Saturday, August 14, 2010

day 210: determining priorities*

There are five influences that we have found in determining priorities in life. Obviously, there are more impacts than these; however, these are the five that have guided us through the years. Like everything else we have learned and applied in our lives, these were learned from others (especially through Gregg Harris Seasons of Life seminar)—for which we will be eternally grateful.

The five influences on prioritizing include the following:

1. Spouse

2. Boundaries in Already in Place in Your life: People and Situations

3. More Boundaries: Talents and Skills

4. Seasons of Life

5. Physical Seasons

1. Prioritize With Your Spouse

Hopefully, you and your spouse have the same goals in life. If that is the case, then you both want the same things: to live lives that please and honor God; to have godly, well educated children; to make a difference in the world; etc. But there are so many ways to please and honor God; there are so many ways to educate our children; there are so many ways to make a difference in the world.

 If you and your spouse are on the same page with your priorities, I recommend that you go through the rest of today’s and tomorrow’s posts about determining priorities together. Talking through your goals, dreams, and visions together will help to further solidify your priorities--and what you should be spending your life on.

2. Prioritize Based on Boundaries Already in Place in Your Life: People and Situations

Many things that should be our priorities are staring us right in the face, literally. God has already placed people in our lives that are built in priorities. They are already there--they just need to be prioritized.

For example, if you have children and a husband, these are boundaries--built-in priorities--that should take precedence over other things. They are placed in your life by God Himself. He is giving you ready-made priorities and is just waiting for you to put them high on your priority list where they belong.

3. More Boundaries: Talents and Skills

Another built-in boundary that aids in prioritizing is that of talents and skills. As we recognize talents and skills that God has given us, we can safely assume that God wants those as priorities in our lives--or wants to use them to help us reach those priorities.

Your skills and talents were given especially to you. When my older children were younger, I always wanted to do and be something other than what I was. I especially envied other people's talents. For instance, I saw musical families and wished that we could be musical. I wanted all of us to be up on stage somewhere playing instruments together. However, I was not given the skills of music, nor were Ray and many of the children.

Using the skills that I have, rather than wanting others' skills, saves time and gives me more energy to meet the priorities God has given me. We have chosen to focus on the skills that God has given our family: some are intellectually gifted; most of us are organizers; we are all communicators (in writing and speech); we are all leaders. By focusing on those skills, rather than skills that we do not have, we can meet our priorities more efficiently and more excellently.

4. Still More Boundaries: Seasons of Life

Yesterday I described our first “priority purge.” Our next "priority purge" came a few years later when we had two small children. God led us to attend two awesome, life-changing seminars: The Christian Homeschooling Workshop and the Advanced Homeschooling Workshop, both by Gregg Harris. From these seminars, among many other things, we learned about seasons of life.

A season of life is that time period you find yourself in based on your age, your family situation, etc. We discovered that we were not being as effective as we could be in our lives because we were trying to do things out of our season.

At that time, according to the workshop, we were in the "Business and Babies" season. We stayed there for many, many years! Yet, we continually found ourselves involved in activities that were for those of the next season. Ray was on the hospital board in our town, he was an elder in our church, we taught Bible classes at church to people three times our age. We struggled to find time to attend meetings, serve in the church thoroughly, prepare our lessons, etc., due to Ray's heavy work schedule and our responsibilities with our young children.

We came home from those two seminars and went through another priority purging. Due to the season that we were in, we decided Ray should resign from his hospital board and elder positions. We also cut back on our teaching at church. After all, we were still in our early twenties. What business did we have telling others how to live their lives when we lacked the wisdom that we would obtain through years of experiences? Another priority purge helped us get closer to our God-given priorities for that season.

So, not only do we have built-in priorities because we have children to raise and a spouse to love and encourage, but the ages of those children and spouse further solidify our priorities, usually also based on the season of life we are in. When I had five children ten and under, I loved homeschooling and communicating so much that I wanted to write and speak about homeschooling. I saw others doing it, read others' books, etc, and I felt that I had a lot to offer homeschoolers since I had been a teacher, had been homeschooling for several years, and had, had many experiences helping homeschoolers get started. However, learning about seasons of life helped me to see that it was not time for those things. Maybe I did have some built-in boundaries of skills (speaking, writing, and communicating). Maybe I did have the motivation due to my love for homeschooling. However, the other built-in boundaries of so many young children, my season of life, the lack of experience for myself, etc., showed me that it was not the right time for that priority of communicating with larger groups of people yet.

