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Survival Tips For a Busy Family


Our family is rolling into a crazy busy season.

We’ve got two young adult sons coming home to work for the summer.  One is bringing a “significant other” who will live with us for a short time (and we are kicking our son out for that brief window, parents that we are).  Two kiddos will be traveling and working elsewhere for a month.  Throughout the summer we’re getting spoiled with visits from out-of-town friends.  I’m working on a mom-and-me Bible study and trying to write a book, while my husband leads in ministry at a very busy camp and conference center.  We have a LOT on our plates, and sometimes it feels like it’s too much.  Some things get dropped when other things get added to the calendar, but through it all, our desire is to honor God and to honor relationship, first in our marriage and family, and then in connecting with others for intentional relationship.  There are a few survival tips for a busy family that we’ve learned and are forever re-learning – not just to survive, but to thrive.


Do it the night before.

If you can do it before you go to bed, do it.  How many times have you woken up to realize you hit snooze one too many times, or your kiddo is grumpy and forgot an assignment, you can’t find a thing to wear in your closet, and on and on?  If you can take a few moments to walk through your house and calendar, you will sleep better and wake up with less “crazy…” I promise!  Here are a few ideas:

Prepare the house – Having guests?  Set the table.  Check your menu and set out your non-refrigerated ingredients (or better yet, throw something in the crock pot and pop it in the fridge for tomorrow!).

Check the calendar – What’s on the agenda for tomorrow?  What needs attention that will require rearranging something else?

Lay out clothes – You know as well as I do that when you wake up and you’re in a rush, there will be nothing to wear in your closet.  Take a minute now (and do this with your kids too!) and lay out your outfit, from unmentionables to jewelry.  It saves so. much. time. the next day!  Added plus: it also saves lots of conflict with any younger person who might not want input in the mornings on attire.

Prep for school – Go through backpacks and check homework, and replace anything that needs to go back.  Sign forms and have everything waiting by the door.  Pack snacks that don’t have to be refrigerated and have those there together.  Do you homeschool?  Treat your school day the same way.  Set out schoolwork in stacks to eliminate the dreaded “where is my…” question that can eat up valuable minutes and brain space!  Plan snack and lunch options that won’t require your attention in the moment, but can easily be prepped by your kiddos.

Set the table – I am forever hitting that dreaded “witching hour,” which used to mean whiny hungry toddlers, and now means a few minutes to work on my own agenda after a busy day of school and sports, and wondering, “oh, shoot, what’s for dinner?!”  But those mornings that I set the table (or more often, have a child do it), there’s one less thing to worry about, and one more little motivator to sit down together and enjoy a few moments in the evening to talk and make memories.

GO TO BED.  This one should be in all caps, and probably on a banner hanging above my bed.  If we don’t get our buns in bed, we can’t expect to wake up fresh and ready for a peaceful day.  If you think of last minute things, write them on your calendar or make a note on your phone, and let it go.  (And DO NOT click onto Facebook to check for status updates.  Don’t click Pinterest.  I’m not preaching to myself or anything.)

Work as a Team

You and your spouse are a team, and God put you together for a reason.  Ladies, ask your husband before you commit to another thing for the calendar, even for yourself.  I promise, it will go a long way toward his supporting you when you need it.  It will also go a long way in your meeting his needs for your skills, when you leave margin to come alongside him.  We all know this, but communication, communication, communication is key.  My husband and I meet every morning over coffee or tea before he leaves for work, to read and pray, and to go over whatever we can think of on the coming agenda.  We also rely on email, texts, and our Outlook calendar to keep us somewhat on the same page.  When we let those drop, it always causes stress.

Use technology (apps, texting, calendar sharing, email!).  If your kids text, text them and remind them about family commitments.  

PRAY together.  Even if it’s just over the dinner table, take time to pray for each other and for others each of you knows.  Ask God to use you in the lives of others.  Ask Him to help your family say “yes” to things that honor Him, and “no” to things that don’t matter.

You are a whole family – all the burden doesn’t lie on mom and dad to make everything happen.  That means if a child has school commitments or sports or other activities, they have responsibilities financially, in communication, and in follow-through that don’t completely rely on parents.  This is so important to their realizing the value of a family’s investment, and to making wise decisions as they grow into adulthood.  Be willing to let natural consequences take their toll if a child drops the ball – it’s so hard, but it’s how they learn.

Welcoming others is a family affair.  If you’re hosting guests, the whole family should help prepare.  Even if it’s just “everyday welcome,” the family is a team that can work together to care for the home and the meals.  Again, this helps us as parents, but it also teaches our kids what’s important.

