Letting Go of What I Didn’t Do This Summer

“Can we make  brownies?”

That’s what my daughter asks when I tell my kids we’re going to an outdoor concert along the riverfront.

She asks about brownies because this is what  we do.

We tote lawn chairs to an open area on the lawn, spray on some bug spray, and settle in to  listen to the music while munching on our two favorite “outdoor concert snacks:”  popcorn and brownies.

Sometimes we bring cookies instead or skip the popcorn.

But not often.

Outdoor concert = popcorn + brownies.

It’s an equation we know and love.

My kids love traditions and they eagerly hold me to them.  That’s why we poured the ingredients for brownies into a mixing bowl this morning to make our treat for tonight’s adventure.

Because what would summer be without outdoor concerts?  And what would outdoor concerts be without popcorn and brownies?

Tragic, that’s what!  Full of despair and disappointment!

Of course, that’s just silly talk.  But somehow it can feel that way.

Unmet expectations can push our weary souls right to the ground.

I love our family traditions as much as my kids do, but I also bear the burden of them and I’ve felt that weight a little this summer.

It’s not just traditions, though, that can keep me dancing on the edges of guilt.

It’s mostly what I expect of myself.  Roles I need to fulfill.  Tasks I need to  accomplish.   Must-do’s, should-do’s,  and have-to’s.

It’s endlessly seeing ideas and reminders that I could do more and I could do better.

It’s comparing myself with others and not feeling like I measure up.

Those other moms have their kids accomplishing all  these cool activities  this summer.  Look at how many books they read, places they went, projects they made!

The pressure!

It comes from comparing ourselves with our own past.

I used to be able to read more books, get more done, finish more  on my to-do list, keep my house cleaner, manage more projects.

But that’s not this year, not this summer, not this season.

 

This summer has been teaching me more and more that it’s okay to let some things go.   We don’t have to do every good thing or every familiar thing.

I carried around guilt well into July this year about what I wasn’t doing.

We hadn’t picnicked out at our favorite playground yet.

I’m failing at this summer.

We’d barely made it through one audiobook.

I’m failing at this summer.

We did not run around the yard with an empty mason jar at twilight and catch  as many fireflies as possible, just to release them all at once before going to bed.

I’m failing at this summer.

 

I haven’t written a book, pitched a book, edited a book, or in any way spent one second thinking about a new book.

I’m failing at this summer.

Maybe this all looks differently for you.  Maybe our seasons are different and are expectations vary.

But maybe we can all identify with this feeling of just not doing enough or being enough or  being able to keep up with all our own ideas of perfect.

After all, does summer have to be “perfect?”  Maybe it just needs to be beautiful in its own unique and personal way.

Maybe any day can be beautiful without being perfect.

Does it matter to Jesus if I have the brownies for the concert?

Nope.

Is i t nice to have the brownies?  Sure!

Is it worth stressing over or beating myself up over  for not making brownies?

No.

What else can we let go of?

Are those projects another mom is doing great?

Sure!

Am I a failure as a mom if I don’t do  the same thing as her?

Not at all.

Oh–whisper that again to your soul:  You are not a failure for not doing every good thing you see around you.

You don’t  have to do it all all the time.

Don’t you just love that when Jesus fed the crowd with a few fish and loaves as they sat expectantly on a hillside,  He didn’t demand that the disciples come more prepared?

He didn’t demand that they provide the supply or that they be enough in themselves.

They offered him a little boy’s lunch and He did the rest.

Lisa Harper reminds us of this lesson:

“Just use what you have and do the best that you can”  (Lisa Harper, The Gospel  of Mark).

Tonight I have the brownies to take with us to the concert, but if I didn’t, that’d be fine, too.

I don’t need  to spend the whole evening feeling guilty for what I didn’t do.

I  can be oh so grateful and oh so joyful for the day Jesus gave me.

Packing for camp and other summertime wisdom

 

The first time we sent our older girls away to summer camp, it was just for a weekend.  For younger kids, it was a “get your feet wet” kind of experience, stay two nights at camp, have lots of fun, and then plan on coming back for the full week the next time.

So, for a two-night camp, we packed three shirts and three pairs of shorts so they’d have a spare plus a pair of jeans and a skirt and top they could use for a chapel service if they needed to look nice.

I picked them up at the end of the weekend and they were dressed in some crazy outfit : Skirt and camp t-shirt or jeans (in 100+degree weather).

Why the fashion mish-mash?

