A Good Idea at the Wrong Time

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Guest Article: Ken Langley, South Africa

A Good Idea at the Wrong Time

Have you ever been in the position where you’ve implemented a new idea, having done all the necessary research, feeling convinced that it’s a sound and feasible move, only to discover that, after a short while, it proves to be the worst possible decision – a monstrous failure. It’s happened to me, and here’s the kicker. After the project was abandoned, I reintroduced it much later and this time it was a roaring success.

This got me thinking about the importance of timing. I have consistently found that a great idea at the wrong time is ALWAYS a bad idea. When performing our due diligence in researching a new project, we almost always concentrate primarily on the mechanics – can this thing operate effectively?  But perhaps we should also be asking – is it the right time?

Jesus’ first recorded miracle was at the wedding in Cana (John 2). When the wine runs out during the celebration, Jesus’ mother comes to ask him to intervene. I have always been intrigued by the Lord’s response.

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4 NIV)

The timing is not right. The passage is so rich with many other lessons, but it is fascinating that Jesus’ first response is in regard to timing. It is clearly an aspect that is very important to his ministry – each event should take place in it’s appointed time. Reading through the Gospels, one can identify this theme of the Vital importance of when key events should take place, as well as how keenly aware Jesus was of ensuring appropriate timing for events in his ministry.

Dan Millman, motivational author, makes an important observation that applies to us as leaders. “I learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything… at least not at the same time. So think of your priorities not in terms of what activities you do, but when you do them. Timing is everything.”  This is easier said than done, and needs to be an integral part of our daily prayer. It is so much easier to decide what activities to do than to confidently know when to perform those activities. Some will say that this sense of timing must be an intuitive ability of the good leader, but to the Christian leader it is opportunity to wait upon the Lord for his ultimate wisdom. God has provided us with a keen mind and the ability to oversee a project, but we must make it a daily habit to ask him to give us the insight as to when to advance and when to hold our ground. We will be inclined to miss this, especially when we are engrossed by the mechanics of the task presenting itself.

Finally, let’s return to Jesus at the wedding in Cana. Even though Jesus questioned the timing of his intervention, he does perform the miracle of turning water into wine and verse 11 says that it is the first of many signs that reveal his glory and that his disciples “believed unto him”. In John 12, when Jesus does ultimately say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. (John 12:23 NIV) the sequence of events in his ministry have played themselves out perfectly in the timing of his Father. May you be granted wisdom to understand God’s timing for what he calls you to do, and may Jesus be glorified so that many will believe unto him.


Are You Your Own Worst Enemy? When Policy Masquerades as Principle

Are You Your Own Worst Enemy? When Policy Masquerades as Principle

beat-yourself-up fight conflict battle

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. We create battles we don’t need to fight.

I avoided an unnecessary skirmish recently after receiving a call from one of our elementary principals. She called about a clear violation of our dress code policy.

The problem had to do with the language of the policy prohibiting non-school pictures or logos on clothing except for small monograms. This created a problem for parents who wished to purchase, or who had already purchased, tops for younger children with flowers, animals or similar imprints. Several parents were complaining about the policy. The principal believed we should enforce the “letter of the law” because it was clearly written and to “protect” the school’s culture.

I reminded the principal to always think about first principles when trying to make a policy decision. I asked her, “What is the purpose of the policy?” The answer is to eliminate students coming to school with shirts displaying the logos or images of people, organizations, movies, etc., of questionable reputation or that are contrary to the biblical values and culture we seek to nurture. After discussing the “first principle” issue, I suggested we quietly change the policy to say, “Pictures, imprints, or logos of movies, sports figures, and celebrities are prohibited.”

This subtle change protects the school’s culture while permitting sports logos, team mascots, flowers, animals and other innocuous imprints. We upheld our first principle and avoided conflict by not allowing a policy to masquerade as a principle. We also had happy parents.

Policies do not exist for their own sake. We create policies to serve principles. Focus on first things first. Before rendering a decision about enforcing a policy, ask, “What is the fundamental purpose of this policy? Can it be modified or eliminated without compromising an important principle?” If the answer is yes, do so. You will avoid an unnecessary battle and live another day to fight those that are necessary.


What Drives Word of Mouth at Your School?

What Drives Word of Mouth at Your School?


What parents say about us and our schools are the most important drivers of enrollment and retention. But what drives word of mouth? This guest post by Rick Newberry answers that question.

Guest Post: Rick Newberry

Some of the things I love about Southwest Airlines include their affordability, consistent experience, quality, no-change fees and outstanding service. I really like the numbered line-up process instead of how other airlines invite zones to crowd the front (I especially like it now that I am on their A-list and always get one of the first numbers).

My bags also love that they can fly free!

I am a brand ambassador for Southwest and I enjoy sharing the love.

There are several things that drive me to be a word of mouth ambassador which are the same drivers that motivate your current parents to spread the love about your school to their friends.

Think about your prospective parents, or parents searching for a school for their child.

They are reaching out and talking to their friends at their current school, church, gym, play group, Mom’s group, and local Starbucks. These conversations are taking place in person and online. Prospective parents are talking to your current parents right now trying to determine if your school is the right fit for their child.

Have you ever thought about what drives these word of mouth conversations?

From my experience and research, there are at least seven drivers of word of mouth in private, independent, and faith-based schools:

1. Experience – Word of mouth is shared as a result of experience. As your parents experience your school, they have a basis from which to talk and to share with others. Prospective parents are interested in the experiences of current parents. Not only does the overall experience at your school drive word of mouth, so will experiences along the way. From the relationship with your child’s teacher to the life-changing impact on a child, the parent will talk from this experience base.

2. Quality – You have to admit that the quality of a school sells itself. If the school has the reputation and repeated success of producing graduates that excel in college and life, the proof is in the results. The higher the quality of your school’s programs, faculty, facilities and overall experience, the greater likelihood for positive word of mouth.

3. Satisfaction – I believe it is important to measure parent satisfaction levels on an annual basis at your school. The more satisfied the current parent is with your school, the more positive word of mouth will be among their friends. Your parent’s satisfaction level is a key ingredient and driver for word of mouth.

4. Trust – Parents trust their friends (other parents). When current parents trust the leadership, faculty and staff of a school where their most important possession—their child—is enrolled, this will in turn drive word of mouth. Andy Sernovitz says that word of mouth only works “if people like you and trust you.” Your current parents have to like and trust you to drive word of mouth among their friends.

5. Service – The way you treat your current parents will drive word of mouth. From the returned phone call or email to the personal meeting or from the car line greeting to a personal birthday card, these service opportunities create memorable moments that leave lasting impressions. When you serve your parents or students in an exceptional way or do something that is memorable, you will create a moment that will be shared by word of mouth.

6. Loyalty – Parent loyalty equates to brand loyalty. Loyalty is built from all of the above drivers and it grows over time. When a current parent becomes loyal, their love for your school will be shared with their friends as a loyal ambassador.

7. Stories – The stories you tell at your school will help to drive word of mouth conversation. After all, everyone likes to pass on a good story. Ironically, I just read a quote from Gary Vaynerchuk in an article in the most recent issue of Success Magazine in which he says, “If you’re not putting out stories, you basically don’t exist.” Most schools aren’t putting out many stories. Story-telling should be an integral part of your word of mouth marketing effort.

If you want to stimulate word of mouth at your school, you need to focus on these seven drivers. These seven drivers should be the foundation and core of your enrollment and marketing strategy. Is there another driver that I missed?

In what ways are you working on these drivers to increase word of mouth?

I invite you to contact Mr. Newberry if you are interested in learning more about his services:

Phone — 727.647.0378
Email — Rick.Newberry@EnrollmentCatalyst.com
Facebook — www.facebook.com/RickNewberry and www.facebook.com/EnrollmentCatalyst
Mail — 9770 Indian Key Trail; Seminole, FL 33776


How to Turn a Difficult Meeting into a Positive Experience

Angry anger conflict parent meeting

As school leaders, we have all been there. We receive an email something like this:

“Dear Dr. Mosbacker, I would like to request a meeting this Tuesday. This meeting is regarding a series of concerning events that have happened with “name.” I am now asking for your involvement because I believe “name’s” actions have created harm by ….. I will be sending details to you prior to this meeting for you to review … I would like to meet before sending a letter to the school board….”

Receiving emails of this sort is never pleasant. The prospect of meeting with a disgruntled and sometimes angry parent is stressful.

The good news is that such meetings can be a positive experience—if handled well. Over the years I have found the following practices to result in positive outcomes more often than not.

Pre-meeting Planning

You set the stage of a successful meeting beginning with your response to an email like the one above and pre-planning how the meeting will be conducted.

  • Pray for wisdom. It sometimes takes the wisdom of Solomon to “cut the baby in half” in making good decisions and formulating wise responses.

  • Do not respond immediately. Take time (several hours to a day but not longer than 24 hours) to respond carefully and non-emotionally to the email.

  • Do not judge the message by the messenger. Sometimes the parent who is upset is unkind–sometimes just plain mean–in how the message is delivered in the heat of the moment. Nevertheless, notwithstanding inappropriate comments and accusations, there may be important truth in what is being said. Read past the emotion and try to discern where the truth lies.

  • Have someone neutral read your response before you send it. I often ask my assistant for her candid reaction to my draft. She offers helpful suggestions for rewording the response to ensure that it is warm and friendly.

  • While being sensitive to the request, reinforce the Matthew 18 principle by encouraging the parent to address the concern directly with the person of concern if he or she has not already done so. Be careful. There is a fine balance to encouraging a biblical protocol and coming across as “putting the parent off” or trying to avoid the situation. You can strongly encourage following Matthew 18 but you may not be able to enforce it without doing more harm than good. Here is an example email in response to a concern and request for a meeting:

“Good evening …. Thank you for the information you provided about …. We certainly want to ensure that ….

I am happy to meet with you but I believe the best first step is for you to meet with … and …. It is important that they hear directly from you regarding … Additionally, they will be able to provide you detailed information on … Once they hear from you and have time to assess the situation they will be in a good position to provide me the important details, background information, and their recommendations so that I might be most helpful in addressing your concerns.

I am copying them on this email so that they will have the information you provided and to expect you to contact them to schedule a meeting. Will that work for you?

Thank you again for sharing your concerns. We are always looking for ways to improve our service to students and parents.

I look forward to following up with you after you have met with …..”

  • Set the meeting date a few days from receipt of the request. Time has a way of cooling hot emotions. It will give you time to conduct background research in preparing for the meeting. This is a courtesy to the parents because you will be better prepared to assist and they will be less emotional.

  • Determine who should join you in the meeting. Depending on the nature of the issue, history with the parent, the volatility of the situation, etc., it may be unwise to meet with the parent alone.

  • Prior to the meeting, brief your staff on how to conduct themselves during the meeting. For example, if the meeting concerns a staff member and I decide to include that staff member in the meeting, I usually advise him or her that saying “less is more.” It is best to listen and learn rather than to explain and defend. They are to be “quick to hear and slow to speak” and during the meeting to “turn the other cheek” as often as necessary. Explaining and defending can come later if warranted.

During the Meeting

There are many things in the setup and conducting of a meeting that contribute to a good outcome: how seating is arranged and where people are seated, how the meeting is started, how it is facilitated, and how it is closed. Here are good practices that increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

  • To the extent your office and furniture will allow, arrange chairs in a circle to encourage openness and dialogue. Depending on the circumstances and issue at hand, you may need to stay at your desk while others face you and each other in a semi-circle. There is a balance to encouraging an open friendly atmosphere and maintaining respectful professional space.

  • If both parents are in attendance, seat them together. Likewise, seat staff together This way all involved have a “support person” next to him or her. Seating an upset parent next to a defensive employee is uncomfortable for both.

  • Opening the meeting:

    • It goes without saying that you open the meeting with prayer. Not perfunctory prayer but earnest prayer asking for God’s wisdom and grace.
    • Thank the parent for taking the time to share his or her concerns. State what you understand to be the concerns.
    • Emphasize the the purpose of the meeting is to allow the parents to share those concerns and for the staff to listen and learn so that a wise and helpful response can be given.
    • Open the floor to the parents.
  • Facilitating the meeting:

    • Speak sparingly and listen carefully. As Stephen Covey has said, “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Repeat back to the parent what you believe is being communicated. For example, “Mrs. Smith, you are saying that…, is my understanding accurate?” Or, “Mrs. Smith, you are feeling that…, is that right?” This has several advantages: you cannot repeat back unless you have been listening so it keeps you focused, it demonstrates genuine empathy and respect and it helps clarify important information. Repeating back does not mean agreement, it means understanding or a desire to clarify. Do the same with comments from your staff.
    • Be careful with this but appropriate, well-timed humor will help diffuse a tense situation and make everyone feel a bit more at ease. Humor is a natural and effective way to reduce tension, demonstrate humility, and foster empathy–provided it is used appropriately and in the right context. Misused or inappropriate humor can do more harm than good. Well timed and thoughtful humor, on the other hand, can relax a tense situation and put it into perspective. Again, be careful. Humor can be very effective but it can backfire if it is poorly timed or inappropriate. “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” Pro 15:23
    • Allow your staff to speak but intervene for clarity and redirection as necessary. If you sense that an employee is overreacting, not listening, or becoming defensive, intervene. You can say something like, “Mr. Jones, I believe it will be helpful to let Mrs. Smith continue…” or “Mr. Jones, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that…” Although this may feel unpleasant to the employee during the meeting, you are doing him or her a favor by avoiding making a tense situation worse.
    • Take good notes. Parents appreciate the fact that you care enough to note what is being said. It also provides useful information and documentation for later actions and meetings.
  • Closing the meeting:

    • Thank the parents again for coming in and mean it.
    • Summarize what you understand to have been communicated. If corrected, note the correction.
    • Don’t render any decisions at this point. Assure the parents that you will take time to pray about what has been shared, to discuss the situation with the appropriate staff, and to consider the next best course of action.
    • Tell the parents that you will follow-up with them once you have completed your review.
    • Do as you say. Pray, consider, consult, decide, and follow-up. Do so deliberately but not fast; follow-up in a timely thoughtful manner.
    • Communicate with those who may need to be aware of the situation while being careful to protect appropriate confidences. Does the board need a “heads-up”, another staff member, a pastor? Your spouse is not one of those. Do not share confidential information with anyone other than those with a “professional need to know.”
    • Make whatever tough decisions are needed. If you have to correct the parents and disappoint them, do so but in a kind, emphatic and respectful manner. If a policy needs changed, change it. If an employee needs corrected or worse, do what is right and in the right way.
    • Follow-up with the parents as promised. Come full-circle and come to closure.

Re-read the above email. Below is the email I received after a meeting with these parents and the appropriate staff:

“Dr. Mosbacker, the careful way in which you conducted the meeting was very encouraging to both of us, and was a very significant step toward bringing reconciliation and healing in our family.”

That is not always the response but more often than not, it is. The meeting was hard; the outcome was positive.

Do you have suggestions for “Turning a Difficult Meeting into a Positive Experience?” If so, share them with our readers by commenting below.


Regaining Control of My Life: How I Make My Smartphone My Servant

Slave smartphone phone technology multitasking productivity

Are you the Master or the slave of your smartphone? Before you dismiss this question too quickly take a few moments to watch this short video: I Forgot My Phone.

It is not the purpose of this article to make you feel guilty. The purpose is to help you become the master of your phone rather than its slave.

Like overcoming any addiction or enslavement, the first step is to admit that you have a problem. You have to admit that you are shackled to that beeping, buzzing, blinking omnipresent electronic device.

Do you have a problem? Let’s find out. Take an inventory of your “relationship” with your smartphone. * You might be a slave to your smartphone if:
* You check your phone in one or more of these situations:

  • During church services
  • During your child’s program
  • In a meeting
  • In your car
  • You permit your smartphone to interrupt time with your spouse and/or children
  • When you are in a conversation with others
  • When you are with your friends
  • During a meeting you’re leading or attending
  • Before you go to bed
  • Before you get out of bed
  • During your meals
  • When you are on the Loo (if so, please don’t lend your phone to others!)
  • All of the above
  • You feel stressed if you don’t have your phone with you
  • You have notifications constantly beeping and blinking at you and you cannot resist their siren call.
  • You experience phantom vibrations
  • You are constantly checking email, Twitter, Facebook, and other applications

If several of the above describe your relationship with your smartphone (or other mobile device) you may be more its slave than its master. Your phone is terrible task master. It constantly tells you what to do.

Your phone (and other devices) also keep you in what has been described as a state of “continuous partial attention,” a state of perpetual distraction. Such behavior is destructive to your peace of mind, to your relationships, and to your productivity (multitasking is a myth).

The sad truth is that too many of us have become willing slaves of the device that is intended make us more productive but which may be making us less so. Our phone has become a curse rather than a blessing.

Simple Tips for Breaking the Chains
The good news is that with a little discipline and a few tweaks in the settings of your smartphone, you can regain control of your focus, your peace of mind, your productivity, and your attentiveness to others. Remember, people are always more important than a thing or a task.

The first place to begin is to consider the ways in which your phone entices you with its siren call:
* Notifications on the home screen
* Beeps, dings, rings, buzzes, vibrations
* Badge icons with numeric notifications
* Always being with you
* Left on during the night
* Receiving calls and text messages while working or talking to someone

Create New Habits
Here is how you can bring your phone back into submission:
* Turn the phone off at night.
* Turn your phone off during meals and meetings.
* Keep your phone on vibrate mode most of the time, especially when you are with others.
* Don’t look at your phone until you are up, showered, dressed, and have had breakfast. Try it, you will not miss anything.
* When with others, put your phone on silent and put it deep into your pocket or purse.
* Only check your email at predetermined times each day. I have an “appointment” on my calendar to check my email twice a day. Although I’m not 100% consistent, the rest of the time I have my email application closed.

Tweak Those Settings
* Turn off most notifications for emails, social media, et cetera. The image below is for the email notifications on my iPhone but there are similar settings for Android and Windows phones. You can change the notification settings for all of the applications on your phone.


  • Don’t have notifications show up on the home screen
  • Turn off the badge icon notifications
  • Move the email application icon off of the home screen. You can check email anytime you choose but if that icon is front and center on your phone you will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. The same goes for your social media application icons.
  • If your phone has this feature, turn on the “do not disturb” option for certain times during the day. I have mine set at a specified time in the early evening until I leave for work.

Below is a screenshot of my phone’s home screen. The icons on my home screen are those I use most often or that I need easy access to. Also notice the small crescent moon icon on the top right of the menu bar. That is the “do not disturb” icon. I am writing this post on a Sunday afternoon. I keep my phone on DND on Sundays so that the day is reserved for worship, rest, reading, and writing. The only exception I make is if I am monitoring weather for a potential delayed start or closing of school due to inclement weather. In this situation I maintain constant contact with my Executive Team.


The smartphone is a wonderful invention. It can save lives and make us more productive. It can also become our master. As Christians, we have only one Master. Although I’m taking this verse slightly out of context, I believe the principle applies—we are to bringing every thought (and device) under the Lordship of Christ in our lives. And, in doing so, we are to set an example of self-control and moderation in all things for our students, staff, and parents.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Cor. 10:5


There are Three Powerful Reasons for Getting Off of Your Duff

Walking Meeting Health

There are Three Powerful Reasons for Getting Off of Your Duff

  1. Your physical health–sitting is more dangerous than you know—read on!

  2. Your mental productivity

  3. Your leadership and impact on those around you

I got a big surprise the other day! I am disciplined when it comes to my eating and exercise. In fact, I fast jog at a 13.5 degree incline for 50 minutes, 6 days a week most of the time. I thought I was covering my bases for good health.

I was wrong!

Research shows that even if you workout daily but sit the majority of the day you are at the same risk as if you were smoking:

“If you think that you’re doing your body good when you fit in an hour-long workout before or after a long day at your desk, think again. Even two hours of exercise a day will not compensate for spending twenty-two hours sitting on your derriere or lying in bed.

No matter how much you sweat it out during a daily hardcore workout (or, God forbid, save it all for the weekend), if you’re routinely sitting for hours at a time, you may as well be smoking.”*

I don’t know about you but I find myself sitting at my desk a lot—meetings, phone calls, email, writing, etc. That is risky behavior!

Given the research on the negative effects of sitting (and there is a lot of research on this topic), I decided to make a simple change. Here is what I do:

  • I work for 50 minutes and then go for a walk through the school for approximately 10 minutes. I do this daily every hour unless a meeting goes longer than an hour.

  • I talk on the phone standing up.

  • I try to have as many walking meetings as possible. Here is a link on the benefits of a walking meeting.

There is a Bonus!

Health was my motivation for taking the walking breaks. After a week of following this routine, I discovered two additional benefits.

  • I found myself less tired and more mentally alert. This increased my productivity. The amount of time I “lost” by walking around was more than made up by my alertness and ability to focus and think.

  • But there is more! Although not a new concept, I rediscovered the power of “Managing by Walking Around.” I have been far more visible to students and staff, I interact throughout the day with everyone on the campus, and I notice things to praise and things to be addressed.

Yes, There is an App. for That!

To help hold myself accountable I began searching for an inexpensive computer application that would reside in my menu bar out of the way, that would remind me to take breaks, that I could customize for how much time to work and how much time to take for a break, and that could be reset when needed. I found it.

I am using the app. “Healthier.” This is a Mac application but I am sure there is a comparable application for a Windows PC.

For a well written, non-technical guide to good health, check out A Short Guide to a Long Life.

So, get off your duff! It will be good for you and for your leadership!

  • Excerpt From: David B. Agus. “A Short Guide to a Long Life.” Simon & Schuster. iBooks.


Thoughts at Thirty: A Journey From Vanity to Obscurity

Thoughts at Thirty: A Journey From Vanity to Obscurity

Guest Post by Rachel Blackmon Bryars

Invisible obsure prideThis is the last month I will spend as a 30-year-old. It is also the month after a pregnancy-related incident sent me to the hospital for four days, where doctors said things like, “This could have been fatal.” Both of these events have me thinking a lot about time these days. Specifically, what was I doing with my time when I was 20, and what am I doing with my time now? How have my heart and habits changed over the years, and has it been for the better? Melodrama aside, if I had died last month would God be pleased with how I spent my time?

Life is a structure we build, piece by piece, that takes the shape of what we love and what we spend our time doing. Our heart attitudes and mental habits are the raw materials we use during construction. Our worldview is the shade that colors the whole thing.

Ten years ago, I was spending my time building a structure that looked like a monument— a monument to me. Since my heart attitudes and mental habits were mostly self-centered, my monument was flimsy, built of cardboard. I loved the Lord, but my worldview centered on a quest for personal grandeur and fulfilled dreams instead of the pursuit of a faithful response to a loving God. You could say my cardboard monument was coated in deceptive glitter.

At 20 years old, I was a college student who poured my time into activities that brought me a sense of accomplishment: Earning good grades and awards, playing varsity soccer, heading up the school newspaper, interning for the local TV station, and auditioning for modeling jobs and roles in movies and commercials in Miami. The activities themselves may have been fine pursuits, but I placed too much emphasis on how puffed up they made me feel. I invested very little time in service. Some friends of mine spent a lot of time helping others, but their efforts seemed a bit boring. I went on mission trips and completed service projects for school, but mostly, I pursued activities that fueled my inflated sense of achievement.

When I graduated, I sent out audition tapes to TV news stations and even a reality TV show (hey, I may be 30, but technically, I am a millennial who relates all too well to some telling stereotypes of our generation). Out of my options, I chose the job I felt had the most promise and prestige because it was in a larger-than-entry-level media market. I was the lowest person on the totem pole as the weekend morning reporter, but I aspired to quickly move up, move to a larger station, and work my way into reporting for a national news network. I was certain my life was destined for super-grand things since I was such a special snowflake.

Pride Goes Before The Fall

As the Virginia leaves turned to crimson and soon after I celebrated my 22nd birthday, I found myself hunched down in the empty hallway of a local high school where I was reporting a story. I pulled out something I had stuffed in my purse that morning and intentionally not yet examined. Through the dim morning light that trickled in through the windows, I stared down at a pregnancy test. It was positive and I wore no ring.

In the months that followed, it was as if God held a flame to my cardboard monument— a purifying mercy that felt agonizing. I left my job and moved to Washington, D.C. to start a family. For the first time in my life, I spent the majority of my time in service to others— a husband and baby. It was a huge shock to my system and I alternated between outbursts of anger and depression. The structure of my time may have changed, but my heart attitudes, mental habits, and worldview were still largely the same. I kept looking over at the ashes of my monument, wishing I could rebuild it. I often let my mind jump on a negative train of thought that always led to despair: “This can’t be my life, this just can’t be my life.”

As my daughter grew into a toddler and another baby arrived, the lonely, monotonous days seemed to stretch into infinity with no end in sight. I felt the world was passing me by. I adored my kids, but felt sidelined into oblivion as a stay-at-home mother in a city where the first question is often, “Where do you work?” I decided I would look for a full-time job and start re-building my resume.

If Anyone Wishes to Come After Me, He Must Deny Himself

I began interviewing for work I thought would make me feel important. Still, something quiet and powerful whispered into my heart: “Come follow me. Take up your cross, don’t just tolerate it. Deny yourself. Join me in the unlovely place— washing dirty feet and meeting needs. No one else sees you, but I see you.” I felt a little ashamed that my “cross” was so lightweight compared to true suffering, but I still felt the acute pain that comes with parting with what we love. It hurt to spend my time in obscurity because I worshipped achievement. Perhaps God was urging me to let go of everything I wanted to be: talented, important, accomplished, and special and truly follow Him wherever it took me— even if that meant I went no further than the laundry room.

I wondered at God’s strange work. I had friends who longed to be stay-at-home mothers but felt called (or had) to work outside the home, and here I was, longing to work outside the home feeling called to cheerfully continue being a stay-at-home mother.[1] It seemed God was less concerned with how we spent our time as much as with how our hearts and minds were sanctified as we went about our work. It was clear my heart needed the humbling that came from working hard at something that brought no accolades and no attention. It seemed God wanted me to be at peace with my invisible position at home to transform my heart from its hard, self-centered posture into something more malleable and more content with loving and serving my family.

Be Transformed By the Renewing of Your Mind

The journey toward joy begins with a transformed heart and mind. Some essential new habits helped in the process. I began to replace my negative thoughts with thoughts of gratitude, such as, “I’m thankful my desire for a fulfilling career is a first world problem in the first degree.” Instead of focusing on the laboriousness of at-home work, I started paying attention to the little joys and pleasures, such as the ability to stop at a playground on a whim mid-day, or my alone time during naps. I began to suffocate envious thoughts that threatened to sap my soul and focused on taking sincere delight in other people’s accomplishments. I meditated on the truth that I am a speck in the scheme of time and eternity by reflecting on 1 Peter 1:24—“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, and the flowers fall.” I also began to look for the humor that heals. Only a sprightly humorist could create toddlers, so on disaster days, I forced myself to laugh about the moments of insanity. Lastly, I refused to miss a week of Grace DC Presbyterian Church’s (PCA) mother’s study group in downtown D.C., where I gleaned strength from the wisest group of women I have ever known. Their companionship and godly examples sustained me more than they knew.

As my heart attitudes and mental habits started to change, so did my worldview. Loving and serving God by loving and serving others was transformed from a dull distraction into the main event. I’ll never forget standing in my kitchen one night after a long day. The kids were well fed and had been cozily tucked into bed. The house was clean and the laundry was done. I was exhausted, but a surprising thought sprang to my mind: “I enjoy this.” Thanks be to God.

Forgetting What Lies Behind and Reaching Forward

As we have added more children to our family, I have found more and more joy in the letting go—in losing my life to gain it. In the past eight years, I’ve pictured God asking me, “Rachel, if you never did much in your life besides be a faithful wife and mother, would you be okay if you knew that was what I had asked of you?” At first, the honest answer was no. Slowly, the answer has become yes. I still struggle. Some days I want the glittery cardboard back. Mostly, I want to be more like the men and women of our faith who have learned the secret to joy reflected in this excerpt from Bernadette Farrell’s hymn, “All That Is Hidden” (1957):

        If you would speak of me,

        live all your life in me.

        my ways are not the ways that you would choose;

        my thoughts are far beyond yours,

        as heaven from earth:

        If you believe in me my voice will be heard.

        If you would rise with me,

        rise through your destiny:

        do not refuse the death which brings you life,

        for as the grain in the earth

        must die for rebirth,

        So I have planted your life deep within mine.

        All that is hidden will be made clear.

        All that is dark now will be revealed.

I marvel at how much can change in ten years and how much God can change a heart. These days, I still spend the vast majority of my time working in the home and began homeschooling my oldest daughter for the first time this year. These vocations would have felt completely undesirable to me ten years ago. Now, this work is the source of my greatest joy, even when it gets rough. I feel like I am building something lovely and solid with my time because my heart posture has changed. In God’s loving mercy, there have even been cool opportunities for outside work now and then that involve a different goal than personal grandeur.

I wonder what the next ten years will bring. I wonder what else will change. I pray this will remain— that God will lead me to follow his blueprint, not my own. Even in the humbling, there is no other path to peace.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a writer and a mother of four (soon-to-be-five) children under the age of eight. She enjoys humor that pokes fun at millennials. Follow her on Twitter @RachelBryars.

[1] This is by no means meant to be a case for all mothers to stay at home. My personal sanctification has required much humbling, which has required being a stay-at-home mother. We are all on different journeys with different callings.

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