5 Strategies for a More Peaceful, Flexible Schedule

For some time now, our family has been living with some new strategies and boundaries around time and scheduling. And, while every family is different, I thought I would pass along what is working for us just in case it might be helpful for you. The peace and purpose around what sometimes felt like a runaway train has been truly wonderful.

Anne Rulo 5 Strategies for a More Peaceful, Flexible Schedule

5 Tips for Adding Space & Flexibility in Your Schedule

  1. Establish Your Measuring Stick. We all have a phrase that can reorient us to what really matters. Often, these are things we think about at big events like graduation, funerals, etc. But, we’re missing out if those are the only times our thoughts and choices match our core values. For us, with children who are 8 and 11, our catchphrase has become, “What do we want to be true in 10 years?” It is so much easier to figure out whether I want to delay dinner a few minutes to cuddle or the value of a potential activity when I think about what I want to be true when they are 18 and 21.

  2. “Leave Room for the Holy Spirit.” I know this phrase may remind you of an old Sunday School teacher but, I kid you not, these are the exact words that came to mind when I was praying about our schedule. In short, it just means seeking to create enough space (mentally, emotionally, spiritually) that we can experience God’s direction rather than our own. As we’ve left more unplanned, less back-to-back time in our schedule it has been neat to experience how He either fills it with surprise joys or open-ended, unplanned peace.

  3. Remove Access to Time Suckers: This one is going to be super individual but, for me, there has been a big shift in technology. In a non-unique move, there is no longer social media or email on my phone. It has been very freeing to check those only on our desktop during work hours. But, the real game changer has been burying access to a search engine. Now every fleeting thought, “Does Cher have a last name? Do turtles really breathe out of their butts?” does not turn into a rabbit-hole search that I emerge from 30 minutes to an hour later.

  4. Put Space Between the Ask and the Yes: This might be my favorite. As a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser, saying yes impulsively to others’ needs is a well-worn pastime. With rare exception, I now put at least 24 hours between requests and yes (or no). The 24-hour rule is also in place for emails because emails tend to breed more emails whether you respond to them immediately or the next day. It initially made me so uncomfortable to do this but it has drastically eliminated having “yes regret” and unnecessarily repetitive communication.

  5. Create Accountability: Okay, last but not less important. While the guidelines above create some structure, having another living, breathing human for accountability has been helpful. When my husband or I have an opportunity or the kids have an activity, we chat. Instead of, “Can we fit this in?” or, “Sure, that day is open,” we now ask questions like, “Does this allow us to spend enough time together?” and “Is this a good opportunity but not a God one?” etc. In short, nobody says yes without checking with the other and, just because it fits doesn’t mean it’s a yes. It’s a nice way to inject perspective and only “intentional yeses” into what used to be such an impulsive process.

Okay folks, I know these are individual to our journey but I hope some are helpful to you. As of this post, we are six months into these changes and it has been a truly valuable shift for our family. No longer are we saying yes impulsively, nor are we living so fast that it feels like ten years from now will hold regret. It’s been freeing and comforting to feel like we are happening to our schedule instead of our schedule happening to us.

Here’s to leaving room for the Holy Spirit.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova, used with permission

“Fill in the Gaps, Lord” – The Tiny Prayer that Freed My Parenting

In season nine of the hit show Friends, perfectly mismatched couple Monica and Chandler find themselves at a crossroads. They’ve not been able to conceive a child on their own, so they decide to pursue adoption. At this point, Chandler delivers the following punchline that is irreverent, amusing, and wholly and beautifully true.

“I want to find a baby that needs a home and I want to raise it with you. And I want to mess it up in our own specific way.”

I love that line. In its Hollywood-ness, it echoes a prayer I started praying over our children from their earliest days. They are words I’ve said countless times. “Fill in the gaps, Lord. Fill in the gaps.” Simple and powerful, I pray it because I know we are “messing it up in our own specific way.” Leaving gaps only God can see. Leaving gaps only He can fill.

Of course, we don’t aim to leave gaps in our children’s upbringing. But, as parents, we are going to make mistakes. We lose our tempers and respond occasionally in ways we shouldn’t. These mistakes are an obvious place to beg God’s mercy. But, I want to take the awareness of our limitations one step further. This need for God to fill in the gaps is not only for our mistakes. Even the good we give our children will leave voids in what they need. Yes. Even the good we give our kids is insufficient. How about that for raising your parenting anxiety?! Hang in there, it’s gonna’ be okay…

You see, unlike God, we are limited to the pace and development of time. We are not able to provide everything our children need because we cannot see their futures. We do not know what they will face or what skills they may need. We are unable to foresee the “good works which God prepared in advance” for them to do (Ephesians 2:10, NIV). We are raising these children not knowing what God has for them as adults. This leaves us able to only do the best we can, and then ask Him to fill in the gaps with anything else they may need for His plan.

