Thursday, December 7, 2017

Keeping Track of What You're Already Doing

This is the third in a series about my experience of writing a Rule of Life. You can read the first two posts in the series here

Before actually sitting down and writing my Rule of Life, I had to do one thing: I had to figure out what I was already doing with my time. What was the structure of my days currently? How did I spend my hours and weeks now? In other words, I had to know where I was starting before I could figure out where I was going.

Because the truth is: we all already have a Rule of Life.

We just don’t call it that.

But we are all living our lives, which means that we are already making decisions about how we use our time and our other resources. Just because you haven’t consciously decided how you’re going to make your decisions doesn’t mean you’re not making decisions. Of course you are—you have to.

You’re just not necessarily making the decisions you want to be making.

So I started tracking my hours.

And here’s where I admit that I cheated. See, I had an advantage when it came to figuring out how to do all this: I know someone who actually teaches about this stuff at a seminary. So I told her what I was doing, and she cheerfully loaded me down with things to read.

Here’s where I have to admit something else. I don’t know if you always read the forwards or dedications or afterwords in the books you pick up, but I do. And there I’ll invariably find a few lines like this:


Thank you to George Eightarms of the Cephalopod Institute for his insights on the mating habits of the octopus. If my undersea zombie apocalypse romance gets anything right, it’s because of his help. However, all mistakes are my own. 

My friend was kind enough to point me towards the starting line. However, she is an expert and I am not. As I pointed out at the beginning of this blog series: This is just an accounting of my own experience. I’m just a layperson here. I’m writing this series both for the selfish reason that I find it interesting and also for the more charitable reason that I hope my experience might help or encourage someone else. But…all the mistakes herein are my own.

Anyway. One of the things my friend has her students do is to track their hours for a while. I used a chart she gave me, but I also went online and found this version, which I used to chart out some theoretical weeks, as I was thinking through the changes I wanted to make. (It’s from Laura Vanderkam’s site. I read a couple of her books this last year. She’s done a ton of original research on how successful women spend their time; it was really quite interesting.) 


I took a couple of copies of the charts, and set to work. I assigned a color to each kind of activity I did throughout my week: things like housework/childcare, writing, editing, devotional stuff, etc.  I also had categories for rest, differentiated between (for lack of better terms) good rest and bad rest—mostly because I wanted to see how much time I was throwing away on TV and social media (versus actually restorative stuff like reading for pleasure).



Here's one of my theoretical weeks. The real thing ended up being much messier.

The point here wasn’t to change anything right away—although I’m sure the mere act of observation did change things—but simply to gather information.

After two weeks, I had a lot of good data about how I was spending my days. The various colored sections really do jump out at you.

Now I had what I needed in order to go on my short, one-day retreat, and to pray through how I was spending my time. I had a record of what I was already doing, and I had a bunch of notes in my journal, and I had the questions that had prompted me to start this process of self-examination. I also reread sections of Holly Pierlot’s book, in order to fill in any gaps I might be forgetting to notice—to remind myself of other areas of my life that I ought to prayerfully examine.


And I also had a place to retreat to: I had been told of a small convent of Roman Catholic sisters in a neighboring city. (And, given that I live in the Los Angeles area, the “neighboring city” was only about a ten minute drive away. We pack ‘em close here.) For a small fee (just enough to cover their costs, I think), they’d provide you with a room and a meal for the day, and access to their chapel and garden, so that those who wished for a day of silence and prayer could have it.

My husband was happy to be parent-in-charge for the day while I went and prayed.

So I made my appointment, and I went.



Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)




Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent Project Devotion up today!



I'm happy to have a devotion up at Biola's Advent Project today: Our Trudging is a Triumph.

The Advent Project is a wonderful devotional Advent calendar (actually, more than Advent--it goes all the way through the 12 days of Christmas!) that includes a scripture reading, a poem, a piece of visual art, a piece of music, and a devotion that ties them all together, every day.  I got to write today's devotion. Here's a snippet:

There was no way through death until He burst death open from the inside. Death swallowed Him, but it was like swallowing the sun: He was a burning light that could not stay obscured. Not even by the darkest thing we know.


Head on over to The Advent Project to read the rest!

And, if you are looking for simple ways to bring the seasons of Advent and Christmas into your home, pick up a copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home: 



There's even a slim little volume that includes just Advent and Christmas:





I hope you all are enjoying a peaceful and good start to the Advent season!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Links Post! (and a small update)



Hi folks! 

Below, you can find a regular links post (I usually call them weekly links, but let's be honest: they're more like biweekly links).  But quickly, before getting to that, I just wanted to apologize about not having another entry in my blog series on writing a rule of life, The Rhythm of Our Days

The truth about having a rule of life is that it gives me guidance about what to say "yes" to each day, but it also gives me boundaries for my work. It tells me, "Do this first and then, if you have time, do that."

