I recently found this article I wrote for a magazine, several years ago, when we had six children. I found it interesting to reflect back on how life has or hasn’t changed since then. We still follow the same jobs system that I talk about in the article, although since moving house my whiteboard is still yet to go up, so I use a piece of paper instead. Otherwise, I can honestly say that this system has been a life changer. Thanks to the Lord for the hard days which push us to find new solutions.

‘Let me paint a picture of an average moment in my life a year ago. Lunch finishes and children scatter, all five to different parts of the house where each creates a mess a tornado could be proud of. When boredom sets in, they change to another room producing more tornado like behaviour! Before I know it, my post lunch cup of tea has led to 10 messes spread throughout the whole house. All manner of disasters from toddler doodles on the walls, little girls’ dresses all over the bedroom floor, and boys experiments with water leading to a bathroom flood! I’m left with a kitchen to clean up and mess in every other room. Aghh!

I asked God for help and strength but as I still had my human strength I tended to rely on that. The tidy up begins and as quickly as I tidy they made another mess. With five little whirl- winds I could never keep up. It suddenly struck me I was doing it all, all the cleaning, and all the tidying. Then a thought came to me. If I should find myself expecting again I would have to toughen up a bit and get them helping, but how?

It was soon necessary to start figuring out an answer as baby number six was now on the way! Within days of finding out I was pregnant the exhaustion set in. There wasn’t a moment in the day for the next eight months when I didn’t want to crawl into bed, plus enduring the dizziness and nausea. God had me right where he wanted me, for when I am weak He is strong.

I asked God again for help and it came through a friend at church who gave me an old portable whiteboard. This whiteboard and my rocking chair became “household HQ.” After every meal I would write up all the little messes I could see around me. I broke them down into child-size pieces and they could choose which to clean up. We had a system to make it fair. The youngest three got to choose the easiest jobs first and the two eldest would take it in turns to pick a job off the list. I put their initial next to the job and they crossed if off when completed. It included tasks such as: clear table, wipe side, laundry on, empty tumble drier, pick up five toys, empty bottom of the dishwasher etc.

The key elements of this system were small jobs, choice for the children, and consistency. Ironically, my exhaustion was the best thing that happened to me as now my children know how to clean up after themselves. I had no choice but to step back and let them learn.

Now, the scene in our house after lunch is much prettier. The children are keen to choose their jobs and get them done, then it’s free time. If they didn’t want to work, they would get an extra job. This kept them motivated!

I used to wonder how I could keep up with lots of children while pregnant, but God showed me that when I am weak He is strong. To my friend, it was just an unused whiteboard, but God used it to answer my prayer for help.’

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Is it possible, is it necessary? Is it selfish or an opportunity to use the gifts God’s given us? Should we feel guilty taking time away from our families? What’s the best way to rejuvenate? These are the questions that I have asked myself as I have wrestled with my personal needs over the years. I may not have found a perfect balance, but I am content for now.

There is a school of thought, a fairly puritanical one, which would suggest me time is a selfish pursuit and one avoided until our families need us less. The opposing viewpoint is that mum’s need space away from their children, in order to recharge, and deserve some time out. I try to take a balanced view. Despite popular opinion, my views aren’t so conservative that I would banish womankind to a life of slavery to the kitchen sink and their husband’s will. I wholeheartedly believe that we are all created for a purpose and until we fulfil that we will forever feel unsatisfied and in need of ‘me time’.

I am immensely grateful that God has given me the opportunity to be be me, in every sense of the word. I was created to care, to love, to write, to communicate and to glorify God through my life. Fulfilling my created purpose takes away the need for me to escape my life in order to ‘find myself’. I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is the chance to discover who they are created to be. It is a gift to ourselves and our families when we are content in the knowledge that we are doing what God created us to do.

How does this all work out in reality? How do I find time to write and to devote time to seeking an ever deepening relationship with my Saviour? My priorities are God first, husband second, children third and then other people and activities. By putting these priorities in place I find things largely fall into place with less stress.

On waking I pray before I open my eyes. I give thanks and then bring our day before the Lord. I follow this with Bible reading which the children join in if they come into my room. I nourish my deeper relationship with God on a moment by moment basis. Much as Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth century monk found, as he worked in the kitchens, prayer is more than words, it is an inward turning of our thoughts to God. In every moment we have the choice, to go it alone or to go into that situation with the knowledge that God is with us. When we choose to take this attitude, everything changes, as we walk in His strength, not in our own.

The children’s needs are often obvious, as they are in front of my eyes, but Phil’s needs are easier to ignore, so I go out of my way to meet them, knowing he will rarely ask me for much. We try to catch moments together, a cup of tea in the sunshine, walking the dog up the drive, or cuddling on the sofa in the late evening. We also have ‘date night’ at least once a week. We chat and eat together and normally end up watching TV for an hour. It’s not easy, but if we don’t intentionally make the time, we can find that level of intimacy we once shared becomes less natural and our relationship could easily become one of simply meeting the family’s practical needs.

I meet the children’s needs firstly through quiet observation. Something I learned at Norland, where I trained to care for children, was to first observe, and I guess that has stuck with me. Through observation I work out where their needs lie and then in prayer, I work out how to meet them. By doing this I am able to focus my energy where it is most needed.

How though do I meet my own needs? Those needs which aren’t purely spiritual? It’s easy to forget to eat lunch or drink enough, rest enough, shower or even run to the loo when you are caring for everyone. Is this the example we want our children to learn though? By meeting our own needs we are ‘putting on our oxygen mask first’. It’s a lesson I’m still learning, but I couldn’t have mothered for 20 years without meeting my own physical needs. Practically speaking, I used to shower the night before, when the children were in bed and I would bulk cook meals at the weekend. I now find that I don’t need to do this, as I have older children as well, but this approach did get me through the first 10 years of motherhood. I now find my evenings are often busier, being a taxi service or chatting to the the older children, but during the day there are moments that I grab that were never there when I just had littles.

As the children have grown I have found it easier to find time to write or sew, not often, but enough to ‘scratch the itch’. There are of course seasons, after the new baby comes I suspect writing will be harder to do, but we’ll see. I find the older children play with the little ones and this buys me a few precious moments.

At this moment in time, it’s 3pm on a Sunday afternoon. Madeleine is making samosas and the sampling of these delights is engaging many little hands. Some of the other children are in the garden and so I’ve grabbed the moment to write this blog.

Mums with just littles, can I encourage you. Hold on, it does get easier. You won’t always have little ones crowding round you, expecting you to be their everything. The older children grow and enjoy helping out and thus giving you that much dreamed of 5 minutes peace.

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Phil and I have taken on more than we ever imagined we could. When I was younger and I would think what my life would look like, this was never the picture I had. Sure I liked children and the concept of the good life was appealing, but it was never something that I would attach to my future reality.

Before I met Phil I had thoughts of missionary life. I knew I wanted to serve God and care for children, but I didn’t consider they’d be my own, I couldn’t build myself up for that kind of disappointment, my heart would be too easily crushed if for whatever reason that had not been possible.

The call of missionary service, to share the gospel with others and to serve God wholeheartedly is something we can do as mothers, but it took me a while to understand that. We chose fairly early on in our marriage to trust God with everything, our money, home and family size. As I once heard said, ‘God gives the best to those who leave the choice to him’. For me he chose motherhood and I see it as a calling, not a distraction to any other work. Mothers often choose to leave the calling of motherhood for a vocation in Christian service, believing that to be a higher calling. Is the mission field really of greater service to God though? As Charles Spurgeon famously said,

Some women may well be called to place their children in another’s care in order to serve God, as with the parents of Eric Liddell, but many will never leave the mission field of their homes. How can we serve God with the faith of a missionary and the evangelical mind of a missionary in our homes? Let me first tell you a bit about what inspires me to serve God in this way.

Before I really knew about any famous Christians, I felt the call on my heart to give my all to Christ. As the hymn we sing in church goes, ‘I give you my life, I give you my all,’ I still can’t sing it without considering if there are any other aspects of life I need to hand over to God. It has been those Christian women who stepped out in faith and gave God their all who have inspired my journey to follow Jesus into the adventure of motherhood, without fear, to listen to his still small voice and obey him without hesitation. I have filled my heart and mind with true stories of courage and bravery in the face of adversity and it has built up my spiritual muscles as I have read about the amazing God we serve and how he continues to help his children today.

Elizabeth Elliot is one such woman. She went back into the jungle, with her toddler in tow, to share the gospel with the very people who had killed her husband. The courage that took was something only God could have given and the subsequent success of her loving evangelism was proof of God’s leading. The world would have probably considered her to be crazy, on a death mission, putting both her and her daughter’s life in jeopardy, but she ignored the world’s call and followed after the One whom she trusted above all.

Katie Davis Majors is another young woman of courage. At 19 years of age she travelled from America to Africa, giving up her western lifestyle and singlehandedly adopted and raised 13 daughters. Wow! Her God is our God and he has the strength for her and for each of us.

Gladys Aylward travelled to China, against the odds, and took 100 children to safety during WW2, travelling by foot through the mountains of China. God performed many miracles to facilitate her journeys and the same God can, if we ask him, help us today.

Looking to the Bible I have always been inspired by Moses’ mother. I can only imagine the terror she must have felt as she hid her baby for months before making his basket and letting him go into the care of God alone. What a wonderful God we serve, he gave her baby back to her and paid her to care for him! I love that story.

Helen Roseveare, Narcissa Whitman, the pilgrim mothers, Mary Slessor, Perpetua, Amy Carmichael, Katharina Luther, Corrie Ten Boom and Susanna Wesley are just some of the other women who have laid down everything for Christ and inspired me on my journey with Christ.

What do these women have in common, and what can we learn from them which would help us as we try to wholeheartedly follow God?

Above all, these are of women of faith, they trust God more than they trust the wisdom of this world, ‘For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight’, 1 Corinthians 3:19. They look to God and his Word as they consider what to do next.

How can we apply this to the arena of motherhood? Everyday we are assaulted with challenges, what to say to a discouraged teenager, how to juggle schoolwork, washing and mealtimes. Are these areas God would help us in? Absolutely! The work of a missionary isn’t all about sharing the gospel, it is often about the nitty gritty of every day life and God meets us there and grows us there. Sharing the gospel is of course one of our most important tasks as missionary minded mothers. We share it with our children, other mothers, friends, people who stop by for hospitality, people in shops, postmen, absolutely anyone! I love to share the gospel first and foremost through my behaviour, as love is the way to reach people’s hearts. I aim to start every conversation with an arrow prayer, ‘God please speak through me today and help me to love as Jesus would.’ I am always amazed at the opportunities he puts on my doorstep. One of my favourite memories was regular visits from 2 Jehovah’s Witnesses who would challenge us all to dig into Scripture to back up our viewpoint. The children would stand on the doorstep with Bibles in hand, ready to find the verses to prove Jesus was God made flesh. It grew their faith and sowed seeds into the minds of the ladies who spoke with us.

The children’s faith has grown as we have trusted God with our money. There have been times when, instead of buying a new pair of shoes for each child, we have prayed for God’s provision. We once prayed for a pair of size 5 trainers and 45 minutes later a friend turned up on our doorstep with 2 pairs of size 5 trainers (we hadn’t told her). It’s that kind of answer to prayer which helps us to show our children our God who is alive and active and thus grow their faith. God was so kind to say yes to that prayer, he often makes us wait, but we have never forgotten that moment.

As we followed God to our new home in Shropshire we could never have imagined what he had in store, but day by day he is revealing to us that our missionary journey is not over. We see more and more that we are called to share our home with others and to continue to trust in our God who has never let us down. I’d love to hear who inspires you?

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Many blessings,