Deciding how and in what areas of my life I needed to grow used to come easily to me. In high school, both in academics and in athletics, I excelled in setting goals, following through with them, evaluating and re-evaluating myself, and setting new goals again. I pushed myself, and I always aimed to better myself. I never tried to be the best. I just tried to do and to be my best. My very wise and beautiful mother instilled that into me at a very young age, and she always stressed that she would be proud of me no matter what. So, growing up in my small southeast Texas town, my motto was: Be the best student that I can be. Be the best volleyball and softball player that I can be. Be the best friend that I can be. Be the best leader that I can be, and so on, and so on. This was what I did. It was who I was, and I'm ashamed to say that I had a hard time identifying with people who struggled with motivation. (Yuck, how arrogant!) Looking back I now understand why it was so easy for me to stay motivated. How could one surrounded by such an amazing and altruistic support system not be motivated? This was one of those "ah ha" moments in my life. My motivation did not come from myself at all. Rather, it came from very specific people who God purposefully placed in my life as a teenager: amazing teachers who believed I was capable of doing great things one day (God bless Mrs. Roberts, Mrs. McBride, and Mr. Perryman), tough, no-nonsense coaches who pushed me to my limits, loving parents who always encouraged me, loyal friends who supported me, and a selfless pastor who invested his precious and valuable time to teach and nurture me in the faith.
Unfortunately, during my college years, in which I was away from my support system and comfort zone, I seemed to lose sight of how to set and achieve goals effectively. Don't get me wrong; I didn't go crazy or anything like that. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It was in college that my heart burned even more for Christ. I became extremely active at The Wesley Foundation Methodist Student Center at Texas A&M University. I couldn't get enough of the worships, the deep bible studies, the small groups, the accountability, the crazy fun, the memorable trips, and the awesome friends. I practically lived there. I met my husband and some of my best friends there. My parents even joked, and still do for that matter, that I majored in Wesley instead of in psychology. Sure, my spiritual life was blooming. I longed for authentic worship, I felt a part of a faith community, and I devoured the scriptures. For the most part, I tried to let my spiritual growth affect my thoughts, my behavior, my attitude, and the words that came out of my mouth. But I made a critical mistake: I was not open to letting the spiritual growth permeate into other areas of my life, such as my seemingly ordinary and boring academic life. Let me be clear. When the Holy Spirit approached the flat, non-scenic, academic road of my life, I presented it with a hideous, bulky roadblock accompanied by a big, ugly, orange sign that read, "Detour". During that time, instead of letting go so that my spiritual life could affect other areas of my life in positive and godly ways, it's as if I used my spiritual growth to replace the need to set and follow through with goals in other areas of my life. I became unbalanced. The result? A very average, ho-hum college education. I could have gotten so much more out of that experience. I could have learned so much more. To me my spiritual life and my academic life were two very separate things entirely. Not only that, but I even thought, "Why should they have anything to do with the other?" Behold, the idiot.
When you grow spiritually, it should not only be evident in your worship and in how you practice what Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline calls your spiritual disciplines (prayer, meditation, studying scripture, fasting, etc.) , but it should be evident in every aspect of your life--no matter how mundane, worldly, and seemingly unimportant you think it might be. I just didn't get that. When graduate school finally rolled around, and also with my teaching career, it seemed easy to set and achieve goals again. In graduate school, I knew that my future depended on it. With so many cooperative study groups and projects, I also knew that other students were depending on me and the work that I put into it. With teaching, I knew that I was standing on holy ground. Being a part of children's lives in a positive way, impacting their hopes and dreams, loving them enough to set boundaries for them and discipline them, and spurring them on to do great things and to believe in themselves--that was sacred. And I knew it. I knew the stakes were high, and I knew what it would take of me to be the best graduate student and elementary school teacher that I could possibly be. So I put in the time to make sure that I excelled. I finally got it. My professional goals and how I achieved them were closely intertwined with my journey of faith. God was calling me to be in seminary, and God was calling me into the first grade classroom. Therefore, the goals, how ever practical they may have been, held deep, significant, and spiritual meaning.
