Friday, June 28, 2013

My Morning

Since early last summer, I have been waking up early. Well, with all these kids, I have been getting up early for years, but this year I made it an intentional time of bible study and prayer, as well as planning my day so I could act on it instead of falling into a pattern of reacting to whatever life threw at me. It's an idea I have tried many times in the past, but the book Maximize Your Mornings helped me find a way to make it work this time. Summer was easy. I set my alarm and even if the kids woke up, they could just play while I had my time with God and planned my day.

When school started I tried to have my time at nap time. But since real nap time is a rarity around here, that fell flat quickly. Morning was chaos, since the baby would wake up as soon as I got out of bed. Finally, desperate to find the time, I asked my husband if, when he didn't have to work super early, he could handle the kids until 6am. He was happy to help!

When I first read Maximize Your Mornings, I dismissed it as something that just wouldn't work for me. She just had no idea what my life was like. But slowly, I was able to integrate some her ideas into my day in my own way. I changed some things, because nobody else's plan is going to completely fit someone else's life. My plan probably won't fit yours. But that is not a reason not to try something. Maybe you do far more than I do, and my plan looks like preschool to you... no matter, we are all on this path, trying to grow closer to the heart of our Lord.

Here is how my morning goes (or tries to):
5:20am - My alarm goes off, I put my thermometer in my mouth and head to the bathroom. I get my coffee, say my morning offering, and sit down at the table with coffee, notebook, kindle, and bible.
5:30 - I'm all set. I start my bible study, depending on the day I am working either on the Sunday readings or a topical bible study. Read, underline, pray, make some notes... I try to fill one half sheet of paper with notes, using some worksheets I made to keep me on track:  Bible Study Notes SOAP (For Sunday Readings),  Topical Bible Study Notes. (Half page format for both sheets.)
5:50 or so - Planning time. I check my Weekly Overview and fill out my daily page. I put my daily page up on my clipboard on the wall, so I can read it and check things off through the day.
6am - Start getting the kids up are ready for school. I aim to get my shower in between 6 and 6:30, but it depends on how much help the kids need at this time.

One thing this plan hinges on is that I have filled out my weekly overview ahead of time, so my planning time in the morning doesn't involve really doing the planning so much as reviewing it. I fill out my weekly overview on Fridays for the upcoming week. I confess that I am addicted to that little piece of paper. There are always mornings that, as I do my planning, I know that something is going to have to change - I might need to schedule a doctor appointment and not know when we will get in for example, but when I plan, I know to leave plenty of space for possibilities.

And then it is busy, busy, busy the rest of the day. But having this time in the morning gives me a little more resilience to make it through and helps me to keep my focus on God and making my work a prayer.
I'll tell you more about what I do with my bible study worksheets in another post. I'm also working on a page to list all these resources and others I use as well.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Sorry to shake things up around here, but I wanted to let you know that I am moving Circling Jericho. It just seemed silly not to host it myself, since I already host other blogs. All the old posts are there, and some new ones too.

Head on over and bookmark/follow  Circling Jericho!  That is where the new posts will be.

Thank you and God Bless!

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Jars of Clay

I have mentioned before that this year has been a little overwhelming, although I am starting to think that this is just the new normal for us.  With nine children, that gives us eleven people worth of possible drama and crisis in the family. So even if only a few of them are doing their share of it, that keeps us hopping.

With the idea of just dealing with this as our normal life, I realized that I needed to build myself up a little, strengthen my coping muscles, and make sure I was ready to deal with a little extra - not just running on a nearly empty tank all the time. I wasn't sure how to do that, or even how to start.  Then I hit what seemed to be a theme in my bible study: Jars.

Here's my disclaimer again: I know I am no scripture scholar, and even my husband thinks I'm a little crazy to tie some of these particular scriptures together.  I think his exact words were, "You know, not every bible verse is speaking directly to YOU."  Hmph. But I bounced these ideas off of a couple other moms and they seemed to understand. So take it all with a grain of salt and see if it makes any sense to you.