Simple. They ran out of clothes.

At home, I opened up their duffel bags and discovered their clothes were wet.  All of them.

This year, our packing strategy was simple.  Pack pretty much every piece of clothing they own.

Well, that might be a bit exaggerated.  But seriously.  I packed a lot of extra clothes plus two beach towels and two bath towels and two different swimming outfits.

We packed a lot.

Then, for the entire week before camp, I gave them great words of wisdom.

I said things like, “Make good choices.  Listen to your counselors.  Don’t be afraid.  Try new things.  Be kind and make new friends.  Sleep.  Don’t spend all your money at the camp store in one day.”

Oh, and this little treasure, “If you buy soda at the camp store, do NOT buy Mountain Dew.  Sprite has no caffeine–fine.  Coke has some caffeine, not the best, but I won’t freak out.  But please do NOT buy Mountain Dew.”

Those words came from experience.  Last time I picked them up, they’d discovered Mountain Dew for the first time.

But I also gave them this little tidbit of advice over and over and over again: “Hang up your wet clothes.  Seriously.  Towels get hung up to dry.  Do not toss your wet swimsuit and towel into your suitcase with your other clothes.”

These are some of the last words I said to them before we waved goodbye at drop-off.

“I love you” and “Hang up wet things.”

My husband, on the other hand, had his own wisdom to share over and over before camp. And when we said goodbye, he said it again. He leaned over to kiss their heads, told them, “I love you,” and then give instruction:

“Wear sunscreen.  At all times.  All over your face.  Use your bug spray.  Wear your hat every single time you go outside.”

This is the what we worry over because we’re not with them to make sure they are safe, taking care of themselves, and keeping their clothes dry.

Or that they aren’t drinking Mountain Dew, are eating reasonable meals, and are being respectful to their camp counselors.

They will be making choices every day and we have to trust that after all our training, these choices will be good ones.

So, we said goodbye for the week.  We met their counselors, dropped off their luggage, watched as they picked out bunks, and then left.

And now, I’m praying and praying and praying.

This independence-training has been gradual: a few hours of preschool a few days a week.  School days.  Middle school starts in just two months for my middle girl with more decisions, bigger ones, and more independence.

Do they know what really matters?

Today, I read how David commissioned his son, Solomon.  What were those essential things David said before he died and Solomon took over the kingdom?

He said,

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you…Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it (1 Chronicles 28:9-10 ESV).

I’m sure David trained Solomon in other ways.  He gathered the supplies Solomon would need to build the temple so that his son would be fully equipped for his calling.

But this is the essential truth:

Seek the Lord.

Serve Him wholeheartedly.

Be strong and do the work He has called you to do.

And when it comes down to it, this is the essential truth for us and the essential truth I want my kids to remember when I’m not with them.

Of course, wearing sunscreen and hanging up your towels doesn’t hurt!

But in the middle of a thousand messages and overwhelming choices, here’s what God tells us:

Seek me.
Serve me.
Be strong and fulfill your calling.

This is what really matters.

 

Originally published 7/20/2016

I Blame the Weather App

Proverbs 3-5.jpg

I love summer.

I’m not a fan of heat and humidity, but otherwise, I really love it.

I love my kids being home and the quiet nights of freedom instead of the evenings rushing to activities.

I love not having an hour of homework and a surprise project sent home on the one week you don’t have time for an extra project.

I love lightning bugs and lemonade and concerts by the beach.

I love not rushing through the morning routine every day to make the bus on time.

Love it.

But last year my husband said he thought I was more stressed during the summer.

So, I wonder, how can I feel like I love summer so much and yet exude stress to others?

I blame it on the weather app.

Because, as much as I love summer, what I really love is a plan.  Summer would be so much more fun for me if I could just schedule every relaxing activity, every day trip, every play date on my calendar in May.

That way, I would know exactly what kind of fun I was going to have every single day from June through August.

Perfect! It’s probably the only way besides outdoor air-conditioning that I could possibly improve on the whole concept of summer.

But, alas, the essential unpredictability of life bumps into my happy bubble.

So, one day I’m blissfully driving my minivan into town for a walk on Main Street.   The sages who run my weather app say there is 0% chance of rain for the next few hours.

It starts raining on me as I drive.

Maybe we need to have a chat about what 0% really means.  I mean, I’ll allow for a tiny bit of rain if there is even 10% chance of precipitation.  But when you say 0%, I’m kind of going to count on sunshine.

