The problem with performance.

At my worst, I’m obsessed with improvement. Addicted to movement. My allegiance is to the forward progression. I find solidarity with the ones who believe they can be better tomorrow than they are today. One step forward, even a shaky step or a baby step, feels better than standing still (forget about sliding backwards).

Part of this mindset is due to the way I was raised. Part of it comes from the way I was wired. None of it is wrong, unless or until it comes from the wrong place. And for most of my life, it has come from the wrong place.

I recently sat across from a friend and told her that if my flesh was given the option, it would choose to follow a guru with a ten-step plan to fulfillment over a Savior who promises only His presence as I stumble through this life.

“But when you got to the end of those steps, you’d still feel empty, right?”

Of course, I told her. But I’d be happy to start over. A hamster on a wheel doesn’t repulse or repel me. My flesh is happy to be a hamster on a wheel. My flesh wouldn’t mind waking up each day with a to-do list that leads nowhere.

Why? Because the journey of walking with Jesus can be a long one. Aside from the very small (very important) salvation part, it doesn’t produce instant results. And thinking about it like that? Thinking about the life-long process discipleship entails? It makes me tired. It makes me uncomfortable. It doesn’t fit neatly into my predilection for improvement, movement, and forward progress.

Much of my journey as a Christ-follower has consisted of trying to unlock and achieve the next level, whatever I’ve made up for that to mean. I’ve been following Jesus my entire life, and it’s looked different but the same at every stage. Early on, I tried to just stay out of hell. In my teen and young adult years, it became about fixing my problems so that God could use me. Later on, I scolded myself for needing Him daily. I hid my sin from the people I loved most. I felt that for the sake of movement and progress, I should only have to apply the gospel to my life one time, not every waking moment. That would be weak and needy. And God didn’t need weak and needy. He needed me to perform, right?

To look back at this point is hilarious, considering I perceived my worldview to be a less tiring option than abiding with Jesus daily. And what’s worse, I thought my performance-based living actually saved God some time and effort on me. You know, for when I’d really need it.

Pointless? Yes. Wrong? Sure. Twisted? Absolutely. But for some reason, none of those things changed my heart. Exhausting? That’s what did it. I got too tired. God let me wear myself out, like a toddler after a tantrum. And then he scooped me up and wiped my tears and smoothed my hair and whispered sweet somethings in my ear. Stuff about grace, abundance, and transformation.

Improvement and movement and forward progress are not bad things. They are typically part of the package of walking with Jesus. But the idea that I can do it on my own, without ever screwing up or taking a time-out or backing up a few steps… that is just ludicrous. Because even at my best, I am weak and needy. I always need the gospel, the good news that God is only too happy to remind me of, every waking moment. Praise Him for that.

this is how we do it: SUMMER

First – ground rules.

Second – #summertothrive workbook (emailed to you when you sign up). Also, #powersheets.

You cannot, will not, get good rhythms going if you can’t clear your head and produce organized thoughts and goals. You don’t have to BE an organized person; just fake it with a brain dump. Sort it all out for thirty minutes, and share with your roommate or husband or mom or kids. I promise, it’ll make a difference.

What is a rhythm? It’s like a routine, for the heart and the soul. It’s that feeling when you wake up and breathe easier because you have a general idea of how the day is going to go, and how you’re going to treat people, and what’s expected of you, and what you expect from others. It’s that sense of being connected to the Father, because you’ve already cast your cares upon him and his burden is light.

What do our summers look like? I continue to work full time out of the home. Chris continues to work full time in the home. The big kids kind of do their own teenage thing and the little kids are in as many vacation Bible schools as possible. Chris and I wake up at the same time every morning and do the Bible thing together. We still go to the gym, because the free hour of childcare gets a facelift in the summer. They turn it into a mini camp with extra activities and staff. At home, the kids play outside a lot. We try to hold off on screen time until the afternoons (they do use their tablets early in the morning if they wake up before our alarm). We still eat dinner at the same time, and the bedtime routine stays the same. All of the kids sleep wherever they want in the summer, typically in a pile on the floor of their room or in each other’s beds. Everyone’s chores and household expectations stay the same. Nobody is assigned anything specific or additional, but we expect everyone who lives here to help out at the bare minimum. My motto for a healthy work environment (or school, or government or household) has always been that if everyone would just do the bare minimum, systems would work.

We don’t take long vacations; just a few day trips and short vacations spread throughout the summer. Everyone agrees it’s more fun that way, and it’s easier to pay for and take time off of work. Some of our greatest memories have been crammed into a car for a quick getaway and a yummy meal somewhere.

Last year, I focused on three words to infuse throughout the summer – contentment, peace, and joy. I wanted these words to be dripping out of my heart and family and work and play all summer long.

This year, I wrote down more specific goals for the summer – a vibrant and powerful family prayer life, a sense of fun and adventure incorporated into everything we do, and to get prepared for grad school (physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually).

I also selected a verse to memorize and spout off to my family and write into the nooks and crannies of my life. “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” Psalm 113:3

One new rhythm we’re adding in this year is the family time we named “Summer Sabbath.” Every Saturday morning that we’re able, we’ll make time to have fun and reconnect. Sometimes two or three days go by where we don’t see each other during the week, because some of us are coming and going while others are sleeping. Instead of trying to force a family dinner every night, we’ve decided to focus on Saturday mornings. The rules are as follows: it’s just the family, no phones allowed, the activity is only one hour long, and breakfast always follows. This can look like anything from tennis to a family walk around the park to a historic site tour. I’m really excited for this one.

