10 ways to stay sane this summer

I’m a master of excess, at squeezing in one more thing. I buy too many things, but if I rearrange enough times, and get smart about alphabetizing or nesting or arranging by size—or if I buy just the right containers—I can get one more thing neatly put away. I’ve found ingenious ways to use hangers ...

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I’m a master of excess, at squeezing in one more thing.

I buy too many things, but if I rearrange enough times, and get smart about alphabetizing or nesting or arranging by size—or if I buy just the right containers—I can get one more thing neatly put away. I’ve found ingenious ways to use hangers and boxes and drawers for more than they’re meant to be used for. I’ve worked and reworked my bookshelves to hold one more book… and another couple or three… and this one and, oh, that one too… and finally started reading on an iPad because there just wasn’t physical room in my house for more novels, and I could get a whole lot more books in such a compact little digital space.

I do the same thing with my time. There’s always room to squeeze in one more thing… a 15-minute gap here, or down time while the spaghetti is cooking, or a few minutes less of sleep. I can write cards or finish my Bible study or assemble a craft while watching TV. Read books while eating breakfast. Upload daily social media posts for a whole month in one afternoon while I watch a movie with my husband. Condition my hair while I shave my legs. Answer emails from the bathroom. Clean out the fridge while the bagel is toasting, and load the dishwasher while my lunch is cooking in the microwave. (And then reload it to squeeze in four more cups I found scattered around the living room after I thought I was finished.) You know the drill. You do it, too.

Our lives aren’t meant to be so full. And yet, well, summer happens and it often brings even more to do.

If you’re anything like me, the mere mention of the word summer induces stress-related hives. Honestly, my kids are old enough that summers now aren’t all that different for me than the rest of the year. But I think I suffer from PTSD, because summers have usually meant more appointments—camps, summer PE, drop-offs and pick-ups and practices and summer reading and complete chaos. Not to mention kids invading my space. (I work at home, so it’s a big change to go from everyone at school to everyone home, just one room away from me with the TV on, phones vibrating, snacks being consumed, Netflix shows eating up the internet bandwidth, and cars barreling in and out of the driveway.)

Given all the craziness, what would you say if I told you that you also needed to find time to pray?

It’s true, though. Prayer is the way our souls find peace. It is the one place we can find rest. We can take it with us. We can lean on it and allow it to help us stand strong and firm. We can let prayer soothe our anxieties, declutter our minds, and keep us focused on the big picture—keeping our eyes on Christ. Even if you can’t find the time you think you need to pray.

Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated or involved or time-consuming. Think of it as a radio playing in the background. If you can keep the lines of communication open, you will discover that you feel calmer, you remain more centered, and life feels a little less crazy.

Here are some tips to help you squeeze in a little more prayer time this summer (or anytime).

