My Friend Gave Me the Gift of a Housekeeper, but It Was So Much More

In my last post, I told you all about how my friend sent me a housekeeper last week. My husband had been working out of town for nearly 4 1/2 months, and I was overwhelmed by the mess.

Ironically, I love to organize. I love cleaning an organized space.

But if the space is cluttered, I can’t stand to look at it, much less clean it.

I had several bins of clutter sitting in my dining room from where I’d tried to condense the mess so that the housekeeper would have room to work her magic, and wow. What magic she did work.

My floors gleamed. My countertops were pristine. My dishes were washed (which she doesn’t usually do, but did it for me, which blessed me tremendously). Even the AIR smelled like it had been scrubbed to a shine.

I called my mom to gush about the housekeeper’s magic, and about how I felt fresh, fun inspiration to organize, which was the opposite of literally days ago, when I felt like my lungs were squeezed of all its oxygen.

While I yammered on and on about it (my mom is such a great listener), I told her about how the clutter being condensed to baskets and bins made the task so much simpler and easier. That’s when I announced to her that I’d like to try scrubbing my house the way the housekeeper had done … all in one go. If she can do it in two hours in an unfamiliar home, surely I could do it in the same amount of time, once per week, preferably on a Saturday morning (I don’t know why, but when I wake up on Saturday mornings, I am in a powerful cleaning mood).

That’s when I suddenly gasped into the phone like air had just been restored to a drowning body.

In that moment I was suddenly taken back to when the housekeeper had first arrived at my house. She asked me what my “goals” were for her. I spilled to her about how I used to enjoy cleaning, back when I lived by myself. I just couldn’t figure out why I hated it so much now. It changed when I got married, and the space was then shared with another person. It felt like the tasks quadrupled, and I couldn’t figure out why the joy of cleaning had been zapped from my routine. Where was the breakdown? Someone who I love more than anyone else in this world was sharing my life now … so why was it so harder?

I was still sucking air into the phone at this point.

Saying all of this out loud made me realize that this “new” way of cleaning, is actually my OLD way of cleaning, back when I used to actually enjoy it. During the week, I would clean by gathering the clutter into a pile, then putting the pile away. Then Saturday mornings I would get up, play music, and scrub each room clean. It was like a ceremony of love for the space in which I lived. To me, cleaning was a show of gratitude for my home. I specifically remember being on my knees in my bathroom, scrubbing the floors with a sponge because I hated using a mop. I placed my rubber-glove-clad hand on the wall and thanked God for my home, as if the home were an actual member of my family.

When I finished sucking air into the phone and freaking my mom out because she thought something terrible had suddenly happened, I began to shout this revelation to her.

See, when my husband moved into my apartment after we got married, it wasn’t just the space we shared. It was also the systems and routines and responsibilities. He used a mop like most other people do. His method of doing laundry was different. His way of putting away clutter was the opposite of mine. Because the systems clashed, one had to give. So I gave. I changed the way I folded laundry (do you guys realize how hard it is to force yourself to fold laundry differently??). I changed my routine to the way he did things, and because he was a naturally neat person, there was no way that his way could fail.

But it did.

By taking on someone else’s way of cleaning, my system broke down and disintegrated. I no longer enjoyed it. I quickly grew into resenting it. For eleven years of marriage now, I’ve outright hated housework.

Normal couples argue about money, or something big like that. But most of our arguments began about housework.

I saw it as the bane of my existence. When housework would pile up to epic proportions, my husband would jump up and clean house for me to relieve my overwhelm. Although I appreciated what he did, he had NO WAY of knowing that it was something I used to enjoy, and wanted to enjoy again. Having it done for me, however, made me feel even more robbed. This made him feel unappreciated, naturally, which led to resentment coming from both sides. A messy house robbed my husband of feeling peace in the space where he lived. Housework was a needle that constantly jabbed me and threaded stress into my marriage. When we had kids, housework kept me from spending more time with my kids. It kept me from having more time to write. It kept me from watching my favorite TV shows, or hiking, or <insert everything I’ve ever loved here>.

Now, here’s the great irony of all: I blamed housework for being the thing that got between me and everyone/everything I loved, when really, I had just forgotten how to enjoy the work itself.

The words that I shouted into the phone at my mom went something like this: “THAT’S HOW I USED TO DO THINGS! WAY BACK IN THE DAY WHEN I USED TO LOVE IT! COLLECT CLUTTER INTO A PILE TO PUT IT AWAY, AND SAVED THE SCRUBBING FOR SATURDAY MORNINGS! IT’S WHAT I USED TO DO! THIS ISN’T A NEW METHOD THAT I’VE DECIDED TO TRY … IT’S MY OLD WAY OF DOING THINGS! WHY DID I EVER CHANGE??”

My mom just laughed at me, and said she always knew I was a natural organizer, and that I’d always organized with pleasure since childhood.

For nearly a week now, I’ve gotten this house into order, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. All because I decided to do it simply the WAY I DO IT.

That seems to be the story of my life … I know I’m an odd person, and the way I do things isn’t conventional. But as soon as someone tells me I’m doing it wrong, I assume the “right” way must be better, so I change the way I do things, so that I can do them the “right” way. This goes for not only housework, but also exercise, dieting, writing, blogging.

It dawned on me that I created my own way of homeschooling, and it works perfectly, with no sign of burnout, and it’s my way. Not anyone else’s way.

With my new Podcast, The Simple Word, I’m doing things my way, not the way anyone else suggested.

With blogging, I’ve only just recently gone back to the way I like to do things, after YEARS of losing my love for blogging once I switched to doing things the way the experts recommended.

