Rather than passively reflecting back on the past year, I'm going to spend the coming year traveling through the last decade and then some, all the way to the founding of my family. Before I explain how my time machine will work, here's a little background:
I got married 12+ years ago, pregnant a month later, and then over the next five years, had three children, moved to five different houses, and relocated our business twice. A little over two years after we finally settled down and stopped having kids, we unexpectedly started homeschooling. That was five years ago this month.
Lots of other things happened during that time, but guess what didn't happen? Filing. As in papers didn't get sorted or purged. They piled up and got put into boxes. The only organization to those boxes is two categories: 1) the children's artwork 2) everything else. These boxes currently line our upstairs hallway. Partly because we don't have a garage and partly because I'm delusional - I have continued believing that if they're visible, I will deal with them. Instead, the collection keeps relocating, and on average, a new box is added to it every year (in each of the two categories).
I admit to having hoarding on one side of my family. Thankfully, there are minimalists on the other side. So I tend to collect papers and books, while frequently purging other stuff. In fairness to myself, I am continually giving away books, but new (used) ones seem to constantly replace them. So it's the papers that are the bane of my existence. And after that, it's the digital files, namely the visual souvenirs of our life stored in iPhoto, which also go unsorted, and therefore unprinted.
Back to the future...er, present, and how that relates to the past. Enter the phrase "reflect and project." I am a future oriented person and an idealist. Which has led to more delusions. Like believing that there's a pot of gold at the end of my boxes. That when I finally have discarded 80% of what's in them and organized the remainder, I can then begin to fully live. Order will bring me peace, out of which will flow creativity and harmony. It's actually rather similar to how many view a new year - as the opportunity for a clean slate. That if we can just put the past behind us and head out on the right path, it will lead us to the self and the life we've always dreamed of.
Well, I've decided that united, the above delusions can actually divide and conquer. To deconstruct my idol of idealism, I must deconstruct my piles. I'm calling it Reflect and Project. During one hour of the kids' afternoon rest time, I will alternate Reflect days with Project days (hereafter referred to as RD & PD). On RDs, I will sort and file one box (when I get through all of them, I will move on to organizing digital files). On PDs, I will create - write, make art, or work on my MMTIC certification. Reflect signifies both processing through the memories resurrected through finding old pieces of my life and the idea of reflecting God's image through implementing order. Project means both its noun form, as in creative project, and its verb form - projecting into the future, as in goal setting based on future vision.
...So an hour a day (five days a week) is devoted to the past and the future, which means I hope to be living in the present most of the other 23 hours a day. And how do I intend to do that? Well, I've got another hour a day goal, but this one is a limit. On my internet activity. That's right - one hour a day for reading articles and interacting on social media (doesn't include productivity stuff like renewing library books, banking, ordering household goods, etc.). I have a timer app on my browser that shows me how long I've been browsing and it's broken down into websites, so I can see the time spent on each one. The way that I'm hoping to accomplish this - gulp - is by giving myself that hour when the kids have their screen time, since that's their limit as well. That both keeps me accountable and ensures that the computer doesn't divert my attention from the kids. It will stay off until that hour, and since I rarely text and don't like typing on my mobile devices, I will just use them for checking email, writing brief responses when needed, and doing the "work" stuff I listed earlier.
Another reason for the limitation on my internet usage is because I really want to return to writing on a consistent basis. I had hoped to begin that last spring, but apparently I wasn't ready. So I'm planning to purchase a nifty word processor type keyboard which can send data to the computer. We bought our 11 year-old an electronic typewriter last year, which she loves, but the correction feature conked out, so she and I are going to both love using this new writing instrument. My goal is to blog once a week and to begin working on outlines for some book ideas I've been pondering.
Before I go on with my other goals, I should back up a bit to the theme that ties it all together. It actually relates to my previous post. Just as the the Sunday morning church service models a pattern for worship during the week, our days have a liturgy, guided by our priorities. We can think of Sundays as the feasts of the church year, and the rest of the week as ordinary time. It's easy to lose our spiritual focus during those warm, lazy days of summer and hectic weeks of fall when we're not following a pattern of seasonal worship. So, too can we drift from what really matters as we go about the business of our daily, routine lives.
To build a template (so to speak) of hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly living that adds up to a purposeful year, which year upon year creates a meaningful life, the foundation can only be one thing: It's what Jesus said was the greatest command: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. So "my" time must be based on activities that bring every part of me into worship (enjoying God and glorifying Him) - my intellect, my emotions, my body, and my spirit. When we are loving God (which we can only do by receiving his love), we can follow what Jesus said was the next greatest command: Love others as yourself.
