Working Devotion: The Widow’s Oil

Lately the story of the Widow’s Oil from 2nd Kings 4 has been rolling around in my head.  The woman’s husband had died and crediors were coming to take her sons as slaves if she didn’t come up with the money owed them soon.  She told Elisha the only thing she had was oil.  Elisha told her to collect as many empty jars as she possibly could, from friends, neighbors, anyone who would give her an empty jar.  Then she was to fill every jar with oil from her oil jar.  She obeyed and every empty jar was filled.  When the jars were gone the oil stopped pouring from her jar.  With that supply of oil she was able to sell it, pay off her debts and get back on her feet.

I am in a season of life trying to provide for my family with limited resources and some days it definately feels like the creditors are on their way and desperation wants to kick in.  The story of the widow is one of faith.  She trusted and believed that if she collected lots of empty jars they would somehow be filled with her limited supply.  And God blessed her and provided.  What is interesting to me is that her success and financial freedom was limited only by her ability to collect jars.  I wonder how many she collected?  Could she have gotten more?  It seems to me she must have taken the task pretty seriously since she was able to earn enough money to both pay off her debts and live on the extra.  But what if she had done even more?  Would the oil have continued to fill the jars?  I think so.  The blessing God was giving her was only limited by her own faith and the work she was willing to put in.

There are so many interesting things to explore in this passage as a working mom.  One of the things that jumps out at me is that while God performed a miracle and blessed her, she had to work for that blessing.  God didn’t just drop money in her lap to take care of her problem, he asked her to go out and work for it trusting Him that her work would be fruitful and profitable.  I am not going to lie, I want to be profitable without the work.  All this hard work, all this being away from home, and doing things for other people, I don’t want to do it.  I just want God to magically provide for me, I want to win the lottery, get a big inheritance or develop the midas touch.  But running around to neighbors asking for empty jars?  That sounds exhausting.  I would probably have just asked a few immediate neighbors that I knew would be receptive and then gone home and hoped I had enough.  But this woman didn’t.  She and her sons went to everyone and collected so many jars and filled them up with so much oil that not only was she able to solve her immediately problem of paying off creditors but she had enough left over to live off.

Another notable thing in this passage is how she involved her sons.  When she was in the house pouring oil into the jars her sons were bringing the empty jars to her.  This is such a great image to me.  While our children can’t necessarily come with us to the office each day and help us enter data, write reports or attend meetings they can help us with our work at home.  The widow’s sons might have helped with collecting the jars but they are only mentioned helping her when she is at home.  While I love the Proverbs 31 woman for her working example, I can’t tell you how many times I have wondered what her children were doing while she was busy being perfect.   For those of us without a household full of servants to take care of our children, this widow can be our example.

Finally she went out and got a job.  OK not really but she had to go sell that oil.  I imagine that she went to the market, set up a table and worked all day long hawking her oil day after day until the last jar was gone.  Having recently spent a weekend at a vendor show I can tell you it is a lot of work.  I thought of this woman several times that weekend.

So while this is a beautiful story of God’s provision for this very needy widow it is also the story of a woman who did the work God put  before her in faith that He woud provide.

“Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.


Is there such thing as home/work balance?

Many years ago I sold Mary Kay Cosmetics.  One of the founding prnciples of the company is “Faith first, family second, career third.”  Conceptually right on the mark of how I believe we should all approach our lives.  But practically we are all in a constant struggle to figure out what that looks like on a day to day basis.

When I was a homemaker and “career” was this sort of vague thing that I did on the side it was easy to prioritize my faith and family first and live in perfect balance.  But now that I am working it tends to get the largest portion of my day.  I don’t feel balanced at all.  If we were going solely on how I spend my time you would conclude that I, along with most working women, consider career the most important thing in my ife.

There are many books and articles written on the topic of work/family balance.  Most of them seem to be about streamlining the home/family life so that we can get on with our work.  That doesn’t sound like balance to me that just sounds like necessary efficiency during this time crunched phase of life.

But if the goal is not balance then what is it?  If family is the most important thing but we are working half the day how is that reflected?  I believe it is reflected in our attitudes.

If you believe that you and your children, marriage, home, relationships can thrive while you are working, they will believe it and they will thrive.  Learning to do it all in a way that doesn’t cause lots of stress will take time to develop but the first step toward figuring it all out is having the right attitude.  As Chuck Swindoll puts it,

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company . . . a church . . . a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past . . . we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude . . . I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you . . . we are in charge of our attitudes.”

What kind of attitude are you going to have today?