  1. Let yourself off the hook. Give yourself grace—permission to be less than perfect and permission not to dwell on your failings. This may not help you find additional time, but it will allow you to use whatever time you have more productively. There’s nothing to be gained by beating yourself up—especially if it takes up time you could spend actually praying.
  2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Maybe now is not the time to start a new reading plan or add two new prayer groups. Don’t give up the things that keep your faith strong, but consider temporarily lowering your goals—or changing them, adapting to your new schedule. Instead of quiet time every morning, shoot for three times a week, or have it after you drop the kids off at swimming lessons.
  3. Find ways to incorporate your kids. Do you enjoy working on your Bible study over a cup of coffee one morning a week? Make a study date of it—have them grab their summer reading and sip on a flavored lemonade or fruity tea alongside you. Or sit at a picnic table with your Bible or journal while they play at the park.
  4. Make a set of keychain prayers. Cut up some index cards (or buy a set of pre-made craft tags) and put them on a keychain. When you find yourself waiting in a pickup line, or killing time in between activities in the car, flip through the names written on the tags and offer up silent prayers.
  5. Try an app like First 5, which helps you start the day with a short devotion and Bible reading before you get out of bed.
  6. Download some podcasts. It’s easy to add them to your phone, and then you can plug in some ear buds and get inspiration from your favorite speakers and pastors while you go for a walk, sit and watch swim lessons, or mow the yard.*
  7. Whenever you have to wait, don’t waste the time—pray. Whether you’re in the checkout line at the grocery, waiting for a train to clear the tracks in front of you, or sitting on the sidelines waiting for a baseball game to begin, offer up a short prayer. Thank God for the life you have, for the people you’re with, for your awareness of His presence. For the sunshine, for the beautiful day, for the purpose in your life. You can pray about anything, but the quickest (and least private) prayers may be ones of gratitude.
  8. Think in terms of prayer symbols. Does your sister love McDonald’s sweet tea? Say a prayer for her whenever you drive by (or through) a Mickey D’s. Is your son a soccer fanatic? Pray for him every time you pick up a cleat or dirty soccer sock. Assign “symbols” to the people in your life, and let those prompt you to pray whenever you see them—whether you’re on the go or watching TV.
  9. Print this free prayer prompt calendar. Put it on your fridge to remind you to pray whenever you open the door for some cool air or to grab a popsicle.
  10. Remember that God is with you, wherever you are. Whatever you’re doing. There may not be room for one more thing on your calendar, but there is always room for Him. Every morning, before you head out, invite Him along for the ride. I promise you, He will say yes.


*I don’t want to be obnoxiously self-promotional, but I’m part of an amazing lineup of women in an online summit scheduled for June 5-8. If I didn’t think it was going to be wonderful, I wouldn’t have said anything :-). The Journey Summit is free if you tune in live, or you can buy an all-access pass to hear all the interviews anytime it’s convenient. Learn more here.

My Summer Prayer

Dear Lord, As You—and anyone who has ever talked to me for more than five minutes—know, summers are a struggle for me. I’m certain I sound like a terrible mom when I say that. And maybe I am a terrible mom. I don’t know. I’m just being real. I’m used to having some space to ...

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Dear Lord,

As You—and anyone who has ever talked to me for more than five minutes—know, summers are a struggle for me. I’m certain I sound like a terrible mom when I say that. And maybe I am a terrible mom. I don’t know. I’m just being real.

I’m used to having some space to myself at home—a desk that I clear in the mornings and which remains clear unless I clutter it again. I’m used to being able to sit all day without turning on a TV so that I can work, to let my thoughts and ideas incubate in the silence. It’s not like I’m sitting on the couch eating bon-bons. But this quiet space is where I create. I’m used to juggling appointments and errands and the items on my to-do list with limited restrictions, which normally center on drop-off and pick-up times at school.

But now there are bodies in my house. People talking, sitcoms on television, questions about what’s for lunch and can I go here and oh-no-I-forgot-I-need-to-be-there-in-five-minutes!

My kids are older now: more self-sufficient, less demanding of my attention. So really, this summer is going to be different than those in the past. But this feeling of dread I associate with summer remains in me still.

So, Lord, I am asking for Your help.

With each drive to the school for basketball or soccer or conditioning or summer PE, let me not feel inconvenienced, but instead let me enjoy the time with my son while he’s still too young to drive himself. Let me marvel at his changes, enjoy his music, listen to his off-the-wall insights.

When I sit outside, let me soak in the sunlight and relax my mind, rather than thinking about all those other things I should be doing. There’s enough time to think about those while I’m actually doing them, and the added stress doesn’t help anyone.

When there’s nothing to eat and everyone’s hungry, let me notice the blessing of abundant food and the luxury of turning up our noses at leftovers. Let me remember what a privilege it is to have these people in my home, and let me teach them how to be more self-sufficient.

When I can’t walk through the living room because of the clutter, when on each trip through the house I gather armloads of empty cups, when I trip over the piles of shoes by the back door, and when I’m overwhelmed by the piles of laundry, let me stop and take a deep breath. Let me trust You to keep my mind free of the clutter I’m experiencing physically. Impress on me the awareness that this is not a trial. This is not a bad thing. This is all here because we have a home and a family and a full life.