Even unloading the dishwasher … I HATE unloading the dishwasher because I hate pulling out each dish, trying to avoid knocking my chins against the open dishwasher door as I go put that item up, then go back and do the same. I hate it. Hate. It. But not anymore … Just this week I’ve given myself permission to unload that dang dishwasher the way I like to do it, which is taking out every single item, dabbing any extra drops of water with a towel, and stacking it on the counter in categories. Sorting is an unusual source of peace for me that I can’t explain. Then I close the dishwasher when it’s empty, and easily put away every freshly clean dish. Because of this, I’ve kept my sink and countertops free of the accumulation of dirty dishes, because I now put dirty dishes straight into the washer. Another new, weird dish-related thing I do…? I run my dishwasher every night, no matter how full (or un-full) it is. I don’t wait until I have a full load to run it. Those dishes get washed and ready for my morning dishwasher unload. It works so well for me, but makes no sense to my husband! Why would anyone want to run a half-empty dishwasher? He doesn’t care, in the end, however … as long as it works! He just shakes his head and laughs at my weirdness.

Funny. Who’ve thought that having my friend send me a housekeeper would lead to a whole new level of joy in my daily life that is now infiltrating brightness and empowerment into my whole family??

God. God thought it.

And I’m the one who gets to reap the benefits.

My First Experience with a Housekeeper

Last week, I had someone do something amazing for me.

I have a precious friend … she’s someone who I can be completely honest with, show my true colors to, and she loves me and accepts me anyway. More than once while Kris was out of town, I called/texted her and expressed overwhelm for basically everything. The fact that I couldn’t sleep, the pounds I had gained, how difficult it was to manage the kids alone, how much I missed my husband. The emotional burden seemed to have manifested physically in the form of clutter, piles, dirty laundry, the dirt on my floor, the smudges on the counters, the dishes in the sink. I just couldn’t seem to get on top of the housework.

I was drowning.

But last week, something drastically changed. Last week my friend did something to relieve my overwhelm (as if listening to me empathetically and lovingly wasn’t enough!).

She sent a housekeeper to my home.

When she called me to tell me that she’d arranged this, I cried. Like, the high-pitched-voice-snorting-in-the-phone crying and I thanked her as if she’d just handed me six million dollars.

Because that gift was as valuable to me as a six-million-dollar wad of cash.

When the housekeeper showed up at my door, I’d already been trying to condense the clutter into baskets/bins/boxes and whatever empty container/drawer I could find. But still, stuff was everywhere. I was convinced she wouldn’t have anything to clean because there was just. so. much. stuff.

I packed a backpack and took the boys to the library where we had school in a study room. It’s a refreshing change of scenery, anyway. I tried to ignore my anxious thoughts, thinking it would take the poor girl all day to clean my house.

Two hours later, she called me to tell me she was pulling out of the driveway, all done.

“You cleaned my whole house in only two hours?”

I could hear the smile in her voice. “Girl, you talk like your house is impossible right now, but I’m serious when I say, you’ve got this. Your house is totally manageable.”

She proceeded to give me advice right off the top of her head … advice that I absorbed like a sponge, and it clicked in my heart. It made so much sense.

“Pick two rooms that are important to you in your house. Keep those two rooms clean, and be more relaxed with the rest. As far as the clutter that you told me you are drowning in … you’ve already got it into bins. Put away one pile/bin per day, and your house will be flawless in a week.”

I swallowed back the emotion and thanked her over and over.

About an hour later, we were home. I walked into the door to gleaming floors. Pristine countertops. It smelled like she’d even cleaned the air. She even WASHED MY DISHES, Y’ALL.

I took a deep breath, and tears stung my eyes.

Now here’s a side note: When I’m overwhelmed with housework, I don’t wish for someone to help me with the work, or for someone to do it for me. Instead, I find myself wishing for someone to keep the kids while I do my own housework. Because … you’ll think this is crazy … I actually ENJOY it.

Since childhood, I’ve always loved organizing. It’s like a puzzle to me, and I feel like I can breathe easier when everything is neat. It’s not just the “being organized” part that I enjoy … it’s the process of organizing, as well. It’s just something God put in me that is fun. I enjoy organizing so much that, y’all, one of my absolute favorite books is Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Even the BOOK ITSELF is so beautifully tidy.

I give you permission to sit back and give me the most epic eye roll in the history of eyeballs.

Somehow, though, this scenario was different. My friend said she felt that God led her to do this. She named a day where it was laid on her heart.

I remember that day. It was a day where I stood in my kitchen and cried because my house was such a wreck, it not only made daily life more difficult, but it also heaped stress onto my already hurting heart. I had asked God what to do, and He was silent.

He was silent to me, but He wasn’t silent to her.

My soul was in pain.

That was the day my friend decided she’d like to do this for me.

Something stirred inside of me as I looked around at my newly scrubbed house. I suddenly looked at all the piles of clutter differently. Instead of seeing it as something stealing my oxygen, I saw it as a game. A mission.

I felt the joy of organizing brewing in my spirit.

That very day, I got to work. The boys kept themselves entertained. They played. They got along.

The next day, I woke up three minutes before my alarm feeling excited … after school, the organization continued. I began to look at closets with a lens of possibility. I no longer saw the messes … I saw ideas.

I made bigger messes as I pulled things from shelves, sorted them, and put them back. I pulled open drawers and did the same. I shifted through closets. I bagged up clothes and shoes … NINE trash bags in total … and rolled them down the stairs to the garage, ready for donation.

And I enjoyed every freeing minute of it.

This endured for three solid days, and is still going each day right now.

I’m having a blast, y’all.

It’s so much more than a new inspiration to organize, though. When I called my mom yesterday, something so deep and meaningful struck me. I couldn’t help but shout in the phone at what I’d just realized.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 6: God’s Hilarious Provision for Podcasting, and Conclusion

In Part 5, my prayer focus turned to the podcast, where The Simple Word sat empty. The episodes had reached 90 days old, which means they were auto-deleted. This was the rules for a free podcast subscription plan.