You don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS.  We don’t start organized sports the minute our kids are walking.  We tend to wait until they really want it, even sometimes enough to offer to help pay for a commitment.  When they are old enough to realize the value of a commitment, and the value of what must be sacrificed, they are old enough to really gain from extracurricular activities.  Before that, we often just risk burnout and unneeded stress on kids and family.

Even church activities – While they can be good things, not always the BEST things.  A wild crazy game night at youth group can be a fun relationship-builder with the body of Christ.  OR, it can be a commitment that replaces much needed family time, the opportunity to genuinely mentor our kids and discuss life issues, make memories, and point each other to Jesus.  Really ask the hard questions before committing to even good things for your family.  Just because “everyone is doing it,” even if it’s a good thing, it may not be the right investment of your family’s time in this season.

Train Your Kiddos

It’s their part of the family “mission” to participate in the activities your family chooses.  Expect younger siblings (and older ones) to support the others in the activities that are important.  Teach them to to properly set a table or participate in table conversation.  Take them with you when you help out at church or serve someone in need.

Teaching our kids to take responsibility prepares them for their future.  It is a way that we can “teach them as we go,” and they will remember it, and sometimes put instinctively into practice the values you modeled for them.

It sets an example for others.  We have the opportunity to show the world what kindness means when we teach our kids to practice good manners, to clean up after themselves, to honor a commitment and to drop something that isn’t important.  Even if we don’t go around “teaching” how God has called us to live our lives, when we make it our aim to live a quiet life and walk out what God’s called us to do as an individual family, others may be encouraged. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-13)

Make your home convenient

I’m always trying to refine how our home works.  It might be my restless nature at work, but if I feel like a cabinet isn’t working efficiently, I’ll rearrange it.  If a “system” isn’t useful, I’ll revise it.  Use your home as a tool to help you accomplish the things that matter.  We do this in a few ways:

Placement of clothes – We keep kids’ shoes in the garage for the most part.  It helps us know where to find them, and it helps keep lots of extra dirt out of the house.

Placement of food/kitchen – I’m forever having to clean and purge, but I try to set up our food and dish storage in ways that make it convenient to cook, set the table, and clean, so that we can enjoy the process and outcome.  That means if I don’t use something, I  have to be diligent to get rid of it.  If it is in a main area and it isn’t pretty, it’s my goal to relocate it if it’s useful, or if it isn’t, make it gone.

Preparing for guests – We try to have a set of sheets and towels that stay out of circulation, so they’re ready to go easily if guest come by.  We want our home to be useful for investing in relationship.

Pretty things – This is a personal conviction.  I like pretty things in my home decor.  But if taking care of it causes me stress, or if using it causes me to worry more about the thing than the people using it, I don’t want to have it all.  People matter more than pretty things.  Working on this one, always!

Block out free time (even for your kiddos).

If it’s not on the calendar, it often doesn’t happen.  Leave space on the calendar for NOTHING.  Take a bath, let the kids read with no expectations.  Sit in the yard and have tea with a neighbor.  But leave time with no expectations, and honor that time.  It lets our souls find new inspiration to keep going!  Resist the temptation to keep your kids busy every moment – they need brain-space to get bored and to get creative.

If you can say “no,” say it.  If you can say “later!” say it.

I promise – if it’s really important, the opportunity will come back around.  But if you can possibly say “no” to something, give yourself permission to do it.  Then ask God to give you clarity to wait, or to permanently, and politely, refuse that new commitment, to leave room for the “necessary” things He calls you to.


And in case it is useful to you, here are three questions to ask yourself before putting something on the calendar:

Does this take away from our current commitments?

Does this activity/event/calendar appointment add to the time our family will spend away from each other, or away from current activities?   It it something that will hurt our other commitments, or does it require setting something else aside?  What are we prepared to sacrifice to make this commitment happen?

Does it create more investment than the “thing” itself?

For instance, signing up for softball might also mean committing to bring snacks, shop for uniforms, invite the team over for pasta night, and carpool with other parents.  Are we prepared for all the additional investment of time, money, and energy that are involved, and are those things worth the benefit of the commitment?

Does this commitment have “forever meaning?”

Five years from now, will this activity or event have meaning in our family’s life?  Is it a true investment in relationship-building, in our spiritual or physical health, in sharing God’s love with others, or in some other area that’s eternally important for one or all of our family?  Is it a commitment that can make someone else’s life better, share eternal truths with them, or encourage them?  Is it an investment in a skill one or all of us will use in the future?


If the commitment doesn’t fit the priorities you have as a family, or if it doesn’t help an individual enough to be worth the sacrifice, SAY NO.  Give yourselves permission to let it go, either for now or indefinitely.  When you can do that, you leave room for rest, and for sweeter opportunities that will matter forever.


What are your tips for not just surviving, but thriving, in the trenches of a busy family life?

Above the Commotion

It’s funny how we can live near someone and not really know the full sweetness of friendship until we are far away.  It was that way with my friend Stephanie.  Her dad is a pastor whom our family greatly respects, and he still challenges us with His passion for scripture and its application in our daily life.  But it wasn’t until our family moved to another state that our friendship really blossomed, and I count Stephanie as one of my heart-friends.  So when she wrote these thoughts for you, friend… I couldn’t wait to share them with you.  They speak so much to a struggle we all have, if we’re honest.  They call each of us to rise above the commotion of everyday life… for something so much more.

From Stephanie:

We are selective by nature. Facebook friends with irrelevant or bothersome posts get unfollowed. The especially appealing images are re-pinned on Pinterest. Magazines are purchased based on a headline’s promise. We innately filter life and choose what we spend our time on. This is good.

We are always looking for the best information, funniest videos, most insightful articles— discoveries meant to increase our happiness or improve how we experience each day. The search is legitimate, the longing innate, but the sources we look to for fulfillment are insufficient.

I keep up on Instagram, check out new books from the library, and seize quality “me” time at a coffee shop— often looking to those things as a source of fulfillment.

But no matter how desperately I try to extract balm for my battered emotions and nourishment for my weakened spirit, those sources are insufficient to heal.


Jeremiah 2:13 describes how the people of Israel made the same attempt and failed: “They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.” I hadn’t realized it before, but I am an expert at digging broken cisterns.



You are probably familiar with the saying, “Not everything that glitters is gold.” In this day and age there is a lot glittering. There are so many cisterns holding out the promise of living water. We expectantly approach, desperately thirsty, and we depart devastatingly unquenched. If we want to address our spiritual dehydration, we must look to a different source. It isn’t modern, it doesn’t have a subscribe button, it’s not “pinable” and it won’t go live on Facebook. It’s a daily, genuine relationship with the Creator of your heart, the Savior of your soul, the King of the universe. His words for you are alive and accessible in the simple, unadorned, un-hashtagged Holy Bible, and “They are more desirable than gold—than an abundance of pure gold” (Psalm 19:10). His words alone will truly satisfy our thirst.


In Proverbs we receive the instruction: “My son, be attentive to my words…For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh” (4:20, 22). The healing, life-giving words Solomon is drawing our attention to are ultimately the supreme words of scripture. We must be attentive. We must be watchful, critical, discerning.


The source of ultimate joy, deep satisfaction and renewal is hiding in plain sight, we are often just too distracted to see it.


Amidst the chaos of other voices clamoring for your attention, “Wisdom calls out in the street; she raises her voice in the public squares. She cries out above the commotion” (Proverbs 1:20, 21).


Picture the last ridiculously loud situation you were in. Concert? Sports game? Bar? Driving while one kid has a meltdown that could shatter glass, the other kid conveying their desperate need for a cracker? Think about the concentration required to hear what someone is saying to you over all of that noise. For a moment, somehow, your brain manages to tune everything else out, your eyes lock on their lips as they form the words. You carefully take note of their gestures to interpret what they are communicating and without even knowing it, you lean in. That is the kind of focus needed to filter out the commotion of distractions in this world and take hold of the life-giving words of Christ. They are there, amazingly, ironically free and worth more than everything else this world can offer.




I’m so tired of leaky cisterns. I’m irritated by a dissatisfaction in things that were supposed to be rewarding. In a world of movement and temporality, of trends and innovation, I am chronically attention-deficit. The void in my heart aches and longs for undistracted, uncontested time with the One who satisfies. I want to filter out more of the trivial, the secular, the empty; I want to be attentive to His life-giving voice. His call is steadfast, and though we are not, the way remains open. “Therefore…let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2 HCSB).


Visit Stephanie at Read, Cook, Devour to see what else she’s sharing.


{Thank you, Stephanie, for challenge and encouragement!}


It’s More Than a Fairy Tale (Marriage Matters, Part 1)

From the time I was a little girl, I’ve wrestled with mixed messages about relationships. On the one hand, there was the fairy-tale version that involved a great quest, a wicked enemy, a ballgown, true love’s kiss, and a lady being swept off her feet.  On the other hand, I saw real-life examples of broken vows, angry breakups, and heard a clear message of girl power.  Women who were themselves hurt by their choices and others, preached a message of independence and autonomy – I was told over and over, “you don’t need a man,” “never trust anyone,” and “look out for #1!”  When it comes to marriage matters, I’ve always had a jumble of messages to sort through, and the sorting and living out is vital… even before the wedding day.


The problem is, we humans were made to need each other.  It’s true, life isn’t just a fairy tale where you will meet that one person you can’t help getting googly eyed over, riding into the sunset to live happily-ever-after.  But our best history of the world and God’s plan in it, the Bible, shows us there is a lot we can learn from the idea of that fairy tale; in fact, it’s been said that the best fairy tales point us to the grand truths of life.



Marriage is more than a fairy tale.

In some ways it has all of the elements, but it goes way beyond the pages of fantasy.


Marriage does involve “true love.” Most often, there’s physical and emotional attraction, and all of this leads to “falling in love”. BUT where the movies (and our own bodies) might lead us to think we’re controlled by that emotional and physical attraction, the truth is we can choose to stay attracted, to draw near when we want to pull away and serve our own desires in the moment.  Even more, I believe we can set ourselves up for success in marriage when we train ourselves to take action in both expressing and reigning in our attraction long before we reach the marriage relationship.  We can practice self-control with both our emotions and our bodies as single people, and that practice builds strength for the needed choice to honor our spouse with our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodies, throughout our married life.

From the time we’re little we hear that we “Can’t help our feelings.”  I wish I had been taught differently.


The truth is, we choose whether or not to be controlled by feelings every day of our lives.  Not married?  I dare you, begin to practice that truth now. CHOOSE to feel love, kindness, commitment toward others.  CHOOSE to treat others as brothers and sisters in Christ… not just objects for feeding our emotional and physical pleasure.

Just like in a fairy-tale, marriage is a great adventure… but the hero and heroine gain their status from thousands of little moments of quiet faithfulness.


Marriage does have a hero and heroine.  Together they battle the dark forces of evil, literally out to get them and destroy a God-ordained picture for a watching world, of the kind of Love that made Him give His life for the salvation of mankind.


In his book Love and War, John Eldredge says:  “You live in a world at war. Spiritual attack must be a category you think in or you will misunderstand more than half of what happens in your marriage.”


The real-life hero and heroine in a marriage prove their hero-status with dogged commitment to stay faithful to each other.  With little choices like ignoring annoyances and saying no to distractions and choosing the good of another and with a huge decision: to yield to each other under a yielding to God, as they lead their own family in the order He ordained.


In marriage, too, whether you have physical or spiritual children, you lead your “kingdom” and serve together – influencing those around you for good!
In real-life, marriage requires sacrifice.  One of the hallmarks of true love is yieldedness to another’s best interest.  As Christians, our yieldedness is first to God, then to each other within the body of Christ.  Throughout the New Testament, God paints a picture of the specific type of yieldedness He calls for in marriage.  In Ephesians and elsewhere, husbands are called to lead sacrificially, and wives are called to submit to their leadership “as unto God.”  As we work out the specifics of that relationship personally, we paint a beautiful picture for a watching world, of the kind of love God has for us.  But if we fall to the tendency to put ourselves first, we damage our own heart, the heart of our spouse, and the portrait of Love we have the opportunity to represent.


Worship of “me” WILL ALWAYS FAIL US.


Want an honest admission?  I cannot live up to my own expectations.  I hold a high standard for my family and those I love around me… but I’m busy letting my own self down most of the time, quietly failing to meet my own standards.  So when I put “me first,” I risk causing misery for me and everyone around me.  And this is a truth my husband and I have learned the hard way:
ME-FIRST mentality hurts the team.
Here’s something we can hold onto, though (my women-friends, especially!) – the standards God holds us to are even higher.  And we can meet those standards… but only with His help.


And we needn’t worry about this submitted heart He asks us to have – because He has high standards for our spouses, too.  And He modeled for us what that kind of love looks like – along with the eternal, awe-inspiring, dancing-in-the-streets kind of freedom and joy it produces!  But again – we can only get that freedom by yielding ourselves completely, heart-mind-soul-strength, to Him.


No matter what mixed messages we’ve been fed, no amount of fury or fight will fix all the broken things in us and in those we love.  We have to move forward, give, sacrifice, grow, and sometimes step back, re-evaluate and create healthy boundaries, but it’s the yielding to God, the trust we build in Him to care for us, that produces beautiful fruit in our relationships.

This following comes from a post called Beauty in Gentleness, written by Christine Willard on The Edges Collective:

“Being married costs everything. Tears… Incredible vulnerability and sacrifice. It causes you to take a deeper look inside your heart and soul, your desires and your personality… It is not easy. But that does not come as a surprise to you. You already know that!… Of course loving costs everything–look at the Cross. But loving is always worth it…We all know that loving is hard. Marriage is hard. It is hard because it is opposed. The devil hates marriage… But God loves marriage!… He is for you… Marriage is going to ask everything of you, and that is why you must have a vision for it… We live in a great love story, set in the midst of war. We need each other–desperately. We have been entrusted with the heart of another human being. Our loving will prove to the world that love is real. We will play out before watching eyes the Great Love Story of the ages.”

How are you being challenged to live beyond the fairy tale?