The first instance of jars I ran into was the Story of the Widow and the Oil. 2 Kings 4:1-7
A certain woman, the widow of one of the guild prophets, cried out to Elisha: “My husband, your servant, is dead. You know that he revered the LORD, yet now his creditor has come to take my two children into servitude.” Elisha answered her, “What am I to do for you? Tell me what you have in the house.” She replied, “This servant of yours has nothing in the house but a jug of oil.”  He said, “Go out, borrow vessels from all your neighbors—as many empty vessels as you can.  Then come back and close the door on yourself and your children; pour the oil into all the vessels, and as each is filled, set it aside.”  So she went out. She closed the door on herself and her children and, as they handed her the vessels, she would pour in oil.  When all the vessels were filled, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” He answered, “There is none left.” And then the oil stopped.  She went and told the man of God, who said, “Go sell the oil to pay off your creditor; with what remains, you and your children can live.” 

At the time I read this I was feeling completely spent just about all the time. Just as I met an urgent need in one child, another would have an even greater need. I was bouncing from one thing to the next, with never quite enough time to plan ahead, rebuild my strength, or anticipate which direction I would be spinning off to next. I was reduced to pinball mothering. After reading this passage, this verse became my prayer, I even wrote it up above the changing table so I could read it multiple times a day:
She replied, “This servant of yours has nothing in the house but a jug of oil.” 
She asked for help. Then she offered all that she had, (much like another little boy had done) the only thing of value she owned, one jug of olive oil.  And then what did Elisha tell her to do?  Get more jars!

God filled up as many jars as she could provide. All He asked of her was everything she had.

Now, I am not this widow, and I have plenty of olive oil.  My life is not a biblical miracle. This isn't about my own importance in any way. Time and again in scripture, God asks for our all and when it is freely given, He blesses it and makes it more than we could ever dream.  What spoke to me here was the way that He multiplied her resources.  He required her to gather jars.

I was left with the question: what are my jars?  I knew I was pretty much on empty, but I wasn't sure just what I was needing to be filled. I was willing to go and gather jars to be filled if I could just figure out what my jars were supposed to be.

The key to this was found in what that one jar was to the widow.  It was all she had of value.  Or, to flip that around for myself, it is all that I value. She freely offered that one jar, and I need to look at all the things I find important and offer those up as well. My children, my husband, my home, my toys (iPhone and kindle come to mind), my projects and plans, my hopes, my prayers, and most especially my time are all my jars.

One at a time, I am handing each one to Him and asking Him to fill them up.  Slowly, day by day, instead of being drained by the things I value, I find that I am more likely to have a little left over.  A little time, a little sanity, a little energy... never an excess, because it is still real life and God really isn't interested in making me into some kind of non-sleep-needing superhero. But there is enough. And that is what I needed.

More on Jars next week.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Writing this has been a little ironic. Phones ringing, kids running back and forth, needing a drink of water, spilling water, peeing pants, give me a ride, Mom can I..., Mom he just..., {crash), {waahh}, or the worst - silence.

I have spent the spring trying to bring myself back to some normal level of bible study. I started in February with a 21 day study of women in the bible that I found on my kindle. If all goes as planned, I will finally finish it up this coming week. 21 day study... 4 months to finish it...

Anyway, one of the days was, of course, the story of Martha and Mary. Instead of skimming like I usually do with stories I know (why do I do that, I always still get something out of the story when I slow down... must be distraction), I slowed down and read it. Let's read it now.
Luke 10:38-42 As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Wait, that's not what I read... in my study I was reading an NIV version and the wording was just enough different to wake me up a little. In that v 40 says, 'But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”'

Martha was distracted.

She was focused on all the preparations and lost track of who and what the preparations were for.

But for me, when the distractions pile up, how can I keep and kind of focus? I am Martha, resentful of Mary, burdened by all of the stuff to be done. Someone has to do it! When is there time for Martha to be with Jesus? It's all very well to say that her work is her prayer, is her worship. But it still feels a little bit unfair.