My immediate concern, however, was how to safely transport my mic and laptop to my oh-so-glamorous recording studio – aka, my car.

It seemed like a tiny, ridiculous request to pray for God to provide a carrying case for my mic. The ones I’d found online started at $100 (gulp) and I had no other bag/packpack that worked.

I prayed anyway.

Suddenly, the most perfect solution popped into my head.

I sat back in my chair and began giggling to myself. Could it really be that simple…?

The boys became curious about my solitary laughter. They ran over and begged me to tell them what was so funny.

I went downtairs into the garage, followed by my two sons who were berating me with questions. What are you doing? Where are you going? Why are you digging around on the shelf? What are you doing with my old lunchbox?

It was Spiderman.

And it was perfect.

I brought the Spiderman lunchbox back upstairs and set it on my desk. The boys watched curiously.

“Do you guys want to see what it looks like when God provides in the most unexpected ways?” I asked them.

I explained everything to them. Deleting the website. Making the money to remove the ads. The podcast … everything.

Wesley went to my closet and brought out the mic, which was attached to its own tabletop stand. “It won’t fit. It’s too tall,” he said.

I turned a screw on the side, and the mic folded down on itself, cupped and protected by its own stand.

I slipped the mic inside the Spiderman lunchbox, zipped it up, and laughed and laughed.

The boys laughed.

I took the mic out and put it back in. I zipped it and unzipped it. I stood up and held it by the handle, like Wesley did when he carried it to school as a three-year-old.

We laughed and laughed.

I went to the closet and remembered that I had a large three-ring binder that wasn’t being used for anything. I brought it out, carried the Spiderman lunchbox-turned-mic-case, and went downstairs to my car.

The boys followed, again asking me questions as they descended the stairs behind me. Where are you going? Are you going to record? Why do you have a binder? Why are you going to the garage? Ooooooooh…. that’s perfect!

I set the binder on the passenger’s seat. It’s wedge shape turned the tilted passenger’s seat into a perfect, flat desk.

Wesley nodded his approval as we shared a WOW moment. Caleb discovered sidewalk chalk in a bucket and began drawing on the garage floor.

“Welp,” I said. “Let’s go back upstairs and finish school.”

Basically, I floated up the stairs.

A Spiderman lunchbox is such a tiny thing. It’s something that’s been gathering dust on that shelf in the garage for literally five years. It somehow survived my massive truckloads of donations. There it sat, with its large white eyes, waiting for God to use it.

It gave me renewed hope, however, that more of His provision was coming.

Because when He calls you, He equips you.

The next day, I found myself preoccupied with thoughts about the podcast subscription plan. As long as I stayed on a free plan, the episodes auto-deleted after 90 days, and I needed at least $12 per month to keep them active.

God began leading me in His plan for how He intended to provide for the podcast subscription.

And I immediately began begging Him not to do it that way. Any way but that way. I’d been saying YES to everything so far … but this? God. Please, no.

He was leading me to ask friends and family for support.

And that was the LAST thing I wanted to do.

Let’s pause for a moment here to get a little more personal … I don’t like asking for help. I pride myself in being an independent woman. With my husband traveling for work, his absence left a gaping hole in our family dynamic and left us all scrambling for balance. It was disheartening, and in some ways, it angered me. Not at him, but at myself. It was all I could do to hold it together for myself and the boys while he was gone, because the pain of missing him was so immense.

It made me feel weak. And that’s what angered me.

I’m crazy about my husband. But being without him was just too hard.

Did that mean I relied on him too much? Did I need him too much? I wasn’t nearly as independent as I thought. This realization really messed me up. It dawned on me that God was dealing with me through all of this in a way I wasn’t expecting… He was breaking down my pride. Not just my pride over “my” work … But my pride in general.

And here I thought this zero-expense endeavor was MY commitment to GOD. Nope. It was just one tool that He used to show me that I had a pride issue that needed to be fixed. After all, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

So … I prayed, and said YES to God.

I opened a Patreon account, then called my mom.

As I stumbled through an awkward and clumsy explanation, my mom listened. I caught my own reflection in the mirror. My face, neck and chest were fiery red. The skin burned with a sense of embarrassment, all the way to the tips of my ears.

My mom happily agreed to contribute. It was nearly everything I needed for the month.

As I agonized over it all via text with my sweet friend, Cindy, she fired a message back that said she’d like to contribute. I’d not even officially asked her yet.

Her portion covered the rest, and then some.

I felt immediate relief. Finally, I didn’t have to approach anyone else with any more invitations to contribute. After all, I’ve not even finished writing the “bonuses” that Patreon contributers would receive for their generosity.

To my horror, the Father nudged me yet again. He wanted me to approach the other names He brought to mind as I prayed for provision. Of course, I argued, pointing out that my needs were met. Why approach others?

He’s been silent on His reasons, as He often is. But there’s one thing that He made clear to me … My vision for the podcast is very different from His, in a positive way. My only responsibility is to be obedient. To trust. And to say YES when He calls, no matter what.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 5: Hard Times, and New Beginnings

In Part 4, I had reached a roadblock where I thought I would be finding a fresh, new beginning … my old blog on the free WordPress platform was covered in ads. It was something I didn’t realize would happen when I made the switch to my shiny, expensive self-hosted website site back to the free blog. I needed $51 to remove the ads for a year. But my zero-expense commitment had me at a roadblock. $51 was a lot of money to just magically appear, especially when I didn’t have a job to fund it.

I decided to try to make that $51 bit by bit, in whatever way I could. I knew it would take a while to raise it, but I had to start somewhere. So I went around the house and took photos of a few things I’d planned to donate. I put modest price tags on the items, and submitted them online to sell.

I was shocked when the items began to sell, left and right. Everything was wanted, and they were wanted right then. I was shocked when nearly every single item sold within 48 hours.

The moment my funds reached $51, I went straight to my laptop and opened up WordPress.