5. More Boundaries Again: Natural Seasons

And taking the whole built-in boundaries concept one step further, we find that even natural seasons of life (winter, spring, summer, and fall)--when combined with the built-in priorities of people, talents, and life seasons--help us determine our priorities.

Priorities and schedules are fluid, not stagnant. They change constantly, especially when we have young children. For example, in the fall, we might have a newborn baby who nurses and sleeps, giving us a lot of time to school the kids, do the housework, minister to other women, etc. However, two natural seasons later, in the spring, that same sleeping infant is a curious, crawling toddler, altering our schedule and, in effect, our priorities! Suddenly, we do not have the long hours to read around the table with everyone in attendance. If we still have the priority of reading together, we may have to limit it, prioritize the training of that toddler, or read in groups so someone is available to look after the little tyke. A natural season of life affects our priorities, and we have to decide how to handle it, what our priority will be for that season, etc.

Each year, new priorities pop up. Maybe you haven't had a new reader for three years, and now your "caboose" needs daily reading instruction, time that had formally been given to other things. A natural season (i.e. a child in first or second grade) influences your prioritizing.

Yes, new priorities will emerge, but the decision to make something a priority and delete something else should be a conscious decision, not a decision that is made for you by outside forces.

*Note: For several days, I will be excerpting material from our parenting book, “The Well-Trained Heart” about prioritizing. Following these posts, we will delve more deeply into organizing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

day 208: priority purging*

“It all started with THE LIST!”

We learned about prioritizing early in our marriage, and I am forever grateful that we did. Twenty-three years ago, Ray and I (at ages twenty-four and twenty) had a two year old little boy. We were active in our church and with our extended families. We wanted to "do it all" for the Lord and for others. However, we found ourselves, even with only one child and at our young ages, so busy that we could not keep up.

One evening, frustrated with our schedule, we sat down with the calendar and wrote on it everything we felt that we should do or participate in during that month: men's Bible study, ladies' Bible study, Ray's extended family, my extended family, Ray's master's degree, church three times a week, home care groups, hospitality, family night, nursing home visitation, church outreach, etc.

This full calendar page has become known to us through the years as "the list." When we were finished, we discovered that if we did everything we thought we should do, everything we wanted to do, and everything we had to do, we would need sixty evenings that month!

Life was controlling us, rather than us controlling life. How many of us feel this way today? We find ourselves doing things that are not really our priorities (or things that we do not desire as our priorities) and not doing the things that we really want as our priorities.

This is not a new concept. Paul said this very thing in the Bible: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15 RSV).1 This is an age-old problem that even one of Christ's strongest early followers felt.

At that point, we decided that something had to go. We obviously did not have sixty evenings a month to do that list. We decided to take action. We had our first "priority purge."

Prioritizing takes action! It is something you do--or else it is done for you. Ray and I had to take GOOD things off of our calendar in order to make room for the BEST things. We had to say no to average things in order to say yes to excellent things.

That is another important concept in prioritizing: each person's priorities are his own. We do not need to have identical priorities to our friends. We do not need to do everything someone else does. Our priorities are personal; they are the God-ordained objectives in our own lives for that time period.

If you want to have solid, Christ-honoring priorities, you must take action. You must determine, with your spouse and with God's guidance, what your priorities are. This is the tricky part; everything seems important. Everything is crying out for attention and help. How do we know what should be priorities in our lives? How do we know what to spend our time on?

Join us tomorrow for another exciting episode of “Priority Purge” as we tackle…how to determine what are our own priorities need to be…. smile…

*Note: For several days, I will be excerpting material about prioritizing from our parenting book, “The Well-Trained Heart." Following these posts, we will delve more deeply into organizing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

day 208: say yes to something; say no to something else*

                 "When we say yes to someone, we say no to someone else."