Help me, every morning, to set my sights on You. To filter my thoughts through Your word. To lean on You for strength. To turn to You for calm. To rely on You for provision. To revel in Your nearness. To see summer as a time of beauty, a season of abundance, a time of joy. Help me equate sunshine with Your glorious light. To see the lushness of the landscape as a reminder of Your extravagant grace. To wake each morning with a sense of peace, and to end each day satisfied and grateful and knowing that I accomplished exactly what You put before me to do that day.

In short, let summer be what every other day of my life should be—and can be—with You.

Amen.

Dreading the change of seasons?

To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn)… I know the song better than the Scripture, but the fact remains, time keeps on moving on. The pages on the calendar keep changing, rapidly becoming out of date. Summer is drawing to a close—this crazy, hectic summer—and most people’s schedules are starting ...

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GRAPHIC there is a time

To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn)… I know the song better than the Scripture, but the fact remains, time keeps on moving on. The pages on the calendar keep changing, rapidly becoming out of date. Summer is drawing to a close—this crazy, hectic summer—and most people’s schedules are starting to ramp up for fall. I know it’s still July, but my son returns to school on August 12, so that’s not very far away.

In Ecclesiastes 3, it says:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Some of our seasons are literal—the leaves changing color or the temperatures rising or the snow falling. But some are more abstract, even as they affect us more profoundly. I’m in a season of creating. At the same time, this is a season of changes for me—releasing and learning to promote my book, doing some speaking, and now cutting back on work, focusing on writing the next one, moving my two daughters to new colleges next month, and having my son enter high school.

Whatever kind of season you’re in, no matter how hard it might be, don’t despair. There’s a time for everything. And the fact that each of these is a season should bring hope—there will be an end to it. I realize that, if you’re facing something like a child leaving home, or a parent dying, you’re dreading the change of seasons. But I find it comforting to know that time keeps on passing, and relationships and trials and challenges and emotions ebb and flow. If I’m down, there will be an up. I just have to hold on and wait for it to come.

What season are you in? How do you feel about it? Is it a comfort to know things will continue to change, or does that freak you out?


Speaking of time, the August prayer prompt calendar is now available—always free to blog subscribers. You can go here to download or click on the Products page of my website to see all of them. Here’s the low-res preview to tempt you:

Aug 2015 prayer prompts

 

 

Keep it simple (guest post by Stephanie Alton)

When I found out that not only did I get to write a new book, but that it had to be done by the end of the summer, I alternated between excited and totally freaked out. One day I posted in the Facebook group set up for all of my agent’s clients, asking for volunteers to ...

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Stephanie AltonWhen I found out that not only did I get to write a new book, but that it had to be done by the end of the summer, I alternated between excited and totally freaked out. One day I posted in the Facebook group set up for all of my agent’s clients, asking for volunteers to guest post, and so many people graciously responded. I’m so grateful. Today I am welcoming Stephanie Alton. She is the Blog Resource Manager for my agent’s company and blog network and she’s been lovely to work with. Hope you enjoy! Here’s what she had to say…


Many years ago, I had a math teacher who taught me about the KISS principle. The Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) principle was used to help me, and my classmates, remember to simplify the equations we worked on. I have since forgotten many of the formulas that I learned in this class, but for some reason the Keep It Simple Stupid phrase stuck with me. And now I have found a new way to use this concept.

Since school let out over a month ago I have had a hard time with what to do with my boys. We go out and have fun from time to time, but we have not done anything super special. Because of the lack of summer excitement, I have been comparing myself to other mothers who have done so much with their children already, and this makes me feel like I am failing (which stresses-me-out!).

With so much filling our calendar (that isn’t always summer break kind of stuff) I don’t even remember exactly when I had this thought, but one afternoon I sought advice from The Lord on what to do to make our summer special because I was: 1) overwhelmed by the thought of summer activity planning, and 2) I was/am tired.

