Winding road

Last month I got a speeding ticket. [Yes, again.] In my defense I was “caught” at the bottom of a hill – just like I was the past three times I’ve gotten caught speeding.

Now, don’t get distracted by the inexcusably high number of tickets I’ve received over the past few years. That’s not my point. But, for the record, the reason I was speeding on those occasions was actually due to the way my car worked and – fine – the fact that I wasn’t really paying attention to my speedometer.

See, the way my car is made makes it pick up crazy speed when I’m coasting. Even if my foot is nowhere near the gas pedal, going down a hill makes that car take flight! It’s insane – and frustrating, especially when I get caught by an unsympathetic member of the police force.

Coincidentally, the day after receiving my most recent ticket, we traded that treacherous car in for a smaller one that drives the way it should. My new-to-me car is not only going to save me money in gas, but probably also in speeding fines. It behaves like it’s supposed to, keeping its speed steady – or even slowing down – when I take my foot off the gas.

Just in case, though, I’ve been relying heavily on cruise control. That way, I know – without a doubt – that my car will go the speed I want. Sometimes that might be a few miles over the speed limit (I know, okay? I know!), but even if it is, it’s the speed that I’VE chosen – not a random speed my car chooses.

As I was thinking about the difference between cruising and coasting, I realized that our lives can be a lot like my old car. Sometimes, without even realizing it, our lives can start going faster and faster – and before we know it, we’ve completely lost control. Maybe it’s our fault for not paying attention, or maybe the fault lies on our busy schedule and chaotic life. Either way, we’re flying down the highway and bound for a speeding ticket – or worse.

Coasting never seems dangerous at first. You’re not purposely driving – or living – at breakneck speeds; you’re not being reckless for the fun of it. You’ve just taken your foot off the pedal – and, oh yeah, given up control over your speed.

Coasting happens to me when life gets busy – even more busy than normal. [You know, like during the holidays?] My to-do list and my schedule get full to the point of overflowing and I just . . . take my foot off the pedal.

I stop writing down appointments.
I stop consulting my to-do list and just do – or don’t do – what’s in front of me.
I stop considering whether a request is urgent or important or neither.
I stop protecting down time, me time, family time.
I stop controlling my life and let momentum, chaos, speed take over.

Has that ever happened to you?

How can we keep ourselves from driving – or living – out of control this holiday season? How can we regulate the speed of life and hold onto our plans, our values, our sanity? How can we manage to do any of that over the next six weeks, when the world – pretty as it is, decorated in glitter and tinsel and merry songs – spins at a maddening pace?

Just like I’m happy my new car is geared properly and shouldn’t pick up so much speed when I’m coasting, you might think this month, this year, this holiday season will be different.

But just like I can’t afford to simply rely on my car’s gears to maintain a consistent, safe speed, I don’t think we can afford to rely on this time being different enough. It might be different, but it might still throw us into a tailspin at a moment’s notice. So what’s the solution?

Cruise control. Setting parameters and limits for ourselves from the beginning. Deciding, intentionally, how fast we will go and how fast we will not go. Choosing control instead of chaos.

What could that look like this holiday season?

Decide today how many parties you’ll attend.
Make a list of 10 holiday projects instead of 25.
Decide which days you’ll reserve for family only.
Plan a day for yourself – and stick to the plan.
Schedule your decorating, shopping, cooking and cleaning a few days early.
Print address labels for your Christmas cards in November.
Bake your cookies now and freeze them until the cookie exchange in three weeks.
Factor in spontaneous fun (or work), and leave margin in your calendar.
Tell your family what you can do this year – and what you can’t.

This holiday season, I’m going to set my cruise control at a speed slightly under my usual manic pace instead of coasting through the season and finishing the year exhausted and out of sorts. How about you? What will you do this year to help you cruise through the holidays?