I was surprised to find a notification … I had a message from WordPress, so I opened it up. It said, “Happy Anniversary!”

Nine years ago to the day, I had started my blog.

by Gaelle Marcel

Chills swept over me, and I had to look through a blur of tears to make the subscription purchase.

I published a blog post right away, feeling inspired and quite at home. I was once again both rejoicing and humbled. By the next morning, the stats showed triple the number of views than I’d regularly received on my well-established, expensive, self-hosted website.

God’s clarity of direction was astounding.

Blog – CHECK.

Podcast – UNKNOWN.

The next area God had been leading was the podcast, which was now blank, because the episodes had been auto-deleted. They had reached their ripe old age of 90 days, which meant auto-deletion on the current free subscription plan.

God still had plans there. I knew it. I didn’t delete the whole site … I just left it sitting out there, empty.

It made my heart ache.

I began to make focused prayers about the podcast then.

This provision was different than the blog, however. This provision would need to be continual. I needed at least $12 per month to keep the episodes live and available … which meant it wasn’t just a one-time purchase.

I had posted a few more things to sell, thinking God’s provision would follow the same pattern.

Nothing sold.

I prayerfully presented some brilliant (or so I thought) ideas for how to obtain that monthly amount. Every one of them was met with a definitive no in my heart.

You know the no I’m talking about … it’s not a “Thou shalt not steal” kind of message that comes straight from the scripture. It’s the guidance of the Holy Spirit within your heart. It’s that Voice you learn to become acquainted with when God is leading you.

“But God!” I reasoned. “I could approach a business or Christian establishment with a proposal, essentially making a business deal to gain support! That looks so professional, doesn’t it? With the backing of a business, it looks so much more important, doesn’t it? Don’t you think that’s a great idea??”

NO.

“But God, I could take on a freelance writing job. It would just take ONE job, a simple one, to provide the FULL means for the podcast subscription. Doesn’t that sound perfect? If you would just thump aside that roadblock, it would work out perfectly. So … how about it??”

NO.

“But God, the businesses … it would look so important … can we please go for that? I mean … you know?”

I said NO.

Fine.

I knew He would provide. He always does. (2 Corinthians 9:8, Hebrews 13:5, Luke 12:24, Matthew 6:33, Matthew 7:11, Philippians 4:6, Philippians 4:19, Psalm 34:10, and many more).

by Philipp Cordts

I decided not to worry about the subscription for now … Let’s focus on just reproducing the episodes. If I upload some now, there will be a whole 90 days before God provides the paid subscription. Let’s keep moving forward, I told myself. Don’t focus on what you don’t have.

That was the whole point of the zero-expense commitment, after all … to stop focusing on what I don’t have, and looking to God 100% for provision, getting out of His way, and doing things His way.

I already had a good mic … I’d bought it using the money my parents had given me for my birthday last July. The previous episodes had been recorded using the best sound booth I’ve ever tried … my car! Although it was essentially soundproof, the small space was uncomfortable, and it was cumbersome to carry my laptop and equipment into the garage. It was time-consuming to set up a makeshift platform with stacked books inside the cab to set my mic and laptop on. Everything slid off the books. It was difficult to balance things in my lap while also trying not to bump or drop the mic. So I tried something else.

I had used leftover birthday money to buy some foam soundproofing panels. I had mounted them on the walls inside a closet upstairs in the office, and couldn’t WAIT to use it for a recording booth! A few test runs had proven that it was the most perfect space. But then we started homeschooling, using the office for the classroom. I needed that closet for school storage.

Out came the foam panels, and in went a shelf stacked with school supplies.

At one point I attached the foam panels to cardboard, making soundproofing walls that I could set up and take down as needed. I ran a few test recordings … it was terrible. Plus the huge panels of cardboard were hard to store, and always in the way.

I was back to square one with the podcast.

by Kelly Sikkema

The first issue that needed to be resolved is the treacherous climb up and down stairs, and the trip across a concrete garage floor balancing my mic, laptop, and books to stack for a makeshift “desk” in the car. There was no bag, backpack, or case that allowed this transport to be any safer than just carrying it, piece by piece, and setting up my temporary “sound booth” inside the cab of of the car.

With that many trips up and down, an accident was bound to happen. Visions of shattered electronic equipment, with zero funds to replace it, filled my head.

I felt outright fear.

I simply HAD to come up with a safe, efficient solution for transporting the equipment and using my car for an office.

On a break during school lessons one day, I began researching a way to make a car desk. There were standing desks. There were lap desks. I mean, could there be such a thing as a car desk?

There is.

And they’re expensive.

Some cheaper alternatives proved to be platform the size of a lap desk that hooked onto the steering wheel … but still, I needed funds to purchase one. And they looked a little flimsy.

I put aside that, and began researching a protective case for my mic. I nearly swallowed my tongue when I realized they were around $100 for the cheap ones.

So, what now, God?

In that exact moment, the solution arrived as a sudden idea.

I sat back in my chair and began giggling.

Could it really be that simple? There’s no way.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 4: Deleting the Website, and Closing the Podcast

Not only was substitute teaching at my son’s preschool fun, I was enjoying the extra income, thanking God for the provision to fund the monthly costs of the podcast.

My chosen podcast platform was Buzzsprout. I loved the ease and functionality. A free account allowed each episode to stay live for 90 days, then would auto-delete without a paid subscription. The paycheck from subbing provided for a paid subscription, which allowed the episodes to stay live indefinitely. I had three episodes live, three additional episodes ready to upload, and several more future episodes outlined.

It was a perfect scenario.

Until it wasn’t.

When summer began, the opportunity to sub at the preschool ended. Although working through the summer would have been ideal, the income wouldn’t justify the additional childcare costs required for my own two boys. When the paychecks ran out, so did the podcast subscription.

