Laying Our Lives on the Table

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Do you need to examine your priorities? Russ and I are in that process, and this is how we’re doing it.

When I was in the hospital, I had time to consider my life. I realized that I need to make changes – lots of them. I am a visual person and need to write things down in order to make sense of them. If Russ and I could see all of the different things we are committed to in our schedules, maybe we could begin to make sense of how we are using our time, energy, and resources.

Shortly after Russ got home from Kenya, we got away for a night to our friends’ lake house. I love that place, and I love that we have such kind and generous friends who bless us by sharing it. We packed a stack of index cards, and Saturday morning we began writing. We didn’t over think it, we just wrote down everything we could think of. Some cards held very large tasks, like Russ’ work at the university, and others held smaller, simple things like summer baseball for the boys.

With the cards filled out, we laid them all on the table and looked at them. We began moving the cards – “Yes” on the left side of the counter, and “No” on the right. As you can see, it was much harder to move things to the right. This was a long process of discussion which took hours and required several breaks along the way. Prayer and grace toward one another were essential.

The process was not free of emotion or challenge. It’s hard to let go of things that are dear to us or seem important. We tried to lay it all on the table: homeschooling, having a vegetable garden, consulting work, blogging. There were a few big topics we tiptoed around because we knew they were going to be tough…those cards are still in the “Maybe” pile and need to be revisited before long.

Laying our lives on the table gave us clarity on how we are spending the hours we are given. We still have many decisions to make, but we’ve started on a path that I hope will lead to a healthier life for our family. One of the cards that I need to seriously evaluate is my blog and I may be asking for feedback from all of you on what you most want to see here. I need to use my time and energy well.

If you absolutely had to make your life less stressful, what is one thing you would give up?  What would you add?

I would love to hear from you.

It’s beautiful and sunny here, a good day for decluttering and prepping for company arriving for graduation this weekend. We have a wedding in just over a month to prepare for as well. Lots to do – and yes, we had cards for both of these events.

Have a great Monday, friends.

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

48 Comments

  1. Angela Arnett Stone
    May 12, 2014

    I don't think I'm looking for anything particular. I appreciate the "real" factor of your blog. Seeing how messy adoption is even years later. I appreciate the not perfect nature of your life the grace that comes through your writing.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Thank you, Angela. I appreciate hearing from you.

      Reply
  2. Susan
    May 12, 2014

    Oh boy….I need to do this too and it's not easy. Almost everything is something I WANT to do but have to face the fact that I have a terrible tendency to take on too much and feel totally stressed out and ineffective. Thanks for the reminder and good luck paring back to a healthy level of commitment in your life.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      No kidding, Susan, it's winnowing out the best from all of the good. It's a tough process.

      Reply
  3. kristine barr
    May 12, 2014

    I would hate for you to give up your blog. This is for selfish reasons though. Please give consideration to the blog being a tangible journal of what is going on in your lives. In the future, your chldren and grandchildren will be exposed to your times and how you reacted to them. Of course ,I will enjoy your writing too.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Thank you Kristine. I don't think I will give it up, but I might need to streamline a little. I would miss blogging!

      Reply
  4. Julie
    May 12, 2014

    WOW! What a great idea! And…. OWW! That seems painful! I don't know if I want to do this! I don't know what I would give up. Such hard decisions. I pray you can make the best choices with grace.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Yes, painful is right, Julie. I thought we pared way down several years ago, but now we need to do it again. Thankfully, Russ is by my side and we're doing it together, even if it's tough.

      Reply
  5. Mary Ostyn
    May 12, 2014

    Tough things to consider. Praying you will have wisdom and insight as you think

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Thanks, Mary. I may have some questions for you as I sort out blog decisions. You inspired me with your new schedule!

