Book Review of Balance: The Art of Minding What Matters Most by Jennifer Flanders

After my last post featured unicycling, I felt that this was a brilliant point at which to publish my book review on Balance by Jennifer Flanders. It has absolutely nothing to do with unicycling, but rather addressing the need for balance in life in general. I have been trying to make some changes in my life over the last year and a half, to try and find a better balance, so I was very excited to read the wisdom of mother of 12 – Jennifer Flanders’ in her latest book – Balance: The Art of Minding What Matters Most (with a foreword by her husband Doug Flanders). Ironically, the week that I began reading the book there were 2 children’s birthdays within 3 days, the tumble dryer broke down and couldn’t be fixed for a week and we all came down with a horrible cold/ flu bug, which funnily enough, demonstrated one of the principles of the book – that no matter how well you have things planned out, life doesn’t always go according to plan!

What I love about the Flanders’ books is that both Doug and Jennifer are great and engaging story tellers and from Doug’s foreword to the book, until the end, entertaining and interesting narrative relate the book to life in a way we can all connect with. I guess if we were going to go with hash tags, I would add #KeepingItReal.

The book was packed with lots of great information and inspiration, including loads of encouraging and challenging quotes and there was so much there, I know that I am going to be going back and rereading this book in a while and getting some more learning. However, these were the learning points for me this time round:

  1. Balance is more about mind-set that it is about schedules: as Jennifer says, “It is as much about focus and perspective and attitude as it is about juggling work, rest and play.” One of my favourite parts of the book was where Jennifer described our ultimate goal – to flourish as a flower whose fragrant life draws others to God. What is not to love about that?!
  2. Waiting on God: Another favourite quote from the book, “It is only by waiting on the Lord, co-operating with His design and by living in harmony with His plan and utilising His strength we can achieve balance”. I just love this idea that balance is going to look different for all of us and that it is about working within the not only the limits we have in our lives, but also the unique personalities and gifts that God has given to each one of us are going to determine how we achieve balance and what it looks like in our own lives. This is not a book that tells you how to think or tells you what to do – it is like having a coach to ask you questions and help you find what is going to work for you and your own unique situation.
  3. We are all works in progress and change takes time: I love how this experienced mother of 12 writes from a position of humility and grace of beginning the book by describing herself as a work in progress and of working alongside me – not pretending to have it all together and all sorted. As Jennifer tells us, achieving balance is not just a one off – tick, “I’m balanced, let’s move on now…” but that it takes work, maintenance and is an on-going process through the seasons of life. Another quote from Jennifer that I loved, “The bigger the change, the larger the adjustments to accommodate it so allow sufficient grace and time to make necessary adjustments.”
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Image free from Pixabay here

To be honest, for me at this point in my life, just that last quote was all I needed to read! We have had some pretty epic changes in our lives over the last two years, which remain unresolved to a large extent, and it was important to me to be reminded that it all takes time and waiting on God and His timing.

Have you read Jennifer’s book? What learning did you take from it? If you haven’t read it, I would recommend you do! I think there is something for everyone in Jennifer’s entertaining, engaging and easy to read book.

Be encouraged 🙂

P.S. It is now actually 6 months since I wrote this book review, I don’t know why I didn’t publish it sooner. It was kind of lost in my files.

I thought it might be useful to include an update of how I have actually gotten on with the principles in my life. Keeping them in mind has really helped us. I have managed to get to a point where the house is relatively orderly and clean most of the time. I have also begun to find a good balance for me health wise – I have some chronic health issues and if I don’t keep a good balance of rest and work, I burn out and get ill. I have also improved on our home ed organisation and found a position where we are better organised and achieve more of what I want for us to, but I don’t have to feel like a sergeant major. We are still works in progress, but I have found the principles from Jennifer’s book to be really helpful and will be continuing to use them in going forward. 🙂

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“Don’t call it a mistake – call it an education…”

…quipped Thomas Edison to his colleagues. The man who invented the light bulb is estimated to have had approximately 2000 experiments that failed, before he saw the light. Ted Engstrom* encapsulates this philosophy in a wonderful way as relating to God’s grace – “God does not expect perfection; He expects obedience. And through obedience He can turn failures into triumphs”. Over the last year, we have tried to adopt that same attitude in our home – that we are not making mistakes, but having an education and looking for how God is going to use our weaknesses as opportunities for growth.