So I jotted in my notebook: Focus on who I am doing the work for, not on the work itself.

Which is a nice idea in theory, putting it into practice is not as easy. I'm still distracted and little bit resentful. And so my days of pushing myself through this study continued until one day just this past week when I felt like my prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling. I thought, "I'm trying, Lord. Why aren't I getting any closer to you through this?"

I took a deep breath. Prayer. Just what is prayer?

And I remembered the image of just lifting my heart to God. Maybe I am struggling too much over the words I am reading or in trying to find the right words to say here. What I need to do is just lift my heart to God.

Okay, so what is my heart?

The picture that came to mind here was the junk drawer in my kitchen. My heart is full of junk. If I picture lifting that messy box of stuff above my head... a box full of things I don't even know what to do with anymore - broken bits of this and that, things I am not sure what their purpose is, not sure what is important to keep or what to toss, and so it's all there, in the way, unusable...

These are my distractions.

If I lift the whole thing up over my head, I can ask God to pull out the useless garbage (worldly attachments), the broken items (bad thought processes and other sins), and put the rest in order. Because when I am looking down at this mess, I can't look up to Him.

So I have to lift my heart / messy drawer to Him.

As is.

He can sort me out.

So back to Martha. "'But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made." Martha made it possible for Mary to be there, for Jesus to sit and teach. Martha got stuff done. For me, maybe the distraction isn't so much the exterior noise around me, but my interior reaction to it. By my resentment and jealousy I am creating a dust storm of distraction that can't even be calmed down when I do have a quiet moment.

I remember another mom telling me that her mothering during mass was her prayer. "Mothering in the pew". That simple idea changed mass going for me. It wasn't about hearing the homily or readings anymore while hissing violently at my children to BE QUIET. It became about gently leading my children through the mass. (Not that it always works, but in general I am a little less stressed out by it.)

I'm sorry to say that I don't have any grand advice to give about the distractions our family and the world throw at us during prayer. In my state of life there is very little I can do to calm those down, they are ever present, and if they aren't, then I need to be sleeping, it's as simple as that.

But I think we can all work towards calming down the internal distractions. The clutter and noise that we produce ourselves or allow in to our minds and hearts can be identified and cleared out. Some of it we can do, but I think it will take some help from God to find it all and clear it all out.

Dear Jesus,
Please show me what is distracting me from the inside.  I give you full permission to weed out the junk I carry around with me.  Heal me of the hurts and show me how to help the process of healing. Take away my attachments to broken ideas and habits and show me how to guard myself against them.  Put my heart in order to I can meet you there in peace, without extra noise or distraction.  Help me to find the things that keep me from focusing on you.

And help me, Lord, to make my daily work its own prayer to you.  You created me and gave me my vocation.  Let it mold me into who you mean for me to be.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Just Keep Swimming

I'd like to jump back in here without mentioning just how long I have been away, but I just can't help myself.  When I pulled up the page and it told me the last post was in August... I just couldn't believe how much time had slipped by.  To give myself a little credit, I did have a baby in that time and since then my days have been busy.  But I miss writing, and I miss really pulling my thoughts together to be able to post them here.

With the new year comes a new look for Circling Jericho, I hope you like it, and a goal of a post per week.  We'll see how that goes. I still need to finish my series on Control and Surrender, and also get our Vasectomy Reversal Story posted.  So I have plenty to start with!

But what has been on my mind lately has been about seeking God.  2011 was a hard year for our family, and certainly taught me a lot about control and surrender, but it also left me floundering a little bit and wondering why I felt kind of alone in all my struggles.  I wondered - since God wants us to seek Him, why doesn't He just show up when we decide to head His direction?  It would seem to make sense to reward us a little for figuring out which way we are supposed to be going, right?

