finding time to read in busy seasons.

I've always liked reading, though I've had seasons of more or less consistency through the last nine years of motherhood.   (Last year's reading list, for instance, ended up being pretty anemic.)  Recently, I decided to take it up a notch, and start striving towards truly ambitious-for-me reading goals.  And it has been so good.  I have seen so much character growth, added mental stimulation (a must for moms of little kids!), and skills development just over the last couple of months of striving toward bigger goals.

I'd urge you to start reading more, too.  I do get that it takes time, something many of us feel is in short supply.  Not all of us are quick readers.  Not all of us like doing it.  We won't all have the same reading goals.  But we should all be reading.  Even moms.  Especially moms.

So how do we do that, without manufacturing more hours in a day, or dropping the ball on other things we're already committed to?  Here are a couple things I've found to be helpful in pursuing a book-dense life:

1. Set a goal, and make it just out of reachTim Ferris says it's easier to fundraise a million dollars than it is to fundraise $100,000.  Why?  Because a bigger goal makes you feel the strain and urgency of the push.  Often, we're tempted to set 'realistic' goals, but the truth is that we actually make more headway when it takes a little bit of sweat to get there.  I set my goal at eight books a month.  I haven't made it there yet, but I did make it to seven last month, and that is much farther than a goal of four books would have gotten me!  (Four was my 'realistic' goal.)

Maybe your realistic goal is two books a month.  So shoot for three next month.  Or even four.  Push yourself and you'll see better results, even if you don't quite hit the mark every time.

2. Figure out where the time is going to come from.  I get that you don't have hours on end open to you right now.  No one does.  Nature doesn't exist in a vacuum - your time will always be full.  But you're the one who chooses how to fill it.  I remember the specific moment that I realized I had the exact same number of hours in a day as anyone else, and there were people getting a whole lot more learning done in their hours than I was.  So I simply stole time from my more 'mindless' activities.  I stopped watching Netflix during naptime, stopped checking Pinterest, and scaled way back on Facebook and Instagram.  And I have found around two hours every day to read.  TWO HOURS are being put to much better use each day, and I'm no busier than I was before.

3. Tell other people your goals.  I choose my eight books at the beginning of the month, snap a photo, and share it on here and on my social channels.  By the time I'm done, I've seen that photo in front of my face a bunch of times, and I've invited other people to keep me accountable.

4. Set your book stack where you can see it every day.  My monthly stack is sitting on the table by "my end" of the couch.  I look at it dozens of times every day.  When I see what's left to dig into, I get excited to finish the book I'm currently reading so I can start the next one in the stack.  And I can see the stack get smaller and smaller as I make headway.  The visual really helps.

5.  Read first.  If I'm tempted to check Facebook or something, I just tell myself I can do that... after I've simply read a single page of a book first.  One page takes 2-3 minutes tops, so it doesn't cost me anything major, and usually by the time I'm done with that page, I'm more motivated to continue reading than to set my book down to scroll the never-ending newsfeed.

6.  Take advantage of short chunks of time.  I do not have two hours straight to sit down and read every day, but I do have a bunch of ten minute chunks.  They add up.  We've also had a lot of appointments lately, so I just bring along a book to read instead of the waiting room magazines... on the (very very) off-chance the kids are sitting quietly and don't need me to constantly referee them while we're there.

7.  Read from a variety of genres so you don't lose steam or get bogged down.  I like to have a work of fiction or memoir going most of the time, since these genres are pretty easy, fluid reading that I don't have to work super hard to concentrate on.  I also like to have a book on spiritual growth, and a nonfiction/skills-development book, both of which take a bit more focused effort and time to get through.  I have a variety of options and styles to choose from during any given ten minute chunk of time.

8.  Audiobooks count.  I've been listening through audiobooks as I cook or do my hair.  My eyes or hands are occupied by something else, but I'm still reading.

This month's stack.  I'm on track to have completed six or seven of these by the end of the month, unless I really get my butt in gear in the next few days!

In the long run, you will be so glad you committed time to this kind of growth!  I'm finding that the time I spent scrolling social media or watching Netflix isn't missed - I'm no worse off for having missed out what I've given up.  But I am reaping dividends from having spent that time reading.  Five and ten and twenty years from now, I will be a different person than I would be otherwise, because of how I'm choosing to spend my time now.  And that's super motivating to keep going!

If you'd personally like even more motivation, check out these two mind-blowing articles on why you should (and could!) be reading more.

In The Time You Spend On Social Media Each Year, You Could Read 200 Books

Reading Wars

On Friday, I'll be posting a thread (maybe even popping in live?) on the Facebook page where you can talk about your reading goals for October - big or small, make a goal!  Spend the week making a plan - how many books will you read?  What genres will you include?  Where will you find the time?  Then head over there on Friday (don't worry; I'll post reminders in the meantime) to tell me what you're thinking.  I'm SO excited to see what you all are going to read.  I'm a total book nerd, so tell me all about your books!

what's up weekly.

Oh, this week.  So normal.  So not-normal.  So, basically like every other week.  (I need to start getting realistic about that fact that, with this many people in the house, there is no real chance for boring weeks anymore.)

Saturday morning, Todd got a text from a friend saying that they had three extra tickets for the Mizzou game that day, and asking if we'd like to take advantage.  Spur-of-the-moment plans are sometimes difficult for us, but we figured it would never be easier on us to get some of the kids to a game - the weather was nice, the tickets were free, and our friends even gave us a parking pass.  So it was kind of a no-brainer; Todd took the two older boys.

A post shared by Todd Van Voorst (@toddhenryvanvoorst) on

Penelope and I spent our alone time while the boys were gone playing chess and checkers.  (The littler kids were all down for nap.)  She is, unsurprisingly, really good at chess.

Sunday morning, we had church in the park, but it was raining like crazy... and we had record-breaking attendance.  Go figure.  When the kids get ready to go out the door, they (of their own volition, because they saw it in a movie) line up in age-order and yell in unison, "WE'RE READY!!" Even Rocco yells, "Yeh-yeh," which is Toddler for "ready."  It's hilarious to see him automatically take his place in line with them.  (Ignore the terrible lighting - our house is a verifiable cave when it's cloudy outside.)

Monday morning, I had an orthodontist appointment to get my new retainers, but it didn't really matter in the end because I FOUND MY OLD RETAINERRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!  There are not enough exclamation points.  I'm a very happy camper.

Here's a very unhappy camper, for your viewing pleasure:

Tuesday, Atticus had a dentist appointment.  The x-rays show that we have healed three of his six cavities completely!  Can you believe that?  We got the decay in his teeth to halt, and healthy tooth matter to actually grow back.  That's the great news!  The bad news is that one of the cavities that didn't heal will need to be pulled.  Poor kid.

Tuesday night, Penelope lost a tooth while we were at Connection Group!  She now sports the most adorable lisp you've ever heard.  Paired with the fact that she's started using the phrase, "According to my observations..." and is working on her (astonishingly good) fiction series, "Kyan: Alpha Wolf," she's obviously the cutest, nerdiest, most fun seven year old on the planet.

The babysitter snapped this photo right after Penen lost the tooth.  There was apparently a lot of blood involved, but she doesn't look too shaken up about it!

Wednesday, we stopped at Lowe's and Atticus got his very own hacksaw and miter box.  I resupplied him with nails and a replacement pair of leather gloves (his old ones have worn through), and he has spent 48 of the last 24 hours out in the garage, building all kinds of things out of scrap lumber from a friend.  (Doll bunk beds, book shelves, picture frames... all made out of the 8-inch long scraps of a bunch of 2x4's.)

Thursday was boring in the best way.  I cleaned the kitchen and spent a few hours reading.  (I'll tell you next week about where I find the time to read as much as I do.)  A clean house and a good book? Yes. Please.  Throw in a couple cuddles with these little marshmallows, and I couldn't ask for anything better:

Today is another good-boring day: nature study, artist and composer study, tea time.  Takeout for dinner.  More books.  The best kind of day.

And here's Rocco to play you home on this fine Friday:

family photos: twenty-seventeen style!

With a family our size, accomplishing a family photo session can be a real beast.  First of all, we have a million kids on a single income, and photos aren't cheap, so we've been pretty sporadic about it.  Second of all, it's literally impossible to get everyone looking decent in a photo.  The more people there are, the more variables there are that could go wrong.

In answer to the first conundrum, we were outrageously blessed with a super talented and generous brother-in-law, who is a literal pro, and who offered to get some shots of everyone when he and my sister came down for Laurelai's birthday last month.  In answer to the second conundrum, we never got a shot where everyone was looking pleasant, but I'm more than happy to settle for at least most people looking pleasant.

I just love the shots he got of each kiddo.

And only because I find this shot hilarious:

Their responses to whatever is happening behind the camera are so polarized.

Oh, how lucky I am to get to call these people all mine!

daily quiet time printables.

Last week I promised I'd cook up a couple of printables that might make consistency in prayer and Bible reading a little easier to achieve.  A chart like this has been majorly helpful for me in beginning to develop a more faithful prayer life lately - seeing my own progress over time each month has really spurred me on to keep going!

My own prayer log, photocopied from the back of the book, "The Heart of a Woman Who Prays," by Elizabeth George.

I used the same basic idea, but streamlined the look a bit.  I have a love-hate relationship with the idea that resources for women always have to have swirly-girly fonts and watercolor florals.  You know I love watercolor florals, but a) I thought we could all use a little break from them for just a second, and b) I have no idea how to put watercolor florals onto something like this.  So you're stuck with the basics.

The one I put together for you guys, of which I then took terribly lit phone photos.  Hooray!

These are pretty basic, but effective!  The instructions are simple: just keep this little sheet close to your Bible or prayer journal (I actually made it so you can fold it into thirds - the perfect size for a bookmark!), and each day that you spend time in pursuit of God, highlight the date.  That's it!  Watch yourself get more and more consistent with each mark on the page.

More badly-lit phone photos! Happy Monday!

I made three different styles: one for tracking daily prayer, one for daily time in the Word, and one for quiet time in general.  Use one or all of them!  Each file contains a black and white copy and a color copy.  (Click each title link to download.)

*Edited to add: my friend LisaGrace mentioned in the comments that she printed the Bible Reading tracker on one side of a sheet of paper, and the Prayer tracker on the other so she can track each individually.  I think I might steal this idea from her myself!

Daily Bible Reading:

Daily Prayer Log:

Daily Quiet Time:

Hope you find these as helpful as I have!

'what's up' weekly.

*This post contains affiliate links.

This week was full of ups and downs.  On Saturday, I led through the first meeting of our Connection Group girls' book study of Practical Theology for Women.  It was so much fun, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the semester, getting to dig into this book and the Bible with these girls!

The weather is really starting to cool down (finally) so we spent lots of time outside on Monday.  Rocco, who usually stays in the house with me while the big kids play outside, got to go out and play while I sat in the shade and read a book.  He had a blast.

Atticus is in a woodworking stage right now - he's been getting his hands on whatever scrap wood he can, and begging for his very own saw.  Until he gets one, he's been using the claw end of his hammer to hack wood into whatever shapes he can.  I'm almost starting to think a saw would be a safer option, so I think we'll be making a trip to Lowe's this weekend to grab him some supplies.

Tuesday, I got all the kids loaded into the van to go pick up my new retainer, and the van wouldn't start.  Long story short, it needed to be towed from our driveway to the shop.  Then towed again from the shop to the dealership, where they made me a new key and took the van out of 'theft protection' mode, which was the cause for its failure to start.  Such an expensive new key.

Because the van was in the shop from Tuesday morning to yesterday afternoon, we didn't get a chance to head to the Amish on Wednesday, like we usually do.  So we stayed home and made beeswax candles, got some school done, and had a college gal over for a bit.  Yesterday we spent the day at home getting caught up on school, playing outside and hanging out with another one of our favorite college girls.

And that brings us to today.  We'll be finally heading to the Amish this morning, which is a huge relief - if you can't make it to your 'standing appointment' with an Amish person, there's really no way to let them know!  So I'll be glad to touch base with them about why I just disappeared this week and left them to figure out what to do with the extra seven gallons of milk they weren't expecting to have to deal with!

And I've been taking my reading inspiration from Penelope, who always has her nose in a book.  Here are the books I've had my own nose in this week:

This book is rocking my world.  It is so insightful and helpful.  I have to go slowly with it, since I like to highlight and much of my reading time takes place while I'm nursing and therefore not exactly hands-free.  But I think the slower pace has been beneficial!

This is my second or third re-through of this book.  I like that it's really, really accessible for those who haven't had much previous exposure to the formal study of theology, but it covers the central message of the gospel so well that it doesn't feel simplistic.

Beautifully written.  While I'm not an unschooler by any means, a lot of the values and goals he sets forth for his kids' education connect deeply with my own.

I'm still uncertain on this one - I'm not loving it yet, but it has come so highly recommended and has received so many awards that I'm continuing on in it, hoping it will become more engaging.

 I wrapped this one up at the beginning of the week.  I loved it - so funny and difficult and real.  And I now want to be her dad.  Or something like that.

 I'm still a little unsure on this one, too, though part of that might be due to the fact that I'm listening to it on audiobook and the reader's voice really gets under my skin.  Plus, I only get to listen to it in 2-5 minute chunks while I cut up chicken or take a shower.  (Both of which take longer than 2-5 minutes, but are continuously interrupted and therefore are broken into many, much smaller chunks.)  Plus, I don't actually work.  (I mean, I do.  But you know what I'm saying.)  So a four-hour work week is a longer one than I'm currently putting in.  But there have been some valuable nuggets in there so far, so I'm sticking with it.

And that has been our week!  What were you up to this week?  Reading anything good you can recommend?

facebook giveaway today! (and hopefully a live stream, too!)

Just a quick update this morning: keep your eyes on the Facebook page today, since there will be some fun stuff going on over there!

This afternoon sometime, I'll be posting a giveaway for some great stuff, so don't miss it!  My friend Paige at ElderNHoney is letting me give away a couple of her products, and I could NOT be more excited about it.  We have loved these products in our house, and I'm really thrilled to be able to give some away to you guys.  The winner will get a bottle of organic elderberry syrup (my very favorite product for beating colds so far this Fall)  - as well as a product of the winner's choice.   Pretty cool, right?

The giveaway details will all be posted later today over on Facebook, so keep your eyes peeled!

Also, on a totally unrelated note other than that it involves Facebook: I'm hoping to get some time today to hop on to Facebook live to talk a little bit more about time in the Word and prayer.  I'm going to guess that it will be around 2:00, so join me over there if you're able!

my personal quiet time: prayer. (and my favorite resources!)

Yesterday, I gave you an in-depth look at what my daily time in the Bible has been looking like lately.  Today I thought I'd share what's been helping me grow in the area of prayer, which hasn't come very naturally to me and therefore has required some intentionality.


Some people seem to find it so easy to pray consistently; I have had a very sporadic history with prayer that has been closely tied to my emotional state at any given time.  If I'm riding a spiritual high, I pray.  If I'm deep in a spiritual depression, or red-hot angry at God for whatever reason, I pray.  If I'm desperate to find my retainer (hypothetical situation, obviously), I pray.  But on most normal, run-of-the-mill days, I just can't figure out how to do it.  I can't figure out how to even want to do it.

This summer, my friend Monica and I set out to learn more about prayer, and to commit ourselves more intentionally to growing in this area.  While it still isn't easy, it's becoming more consistent for me, at least.  Here are a few things that have helped:

A prayer notebook, in which I keep lists of asked and (as it happens) answered prayers for myself, my family, others, ministry, etc., as well as decisions I need to make that I would like to pray over, instead of just prayer-lessly rushing into stuff like I usually do.

A prayer journal, in which I quickly write out a prayer each day.  This seems to keep my mind focused and helps me remember later what I even prayed for that morning!

A book of prayers written by someone who's better at praying than I am.  I've started reading daily prayers from the book, "Setting Their Hope in God: Biblical Intercession for Our Children" by Andrew Case, which is so very helpful.  The prayers are drawn almost entirely from Scripture, and I like to insert each kiddo's individual name as I quietly read each day's short prayer.

And last, but far from least, is one simple but embarrassingly effective tool for becoming more consistent: the sheet of paper.

This daily prayer chart was printed at the back of the book, "The Heart of a Woman Who Prays," by Elizabeth George.  (An identical chart for Bible reading can be found at the back of the book, "A Woman After God's Own Heart," by the same author, a book which I would recommend to everyone.)  I have found that the accountability (and even self-competition) this simple little print-out provided for me was one of the kicks in the pants I needed to get started.  I just highlight the days I sit down to pray.  Easy peasy.

You can see that I initially didn't do so hot.  I was supposed to have started in April.  Which is blank.  May had five days highlighted; June had six.  But I developed a desire to do better each month, to think in terms of 're-starting' each day, rather than feeling like the whole effort was ruined if I missed a day.  And progress toward my long-term goal is easily seen and kept track of!  Such a simple, useful tool. 

I'll be making a free printable of a similar prayer chart available by the end of the week, so stay tuned.  Do you think something like this could help you become more consistent in your quiet time?  Or, if you're already pretty consistent, what has been something you've found super helpful?

my personal quiet time: Bible reading and memorization.

Quiet time is something that tends to go in seasons for me.  Sometimes, I will go days, or even (shhhh!) sometimes weeks without sitting down for intentional quiet time.  These are not shining stretches for me, but it is the truth.  In other seasons, I rarely go more than a day in between intentional, set-aside time in which to read the Bible, pray, and reflect.

Right now, I'm spending a lot of time focusing on growth in this area, and attempting to become more consistent.  There have been a couple of things that have really assisted me in daily consistency and more fruitful time with God.

Bible Reading

This Jen Wilkin talk on how your quiet time should change you, and this article (also by Jen Wilkin) on Bible literacy have been super helpful.  She really challenged me to not expect some kind of super spiritual experience every time I opened the Bible (which rarely happened, and it would leave me disappointed, unmotivated, and feeling like I'd failed), but rather to treat the Bible like a book.  We read books to learn, enjoy, and grow - and often, if they're great books, we read them over and over, and find ourselves continually influenced by them in new ways.  Now, the Bible is more than just a book.  But, as Jen says, it is not less than a book.  So I have chosen the book of John to read, front to back, over and over, for a few pass-throughs now and I'm finding the immersion in the same material for a long time is making my own experience with the book much deeper.

I'm also jumping in to this community as we read through the entire Bible, beginning today and going through May.  I love that there's a Facebook group for encouragement and accountability, weekly videos, and even an app you can sync with your Bible app so you can either read through or listen to the audio on your phone.  It starts today - anyone want to jump in with me?

Scripture Memory

Jen Wilkin (again!) says that the easiest way to memorize Scripture is to just read it over and over.  I think that is so insightful and challenging, and I would also like to add that I've found the opposite to be true, too: the easiest way to read (and know) Scripture is to memorize it.

A few years ago, my friend LisaGrace and I memorized the book of Galatians together, and while I don't still have it memorized word-for-word, I do still know that book better than any other in the Bible.  The themes, metaphors, specific stories, and references to the Old Testament are still mentally available to me in a snap - in essence, more than any other book of the Bible, I feel like I internalized the "point" of Galatians as I memorized it, repeating the words over and over to myself out loud, in my mind, and on paper to get it to 'stick.'  It helped me understand what it means to really meditate on Scripture.

So I have decided to start this exercise with John as well.  I'm not sure if I'm committing to memorizing the whole book (Galatians is only six chapters; John is 21!), but I'm starting and will see how far I get!

So, as for what this actually looks like daily: I typically get up around 8:00,  sit down and spend 10-15 minutes in intentional prayer (more on that tomorrow!), then I spend around 10 minutes reading a chapter of John and 5-10 minutes working on new Scripture memory.  While the new Bible reading plan will likely take longer to get through each day than I've been spending, it's still all very do-able, which is why I think I've been able to stay pretty consistent in these areas over the last four months or so.  Tomorrow, I'll show you more about my time in prayer, including some of the resources I've found most helpful!

what's up weekly.

This week is over already?! It has been such a weird week.  Tons of appointments to go to, which I haaaaaate.  They throw everything off!  Friday morning, Atticus had a speech therapy consultation, then on Tuesday, I had an orthodontics appointment.  Then on Wednesday, I had a spontaneous second orthodontist appointment and Atticus had a dental appointment.  Next week is shaping up to look pretty similar.  Bleh.

But on a more positive note, let me tell you that Todd preached through Nehemiah 1 on Sunday and killed it, as he usually does.  If you want to hear the audio, check it out here.  He also preached last night at Salt (our college ministry), but the audio isn't up yet.

Tuesday, we headed up to the Amish for our weekly run.  We usually go on Wednesdays, but the daughter in the family I usually buy milk from was getting married on Wednesday, so we went up a day early.  They asked if I wanted to come inside and see how they set up tables to host 300 guests in their house!  They cleared the house of all the furniture, and long tables and benches wound through the whole bottom floor.  It was so neat to see.

As for the orthodontist appointment(s), I am just ready to be done with this whole process.  I have not been impressed with the doctor we were referred to.  I'm just going to keep the venting to myself, but long story short, I had to fight and beg and plead just to get a decent mold taken, and was rewarded for my efforts by a snarky office manager telling me, "I hope you're happy with yourself."  It made for an awesome day.

Yesterday was much more normal, thank goodness, and today looks like it's shaping up to be pretty standard as well.  Whew! So glad.

And to reward you for sticking with me for this long without photos, here are a couple of Rocco being adorable this week:

His favorite perch from which to watch the big kids playing outside.  Being little is so hard sometimes.

 And Finneas turned five and a half!

And that was our week!

(One last item of note: two email newsletters have gone out now!  If you haven't already signed up to receive them but would like to, subscribe here!)

growing in my prayer life.

This summer, a friend of mine and I were talking about how we both have kind of sucked at having an actual, thriving prayer life.  Sure, we prayed, but we'd like to grow more committed to the actual act of developing a deeper life of prayer.

So we picked out a book to read through together, and were excited to jump in... but the book was a huge letdown.  Like, for real. We both hated it.  (I don't even think my friend finished it.)  And I was getting ready to just throw in the towel and be all, "I guess that didn't work.  Back to same-old, same-old."

But I was suddenly struck with the conviction that I'd been given God's Word - why was I waiting around for some Christian bookstore pick to light a fire in me?  In the Bible, I'd already been told to pray, been given examples of prayer, and shown stories of people praying.  What more was I looking for?

And I'm apparently not the only one confused about prayer - the disciples even asked Jesus how they should pray.  My problem was that I wasn't even asking.  I just figured that, because it wasn't natural or easy for me, it was okay to wait around until some monumental shift spontaneously occurred inside me, and all of a sudden I found myself happening upon a deep prayer life.  And if it didn't, I'd just continue to think, "Welp, I guess I'm just not a pray-er."

But the thing is, all Christians are called to be pray-ers.  What made me think it was easy or natural for most people?  What made me think that all "prayer warriors" didn't have to commit to it, but instead were just born that way?  And, if it doesn't come easily to me to do something we're all supposed to be thriving in, isn't that my cue to work harder at becoming good at it, rather than my cue to just give up?  How can I be so apathetic towards building a deeper, more dependent relationship with God, simply because I wasn't born with an inherent sense of ease with it all?

Many of the most 'talented' individuals in any field get to the top by a little bit of inborn talent and a crap ton of hard work.  Why would pray-ers be any different?  So if I want to be someone who truly lives a life of thriving, deep prayer, I should be prepared to commit.

So I've been making changes over the last few months.  First of all, that means I've been trying to pray more often.  It also means I've been trying to pray more intentionally - not just assuming that my random prayers throughout the day were a nourishing enough diet to live on, but rather setting aside additional time to focus on nothing other than praying.  And I've been trying to learn more about the actual act of prayer - if Jesus gave the disciples a straight answer when they asked how they should pray, then maybe "how should I pray?" is a valid question.

Does anyone else have difficulty feeling like their prayer life is really nourishing them?  Anyone else wanting or needing to grow in this area?  I am so stinking far from having all the answers!  But I'm slowly learning, and maybe being okay with a slow learning process is at least one of the answers I'm finding.  Next week, I'm going to share more about what my quiet time looks like currently, including how I've gradually implemented a few new habits out of my desire to connect with God more intimately through prayer.