Working Devotion: Noah

Have you ever thought about the process of building an arc in the dessert? Last weekend I was reading through the story of Noah and thinking about working. And I thought about that process. Noah didn’t just slap together a boat big enough to hold his entire family and 2 or more of every kind of animal in a weekend. He was probably working on that boat for years. He didn’t order his supplies from the local lumber yard and ask if he could get a builders discount. He had to go find the wood, cut down the trees, rip them down into boards, etc. Get nails from a blacksmith, cook up some sort of waterproofing to paint over the whole thing. Yes God had given him this command, instructions and paved the way so it could be done on time but Noah had to do the work. And since building an arc isn’t really a money maker this was probably a second job, an evenings and weekends sort of project.

I do imagine his whole family pitching in to help him. Although this story is of Noah and his faith, his whole family was invited into the arc and I tend to believe that they were a family of faith under Noah’s leadership. So maybe, Noah’s wife went back to work to help support the family and fund this project while Noah focused on the arc. Maybe his son’s tended his flocks alongside their own while dad was framing up the animal stalls.

I also imagine that the people in Noah’s community probably weren’t that supportive. They all thought he was a crazy old man spending all his time and money on a worthless project. The arc was huge. This was not a model train collection that you could hide in your basement. This was taking over the backyard and spreading out into the dessert. This was very much a “Field of Dreams”. Noah and his family were the only ones who saw what God was really doing.

At 900 years old I assume Noah had learned a few lessons and had lots of maturity. At 42 I think feel like I have learned and grown quite a bit and love the wisdome that comes with aging, I can’t imagine all there is to learn in 900 years! Still I wonder if there were days he struggled with doubts and insecurity as he worked on the arc. No matter how old we get we still live in a fallen world and are fallen people. So I wonder if he questioned God and this crazy calling on his life. Yet, he never gave up, never stopped believing, didn’t stop working. And as a result humanity was saved.

So what can I, a working mom, learn from Noah?

Well, like Noah, I believe that I am working because God has called me to work in this season of my life. And, like Noah, I march forward in faith that God will take care of my family as I walk in obedience to Him.

And like Noah, I too have a second job, as a wife, mom and homemaker. My family helps and supports me so that I can work and care for them.

And just as I believe God provided the necessary supplies to build an arc in the dessert I believe God is equipping me as a working mom for what ever tasks lie ahead.

I think the overall message for me in this aspect of the story of Noah is the faithfulness and hard work necessary to fulfill God’s call on your life. Yes I need to believe God has called me but also I need to work. They are not really 2 separate things, they are joined together. God calls, you work. Works without faith is useless but faith without work isn’t particularly useful either. James 2:14-17 “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?…faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action, is dead… So I keep getting up and I keep working. And it is good.

Paul Ryan, Julia Roberts, Oprah and Me

Did you know that Paul Ryan is the same age as me? Someone my age is running for Vice President of the United States. Someone my age could be a breath away from the White House. That means that I could potentialy be a breath away from the white house! Or I could if I had made totally different choices with my life.

Some days I look at a fact like that and I wonder if I have made the right choices with my life. Have I settled for mediocrity when I could have pursued the big dreams? When I graduated from high school I thought about pursuing a degree in political science. Who knows where I would be today if I had followed that path rather than dropping out of school to get married and raise a family.

Julia Roberts is a few years older than me but I remember realizing when I had my son at 23 that she was a huge movie star at my age making millions. I wondered aloud to my husband what I had done wrong. Since I have no theatrical aspirations whatsoever and never would have pursued that career, he just gave me the “you are crazy” look and moved on. He doesn’t get caught up in comparing himself to others the way I do. He didn’t think I had done anything wrong, just made different choices.

I have a wonderful friend who was recently commenting on the fact that Oprah claimed her 40’s were her best decade ever. This friend in her mid 40’s said she keeps waiting for this best decade ever experience to which Oprah refers. I concur with her, this decade is feeling like quite a bit of hard work to me. But as we talked I realized Oprah doesn’t have kids. We are in the midst of it all in our 40’s, raising kids, building careers, husbands, homes, friends. It is not all about us, this decade feels like it is about everyone but us. We need women like Oprah who don’t have families and can put all their energy into making a difference in the world, but we really need women like me and my friend Jackie who are busy raising the next generation and making a huge difference on a small scale.

This past week I had someone ask me a question that clearly implied he thought I was further along career wise than I actually am. I tried to stand tall enough to answer the question but the reality is I am just not there yet. I spent the next couple days feeling like a failure. But I realized I am just getting started. I am exactly where I should be based on my starting date and my skill set. I will keep moving forward and questions like that help motivate me to keep moving forward.

I could never regret my years at home. They may have put me 20 years behind on my career track but they put me 20 years ahead in my family track. I love my family and cherish the years I gave fully to them. Now they are supporting me as I pursue a new career, a career outside my home.

