Chores: A Fresh Perspective

Chores as Training

When making moment-by-moment decisions throughout the day, author Kim Brenneman suggests that we ask ourselves the following two questions:

  • “Is this activity glorifying God and serving Him?”
  • “Are my first priorities taken care of?”

She suggests that routinely thinking through these questions is a habit Christian women should deliberately foster, and I’m inclined to agree.

To be honest, though, it’s the second question that is most convicting for me. I’m fairly good at finding ways to glorify God and serve Him in the extra-curricular things I do. But tending first to those mundane, repetitive responsibilities such as laundry and cooking and cleaning? That is where I can really trip up if I’m not careful.

I can get so laser-focused whenever I’m working on a project—especially something creative, like writing, drawing, music, sewing, etc.—that I lose all track of time. If left to myself, I won’t stop to eat or sleep or shower until I finish whatever it is I’m working on.

I’m pretty sure that’s why God gave me twelve children and a husband who is quick to tell me when enough is enough -— to save me from myself. It’s hard to get too swept away in the creative process with so much flesh and blood anchoring me to reality.

For me, the solution (in addition to getting up extra early to tackle creative endeavors while the rest of my family sleeps) has been to recognize that the things I have to do are the training ground for the things I want to do.

This concept was beautifully illustrated in the 1984 classic, Karate Kid. In the movie, a bullied boy by the name of Daniel LaRusso seeks help from martial arts master, Mr. Miyagi, who puts him to work painting fences, waxing cars, and sanding floors, with very specific instructions on how the tasks should be done.

Daniel chafes at doing these chores and wonders when the karate training will commence, little suspecting that the chores are the training — or at least a substantial part of it.

Through all those long hours of sanding, painting, and waxing, he is unwittingly learning discipline, building muscle, developing endurance, and committing to memory the smooth, fluid body movements that will ultimately win him the martial arts championship (provided he sticks with the “training” and doesn’t quit in disgust).

That imagery does wonders for my perspective. Those mundane, repetitive chores like folding clothes and washing dishes and brushing tangles and sweeping floors? What if those are the tasks God is using to shape and strengthen and teach and refine and prepare me for the something bigger?

Will I chafe and grumble about His chosen methods, or will I tackle my tasks whole-heartedly, trusting that the Master knows exactly what He is doing?

Balance: The Art of Minding What Matters Most. Now available for pre-order!

Note: This post was adapted from my new book, Balance: The Art of Minding What Matters Most, now available for pre-order in both print and digital versions through Amazon. Reserve your copy before November 27 and receive some terrific free bonuses from the publisher.

Housekeeping Matters: 5 Habits that Help

5 Habits of an Effective Housekeeper |
I’m not trying to chain anybody to a vacuum cleaner here, but I believe, to the best of our abilities, we should try to maintain a clean and orderly home. We should seek to make it a haven of rest for our entire family.

Whatever chores we do, whether the lion’s share or an even split with our spouse, should be done consistently, cheerfully, and as unto the Lord. Although our families certainly benefit when we keep a tidy home, our faithfulness in this area is ultimately a service to God (Ephesians 6:7; Colossians 3:23).

God holds us accountable for everything entrusted to our care (including our home), and He expects us to use it in a way that blesses those around us and glorifies Him.

God is not the author of chaos and confusion, so messes and mayhem should not be the pattern for our homes. Rather, He is a God of order. He has set the stars in their places and has numbered the hairs on our heads.

And since God has created us in His own image, we should make it our goal to reflect this orderly aspect of His character in our daily lives.

There are several habits that almost all good housekeepers have in common:

  1. A good housekeeper has a reliable method for dealing with clutter.

    Rather than letting junk mail pile up on her desk or kitchen counter for days or weeks at a time, she tosses it straight in the trash or recycle bin as soon as it enters the house.

    She deals with broken toys, outgrown clothes, leftover food, and anything else that has outlived its usefulness in similar fashion, purging her home of worthless junk and keeping everything in it in good working order.

  2. A good housekeeper designates a place for everything and keeps everything in place.

    She rarely needs to spend precious minutes hunting car keys or purses or shoes when she’s in a hurry to go somewhere, because each of those items can be found exactly where it belongs.

    She stores the most frequently used items in the most easily accessible space, making it a simple matter to return anything to its proper home. She also stores things as near their point of use as possible (coffee mugs and creamer close to the coffee maker, garbage bags and dust pan beside the trash can, copy paper and computer ink next to the printer, etc.).

  3. A good housekeeper is a good problem solver.

    She’s not afraid to think outside the box. If one approach isn’t working, she’s not afraid to try another.

    If dirty shoes keep tracking mud onto clean floors, she’ll put a shelf or basket by the door so kids can shed their shoes before coming inside. If the clothes rod in the coat closet is too high for her little ones to reach, she’ll install hooks at their level so they can hang up their jackets that way instead of dropping them on the floor.

  4. A good housekeeper routinely enlists the help of others.

    She realizes she cannot do everything herself. This is especially important when children are part of the picture.

    The greater the number of children in a household, the more frazzled the homemaker will become unless those children are trained to pitch in and help. Some mess is to be expected when sharing a home with little ones, but if you are always inside the house working while your children are outside playing, then something is amiss.

    I know, I know. It often seems easier to do the chores yourself without little ones under foot, but the cost of this perceived convenience is too high: Not only are you missing out on the opportunity to make precious memories with them, both at work and at play, but you are forfeiting an opportunity to teach them important life skills.

    When everyone pitches in to get the work done, the chores are (theoretically) finished faster, and then you can all relax and have fun together as a family.

  5. A good housekeeper makes wise use of whatever time is available.

    She doesn’t wait until she has a full day to devote to house cleaning to get started. She realizes that little by little will add up over time.

    She also recognizes the value of a job half-done. If she doesn’t have time to deep clean, she spot cleans. If she doesn’t have time to spot clean, she straightens.

    She knows no matter how thoroughly she scours a cluttered house — washing windows and vacuuming rugs and polishing doorknobs — it will still seem dirty if the beds aren’t made or there’s paper strewn all over the floor.

    Conversely, she understands that an uncluttered house, one where everything’s picked up and put away, will look clean, even if the furniture still needs dusting or the floor hasn’t been swept.

Here, as in so many other things, there is a need for balance. Keeping a tidy house should be a means to an end, not the end goal itself.

I view housekeeping as a way to serve God by being a good steward over what He has given me, to care for my family by creating a pleasant place for us all to live, to show gratitude to my husband for the home he has provided, to honor him by keeping it neat and clean the way he likes it, to train my children to be conscientious and competent workers, and to reach out to others by extending hospitality.

But if my desire for a clean house makes me irritable and impatient with the people inside it, then my priorities are misplaced. If I go berserk when a child spills milk on my freshly mopped floor, instead of gently coming alongside to assist and instruct in wiping up the mess, then my clean house has become an idol, and I’m sending my family the message that it is more important to me than they are.

Keeping an immaculate house (in the strictest sense of the word) is not really possible this side of heaven, so it’s futile to make that our goal. Keeping a tidy house, on the other hand, is entirely achievable — even while maintaining a proper and loving attitude toward everyone who lives there.

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Want to Have a Happy Home?

Make up your mind to be happy. Choose joy.Martha Washington once noted, “The greatest part of our happiness depends on our dispositions, not our circumstance.” And she was right.

Did you know that whether or not your home is a happy one largely depends on… you?

As wives and mothers, we have the power to transform our homes from what might have been a vortex of negativity and darkness and despair into a refuge of joy and radiance and hope. Shouldn’t we be using that power for good?

The answer is yes. Yes, we should.

Our outlook on life has a profound effect not only on our own happiness, but on the happiness of our husband and children, as well. We have a duty to our families to maintain as cheerful an outlook as possible. We do our loved ones a grave disservice when we cultivate a perpetually sad or sour disposition.

Such a disposition has little to do with life circumstances, and everything to do with choice, for as Abraham Lincoln once noted, “most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

When I say that wives should “choose joy,” I am not suggesting that we be dishonest, “fake,” or insincere. Being joyful is not about smiling on the outside when we are shattered on the inside. It is not about pretending that life is hunky-dory when serious problems exist and we need help.

Choosing joy is not about putting on a show for another person’s sake. It is about changing the way we look at things — for our own sake.

Being joyful is not about repressing feelings, but about attacking negativism at the root — in our heart and mind and attitudes. It is about being selective in our thoughts.

In every circumstance in life, there can be found something good, as well as something bad. Being joyful is about choosing to dwell on the good instead of on the bad. It’s about being grateful for what we have instead of upset over what we don’t.

That Scripture repeatedly urges us to rejoice implies that joy is indeed a choice:

• “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
• “Always be joyful.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16, NLT)
• “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3)

It's never too late to live happily ever after.
This sort of constant, abiding joy has at its root an outward rather than an inward focus. It asks not, “What can others do to make me happy,” but “what can I do to make others happy?” Personal happiness is seldom the result of the former mindset, but it is a natural byproduct of the latter.

Showing kindness to others and doing things to bring happiness to those around us is one of the surest ways to find happiness ourselves.

As Helen Keller so wisely observed, “Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.”

You want to live happily ever after? It’s never to late to begin. The choice is yours; choose joy.