Last summer, I foolishly thought ahead, gathered information, and made a plan for a week of summer fun.  I even wrote on my calendar in Sharpie marker.

Sharpie marker! That’s permanent planning for you.

I checked the commitments we already had on the calendar.  I checked my weather app.  This day would be gorgeous.  I could take my kids somewhere outside.  It will be 86 and sunny.  Perfect.

On Sunday, though, my weather app reloaded with new numbers.  Surprise!  It would be 95 and gross outside.  Make a new plan.

I hate making new plans.

I get it.  Really, I do.  The weather folks have a tough job with vocal, unreasonable critics like me who mistake ‘predictions’ for facts.  It’s a complicated system and God can move clouds and alter weather patterns at will.

But here’s the bottom line.  What stresses me out about summer is that I am forced into a flexibility I don’t possess.

It’s like my daughters complaining about doing the splits in dance class.  I’m yelling at the pain as my Teacher assures me I can go a little lower.

This feels as low as I can go. It hurts.  I’m pretty sure I could snap some bones and permanently damage my hips with all this forced flexibility.

And, one of the few thing I hate more than changes in plans is making decisions.  But every time a plan changes, I get to make a new decision about something I had already decided before.

I am now making double the decisions and trying to make them with constantly changing, thoroughly unreliable information.

I hate summer.

Oh really, what I need, what I truly, deep-down really need is grace.

God made me a planner.  He etched agendas and schedules and calendars on my soul.  He loves me enough to use all that’s good about my planning ways, but He won’t leave me here with the pitfalls of control and idolatry and lack of trust.

He stretches me into someone even more beautiful and Jesus-filled:  A planner who trust Him with her plans.

That means not hyperventilating when someone calls me and asks to interrupt my plans for the day.

It means checking the weather app without a meltdown.

It means getting rained on sometimes and just laughing in the rain.

It means making a decisions that turn out to be wrong and just letting that go instead of allowing it to throw me into a mudpit of self-condemnation.

Maybe I can learn to really love summer after all.  It won’t be easy, of course, but it will be God at work in me, and that’s beautiful.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG).

Packing for Camp 101 (and the essential truth we all need to know)

1 chronicles 28

The first time we sent our older girls away to summer camp, it was just for a weekend.  For younger kids, it was a “get your feet wet” kind of experience, stay two nights at camp, have lots of fun, and then plan on coming back for the full week the next time.

So, for a two-night camp, we packed three shirts and three pairs of shorts so they’d have a spare plus a pair of jeans and a skirt and top they could use for a chapel service if they needed to look nice.

I picked them up at the end of the weekend and they were dressed in some crazy outfit : Skirt and camp t-shirt or jeans (in 100+degree weather).

Why the fashion mish-mash?

Simple. They ran out of clothes.

At home, I opened up their duffel bags and discovered their clothes were wet.  All of them.

This year, our packing strategy was simple.  Pack pretty much every piece of clothing they own.

Well, that might be a bit exaggerated.  But seriously.  I packed a lot of extra clothes plus two beach towels and two bath towels and two different swimming outfits.

We packed a lot.

Then, for the entire week before camp, I gave them great words of wisdom.

I said things like, “Make good choices.  Listen to your counselors.  Don’t be afraid.  Try new things.  Be kind and make new friends.  Sleep.  Don’t spend all your money at the camp store in one day.”

Oh, and this little treasure, “If you buy soda at the camp store, do NOT buy Mountain Dew.  Sprite has no caffeine–fine.  Coke has some caffeine, not the best, but I won’t freak out.  But please do NOT buy Mountain Dew.”

Those words came from experience.  Last time I picked them up, they’d discovered Mountain Dew for the first time.

But I also gave them this little tidbit of advice over and over and over again: “Hang up your wet clothes.  Seriously.  Towels get hung up to dry.  Do not toss your wet swimsuit and towel into your suitcase with your other clothes.”

These are some of the last words I said to them before we waved goodbye at drop-off.

“I love you” and “Hang up wet things.”

My husband, on the other hand, had his own wisdom to share over and over before camp. And when we said goodbye, he said it again. He leaned over to kiss their heads, told them, “I love you,” and then give instruction:

“Wear sunscreen.  At all times.  All over your face.  Use your bug spray.  Wear your hat every single time you go outside.”

This is the what we worry over because we’re not with them to make sure they are safe, taking care of themselves, and keeping their clothes dry.

