Order and Routine: making straight paths for peace (part 2)

(The first part of this post was about allowing prayer to give structure and strength to our days; you can find it here.)

For years, doctors and therapists would tell me the same thing:  FASD kids need structure, order, repetition, and routine to thrive.   Being a conscientious parent  - and longing for peace at home -  I dutifully tried to order my child's life as they directed.  But a frustrating dilemma unfolded: when you are trying to control an out-of-control child, everyone and everything is at the mercy of their chaos.  I set about structuring meal times, announcing that breakfast would be at 8:30 a.m.   The next day I would wake the child at 7:00, try to get them out of bed, get them dressed, plead with them to do chores, calm the inevitable temper tantrums, referee the arguments they started with the other children, pick up the plant they just knocked over, remind them to get dressed, rescue the dog from their tormenting,  tell them they cannot talk to me like that, stop them from hitting their little brother, insist they go clean up the mess they just made in the bathroom, explain again why we don't use language like that in this house and on and on and on.   All the while the clock would be ticking away and the other children were now reading comic books - or crying in the corner in frustration - and no one was making breakfast and I hadn't even had a shower yet and now it was 8:45 and that child had disappeared again and - oh, he went back to sleep.  By 9:00 I was exhausted, everyone was hungry and/or mad, the house was a mess and the child was right back in bed where he started, so why even bother trying?   And that was just the beginning of the day.

Our home life was a continual disaster.   

It was in that frustrated, exhausted cycle that I stumbled across a photo and blog post that God used to lift my eyes and bring some direction.  (Mark this down as evidence that God can use our simplest offerings to bring hope and light to someone else.)   I have had this post bookmarked on my computer for years and all I have to do is pull it up to be re-inspired. 

Jewels, at Eyes of Wonder, wrote:

"I hope your day is filled with beauty to overflowing; wherever you go, whoever you are with, whatever you do, whatever you say. May each one of us, yield our hearts, throughout the moments of this lovely day, to the One who is Love; opening wide to to His ways, that he might live and move, and have His being, in us, and through us." ~ Jewels

A day filled with beauty in every moment, yielded to the One who is Love....my heart was aching to provide that for my family.  I wanted it so badly and yet no matter how hard I tried I couldn't make it happen.  All my life was reacting to this terrible hurricane in the center of our lives, trying to control, control, control and being so exhausted and frustrated.  And all the other children were just being swept into the mess, or sitting on the sidelines waiting for me to have a few spare moments for them, which of course I never had, because if the winds stopped blowing at all I would crash down and need rest.  But looking at Jewels' picture with a beautifully laid table and candles all prepared for her family and reading her words of encouragement I had an epiphany (though I wouldn't be able to express it in words for years):  I needed to stop trying to order the child, and bring order and beauty to the environment.   It was a shift in perspective and effort that changed our family and I'm so grateful for that day when Jewels shared that tiny glimpse of her home and heart. 

Another bit of wonder came into my life around that time that helped me too:  a simple quote from The Hawk and The Dove:

"A bowl of new milk had been set for each of them, and a small loaf of fresh bread, wrapped in a linen cloth.  There was a pat of rich, yellow butter of an earthenware plate, some soft, white cheese, salted slightly and delicately flavoured by the herbs that had wrapped it, and a wooden bowl of sweet yellow apples from the store, polished until they glowed in the firelight like lamps.

Brother Dominic says the abbey is supposed to reflect the peace and order of heaven..."

The monastics had already begun to teach me about a framework of prayer, could they inspire me now in the physical, tangible world of our home?  Could this home ever reflect the peace and order of heaven?

I made a commitment to fill the tangled mess of our days with whatever beauty and order I could find. 

