It was the fall of my first-grade year. Autumn in New England is a splendor to behold, the colors magnificent, brilliant as bunches of ripened apples drape heavy from their branches. That particular year I was reveling in the joy of learning to read, in a time when phonics were kindly held in high regard, and children were taught to read well.
An entire world of goodness had been unleashed at my doorstep, beautiful words strung together and opening the floodgates to magnificent paths of imagination.
My first-grade teacher intuited both my shyness and my love for reading, and thus invited me to stand at her desk and quietly read Amelia Bedelia directly to her rather than before the entire class. She rewarded my efforts with scented stickers–banana, strawberry, and root beer. I can smell each one, even now.
I spent happy hours each week practicing my penmanship with sparkling, new-to-me vocabulary. Not only did books become my treasured companions, but soft green writing paper and chunky, chiseled pencils sent me tiptoeing into realms of unbridled delight.
I participated in reading lessons with a dose of gravity, flipping through phonics flashcards with a sober-minded type of joy, putting such knowledge to practical use. One afternoon during that fall, my little brother and I decided to sell lemonade at the edge of our front lawn. I displayed my homemade For Sale sign with the symbol signifying the long vowel sound atop the a, and a diagonal strike through the silent e.
Reading was–in my humble, six-year-old opinion–a full-time job.
So I cherished every moment of that September. That is, until Pioneer Girls began.
Pioneer Girls was comparable to Girl Scouts, but a Christian version that met weekly at our church.
I had quickly grown accustomed to my first-grade schoolroom which was bright, highly structured, and calm. I knew precisely what our teacher expected, and this dear woman had not one shred of tolerance for so much as a whiff of chaos. Period.
Pioneer Girls, on the other hand, was held in the depths of the church basement, dark and noisy and confusing and full of multiple projects to keep us busy.
So while my ferocious appetite for stories and books and first-grade writing was continuing to blossom, my Pioneer Girl instructor announced, over the din, a project for each of us to complete. The Leaf Collection. We were instructed to collect a minimum of twenty-five different types of leaves, thereby creating a laminated book of specimens to be neatly labeled with proper names.
It was due in two weeks.
No one else appeared at all fazed by any of this, but my conscientious heart thudded. How would I ever be able to learn my vocabulary words and study for my spelling tests while also collecting leaves?
I slumped home that Monday night and my stomach ached. After a few days had elapsed, my mother found me crying silently into my pillow, my Holly Hobby pillowcase drenched.
Kristin, what is wrong?
It took a while, but I finally fessed up and told her that making a leaf collection and learning my phonics and practicing writing new words was simply too much to bear. I could not do all three well.
Ultimately, I was allowed to step away from Pioneer Girls and the looming leaf project. My relief was swift and I settled down, returning to my books and spelling lists.
I now laugh as I consider this saga, while also considering that perhaps we do not change quite as much as we imagine, over the course of our lifetime.
It is still in my nature to partake of fewer tasks wholeheartedly, attempting to do them well.
Which is why I seldom wrote when my children were young and at home. This was no sacrifice for me as they were my dearest loves, my greatest joy, my priority. Nurturing our family and tending to our home has been my greatest earthly honor, my life’s work. God entrusted me with four children, and I knew that I was accountable to him for my mothering decisions. Serious business.
As they eventually grew up and left the nest, one by one, I was stunned to discover that my three oldest chums were waiting in the wings: the pen and the page and the words.
Don’t you regret not writing sooner? I have been asked.
I shake my head no, thinking: Don’t you see? To have loved and raised and served my children, I needed to love and raise and serve my children, without any competition of my time and focus. Writing could wait, or even disappear. My children could not.
From time to time I linger in our front hallway, studying the photograph of our four grown beauties.
Oh, yes, I was writing all along. My four favorite books of all time. Books entrusted to me by God himself.
Don’t miss it: To say yes to God’s plan is to say no to other things.
Don’t ever believe the lie that you can have it all and do it all and still be well with God.
Today is December 1, and Christmas is near. I have been making inner preparations for months, striving to keep a soft and tender heart, staying tethered to Christ during this holiday season in which we honor his birth.
Sadly, such preparation has not been my strong suite for December, ever.
December is famous for multiple gatherings and church events and shopping and wrapping and baking. While I enjoy some of these things, I often overspend and overeat and wonder why I feel pressured and headachy and dull.
A few months ago I realized that in order for this Christmas season to be different, I needed to change. So I studied my day planner and acknowledged an upcoming road trip, a speaking engagement, the weekly work of my blog, another book project, the occasional substitute teaching job, a delightfully full house come Thanksgiving, and likewise for Christmas. Plus completing homework for my weekly Bible Study, preparing to teach another monthly Bible Study, housework, family time, and rest.
It was plain to see that I had choices to make. I had previously prayed over each commitment, and I was at peace knowing that God wanted me to accept these things. While it has never been my tendency to overcommit, to say yes to each of these things, and to do them well, meant saying no to other things.
Much like Pioneer Girls.
So I took an hour with my Bible and a cup of tea, plus my favorite pen and a blank page. I began to sort things out. I crossed out events that perhaps were expected of me but were non-essential, and set aside a few extra afternoons to read the Gospels for the pleasure of my soul. I mailed a few Thanksgiving cards to friends living far away rather than stamping a thick and expensive bundle of Christmas cards that I usually send. I revamped my writing schedule, planning times to get ahead with a few projects in order to relax with our large family at Christmas and penciled in some mother-daughter time with Lauren before we deliver her to college come January. These are days that will never return, and to say yes to precious time with my favorite girl requires more than one no to other things.
And this is where I am going, dear reader: whether it is writing a book or raising children, cooking a delicious dinner, or teaching a Bible Study, preparing a speech or hosting a holiday, or even simply being fully present with the loved one before you, we must first be willing to say no to something else.
If I choose to cook spaghetti sauce from scratch, browning the ground beef and dicing the onions and adding spices to the tomato sauce, I cannot simultaneously be baking chicken and roasting a pork and grilling hamburgers. To do so would cause distraction, and likely a lousy dinner.
For every yes there are a thousand nos.
But if I take my time and cook a delicious sauce, boiling the pasta, and rounding out the dinner with a pretty Romaine salad, my family will be blessed and satiated.
With that mug of steaming vanilla chai in hand, I prayed over my schedule, and came to grips with reality: I am not God, but am woven together by flesh and bone. I have been designed with limitations and to pretend otherwise is arrogant; foolish.
Isn’t is a poor plan to say yes to any and every opportunity straight away, and then turn around and sprinkle a hopeful prayer over the entire mess, begging God to bless and enable us to do that which he never asked?
He will, however, always equip his children to do his will.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-25)
I cannot prescribe the specifics in how this will unfold in your life. That is between you and the Lord.
But according to the Bible, obedience to God always entails surrender, personal sacrifice, and obedience.
So this December, may I suggest a different way? Seek God first in prayer, and disregard the Bucket List you are accustomed to checking off each year.
I know, I know–you are quite certain this completed list will make you happy and fulfill your candy-cane dreams.
Instead, ask God what you shall say no to in order to fulfill his plan for the yeses that you offer before him.
It is worth it. There is no substitute for trusting God with your time and decisions.
Abide in him and you will perhaps be surprised. Stunned by the freedom to fully enjoy every good and perfect gift, coming down from the Father of lights. (James 1:17)