Commit to narrowness

When you choose anything, you reject everything else.” G.K. Chesterton

The digital economy has created an endless buffet, and it’s easy to overeat. When confronted with infinity, is it okay to blink?” Seth Godin

I’ve been buying the same toothpaste and laundry soap for years. I buy it from one of those membership programs where you have to order a certain amount each month and if you skip an order they’ll automatically ship you some items you’ve preselected. My preselected order has always been vitamins and toothpaste and laundry soap.

The nice thing is I really do like the products. They’re natural and effective and it’s easy. I order online, or if I forget, the box magically comes to my door anyway. The not nice thing is that the shipping has gotten expensive and my vitamin needs have changed. I canceled our membership a couple months ago and now I am in need of toothpaste and I’ll have to go to the store; there are 46 different tubes of toothpaste to choose from at the store. I will be overwhelmed. I won’t know how to prioritize: save time, save money, save the planet, save our health, save our teeth from the effects of our habits?

This is freedom.

A few months ago someone was discussing the many options their family was considering for schooling their children this coming year. They live in a bigger city with more choices, but I could still sympathize with their quandary—time, money, benefits, etc. I realized during our conversation that five years ago we severely limited our choices in this area. We chose one very specific option for homeschool—because you don’t just choose between public, private, or homeschool; you choose one broad category and a hundred other options cascade from that. We got involved with a community that thrives on commitment to one another. If we pull out and choose another course, our community suffers because, though we are replaceable, we homeschool together with a group of like-minded people and the dynamics change with every shift in involvement. We are free and responsible for our own children’s education, but we are interdependent within that freedom.

Making this very specific choice has allowed me to trash and unsubscribe from the multiple homeschool catalogs, conferences, curriculum publishers, and magazines that provoke parents to question their choices. Prior to our decision, every summer was spent poring over websites and catalogs to plan The Best Course for the following year, chasing the greener grass and smarter schedule. I enjoyed some aspects of this planning, but my attic holds boxes of books that, if their marketing was correct, should’ve produced National Merit Scholars who radically love Jesus and Shakespeare and art history.

Did we make the best choice for our kids? Are we missing something? Are there gaps and holes and regrets? Yes. Yes. Yes and yes and yes.

We made a choice and then a commitment, and that’s what is important. My husband and I prayed over our decision, made mental pro/con lists, and counted the costs of this choice as best we could. There were unknowns, but calculating potential risks and worrying about the million other things we are not choosing by making this one choice will only leave the one choice unmade. Sometimes you just have to make a decision and commit to it.

Everything is imperfect. Every imperfect thing teaches us contentment.

The commitment to imperfections and problems may be the most important part. There will be issues with any choice—even following Jesus, which we would say is the best decision a person can make, will bring problems. But our decision to commit and to proceed confidently within our limitations is the real deciding factor, not the fact that our choices will bring problems.

This is the place we have to settle. In rejecting everything else, we are free to pour into our one choice, freed by our limitations to funnel our energy into this one decision. Marrying one man makes all other men off limits, and we are free to pour our energy into that one covenantal relationship. Living in one place takes all other places off the list, but we are free to be a visitor in the world with a refuge to return to. The side benefits are that healthy marriages produce healthy people who have healthy relationships with others; peaceful homes house peaceful families who welcome friends and strangers into that peace. Having children, having a job, keeping a schedule…all these give framework to a life that will not hold up if we have unlimited freedom.

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We are on the last lap of our homeschool, with only one child and four years of high school left. I will have to make other choices with my time. The schedule will change, will flex and tighten with the seasons, but the need for limitations is still there. I have to look at busyness differently in this season because I am not a mother of small, needy children; not the mom who schedules playdates and nap times, who posts chore charts and daily lesson plans. I am the mom who is shifting from the primary voice in her children’s lives, to an ear, an eye. My prayers now are that my children narrow their own way and limit themselves to the wide expanse of kingdom God gives them dominion in.

Choose your limitations and commit to your decisions. Opt out. Unsubscribe. Narrow and refine until your freedom feels like it will hold up your life.

How a life is built

A life comes to us fresh and fragile—we handle it carefully, we watch as it grows, and we are patient with the bloom. There's no rush no rush no rush and then all of sudden, there is. All of a sudden that child is five and there is a hurry about our ways and a frenetic pace in our days and we have so much to cram in to that lovely life now, right now. Maybe the rush happens every year, as summer is suddenly fall and leisure gives way to obligations.

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how to build a life

Is there an optimal time to begin building a life? Can we let it bloom as it will and watch all good things come, or must we suddenly stop and suddenly start and always separate leisure and learning?

Layer upon layer.

Of course we know that education begins at birth—breathe! drink! sleep! poop! We are all born reactors and imitators, following the groove laid down by a God who has always shown us the way. No one teaches us those first basic survival skills which all of life builds upon.

I wanted to lay down gentle patterns and habits when the kids were young, but it became a regiment and a schedule. I don't regret it—we needed structure and discipline—but it wasn't always gracious and I wasn't always patient and for the most part I didn't see life coming in layers.

I thought it fell down in giant chunks of milestones I guess.

There are lessons that take years to learn.

There is knowledge we only gain by experience. 

Mistakes can be good experience.

Layer upon layer, a life.

When each child turned five we started with the basics, but I kept trying to sneak in more. And you know that with that firstborn I started way before five, because zealous excitement waits for no child. For the most part my kids have survived, perfected their eye rolls, and I think maybe even somewhat learned to appreciate my bents and quirks, my over-enthusiasm promptly followed by burn-out.

We are never "done" but we are making it, and over the years I think we're making it better, layer by layer, bit by bit.

The "just add water" version—instant success, immediate gratification—calls to us all, but God does His work on us a little at a time. Faithfulness and consistency go so much further than ambition and excitement, and sometimes our best consistency is simply coming back, again and again, to the most important things. Constantly turning. Continually starting again. Consistently repenting.

Layer upon layer a life is built.

It's seen best in hindsight, like most things. Looking back on a portion of life, we never know if it's the greater portion or merely half of the life we'll live, merely a third or a fourth. But we look back and see the lines the years have laid down and the striations of accumulated experiences, and we see all the material that made us us today. All the ingredients. All the events.

We see it for our children, too, before they're ready for their own look back on themselves. We see those bents and quirks that have followed them from birth.

All the layers are not even, but they have been carefully measured and ordered and sometimes we've cooperated and sometimes we've just complied; sometimes we have fought; sometimes we have died, inside, just a little, and that's also His goodness because a death to ourselves is a life to God.

Layer upon layer you and I have grown, our kids have grown, our habits have formed or unformed, and the generations really keep learning the same thing. All of us who have wanted to improve on our parenting and our living have made mistakes and repeated mistakes and covered-up mistakes, but God's patient-grace keeps coming, because no one has perfected living yet.

Whatever you are impatiently waiting for today and whatever growth you are longing to see or accomplishment you hope to have, know that little by little your life is being built. Progress is being made in the sudden stops and in the long obediences, layer by layer.

We can trust in the slow way, impatient though we are.

What are all those summer lists doing to you?

You know it's not really even summer yet, technically. Right? We've been "done" with formal schooling for a month now so it seems like we had a jump on things and the ball should've been rolling, but I've done zero summering so far. I have lists ready and goals all set to go, but there have been a few major events that had to be taken care of first.

For instance, our daughter graduated from homeschool and we hosted a big party on her behalf. Cue all the sympathy, because 1) I'm done teaching my first child, 2) I'm peopled-out, and 3) I'm done teaching my first child.

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Of course I'm not really done—I have years of wisdom left to give her. And, truth be told, she's been mostly teaching herself for a few years now. But this milestone is an exhausting mix of we did it! and now what?  and did we do it right?  Add to that the fact that our home has been full of people for the last month and you get one exhausted little introvert.

All the goodness piles up and I'm buried somewhere deep.

So the summer lists have yet to be broached, the camping trip hasn't even been planned, and I know it's only the beginning of June but I also know that time can whip your neck right around and all you have is a reminiscing, a vague remembrance that it was summer once.

This is a year of milestones for our family, a year of setting up remembrances and looking back over all the goodness God has shown us. Our daughter turned 18 and graduated. I turned 40. Next week we'll celebrate 20 years of marriage. God is good to give us memory, and since there is so much I've forgotten I'm sure there's also so much I never noticed in the first place.

What did we do with the time? How do we notice the gift of years?

And then I see the lists. What to Read this Summer, What to Cook, Where to Go, What to Wear... I love the lists and I want to tackle the lists and I have lists of my own but really?

All the summer lists need to be a buffet, not a strict diet. We need help remembering and marking the milestones, but we can lose the Everest-sized expectations.

I can see that there are great things to do and read and eat. I can hope that summer is a time to gather in some of the goodness, but "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.” and yet, we're not.

We're busy and disappointed and hot, sweaty and sticky, and the summer lists might be making us grumpy.

Maybe you don't even get a change of pace for the summer. Maybe while everyone is talking about vacations and camps and school-free days with their kids, you're still plugging away like you were in November. Only it's hot.

Here's what we can do about summer lists, before the summer lists undo us. We can choose our own adventure. We can mark a milestone. We can remember all the goodness summer offers and plan for more, and we can relax in our present circumstances. If our eyes are open, we're not going to miss anything.

And if you still need a list to feel like you've accomplished "summer", here you go:

  • eat fresh strawberries (grow them, buy them, get them from your neighbor)
  • bring in fresh flowers (grow them, buy them, get them from your neighbor)
  • take a nap in the shade
  • open the windows early
  • barbecue your dinner
  • swim
  • read ONE good book

Not everyone is tackling lists this summer. All hands up for sampling the goodness of the season, no strings (or lists) attached.