I talked about a couple of the major ways I intend to love God with my mind in 2014 - there are more of them, as well as goals for my heart, body, and spirit (not that they're all neatly compartmentalized like that) that I will share in my next post...
Most people (well, only the lucky few who get them) take a sabbatical every seven years, but in my case, I've taken a sabbatical for seven years. Not from a job, though, but from what I'm doing right now: blogging.
Seven years ago (maybe even to the day), I signed off what was then known as the God blogosphere. I was part of that first wave of Christian bloggers who started talking aloud and then to each other. We created a larger dialogue that manifested itself in posts and comments and blog carnivals and even a convention - GODBLOGCON. Despite different denominations, backgrounds, ages, genders, and more, there was a kinship between us. That's not to say there wasn't also controversy and tension, but it didn't dominate our interactions.
My first blog was called Proverbial Wife. I started it in late 2003 or early 2004 (I had my first baby at that time, so it's a bit hazy, and I'm too lazy to go look it up). The name was a reference to the Proverbs 31 woman, whom I aspired to be, and it was quite catchy, but despite its popularity, I eventually changed it (felt like to much to live up to), and that - changing blog names - was to become a pattern with me. I can't even remember all the names, but the main ones were Marla Swoffer (as in dot com) and Marla's Musings and Always Thirsty. I also had multiple blogs at various times - notably, Olive Cheeses (food blog), GodBlogRoll (a directory of blogs categorized by bloggers' Myers-Briggs personality types), and Intellectuelle, a group blog of Christian women who won a writing contest I dreamed up - it was hosted by Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost.
I loved connecting with others who shared my faith and were deep thinkers, since it had rarely happened offline after I finished school. It was as close as I would get to being part of something like the Inklings - that group of Christian writers which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, my literary (and in Lewis' case, spiritual as well) heroes. Speaking of the Inklings, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the way my blog got its wings was when it was noticed by Jared Wilson, ringleader of what was then The Thinklings, a group blog, which though all male, I considered kindred spirits. They were the first ones to spread "the conversation" to my fledgling blog. (mind you, when I use that phrase, it has nothing to do with anything "emergent")
After 2+ years of blogging daily (or more), I had a solid readership, but the nagging feeling (conviction) that I needed to change my priorities finally got through to me with the news that I was pregnant with my third (and last) child. I had sensed that I should quit blogging when I was about to have my second child, a year before, but when an amazing and generous couple who read my blog gifted me with my first apple computer (which totally converted me) - a macbook (after I joked that I would blog during my labor if I only had a laptop) - I felt that I couldn't throw in the towel just yet, that with this second baby perhaps I'd finally master time management.
That was not to be. And instead of writing from inspiration, it had become an obligation to perform fueled by my desire for acceptance/affirmation/admiration as well as a more pure motive of wanting to encourage and connect with others. But there I had trouble as well - I was too transparent and vulnerable. I didn't "overshare" by today's blogging standards, but it was too much for my personality type (we INFJs are extremely private) and there were other factors at the time (see I've learned to censor myself) that made keeping certain deep things offline even more important (hint: never work out stuff on the internet that you haven't worked out with people in real life first).
The other problem was that because of being a crusader for truth, I was attracted to controversy, or it to me, but whatever the case, it got ugly. The stuff I alluded to in the aforementioned paragraph got mingled in with the online drama, which caused me major distress...and did I mention I was also in my first trimester of pregnancy? That brings me back to the biggest reason I had to quit blogging: my family. I had three year-old and one year-old daughters, with a son on the way. I wanted my attention to be focused on them - after all, they were the reason I was staying home. I also wanted to guard their privacy. And of course there was my husband, too. My online life definitely detracted from my real life - I simply couldn't spread myself so thin, especially being the slow, methodical, non multi-tasking person that I am. I won't even mention how my daily hours online affected the housework...
So that is why I quietly exited my public writing life seven years ago, feeling both relief and grief, but believing I would one day return to my writing (since I have always known - well, since high school - that it's a calling/vocation) when the kids were all in school and I would have my mornings free. That was supposed to have happened this last fall, but three years after I quit blogging, we unexpectedly became a homeschooling family, and I knew things would never unfold the way I had planned, but I also didn't (and don't) regret being on this path...and adventure really...that God has marked out for us. I also know how much it will enrich my writing.
Somewhere in there, I started blogging again (what can I say, I couldn't stay away), but not with my real name and not with any consistency. Thus I had no readership until a couple of years ago when I adopted the Literary Mom pseudonym. I was already a regular Facebook customer (see, even quitting my day blog couldn't keep me offline...sigh...), so setting up a writerly page really couldn't be helped. Thus, instead of blogging, I was blurting out thoughts and curating information for others (i.e. amassing lots of interesting links that came into my massive news feed caused by an untold number of page likes). That continues to this day, though I have "unplugged" from Facebook for weeks and months at a time (fasting it from it for Advent or Lent usually) to sort of reset myself. The internet is paradoxically a perpetual source of angst and delight for me as a person and a writer. I have a love-hate relationship with it and its social media offspring.
This past Lent, I gave up white flour and sugar and alcohol (except on feast days of course), and found myself blogging a little more frequently, which was what I set out to do, albeit half-heartedly. It felt surprisingly right and good. That got me thinking about how long it had been since I had left the God blogosphere; I realized it was exactly seven years. Through the working out of various circumstances (including a reconciliation I consider miraculous) in recent months, I had felt a gentle nudging to come out of hiding, so to speak, but also a sense of trepidation. Nothing had changed for me to be able to suddenly devote myself to my writing - my kids aren't little, but they're still young - and homeschooling is very consuming. So I really wasn't sure what the point in using my real name now would be, yet I also started to feel bothered about my picture being a face behind a book. While it had been apt for a season, I sensed that keeping it (and continuing to not use my real name) began to reflect a kind of cowardice that didn't apply to me. In fact, overcoming fear continues to be a major theme in my life.
So the seven year timing (I'm big on patterns and symbols and rhythms), feeling free to be myself, and rediscovering the joy of writing all gave me the inspiration to throw off the anonymity that bound me and cautiously start a new chapter in my blogging life, going forward with the lessons learned from my previous one, as well as what I have learned during these past seven years of relative reclusivity.
Here are some of my blogging resolutions:
I will not market myself or network or have giveaways (not really my personality anyway).
I will not blog out of compulsion or obligation or on any kind of timetable.
I will steer clear of controversial subjects, especially pertaining to other bloggers and their views.
I will write to express what matters, not just to me, but to others, and most of all, to God.
I will keep my family my first priority and not let blogging distract me or steal time from them.
I will be careful about what I share, guarding my family's privacy and not getting too personal.
If I am ever unsure, I will pray about what to say. I will not impulsively blog.
I will not compare myself to other bloggers or compete with them.
I will not feel compelled to respond to every comment. In fact, responding to comments will be the exception rather than the rule.
So for Lent this year, I'm giving up alcohol, white sugar, and white flour...except on Sundays...which my dear orthodox friend thinks is cheating. I told her and I'll tell you (in case you don't already know - I didn't, being newish to all things liturgical) that in the Catholic and Protestant traditions, there are actually 46 days of Lent - 40 days of fasting and six Sundays, which are feast days, because they represent Resurrection Day, so they are thought of as little Easters. When I've fasted from things before (food or the internet usually), it's always been for a whole season, so that's made me either more timid in my fasting (i.e. giving up less hard things) or I've failed (tried to go gluten-free last Lent, lasted two weeks). Getting the seventh day reprieve feels doable, and if it goes well, it may even extend past this season, becoming a way of life, because it's sustainable.
Besides the Sunday exemption, I am creating another modification - let me pause for a brief aside: none of this is mentioned, let alone mandated in Scripture - it's all manmade tradition, so it should especially be bathed in grace, without any hint of legalism. The point of following the church year and using these kinds of liturgies is to draw us closer to Jesus, to help us grow spiritually, and to be more like Him. It's not about shoulds and oughts and rules and regulations - that was the old covenant...so it's kind of ironic what I'm going to say next...
In recent months, we've been studying the fourth commandment, to honor the sabbath and keep it holy. My husband and I have been reading books on the subject and trying to implement sabbath keeping. We decided to begin our sabbath on Saturday nights and conclude them on Sunday nights. There is an opening ceremony in which we light candles and say blessings over the bread and the fruit of the vine and the children and each other (our sabbath table is pictured above). So...if Sundays are the exemption days to our fasting, that would mean no challah (unless I make it whole grain) and no wine (unless it's grape juice), so my idea is that to make sabbath keeping and Lent work together, "Sunday" will actually be the duration of our sabbath, so Saturday night to Sunday night, meaning we can have wine, bread, sweets, etc. from Saturday dinner until Sunday dinner (not including it).