Everyone knows that there isn't enough time in a day to do everything. My rule just helps me to be honest about that. It tells me when to work, and when to stop working.

And this last week, there was time to do a lot, but there wasn't time to work on this series. I hope there will be time this week (there might be), but if not this week, there will almost certainly be time next week, during Thanksgiving break.

Thanks for hanging in there with me while I work on this! Now, onto the links!



-This looks like an excellent writing contest. (Free entry, and a great prize!)

-I don't know about you, but there are a lot of people in my life right now going through loss. Here's something helpful: Grieving Like God.

-If you are a Hamilton fan, you'll probably enjoy this collection of excellent fan-art--one drawing for each song of the musical.

-Ah, a properly admiring article about a book series I love. More people should read Lee and Miller. (Their books are kinda like Georgette Heyer in space.)

-Tim Keller on the book of Proverbs. I loved this quotation in particular:
Just as the Book of Psalms is the Lord’s Prayer applied practically to every possible situation and condition of our hearts, so the Book of Proverbs is the Ten Commandments applied to every possible situation in our daily lives.

-Sex in Movies. Was John Piper Right All Along?

-And, finally, an appreciation of an excellent actor, who played a vital role in one of my favorite TV series ever: When Robert Guillaume Played Aaron Sorkin's First Great Leader.






I hope you have a great week, folks!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Discerning the Need for a Rule of Life



I wrote my first Rule of Life about a year ago, but my journey towards a Rule really began long before that.* 

In preparation for this blog series, I’ve been going back over my journal entries from 2016. And I’m finding that my path toward writing a Rule was even more rocky and twisty than I remember it being—and I remember it being a pretty rocky and twisty path!

Like many big changes, this one was prompted by what initially seem like negative things. Things like: 

  • dissatisfaction
  • a lack of peace
  • an inability to get everything done


But, as I started paying attention to what I was doing each day and how I was doing it and—maybe most importantly—why I was doing it, it became clear that what was really driving me was my desire for good things. Things like:

  • time with the Lord everyday (both quality and quantity)
  • time with my husband and kids everyday (both quality and quantity)
  • a desire to write good things (i.e., fulfill my vocation)
  • a desire for a peaceful home
  • a desire for health (mental and physical)


I don’t think the “dissatisfaction” would have felt so much like starter’s pistol if I’d felt it several years earlier. In fact, I know I felt it several years earlier, and it didn’t have the same jump-starting result back then.

But several years ago, I was in the middle of a “survival” season. I had lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (okay, maybe not that many—but still LOTS) of little kids, and I was their full-time caregiver. Yeah, there were things in my life that made me dissatisfied, but I knew I didn’t have room to arrange them in any super-ideal fashion. 

(Not that that stopped me from trying.)

And then we went through some family health crisesone of them minethat took up almost all our extra time and energy and attention. I just did not have the wherewhithal to make any big changes.


But then the kids got older

The kids eventually all grew up to be school-aged children. Their needs changed. Other things changed. Various energy-sucking situations changed and resolved. And now, I did have room to make some changes. I did have the time. I did have the physical energy. 

There were ongoing things to be dealt with, sure. But the crises were over, at least for a bit. 

It was time to figure out how to handle this glorious, energy-rich, potential-full time of life called middle-age.**

This was a new time of life. And I wasn’t living it well.

And I really, really wanted to.

So I started experimenting.

Next week’s blog post will be about those first few experiments, and about the way they prompted me to start keeping track of my days. (Because eventually I learned that, if I wanted to change my life, I first had to have an accurate idea of what my life was. That is, I needed data. That is, I needed to observe and record.)


But before I finish off this blog post, I need to be honest, and share the one realization that really, really started me on this journey. It's particular to me, and if you take a similar journey, your final straw will probably be a different one.

But here's mine. I found myself writing these few paragraphs (edited for clarity), right after I reread my journal entries from the time when the children were all still babies and toddlers:

…I'm realizing that back then, I just longed for an hour or two to write, and it was absolutely life-giving it was when I was given those hours. 
Now, it feels like I long for just an hour or two to write, but other, lesser things stop me.
I think this means I’ve made a mistake, somewhere.

It was that last bit that finally started me on my journey: the realization that I could now—if I really wanted to—do the things I’d been telling myself for years that I wanted to do.

There are lots of times in life where you can't do what you want. I know that. I've lived that. I'm sure I'll live it again.

But, writing out those journal paragraphs above made me realize: I'm actually facing a real choice here. Those things I wanted to do? I could really do them now.

And I wasn’t.