Now, I've come to a new chapter in my life--a chapter that began when my son was eleven months old. I am now a stay-at-home mom. More than anything in my life, I felt this calling the deepest. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I have realized that I have been growing more spiritually again, which excites me. When I first began to stay at home full time, I knew that calling involved spending more quality time with my son and husband, making them more of a priority, focusing on our family time together, nurturing my son spiritually, playing with him, having silly fun together, and teaching him social skills, his letters and numbers, and all sorts of other things --all the easy and fun things about being a stay-at-home mom. That part of the calling was a no brainer. Here's the sad part. I never realized until recently that if being a stay-at-home mom is truly a calling from God for me, then I should embrace ALL aspects of being a stay-at-home mom as a calling--even the mundane, worldly, seemingly unimportant tasks that go along with being a stay-at-home mom that are not that fun at all. Even those things are part of this calling. Who am I to pick and choose what part of my calling to follow? When I first realized this, my prayers and struggles with God looked a little something like this, "Grocery shopping and cooking? Really? That has something to do with spiritual things? All sitting down at the table to eat together as a family? And, God, did you say eat without the t.v. on? Maybe I'm hearing you wrong. Surely, you don't care how hard I work to get my child to eat vegetables willingly? Seriously, God? This is intertwined into my relationship with you? Getting our family on a budget, spending money wisely, and getting out of debt? That is a part of my spiritual walk with you, Lord? And come on. Laundry? Give me a break. You've got to be kidding." Once I finished throwing my temper tantrum, I accepted that the reality of the situation is that being a stay-at-home mom is my full-time job, my calling, and it's time to embrace all of it--not just the parts that I pick and choose. My behavior would be like the Israelites choosing to skip the forty years of wandering in the desert. No thank you, God. Just please fast forward me straight to the promised land, the good stuff. Thanks. Now, saying that I need to view the every day, ordinary tasks of running a home as part of this calling is not to say that my husband doesn't cook, clean, spend time with our son, change diapers, do laundry, etc. In our marriage we are equal partners. But, lately, I have not been carrying my load when it comes to these ordinary tasks. And when I do, I am not doing it out of a joyful heart and with a heart of a servant carrying out her divine calling.
So, what are my goals for 2011? How do I plan on beginning on the path towards becoming like the godly wife and mother that Proverbs 31 speaks so highly of?
- Plan meals for one entire week at a time and grocery shop once a week for these meals.
- Cook at least 4-5 meals at home for my family per week.
- Get my son to try everything that I cook for a meal at least once, and get him to fully eat at least one thing that I cook each meal (It can be a main dish or a side, and it is acceptable to supplement with other food he likes.)
- Get my son to eat a variety and all of his vegetables at meal times.
- Have my son, my husband, and I all eating dinner at the same time, sitting down all together as a family at the table with the t.v off and no cell phones. (Music is okay.)
- Sit down at the table with my son when he is eating breakfast and lunch, even if I am not eating. I won't simply be in the kitchen doing other stuff while he is eating.
- Load and run the dishwasher at night before bed.
- Designate one day a week to doing multiple loads of laundry.
- Try the local early childhood PTA. (This will be an outlet for me to socialize and learn from other stay-at-home moms and guest speakers as well as an opportunity for my son to have structured play time and activities with other children.)
- Be more committed to attending the weekly women's bible study at my church on Wednesdays. (Make it to at least 24 sessions this year. The bible study does not meet during the summer.)
- Try the MOM'S group at church that meets bi-monthly. (This will be another great outlet for me to fellowship with other moms, but in a Christian setting where we can learn from one another, encourage one another, grow spiritually with one another, and keep one another accountable.)
- Take part in at least one other various bible study at my church throughout the year (Crossing Point mini bible studies every three months, lent bible studies, advent bible studies, etc.)
- Teach my son his letter sounds and numbers in a more organized way.
- Join the weekly Christ-focused preschool group that my friends started.
- Nurture my son spiritually and creatively (through having him attend Sunday School and church, through taking part in the weekly Christ-focused preschool group together, and through nightly prayer time).
- Schedule at least one play date a week outside other weekly activities in which being with other children is a given.
- Set a reasonable family budget, stick to it, and use Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace concepts to learn how to spend money wisely so that we can begin to get our family out of some debt.
The Proverbs 31 Project runs much deeper than surface goals for me. This, above all, will be a spiritual journey. Yes, I have goals that are very practical concerning my development in my role as a mother and a wife. Yes, I have goals concerning my household and my family's well-being as a whole. And yes, I have goals concerning the educational, social, and physical development of my two year old son. But all of these goals and the accomplishment of these goals spawn from a deeper yearning: to personally grow spiritually as I carry out my calling to be a stay-at-home mom and to help my son, in turn, grow spiritually. These are not things that I can "accomplish" or that I can do on my own. God is the One who is the ultimate transformer. It will not be me doing the work, but God doing the work through me. So here I am, Lord, waiting to be transformed.