by Passionate Homemaking’s monthly contributor, Ann Dunagan.
Ann’s monthly contributions will be in a Q & A style format, as we hear her heart
(balancing raising 7 children while also being passionately involved in missions).
Q. LINDSAY @ PASSIONATE HOMEMAKING:
How do you keep your heart free of clutter?
A. ANN @ MISSION-MINDED FAMILIES:
We all realize that our homes don’t stay clutter-free by themselves. Clearing out paper-piles, castoff-shoe-corners, and mountains of outgrown-kids-clothes takes persistent effort and a vision for a clean and peaceful environment. In our family’s home, there are certain areas I call Hot Spots; for some reason, if anything lands in these convenient (yet forbidden) zones, the item instantly transforms into a magnet for a giant mess. These Hot Spots include the stairs by our entryway, a chair in our master bedroom, and a bench by our kitchen table. If I don’t “fight” for these Hot Spots to be spotless, they take over.
The same holds true for my heart.
My thoughts and attitudes don’t stay clutter-free, kingdom-focused, and unselfish on their own accord. There are certain places in my mind and heart and emotions that I need to diligently guard against continual distraction and discouragement. For me, a few Hot Spots in my heart are keeping vision for homeschooling (even after 20 years), staying consistent with our ministry correspondence (especially when I don’t feel like writing our newsletter), or being frustrated by ministry leadership decisions that are not my concern or responsibility. I know that I can’t trust the foolishness of my momentary emotions, and just do or say “whatever I feel like.” If I’m grumpy, I can’t just “let go” of my unruly thoughts and dump everything I’m thinking on my husband, kids, or church friends, any more than I can continually display all of our family’s dirty socks and stinky rags on our dining room table.
Instead, I know that I need to rely on God’s grace and the constant presence of His Holy Spirit to keep my heart clean. I need to continually bring my emotional clutter to God, and allow Him to filter through my thoughts and attitudes, or even unnecessary busyness.
Proverbs 4:23 NIV says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” and II Corinthians 10:5 says, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
For me, it also helps to review God’s focus for my life and His call for our family. If the clutter in my heart doesn’t have a place to fit into God’s plans and purposes, I know that I need to get rid of it. Sometimes, a simple prayer walk helps me adjust, requesting prayer from Jon or a godly girlfriend, spending time in worship, or praying out-loud key Bible verses that speak the truth of God’s Word (rather than proclaiming the lie of my negative feelings).
How do you keep time with the Lord your priority amidst raising seven children?
I remember a time early in our marriage (when we had only one baby!) when I was really struggling and feeling guilty for not getting “enough” (whatever amount that is!) quiet time with God. At the time, our church was emphasizing a one-hour early morning prayer time, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to stay consistent. I went to our pastor’s wife to earnestly ask for help. She was so sweet to encourage me, simply saying, “God understands a young mother.”
Over the years, and through all the different seasons of life with a houseful of babies, and toddlers, and kids, and teens, I’ve had to learn to take whatever time I could find. Many times, my only quiet time was in the middle of the night, while nursing a baby (I actually always loved that special one-on-one time to have our newest baby all to myself, and often clung to II Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby…”). Other times, I’d earnestly grab for a few minutes here and there, or Jon would watch our kids while I’d take a much-needed prayer walk. It’s much easier now that our kids are older; nearly always, the kids and I begin our day by having our individual quiet times, often right next to each other. But don’t feel bad if you can only grab a few minutes. Like a sweet kiss and a hug-on-the-go with your husband, special moments with the Lord, sprinkled all throughout the day, can keep you abiding in His presence and continually relying on His grace.
For me, it’s helped to establish a Quiet Time “appointment” and “place” before I go to bed. I’ve found that if I have my Bible, Bible reading chart, prayer journal, pen, a devotional book or Bible study, and a warm snugly blanket waiting for me next to my favorite chair in the living room, I’m more likely to begin my day with God. I’ve also been especially encouraged by the devotional book, A Place of Quiet Rest – Finding Intimacy with God through a Daily Devotional Life, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, this SUPER-MOM vs. ABIDING MOM chart, and here’s my favorite one-year Bible Reading Plan.
How do you guard against time wasters (TV, computer)?
Our family hasn’t had network TV for over 15 years, and we have NO regrets on this decision (especially in regards to the blatant beer commercials or immoral sitcom ads). We do have a collection of wholesome DVDs, and as parents we carefully monitor what our kids watch (and how much). A few times a week, I ride an exercise bike and my 13-year-old does laundry while the two of us watch 1/2 hour of a good-and-pure girl movie (like Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, or Roman Holiday), and several times a week, our family sits down for a fun wholesome movie and a giant bowl of our famous popcorn.
For me, the computer (including facebook, twitter, online writing, and keeping up with our ministry website) is a tremendous tool for outreach, yet it’s definitely my biggest challenge and has the potential for being my biggest time-waster Hot Spot. My current strategy is to not even turn on the computer until 10:30 AM on Mondays through Thursdays. During this time, I’m focusing on homeschooling, getting our home life in order, doing laundry, or even reading a good book or hand writing in my journal. I struggle to keep a good attitude about it, because I want to be diligent with the day’s work that needs to be done, but this current plan seems to be working. I’ve known friends who went off-line for a while, or deactivated their social networking accounts until they could get control of time-wasters. For a long while, I used a timer, where I would keep track of my daily online time by “clicking in” each time I logged onto the computer. Sisters, if TV or computer is a time-waster Hot Spot, we need to get a godly vision for life, and reclaim our time and family priorities for God’s Kingdom.
Do you have a mission statement? We’d love to hear how your prioritize your life.
During college, my husband felt the Lord tell him, “The epitome of your spirit it to win souls,” (and at that time, he didn’t even know what “epitome” meant). Since then, Jon has always been laser-focused on international soul-winning and evangelism. For me, briefly articulating my LIFE MISSION has been much more difficult. As a wife, I know I’m called to support and help my husband in His calling, and I know that I’m called to “mother” our seven children; however, my brain has always swirled with some sort of new idea or ministry plan, and for years my heart has yearned for a specific target-focus or mission statement for my life.
When I was pregnant with Philip, our seventh baby, someone casually mentioned, “You know, Ann, you’re just made to have babies.” I took those words as a beautiful compliment; yet privately, I went to God in prayer:
“Lord Jesus, I SO want to know your specific target and mission for my life. I want to be laser-focused and effective for Your kingdom. Some say I’m just ‘made to have babies,’ and I know that pregnancy and godly motherhood and supporting Jon are my primary callings; but I feel such a yearning, even beyond the personal needs our family, for Your kingdom purposes, and for other families, and for the lost and hurting people of the world. Can You give me a concise MISSION for my life?”
Only a few days later, right between my dreams and early consciousness in the early morning, I believe I clearly heard the Lord answer the cry of my heart. He simply said,
“I’ve called you to BRING FORTH LIFE.”
To me, this is the clearest MISSION STATEMENT I have ever had. It includes birthing and raising children, winning souls and motivating for evangelism, encouraging teens and families for world missions, and even my heart for rescuing orphans. It’s what God has made me for: I’m called to BRING FORTH LIFE!
For more specific details about how I’m continually learning to prioritize my life, and how I systematically seek God for His daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and life-long purposes — in practical ways — you’re welcome to take a look at my 2011 MISSION-MINDED New Year’s Guide, for prayer and evaluation. Over the years, I’ve been tweaking and adding to this FREE 15-page guide pray to help myself and others to discover God’s focus, fulfillment, and fruitfulness. I hope it could be a blessing!
Thank you Ann for sharing your heart with us!