What’s Right in Front of Me: A Year of Personal Recalibration

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For those long-time readers or people who know us in real life, this autobiographical background may be review, but it’ll help explain what follows:

  • 12 years or so ago, for many reasons, we moved abroad. Doug managed a coffee roasting business, and I stayed home with our ever-expanding family. We each learned languages and made local and ex-pat friends wherever we lived.

Ever since that time in our lives, Doug & I have commented that it seems that our “stress-o-meter” is broken. Have you ever seen one of those “Life Stress Score” sheets? (Like this?) Living overseas in virtually any capacity makes it so that you are constantly living at scores far beyond the highest score (with this cheery explanation: “You have a high or very high risk of becoming ill in the near future.”)

Basically, between illness and accidents and unexpected moves and moldy apartments and the constant strain of finding new grocery stores and developing new friendships and never having babysitters… I think we pushed our stress-o-meter to the limit enough times that it just stopped reading.

So since that time:

  • We came back to the US in 2011, thinking it was just for a visit with family, but unexpectedly remained here in the States.
  • We moved to WA in 2014.
  • And the whole time, we’ve kept having these sweet babies.

Something I realized recently though, is that the entire time I’ve been a mom, I’ve related deeply with, and poured energy and effort into, people not in front of my face. Often by necessity.

  • Skype calls or long e-mails are inadequate, but still-utilized, substitutes for once-face-to-face interactions with relatives and close friends.
  • Starting in 2006, blogging was a way for me to interact– in English. I needed Christian sisters to help me refine my thinking, and so friends did that for me… thinking through parenting, marriage, and biblical ideas together. Eventually blogging became a way to encourage other women (ala Titus 2) and to store away thoughts and ideas for my daughter’s eventual benefit (in case she wants to dig through the “big ideas” that have driven our decisions and parenting, one day when she is a mother and perhaps my memory is too foggy to give her particulars).
  • As we moved to various places, and made friends who moved to various places (the ex-pat community is an ever-shifting one… just about the time you make a good friend, their husband gets posted to a different consulate, or their missions agency requires that they leave for a year in the US, or whatever) Facebook seemed like a no-brainer way to stay connected with the people we cared about, no matter what distances separated us.

And these things have worked fairly well for me, as far as they can.

 

But at this stage, I need some personal recalibration. 

My life ISN’T what it was when we started out those many years ago. I don’t live abroad with young children in a place without any friends.

  • I have teens who need my full attention as they each begin making important decisions that will set them on their life’s trajectory. The things they’re considering and making choices about will echo out into eternity. They need my time and smiles and full eyeballs on them and my brain geared toward helping them figure out their place in this wide world.
  • I have a daughter who actually came to me, y’all, this is amazing to me, and asked, “could you teach me how to study the Bible?” She wants to pray together. WHAT A GIFT. So we’ve been doing inductive Bible study together. She is so precious to me, and has such an earnest heart. I want to pour into her and help her grow and understand what it means to turn to God through this next season.
  • I still have little ones who need me to notice when they have boogers in their noses, and rotten attitudes, and a cough that sounds croupy, and need their toenails clipped, and that they’ve started being sneaky and eyeing the markers. (I really really hate markers.)
  • I have middle kids who need me to train them toward faithfulness in daily things, and blow dandelions with them, and listen to their nonsensical jokes. They want me to look at their cucumber plants, and help them learn phonics blends and snuggle them, and play Rummikub, and teach them how to make spaghetti.
  • We also have a wonderful church full of precious people that we dearly love. Young marriages, starting out, with little ones to raise and train up. Mature marriages with their own challenges and habits. Young men and young women who desire relationships and encouragement. Women who want to study the Bible together.

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And I don’t know how to recalibrate while perched up here on the fence, with one foot planted in real life and one foot planted in online “ministry.”

Right now, while I sort out how much– if any– time I have for online ventures, I really need to give myself time off to plant my feet fully in real life for a time.

So.

I’m taking a year to recalibrate, and to focus on what’s right in front of me. For me, that means:

  • No blogging. (Which feels silly cause I’d already written and pre-scheduled posts through October. Yes, I did that so I could take the summer off without any pressure to write. So in one sense, this feels stupid. The writer in me is saying “WHY NOT JUST GO AHEAD AND PUBLISH THEM?” but the practical and ultimately correct person in me is saying, “because, Jess, you will feel obligated to interact in comments, and fix the picture that shows up weird on FB, and on and on and on…”) So. No. No blogging.
  • No podcasting. (Which also feels a bit silly because I’ve already dreamed up some more dream guests and I actually feel like the medium of podcasting is a wonderful way to transmit big ideas with the tone intended and enough context to truly be beneficial. The recent reader survey indicated a lot of you feel that way, too.) But for this year, no podcasting.
  • Only non-obligatory Facebook use. (Which is what I’ve already been doing. By this, I mean… I’m using FB for planning and connecting in real-life events, and occasional catching-up with people who come to mind. I did unfollow everyone, which I –mostly– have been quite happy with. But I’m occasionally checking in on people when I have time for it. Mostly, though, I’m already limiting my FB time.) *Note: I do have 2 months’ worth of pre-scheduled links that will still publish as food-for-thought on my Facebook author page.*
  • I’m getting a dumb phone. I don’t want my kids to view me as continually phone-in-hand. I want to model for them what healthy engagement with devices looks like.

More than anything, I feel the need to step away from all the “assumed” online interactions, and force myself to deeply evaluate that favorite question I’ve asked myself many times:

 

What has God CLEARLY put on my plate?

 

At a buffet, there are lots of options. If you were there with your child, you might preload their plate with a piece of chicken and one good spoonful of veggies. You’d say, “darlin, you can pick anything you like, but you have to at least eat this.”

Imagine if your kid took that plate, went through the line, and ended up adding so many things to the plate that that chicken and veggies were shoved off and fell to the floor.

I don’t want to be like that.

I’ve seen a whole lot of people who (from my vantage point, at least) seem to add so many things to their personal (or their family) “plate” that they end up shoving off the things God gives them responsibility for.

  • Their marriage spirals downward.
  • The kids struggle.
  • Bible study falls to the side.
  • Prayer life is non-existent.
  • Shows are binge-watched.
  • The family runs at such a frenetic pace that there aren’t enough pauses for contemplation and purposeful decisions.
  • The whole time, Mom feels a guilty nagging, “I’m not sure I feel right about this activity/that commitment.”
  • Movies with sex scenes, crude joking, or strings of expletives, become normative.
  • Church becomes simply another activity, rather than who we are.
  • Devices take over family life.

Even if it’s not every item on that ^^^ list, inevitably:

  • The “extra” things end up crowding out the essential things.

The only way I know to differentiate between what God has put on my plate and what I have put there, is to strip down to the basics and slowly add back in what He specifically leads us to do.

So for me, right now, that means a year of turning toward, doing, and zeroing in on what’s right in front of me.

 

For the next twelve months, I’m actively choosing the things right in front me. Things like:

  • talking with my teen sons, letting conversations have enough quiet and “pause” for them to ask uncomfortable questions or the ones they’ve been wondering about but have trouble putting words to.
  • reading Scripture with my daughter and confessing heart attitudes and walking alongside her as a needy beggar before a good and merciful God
  • looking my middle and little sons in the eyes and grinning at them with my whole face
  • studying Scripture with my sisters in the Lord at our local church, and getting to know them in deeper ways
  • talking with our neighbors for longer than hi/bye casual encounters.

and turning away from the unnecessary flashing lights.

Even “beneficial” things might not be what is needful.

I’m tired of letting “norms” crowd out what is right in front of me.

So for now, I’m switching off the microphone. Any writing I do will be to process what is needful, but not to share with anyone, because this is my year of personal recalibration.

I choose what’s right in front of me.

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{Note to readers: I’m very thankful for all the personal encouragement, interactions with, and kindness from each of you. If you’d pray for me whenever God brings me to your mind, I’d be grateful. God bless you in this next year! ~Jess}

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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14 Responses

  1. Bethany says:

    I love this, Jess. I don’t feel compelled to drop online stuff myself at this point (not sure if that’s reality or denial), but I know what it’s like to realize you have to say no to some good things. I did some reevaluating of my time management last summer, which resulted in positive changes over the last school year, and just last week posted the following on my blog.

    “Now I’m facing another summer of stepping back and reevaluating how my time is spent before real life starts back up again in the fall. I know some of the changes I made this last school year will continue and others will shift one way or another, but I think the biggest change is going to be in the nitty gritty of our daily life. My time management has tanked, absolutely tanked, when it comes to ordinary days! I need to manage my responsibilities in a way that models a good work ethic for the kids, allows plenty of time for rest and play, and gives us freedom to enjoy the flexibility that comes with homeschooling. I’ve got a whole summer to think, pray, and make lists as I figure out the best way to do that in this particular season of life. I’m looking forward to it, though, because I’ve just spent nine months reaping the rewards of the changes I pondered last summer.”