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Picture in public domain from Pixabay

Nowhere has this theory been so well tested as my experience of learning to ride a unicycle! Mr T got the unicycle bug just over a year ago, shortly after learning to juggle. In fact, he asked for one as a Christmas present, but I didn’t really think he was serious, until one day this Spring he bought himself a unicycle off Ebay and began to learn. I really couldn’t see the appeal – it principally appeared to be an education of falling off and sustaining various bruises, although thanks to protective pads and helmet, no broken bones. However, Mr T persevered and soon began to be riding with some panache, albeit still using the wall for balance and the falls were fairly infrequent. He was actually doing bunny hops too (now he can ride a short distance without holding on to anything.) Not only this, but with only unicycling he was getting very toned and strong. Unicycles have no freewheel, so you have to pedal constantly and you quickly build up core muscle to balance and strength in your legs and arms for control and riding. Looking for a unicycle for Miss G, I found one my size on Ebay and bought it (what craziness was going through my mind???) It arrived just over 2 weeks ago and I began to learn how to fall off.

The first day, I literally fell on my butt twice. Another reasonably frequent injury was a thwack on the shins or back of the leg from one of the pedals. I was pretty bruised, however, I was totally hooked. There is something about the unicycle – it is a lot of fun. I know, you are not going to believe me, but it is, even when you are falling off… a lot.

By the end of the first week, through all my falls I had learnt the feeling of not being balanced and was able to correct myself or step off, sans injury. By the end of the second week I was able to do very short distances and step off, without falling. In the last couple of days I have been actually unicycling along the wall, doing pretty well and the injuries and falls are pretty infrequent. My body is already stronger and I can see a difference in looser clothes and just feeling better – my posture is also greatly improved, as you have to be sitting up straight, or yes, you’ve guessed it – you fall off!

You don’t need to learn to ride a unicycle to benefit from Edison’s philosophy and God’s grace (although, can I say, it is awesome fun). But I think you can learn the same lessons in life. After I had fallen off and hurt myself – my body was scared of being hurt again – though my crazy mind said, keep going! I think it can be the same every time we experience a fail – there can be fear that it is going to go wrong again – I think generally we just fear to fail, or look silly. However, it is so important to get up and try again otherwise we will never achieve anything. Imagine if Edison had given up after the 100th try, or the 1000th try of inventing the light bulb. Maybe we would still be literally in the dark in the evenings.

It is only in embracing our failures and using them to grow – even if it is just saying, “I have learnt another way NOT to do it,” – that we will move forward.

With God on our side we are capable of far more than we could ever imagine. The Bible is filled with people who failed, but who God used anyway and who became people of faith and triumph who still inspire us today. So when you blow it today, think – “this is not a mistake, but my education!”

 

 

Life is a leaf of paper white

Whereon each one of us may write

His word or two,

And then comes night.

 

 

Greatly begin, though thou have time

But for a line,

Be that sublime

Not failure, but low aim, is crime.

James Russell Lowell

 

Be encouraged 🙂

* Ted W. Engstrom quoted from The Pursuit of Excellence – a fantastic book, which I think everyone should read!

P.S. Time wise, I probably spent and still spend around 5/ 10/ 15 minutes twice a day, pretty much every day practising. I was limited by getting tired quickly in the beginning. It has been fairly easy to do, as I have just practised out in the garden while the children have been playing outside. To be honest, the time goes very quickly, as you don’t really notice that you are working out, as you have so much to think about, or perhaps not to think about. There is an odd thing that as soon as I think, “Look at me,  I’m unicycling” I fall off. Apparently this is a common thing. So, I try not to think about being able to unicycle, but concentrate on looking forward, holding my body upright, working out how balanced my body is, making sure no small child is running across the path etc. and save congratulating myself when I step off at the end. Maybe this phenomenon is an illustration of pride comes before a fall?!