As petty as my personal conflict was, it still wore me down. It was a big burden on my heart. I felt like I had disappointed my children by not doing something grand this summer. What better time to reflect on Matthew 11:28-29 than when we are overwhelmed with anything.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

GRAPHIC let me teach you

After I went to The Lord in prayer with the burden that laid heavy on my heart, the words of my math teacher from long ago came drifting back to mind, “Keep It Simple Stupid.” An aha moment happened as I reflected on the words: Keep. It. Simple.

Perhaps The Lord is reminding me of the advice that my math teacher offered long ago because I am looking for a solution to the equation of how to raise my children, balance it all, and still create fun summer memories. I am just supposed to apply the principle in a different manner than the way I was originally taught.

Keep it simple does not mean keeping up with the Jones’ and fill every minute of the day with extravagant activities (sigh of relief). Keep it simple does not mean stressing over what we have not done, but helping my children learn to be grateful for what we have done (wipe the sweat of my brow). Keep it simple does mean making sure my boys know I love them (no matter what we do).

So with new peace within me, our simple summer is just that. Simple. We are spending time together. We are working. We are taking care of business. That’s about it, and I am ok with it.

Has your summer been filled with fun so far? Or are you like me and have to keep it simple this year?


Stephanie Alton is the Blog Resource Manager at The Blythe Daniel Agency and blogs at www.theprincessdisciple.com. Connect with Stephanie on Facebook or on Twitter.

Why summer makes me go UGH

If you don’t know me personally, here’s one thing you should know about me: I’m not one of those amazing, hands-on moms who fills her summer with trips to the pool or the zoo or neighborhood parties. In fact, I’m so NOT a Pinterest-worthy parent that I probably won’t even have time to LOOK at Pinterest all ...

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GRAPHIC time off

If you don’t know me personally, here’s one thing you should know about me: I’m not one of those amazing, hands-on moms who fills her summer with trips to the pool or the zoo or neighborhood parties. In fact, I’m so NOT a Pinterest-worthy parent that I probably won’t even have time to LOOK at Pinterest all summer. Today is the last day of school. I have approximately an hour and forty-five minutes left of my last solitary, quiet day. And I am not going to spend it making a list of all of our family goals for the summer.

I love my kids. A lot. But ever since I have been working from home (which, incidentally, is the complete lifetime of all three of my children), summers have stressed me out. Everyone who knows me is probably sick and tired of hearing me complain, but here’s the deal. I still have just as much work and just as many deadlines. But in the summer, I have to do those things with a house full of people and the clutter which they bring with them. Yes, I know I chose to bring those people into the world. But what I didn’t know then? That their summer schedules for sports and honors classes would include things like three-times-a-day practices and three-chapters-a-week reading and discussion questions and three classic books complete with papers that need to be written.

In. The. Summer.

I thought summers were supposed to be time off.

If you’re a teacher who assigns such a thing, please know I probably like you very much in person. I just don’t care for this particular approach to summer. At all.

On top of my resentment about other people imposing on my schedules, I find that warmer weather reveals some things that aren’t so pretty. And I’m not talking about jiggly, white thighs. (Although I have those, too.) I’m talking about jealousy.

I believe whole-heartedly and fervently in protecting your skin from the sun. The more tan you are, the more we probably disagree on that issue. And yet I envy all of the smooth, sun-bronzed legs I see. The beach photos. The skinny bodies in bathing suits (I drown out my jealousy by eating more junk food). I’m jealous of all the vacations people go on, because Tim never has much vacation time available, and we can never seem to find more than a couple days at a time to do things as a family. We may go one at a time, but rarely together, and I constantly struggle with resentment for people who have lots of time off.

Then again, wasn’t I just complaining about having to have so much togetherness during the summers?

I’m hopeless.

But really, I know that summer’s not the problem. I am.

Because I have everything I need. And so very much more. I guess my attitude all comes down to this mistaken belief I have that I should get everything I want. That I deserve time off. That I deserve alone time. That I deserve to indulge myself.

Funny, I don’t remember seeing verses about that in the Bible.

True, Jesus insisted on some alone time. But his goal wasn’t to run to Target, to veg out on the couch with a new book, to post perfectly-filtered pictures of his vacation destination on Instagram, or to spend some time at a friend’s pool. When he went to the pool, it was to heal the lame man.

When he went off by himself, it was to get ready to do the next thing God asked of him. If anyone deserved time off, it was Jesus. But it didn’t even come automatically to him. He had to actively, single-mindedly pursue it.

He caught a quick nap in the boat in the middle of a storm. At dinner, alongside the road, when he came down from the mountains, even when he stopped for a drink of water—always there were people with all kinds of needs. He withdrew by boat to a solitary place and the crowds followed him on foot. And he had to ask his disciples specifically to keep watch for him while he prayed in the Garden. He doesn’t get what he asks (or deserves): they fall asleep.

My soul longs for peace, for a sense of calm, for rest. No matter how much I want that, it may not be mine to have. At least not in the way I think it should work. I can absolutely have it—but it doesn’t come from a wide-open calendar or an afternoon off. It comes from him. The sweetest of gifts, offered without reservation:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-29

So the one thing I need to do to find rest has nothing to do with events on my schedule and everything to do with how I fill my time.

As I mentioned earlier, I won’t be making a list of summer adventures for my family to cheerfully pursue. But I will set some priorities, because I’m headed into a season which is always a challenge for me. Just skimming through the Gospels to make sure I have my references right in this post, I feel comforted. So I will find—no, make—time to read the Bible. To complete Seamless: Understanding the Bible as One Complete Story, a new Bible study by Angie Smith that I’ve started and already love. I’m on day three, and I’ve already uncovered a profound truth about myself by seeing an old Bible story in a new way. I will read Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life, a new book by Carey Scott, which in just the first two chapters has already begun to soothe my soul. And I will write, both here and in my journal. And I will pray, and I will reach out to friends and answer emails from strangers and let loose the love God has given me, spending it freely and widely whenever the opportunity arises.

And in those moments, I will find quiet. In those words, I will rest. In those stories, I will find focus and hope and everything I need to take my next steps, whatever they are. Even if they’re just steps to and from the car as I drive to sports practices and nag remind my son about his summer assignments.

And I will remember that Jesus took himself to the mountaintop to pray. Nobody did it for him, and no one forced him. He knew what he needed, and he put forth serious effort to make it happen. Because without that time in prayer, he wouldn’t be equipped for his work. Without a strong connection to the Almighty, he was nothing. Until his soul could rest, his body could not.

Oh, how I long for my soul to feel rest. I already feel a stirring of possibility. And instead of collapsing on the couch, suddenly I want to run—straight towards the hope I see on the horizon. I give thanks for what I know is waiting for me. And I’m going to do my darnedest to help myself find what I know I need.

And it’s not going to be in the pile of discarded folders and broken pencils dumped out on the floor next to my son’s backpack.

Oh what a view

My pastor told me a story about a man he knew who had been a paratrooper in WWII. Before they dropped into France, the paratroopers were given the chance to pick whatever weapons they wanted, whatever they could carry, from the warehouse. This man, Perry, picked one gun with a spare clip. Most of the ...

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My pastor told me a story about a man he knew who had been a paratrooper in WWII. Before they dropped into France, the paratroopers were given the chance to pick whatever weapons they wanted, whatever they could carry, from the warehouse. This man, Perry, picked one gun with a spare clip. Most of the other soldiers weighed themselves down with every last thing they could carry, determined to protect and defend themselves. Perry said he knew he could get more from the fallen soldiers, if he needed it, so he just took what he needed right then to survive.

When they dropped to the ground, the ones who had taken lots — as much as they could carry — broke their legs upon impact.

Ever feel like that? Like you’re carrying way more than you can handle? (more…)

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