The days of the live episodes were numbered, and the clock was ticking.

by Aron Visuals

God, I prayed. I really thought this was something You led me into. If you want it to continue, please provide the means.

I still refused to go back on the zero-expense writing commitment. The whole point of the commitment was to STOP taking things into my own hands, and rely 100% on Him. If I could just manipulate the episodes by re-uploading them after each expiration, I could stretch it all out until the new school year began. Then new paycheck of subbing at the elementary school would be more than enough to cover a new subscription.

In anticipation of my new upcoming job (pending the paperwork processing), I started researching how to create lesson plans, how to plan out a school year, teaching methods and approaches. I filled up a notebook with what I learned. I drilled Caleb’s preschool teacher, Mrs. Holt, with questions, because she was a former kindergarten teacher. I found her methods to be flawless, peaceful and effective. It never occurred to me that all of these things would be unnecessary for a sub, because the lesson plans would be outlined for me by the actual teacher for whom I was filling in. Out of the pure enjoyment of it, I studied relentlessly about the best setup for a classroom, ideal learning environments, and the varied learning styles of children.

I had it all planned out.

Shortly after I received word that I was officially hired as a substitute teacher for the elementary schools, my husband came home and informed me of something that would change everything.

by Guilherme Stecanella

There was a job site ready for pipe installation in Little Rock that would be perfect for field work. As a pipe estimator at a large general contractor, Kris was excited for a chance to do some time studies hands-on. He lit up when he talked about it. I saw it as an adventure for our family, knowing it would be both difficult and fun. It would only be for about three months. He would move there July 5th, just two weeks away.

This is great, I thought. My sister lives right outside Little Rock. We could visit her while we’re there visiting Kris. This is just a temporary change. We can handle this!

Then my husband had a suggestion. “What do you think about homeschooling?”

Frankly, I was a little shocked. Two years earlier, Wesley began asking me to homeschool him. I didn’t even realize he knew what homeschooling was. I didn’t think I would make an adequate homeschool mom, and in all honesty, neither did my husband. He knew my plan was to put the pedal to the metal on my “writing career” once both kids were in school full-time, and he supported it. So at that time, homeschooling just didn’t pan out. The subject came up again when Wesley was in second grade. Again, he was begging me to homeschool him. We arrived at the same conclusion as before: It just wasn’t for us.

Now, things were different. Kris would be living in Arkansas through August at least, possibly September. With the kids in school, we wouldn’t be able to see him very often at all.

We talked about it. And prayed about it. And talked about it some more.

A fire was lit in my heart. I was actually craving to create lesson plans for school. I began studying school calendars, homeschool methods, curriculums, and state requirements.

I could do this.

I wanted to do this.

I couldn’t WAIT to start teaching our boys.

But that meant … I wouldn’t be subbing at the elementary school.

Okay, God. Now what? I thought you were leading me to teach at the school! The desire to teach was so sudden and constant. Why would You lead me to this, then suddenly move it away again?

Oooooooh. I see it all clearly now. The newly planted enthusiasm for teaching … the urgency of it … it all made sense now! God must have been pulling me toward this all along. I easily applied everything I’d researched about teaching to home-education. I suddenly had new ideas for blog posts and podcast episodes about homeschooling. I couldn’t wait to get started!

Everything was clicking into place.

Except for one thing.

I logged into my website for the first time in months to begin outlining the new homeschooling blog post series, only to find that he subscription to the self-hosted site would soon.

I needed about $120 to renew it.

I was so busy planning out my boys’ education and getting ready for this new, temporary “normal” of a traveling husband, I almost forgot about the zero-expense writing commitment.

I had no choice but to cancel my self-hosted website subscription.

That didn’t necessarily mean I had to quit blogging, though, right? I could simply take my blog back to the original, free WordPress platform. It was just a matter of transferring the content over. Right? Simple. Easy. Quick.

Perfect. Right?

Nope.

My heart dropped when I realized that the blog had ads all over the pages and posts. Not just any ads, but weird, spammy, junky ones that were suspicious, annoying, and distracting.

My heart sunk even more when I realized the podcast episodes were only three days away from deletion.

I needed $51 to remove the ads off the blog for a year. I needed about $18 per month for the podcast subscription.

I began to pray, and God began to move.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 3: How an Accidental Love for Teaching Snowballed into the Unexpected

It was Sunday morning. I had been going over the Sunday School lesson since early that morning, and nearly had the whole thing memorized. I ran through it with my husband just to make sure I didn’t sound too monotone and boring.

My husband gently reminded me that they’re only second graders, that they’re not a ravenous pack of wolves, and that I would be fine.

I felt happy that I was helping my friend Allison, the associate children’s minister at my church. I was simultaneously fearful that she would secretly vow to never ask me to teach again.

I stood at the front of the Sunday School room, paper in hand, greeting the kids as they came in. It was immediately awkward. The Shepherd (the patient heart who takes prayer requests and keeps the kids on track) kept trying to do her usual routine, but I kept thinking she was finished, and so I inadvertently interrupted her, then apologized, no less than 14 times.

Then I began the lesson.

About thirty seconds into the thing, I was surprised … I mean, really surprised. I was enjoying myself. I was enjoying the kids, and the lesson, and … shocker … the kids were attentive the ENTIRE TIME.

I think they actually enjoyed it.

by Ben White

They laughed at my jokes. They asked questions. And at the end, when I playfully quizzed them, they remembered what they’d learned! When it was all over and the last kid had been picked up, I ran up to Allison and said, “Oh my goodness! That was so much fun! Can I do it again?”

Allison’s eyes went wide and she scrambled for a pencil and pointed at the calendar. “Um, yes, actually. How about here? And here?”

For the next month, I taught Sunday School for kids, made a loving new friend named Barb, and enjoyed it so much, I forgot about writing completely. I was certain this must be my new calling. Yet somehow it still wasn’t enough.

