Monday, September 14, 2015

Our Intentional Family

While living in England in early 2008, I came across a blog doing a financial series highlighting Dave Ramsey's system.  I resonated with so much that the author said - it was the first time I had formally heard other people saying what I already believed about money and "good" (meaning bad) debt.  You may have heard of this blog - Simplemom, which now has become The Art of Simple.  The author back then, who is still one of the contributing writers, is Tsh Oxenreider, and she has also written a book called Notes from a Blue Bike.  (Unfortunately for you, I'm not an Amazon affiliate, so because they don't pay me money, you'll have to go through all the hard work of searching for it on Amazon yourself, or even worse, looking it up at your local library and leaving
your house while fully clothed and at a decent hour to go pick it up and read it.  I know, what is the world coming to?)

I haven't followed her blog regularly for many years now, but recently started reading it again on occasion, and became interested in this book she has recently published.  For a long time when I heard of a book that I wanted to mentally mark, and later read on the Internet I did...nothing.  I would mentally make a note of it, and then five minutes later read some other blog post, or facebook status, or get up and talk to a kid/answer the phone/anything else, and completely forget about the book at all.  Or worse, I would remember that there was some book...that I had read about at some point...somewhere on the Internet.  Now I have discovered a system that has saved me (or added many reading hours on to my life - either one), being that the moment I read of an interesting book, I immediately go and request it from my library.  Yep, I'm all about revolutionizing the Internet with my new fandangled approaches to life.  So I did that with Notes, and thus it in due time arrived home in my house, where I actually read it.  

All of that work did not disappoint, and it turns out that Notes... is a book that has deeply impacted me, more even than I realized as I read it.  As I read, I pulled out my physical Journal (yes, I got one this year - I really like being able to write something in a completely private place sometimes) and began making notes for my own life.  The premise of the book is that when we live intentionally, then our lives are better, as outlined in five areas that being intentional made Oxenreider's family's life better. When I wrote in my journal about intentionality in my own family, the writing clarified for me that in the large areas of my life, I feel that we have been and are very intentional in our family.    By intentional, I mean that I and Avram are choosing the way we live life, instead of having life just happen to us. We are deciding by intent to focus our limited time and resources as a family on certain core areas that in turn bless our family with greater freedom, unity, and joy in the time passing from days to years that makes up the fabric of our lives. In the small places I felt that we have a lot of areas to improve on - in our daily routines, attitudes, etc. However, in the large, framework of our life I realized that we always have focused our family on intentional living. As someone who has often imagined our family as more spiraling throughout life, slightly out of control and a little loud and crazy, it was very validating to realize that we do have a plan, we have always had a plan about our family, and that as we have followed it I have seen the positive ways our family culture and intentions have helped us be where we want to be as a family.

As a disclaimer, just as the areas that Oxenreider felt were important areas to stress intentionality with in her family were not the areas that stuck out to me about my own family, I would assume that any readers would have another set of categories, many overlapping, of intentional living for their own families. Here are the areas our family has focused on being intentional over.

One of our main family goals has been for the last nine years Avram achieving a Ph.d.  Well, as of next May he will have accomplished that.  The road to achieving a Ph.d. in this family has been one of necessity very intentional.  Where we live, the choices we have made in free time, how we have developed our family culture - everything about our married life has led to this goal.  Our financial status as a family is one measurable area of how we have focused our whole combined lives to this end. We have been intentional with living on our limited income, and in working, even while still being in school, with paying off student loans accrued from BYU, England, and even some debt from OSU obtained when funding hasn't been very good.  We have been better at this than I ever thought we could be, back when I first blogged about it and again when I updated a year later, and although we will graduate with some loans, it is so, so much less than it would have been otherwise.

Another area we have been intentional is our family's spiritual life.  We attend church for three hours every Sunday together, have family scripture study and prayer almost every night, and although our FHE's (family home evening, where every Monday night we have a spiritual/scriptural lesson, with a sometimes activity and treat, bookended by prayers and hymns) leave something to be desired in the planning department, we are still trying to have them, and even fifteen minutes formally teaching our children religious topics a week, above and beyond reading the scriptures has helped our children and our family in our religious knowledge and communal spiritual life.

We have worked on being intentional with our free time, and have deliberately kept our family's life at a slower pace.  Our only extra curricular activities have been piano lessons for Lydia once a week, and her Activity Day girls at church every other week.  Avram works at the Temple twice a month and goes to Scouting Round Table once a month, and I attend Relief Society meetings once a month, plus the occasional girls night, but other wise we tend to plan activites and spend free times as a whole family (excepting date and couple temple nights on the months we can get them). We eat family dinner, clean as a family on Saturdays, and when it's relevant for six months of the year we go the Farmer's market together. We want our family time to be well spent - we don't have a TV set up for TV, just movies, and watch one movie a week as a family on Friday nights, plus the occasional TV show via Amazon prime for the girls, or movie Avram and I watch every month or so.  

The size of our family, if not in the specific timing always, but in the general goal, is intentional.  We believe that children are a joy and a privilege, that as a family unit, if we are able (and we are clearly able) to have children, it is our privilege and our duty to do so, and to raise these children while keeping in mind that these are God's children he has entrusted with us.  We have a family culture focused on this - on the joy of people over things, focused on what we can do with our children, not what we could do if we did not have them or if we had less of them.

 Living below our income to pay off debt has taught me this is possible at almost any income.  I have also learned that what is a true marker of success or joy in our life has not been high amounts of money, but rather what we choose to do with what we have, and more importantly, what we focus on that has nothing to do with money at all.  Revolving our family's life around our religion and around God has taught all of us guiding principles for life, has brought us together as a family, and even if there were no tangible benefits at all, being intentional toward God, through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I feel is the most lasting intent that all my other intentions lead toward.

Even knowing that in the small specifics there is so much that I need to work on, that I need to lead our family towards as good goals, even knowing all this, it is still immeasurably comforting to know that in the large framework, in our goals and plans that lay the pattern out for our life that our family walks with intention.

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