Or that they aren’t drinking Mountain Dew, are eating reasonable meals, and are being respectful to their camp counselors.

They will be making choices every day and we have to trust that after all our training, these choices will be good ones.

So, we said goodbye for the week.  We met their counselors, dropped off their luggage, watched as they picked out bunks, and then left.

And now, I’m praying and praying and praying.

This independence-training has been gradual: a few hours of preschool a few days a week.  School days.  Middle school starts in just a few weeks for my oldest girl with more decisions, bigger ones, and more independence.

Do they know what really matters?

Today, I read how David commissioned his son, Solomon.  What were those essential things David said before he died and Solomon took over the kingdom?

He said,

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you…Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it (1 Chronicles 28:9-10 ESV).

I’m sure David trained Solomon in other ways.  He gathered the supplies Solomon would need to build the temple so that his son would be fully equipped for his calling.

But this is the essential truth:

Seek the Lord.

Serve Him wholeheartedly.

Be strong and do the work He has called you to do.

And when it comes down to it, this is the essential truth for us and the essential truth I want my kids to remember when I’m not with them.

Of course, wearing sunscreen and hanging up your towels doesn’t hurt!

But in the middle of a thousand messages and overwhelming choices, here’s what God tells us:

Seek me.
Serve me.
Be strong and fulfill your calling.

This is what really matters.

 

The Top 10 Best Things About Hotels (Says the Mom Away From Home)

10.  When there’s a problem, someone else has to fix it!  No breaking out the tools when something is wrong. One word to a hotel staff member and within five minutes the handyman shows up with his own tool box.

9. How excited your kids get about every little thing:  There’s a tiny refrigerator!!  And a microwave!!!  And a TV!!!!  And a couch with a pullpsalm39-6-out bed!!!  There’s a closet!!!  And a bathroom!!!  Everything is more exciting in a hotel room. Add in some luxuries like a hotel swimming pool, electronic key cards, and elevators with buttons to push, and you have kid-paradise.

8. Styrofoam cups with lids:  Our hotel has a little hospitality bar in the lobby with packets of tea, hot cocoa, creamer, sugar and more.  One night after swimming in the pool, I grabbed some hot chocolate packets as a treat for the girls.  The best part?  The cups they supplied came with plastic lids.  Hot cocoa at home ALWAYS involves huge messes and near-industrial-sized spill clean-up.  Why didn’t I think of travel mugs with lids long ago?

7. The Indoor Pool: We don’t the fanciest hotel with the most expensive amenities available; we just need access to an indoor pool.  Happiest kids ever.

6. Short-Order Cook Breakfasts:  At home, I sometimes feel like I should snap my hair into a bun, tuck a pencil behind my ear, don an apron and take down breakfast orders in a tiny notebook.  At the hotel, we had buffet-style breakfasts where everyone found something yummy—well, except for the child who prefers breakfast at home with her favorite cereal every . . . . single . . . . day.

5. Someone else washes all the towels and sheets.

4. Someone else vacuums the floor.

3. Someone else washes the dishes. 

2. Someone else scrubs the toilets.  Sensing a trend here?  I sure did.  We’ve tried stay-cations before, but do you know what I still have to do then?  That’s right—laundry, dishes, cooking, and general clean up.  For a few days in the hotel, I picked up mess but never once pulled out the bleach or loaded a dishwasher or washing machine.  Of course, we carried home a trash bag full of laundry that I washed the night we got home, but I had a few days of respite.

1. Being together: Our house is pretty small, so it’s not like we spread out and never see each other when we’re home.  Still, there’s something special about experiencing time together without my husband heading off to work, propping up our feet and watching a movie together, making plans for the day, and sharing in a nighttime snack.

School starts up for the year far too soon. So does ballet, play practice, activities at church and more.

When life gets packed so full, it’s so hard to appreciate every little thing—like escalators and the electronic keys in hotels and cocoa cups with spill-proof lids.  We lose child-like wonder and excitement about the little things

Almost ten years ago, I held my first baby girl in a hospital room and now, after what seems like a blink of the eyes, I’m about to send her off to fourth grade.

How does it all happen so fast?  How do we miss so much?

In her book, A Sudden Glory, Sharon Jaynes says:

“The travesty is that we allow the busyness of life to crowd out the Source of life.  As the Psalmist wrote, ‘We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing’ (Psalm 39:6 NLT).”

All this month, I’m learning to Retreat and Refresh so I can pursue the presence of God.  And I’m thinking of Moses, who prayed: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

We can pray the same.