The prep work only takes a little effort and time, but it’s so worth it. If I know I want to get to the end of the summer with a stronger prayer life and adventures with family under my belt, then I know how to make daily decisions that will help get us there. If I know the next three years are going to be challenging with grad school, then I know how to spend the next few months getting ready with help from others. Everything in life just feels easier and more purposeful if I have vision for it. And isn’t that what life is supposed to look like anyway? As a follower of Jesus, I believe everything SHOULD have purpose and vision. Every move I make should be one that shares the Light and Life I carry. Everything means something. Otherwise, what else am I here for?

this is how we do it: FOOD

Alright alright, let’s talk meal planning and grocery and all of the food things! First, read the ground rules. All set? Great!

We’ve been following the same food rhythms for nearly four years now. It works great for us, and you guys have asked lots of questions regarding. I’ll try to hit all of the main points but as always, but feel free to email!

The planning.

I meal plan on Saturdays. I use Pinterest and a pretty notebook. The hope is that someday, my very-grown kids will stumble upon the notebook and flip through their childhood menus in weekly chronological order, remembering me fondly as they recognize my slightly-awkward-but-very-neat handwriting.

No, but seriously, I use a new page for each week and date it at the top. I write down the menu for dinner each night, and list the ingredients below. I loosely stick to a goal of one easy meal per week, one meat-free meal per week, and one new meal per week. Ever since we did Whole30 a few years ago, I feel zero pressure to serve carbs (or even three items) with each meal. Sometimes, it’s just a meat and a green. There is always at least one vegetable.

The planning process takes only an hour tops, but sometimes I drag it out. I may start it Saturday morning, and pick it back up during an afternoon on the couch or before bed. I regularly ask the kids and Chris for feedback. I like Pinterest because I can search using ingredients I already have, or even a vibe or category of food I’m in the mood to try. I write the menu on a chalkboard in the kitchen and the whole family really thrives with the routine. The goal for planning is to know exactly what we’re going to eat every night of the week, which should complement our family’s schedule.

The shopping.

I make the official list on Sunday afternoons using Wunderlist. Chris and I run through the fridge and the pantries one more time, adding any staples to the list that are running low. We shop as a family on Sunday evenings, just before bedtime. This is when stores seem the least crowded and we’re most likely to be struck with the Sunday blues.

We shop at three places around town, which allows us to get everything we need for the entire week. Our main spots are Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and a typical regional grocery store (Harris Teeter). Our weekly household budget is $300, but this includes things like toilet paper and soap or a random school supply and my crazy-expensive probiotics. We typically spend right around $200 each week on food. This covers six dinners per week, and then a general supply of breakfast and lunch and snack food. Our budget allows us to eat out once per week, but you can read more about that here. The goal for shopping on Sunday nights is to prevent random stop-ins at stores throughout the week.

The eating.

Both Chris and I cook, depending on who’s home during the two hours leading up to dinner. We eat around the dining room table most nights, but sometimes in a pile on the floor in the kitchen. We try to eat every night at 6pm. This is the only time throughout the week that we slow down and connect, and it’s very important to us. We protect it fiercely. Whoever is in the house is expected to join. Guests are always allowed, even with little or no heads-up. For some reason, there’s always enough to go around. Phones are not allowed at the table.

We do not offer anything outside of what’s on the menu for dinner. If the kids don’t eat it, they go straight to bed after we’re done. They don’t have to eat seconds, but they have to finish what we serve them. If it’s questionable, we give them a very small serving. Nobody leaves the table until everyone is done, and everyone helps clear the table. All of our children help with dishes and wiping down the table. We don’t own a dishwasher, and Chris won’t let us get one. He says he’s had the best conversations of his life with his kids over a soapy sink.

The nitty-gritty.

We’ve gone all organic before, and we’ve also bought a ton of cheap and processed foods to save money. Right now, we focus on whole foods and healthy options but we aren’t going to go broke in the name of organic. If it come from the ground, we’re happy to eat it. We try to restrict the amount of refined sugar and dairy that we consume. We drink almond milk and coconut creamer, but you can find yogurt squeezers and cheese in our fridge. Our meat is the highest-quality we can get, but we also eat a lot of tofu and beans.

There is one section of our kitchen that is fair game for the kids to eat at any time, the corner that holds the fruit basket and the jars full of Trader Joe’s bars. The little ones need to ask beforehand, but we typically say yes. Both are great options for growing children to grab a quick snack without a battle. This area is also where we keep their water bottles. We only buy juice for special occasions.

Meals we frequently make: tofu/rice/broccoli/seaweed snacks, taco salad, spaghetti/salad, beans/rice bar, neat combinations with wanton cups, zuppa toscana, BBQ sammies/broccoli, grilled chicken/anything, beef/veggie stew, sweet potato chili, and a wide variety of salads.

For breakfast, we do a lot of eggs. The chickens keep us well stocked! We also keep basic cereal and oatmeal in the house. For lunch, we eat a lot of finger foods like turkey roll-ups, pickles, plantain chips, and fruits and veggies. Dessert isn’t every night, but we typically serve the little kids a small cookie treat and the big folks like popsicles and ice cream sandwiches. We get all of our sweets from Trader Joe’s.

It may sound silly, but we take this stuff seriously. As a follower of Jesus, we feel called to steward everything we’ve been given –  our bodies, our time, our money, and our habits. This means that quite frankly, I ain’t got time to stress about what’s for dinner. I want to make as much room as possible in my brain and heart for the Spirit’s leading and the work of the Kingdom of God. It’s incredible how much more margin we have when we already know what we’re eating, when we’re shopping, and how much we’re spending.

Hope this helps. Happy meal planning, food shopping, and eating to you!