Home Shows and Show Homes

Home Shows and Show Homes | Loving Life at HomeI once walked into a house I thought was on a holiday tour of homes and wandered through several rooms before realizing in embarrassment that I was at the wrong address. Fortunately, the home owners were hosting a party at the time, so I was was able to slip away quietly without making too much of a scene.

But the reverse has also happened: Another year I visited a home that really was on the tour, but had a hard time shaking the feeling that I’d come to the wrong place. It was almost as if the owners weren’t expecting us: “You’re here for the Open House? Tonight? I thought that thing was next week!”

Not that the home wasn’t lovely — it was. But, unlike most of the private residences I’d toured during these holiday fund-raisers, this house had dirty dishes in the sink, newspapers scattered on the floor, and sticky little handprints all over the bathroom mirrors.

In other words, this house looked lived in.

Moreover, the folks who lived in it were still there. They had not been spirited away for the duration of the tour, as was the usual custom. The owners of all those sticky little fingers spent the evening sprawled across three sofas watching television, seemingly oblivious to the steady stream of people parading through their home.

I’m not sure where their mother was that night, but had I spotted her, I would have shaken her hand, for she did me a huge favor (and possibly many of the other ticket holders, as well): She demonstrated unselfconscious hospitality. If she were worried about what others might think of her housekeeping, it didn’t show, and it certainly didn’t keep her from opening her home for a good cause.

I used to get really uptight whenever I was expecting company. I’d clean and scrub and polish and organize (and sometimes even sew and paint and landscape) for weeks in advance, snapping at anyone and everyone who got in my way or undid my work. I was much more of a Martha than a Mary, and I consequently missed out on many opportunities for sweet fellowship, joyful service, and gentle encouragement.

But over the years, God has changed this attitude. Maybe that home show assured me the world would not come screeching to a halt if I opened my house to guests when it was less than picture-perfect. Maybe adding eight or nine more children to the mix convinced me that having a picture-perfect home is not my highest goal, anyway.

I still love to entertain, and I still love to tackle big projects before I do, racing the clock to see how much I can finish before the big event. The difference is that now I do it with a smile on my face and a song in my heart — and a lot of helpers, young and old, at my side. And if the guests arrive before we finish loading the dishwasher (or planting the pansies or painting the baseboards), we leave the work for another day, grateful for what we got accomplished, but happy to take a break and fellowship with good friends who, after all, have come to see us, not our house.

Be Careful What You Pray For – Part 2

Be Careful What You Pray For - Part 2I love the scene in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE where the Beavers are forced to flee from the White Witch. While the others hurriedly don coats and boots, Mrs. Beaver scuttles about the den packing provisions for the journey: sugar, tea, matches, two or three loaves of bread, a ham, and a dozen clean handkerchiefs. She’d have toted her sewing machine, as well, had Mr. Beaver not convinced her the extra weight would prove too burdensome. She grieves over leaving it behind as her frantic companions rush her out the door with only minutes to spare.

I’ve always felt for Mrs. Beaver. I can sympathize with her desire to be well-prepared, for I share the same mindset. I know that dire circumstances demand a drastically different approach to material possessions — the sewing machine that is a blessing at home would be a curse on the road, especially if it causes the company to be captured — but I’m still sad to see her leave it behind, never mind that she receives a nicer, newer sewing machine later in the book.

When I think of my sisters in Alabama whose homes were recently ransacked by tornados, or I remember my sisters in Japan who lost not only property and possessions but also loved ones in the tsunami, I am ashamed to be crying over the fact that our new kitchen won’t hold a table big enough for my whole family to sit together at mealtimes. Those women were not afforded the luxury of slowly sifting through their belongings and deciding what to keep and what to toss. They know experientially that “Life is more than food and the body more than clothes.” (Luke 12:23)

I have always prayed that God would teach me life’s lessons in the gentlest way possible. He has been faithful to honor that request once again, and  I am grateful He has allowed me this long goodbye. It can still be a little painful, but in a different way, like pulling a Band-Aid off hair by hair instead of ripping it loose in one swift stroke…. No, that analagy trivializes the torment others have endured. Say instead it’s like skinning a knee as opposed to severing a limb.

Whether I’m motivated by materialism, or sentimentality, or my “waste not, want not” upbringing, the fact remains that I’ve become far too attached to my stuff. What exasperates my husband, I think, is the fact that it’s not the nicest things we own that I’m the most attached to. It’s the beat-up buffet with only three good legs that has followed us from our first apartment, representative of the best we could afford for many years. It’s my grandma’s rusty glider, where I sat beside her shelling peas as a kid and rocked colicky babies to sleep as an adult. It’s the uneven panels of stained glass the children helped me solder together for our bathroom windows. It’s the doorjamb with eight years of pencil lines marking my children’s growth progress.

