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).  I don’t know if God will ultimately call my kids to faith—but neither can I force that to happen.  But I believe God is good.  And I trust him.  He saved me.  I didn’t deserve it.  And I look at my kids and know they don’t deserve it either.  So, I believe that the same promise that has saved me can save them, too.  And I tell them that promise:  All.  The.  Time.

Do we think there are better and worse ways to live out these realities?  Sure we do.  Otherwise, our blog would run about ten posts and then we’d be done.  But we’re going to smear Jesus paint all over every practical picture we craft.  Because when we parent apart from faith in Jesus, we’re parenting in ourselves and denying the God who saved us.  “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”  And the only way to be pleasing to God is by faith in Jesus.  Anything else is our feeble attempt to say, “God, look how great I am!” which is a lot like an abusive husband saying, “Hey, I only beat my wife once last week!”

And my favorite part about the blog (if you haven’t picked this up already) is that we’re truly just as messed up as you.  Maybe more so—God knows.  And we’re in the midst of this, trying to find our way and inviting you along while we figure it out.  We’ve got things to learn, too.  Please comment liberally to teach us as you see fit.  And together we’re going to strive to see Jesus more clearly in the pursuit of raising our kids to see the same thing.  May God bless us in that.

Story Time–A Tornado Who Hula Hoops

We set aside our weekly family night for yesterday. When planning these, I have learned to keep them super simple for the most part. Otherwise, it seems too easy to focus on the activity instead of our actual family. Last night was definitely one of the easier nights–no materials or pre-planning involved. And it was excellent. We simply went around the table making up a story I started. I think it started something like, “Once there was a tornado who wanted to learn to hula hoop, so…”. As you might imagine, there was much laughter to hear how everyone was going to fill in their part of the story. One time Miriam, our two year old, just said, “And he was doomed.” I think the story ended with the tornado transforming into a flaming tornado who jumped through hoops at the circus. Even as the kids were getting ready for bed, though, the discussion about what else might have happened in the story continued.

Last night was especially sweet for our family. This week has been a particularly discouraging one, and Bill and I didn’t realize how much we’ve been neglecting our children until we had the almost tearful relief to simply sit and enjoy each other. Most of our family nights aren’t this enlightening, but the Spirit used this one to show us how self-centered instead of Savior-centered we’ve been in the midst of our circumstances. We forget so quickly who we are! I feel like I can’t take my eyes off my sweet kids’ faces today, smiling in contentment and knowing they are glimpses of the perfect joy we will one day have.

Family Night

[Note from Bill: Even though I’m still struggling to find the right words for my post I had intended for Monday, I don’t want that to stall the blog.  So, Court’s going to rock it out with some stuff about Bell Family Nights.]

I’m sure most of you have very busy schedules. We do, too. So one thing we have been setting aside for a few years is a family night during the week. Here’s how I see this night going: We’re all sitting around the table, laughing and enjoying each other. The fun little activity I had planned and prepped is a huge success and is completed by all the kids saying, “Oh Mommy, all others must be so sad to not have a mommy like you. Your love for us is amazing.” At the night’s conclusion, we all sleep well knowing there is peace, joy, and much bonding that has happened.

More often, though, at least one of the following scenarios take place: A fussy child who screams so loudly for who knows what reason that we can’t hear each other talk, fighting among siblings, an exploding diaper that must be taken care of before poop becomes the new play object, complaining, one or both parents being so tired that the whole time we’re simply looking at the clock eagerly anticipating bed time, etc. I remember one night I had a fun activity planned. The evening actually went much like I described in the first paragraph. I was happy. When we were wrapping up, one child looked at me and asked, “Are we going to play a board game?” I said, “No, Sweetie. We did a craft instead. Wasn’t it fun?” to which the child responded, full grump face in place, “Well then it’s not really family night.”

Many times I use things like family night to try to foster a gospel-centered, joyful home, and many times when the night ends I end up frustrated and angry that it didn’t feel like a success. What’s truly going on is that I wasn’t a success. Instead of keeping my eyes on Jesus, I began to naval gaze. Instead of admiring the work on the cross and naturally imitating what I admire, I tried to force that admiration, making the tool the priority instead of the one to whom the tool was supposed to point. I stopped parenting in Jesus and once again tried to parent like Jesus.

You won’t find family night anywhere in the Bible. Someone in our culture made it up, and now many parents feel like it’s an obligation. It’s not. The Bells, however, have chosen to do this activity. We do it because much like spending time with Jesus helps us know him better and prayerfully leads to an increase in our admiration of him, spending time with our children should in theory lead to an increase in our love for them. So even in the midst of the grumbling, crying, dirty diapers, and fatigue—and oftentimes laughter—we are still getting glimpses into our children’s hearts, the sweet and sinful parts, along with understanding our own hearts better. And if we do family nights in Jesus, we do them in faith, understanding they probably won’t go the way we imagined but giggling the whole time, waiting to see what curve balls are going to be thrown and loving Jesus all the more with each strike out.

Though adding family night to your routine won’t solve any problems in and of itself, it might be something you decide to set aside for your family as a tool to help them look at Jesus. So each time we do some little activity together as a family, we’ll post what we did on here to maybe help spark some ideas. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. If you take ‘em, though, and if your night of softball turns into poopball, just laugh. Jesus is in there somewhere.

Tied up in Knots

So, I had planned to have my follow-up to Friday’s post up today.  I’ve written three drafts.  I’ve hated all three drafts.  My brain is all tied up in knots.  I can’t get my thoughts to go the way I want them.  I can’t make the point I want to make–which is especially frustrating, because it’s an important post to laying the foundation for this blog.

So, I’m asking for you to pray for me.  I’m feeling spiritually stunted at the moment and unable to get my thoughts where I’m trying to go.  Please pray that God would release my mind from befuddlement by the Spirit.

WWJD?

Court’s right—we’re guilty as charged.  We’re bad parents, not just on the level Court was talking about of cultural expectations, but also on the level of God’s expectations.  I’m not just talking about God’s “standards for parenting” (we’ll deal with that some other time), but God’s standards for every person.  The fact is, it really doesn’t matter that we stand guilty before the world for our parenting.  Culture changes.  Parenting trends change.

But all of us have some mental picture of what the perfect parent looks like which functions as the standard of how we measure success in our parenting efforts.  This can look pretty different from person to person, but the general idea is the same.  Whether we spend a lot of time thinking about it or not, we’re all working with a model which we use as a gauge to see how good or bad we’re doing at this whole parenting thing.

Do y’all remember those cheesy WWJD Bracelets that passed through in the 90’s? (That’s “What Would Jesus Do?” for those of you who managed to somehow miss this pervasive phenomenon.)  They were supposed to be a personal reminder before doing or saying anything to ask “What would Jesus do?”  Though these days I suspect it was used more like Jon Acuff says in his book Stuff Christians Like as a way to tell other people you were a Christian without actually working up the courage to, well, just tell people that you were a Christian—it was theoretically about trying to be like Jesus.

But here’s the rub: JESUS NEVER SINNED.  I already have.  A lot.  And I’m going to more today.  And I will tomorrow.  And if I’m still alive, I will when I’m eighty.  I’m not EVER going to be able to be like Jesus.  Ever.

What about striving toward self-betterment and all that?  It’s a lot like my six-year-old son striving to be seven-feet-tall.  He can work on it and hope for it and pray for it, but genetically he just doesn’t have it (personally, I’ll be proud if he manages to cross the Bell 5’10” genetic barrier).  Striving to be like Jesus is not like solving a really hard math equation or mastering a killer Chopin Sonata—you may not get it at first, but after lots of effort it finally comes together.  Trying to be like Jesus just isn’t like that.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross and rise from the dead so that I could become a better, happier person.  He didn’t die so that I would then purge all of my sin and be perfect.  He died to take away my sin forever, both sins already committed and yet to be committed.

What in the world does this have to do with parenting?  Most parents I know are trying to apply a “WWJD Principle” to life in general and parenting in specific.  Even people who don’t believe in Jesus do this.  Because WWJD is about trying really, really hard to attain some far-off, impossible standard.

We can’t be like Jesus in our parenting or anywhere else for that matter.  He was everything we could never be.  And he was the Son of God, which no amount of awesome quiet times and worshipful experiences or really intense efforts to stop messing up is going to replicate.  At best, we can be kinda sorta like Jesus, which really just misses the point altogether since Jesus was the Lamb of God, without stain or blemish of sin.

So, what are we trying to do as parents, if not be like Jesus?  I’ll pick that up Monday.