Lord, help us to number our days.  Help us to make each one count.  Don’t let a single one slip by us unnoticed and unappreciated.

Don’t let us ever miss or skip time—One, two . . . twenty . . .fifty–and not be able to account for the days in between.

Don’t let us get so wrapped up in doing laundry and dishes that we forget to thank you for the clothes and food you’ve given us.

Help us not to get so focused on the minutiae of everyday worries and stressors that we forget to have joy.

Show us how to slow down each day, rest, pay attention—yes, notice Your grace, Your beauty, and the gifts You’ve placed in our lives.

To sit with our children a moment longer.  Linger over a cup of tea.  Breathe in the scent of a garden.  Notice the beauty.  Enjoy deep down the laughter of our children.

Amen.

To read more about this 12-month journey of pursuing the presence of Christ, you can follow the links below!  Won’t you join me this month as I Retreat and Refresh?

Originally posted August 31, 2012

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

Keep Praying, Keep Hoping, Keep Looking

Lunches packed for the last time. Desks cleared, backpacks cleaned out and stowed away. Field day over.  Class parties celebrated.  Awards ceremony concluded and certificates photographed.  End-of-the-year pictures taken of each daughter and compared to the photos from the first day of the school year.

And now we collapse.  We did it.  Somehow it feels like a joint accomplishment, not just theirs.  Sure, my kids worked hard. So did I.  And somehow, by God’s grace, we made it here to summer vacation.lasdayofschool

It’s only taken 15 months of prayer.  I started praying for this school year last March, praying for this teacher, this classroom, these friends, this school, these character issues, and these lessons.

And here as the school year ends, I give thanks:

Thank You, Lord, for answering my pleas for my children.  Thank You for helping them learn, being with them in all of the struggles that have sent this loving (and worried) mama to her knees.  Thank You for helping them with difficult concepts and friendship drama, bullies and mistakes on tests, report cards and forgetfulness. Thank You for these teachers You chose specially for my kids.

And I began again, just that quickly, one sentence to another, thank God for this year and then praying for next year: for classroom placements and teacher assignments, for the responsibilities of a new grade and for the friendships they’d make.

So it continues.

“Pray without ceasing….” that’s what Paul wrote (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

He meant that living prayer, that breathing in and breathing out of living life alongside God, taking in crises and handing them right on over to the Lord, receiving blessing and offering up spontaneous praise.prayer

It means no more arbitrary separations between the sacred and the secular, between the holy parts of my life where God is welcome and invited and the dusty living rooms of our hearts where we try to hide away the clutter in corners.

Having kids, though, reminds me of this, too:

Prayer is perpetual; it’s insistent and consistent.

And sometimes I’m not.  I’m driven to the throne by need and I’m pouring out pleas of desperation until the need eases a bit.  Or perhaps I just grow weary or fall back into the coziness of complacency and apathy.

I’m not praying so fervently any more. It’s more like unemotional have-to prayers, perhaps performed out of duty, perhaps totally forgotten and not prayed at all.

We pray for that intervention, that salvation, that redemption, that rescue…for us or for another….and then slowly we cease the praying.   We need the reminder to keep on keeping on, to not give up asking God for that healing and to refuse to stop praying for a loved one’s salvation.

With kids, you can’t really forget, not for long.  Time just pushes you right through from prayer need to prayer need.  I’m not even done praying over one school year before I’m on my knees for the next.

I read the Psalms and here is the reminder anew:

“But I keep praying to you, Lord, hoping this time you will show me favor.  In your unfailing love, O God, answer my prayer with your sure salvation” (Psalm 69:13 NLT).

“But I will keep on hoping for your help; I will praise you more and more” (Psalm 71:14 NLT).

“We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal” (Psalm 123:2 NLT).

Keep praying….keep hoping….keep looking.

Keep at it and when He answers, press on in more prayer.

With this fresh resolve, I flip through the pages of the neglected prayer journal.  What did I pray then….and what do I still need to pray now?

What have you neglected in prayer?  What have you given up on and long since stopped asking God for?  Who used to be on your prayer list but somehow slipped off?

It’s discipline to begin again.  And when we cease praying, which feels like the inevitable failing of us forgetful ones, we return again and resolve again to be insistent and consistent in seeking God and hoping in His deliverance.

What have you stopped praying about that you need to pray for again?  What prayers are you already praying for your children’s next school year?

Originally posted June 7, 2013

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King