I started with the picture that inspired me.  I got up earlier.  While everyone slept, I set the table for breakfast.  I lit the candles and started some soft music.    An hour before breakfast, I woke up all the children and told them to get ready for the day.  While they were getting up and around, I made a warm breakfast and tidied up the kitchen.  One particular child stayed in bed but I left him alone.  At 8:30, we sat down to eat without him.  I was worried that I was failing him, but for the first time in ages the rest of the family had a peaceful morning with a calm, attentive mother.   The difference wasn't so much in the absent child, but in my own self.  I was focused on creating a beautiful rhythm for the household and that was of greater importance than controlling the actions of one person who was determined not to be controlled.** 

Those moments at breakfast with beauty surrounding us were intoxicating.  I began searching for more; and I found signs all around me that other people had traveled this road before:

Describing life in the Benedictine Abbey, Will Derkse tells us that

"the sisters are striving to pay attention...; everything is done in a spirt of attentive cultivation...to attend and get things right - to pay attention that things may be in order.

Order and beauty are contagious.  So are disorder and ugliness."

I was discovering that if we live in a state of continual reaction to our circumstances, we find ourselves submitted to chaos.  All our life becomes urgency and disorder.  We need to step out of that and craft an environment that highlights and embraces the beautiful and the lovely.  This will allow us to respond thoughtfully and appropriately to the needs in our lives.

After we got into a rhythm with breakfast, I set a goal of making every meal time restful and beautiful. One step led to another. It seemed to make sense to do my household chores on a regular schedule; if I always cleaned the bathrooms on Wednesdays, I'd never have to wonder when I cleaned them last. Eventually I thought it would be nice to have the house completely picked up before my husband got home from work;  and how welcoming would it be for him to drive up in the winter time and see the oil lamps burning in the window?    Just as disorder leads to chaos which leads to more chaos, order leads to beauty which leads to more beauty.  Over a long period of time, the atmosphere at home transformed.  

A lot of times we set about ordering our lives by making lists and planning schedules, but I find it difficult to be inspired by a mere list of times and tasks.  Without a higher purpose, we will simply abandon the routine the next time a crisis arises.  I found the picture of a simply laid breakfast table far more compelling.  The quiet loveliness it represented drew me towards order and routine and that made a straight path for the peace we so longed for in our home.  

Because I have lived it, I know how elusive beauty, peace and order can seem.  I want to remind you that the presence of true Peace doesn't depend on any circumstance.  These posts are the story of what comes after the Prince of Peace arrives; the story of His rule and reign.   I'm not always able to pray on a schedule or get breakfast on the table and the candles lit.  Peace still reigns here.  It's the overflow of that Presence that makes me get up the next day and try again.  I want my house to reflect the peace and order of heaven. 

As I shared in the first part of this post, begin with ordering your priorities.  Get rid of things that steal time from your true calling.  Build a consistent framework of prayer.  First take care of the spiritual, then you can take care of the natural.  Allow beauty to lead you to order.   Let order and routine clear the pathway for ongoing peace.  

I leave you with Jewels' words once more:  

"I hope your day is filled with beauty to overflowing; wherever you go, whoever you are with, whatever you do, whatever you say. May each one of us, yield our hearts, throughout the moments of this lovely day, to the One who is Love; opening wide to to His ways, that he might live and move, and have His being, in us, and through us." ~ Jewels


**(That absent child continued (s) to miss breakfast regularly by his own choice, but eventually he came to realize that while he is sleeping the steady rhythm of the day is humming along.  The family's success doesn't pivot around him, he can step into and out of the ordered environment as he chooses and he bears the weight of his own choices:  if you don't wake up to eat, you are hungry; if you sleep through school, you're not going to play soccer this Saturday; and more broadly, if you don't spend time learning, you won't be able to participate in life the same way others will.   Creating an orderly environment at home allows us to live above reaction and brings enormous peace to the other members of the family.)


The rest of the posts in this series:

Part three:  Order and Routine: making straight paths for peace (part 1)

Part two:  The Language of the Peaceable Kingdom

Part one:  Which Ruler Will You Choose?

Introduction:  Keeping Peace