I am not a young fresh face in the corporate world, I am the old woman filled with experience and wisdom. I might not be a 42 vice presidential candidate or a million dollar pretty woman in my early 20s and this might not feel like the best decade ever, but it is far from too late for me to accomplish anything and make a difference in my family, my career, my community and my world.

I used to be organized

I used to be organized. I used to be able to keep track of things. I used to know what needed to be done next. I used to be able to juggle multiple projects without dropping it, well not much of it. Then I went back to work and now I just feel lost all the time. I have a million things to do and don’t know where to start.

Back when I was at home I had one task, take care of my family. Within that task I did a lot of different things and occasionally branched beyond that one task but the bulk of my time and energy went into my number one priority, my family. Today my family is still my number one priority but they don’t get the largest chunk of my time anymore and deciding which of the many activities necessary to care for a family and home get top priority once I punch out at the end of the day is overwhelming.

Is the most important thing to help my kids with homework? Make dinner? Do the laundry? Date with my hubby? What about extended family and friends? What about me? Most of the time what I really want to do is plan my escape. It seems like too much.

Being organized when you work is not like being organized when you are at home. At home my days flowed easily from one thing to the next. The tasks would often mix together, I would go back and forth from one to the next. Making dinner while helping my daughter with homework, doing the laundry while on the phone with a friend, back and forth to the washer and dryer throughout the day between or in the midst of many different tasks. In the kitchen I might find items that belonged in the office, bathroom and my daughters bedroom. During my deliveries I would find items in each of those rooms that belonged in other rooms which I would pick up. In and out of tasks adding and subtracting as I went through the day.

Now that I work I find there is just not a lot of flow. Some tasks still flow together, I still make dinner during homework. But mostly I have realized that I can’t keep track of things anymore if I let them flow together. I don’t live in one world anymore I live in 2 worlds. I live in my work world and in my home world. I realize I need to compartmentalize a little more.

Lately I have been reading about time blocking. I am still learning to understand but I would say time blocking is blocking out a chuck of time in your day for a specific task. There is a slight nuanced difference between time blocking and time management. Time management is more about keeping track of appointments, meetings and other quantifiable activities within your day. Time blocking is more about blocking off periods of your day for accomplishing your own tasks.

Within a work environment this might look like scheduling a meeting in your outlook calendar in which you are the only attendee so that you can work on a project without risk that someone will take that time for their meeting or help with their project. At home time blocking might help you get in a daily work out.

One interesting take I read on time blocking discussed the idea of simply blocking out the tasks of your day rather than the time. So instead of saying you are going to work out at 6am every day you simply commit to working out every day as a calendar event. The problem with saying 6am is if your kids have you up all night or you are out of town at a meeting or your alarm doesn’t go off, you miss that scheduled window for the day and therefore miss the work out. If instead you simply block off the activity, plan to spend an hour working out each day, then it doesn’t matter if you do it at 6am or 9pm as long as it is accomplished.

I am definately still learning to master time blocking but so far I am finding it to be helpful in increasing my productivity and decreasing my stress level. Here are a few things I have tried:

I have blocked a homemaking task into each day of the week. Monday is laundry, Tuesday is dusting, Wednesday is floors, etc. Some tasks take more time than others but each task is very doable in any given day. And I am finding that because I have these tasks on a weekly rotation, if I don’t get to them this week I know I will have another chance next week. Without a plan it felt like the bathroom was never getting cleaned. Now I know it will get cleaned on Friday. So if I don’t have time to clean up the toothpaste in the sink today I know it will get done in due time. I would have hated this system when I was a homemaker but I am loving the freedom it gives me as a working mom.

At work I have a large and very tedious project sitting in a corner. I could wait until someone thinks it is an emergency and then spend days going insane with the detail of this project but instead I have blocked off 1-2 hours each day to spend getting this task caught up and will continue to assign an hour or so a week to maintaining the sytem once it is in place. Doing it in smaller chunks and seeing the pile shrink keep me motivated.

Recently I committed to a task that took me 20 minutes for 7 days. I time blocked this task into my day. Although I did it at approximately the same time each day, I didn’t assign it a specific time. If I had then I would have begun to worry each day about whether I would be ready or not when the time was nearing, I would rush, panic and end up flustered. And if I had a deadline that couldn’t be put off I would have ended up skipping the task. Knowing I had committed to doing it each day meant that I was prepared to do it at 9pm if necessary but not being tied to a specific time I was able to work my way through the priorities of the day and did it every afternoon without worrying about lining up all my tasks perfectly.

What new time management techniques have you learned recently?

I came accross this book by Glynnis Whitwer called, “I Used to be So Organized”. Somebody who understands me! I haven’t read it yet but it sounds great and I have heard Glynnis speak so I am sure it is great. Definately adding it to my reading list.

What Really Refreshes?

I have noticed that now that I work I have a lot less “me” time. Which is funny because I am away from my kids all day long pursuing a career which the womens movement has been saying for years is something I can do for “me”. So now I finally am doing something for me and I no longer have any time for me. I believe this is the definition of irony.

I love to take time for myself but working all day and playing catch up with my family and home in the evenings doesn’t really give me many opportunities. Or so I thought…I started examining how I spend my time and what I really needed to accomplish in each task and realized I am doing a few things that don’t accomplish the purpose they were intended.

What I want from my “me time” is to be refreshed. I give at work, I give to my children and my husband and my friends and my church. I love to do those things but I get overwhelmed when that is all I am doing. I need to be refreshed.

What I noticed as I started examining my schedule is that some of the things I do to refresh myself aren’t actually refreshing. I will occasionally give myself permission to spend the evening watching tv. Usually because I am exhausted and overwhelmed and just want to hide from it all for an evening. However, I have never felt better after an evening of TV and still desperately long for some time for myself. I tried to define my commute time as “me time” but discovered that driving through traffic immediately after a long day is not relaxing and calling a friend to tell them about my long day is also not refreshing. Helpful occasionally, but not refreshing.

So what does refresh me? Do I need an entire day at a spa or a weekend getaway? I have started thinking about what really refreshes, energizes and inspires me.

A walk around the block.
A vigorous work out.
Reading a good book.
Laughing with a friend.
Sipping tea.
Sitting and listening to the water lap the shore at the beach.
Swinging in a hamock on a warm summer day.
My time with God.
Time to just sit and dream.

And it turns out that many of the things on my list don’t require an entire weekend or even an entire evening but even just an hour can refresh my spirit and have me ready to take on the rest of my life.

I am just getting started with my list. What refreshes you?

Home Help

Things I am learning: My children don’t do much around my house.

I have always struggled with delegating chores to my children. While on the one hand I know I do a lot around the house, on the other hand I don’t really know what they should do. They don’t seem to know how to do things as well as I do and it just seems faster and easier to do it all myself while they just sit around watching TV or playing with friends.

Recently I read that, “Chores are not something we do TO our children but someting we do FOR our children.” Facinating. Profound.

Often, getting kids to help around the house does feel like we are punishing them. And frankly, it feels like we are punishing ourselves. But the reality is that teaching them the skills and discipline required to care for a home is a gift. It is a foundation on which to build. Plus, all our children will at some point, God willing, move out of our house. And I for one would like to feel confident on that day they can take care of themselves and the new space they call home.

Now that I am working it is more important than ever that I get a little help around the house. When I was at home I had the time to just take care of everything myself and sort of hoped my kids were paying attention. Now that I am working it is very clear what I am getting done and what I am not getting done.

You know those old jokes where the husband comes home and the house is a disaster, kids running wild and his wife calming laying on the couch reading a book. He asks what happened, “well you asked me what I do all day so I thought today I would show you by not doing any of it.” Going back to work is sort of like that joke playing out in real life! Suddenly nothing is getting done and you realize how much you were doing. Which is why it is so important to enlist your families help.

Teaching your kids to do chores and getting them to do them regularly can be yet another job, another thing to do in an already overwhelming new schedule. But taking some time to train your children to do a few chores will be worth the effort in the long run. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Start small.

Don’t dump a whole list of chores on your kids. You are all transitioning, decide on a couple things that are most important and let the rest go for now. If your kids haven’t been doing any chores to this point you will all be frustrated if you suddenly announce that they now have to make their bed, empty the dishwasher, sweep the kitchen floor and wipe out the bathroom sink daily plus sort and wash their own laundry. One or two things is a good place to start. Make whatever you add managable both for them and for you. Remember, whatever you ask them to do will require you to teach, follow-up and supervise.

Make it age appropriate.

There are many lists online to help you determine this. A great place to go is the working mom site.

Stay Focused.

Growing up my parents were enthusiastic about chores, charts and rewarding our good and helpful behavior. For about 2 weeks. Then we got bored, they got bored and the whole plan went out the window. My siblings and I laugh today about the number of charts and allowance schedules we had growing up, but also know we all struggle in the same way with our kids. Changing that habit has been about realizing that if we get off track for a day or two, or week or month, we can just re-focus and keep going. The key isn’t the chart or the plan, it is the consistency. And I have found this to be easiest when we keep the plan simple and build on it.

Praise and Reward.

There are so many opinions on allowances and rewards that I am not even going to begin to weigh in on how to go about doing so. What I will say is that kids love to be praised and appreciated. Just as I never wanted to be taken for granted when I was a homemaker, I don’t want my kids to feel they aren’t appreciated for their contribution to keeping our home running smoothly and our families success.

What is your best tip for establishing a chore schedule?