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  1. 1

    I am a list kind of girl…I make them, read them, reread them, add to them, and try to follow them as closely as possible. ;-)

  2. 3

    Such great encouragement, Mary! Last year I felt so overwhelmed and especially frustrated at how a few years added together a royally chaotic feeling in me, and that just irked me to bits. It’s not supposed to be like that! I was so frustrated that I had gotten stressed about a peace-filled time of year, just like everyone else. I wanted to focus on the peace and everything was spiraling me into crazy. So I decided to block time on my calendar for the next year and when my already generous break from work (between Christmas and New Year’s) approached, I’d have a few days to myself. Turning the pages on my calendar this year I noticed the few days blocked out and it made me smile. I don’t think I need those days this year, but I’m keeping them there — blocked out for quieter days, a deliberate focus on my margins to keep myself calm and to be kind to me.

    • 4

      I struggle w/ this too Amy – getting stressed out easily during a time of year that is supposed to be about reflection and peace! Crazy the irony of it, right? I think blocking off a few days for personal time, and also family time, and sticking to it, is so important during the hustle of the holiday season.

    • 5

      Amy, I love that! Both that you recognized the problem and were intentional about preventing it this year AND that you are protecting those days, even if you don’t think you need them this year! Enjoy that quiet time!

  3. 6

    Definitely needed to hear this today! Thank you!! I am so bad about trying to schedule too many things and take on things that I know deep in my heart I shouldn’t. I was just sitting here trying to make an important decision and this helped me realize that I just can’t do it. As much as I would like to, I just can’t add on something else. I am taking charge this holiday season and focusing on the important things.

    • 7

      Melisssa, I’m so glad this post was helpful for you. It reminded me, too – and I cancelled plans this weekend that were stressing me out even though they weren’t necessary!

  4. 8

    I loved this post. This is what I am seeking this holiday season. “Cruise Control”, but I’m calling it a minimalist Christmas. Please check out my post here http://hamershappenings.blogspot.com/2012/11/minimalism-and-christmas.html

    And please leave suggestions! Thanks again for this awesome post!

  5. 10

    As always, I’m figuring out what will work best for this season … and then I’m going to let all those non-essentials go!

    http://creeksideministries.blogspot.com/2010/12/letting-non-essentials-go.html

    Thanks, Mary, for reminding us to set that cruise control at a lower speed. A much lower speed …

    • 11

      Deciding what’s essential – and what’s NOT – is the key to this whole business, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your post, Linda!

  6. 12

    Excellent article. :) Great truth! It’s very easy this time of year — but honestly, you could apply this to parenting, homeschooling, marriage, or any important thing we do in life!

    • 13

      You’re right. Coasting in any area of my life is dangerous – and using cruise control and being intentional is always helpful!

  7. 14

    I needed to hear this! When things get crazy I tend to feel paralyzed and stop living well-disciplined days. I think I’ll take your advice on this lazy Saturday and bake some Christmas goodies ahead of time. Thank you!

  8. 16

    Great advice Mary! Happy Thanksgiving to your and your sweet family!

  9. 18

    I wish I was disciplined enough to bake and freeze cookies ahead of time…and then stay out of them until the cookie exchange!

  10. 20

    I struggle with this too–getting stressed out about a season that is supposed to be fun and losing sight of what thanksgiving and Christmas are really about. Thanks for the encouragement to be proactive and intentional and not get caught up in the craziness of it all.

  11. 22

    I love this post and how much I can relate to the cruising out of control analogy. This year, I got started early (for me) a few weeks ago by creating a Christmas Planner binder. I love it. It is keeping me on track and helping me prioritize. Here’s a link to the post if anyone is interested – I have links to all the free printables I used. http://musingsofthemonroefamily.blogspot.com/2012/11/kicking-off-christmas-season.html

  12. 23

    My husband and I were just talking about this…I’m going to ask my mostly grown kids what are five things that say Christmas to them. And see if I can keep wish fulfillment under control. I am going to be intentional about wrapping everything (and keeping “everything” to a few things) a week before Christmas. That will make that precious time before the big day more relaxing!!