I had the grand idea of substitute teaching at our local elementary school where the boys would soon be starting third grade and kindergarten. The process of applying to be a substitute teacher was tedious and time-consuming. I had visions of lovingly guiding brilliant, thirsty little minds and hearts. We would laugh together. We would discover new, exciting things. We would bond.

This was it. I had found my new passion: teaching.

It was still spring, the school year had not ended yet, and I was anxious to start subbing right away. I applied at Caleb’s preschool, and was soon hired. I began the work of subbing with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. It was so much fun, and I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying it! How had I not discovered this sooner?

From the extra funds of subbing, I decided to try something fun. I started a podcast.

by Sai Kiran Anagani

I called it The Simple Word, and the intention was to dig deep into biblical concepts in less than ten minutes per episode, geared toward kids. I scripted out the episodes, recorded six, uploaded three, and was humbled by the positive response.

Wait a minute … in the middle of all the teaching enthusiasm, I had discovered yet another passion.

Writing the script was a blast, and I desperately wished I had more time to sit saturated in the Word. I had so much fun comparing versions, researching timelines and cultural references.

I learned SO MUCH.

Using NIV, ESV, ICB and NLT versions of the Bible, I dug and read and compared and cross-referenced. And that wasn’t the only fun part! I was fascinated with the editing process, and would spend hours after everyone went to bed playing with the different vocal effects. Ideas for more content flooded my head and heart. I had started something that I never wanted to end, and it filled my heart up to overflowing. Better yet, my kids loved it, and it resonated with their little souls. It somehow fueled the excitement over subbing at the elementary school, because I was anxious to spend time with more kids within the age group that the podcast would be created for.

I absolutely couldn’t wait until the fall when I could start teaching elementary kids!

Little did I know, however, that I would never get that opportunity.

Again, God had other plans.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 2: The Thing I Never Thought I Would Do. Ever

It was uncomfortable, it was painful, and it was the most enlightening thing I’d ever done in terms of God’s calling on my life.

In my last post, I gave you an introduction to my commitment of taking on a zero-expense year of writing. I had determined that not a single dollar would be spent on writing endeavors, particularly toward my “next step” (an up-and-going novel-writing career I was forever clawing for). I had written four novels, endless short stories, essays and articles all hidden away in my computer. That’s when God got real with me.

This zero-expense commitment had shifted something inside of me. It forced me to look at what I already had, instead of what I “needed”.

I felt led to simply open my computer and take an inventory of my work. I had saved everything for the last twenty years, from the time I was about fifteen years old to the present. Every scrap, every sentence, every note, every character profile had all been carefully filed away so that it was easily reached and used, should God decide to make use of my efforts.

by Glenn Carstens-Peters

I scrolled through file after file of all my work … All my hard, selfish work, and in my heart, I presented it at Christ’s feet.

I was suddenly ashamed of it. My intention had been to ask God what to do with it. How can He use it? What is it good for? I had spent years reaching back into past work, trying to make something of it all. Trying to make something of myself. Trying to make it all count. So there I was, dozens of open folders before me, whispering prayers for God to show me what to do. I breathed and waited, knowing that whatever God directed, my answer would be YES.

I got nothing.

I got nothing but word-by-word reminders of how I had failed Him. How can He use anything that was written with selfish motive? I was tired of reaching back into the recesses of my past work, and it was preventing me from moving forward. So I deleted one file. To my surprise, my heart felt an ounce lighter. I deleted another. My heart lifted just an inch.

I right-clicked an entire folder and deleted the whole thing. Then was struck with a rush of freedom.

I took a deep breath and whispered, “Here we go.”

Folder by folder, I deleted everything. Every single note, character photo, story, chapter … everything.

I didn’t shed a tear. Not a single one. In fact, when I saw the recycle bin on its second round of final dumping, I laughed as I saw 2,533 files erased into oblivion.

My cursor hovered over the last file. It was a completed novel manuscript titled “The House of Oak and Ivy”, and I’d written it for my Aunt Dianne, who had cancer at the time. I’d chosen a plot I knew she’d find delicious, complete with a haunted house laced with romance. It’s hard to put into words what/who Aunt Dianne was to me then. An encourager. A cheerleader. An occasional brainstorming partner. As a kid, my sisters and I received a box of books for Christmas from her. It was the spark that ignited a heavily-fueled passion for words. “The House of Oak and Ivy” had taken nearly a year to write. I had determined that it would be my first published novel, written for her, and dedicated to her. Then, about two weeks before it reached completion, Aunt Dianne passed away, having no idea about the project.

The cursor hovered. I right-clicked, hesitated, and burst into tears. What if I’d made a mistake? What if I’d just deleted twenty years worth of work based on an emotional impulse? What would Aunt Dianne say right now if she knew I was about to delete something that I’d written specifically for her?

I suddenly knew … She’d say it didn’t matter. She would appreciate the effort that anyone made for her, but especially considering her Heavenly perspective at that moment, I knew exactly what she’d say. She’d tell me to obey God’s call, at all costs. She’d tell me not to doubt. She’d assure me that choosing God over self-doubt was always the right choice.

So I clicked delete.

Just like that, every word I’d written and saved since my teenage years was gone.

I was finally free.

My zero-expense year of writing was now in full-swing. My only spending allowance would strictly come from the money I’d make with freelance writing, after taxes and tithe.

Then a funny thing happened … All of my freelance writing work suddenly dried up. No more clients. There were no prospects. There was no work to be found.

Ok, God. I hear you, I prayed. I decided to take a long break from writing entirely, including blogging. I had a shiny, pretty website that wasn’t getting any traffic, anyway, and for a long time, my heart had been dry of ideas.

by Leon Biss

Focusing on Christ’s will for my life, I began to ask Him questions that made me feel sick. Had I missed my calling, then? What if, all these years, I’d had it wrong? Or what if I’d messed it all up so badly, He was now taking it from me? Nausea, wave by wave, overtook me at the very thought. God wouldn’t use a prideful heart, I knew, except to show what it looked like to fall. HARD. So I peeled back a new layer, and began asking God deeper questions … beginning with What now? What do you want me to do, God?

God answered that question definitively and immediately on a Sunday morning as I dropped my sons off for Sunday School. When I was approached by Allison, the associate children’s minister, I had no idea what chain of events God was setting into motion.

“Natalie!” Allison said in her usual, bright spirit. “I could really use a favor. Would you mind teaching Sunday School for second graders next week?”

I hated teaching. I wasn’t good at it. I found myself to be boring, which means it was a dead-certainty the kids would hate me.

But, I loved helping. So I shrugged and said, “Sure!”

I spent the entire next week worrying about how quickly the kids would fall asleep while I fumbled through a Bible lesson. I was certain Allison would, after that next week, never ask me to teach again.

But God had other plans … Plans that involved a new, accidental passion that would change our entire family dynamic.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 1: What I Lost, and What I Gained

I was sick of it.

I’d had my sights set on the “next step” for years, but yet, nothing was happening.

My next step was fiction novel-writing. I’d already had a few fiction short stories published, won a couple of awards with them. But I wanted more. I wanted to reach higher.

I wanted it so bad, I could taste it.

by Plush Design Studio

I wanted book signings where I could answer questions and help people who were struggling just like I’d been for so long. I could just see it all. I would be asked questions to which I could give wise and helpful answers.

“So, how did you manage to write novels with being a mom of young kids?”

Would my answer be like one author: “I wrote three novels with one hand on the keyboard and a ten-month-old on my knee.”

Gulp. I tried that once, and ended up with something that looked like this:

The trees towered fjjsbrjqh over her, like giants dnsnkfnnh shouting down their disapproval, dbsjkdfjhehhw but djdhshha she scrambled to her feet and trudged on. Fnabgqgehbdkakhh

Nope. Not for me.

Another author said: “I waited until my kids were in school, and spent a few hours each day working while they were gone and the house was quiet.”

Hm … While Wesley was in elementary and Caleb was in preschool, I somehow wrote far less than I did at midnight when they were babies. Now that we homeschool, our school days look verrrrry different than ever before.

Then there’s Melanie Dickerson, one of the most gentle-spirited women I’ve ever encountered. When I asked that question, she shugged and said simply, “I really don’t know. I just wrote.”

The clock is ticking. I’d always said I wanted a full-time novel-writing career by age 30. As Diana Gabaldon says regarding her start to The Outlander series, “I was 35. Mozart was dead by 36, so I knew I’d better get started!”

I’m 36 now. I’ve written four novels, none of which have seen the light of day. I decided that I was missing something. Something I didn’t KNOW that I needed to know.

I went on retreats. I went to conferences. I invested in workshops. I took online courses. I bought *more* books on writing, the ones that all the “experts” say you’ll need or else you’ll never know what to do. (Word of advice: read what you want. Not what you should. Because obligatory reading is … Well, exactly as boring as it sounds.)

As you can imagine, all of this took MONEY. I felt so guilty as I dropped dollar signs into a bucket labeled “novel-writing investment”. I built an impressive website. I did all the right things to drive traffic to it. I played the social media game exactly as the experts suggested. None of it worked, and I’m sure the my-heart’s-not-in-this spirit showed through. (Some writer friends reading this will be nodding their heads now).

by Marc Schaefer

Now, in all my hot persuit of finding that key I seemed to be missing, I lost something else …

My love for writing.

by Matthew Henry

I’d become sick of it. Actually, totally sick of it. I hated to even say the word “writing” because it had become connected with frustration and negativity. It wasn’t fun. I hated it. To my heart it tasted like bits of cardboard in a bowl, eaten like cereal with a paper spoon.

When it came time to turn in our taxes for 2018, I added up all the writing expenses (minus the meager freelance writing income I’d intended to fund my “self-investment”). I wept. I wept and wept. Because for years I had convinced myself that what I needed was to educate myself … To learn how to write. I obviously didn’t know how, because I’m 36, and no published novel to my name.

I felt embarrassed. And ashamed. And in all honesty, I felt burdened.

I mean, hadn’t God called me to write? I can answer that whole-heartedly without hesitation: YES. Then why, for Heaven’s sake, had I failed to do so?

The answer, in short: I have no idea. But yet I know exactly why.

Let me explain. I thought I was doing the right thing by making moves to reach my “next step”. It wasn’t a waste, necessarily. Because God uses ALL things for good (Romans 8:28). But every single move I made was with the goal of my own career in mind. I believe that works for most people, most of the time, but it didn’t work for me.

Because that’s not what God intended when He called me.

When God calls you, it doesn’t always make sense. In fact, it rarely does. Because God’s calling is strategic to His High Plan. Tony Evans says, “If God showed us the whole journey, we’d never take the first step.”

What I had essentially done is this: I had taken God’s calling, packed up His equipment (because when God calls us, He also equips us (2 Corinthians 9:8 and Hebrews 13:21)), and went in my own direction. I ended up with a shiny website that no one visited. I had a million shiny words that no one read. And I had a shiny, prideful view of my own capability that wasn’t serving any purpose at all.

I prayed about it. I repented of my own selfishness. Then God got real with me.

I committed to a zero-expense year of writing, having no idea exactly how much I would be giving up, and what I would gain in the end.

What happened next is something I never thought I would ever do.

Ever.

8 Surprising Things I Learned During 6 Weeks Off Social Media

We were at the brink of big changes.

My husband asked to go into the field with his job, which meant he wouldn’t be sitting behind a desk in Birmingham each day, at home by 6 pm. It meant he would be 400 miles away in Little Rock working on the job site, doing the parts of the job that he really loved, with once-per-month visits home.

We made the plunge to homeschool our two boys for 3rd grade and kindergarten, a decision we’d been praying about for over a year.

It was one big, giant adventure looming just at the horizon of our lives, and I was excited that my husband was given this opportunity.

That’s when I stopped sleeping.

I would watch the clock as it blinked the minutes by, thinking things like: Kris needs to teach me how to use the edger so I can keep up the yard well. I need to get a car charger for my phone so that GPS can lead us all the way to Little Rock without dying. Should we stay with him a few days, or a whole week? I should start making a packing list. How will the boys handle their father being gone? Will video chats be enough?

My feelings were so strange about the whole thing … I was looking forward to meeting the challenge. I was determined to step up and show how tough I am. I wouldn’t drag my husband down. I was grateful for the chance to grow in our family, in our marriage, and in our parenthood. So why was I already missing my husband? He hadn’t even left yet.

A few days before leaving day, I had dinner with a few mom friends. We talked about the typical range of topics for women excited to be in each other’s company. A discussion that was particularly intriguing was the weight that social media can sometimes add to a woman’s “mental load”. I instantly related to this, and asked what they do to relieve the burden that we all seem to be obligated to, or trapped in. When one friend mentioned a social media fast, I knew I had to try it.

“I know three weeks sounds like a long time to avoid social media, because nowadays that’s the only way many people communicate,” she said with bright, encouraging eyes. “but give yourself no less than three weeks. I promise it will change the way you look at social media, and you won’t be the same, in a good way.”

That night, I deactivated all of my social media accounts (without explanation or announcing my impending online absence), and deleted the apps.

For the first two days, I found myself habitually reaching for my phone when I had a few extra minutes of silence. “Oh, right,” I would say to myself with a generous eye roll. “No social media.” I thought I would need to use intentional restraint, like when I spot the chocolate in the back of the pantry when I’m avoiding sugar, and I have to clench my jaw and walk away (with agony).

After those first two days, I didn’t think twice about it.

This surprised me.

The other surprise was exactly how much of a relief it was to be away from it. I didn’t feel obligated to keep up with the people whose lives I only witnessed through my phone screen. I kept up via text and phone calls with my closest friends, but otherwise, I didn’t miss a thing.

Did you catch that?

I didn’t. Miss. A thing.

A few days ago, I decided I should probably check my progress, to see if I’d met the 3-week deadline as my friend had suggested.

The “fast” had actually reached the 6 week mark.

Let me drive this point home … I DIDN’T MISS A THING.

I decided to make a list of the shifts and changes that had occurred in the absence of social media.

  1. I wrote in my journal more.
    Oh, how I had missed writing in my journal. I even grabbed a new, fresh diary off my shelf and thoroughly enjoyed penning the first page. Without writing posts, I suddenly had a desire to keep my thoughts private. I’d also forgotten what a beautiful ceremony journal-writing can be… a kind of meditation that relaxes and is distinctly anti-anxiety.
  2. Holding onto my thoughts deepened them.
    While filling pages up with handwritten words, I wondered how often those words would have become splashed into a status bar instead of inked onto a piece of paper. I realized that I spoke very differently into my journals than I did into the realm of social media. The words came out seasoned with more wisdom than they would have been on Facebook or Instagram.
  3. I wrote more, in general.
    Instead of spewing words into social platforms, I invested them into other things. I wrote paragraphs of internalized thought threads that didn’t seem to serve any real purpose at all, until a few hours/days later. Suddenly those thought threads became untangled, and my mind was filled with calming conclusions rather than anxious wonderings.
  4. I searched the Bible for answers more often.
    I realized how frequently I turned to the advice of others before I sought out the Scripture. It made me feel ashamed, and I realized how much my social media use had turned into an idol in my life.
  5. I spent more time with my kids.
    Okay, this may sound ludicrous, but I legitimately spent more time with my children than I did before. Part of that was because we were bored in a hotel room, and we were also homeschooling. But when I felt boredom set in, I didn’t pick up my phone to scroll through news feeds. I pulled out board games or a deck of cards. And if board games weren’t available, we made up our own games. I think it’s a good idea to point out that my social media time before was NOT excessive to the point that I neglected my children in favor of Facebook. The absence of social media DID, however, force the formation of new habits, especially when I felt bored or restless. And those new habits led to many rounds of Uno with two enthusiastic little boys.
  6. The pettiness was gone.
    Let’s be real here … social media brings out the pettiness in us all. I was relieved to have it purged, from both myself and others.
  7. I read more books.
    I read so many books, y’all. SO MANY BOOKS. It was a delicious pastime that had me gobbling up every delectable morsel I could get my hands on. We rented so many books from the library, I almost felt the need to apologize. Almost.
  8. I watched more people.
    Okay, let me explain before this sounds really creepy … people-watching is fascinating. While in public, I didn’t take endless pictures of my kids and post them. I took a few photos to capture the moment, then immediately put my phone away because I was relieved of the pressure to show them to people via social media. Because I didn’t pull up my social apps and post the photos, I spent more time watching the people around me. I won’t spoil the fun for you by describing the entertainment of people-watching … just put your phone away and try it. You won’t regret it.

I’ve now activated my social media accounts, but I am determined to use it at arm’s length. I’ve been freed from the spell, and the freedom feels amazing.

When the Past is Full of Failure, the Present is Confusing, and the Future is Terrifying

“Bring them to me, Lord,” I prayed in a sanctuary full of church family. I was still sitting with my head bowed while everyone else stood and sang along to the music. “Lord, use my writing as a way to bring souls my way so that I can tell them about you….”

My prayer evaporated. Tears stung my eyes as my words to God halted. I couldn’t go any further.

Because I knew I was lying to Him. Continue reading “When the Past is Full of Failure, the Present is Confusing, and the Future is Terrifying”