In addition to the fasting and feasting of this Lenten season, I want to add something to this time, to make the fasting meaningful by replacing those comfort foods with soul food. And not just to feed myself, but others. The way I've always done that best is through writing. I've been hoarding my insights in my private journal or squandering them through social media. As I am more intentional in spending time with God and consistently reading his word (I'm beginning the daily office of the lectionary in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer), I want to share what he gives me with you. I also want to post some of the things I've already written, both in recent times and from the past. My plan is to post at least once per week - I'd say more but I don't want to set myself up for failure or feel pressured.
I'm excited...and honestly, desperate....for the new thing(s) the Lord will do in the next six weeks. I'm not expecting any kind of emotional thrills - I just want to hear that still, small voice instead of all my noisy self-centered thoughts. My prayer is to earnestly seek to follow what Jesus said were the two greatest commands - to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself, to live 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 because I believe and receive 1 John 4:7-19.
The present moves too quickly for me, like a conveyor belt dumping unsorted words and pictures into the past, the chaos capturing my creativity in a prison of piles, printed and digital. If only I could turn the time machine off for a moment to get caught up. Then I might finally be free to paint the blank canvas the future is always dangling before me.
I remember the first time I was served an amuse bouche. Just when I was trying not to reach for another piece of bread, a tiny plate of fuschia and golden beets sprinkled with smoked sea salt was set in front of me (see picture). Not only was I unaware that beets came in more than one color, but that restaurants (really good ones) sometimes serve a complimentary pre-meal morsel called an "amuse bouche." Literally, it means "mouth pleaser." I'm not big on beets, so my mouth was indeed surprisingly pleased by the delicate and satisfying flavor of this amuse bouche. It also encouraged me that more good things were to come.
I like the quote in the wikipedia entry "The amuse-bouche is the best way for a great chef to express his ideas in small bites." Spiritually speaking, what if God was the great chef, the gospel was his idea, and your words were the small bites?
Before most people encounter Jesus in a personal way, they will meet his followers - not just in person, but in books and blogs by believers. The old saying "you're the only Bible someone will ever read" could be more hopefully phrased as "you're the first Bible someone will ever read" Christians are obviously not perfect representations of who God is or flawless interpreters of his written revelation of himself to us, but that is precisely how he will use us to reach others. His power is made perfect in our weakness. He has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. And at the same time, God made each person in his image. He loves us and reveals himself to us and through us. Our words--spoken and written--can illuminate God's truth.
Let us then be a living fragrance, so that when people breathe in our words--either aloud or through our pens--it will provoke an irresistible urge to taste and and see that the Lord is good. May his Holy Spirit in us awaken their spiritual senses and pique their palates like an amouse-bouche, making them hungry for Jesus and thirsty for the water that only he can give, beckoning them to the holy banquet where they can be satisfied with the richness of his grace, in the presence of their Creator who has a unique purpose for each human being in bringing glory to himself.
I think I've come up with a manageable solution to stuffing the archives with the highlights of my blogging life. I'm going to try to post one oldie per day (and hopefully some newbies in between). Since I'm fairly obsessed with chronological order - be it studying history, organizing our library of spiritual classics, or sorting photos - I will start at the beginning.
Here's what started it all, almost seven years ago, when I ventured on to the internet late one Saturday night and self-consciously poked my head out into the unknown but not yet vast blogosphere. Funny how my rambling monologue would later prove to be intuitively insightful. When I feel clueless, I often know more than I realize. The voice of inexperience sometimes has an objectivity that's obscured once you're immersed in something. It's all good, though :)
As per usual, life has gotten in the way of blogging, which is as it should be. Being should occupy more space than expression. Doing than thinking. Practice than theory. Living than communicating. This is the mentality I have been trying to live since quitting my former (obsessive-compulsively posted to) blog a few years ago, and more recently. It's a constant challenge and I often fail due to my propensity to all things intangible, chiefly written words, whether my own or others'. My one victory is that I have never texted. But that's mostly because I'm too cheap and lazy.
Really, what it boils down to is that I don't have a sensing preference. I am intuiting with a capital N (iNfj), which means I prefer to operate in the internal world of ideas and ideals, abstractions and concepts, dreams and visions. Extraverted sensing is my inferior function, and I've been developing it ever since I entered my 30s and started having children. Parenthood of young children is a very hands-on role. Physically caring for another human being who needs to be held, fed, clothed, diapered, bathed, wiped (nose, hands, butt), and just generally touched a lot requires the intense use of all five senses, especially tactile.
