The Nester vs. Melissa Michaels: An Epic Battle of Christian Home Decorating Books

Christian home decorating books
Home decorating books have moved into the church, my friends. Consider Joanna Gaines, the Nester (Myquillyn Smith), and Melissa Michaels, all women who love Jesus and hate ugly rooms.

And frankly, this is a welcome relief. I’m a little tired of fighting over the big theological issues like predestination and the dumb things like the temperature of the women’s bathroom. I think we’re all ready for a little neutral territory, a little bit of fun in the middle of this crazy church lady life. So while some may roll their eyes at Christian home decorating books, I’m all for them. 

Christian home decorating books
So let’s take my two favorite home decorating books and put them head-to-head in an epic literary battle, shall we?

(This is probably where I should apologize for many of the pictures in this post. I’m guessing photos of book pages are probably some sort of copyright infringement, but since I’m basically begging readers to go out and buy these books from legitimate sources, I’m taking my chances with the Christian publishing world’s legal teams. Please don’t sue me. Amen. Also, be prepared for affiliate links below.)

The Nesting Place: by Myquillyn Smith

Quirky. The Nesting Place is quirky, and hand to the heavens, that is my favorite part. The Nester (because Myquillyn is hard to say and– apparently– impossible to type) is fond of using stumps for side tables and deer antlers for just about anything.

Her rooms are goofy and fun and she’s not afraid to show you the dark underside of her decorating, like chairs that are missing a leg or fabric that’s frayed.

home decorating books
It’s old, okay? The poor sweet chair has some issues, but we still love it.

My own house looks like this, so I feel right at home in her book.

But wait. There’s more. My other favorite part of the book is where the Nester goes explains all thirteen homes her family has lived in, why they moved, and the financial challenges they faced. Real life, in other words. Home decorating books don’t have to be full of fantasy and debt!

The Challenger: The Inspired Room, by Melissa Michaels

I didn’t think there could ever be a decorating book that might come close to The Nesting Place, but I was wrong. The Inspired Room landed on my front porch last week and I was smitten. Her decorating style is freakishly similar to my own, and now I’m desperate to use old maps to wallpaper (I use that term loosely) a small wall.

christian home decorating books
Maps as wallpaper!! Genius! She also has practical things like color palettes, a resource list, and seasonal decorating.

The Winner: Both of them.

I know, that’s cheating a little. An epic battle can’t come out in a tie, but this is my blog so I get to set the epic battle rules.

I love both books because both authors have a firm commitment to decorating with contentment and joy. I refuse to accept that I can only love my home if I gut the kitchen and then borrow money for a $70,000 remodel. That’s dumb and irresponsible. Both the Nester and Melissa understand that our homes are places of refuge, and that comes slowly.

They understand that a beautiful, welcoming home comes one little step at a time. We slowly work our way to something prettier, more functional, and valuable– we don’t just run to the store and buy it all on credit.

But please do run out and pay cash for these two books. You won’t be sorry!

Impulse Furniture Purchases: Maybe They’re Not Really So Terrible


The Clemence budget has been blown asunder recently, due to two separate incidents where we lost our minds and made impulse furniture purchases.

Twice. This was not one isolated incident.

And now, if you’re in the mood to listen, I shall give a long and rambling explanation of why it’s okay to blow the budget sometimes, especially if the purchase in question is very perfect. My ramblings will help you decide whether your purchase is worth it for you own situation. (Or you will decide I’m nuts, which is okay too.)

Here’s why impulse furniture purchases might be okay in specific circumstances:

We’d been looking for these items for a long time. I mean YEARS.

In our eighteen year marriage, we’ve never owned a solid set of dining chairs. Everything we’ve had has been picked up at garage sales, antique stores, and even off the curb. Our chairs have recently become so sketchy that a complete failure was becoming a real possibility. As in, a guest might get dumped to the floor as he took a bite of lasagna.

impulse furniture purchases
A peek into your blogger’s phone– this is one of the photos I took in Kalamazoo Kitty as I deliberated for 45 minutes about whether to buy the table or not.

When Eric handed me a spindle to a chair a few weeks ago, what had been a casual search became serious business.

The second purchase, a leather chair for Eric’s library, has been an ongoing search for several years. We love the Manhattan chair at Pottery Barn, but we just can’t justify that kind of money for one chair.

Impulse furniture purchases
Now Eric’s library has TWO leather chairs, both purchased for way less than the $1700 Pottery Barn option ($150 and $195). Technically both were impulse purchases, but Mama ain’t no fool. Buy them when you see them!