One of the great truths in time management--one that Ray and I have continually reminded ourselves of--is that when you say yes to something, you say no to something else.

There is not enough time for everything. So, in saying yes to something, you are using up some of the limited amount of time that you have. You are filling a time slot with that activity, instead of some other activity. So, you are saying yes to one thing in that time slot--and no to something else that could go in that same time slot. Seldom does a person feel that he or she has time for everything; thus, when we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else.

Now, obviously, we could get all hung up on this and never do anything relaxing because that recreational activity is replacing something more noble or more productive. We could become so consumed with doing and accomplishing that we squeeze other people out of our lives. That is not desired either. Time with others, relaxation, and fun are all important aspects of our lives, too.

However, a thorough understanding of the fact that time is consumable--there is only so much of it--is necessary. It is so much harder to say no to outsiders (to say no to coaching baseball, leading speech and debate, working on a Christmas play, etc.) than it is to say no to those who are closest to us. If we learn to prioritize well, we can say yes to those things that we have determined ahead of time are priorities and no to those things that are not current priorities. We can say yes to the most important things and no to the less important things. Moreover, we can say yes to the most important people in our lives.

*Note: For several days, I will be excerpting material from our parenting book, “The Well-Trained Heart” about prioritizing. Following these posts, we will delve more deeply into organizing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

day 207: priorities are what we do*

Probably the greatest hindrance to getting anything done in life is that of misplaced priorities. That is especially true in the case of family living and heart training of our children since those are often non-measurable, non-visual pursuits.

Everyone has priorities. Some have their priorities listed and checked off daily or weekly. Some prioritize by default. Their priorities are not planned, but they have priorities nonetheless--since priorities are what a person does.

If you were to pull out your daytimer, family calendar, or daily to-do lists, anyone could read them and give you a list of your priorities. You might argue about their observations. You might say, "No, that thing is not my priority. My priority is this...” Something loftier, more noble, or more similar to what you would like your priorities to be. However, if you do not do something consistently, it is not a priority; it is simply a wish. Because prioritities are what you do.

The same concept is revealed with your checkbook. You can say that certain things are the most important to you, but when you open your checkbook, the dearest things to you are revealed.

An eye-opening exercise for anyone is to evaluate--hour by hour, day by day--what you have done over the past month. How much time did you devote to corporate worship, God's Word, knowing Christ, prayer, praise, ministry, and discipleship? How much time did you watch television, play sports, surf the web, or read a novel? How much time did you spend with your spouse? How much time did you devote to training your children?

Break these activities down to determine how much of each waking day you spent on each one. The activities that you spent the greatest amount of time on are your priorities. If you watched television and movies for twelve hours this week and spent three hours discipling your young adults, then your priority is entertainment--not training (at least for that week).

From my list of activities, I can tell what my true priorities are. I might think my priorities are God; my husband; my children; homeschooling; saving time; being organized; my extended family; keeping my children involved in meaningful activities (those that teach them to become organized, study, love learning, develop their own priorities, and be close to the Lord); building relationships; releasing of our teens and young adults slowly while discipling and mentoring them; and family ministries. However, if my calendar does not show the majority of my time being used in those pursuits, then they are not my priorities. They are simply my wishes--my hopes and dreams of what I want to do, but not what I actually do.

*Note: For several days, I will be excerpting material from our parenting book, “The Well-Trained Heart” about prioritizing. Following these posts, we will delve more deeply into organizing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

day 206: introducing prioritizing—the beginning of organization

When we teach our organizing workshops, we try to have the opportunity to prequel them with a session on prioritizing. The reasons for this are many:

1. If you do not have priorities in place, you will seldom be able to achieve organization in any area. That is because we each have limitations of time, energy, emotions, and more. When our priorities are out of whack, we cannot organize because everything feels so important and crucial. Where do we begin?

2. When our priorities are in place, we have new purpose and zeal for organization. When Ray and I sit down and take inventory of our life periodically, I am more eager and able to get organized to make those priorities and goals happen.

3. Prioritizing is truly the ultimate organizing. After all, if we can organize our mind/life/time (through prioritizing), organizing our space and possessions will be that much simpler.