At any rate, I am now in the process of downsizing. My son Benjamin found the house we’re moving into, but God picked it. We can tell He went before us and smoothed the way, because His fingerprints are all over the place. Just the fact that our landlord agreed to rent to a family with twelve children is a small miracle in itself!

With every load we carry over, that place is looking more and more (and this one less and less) like home. It is a beautiful house with a great floor plan and will accommodate a surprising number of the things I was reluctant to leave behind, often in spaces that seem tailor made for them. Beds, curtains, piano, rugs — time and again, they’ve fit where we’ve needed them to go without an inch to spare. I may not be able to squeeze my ten-foot table into my new breakfast nook, but oddly enough, there’s a ten-foot cubby in the garage that seems to serve no other purpose but to temporarily house that table as a makeshift workbench.

So here again, God is leading us by baby steps. If there is a mud hut in our future — and there may be — He is not asking us to move there today. We’ve signed a fourteen-month lease on our new home, which will allow our older boys to finish up at UT Tyler while we sort out our next step. We honestly don’t know what that next step may be, but we know that God knows, and that He is good and merciful and sovereign. And shouldn’t that be enough?

Be Careful What You Pray For – Part 1

Eight years ago, my husband and I built our dream home. I’d been driving past the most beautiful tract of land several times a week for three years, and each time I did, I prayed that God would send someone to develop the property so that our family could someday live there. God answered that prayer, and we ended up buying a two-acre wooded lot that was far enough from town to give our kids room to roam, but close enough that my doctor-husband could get to the hospital in five minutes flat.

We designed the house ourselves, right down to the placement of every last lavatory, lock, and light switch. We were there when the foundation was poured to put our footprints in the cement, there when the walls were framed to inscribe scripture verses on the studs, there when the windows were hung to hope that God’s light would shine through us to our community, there each step of the way, dedicating our home to Him, purposing to use it for His glory, and praying that every guest would feel warmly welcomed and would sense within these walls the love and joy and peace that comes only through Christ.

I believe God honored those prayers, as well as our commitment to use our home for ministry. In the time that we have lived here, literally thousands of people have passed through our doors. We’ve hosted exchange students, furloughing missionaries, homeschool groups, office parties, neighborhood picnics, baby showers, family reunions, formal dinners, ice cream socials, ping-pong tournaments, movie screenings, worldview discussions, geography bees, bridal showers, egg hunts, caroling parties, and even an outdoor wedding here. For almost a year, over 100 people gathered in our house every week for Sunday worship and fellowship dinner. It has been a blessing and a privilege for our family to play a part in all of this.

Several months ago, we opened our home for a weekly Bible study using David Platt’s excellent book RADICAL. I suppose a good corollary to “Be careful what you pray for” is “Be careful what you read.” This book, based completely upon the commands of Christ, challenges readers to spend less so they can give more. It wasn’t written for the fainthearted, and you shouldn’t read it if you don’t want to feel convicted. But if you are looking for a fresh sense of purpose, you should devour it and do what it says, looking to God for guidance in how to best demonstrate the radical love of Jesus to those who do not know Him.

As my husband and I pondered the ideas set forth in this 220-page tome, we were forced to admit that the main thing preventing our giving more was the monthly mortgage payments we were making on our dream home. So we began getting our house ready to put on the market, and I began praying that putting it on the market would not be necessary.

Even more overwhelming than the thought of moving is the thought of keeping a house show-ready for months or years at a time and being prepared to vacate the premises at a moment’s notice should a potential buyer want to view it. That is stressful stuff for any household, but especially so for a homeschooling family with twelve children. So I prayed that if God really wanted us to sell our house, He would send a buyer to our front porch and spare me the hassle of listing it.

I suppose it was a prayer I felt safe praying. The neighbors across the street from us had been trying to sell their house for years with no takers, and we have since been informed by an appraiser that in the past eight months, not a single house in our price range has sold in all of East Texas. It would truly take a miracle for God to sell ours without so much as a sign in the yard. And that was fine by me, because I didn’t want to move, anyway. But neither did I want to cling to my possessions if God wanted to take them from me. That prayer was my way of “proving” that I was holding His blessings with an open hand. And I prayed it faithfully for six months: “Not my will, but Thine be done. I don’t want to sell this house, God, but I will if You send us a buyer.”

And then the miracle happened. Just one day after newspapers announced that the US Housing Market had hit its all-time low, God brought someone to our doorstep who offered to write us a check for this wonderful place we call home. Thus, our latest adventure began. And as I struggled against the urge to tighten my grasp on the things around me, I came face-to-face with the realization that maybe I wasn’t holding my possessions with such an open hand, after all.