    Praying for you, myself, and all the other gals who want to make the best use of our time. Praying for the ability to honest with ourselves, wisdom to know what the right choice is for right now, self-control to stick with our decision when tempted to bail on it, and discernment to know when things need to shift again.

  2. Maura says:

    Good for you! I hope you have a great and meaningful year. All the best to you.

  3. Lauretta Wheaton says:

    Thank you for putting into words the situation that i find myself in. I love your blogs- they are what i need to hear… so… thank you. Thank you for your honesty, and vulnerabilty and for giving me courage to do what I need to do…. deal with what’s in front of me. Take care…. God will bless you you as you put Him first.

  4. Michelle says:

    Good for you, Jess. I hope that you find refreshment and draw closer to those who are important to you!

    A side note…this is exactly why we decided to be done with local school for now. I’d love the girls to learn Russian and have local friends but it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing, the end goal, is to have polite and respectful children who have good relationships with their family members and who, God-willing, love the Lord. Who cares if they make local friends but can’t be friends with their siblings. I’m so grateful for he perspective the past two years have given me.

    Looking forward to hearing from you when the time is right again!

    • Michelle says:

      That should read …”if they have local friends IF THEY can’t be friends with their siblings.” Big difference there.

  5. Stephanie says:

    I’m happy for you Jess, I hope you & your family will benefit greatly with the change. There are different seasons in life, and it’s important that we are aware when changes need to be made. I especially loved your example of filling our plates too much that the needed things God has given us are pushed off! I needed to hear that as well. Thank you for all of your past encouragement and advice, I have appreciated it very much! God Bless!

  6. Diana says:

    Good for you, Jess. Good for you.

    SO many moms of this generation need to hear just what you said in this post. I know it’s your own personal journey, but SO many of us are being consumed by digital devices and our own busyness. It’s ugly. Your willingness to step away is a huge testimony and good example.

    And gosh, teens? I knew you had one, but I guess more have been promoted! You go!!

    I totally agree with all you say, too. It’s been why I’ve stepped away from blogging over the past eight months. It has NOT been easy. Once you love blogging, the urge is always there. I still don’t know if I should go back or not, but the urge is there, and I have to fight it constantly. However, as you say, there is only so much space on my plate, and blogging is just not an essential when it compares to children, husband, and home.

    And I loved this:

    “I still have little ones who need me to notice… that they’ve started being sneaky and eyeing the markers. (I really really hate markers.)”

    Ditto!!

    I will totally miss your writing, but you are being amazing! Keep being amazing!!! Enjoy!

  7. Heather says:

    I want to support you in this decision! I have been reading you for quite a few years now but have never commented. We are missos serving in Africa and even out here in the bush this post is very relevant to me. So thanks for the past posts in how they encourage me (I really resonate with how you articulate your position in a kind, respectful and non threatening way) and thanks for this one for SURE! Bless you. This is good and right and of eternal value!! Sending you high fives and hugs!!

  8. Sarah says:

    This is bittersweet! Your ministry has been so valuable to me with very few older and wiser moms to learn from in my current context. I’m so thankful for the desires God has put in your heart and understand how important it is that you take this time. I selfishly hope and pray you’ll be able to return to blogging / podcasting in the future but either way, may God greatly bless this year for you!

  9. Catie says:

    This is really inspiring, Jess!!! :) I think you’re being wise and I appreciate you even more for it. If that’s even possible. <3

  10. Jamie Butts says:

    Love you, Jess! Your decision encouraged me in one I had been needing to make as well. Loved this post so much, and I’m thankful for you.

  11. Lottie says:

    Jess, I agree, this is bittersweet to me too with few older and wiser mums at our church here, your blog has been such an encouragement. I have learnt a lot and you’ve really informed many of my reflections on life as a Christian mum. But ..I am excited for what lies ahead for you and your family- a season of noticing, connecting, growth and depth. I’ve really noticed that being spread too thinly is a common problem and like tidying it works much better to get everything out of the cupboard and only put back what belongs, rather than picking out a few bits here and there!!! You’ll never regret going deeper and investing in what God has already given you. Praying for His blessing on you and your family in this season.

  12. Henna Maria says:

    Hi Jess!
    I just found your blog and really enjoyed reading through the parenting posts. And then I read this! I pray you will have a very relaxing and meaningful year and I am looking forward to seeing you again – if this is what God has in mind for you and your family. Meanwhile I will be reading the older posts. Thank you!

  1. July 7, 2017

    […] God // the week my tears ran out //homemade paint // tragedy and injustice and Philando Castille // recalibrating – I love her blog and her first podcast episode & this post really resonated with me and […]

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