Baby wipes in the car along with my change of clothes, mascara, and lip gloss. I had perfected the change in the car, but this was the first time I was bringing my husband into the routine. We finished a charity walkathon at the Cincinnati zoo with his company, socializing over beers and hot dogs while raising money with our steps for our local children’s hospital. Earlier that day I spent a few hours with a co-worker who’s multiple sclerosis had deteriorated her eyesight & diminished her energy to the point where she was unable to care for her infant without help. I held & fed her son, she went upstairs to rest. En route home I had a phone date with my out of state best friend, giving me just enough time before the zoo walk to shower and scrunch my hair (it was 2014 which does not excuse my choices, but perhaps makes them more understandable).
It was a surprisingly hot September day in Cincinnati, but I had the baby wipes. We drove to a somewhat discreet parking place to put those baby wipes to work and change from walkathon t-shirts into respectable wedding guest attire. While driving I touched up my face in the tiny car mirror, attempting to not stab my eye with a mascara wand or get angry at my husband for hitting the brakes at what felt like a sudden pitch but was probably incredibly normal.
We missed the ceremony, which I had planned for, walking into the reception just in time to tack onto the food line. We ate dinner with family and friends on beautifully Pinterested tables under string lights in her family’s wooded backyard and did the Cupid Shuffle in the large driveway turned dance floor. Perfect. Success. I did it again.
Except I was tired. I was wearing out and my husband was not impressed with my practiced skill of ‘fitting it all in.’ Things were starting to slip, namely an actual relationship with the man I married, and an edge of burnout was emerging. I usually solved challenges with work more, work harder and a touch of work smarter. I was accustomed to 60+ hour work weeks at high pressure jobs I felt wildly unqualified for while also managing a host of volunteer, friend, community, serving, learning, teaching, health, church, neighbor, travel activities. That was my normal and I was starting to feel suffocated by it all. I had cut so many of the easy to cut, more obviously ‘bad’ activities and I was constantly torn with all the good places to spend our time. I wore fatigue like a heavy wet blanket making my body feel like a million pounds when I went up stairs and activities I had once crammed-in with pride felt empty, not enough, exhausting.
After many years of trying all types of ways to pack more in and be more efficient, I simply self-destructed. The full story I’ll save for another time. To sum it up, I wore out my ability to think, feel, process like a healthy human and I jumped off a cliff away from my life. I jumped, grazing the rocks at the bottom, only to find a very strong bungee cord of grace bouncing me up to a path forward to make a different choice. To let God, my family, my community in to deep, scary, vulnerable places that would allow me to go through some radical transformation. To discover, among many other refreshing & even disturbing things, I tried to pack it all in to prove I was valuable and worth knowing. To myself, to everyone, even to God.
I knew I needed a different way to live and started where many transformations start - crumbled like a withered balloon on the floor before a loving, kind God. We focused on my identity and uncovering & redefining beliefs, and how that translated to my actions. One of the most practical actions that went through the ringer in my life was calendaring. The art, the science, the constant experimentation of how to unify around a purpose-filled calendar that is both slow and full, with space to play and be about our mission, with God and people at the core and also gets sh*t done.
Each section below will get more stories and how-to details underneath in future posts, but for now here is an overview of rhythms that have kept me from jumping off cliffs or requiring baby wipes to be in my car as a grown adult without any diapers in my family (although wipes still come in handy!).
Shared Digital Calendars
I used to manage our calendar on a dry erase board. Then I would be out and people talk schedule and I had to rely on my brain - which does not have a 100% batting average. Ten years ago we had conflicts all over the place and the dry erase board still had April’s events up and it was nearly June. My husband swung me over to digital calendars and I haven’t looked back. My default view of my calendar includes his world too and our marriage has less calendaring conflicts because we both have visibility, access, and accountability to do what we said we were going to do.
Three times a year (I know) my husband and I reset and align and get some important, non-urgent things done. We carve out time to rest & play for at least one day, then spend the remaining time in a mix of praying, planning, dreaming, and playing. Ideally a four day weekend, which isn’t always possible so we’ve found a 3 day weekend can work just fine. A normal weekend is tight and we usually end exhausted, but you work with what you’ve got. We do this three times a year and the remaining quarter (which is often spring for us) we fit a ‘light checkup’ into a weekend at home. This is for no magical reason, other than it works for our family.
Weekly Plan + Prep
I was feeling crushed & a bit alone under the weight of life plus all the little household chores. My husband and I started to block a weekly plan + prep night on our calendar, as a time to regroup on how things are going in our household, realign on our calendar and the work we are taking on, then prep for the week. Often prep for the week looks like cleaning up the house, getting groceries, cooking enough food to get us started for the week (we survive on leftovers), and anything else that needs uniquely packed, cleaned, signed, emailed for us to be ready to hit the ground running on Monday.
Within the last 2 years we started a family breakfast 3 times a week. We sit down for an hour 3 weekday mornings a week as a household with the purpose to connect with God and each other to stay aligned & focused throughout the week. We protect this time and if we can’t do it due to travel or an early meeting, that’s fine, we simply don’t meet and pick it backup the next time.
I realized a few years back, calendars aren’t only for meetings, they are a tool to help us shape the ideal week. This looks like me being intentional about blocking sections to write, exercise, work on projects around the home. For example, every other Wednesday night we have blocked for social/ministry night. We either have a friend, a new couple, or people who’ve asked us for help in some form over for dinner or drinks. It is set aside for ministry primarily, but if what we need that week is actually more social time with our people than we reach out to friends. It is a flex time set aside for a specific purpose.
Coordinating between everyone’s commitments and preferences and nap times can sometimes lead to long stretches between get togethers. Finally, years ago I started to borrow from 'how I get my work done at work' - schedule recurring meetings with folks. Duh. What if I got aggressively intentional about seeing my people? I want anchors in my calendar, time set aside in the waves of distraction & busy in order to protect time with the people God has given me as an important, safe harbor.
We’ve spent most of our 11+ married years really sucking at date night. Some years it was because we didn’t like each other much, but mostly it has been not for lack of desire but lack of intention or follow through. We finally decided at each quarterly retreat we would schedule our next 3-4 months of dates at random, not recurring in a nice, tidy package like I used to think it was ‘supposed’ to be. We rotate who plans each date and target getting two dates in a month. Sometimes we get three and sometimes we get one but both months are now counted as a success and we keep learning how to best protect and invest in this time.
By Kathryn Cradduck