The image of teaching my kids to swim came to me.  I spend hours in the pool with them in the summers, showing them, guiding them, training them in new skills.  There comes a time in learning to swim, however, when the child needs to transition from just swimming as far as they can hold their breath to being able to come up for air all on their own.  This is the crucial step in becoming an independent swimmer.

I tell them what they need to do and we practice the movements on the steps.  Then I have the child swim to me.  But instead of reaching out my arms to catch him like I always do, I take a step backwards.

The child can see my feet.  He knows his usual comfortable distance just got longer.  He feels the rising panic as his body calls out for air.  I can see him begin to get nervous and I step closer and catch him.  We go back to the steps and practice again.

The next time he knows that I am going to step back and that he has to lift his head, he really has to try this time.  It is so hard to watch a child at this point in learning to swim.  To see him struggle to combine the skill of swimming with a new one of lifting his head or turning over onto his back.

But he can't learn it at all if I never take that step back.

That one moment of abandonment when I take a step backward and the child realizes that he has to do this is the only thing that will move him to the fun of swimming anywhere he wants to in the pool.  He has to take a breath and keep swimming.

I think this year has been like that for me.  I am swimming towards God.  I am going in the right direction, doing (mostly) what He wants me to do.  And He took that step backward, willing me to keep going, to push through and take that breath and swim the rest of the way.

I can't say for sure if I have learned the new skill that He had planned for me.  But I know I haven't drowned.

I'm still swimming!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where am I now?

Writing that last post left me with a lot to think about.  God is WITH me.  I really felt the need to just spend some time with that idea and let it sink in a bit.  What does that mean to me in my life?  What does that mean to me today?

So instead of moving forward, I decided to just let that one simmer in my prayer life for a while and not force any more writing about it for the time being.  It was a good place to start the summer and it led me to a deepening of my Faith, I think.  But then time began to tick by and I wasn't moving much beyond that, and lost  my momentum a little bit.

You see, I have struggled a little bit with this pregnancy.  As much as we were open to life and even expecting to be blessed again before too long, it happened awfully fast this time, and that left me reeling a bit.  As I looked forward into the rest of the year (always a dangerous thing to do), all I could see was an unending line up of exhaustion and work to be done.  It just looked so daunting.

Instead of marching around Jericho, I took a little break to crawl around in the mud and feel sorry for myself.  How could I ever keep up with all this?  How could I do any of the things that I wanted to do like write or read or make rosaries while under this extreme work load?

Are you seeing some of the Control and Surrender issues I have been trying to write about crop up here anywhere?

Yes, the reason I haven't been able to take this blog topic any farther is that God isn't done nailing it into my skull yet.  He's working on it, though, and hard!

Then I remembered one of those little Mary Engelbreit prints:

I figured that it really was as good advice as any at this point.  I had to start from somewhere and usually, starting where I am is the very best place.  So this is my life.  Time to take stock, be thankful, and continue the journey.  Slowly, one step at a time, one prayer, one messy little kiss, one dinner cooked, (and just now - one more horrendous poop mess cleaned up) and I started to lighten up and remember that *this* is blessing.  Not some random future time when things run smoothly and "it all gets done".  No, the good time is now.  All I have to do is keep circling around Jericho and the Lord is with me and I am molded into something I never knew I could be.

I was blooming.  Still pouting a bit, but mostly blooming right where God put me, right where He knew was the best place for me to become closer to Him and to let go of myself.  But He wasn't done...

There was a little snag on the horizon.  I spent nearly a week in the hospital, very sick and am now just trying to get back on my feet.  It is going to take quite a bit of time and rest for me to feel like myself again.  Thankfully the baby is fine and still growing well, and I am recovering.  Family and friends have come forward to help us with meals and rides for the kids and work around the house.  I am so thankful for their help!

But I have to laugh just a little as Control is completely out of my hands once again and all I can do... in fact the best thing I can do - for myself, for my family, is to utterly surrender and just let this unfold.

To answer the question I began with: Where am I now?  I am starting again, trying to remember to bloom where I am planted (which is currently firmly on the couch) and feeling, at least for now, a little more comfortable with my lack of control.

I'm not giving up on my series on Control and Surrender.  I will continue that as the school year gets in swing and I have more time (ha ha!!) for writing again. After all, I have had such a handy refresher course on it...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Control and Surrender, Part 2

It's Sunday again, and if you read Part 1 of this series, then you know how I am feeling. There is so much I want to get done this week, and I am feeling the need to sit down and schedule it all out. I have great new books to read (I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux, God's Smuggler, and The Night Is Far Spent to name a few), some adorable newborn cloth diapers that could use some new elastic, writing that I have set aside as I worked on this retreat, I would really like to get back to the Y and get moving again, and there is that housekeeping challenge that I began but never finished. Not that I have any problem with to do lists or planning out accomplishments, I just know that I have to be careful about HOW I plan them. If I had absolute control of my time, a simple list would make sense. But I am somewhat at the whim of 9 other people (at the very least!) and they are my real job. The other stuff I get done may be of benefit to them, but I have a lot of things to keep in mind.

So personally, if I have a giant to do list, it becomes my failure list at the end of the day. Things like holding a crabby toddler through her nap or taking the toddler potty 83 times a day never seem to make the list, and always push aside several other more quantifiable items. Flexibility is key for my vocation at this time and for my personal sanity.

The next part of our Control and Surrender Retreat is to explore some others who have dealt with not being in control and surrendering to God’s will and how they handled it. We will start with one of my very favorite Bible characters ever: Joseph (of the Technicolor Dream Coat).

We will be tackling Joseph's life in several parts, it is just so eventful.

As a disclaimer: I am no Bible scholar, I am taking these stories mostly at face value and looking specifically for the issues of circumstances out of their control and surrendering to God.

The first part of his life we will cover is Genesis 37:23-28, 36 and Genesis 39: 2-5

So when Joseph came up to them, they stripped him of the long tunic he had on; then they took him and threw him into the cistern, which was empty and dry. They then sat down to their meal. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, balm and resin to be taken down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers: "What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh." His brothers agreed. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. Some Midianite traders passed by, and they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and took him to Egypt.

The Midianites, meanwhile, sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and his chief steward.

But since the LORD was with him, Joseph got on very well and was assigned to the household of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and brought him success in whatever he did, he took a liking to Joseph and made him his personal attendant; he put him in charge of his household and entrusted to him all his possessions. From the moment that he put him in charge of his household and all his possessions, the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; in fact, the LORD'S blessing was on everything he owned, both inside the house and out.

Sold into slavery by his own brothers!  According to Gen 37:2, he was about 17 at the time.  I can't imagine being taken from all I know in the world and carted off to a life of... who knew what?  Could he even have any idea what to expect at all?

But Joseph didn't despair.  He got right down to work.  The Lord was with him, just as I think He is with us.  God's blessing doesn't always mean success, as we will see as we get further into this, but sometimes it does.

I think that Joseph had to be leaning on the Lord and open to His whisperings, as well as just putting in the elbow grease to get the job done.  That is a reminder that I need from time to time (or all the time).  In the middle of my freak out over my inability to get a handle on our money perfectly or to "keep up with the house" (whatever that means...), I need to lean heavily on the Lord, listen to Him (Oh, that would mean some prayer time, right?), and get my butt in gear and get moving to the degree I am able.  Even in the face of lack of control, we still have a life to live and our God to love and honor.

Somehow there has to be a way to balance crabby toddlers (and other little people) with prayer time.  Often even sitting down to consider the possibilities is enough for chaos to break out.  That is the part that leaves me feeling out of control.  I really think I am missing the primary step - that reminder that the Lord is with us (me!) and having trust in that.  So my journey towards really surrendering something that I don't have control of in the first place will continue.  It's a bumpy ride with steps forward and backward as a forget lessons I learn as often as I learn a new one.

It's a good thing I have so much opportunity to practice how to deal with being out of control!