  13. 25

    I, too, and have been for years, a list keeper. With 6 children and a husband, there was NO OTHER way to exist!!! As I finished each task, it was crossed off.
    Out of habit, I STILL keep lists, due to my age, 82, for fear I will forget. It has happened. Such as the dryer continuing when I should have been folding the contents, instead.
    Right now I am focusing on Christmas for my 6 adult children, 9 grands, 10 greatgrands. Am choosing Christian related books.
    Cruising right now, BUT, am beginning to feel the Holiday pressure!!! Thanksgiving is arriving just around the corner…….THEN:
    A Christmas tree decorated, holiday FEAST shopping, Fruit cake/cookies, etc, etc, etc!!!!
    An UNENDING LIST!!!
    PLEASE, Dear Heavenly Father, I am leaning on you heavily for the peace that passes ALL understanding at this time. Remembering “The Reason for the Season” ABOVE ALL else. The birth of the CHRIST child must come first, last, AND, ALWAYS!!!!!
    HALLELUJAH!!!!!

    • 26

      Joyce, bless your testimony to all those grands and great-grands! I pray I might live to see that day and be a blessing to the coming generations. I prayed for you to have continued strength as you serve each one of them!

    • 27

      Amen, Joyce! Asking Him for wisdom and peace is truly the only way for us to stay focused and sane, isn’t it?!

  14. 28

    Hi Mary,

    It was so nice to meet you at Allume! I’m glad we were all able to share a cab but I’m sorry you had to sit up front…you were a trooper when the driver talked on the phone :) Love your thoughts on this post! Last year I felt more like an elf than a mommy because I was so busy with Christmas planning. I hope to be more on cruise control this year :)

    • 29

      Haha! That was one talkative cab driver! It was nice to meet you, too! I love how you put it – feeling like an elf instead of someone actually experiencing and enjoying the season. Here’s to a season with more time spent as ourselves than as elves!!

  15. 30
    Kelly S says:

    I’m glad I actually took the time to read this it’s so true and I hope that I can take some of this advice and actually apply it!

  16. 32

    This is a good reminder this time of year! What I didn’t see…was asking the Lord what we should be doing, how much and when… He is always our perfect ‘guide’, ‘director of our lives’, and knows what His plan for us is. I’m ‘planning’ to fly out to my daughter’s house to be with my 2 yr old granddaughter, as my daughter gives birth to my grandson. :) I won’t be with my husband, younger daughter and 2 grandchildren at home this Thanksgiving, and although it may not be my first choice, I know this is God’s plan . We are already ‘planning’ how Christmas will look as we travel up and down the freeway from Eugene, OR to S. California during the holidays…again, thanks for the reminder not to coast! :)

  17. 34

    Making a menu and following it is the list that keeps me most on track. The pressure of cooking for 5 with mom in hospice overwhelms me, but not when I remember to write out the shop/cook plan! Thanks for the reminder, especially for holidays.

    • 35

      Having a plan helps me, too. As a matter of fact, I just made my list of dishes I’m taking to various gatherings this week, and I’m getting ready to make my corresponding grocery list!

  18. 36

    I would love to be able to do this! Problem is I work two jobs, full time office days and part time nights retail! I’m already stressed and the part time hours are starting to build up. It’s hard to plan anything not knowing what nights I’ll have off. But I get through. Love the reason for the season but the holidays just aren’t the same anymore.

    • 37

      Coleen, I hear you – that is hard! My husband works long, crazy hours, and during the holidays it’s harder to remember to be thankful for the job in the first place. I pray you get some time off to reflect and relax!!

  19. 38
    Valerie Hohenberger says:

    I am trying to pare down my crazy-busy holiday schedule by taking the Let.It.Go challenge. I, too, am a list person and if I do not have one, it seems as if I have no compass. Lists rule!

  20. 40
    Beth Williams says:

    I don’t really have a crazy hectic schedule during the holidays. I still love listing. I will make a list for just about anything!

    My life lately has been on coast mode–go go go! Work has been busy and my aging, ailing dad has needed more of my time. Feel like I’m on a merry-go-round and I want off & a few days for me & hubby!

    My frustrations come in shortly after Halloween when everyone starts decorating for Christmas, commercials are all about buy buy buy get get get. No one stops to think about Thanksgiving or the true true meaning of Christmas!!

    • 41

      I hear you. I told my daughter a week or so ago that I’d requested a bunch of Christmas books for her at the library. Her response? “Why, Mommy? Why didn’t you get Thanksgiving books?” Oooooh, busted. :)

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