      Reply
  6. Marlene
    May 12, 2014

    Lisa – I love that you are talking about this. I've been working through this too, in my own life. There are the have-tos and then there are the want-tos. Sometimes it's crystal clear (feed my family) and sometimes it's just not that easy. I'm praying for wisdom and God's leading. I hope you don't give up your blog completely, it has meant so much to me in my own journey. Maybe you could put boundaries around your blogging — only x times per month. And I loved what you did by re-posting your Mother's Day post from a previous year. It was just as poignant then as it is now. What I realized yesterday was that Mother's Day has now become a trigger for me as a result of the many years of struggle on that day for my children. I tried so very hard to be strong for them, and I was, but in the end that day brings so many things together for me, too, if I'm honest with myself. God gave me this verse yesterday, I Cor 13:7. I memorized it as a child, but it has new meaning for me today: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The NIV says, It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Thank you for your candor and sharing your life with us. It has helped me to persevere.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Marlene, thank you for your beautiful and encouraging words. I think "boundaries" is a good word for what I need. That and systems that make it simpler for me to write efficiently. I've thought of doing a "best of" post once a week. After nearly eight years of blogging, there are posts that many of my readers have never seen and some of them are pretty good! I had a bit of a Mother's Day meltdown in the morning and nearly sabotaged the day myself. Thankfully, the Lord smacked me upside the head, and Russ patiently saw me through. Lots of tough memories on Mother's Day; thankfully my day was very sweet.

      Reply
  7. Emily
    May 12, 2014

    I'm reading this while waiting for yet another medical procedure for our child with multiple health issues to be completed, and I can identify with the process you're describing here. I stopped blogging two years ago when we got his cancer diagnosis, and although I have felt it was impossible to keep up with, looking back, I can see how it was also a wonderful means for me to make sense of things through writing. Much as I find I must actually teach a co-op class for my school-subject priority of the year for my kids (because I won't prioritize it if it is "just" my kids I'm prepping lessons for), it was a way for me to state that sifting through our family's experience and writing it down forced me to consciously look for beauty and for God's grace in our lives. For me, that's harder to do without writing it down, and I don't find that I journal nearly as regularly without the blog-platform (much like teaching well-prepared history or science or art lessons to my kids). One thing we've implemented this past year that has been a HUGE help is twice-a-week homeschooling help for my child with health issues. He is so intense and demands constant attention, and it has been good for him to work with another "teacher," it's even good for me to get a break from him-if only a few hours a week- and it's been wonderful for my younger children to have those hours when we can curl up and read books without being constantly interrupted with drama. I don't know if that helps, but I want you to know that I'm praying for your decisions. These are hard things–as I was praying about similar decisions we are making this morning, the LORD brought proverbs 12:22 to mind–"lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight." I'm praying that the lies–from our culture about what we "should" do, and even from my own heart that says "you can't live without THAT" would be exposed, and that the LORD would give us courage to act faithfully. Your blog is always an encouragement to me because here I see someone who desires to be faithful, who wants to look at life honestly, and love those in your world in the name of Christ–even when it means following Jesus along the way of suffering to bear another's load because of a desire for healing. I would miss your blog if you stopped, but I understand how important your family is. May The Lord give you peace in your decisions!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Emily, I love hearing your thoughts and the process you've gone through (and continue even now). I love what you said about not listening to the lies of the world about what is worthy of our time. We need the Lord to show us just what we should do in the next year. Dimples will be coming home, and that is going to be a huge readjustment. Having her home for a five-day visit reminded me how much structure and support she needs. As for blogging, I totally agree that writing helps me process and make sense of my life – it's therapeutic, AND it's a lot of work.

      Reply
      1. Emily
        May 12, 2014

        Only danger of using my phone is that I didn't notice I wrote an epic length comment. 🙂 Sorry about that! Thanks for your kind words. Praying for clarity and discernment for you and Russ!

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          May 12, 2014

          Your comment was just right. I love long comments!

          Reply
  8. charity betts
    May 12, 2014

    this is such a good idea, I forget how visual my husband is, this would definitely help us both realize why it seems we can't get things done…because the list of things we are getting done already is so large! best family council I had during years with nursing baby and 7 homeschoolers was one where I made a giant poster of how much time everything takes…each person had a section on the chart and their commitments and how much time that left over for them to help the family…they were enlightened to see mom and dads sections and realize there wasn't even time, apparently, in the day for all the things we already do! it also reminds us to be more selective of how we use that precious little time "left over" good luck with the maybe stack, those are so hard to choose well…i'm sure any step in the right direction to simplify and be more conscientious will show improvement

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Charity, I like the idea of figuring out how much time different tasks take. It's easy to be unrealistic and think we can squeeze in more than we can. Then it's things like sleep and time with our husbands that tends to go. I also think it's important to consider how many activities "only happen once a month." If we have four of them, then it's really something happening weekly.