So while these purchases might seem like impulses, in reality they were just sudden appearances of something we’d been hunting for a long time.

We found high-quality pieces at resale shops, which means we spent $500 instead of $4,000.

While I don’t turn up my nose at old or cheap furniture, I really do prefer the stuff that’s well-made. I find new furniture to be hideously expensive for something that will be out of style in five years, plus so badly built we’ll be using it for kindling in those same five years. I turned to my two favorite shops in Kalamazoo, which both sell used furniture.

Boomerang for the Home has really nice stuff. If I want a sofa or dining room set to last two decades, I go here. But that high quality often means higher prices even for resale furniture. Also, the folks who can afford to get rid of these nice things to replace them with nicer things often have a… how do I say this politely… impressive sense of style. Think dark wood, four poster king-sized beds, and enormous buffets.

Nevertheless, sometimes a seller has the same casual, funky style we prefer, and Eric’s leather chair was waiting for us in a corner.

When we bought it, a matching sofa was sitting to the left. But I bet that’s been gone for weeks now.

Kalamazoo Kitty has a much wider range of furniture, accessories, and chalk paint. They have old and new, funky and fancy. Coming into this store is my son’s worst nightmare, as it’s guaranteed to take me at least forty-five minutes to see everything. On the day I found our new table and chairs he wasn’t with me. Hallelujah and amen.

Because they were at resale shops, it’s not like we’re going to find these exact things at every furniture store in Michigan.

When you find what you want at a resale shop, there’s a high probability it’s going to be sold very quickly. Our purchases were excellent and we knew it; other shoppers would have recognized the same thing. We bought them before the competition scooped them up.

second hand furniture store
I didn’t buy the china set they displayed on the table, but I thought about it. It had more pieces than I’d ever seen in china, including several pieces none of us knew how to use.

The purchases didn’t do permanent damage to our finances.

While we hadn’t saved the money specifically for the impulse furniture purchases, we did have the money in savings. Our budget had recently loosened up because of a vacation reschedule, so we were able to buy them without endangering the overall finances. No debt, no panic over the credit card bill next month.

So that’s how it worked out for us. Do you have the information you need to make your own decision? I hope so! If not, let me know below or at my Facebook page. I’ll see what I can do for you!

 

I want to do better for my own kids

It is possible to do better than our parents did.

It’s possible to erase generations of wounds, raising our own children in homes of love, support, and stability. If you fear your kids are destined for a life of the same pain you grew up with, let me be clear. You can do better. Your family can have a different story. 

I know because I’m living proof.

My own parents both had difficult childhoods, and together they made specific, conscious choices to raise us differently than they had been raised. While our own family life was far from perfect, we grew up with love, laughter, encouragement, and grace.

I don’t mean to demean my grandparents or air sixty year-old dirty laundry. My four biological grandparents have long since passed, so I can’t ask them what caused them to make the choices they did. I have a feeling they were doing the best they could for their time, financial ability, and education. Nevertheless, things were difficult and my parents were not about to make the same mistakes.

Don’t you love the retro-hipster dad? He cracks me up.
Some days I think it cost Mom and Dad nearly everything they had– money, time, and sanity. But they stuck it out, no matter how grim things became, and now my siblings and I can still call the same phone number we’ve been dialing all our lives. Our two parents still pick up the phone in the house where we were raised.

Not many people can say that anymore, and that speaks to their dedication. Also, their pure stubbornness. But that’s another story for another time.

Here are the choices that changed our family’s future, plus a few I’ve seen work miracles in other families:

Get your family in church, and get involved.

Please don’t just drag your people into a pew at 10:30 on Sunday, then drag them back to the car at 11:32. I mean really go to church. Get to know your congregation. Sign up for ministries and a small group. Be part of the solution, not just the crabby people who gripe in the back row. Make daily Bible reading and prayer a part of your life.

The Holy Spirit has been mending broken families and relationships for a long time now, and your family is offered that same healing and love. If you have no idea of how to find that, a good, Bible-teaching church is the first place to look.

Get yourself help if you need it.

Do you struggle with depression or anxiety? Get some help. Your mental health is key to parenting well, and you aren’t doing this for you– you’re doing it for them. Your community has counselors, pastors, and psychologists who are trained and able to help you sort things out. Wouldn’t it be great to get through a day without the clouds of gloom or the shredded nerves of anxiety?

When you do get the help you need, follow through. Take the meds; keep going to counseling. Mental health is just like our regular health– it falls apart really fast if we don’t pay close attention.

Make your marriage a priority.

Our spouses cannot (and will not) survive decades of neglect while we focus on the kids. At best you’ll grow apart and find yourself sharing the house with a shocking stranger when the kids go to college. At worst you’re looking at years of fights, affairs, deceptions, and divorce.

Look at your spouse. Really look at him or her. Do you know what matters to them? What makes them sad, happy, or furious? Now ask yourself– do you even care anymore?

You will be doing your children a huge favor if you care, and then actually do something about it. Love your husband or wife for the person they are, not who you are determined to force them to be. Finding things in common, reasons to laugh, and joy in the daily drudgery will be something your children will take with them into their own marriages.

And do not underestimate the importance of time away together. Your kids will survive with Grandma or a friend while you go out to dinner or away for the weekend–lo, even a whole week. Do it, please. Your kid may scream a little while you leave them at the door, but a crying fit never killed a kid. But many a marriage has died because the kids became the priority.

Relentlessly prune selfishness.

I am a firm believer that all pain we cause others begins in one place: “Me first.” It’s the relentless kudzu of our souls, causing us to idolize ourselves, our comfort, and our personal happiness.

And listen, I’m the last mom on earth to advocate becoming your kid’s slave. We’re the parents; they’re the kids. We’re not here to meet their every whim until they become self-centered monsters who demand the world to fall at their feet.

Everyone needs time to themselves, a moment to drink a cup of coffee in peace, and time alone in the restroom. I’m not denying my love of tinkling in private.

mom spending time with kids

But selfishness is a greedy, destructive beast. It’s really the reason marriages fail, parents speak words they never should have uttered, and Child Protective Services will never run out of clients.

Before you:

  • speak– consider the effect it will have. Are the words kind, gentle, and true?
  • react– consider the experience of the person in front of you. What could they be facing right now that needs grace, not fury?
  • choose– consider the consequences. Is the decision wise, mature, and the best for all members of your home?
  • buy– consider the family finances. Will this be a blessing to everyone now and in the future?

You get the idea. Every choice has a consequence, and we get to choose our family’s experience at our hands. We have the ability to bring blessing or curses, joy or pain.

Your kids are watching you closely, and they’re directly feeling the fruit of your choices. You can do better for them. Your good decisions can rewrite their future, giving them the tools they need to be happy, successful adults.

Step by step, day by day, your family can have a wonderful, grace-filled life. I have all faith that you can give your kids the life they deserve.

(And I’ll be praying for you.)

 

 

 

 

Bring back the everyday tablecloth: Get more mileage from your old table.

everyday tablecloth
Dear Fellow Lovers of Home Things,

I have been shopping for dining room tables. I have shopped and shopped and shopped until my eyes crossed. So I finally came home and threw a tablecloth on my table, and saved myself $2,000.

Not that our table is really the problem. I love the thing, but with two kids and a ton of guests, it takes a lot of wear and tear. Our chairs are really the problem– they’re getting so rickety that we stand a very high chance of dumping a guest to the floor here pretty soon. One day Eric (who is not a large man) sat back, a spindle popped out, and he handed it to me across the table.

We weren’t sure what was going to fall off/down/apart next, so I started looking for different chairs. (But more about that in an upcoming post.) I found plenty of chairs, but they were either very expensive, very ugly, or just as rickety as the ones we needed to replace. I started to realize that solid chairs often came with solid tables, and I might as well replace everything at once.

Why is this taking so long?

This whole process took months because 1) I am picky, 2) we need just the right size table to fit in our kitchen, and 3) I am cheap.

In the mean time, my tablecloth collection came in handy, protecting the table from further scratches, looking pretty, and growing on me.

Audrey pointed out that our tablecloth was getting so filthy that we were starting to sit at other spots on the table to avoid the crumbs. She was right– you can’t wipe off cloth very well. I tried. It didn’t work. And then I started looking for vinyl, wipeable options. (Like this adorable retro one from Amazon!— (affiliate link.))

The unspeakable cloth: Vinyl

If tablecloths in general aren’t in style at the moment, you can imagine that vinyl tablecloths are even less popular. The options are limited and most of the patterns look like they’ve been on the shelves for thirty years. If you look long enough, you can find some good ones.

They work so well, once you find a pattern you can live with. They cover and protect the table, and you can wipe off spills and crumbs. My own mother has had several high quality ones over the years, often cut from huge bolts at the fabric store. Her table is forty years old and still looks perfect. She had those vinyl covers on for most of our early years (because three children are h-e-double-hockey-sticks on wood). But now that my siblings and I can be trusted not to gouge the furniture with forks, she keeps it uncovered most of the time.


I say it’s time to bring back the everyday tablecloth! They keep our nice tables looking nice, but also, they give us time to save and shop wisely if our table is in rough shape. You could cover a table for eternity and no one would be the wiser if you become dedicated to the Art of Tableclothery (totally a thing).

They aren’t expensive; I’ve found my favorite ones at garage sales and discount stores. And every thrift store I’ve ever visited has about a million of them. Why can’t we get creative?

Sure, our families might wonder about them at first. They might feel like they’ve wandered into an episode of Leave it to Beaver, but they’ll get used to it. Maybe you’ll feel like putting out the good plates, sitting down with friends, and sharing a little longer over your pretty table.

pretty tablecloth

Living within your means: Is it possible anymore?

Is it possible to live within your means? Why would you even want to try?

Living within your means is a nice idea, right? Like staying married to one person your whole life, or working thirty years for the same company, or being able to fit into your old uniform at your fortieth reunion. Nice, grandma-approved ideas, all of them. They worked fine for her generation. And for most of the generations before them, honestly.

Eric and I want to live within our means, we really do. And we’re mostly successful at it, if you take a broad, modern-day approach to the idea. If you take my step-grandmother’s approach, we’re sort of huge failures.

This is what I mean:

Housing

Yes, we have a mortgage. We borrowed money to buy this house because we didn’t have $140,000 in the bank to buy it outright. We could have bought a cheaper house but we didn’t have $90,000 or $40,000 or even $10,000 in the bank, either. And if we hadn’t bought a house, we’d be paying the same amount in rent (for a far less pleasant living situation).

However, when we bought this house we crunched the numbers mercilessly to make sure we could afford not only the mortgage, but everything else that goes with the house:

  • taxes
  • utilities: heat, electric, garbage, water, HOA fees, internet, etc
  • distance to our jobs: car maintenance, gas, etc.
  • exterior stuff: gas for the lawnmower, a lawnmower, landscaping supplies
  • interior stuff: curtains (America! Stop using blankets as curtains! It hurts my friggin’ eyes!), furniture, etc.

This is important, because we’ve seen some friends who’ve forgotten about all the extra stuff, and it’s a huge shock when a person realizes a propane tank can cost $800 to fill, several times a winter.

Vehicles

We have about the same story here. We do borrow for cars, almost every time we buy one. But we stay away from the $50,000 land yachts and head for the $10,000 used section of the lot. Eric spends (literally) months researching each option until he’s happy with the engines, the frames, the recall notices, everything.

AND I MEAN EVERYTHING. And then we buy the car. To date we’ve paid off every vehicle loan years ahead of schedule.

Moment of transparency: As of this writing, we’re seriously considering buying a brand new car. We’ve never done that before. But we like the idea of buying something with no mileage on it, then taking excellent care of it, and driving it for a decade or two.

College

Once again, we borrowed. We could have done a lot better, but we could have done a lot worse, too. I left school with about $8,000 total in debt, and Eric graduated two years later with $22,000. Because we soon had babies and a mortgage, it took us the full ten years to pay Eric’s loan back. This grieves me still. But honestly, there are only so many ways you can spread the resources in early family life.

But compared to today’s graduates who are leaving with over a $100K in college debt and then finding jobs that pay the same amount Eric and I made at our first jobs, we had it easy. I am not at all comfortable with the automatic assumption that going to an expensive four-year school is the best way for most students.

I’d be a lot more comfortable if these kids were forced to do a mock budget for a $30,000 salary that includes a $700 monthly student loan payment.

living within your means, budget

Everyday Purchases

This is where Eric and I don’t do too badly. We track every penny, and I mean that. Thanks to budgeting software we can tell when we’ve overspent in our grocery, eating out, or gift budgets.

We’ve been married for eighteen years, and I can tell you this– it’s a combination of the very large purchases and the everyday stuff that keeps you living within your means.

Obviously, if w’ere going to go with the old definition (and probably the wisest definition), most of us probably don’t live within our means. If we did, we’d be living with our parents and walking to work until we had enough saved for a house and vehicle.


But if you use the broader definition, I think most of us could make it. If we’re able to save wisely and give generously each month, pay our bills, and then add in a few wants, I think we’re on track. It’s not easy, even with the looser definition of the term. But it’s possible with some planning and discipline.

Here are some of my favorite resources for helping me stay on track. I hope you find them helpful!

  • frugalwoods.com: The Frugalwoods have an amazing challenge going on in January of 2017! You’re going to be living within your means by February, if they have anything to say about it.
  • daveramsey.com: The ultimate king of debt-free living isn’t going to take your excuses. Rice and beans, beans and rice, until your debt is gone. Amen.
  • hisandhermoney.com: Tai and Talaat will have you cutting your expenses or growing your income with their podcast and blog.

 

Time to move? Considerations for your new family home.

new family homeAre you thinking about buying a new family home soon?

I’m going to guess you can list the shortcomings of your current house in detail. You know exactly what areas need more room, more organization, and more light. You know how many bathrooms you wish you had and where the laundry room should be. Perfect. You’re creating the list of what your new family home needs with every exasperating room in the current house.

I did the same thing. Our first home was a tiny starter house with no discernible floor plan. The washer and dryer were in the kitchen, there was no proper place to put boots and shoes, and the basement was terrifying.

Eventually we moved to a new family home, praise be the the Almighty, and I did not make the same mistakes when choosing the new place. But now that we’ve been here a few years, I’m still surprised by a few things. In some ways this new house suits us even better than I thought it would, but other things have developed that I didn’t anticipate.

family home

Here’s what I learned. You might find it helpful for your own house search.

Kids’ stuff gets smaller.

When we lived in that teeny house, I swear to you– our daughter searched out every giant stuffed animal in Kalamazoo and then conned her grandparents into buying it for her. When we moved into this new house, I was grateful for the room for the stupid stuffed toys. But the child outgrew those toys in just a few years, and now all she needs is her phone and a few books. You might not need as much room as you think in a few years.

Kids’ interests change. Plan with flexibility in mind.

Don’t overspend on something that might not matter in two years. Sure, Dylan might play with his Thomas the Train table for hours today, but in two years he might be into drumming or Legos instead. You might not need an extra family room then. Pools, trampolines, and room for sports might become a huge asset with older kids. Plan for big kids, and plan for their eventual big friends. A house with many options will serve you well.

Pay extra for only what matters to your family.

If I see one more gourmet kitchen with a granite countertop, I will pluck my eyes from my head. Yes, of course some families love these rooms, and for them, it’s worth the extra expense. But I spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. For us, a library nook was worth the extra cost. Family rooms, extra garage storage, or acreage only makes sense if your family needs them.

Privacy is huge as kids get older.

Trust me, when your kids are thirteen and eleven, everyone is going to be okay with bedrooms far, far away from each other. We live in a bi-level, and our floor plan is great for bigger kids. It would be a nightmare if we still had little ones who were up several times a night. But at these ages, we want to be in one place and the children want to be in a completely different place. Trust me, if you can afford it, you will never regret a separate wing for your master suite.

Two toilets are a life saver. But two showers might just be a hassle.

Cleaning two showers is super dumb. I hate it. The kids are supposed to be in charge of cleaning the downstairs tub and shower, but something is going terribly, terribly wrong down there. No matter how many times I explain the concept of mold and hard water stains, they don’t believe they can clean them away. I don’t know what people do with more than two bathrooms– cleaning them must become an endless nightmare.

So that’s what I know so far.

I’m sure I’ll be surprised at all new things as the kids grow into high schoolers. Do you have any advice for me? I’d love to hear what you love and hate about your house, and what you’d like to see in your new family home. Comment over on Facebook! That’s where all the real action happens.

 

 

Some Bad News About Your 2017 Goals

goals for the new year2017 is going to be a great year for you and your family, I just know it.

You’ve written down your 2017 goals, right? Maybe you’ve even come up with a spreadsheet to carefully lay out your entire plan. Month by month, you know what steps stand between you and Goals of Fabulousness.

That’s a real thing, you know–Goals of Fabulousness. And you shall reach them! I have all faith in you!

If your 2017 goals include lowering your debt and freeing yourself from financial bondage, I know that by December you’ll have made headway. Of course the unexpected might happen and you might not be able to totally reach your initial goal, but it’s okay– you’ll still be better off for having a plan and doing your best.

Maybe your 2017 goals include buying a new house or having a baby. We call these goals HUGE LIFE CHANGES. Good for you, sister. Go get ’em.

Maybe you just want a tidier house or a less crazy schedule. Fine! No one says your 2017 goals have to include a whole new life. Small goals are usually achievable, which makes them my favorite kind.

Okay, but here’s the bad news about your plans.

You can’t do it all. You can’t expect miracles, either. And this is okay.

Repeat after me:

My plans for the new year are just helpful guidelines to get me to the next place in life. It’s okay if I don’t experience a total life change. I will be kind to myself when things go awry.

Because let me assure you– things will go awry. Unexpected bills will show up, the pregnancy test might come back negative (or positive, which can be equally upsetting), and the house purchase might fall through.

Reaching your goals is going to require sacrifice in some areas. If you want to run a marathon this year, you’re probably not going to have as much time to build strong friendships at your church. If you have twins, you’re probably not going to be able to finish your MBA this year. You might want to be able to manage everything you’re already doing plus add in these new plans, but something is going to have to give. Something will need to be cut out.

And this is okay.

Goals are great, don’t get me wrong.

They’re awesome and give structure to our vision. They help us build the life we dream of having. But sometimes we forget that our plans are there to serve us; we don’t have to be enslaved to them.

For years I thought that failure to reach a goal meant that I was a personal failure. I was enslaved to my own plans.

This was stupid and terribly, terribly misguided.

Of course I wanted to build up the savings account and pay down the debt and keep a perfect house and build blanket forts with my children, all while having a perfect marriage. But I am one human.

After many years I realized New Year’s resolutions don’t really mean a whole lot. You know what matters much, much more? Consistent self discipline. That’s the thing that really moves us from the lumps we are right now to the glorious future we envision for ourselves.

You were probably hoping for something much shinier, right? Something sparkly and exciting? And I give you consistent self-discipline as a guide. Bummer.

But please listen to this old woman’s many years of wisdom– it’s far better to have a small, reasonable goal and slowly, diligently meander your way there. The alternative is to drive yourself and everyone around you crazy while you strain for some unattainable perfection.

Please. I beg of you.

Be reasonable, be consistent, be diligent. I’m willing to bet your year and your life will be far better off this way. I want you to succeed and I know you can do it. I just want you sane at the end of the year. Sane and successful!

Before I leave you, let me give you a few recommendations. These are all books or products I have found to be helpful as I move from one place in life to the next. (All are affiliate links, beeteedubs.)

  • Start, by Jon Acuff. This book will help you “do work that matters.” Plus, Jon is hilarious.
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. I can feel a new session of decluttering coming. This house is driving me mad. Marie to the rescue– she’ll give us the step-by-step directions to get it all done.
  • Bullet Journal: This link takes you to a slightly different list maker than I use, but the premise is similar. Bullet journaling is a way of keeping all your papers and things in one place. I started one this summer and it has changed my life. No more yellow notepads all over the house!
  • Debt Proof Living, by Mary Hunt. Yes, you can totally revamp your family’s finances this year. Try Mary’s way. She’s smart and learned the hard way.

I know you can do it. Your 2017 goals are going to be fabulous. Let me know how it works out!

Jess

 

Dear Ladies: Don’t Forget Yourself This Christmas Season

Christmas for women

As I write this, Christmas is just a few breaths away. Women everywhere are on their last nerve.

Children are hardly able to eat, sleep, or concentrate at school with the looming holiday. I’m sure teachers are counting the milliseconds before they can release the little darlings into their parents’ care for the break.

Husbands are darting in and out of stores, finishing their shopping.

But the rest of Christmas is really up to us women, isn’t it? I don’t mean to sound resentful, but there would be no decorations, no food, no presents for Great Grandma, and no stocking stuffers if it wasn’t for us.

Let’s not get me started on Christmas cards. Is there a man on the planet who has ever said, “Gee, let’s pick out our outfits for our Christmas card photo shoot!”?

NO. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

It’s up to us, dear women. Christmas is up to us.

It’s not that our families don’t care, it’s just that they sort of think these things appear magically. You know, maybe Santa brings them down the chimney with the gifts. It’s no surprise that we’re a little exhausted and cranky. We’re taking care of our normal activities, plus we’re trying to bake five special dishes to take to five different potlucks.

Lady friends, let’s show ourselves some grace this season. Let’s give our families the present of our very best selves– the rested, happy, not-crazy version of us.

It doesn’t have to be this hard.

So let’s go ahead and cheat a little for the potluck. Bring something from the deli. We’ll put it in a nice dish and smile mysteriously when they ask for the recipe.

When we get sick of wrapping presents, let’s stop. Hide those suckers, unwrapped, all over the house and tell the kids it’s a scavenger hunt.

When we run out of money, let’s give ourselves permission to STOP SHOPPING. It’s okay to have limited resources. It’s not okay to bankrupt ourselves in the name of Christmas joy.

The little kids probably want to sit next to us and look at the Christmas tree. They probably would enjoy making a snowman or decorating cookies together. They do not need professional level gingerbread villages or hand sewn pajamas.

The older kids want more time to nap and watch YouTube videos, so that’s easy enough. We can nap when they nap, just like when they were babies!

Women, sit down with a mug this Christmas

The husbands and the rest of the family would probably appreciate it if we’d stop snapping their heads off. So let’s sit down with a nice mug of something warm and give ourselves a break.

(If it’s been an especially long day, a wee glass of wine might not hurt, either.)

Let’s go back two thousand years.

Remember back to the original Christmas, when Mary had the most beautiful experience ever. It was held in a literal barn. There was no potluck or Christmas tree or ugly sweater contest. She did not festoon the manger with twinkle lights or hand-embroider stocking decorations.

Mary had a quiet, holy night, contemplating God’s gift to the world. She held Salvation in her arms and nursed him at her breast.

Let’s not miss the beauty of the season by trying to make everything beautiful. It already is. It’s already the most blessed, holy holiday we have, partly because a woman was willing to allow God to work through her.

We still have the opportunity to let God work through us in this season. May we be open, willing, and rested enough to follow where he leads us.

 

Set Goals for Your Family: 5 key factors in making great decisions

“How do we set goals for our family? It seems like we have so many things we want to do, and we don’t know where to start!”

Last week I posted about the Tightwad Gazette, a book that encourages families to set their most important goals and then gives them frugal tools to reach them. A friend of mine had some questions about the goal-setting aspect of the post. She told me they have a ton of things they’d eventually like to do as a family, but they can’t do all of them. She isn’t sure what goals need to be thrown out and what ones need to be made a priority.

I gave her question some thought all week, and these are the five key ideas we’ve found helpful to set our own goals over eighteen years of marriage:

Pray about your goals.

There are obviously a million good things your family could do, but who’s to say which ones you should attempt?

I like to give God a voice in the proceedings. He has a vested interest in our lives, and he also has the clear vision of where we’re going.

Our family lives in this town, in this house, and in this school district because of questions we asked God more than thirteen years ago. Slowly and gradually, we’ve built a life here. Some days I wonder why, but deep in my bones I know we’re supposed to be exactly where we are.

There have been lots of times I’ve prayed about something and it seemed like God was asleep at the wheel, honestly. But now, looking back, I see his hand. His answer might not come quickly or audibly, but hindsight makes his presence and involvement clear.

Pay attention to recurring themes and dreams.

Good goals come back to you over and over again. They make an impression on you that grows a little deeper each time. You’ll begin to watch the people in your life, and you’ll notice when their choices result in disaster or blessing. You’ll start to notice a theme in what appeals to you and what it takes to reach those goals.

Maybe you want to be able to travel extensively when the kids are a little older. You may notice that families with five or more kids almost never travel further than the next county. Also, one income families probably have a hard time getting to Greece over the summer.

set family travel goals
Exhibit A: Here we have our sum total of two children, standing on a castle top overlooking the Irish countryside.

Or, maybe you want to homeschool your kids. You will probably notice that families who do this successfully rarely live in houses on Lake Michigan. Or, you may also notice their distinct lack of imported sports cars and wine cellars. You would correctly surmise that homeschooling requires intense time management and financial discipline. But you would also see the blessing in that decision, and you would decide it’s worth the struggle.

Notice what goals excite several members of your family, (especially you and your spouse).

I don’t want to say that the kids don’t count in goal setting, but they sort of don’t count. (Well, maybe they get a half vote.) But we’ve noticed that kids naturally adapt to their family environment, and it’s the parents who set that environment. For example, our kids think an afternoon of reading books while wrapped in snuggly blankets is perfectly wonderful. They don’t even hate our jazz.

Our nephews would probably pull their eyeballs from their sockets if they had to live with us. They’d seriously rather die. They’re used to afternoons running through the woods and geocaching and going on adventures.

So ignore the kids and turn to your spouse. Eric and I have each had all sorts of personal goals die a natural death with this test. For example, Eric spent his teenage years running snowmobiles all over their family farm. He might have planned a life like this, teaching our kids to do the same. But it turns out I hate being cold and driving loud equipment through snowy fields, and I wasn’t keen on spending that much money on the hobby. Owning a fleet of snowmobiles is not a Clemence Family goal. (As of this writing.) ((But Eric has a wild look in his eyes today, so we might end up with that fleet by the weekend.))

As for me, I had grown up in an old, white house on a farm. And Eric had gown up in an old, white house on a farm. Of course we’d do the same, right? NO. Turns out old farmhouses are DIY nightmares and we have no interest in mowing that much grass. We function best together in a new house on a quarter acre.

And we lovelovelove to travel as a family. That’s become our new family goal– where can we go next?

set family travel goals
Here we are (with Grandma!) in Ireland last fall. I KNOW it looks like any forest anywhere, but trust me. It’s an Irish forest.

Getting out of debt opens the doors to most of the other goals. Make it a priority.

Seriously. The world opens up when the debt is vanquished. All the best goals for your family hinge on financial freedom, and that requires as little debt as possible. If you need a bigger goal to motivate you through the debt payoff, fine. Dream big and wide. But be relentless about digging your way out of debt first, before you do anything else.

Focus on the short term goals, especially when your kids are young.

I used to plan ahead, and I mean way ahead. Like a decade. But that only exhausted me, because so many things can change in the next six months. It’s nuts to freak out over the next ten years. I think short term goals of a year are the most productive. And even then, I break those year-long goals down into quarters.

Once you have decided your family is complete, once you know you’re done with school and student loans, once you’ve found a community to call home, then the longer term goals begin to make more sense. But trying to plan for retirement or save for a second home makes no sense when you’re trying to decide if you’re having another baby or going back for a masters degree.

Keep yourself sane and stick with goals you can manage with what you know right now. You’ll feel more productive and in control when you’re not trying to manage ten years down the line.

Even after eighteen years of marriage…

Eric and I have still have a constantly evolving conversation about what our next goals are. We never feel like we have it perfectly planned out, and our friends often laugh out loud when we start talking about the future. We tend to bounce from one idea to another, at least verbally. I’m sure we seem like unstable weirdos pretty often.

Our lasting and most important goals, though, have gradually become clear as we’ve communicated, worked together, and been open to reformatting what we thought was the perfect plan. The next goal makes itself obvious, just in time. I bet you’ll probably find the same thing true in your life!

 

Pray A to Z: a book to help us pray like we promise we will

pray-with-purposeWhen a friend reveals a terrible thing going on in her life, we might respond with a hug and “Oh, how hard. I’ll pray for you.”

And then we forget.

We watch the news and our retinas are burned out by the horrible things we see broadcast and we think I should pray about that more.

But we get distracted.

The church emails the really long and detailed prayer list and our eyes glaze over immediately, completely unprepared to pray for Mr. Stone’s prostate surgery on Thursday.

BECAUSE I’M NOT PREPARED TO DISCUSS MR. SMITH’S PROSTATE WITH THE ALMIGHTY, okay?

I’m just not.

Guilt ensues.

We feel guilty about how we don’t actually pray for our friends, family, and community enough, but we have no idea of how to fit that into our lives.

We want to worship and focus on God’s mighty attributes, but the children and the piles of laundry are so much louder than God most days.

Guess what. Someone saw this need coming and they wrote a book for us, and then a copy was thoughtfully provided for us for free here on the blog. It’s called Pray A to Z (***affiliate link) and Amelia Rhodes understands our messy, crazy lives. Her organized brain has categorized our concerns so we can actually pray like we want to do.

pray-a-to-z-coverFrom A (adoption, abuse, Almighty…) to P (pregnancies, Pain, Promise Keeper) to Z (zest, Zion, zeal), we can read through the simple, quick entries to direct our thoughts outward to God, seeking him.

Let’s take a peek inside Pray A to Z

Of course I turned first to the Finances entry, because that’s how my brain works. I loved how this section fits in exactly with what we talk about on this blog all the time:

Father, forgive me for where I have allowed the love of money to creep into my life. Help me remember to put my trust in You, not in a bank account, in possessions, or in what money can do for me. Let my security rest in You, not my stuff. Help me learn to be content with what I have, and not always be searching for the next great thing. Grow my desire to use money to serve You and Your kingdom… (p. 54).

I love prayers that are written out, simply because they gather my thoughts and intentions and express them so beautifully. This book is a gentle way to keep me on track and focused on the right things when I pray, instead of running my brain around like an anxious chicken.

Amelia Rhodes
Amelia Rhodes

Win a copy!

If you’d like to be more prayerful, more worshipful, and more competent to discuss Mr. Smith’s prostate with the Lord (just kidding, there’s no Prostate chapter), this book is exactly what you need. You can click the icon below to be entered into a contest to win a copy for yourself!

Pray A to Z Amelia Rhodes
Amelia Rhodes is fabulous, and I know you’ll love to get to know her. You can find her at her website, ameliarhodes.comFollowing God into the Unknown is my favorite series on her blog, and you can read all about how her family believed God was calling them to downsize and move to a new house. It’s a story of faith, contentment, and rejection of modern culture’s expectations. You’re going to love it; check it out!

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