As an example, I came from a very kind, low-confrontation home. I knew happiness and little arguing. It was wonderful and gave me a safe, solid foundation…except. In all the kindness, I was left ill-equipped for handling or resolving confrontation. Enter my husband, whose parents encouraged debate, discourse, and disagreement in love. He has taught me how to stay present in the tension and work toward resolution. My loving, low-conflict parents didn’t know I would need that one day. They did what they thought was best and God filled in the gap later for my work as a therapist, marriage speaker, and coach’s wife. He provided what I needed as I needed it.

No matter how we are raising our children, we simply cannot be everything they need. Instead, we can only prioritize what we think is best for them. Those choices may or may not be exactly what they need for their future selves, future relationships, or future professions. In our limitations, we must trust God will send people, experiences, His own teaching and grace as a supplement. Even more importantly, we must not wish to be all things to our children, for then they will not see or understand the need for reliance on God. For this, we are devastatingly poor substitutes.

So, embrace your insufficiencies, my friends. Whether it be from the mistakes or from the good, go right ahead and set yourself free from trying to do it exactly right because you never fully can. It wasn’t designed that way. Just do your best and if you feel there is a way you may have left your child wanting, it is a beautiful act of faith to simply pray that God would fill that space in His time, in His way, and in His love. Remember, in our weakness “His grace is sufficient” and “His power is made perfect” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). May we all love and parent as best we can…

and “Lord, fill in the gaps.”

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

(Originally published 9/23/20, updated for freshness and clarity)

988 One Year Later: What We Know

Anne Rulo 988 One Year Later What We Know Partners in Prevention

Just over a year ago, I sat at our prevention conference, mouth agape at the sheer ambition of the 988 plan. The federal government, in partnership with the states, was planning to launch a nationwide system of crisis intervention for mental health, suicide, and substance use in the summer of 2022. The goals were strategic, smart, and almost unfathomable given how the system of crisis mental health care had previously operated. (Preview below or link to full article here.)

These were just a few highlights:

  • Change the previous ten-digit suicide lifeline number and make it easier to remember. Just as 911 is associated with emergencies for fire, medical, crimes, etc., the number for mental health crises would become 988.
  • Create a “no wrong door” integrated crisis system focused on meeting mental health crisis needs at the lowest effective level. This included confidential call, text, and chat hotline options, mobile crisis response teams, and behavioral health crisis centers, with final stops at the hospital only as needed.
  • The availability of help from these additional points of entry would not only reduce healthcare spending but also help keep our law enforcement officers where they are needed instead of implementing jail time or spending long hours in hospitals waiting on evaluations.

In Missouri, I remember hearing we were one of the few states who had prepared and were ready for the “soft launch” on July 16, 2022. I also remember seeing these charts that helped explain how this was designed to work in our state and local areas.

Anne Rulo 988 One Year Later What We Know Partners in Prevention

Anne Rulo 988 One Year Later What We Know Partners in Prevention

Anne Rulo 988 One Year Later What We Know Partners in Prevention

Anne Rulo 988 One Year Later What We Know Partners in Prevention

988 One Year Later: How’s it Going?

Back at this same conference, one year later, I was very interested to hear how this ambitious goal had been operating in real-time since the launch the summer before. Here are some of the highlights:

  • In just the first month of implementation, calls increased by 30%. It has continued to increase since that time but, the number of hospitalizations has not significantly increased. This is a nod to the effectiveness of lower-intensity interventions when someone is in crisis.
  • Trained specialists are available 24/7/365 and calls are answered in less than 30 seconds. There are options for different languages and special populations such as veterans and the deaf community. On the very rare occasion that lines are full, there is a nationwide backup center to answer all overflow calls.
  • For the full list of updated highlights click here for the full article at Partners in Prevention! Thanks to Missouri PIP for the privilege to publish with you!

To All the Coaches I’ve Loved Before

I wrote this years ago but goodness, does it hit me in the feels again as summer begins. Blessings to all those men and women who spend their summers and their seasons investing in their players and the community. We love you.

(See preview below or link to Friday Night Wives for the full post.)

Anne Rulo Friday Night Wives To All the Coaches I've Loved Before

Early in our marriage, I accompanied my husband to a Glazier clinic in Chicago. It was my first football clinic, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We arrived in the hotel parking lot, grabbed our bags, and headed in.

The sight that met me inside those doors was one I will never forget—and one I have not stopped loving since.

There they were, a sea of men.

Old and young, many with excellent beards, all of them wearing football apparel. They milled about carrying bags, checking in, and saying, “Hey Coach!” “Hi Coach!” And,“Hey Coacher, long time no see. How’d the season go?”

As I looked around, my heart swelled. These were my people.

Even though I didn’t know them, I knew I loved all of them. It felt like the way a sister loves a brother, or a mother loves her son, because that’s exactly what it was. A room full of brothers. A room full of sons.

A room full of kindred spirits who were gathered together because they were doing the same work we were, all over the country.

As I reflect on that moment, and the many clinics we’ve been to since then, I wanted to highlight a few of these coaches and why I love them. So here’s to you, the coaches I’ve loved before.

The Young Coach

You, precious 22 or 23-year-old, I see you. I see you looking around at all these men, wondering what your coaching career might look like. I see you attend the sessions with your heroes. I see the stars in your eyes and the insecurity in your youth. We love you so much.

We may even especially love you in your singleness because some coach’s family somewhere gets to take care of you for a bit through dinners, holidays, or a Sunday afternoon watching ball until your own wife comes along. We love you, young coach.

The Old Coach

You, ol’ ball coach, I almost can’t see you for the tears in my eyes. I see you standing there, slightly hunched, slower than the men on your staff. Your voice is gruff from years of coaching, and you aren’t trying so hard to fit in anymore.

You’ve learned what’s important and you’re cool with going to bed early while the young guys stay up shooting the breeze. You have literally impacted the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of young men, and somehow survived the many minefields of the career. We love you, old coach.

The Assistant Coach

You, right-hand man, are more valuable than you know. You may want the big job someday, or you may be content with your role as it is. Regardless, you provide a foundation for your head coach that he can never fully thank you for. The hours of film, the days in the off-season, the boys you love with everything you’ve got even though your name is never the one on the interview. Dependable. Steady. Always ready. You are the man. We love you assistant coach.

The Head Coach

You, a leader in the school. You, a figurehead in the community. I see you, and so does everybody else. You take the praise, but you also take the bullets. When the team does well, you praise the boys and the men on your staff. When the team does poorly, you say you need to do better. You spin more plates in the air than you can count and you need a secretary, although you can’t afford one. You sometimes miss the days when you could just coach and love kids, but you know that your leadership is exponentially impacting all involved. We love you head coach.

For additional messages to the Line Coach, Skills Coach, and Atypical Coach, read the full post here.

To the Moms of Graduates: “Afraid Yet Filled with Joy”

As we enter the emotion of graduation season, I want to refer back to a little section of Scripture that touched my heart in an unexpected way this Easter. It’s found where the author describes the reaction of the women at the empty tomb:

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples (Matt. 23:5-8, NIV).

“Afraid yet filled with joy.” I’m certain this was not my first time hearing those words. But, for whatever reason, this relatable mix of emotions hit me afresh. It felt like, “Of course. Afraid yet filled with joy. No matter what century it is, women know exactly what it means to experience those two feelings at the same time.”

My next thought (maybe because it’s spring?) was for a very specific group of Moms. A group of Moms who, because I am a high school coach’s wife, are near and dear to my heart. They are the Moms of the graduates. Their specific mix of “afraid yet filled with joy” is something I get the privilege to witness every year because the graduation of your children is one of those times when “afraid yet filled with joy” feels completely accurate.

And so, Moms of graduates, in this time of busyness, reflection, emotion, and ceremony I wanted to share what came to my mind for you on that Easter morning. I hope it brings you comfort and a smile.

Anne Rulo To the Moms of Graduates: "Afraid Yet Filled with Joy"

For the Moms of Graduates

You’ve done well. No matter whether your kid is graduating with honors or barely scraped by, he or she is probably going to be all right. It’s amazing, pretty much all of them figure it out—eventually. Yes, even the squirrely ones.

The whole transition to being co-adults is a little weird. It’s bizarre to not have the same direction or control you’ve had for the past 18 years. But, it also seems like many families make the transition easier than they thought they would. You will find your way forward in this awkward, neat new stage.

That said, the next four to six years will likely be a mix of, “How much do I help?” and, “Oh sheesh, I hope they’re going to be okay.” But, also at some point in those years, most of you eventually take a deep breath and say, “Huh, looks like they’re going to make it.” So many of these kids who sometimes couldn’t get out of bed or turn their homework in on time do become the most incredible, responsible adults.

You’ve got some really neat moments ahead of you. Things like when they get hired for their first “grown-up job”, weekends and summers at home that feel (mostly) like old times, and “I met someone” who turns out to be the one. It kind of feels like your heart and your eyes are trying to focus as this child of yours turns into a grown-up who manages to capture even more of your heart, tenderness, and respect.

And, now for my favorite stuff. I want you to know that I love seeing you again when we each have a few more wrinkles, you hug me in your fancy dress and I say, “That was a beautiful wedding.” It is also one of my very favorite things when I see mini-me’s of that 18-year-old we knew and you tell me your new title is Gigi/Nana/Granny or whatever else he or she has named you. Really, that part is so much fun.

In short, as your kid graduates, I just want you to hear from someone who has two decades of experience watching graduate after graduate grow up, this really is so much more of a beginning than an end. I know you may feel “afraid yet filled with joy.” But, there are so many beautiful things ahead.

Good job Mama of the graduate. You made it.

PS – For the Mamas I’ve loved who did not or do not get the experience above, I’ve not forgotten you. In fact, my heart is especially tender toward you today. I know some of you are still hoping for a turnaround. And, for others, your journey in this way has ended. I know that graduation season can be a tough one as people hope for futures you and your kiddo didn’t get. Please know you are loved and you and your graduate are remembered and prayed for today.

Considering Going to Therapy? 5 Common Challenges

“If your car isn’t working you would take it to the mechanic.”

“Mental health care is just like physical healthcare. Take care of your body and your mind.”

“Going to a therapist isn’t weakness, it’s a sign of strength.”

Ever heard any of these? Me too. And, as a therapist, I believe them wholeheartedly. But, just because mental health care is as important as physical health care does not mean it is as easy to access. For a variety of reasons, acquiring mental health care can be challenging. Today we will address several of these difficulties and provide ideas and resources to help get the care you need! (To read about each of these obstacles in full, link to the post I wrote with Partners in Prevention below.)

  1. Internal Resistance
  2. External Resistance
  3. Cost
  4. Finding a “Good Therapist”
  5. Wait Time

Violent News & Weather Coverage: Strategies for Staying Both Informed & Emotionally Safe

Intense news and weather reports are nothing new to our experience. However, in the past couple of weeks, we have encountered some particularly violent events including tornadoes that have wiped out portions of entire towns and a devastating school shooting in Nashville.

One challenging mental health aspect of these events is the increasingly transparent media coverage, released raw information/footage, and reduced choice over how much we see and know. Thus, as the strategies and permissions behind media coverage continue to evolve, it is important to consider how to responsibly keep ourselves informed, but also as mentally and emotionally safe as possible.

Violent News & Weather Coverage: Strategies for Staying Both Informed & Emotionally Safe Anne Rulo Partners in Prevention

Violent News Coverage

In truth, the motivation for this particular article came from my own recent, real-life experiences with 1) friends who deal with weather fear and 2) the Nashville school shooting. Only a few days after three children and three staff members were killed at Covenant School, I found myself in a hospital waiting room for my own child’s surgery. And, while her medical procedure was fairly minor, as a parent I was of course a little anxious.

As I walked through the hospital and sat in the waiting room I was unable to avoid looped video footage of the Nashville school shooter walking the halls of the school wielding a large assault weapon. These images did not serve to lower my anxiety and, I had been trying so hard to avoid the embedded videos, 911 call logs, and images for my own mental/emotional safety. The lack of control over what I heard and saw in a public space felt defeating.

Violent News & Weather Coverage: Strategies for Staying Both Informed & Emotionally Safe

Of course, it is important to understand what is going on in our world. However, it is also important to understand how we can stay informed without being traumatized. Here are some strategies for managing violent news coverage:

  • Know your personal limits. Reading/viewing something once is sometimes enough. It is not essential to expose your mind and emotions repeatedly to information to understand an experience. Everyone has their own capacity to manage this type of input.
  • You can care without being “fully aware.” This is a hard one for empaths like me. I am deeply aware that, unlike the parents who lost their children that day, I have the privilege of not being immersed in that experience. However, sometimes we feel as though we must be able/willing to look at all the pain to fully honor it. However, no one is served by us being wounded or triggered on their behalf. The human heart can care without being fully submerged in the trauma.
  • Disengage as necessary. In my situation, I can’t unsee what I saw that day. But I did move to a different area of the waiting room and for the days prior, I read enough to know what happened and then stayed off the news until the footage slowed down.

Severe Weather Coverage

Severe weather is another aspect of the news that can be triggering. Of course, not everyone has a strong reaction to potential severe weather but, for those that do, it can be an overwhelming experience of anxiety…

To finish reading tips to manage emotional safety during severe weather coverage, link here. Thanks to Partners in Prevention at the University of Missouri for our continued partnership to publish this type of content!

Identifying—and Challenging—Our Biases

“As a general rule, we can only do better when we know better. We only know better when we lean in, listen, reflect, and grow.”

Anne Rulo Wheaton Identifying Challenging Our Biases Christianity Today

As a therapist, one of the great privileges I had in my career was teaching a foundational course for graduate students in counseling. It was an introduction to the profession, with opportunities for reflection on why my students wanted to become therapists and what internal obstacles might trip them up.

One of my favorite lessons each semester was the evening we spent considering our biases. Therapists are called to be aware of our personal biases and avoid imposing them on clients. This requires individuals to examine themselves. Many of my students had never intentionally, publicly, or honestly gone through this process.

The exercise was always the same. I would ask my students to think through different people groups and observe their gut reactions. The goal was to consider which groups they may have trouble working with based on their personal values or experiences. Then, we would share.

Each semester, there were always a few who initially believed they were without bias. They claimed to “value all people equally”, “see no color”, and “have friends of all backgrounds.” Usually, one or two students would offer “safe” answers like, “I don’t like criminals” to avoid giving a potentially offensive answer. But at least one student would quietly offer something like, “I sometimes feel nervous around a Black person if I don’t know them.” I could tell that these students felt ashamed, but also that they felt permission to speak honestly.

Often, other students opened up about their biases against people from different cultures, abilities, classes, political parties, or religions. My students didn’t confess these beliefs with confidence. They whispered the words, their voices heavy with the awareness that they didn’t want to feel or think this way. But they did—and so do we.

We cannot live in a world so historically threaded with systemic racism, gender inequality, and political dichotomy without being affected…

To finish reading the full post, link here and thanks to Christianity Today and Wheaton Humanitarian Disaster Institute for the chance to share on your platform!

Embrace the Season

Writing over at The Glorious Table about embracing whatever season God has us in. See below for a preview or link to the full post here.

The year I was born, my Dad took my Mom to the hospital early. If I remember the story correctly, she wasn’t in labor but, she was close enough to her due date that the impending snowstorm had him a little skittish. And there, sometime during the evening, I entered the world. A birthday spent in the snow.

My most recent birthday, forty-two years later, was spent hiking with my family on an uncommonly warm day. I wore knee-length leggings and a short-sleeved shirt, working up quite a sweat as we traveled up and down the terrain for miles. A birthday spent in the sun.

The reason my birthday weather is different every year is that I was born in early March in the midwest. For months in this part of the country you never know if it is going to rain, shine, snow, or some combination of all three. Extreme seasonal fluctuations are commonplace, eliciting the same funny, predictable, memes every time it happens. I just simply can’t count on my birthday to be any one experience. Instead, I just have to wait to see what God provides and make a decision at the moment. Goodness, wouldn’t it be nice if I could be that flexible about other “seasons” in my life?

Like Christmas, which I expect to go a certain way.

Summer vacations should be “just so.”

My kids’ birthday parties I wish would be smooth and stress-free.

The dinner I made was supposed to turn out well.

Or, like tomorrow. For which I certainly have expectations. Expectations that Jesus may, or may not, see the same way.

Anne Rulo Embrace the Season The Glorious Table

The Season We Want Is Not Always the Season We Get

Biblically, the concept of seasons is obviously not just about weather. When God left us Solomon’s wisdom on this in the book of Ecclesiastes, he did not assign any particular time to those descriptions. Instead, he just gave us words. Words that describe opposite ends of the human experience that may pop up at any point, not necessarily because we’ve done anything right. And, not necessarily because we’ve done anything wrong. But, just because he has allowed that “season” for that time. As it says…

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecc. 3:1-8 NIV).

And, in a similar vein from Matthew…

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45 NIV).

In short, we should expect that our experiences or “seasons” in life, whether long or short, important or mundane, are going to vary and that’s part of the design.

Cultivating Peace in Every Season… (to finish the full post, link here).