      Reply
  9. ErinH
    May 12, 2014

    I truly enjoy reading everything you post 🙂 Less than helpful, right ?!? I have especially enjoyed hearing about useful "therapy" and use quite a few things I've learned from you. I consider you a mentor, even though we don't know each other. I also like hearing about your family and enjoy your "thankfulness" posts. I will continue to read whether you post 1/week or 1/month. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Erin, thank you for telling me what you find most helpful – and letting me know you'll still read even if I post less. I appreciate that so much.

      Reply
  10. RuthB
    May 12, 2014

    I really appreciate your blog too. I don't know how many times I have come on to read and it has been what I needed to hear. Thank you so much for that.
    We are working really hard in our family too at making things work better. I have been decluttering the last couple of months and that has been helpful. I really like your idea of the cards and just thinking quickly would love to figure out how to add in maybe another colour card or highlighter colour of things that aren't working well right now. For example, I am struggling with meal prep. – meal planning is something that would make our lives so much easier. Our chore chart was working well – but we have let it slip a little, so that means I am picking up more of the slack. Other things are working well – maybe they wouldn't even need to be looked at. Does this make any sense? I guess I am just thinking out loud and wondering how to make things better. Our family looks a lot like yours, as far as ages, type of adoptions, etc. and we are really busy – and struggling to figure out what to let go and what to keep doing! Thanks so much for sharing with us as you work through things yourself.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Ruth, I like the idea of color coding – even different colors for kid activities would be helpful. We also wrote in medical things…like Russ probably needing back surgery this year. That is going to take time, so we need to consider it. Maybe a color for joyful things – hiking, taking family walks, picnics, etc. Those things always get shoved out of our busy life, which isn't good.

      Reply
  11. Dinnette
    May 12, 2014

    I'm a fairly new reader of your blog but always find it interesting and thought provoking. While I don't have any adopted children, I work with a young lady who definitely fits the comes-from-hard-places profile. Many of your posts have given me better insight into dealing with her behaviors. As one who likes to serve others, and make people happy, I have often found myself overwhelmed and short on time and energy. At one point I pared down my commitments, and then made the vow to not take on anything new without eliminating something else. It has helped me to really think about whether this new activity is as meaningful, or more-so, than what I'm already doing. My morning Bible reading and prayer time help me keep my eyes on what God wants of me, and for me. I wish you well as you make these tough decisions and I hope it helps to remember that if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to care for your amazing family. God Bless.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      I'm so glad you find my blog useful, Dinnette. That is a blessing to me. I like the idea of figuring out how many commitments I can manage and only adding when I can also let something go. Good thought.

      Reply
  12. Angela
    May 12, 2014

    We have been finding ourselves in a similar situation and I think it would be helpful for my husband and I to do the same thing! I would also benefit by visualizing it by laying it all out! We have found as our children have gotten older that it is harder to say "no" to some things we once could say "yes" to!! I, as others, appreciate your blog because of our similar experiences in both having large families and adopting. I also find myself comparing our 8 yr old (adopted from ET) to Dimples. I also appreciate your openness and honesty and not just portraying what people may want to hear but reality!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      I am so glad you all like me to keep it real, because that's just about all I can do. We definitely have a harder time saying no to things as our kids have grown older. We don't want them to miss out on too much; they've made so many sacrifices for some of their younger siblings. Thanks for commenting, Angela.

      Reply
  13. Alyssa
    May 12, 2014

    I appreciate your blog and have it on Feedly to read whenever you post. I love your heartfelt words, sharing both the joys and pains and how God answers prayers. I like the Tuesday topics and the comments of your readers– I learn a lot from those. You could fill in with some guest posts maybe? I would also be very interested to hear from your husband or older children with their views on things if they wanted to write a blog or answer some reader questions.

    What an interesting exercise you are going through– I find it hard to balance the structured vs. unstructured time for my son. I don't want to be out of the house for too many sports and homeschool co-ops, but then we we stay home, he is always needing someone to interact with as well. And that's tiring too ( siblings are all 7 or more years older) Right now we just finished soccer and have almost nothing on the calender except play with friends and cousins, which I love, but he gets restless.

    I pray you feel free of any burdens or pressures and that God will give you supernatural wisdom and agreement in your decisions– He can see the future and knows what's best for your family. I pray you will be offered and receive help during this season. Praying for abundant provision and good health form Him who is able to do more than we can ask or think!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 13, 2014

      Alyssa, thanks for your thoughts. I like the idea of my kids answering questions…if I can get them to do it! I like the Tuesday Topics too, and they are very little work for me. I should definitely keep that going.

      Reply
  14. charity betts
    May 12, 2014

    I agree with what some of the others said, I would love to see you still blog, I know you have had a system in the past with a personal expectation of a quantity of posts, or weekly subjects being covered…I think as a reader, I would not notice if you posted less frequently, or only weekly or something…maybe you could just have sections like in a newsletter, one post with a thought on….Tuesday topics, a thought on blessings counted…a thought on discipline challenges that week…a thought on books read? it would still pass the info on and start the discussions, but not take another quiet time to sit and write from the family?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      Thank you for taking the time to offer practical suggestions, Charity. I really appreciate that.

      Reply
  15. Jeri
    May 12, 2014

    Oh, my heart has longed for my husband and I to do this, only I don't know what we would cut out anymore. It's priorities, it's things that matter for the future. I hope keeping your blog is on the good side. I read it, I take encouragement from it, and I love seeing the progress that's made in your family.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 13, 2014

      I hear you, Jeri! We thought we had pared down our lives as much as possible, and now I feel like we need to do it again. It's like decluttering our schedule, just like I need to declutter my house.

      Reply
  16. Acceptance with Joy
    May 12, 2014

    Wow. quite the process.

    We've come to a similar conclusion about our lives in the last month or so. We returned our foster children to family last week and we have "closed" our home ( except if a certain situation comes up). I'm re-evaluating everything. Our home needs attention. The garden needs attention. The dog needs attention. My special needs kids need attention. I'm done with living at the expense of the tyranny of the urgent…. but ack! Some things are just not even planned and they throw everything off (took care of 2 toddlers today that I had not planned on – but their mom was in a pinch. However, this kind of thing happens often.) My blogging is not even very good at this point, I'm so overwhelmed… but it really does seem to help me sort out my life a little.

    God bless as you work through it all.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 13, 2014

      I know what you mean about everything needing attention. We're hosting Noah and Katie's wedding reception in our yard in a month and it definitely needs attention. I need to walk through the house and figure out what is most needed and realistic to accomplish before then too. Not to mention needing dresses for the girls to wear and something nice for the boys. I'm keeping it simple with the kids who aren't in the wedding, but still… I'm glad you can take a break and close your home for a time. Take some deep breaths and let your mind rest a little.

      Reply
  17. Emily
    May 12, 2014

    In response to your blog: I appreciate your honesty and candor, but also your tone of faithfulness and hope. My family struggled with brutal choices this winter and reading about your journey with Dimples was very grounding to me. I check your blog daily, and if there is nothing new I often read through old posts.

    In response to simplicity: I am dedicating my time now to eliminating "stuff". I have realized how much of my time is dedicated every day to cleaning, and how much useless mess impacts my ability to simply be present (or at least pleasantly present). It also impacts my kids' ability to play well with what they have and to enjoy their space. My two mottos are "I don't need more space, I need less stuff.", and the quote you shared at Christmastime of "Keep nothing in your home you do not believe to beautiful or know to be useful." I have also become very intentional about who is present in my life and how – the need for Godly wisdom, encouragement, and helping handsl far outweigh my need for a long contact list of people to call to chat or a long friends list on Facebook.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 13, 2014

      Emily, I completely agree about the need to get rid of stuff. I feel that so strongly! Once the wedding is over and I hope to put some effort into decluttering and creating more peace. My kitchen, laundry room, closet – well, just about every place in my house could use a serious decluttering.

      Reply
  18. Katie May
    May 12, 2014

    Love this! My husband and I are in a similar process (although not as visual…love that!!!) as we approach a sabbatical year and the birth of another baby (#3). If I were to give one thing up, I would hire someone to clean…the money spent would be worth the time gained. If I were to add one thing, I would add a life-giving ladies' Bible study into my life.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2014

      I completely agree with both your added and deleted choices, Katie May. I'm doing a summer Bible study with a few friends and I am so excited about it. I would love to give up cleaning…maybe some day.

      Reply
  19. Luann Yarrow Doman
    May 12, 2014

    I really appreciate your blogs and have learned so much from you about adoption and family and faith.
    I think the problem of busyness is common; it's hard to say no to worthwhile projects and causes. Something I wrote recently on FB is this: Acknowledging your temperament, determining your long-term goals, and ranking your priorities is very helpful when deciding where to spend your money and how to spend your time.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 13, 2014

      I like that, Luann – very helpful words. Thanks.

      Reply
  20. DFNY
    May 12, 2014

    I think it's great that you and Russ are taking the time to determine how best to use your time so you can create the best life for all members of your family. I love reading your blog, always looking forward to your well-written, thought-provoking, and helpful posts. (I also remember the info & videos on Empowered to Connect, which I found very interesting.) However, I've always wondered how you could accomplish as much as you do (writing, speaking, home-schooling, supporting Dimples, having Russ travel to Kenya, loving your kids, cooking dinner, reading, attending Church, etc., etc.). Wow. I wonder whether all these commitments leave enough time for your kids at home (younger and older) to enjoy being with you without having to share you and Russ with everyone OUT THERE. I still hope you will blog whatever number of times you can each month but, if that would ultimately stop you from just having down time for yourself and for your kids, then I say let go of the blog or of the speaking arrangements. And once again, thank you for all that you have unselfishly shared with all of us throughout the years.

    Damaris

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 13, 2014

      Damaris, I really appreciate your thoughtful words. We're definitely sifting through our lives and asking ourselves hard questions. We want to keep the things that feed our souls – both individually and as a family. Russ' work in Kenya is a good example. The joy he gets from using his gifts to minister to the people is significant. Blogging is like that for me, most of the time. There is so much to evaluate! We have a big graduation this weekend and then a wedding on June 14th. After that, I hope to get more sorted out.

      Reply
      1. DFNY
        May 13, 2014

        Lisa, it's wonderful to know that blogging and the work in Kenya bring you and Russ such joy because these activities also give so much to others. I had hesitated to post my comments for fear of their being misinterpreted. I'm glad you understood my intentions. I love the idea of putting your thoughts on cards and analyzing the many parts of your lives, obligations and joys. I can see how productive this would be for anyone (see? you're being helpful again). Can't wait to see pictures from the graduation and the wedding…how exciting!

        Damaris

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          May 13, 2014

          Damaris, you've commented enough that I feel like I "know" you a little bit and I could hear the heart of what you were saying. I'll be sure to post pictures!

          Reply
  21. Tessy @ Divine Moments
    May 14, 2014

    I recently have been blogging about running on empty and keeping my "soul fuel" going. At this point in my life it isn't about the quantity of the to do's which never seem to slow but the quality of the time I spend. I have four kids and so I know the strain of the schedule will never ease that much. I instead have been focusing on how to improve the time I have. Rides in the car? Turn off the music and have a conversation with my kids. Ball game practices? If possible send the boys with dad and get in some girl time with the daughters. Blogging? I need to write. I take a media break every year in June and have set aside chunks of time to write and then pre-scheduled posts. Date nights with the husband? Plan it and put it on the calendar. There is bad busy… connecting with things/ministry that drain. Then there is good busy that leaves us tired but filled.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 14, 2014

      Tessy, we were just talking about that this morning – what makes our life richer, more meaningful, and more joyful. So many decisions to make! I like the idea of a pre-planned break. I've done that in the past when I was going to be on vacation, but haven't thought about it in awhile. Thanks for the reminder.

      Reply
  22. Rachel
    May 15, 2014

    Hi LIsa

    I am a long time reader, first time I am commenting (I think)… I personally would miss your blog if you give it up. The encouragement and reality you provide is a breath of fresh air — it makes me feel not so alone. I have recently adopted 3 teenage girls internationally and at times feel like no one understands the issues we are dealing with and then I read your blog and read your readers comments and feel that there is some one (lots actually) out there that "get it" and I am encouraged. I understand that you need to give things up… but please continue to see your blog as the ministry that it is… it is not a frivolous waste of time doing something you enjoy but a ministry blessing many many others 🙂 Your words are real, convicting, and encouraging… all at once… May God bless you and keep you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 15, 2014

      Rachel, thank you for taking the time to comment and encourage me. Some days I write something and put it out there never knowing if it is meaningful – I appreciate knowing that it is. Bless you for having the courage to adopt three teens. I hope you have (or will) created a team of support to encourage you and give you practical support.

      Reply

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