At the same time I became a mother, I became a homemaker, and that too is largely sensory. I can cook well, but I'm slow, oh so slow, and clean up takes me even longer. But the truth is that I spend more time researching and analyzing recipes than it takes me to make them. And really, this is how I am about everything. School (and I was a professional student my whole life through my 20s) really didn't prepare me for becoming a mom and homemaker. And because of my natural abilities, I didn't learn to manage time well--I crammed and performed well under pressure. Pressure (usually caused my own procrastination) these days results in me being impatient with the kids and yelling. Ack.
...So where am I going with this? I yearn to write, to create, to carry out all sorts of brilliant (or not so) ideas, but I absolutely cannot in good conscience do any of that (including blogging) if my house is not in order. And I don't just mean externally, though that's a big part of it, but not in any Martha Stewart sort of way. Right now our homeschool room is in process, as am I, and I need someone to light a fire under my behind to get me sorting (the story of my unorganized life), arranging, preparing, planning, and just generally getting our little academy ready to open its doors in...oh, just over a week. Already, I feel myself pushing that forward a week, because there's simply no way...
And that, my friends, is the beauty of homeschooling. There is no pressure. And yet there is. Never before have I felt so compelled to get my act together. It may also have to do with a sort of microcosm in our home. This summer I finally got our daughters' room in order. The systems are in place, and with regular checking, it's staying pretty much that way. It was well worth the glazed over eyes and wrecked back I had from strewing a million tiny objects on the rug and figuring out which sparkly speck went with which playset (and we don't even have that many toys!). I also converted our Ikea coffee table (the one with the little sorting slots underneath) into their Calico Critters dollhouse table and toy holder. Whenever I repurpose something (which is pretty frequently), it's like getting a shot of adrenalin.
Systems are key to creativity and productivity. I'll never be a slave to systems, but I intend to master them. First, though, they have to be put in place, which is where I am right now. I've actually been here for years (trying to catch up) but a couple of new things this year are making my dreamy self actually move forward--one is homeschooling and the other is not having any more children. This is the first time in the last seven years that I have not been pregnant or had an infant. My youngest (and my only boy) is totally milking that (no, we're not still breastfeeding!). Much of my daughter's lives at ages 2 and 3 are a blur, because of their siblings entering our lives, so I'm reveling in actually experiencing my son's transition from toddler to preschooler. Speaking of which, he just started going to preschool part-time, three mornings, which is another reason I actually have some hope of not only getting everything in order, but actually doing a decent job homeschooling.
There you have it. The dearth of posts lately and the angst of me having lots of things to say (and the drafts/pictures/recipes to prove it), but absolutely having to abide my conscience and get down and dirty with papers and books and other printed materials which have hindered my life for far too long. I have no intention of going away from this blog, but I don't know how long it will be before I post again, let alone regularly, so pray for me. To follow through. To become fast. To stop reading everything online and crafting emails as if they're novels and looking up 50 too many recipes every night for dinner and all the other zillions of microbial time wasters that keep me from using my gifts, both to bless my family and the great big world my heart aches to somehow give to as well.
Ok, I have no idea what I’m doing…trying to type quietly while my husband sleeps. I just realized that thousands of thoughts…well hundreds, at least a few run through my mind daily, especially when I’m in the car, and now it’s actually trendy to share them with the world. Or at least I think so. I’m a writer so it would be sick and wrong if I didn’t blog, now that I know what it is. Uh-oh, hubbie is stirring…pause over…let me try to think of some of those thoughts I had…so many more useless, boring ones have come and gone since then…should I really be doing this when I still have so many unfinished unpublished writing projects–will this stimulate my creative juices or will it just eat up the precious time I have apart from mothering and housekeeping (like I even clean) and bookkeeping and all the external stuff that hides the running monologue filling my mind in all my waking hours. Oh yeah, this is supposed to be my outlet for all the mindless stuff I wouldn’t try to publish in book form. It’s like the scraps, the ends and pieces, the little stuff…the Seinfeldian material (was that a freudian slip?…no, I think I just like “ian” endings…why, though? A-ha! It’s because I’m a Christian). I seem to be able to ramble on for quite some time. I appreciate not having to edit myself. But will anyone read this stuff? Will they wish they didn’t?