That meant I’d gone wrong somewhere. 

And I was determined to change direction. I was determined to make it right.



Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell





*To be completely honest, I can find journal entries about a “Rule of Life” at least as far back as 2010. And I know I’d been introduced to the concept well before that—probably at least as early as 2006 or so, which was about when I first read Holly Pierlot’s book A Mother’s Rule of Life

But this blog series is about the Rule that stuck.


**No, really. I’m convinced we don’t value the potential of middle age nearly enough in our culture. It’s all made clear in the middle stanza of this Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, if you want to see what I’m getting at.  

(Bonus! That poem also contains one of the answers to the always-fun “Where-Did-C.-S.-Lewis-Steal-THAT-Narnia-Line-Or-Concept-From?” game.)




This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

the rhythms of our days - announcing a new series

a fascinating book brought by an attendee!


This last Saturday, I got to give a talk to a local church group about celebrating the Christian year at home. It was lovely, and one of the wonderful people who came brought along the recipe book up in the header, A Continual Feast. I looked through it with her before the talk started, and it's now definitely on my list of things to buy. It's full of seasonal recipes, interspersed with lots of commentary on actually celebrating the church year. Once I get it, I see many new delicious traditions in my future...

Anyway, the talk itself was really fun. The group was interested, and asked great questions, and talking with them reminded (again, some more) just how much I love this stuff.

I love the rhythm of the church year. I love ordering my life around the church's annual retelling of the life of Christ. I love ordering my smaller story around that bigger, truer, better story. I love the reminder that, as one of God's people, my small story is a part of that big, true, good story.


Orderly Days: on Writing a Rule of Life
Following the Christian calendar reminds me that time is part of God's good creation. And during this past year, I've been concentrating pretty hard on the order of my days. Almost exactly a year ago, after months of preparation, I took a one-day retreat in order to pray through a Rule of Life for myself. 

And so now I've had almost a whole year of practicing my Rule. 

Which means that I'm just about ready to start blogging about it.

So, coming up on this blog, starting next week (I hope!), you'll find a new series about writing (and keeping, and living) a Rule of Life. I'll talk about how I'm ordering my days so that I have space for all the good things. And also about how adding in good things helps to crowd out the bad.

I'll talk about searching for a peaceful rhythm, and what that looks like, and how to make it work.

And also I'll talk about what to do when it doesn't.


I hope you'll come back and join me next week!


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell








This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)





Sunday, October 22, 2017

Weekly Links!


~ LINKS TO SOME INTERESTING READING, FOR WHAT'S LEFT OF YOUR WEEKEND ~


-When Masculinity Turns Toxic.


-I love this: Why You Should Say Bad Things About My Books.



-Yes! It can be worth consuming stories with worldviews you disagree with--but you should always do it with discernment, and without expecting them to be perfect: The Doctor Doesn't Believe in the Devil.


-Both this article and the article after it I found thanks to Tim Motte, so my thanks to him: Tolkien's Map.


-And: This excellent twin review comparing Rothfuss and Tolkien.


-Sometimes it's just nice to read someone say good things about a good thing you already love: "The Princess Bride" at 30.



-For those of you with high-schoolers: did you know your kid can apply to be an intern at NASA?


-Pilgrimage to the National Parks: Awe, Wonder, and What's Missing.


-Helpful: Homemade Halloween Hacks for Parents in a Hurry.




I hope what's left of your Sunday is peaceful and restful.


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Weekly Links!

photo credit: Betsy Barber.


~ LINKS TO SOME INTERESTING READING, FOR WHAT'S LEFT OF YOUR WEEKEND ~



-I remember reading this in Touchstone years ago, but it was good to reread this fascinating theory about the Chronicles of Narnia: Narnia's Secret.


-A good reminder for my fellow writers: The Folly of Self-Rejection.


-This blog post is full of such lovely food ideas: Lifestyle Lessons.


-Good stuff from Wesley Hill: An Impatience with Biblical Exegesis.


-More helpful advice for writers, on what to do when you get The Call from an agent: All About Author Etiquette


-I already wanted to read this book, because I already knew I like the author, but this post made me really want to read this book: The Big Idea: David Walton.


-So, as Anne Kennedy always says, "struggling" is the Christian word for failure.  Here, Russell Moore gets even more incisive about our common attitude towards "struggling" with sin: Are You "Struggling" With Sin?


-This sermon on divine omniscience, by Dr. Fred Sanders, is really good. I particularly appreciated his explanation of what Ps. 139 would mean in the mouth of Adam, vs. what it would mean in the mouth of Jesus, and then what being completely known by God means for us, whose life is hid in Christ: Divine Omniscience.



I hope what's left of your Sunday is peaceful and restful.


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell