Blank Slate

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My life is really well analyzed right now.

We’ve spent months pondering, discussing and praying through our values, vision, priorities, and calling, all of which led us to this move. And since we’ve arrived, we’ve done plenty of soul-searching, reflecting and questioning. If the unexamined life is not worth living, let’s just say I’m really making life worth something these days.

I find myself in an intriguing situation, especially considering my life stage. I’m 39 years old, married, and in the middle of raising two children, and yet my life has become a sort of empty canvas. We’ve been radically cut off from our former life and I’m faced with the question: What would you do if your life were a blank slate? Where would you start if most of your previous roles and responsibilities were stripped away? What sort of art would you choose to create out of your life, knowing what you know now?

Of course, it’s not entirely a blank slate. I’m a wife, a mother, and a Christ follower. The major pillars of my life remain in tact. I’m a home educator, so that remains an essential role that I fill here. But the newness and otherness of this experience has really caused me to reflect on what other pieces I want to add or not add to this current chapter.

I don’t have to work while we’re here. Dwayne’s job more than meets our needs financially, and allows us to contribute to long term savings and a travel fund. One of the reasons we pursued this path was so that I could homeschool and fully invest in our kids without the added responsibility of contributing to our household income. And even though I am torn by it at times, and know that I could earn an income and that there is plenty I’m passionate about and gifts I have to invest, I’m grateful to know that I can look for the places God has called me to serve, without worrying about the pay or our bottom line. I can cross that off the list of things to be added to my plate.

Our apartment has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, and a living/dining room. We have no basement, no spare room, no storage rooms, no garage, no yard. When the kids and I commit to half an hour a day, we can essentially keep the dishes and laundry washed, the bathrooms cleaned, and the floors swept. Once a week I do a few additional chores. Cleaning our home is super manageable in a very short period of time, so I can cross that off the list too.

We are making friends here, which is a blessing. But they are still new, and our expectations from one another are low. And of course, we don’t have any family here, so our social calendar isn’t exactly full. We’ve found a marvelous church family in Al Ain, but at this point, we don’t have commitments there, other than attending once a week. I believe it’s essential to our own spiritual health, and the health of our church family, for us to get involved and serve, but we have allowed ourselves a couple of months to settle in and see where God would have us. Overall, the demands of community, (which are some of life’s greatest blessings, mind you,) are not filling up our schedules.

Our kids are not part of a traditional school, so we’re not faced with the demands of time tables, events, or homework. They’ve each signed up for one extra-curricular activity, only 5 minutes from our apartment, with no additional time commitment required outside of class time. As I mentioned, our friend situation is new and blossoming, but right now there aren’t birthday parties or sleepovers or play dates to juggle, so our kids’ social calendars aren’t filling up our days either.

paintsThere were many days in my previous life where I would have begged for this sort of fresh start. When the demands of life felt never-ending and I longed to slow down, but couldn’t figure out what to cut. And now here we are. But, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that this blank slate came at a high cost. So now that I’m faced with this white canvas, I want to be intentional about the colours I splash on it. I want to choose wisely. I don’t want to fill up our days with the first requests to come along, simply to avoid boredom or to recreate a life we once had. I want to know what life God has for us here. What priorities he would have me hone in on in this chapter. I want to structure my days around those priorities.

Over the last year I have boiled down my top priorities to a list I keep before me each day. It has been a long process of tweaking and revising, especially in our new circumstances. And I’m sure it will continue to morph as the years roll by. But for now, if I were living my best and most faithful life, I would be:

*Saturated in God’s Word and devoted to prayer
*Committed to meaningful relationships
*Truly educating my children
*Serving my church, my community, and the world
*Impacting people through speaking, writing, and friendship
*Taking care of myself physically
*Creating opportunities for personal growth
*Building a lasting business that improves people’s lives
*Enjoying the blessings of each day

If you’ve read my blog this year, you may recognize some of these pieces. It has been an amazing exercise to work this out, write it down, and share it with people I love. And then, to have it in front of me as I begin each day, before me as I make decisions, and as a reminder when I’m feeling confused. And it’s never been more helpful than right now, as I consider every new opportunity that comes before me. Does this fit what God has called me to for this time in my life?

From this guide, I’ve made a weekly checklist of what I hope to accomplish. Activities that line up with my priorities. Gone are the to-do lists full of unimportant tasks. My checklist now includes my personal time with God, with Dwayne, with each of my kids. It includes homeschool prep, writing, working out, and personal reading. Many things I would have once considered a luxury, or something I would get to if I accomplished the other tasks on my to-do list. Now it’s reversed. I will get to the other things on my to-do list when I’ve first focused on my true priorities. This has resulted in a daily contentment that no amount of meaningless accomplishment could compete with.

So, I have a few brushstrokes painted on this blank canvas. Some things that fill up each day. But I know they are the most important things. My favorite colors. And the best part is, even when I focus on these priorities, I have margin. I have room right now, for the unknown things God is preparing me for here. I can still see plenty of white space. Sometimes I’m anxious to fill it up, but I’ve been resisting. Allowing my life in Al Ain to unfold a bit more and watching for the opportunities that make my heart sing. I know when those come, I’ll be so glad there was still plenty of room in my life to say yes.

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One thought on “Blank Slate

    Lydia said:
    November 20, 2014 at 12:59 am

    HI Jen..I love reading your letters on the VINE..They are so inspiring…I thank the L:ord forknowing you a little..You are a wonderful woman of God and I know He will lead and guide you and your family to do His kingdom work in Al Ain….I pray for you almost daily and I can see the spirit seems to be a bit more uplifted..Moving to a new country is not easy but if there is just one thing a day that you can be thankful for it makes such a difference…glad you are making connections and getting somewhat involved in church…I can see you having a ministry there….I love you guys and pray that each day will be a blsessing for you Dwayne Abbey and Josiah….Love to you..Lydia

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