4. We have learned that organization follows a set pattern. (That’s why professional organizers tell us to start cleaning at the top and work our way down or do the most obvious (i.e. clutter) things first before tackling the hidden.) The same is true of prioritizing. Prioritizing is, in our opinion, the first step in organization.

5. Each day of living an organized life is truly a small series of prioritizing steps. Think about it. Do I call Grandma first or email my sister-in-law? We process that decision based on whether we will have internet access later today (in order to be able to email) or whether we will have our cell with us to make a call or whether Grandma is waiting on a call, etc. Organization is all about prioritizing!

So…bear with me for a few days of the beginning of this organizing series as I present some life lessons that we have learned concerning prioritizing—the ultimate organizing. I pray that this series will bless and help you in your families as the collected information from Gregg Harris, Institute in Basic Life Principles, The Cleaning Center, various books, and other friends has helped us.

Monday, August 9, 2010

day 205: the academy of arts—one more time

I had my first organization post (prioritizing) all ready to post tonight, but I have to spend one more post on the Academy of Arts ministry—then I will be quiet about it for awhile!

I have talked about this ministry before (see link below). But tonight I sit in my motel room following the ending ceremony for the traveling summer drama teams. It was an incredible, encouraging night. At the end of the summer, all three of the traveling drama teams come back to the “building” in Taylors, SC, and each student gives testimony of what God did for them, through them, in their team, etc. that summer.

As I sat there tonight and listed to testimony after testimony, I thanked the Lord once again for leading us to this fantastic ministry for our teens (and now our twenty year old college/intern student there) to be involved in.

And it made me want to share some of the testimonials of the kids tonight…just some one liners that make me stop and evaluate why I do what I do….

~”I learned to think of others more than I think of myself.”

~”I learned to focus on ministry and the people I am there to serve instead of on what I want to do.”

~”I learned to live for Christ in a whole new way.”

~”I learned to trust God for the outcome of every situation.”

~”I learned to yield my rights to what I want in order to give my fellow team mates the best.”

~”I learned to pray and trust God for the future.”

~”I learned how to witness where ever I am—even at an amusement park.”

~”I learned how to submit to authority and not to always demand my own way.”

~”I learned that only a life lived for others is worth living.”

~”I learned that we are on this earth to bring others to Christ.”

~"I learned that things are temporal, but living for Christ is eternal."

~"I learned to give up my own comforts for others."

And on and on….not just a week long camp, mountain-top experience, but a summer of pouring out their lives for others and Christ and learning to live the Christian life with others.

And then I thought about the myriad of activities and opportunities that are out there for our kids—and how we randomly pick and choose on a whim, through finances, from our peers, from our kids’ pressure, and many other avenues.

Tonight makes me want to be even more purposeful in helping my children choose their activities and influences. Sports are fine. Drama is fun. Clubs are entertaining. Classes are educational. Friends are cool. But we can fill their entire lives with “fluff” and not have the experiences and influences that God wants to use in their lives to mold and shape them into what He wants their futures to be.

As we choose our kids’ activities this school year, let’s re-read those testimonials, and consider what types of activities, friends, influences, etc. can lead our children to make comments like those—and choose a life lived for Christ and others.

Link for previous review of the Academy of Arts Ministry:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

day 204: free creation science e-book

I have talked a lot about the importance of teaching our children creationism. We are continually bombarded with evolutionary teaching—in cartoons, museums, zoos, and even in textbooks. We need to counteract that teaching through family devotions, discussions, and resources.

Today I would like to share a link to a free e-book. While it might not be for young children, it can give you, the parents, some information you need to learn about creationism so that you may better answer your children’s questions. I will also post some links below to other resources I have reviewed or recommended for all ages of creation learners.

Free e-book by Gary Parker (author of one of our favorites, “Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation”):*YulZJL88DEdmD-wBfCBHASMcTwyKwG-to-U*4DZmh7rP1OCW0mqh612jA2EBEeotjDY/CreationFactsfree.pdf

                             *Other links to creation materials I have reviewed:

Younger children:


Six to ten year olds: