Years ago, we were part of a small group that shared dinner together at a different home once a month. One night, we arrived at the host house only to knock at the door and stand dejectedly on the front porch while a VERY LOUD argument about who should make the coffee made its way from the back of the house to the front. Quickly, we knocked even louder, in hopes that they'd hear us, answer the door and pretend nothing was wrong. Because that's what you do, right? Alas, they were so occupied with World War III that they couldn't hear us knocking, and we decided to slink back to the car and drive around the block. We "arrived" again a few minutes later, to a happy and loving couple - the crisis apparently averted. I never did find out who finally made the coffee :o)
Ah, yes, the pre-party meltdown. We are well-acquainted.
Historically, I've been a leave it to the last minute person, and I tried to claim the "some people work best under pressure" mantra, although the stress of coming in right under the wire always seemed to invalidate the argument. I convinced myself that daily life kept me so busy that I didn't have time to prepare for the extras prior to the wee hours of the night before, and although my final preparations may have often been last minute, I managed to pull things together fairly consistently. (Most of the time. I think. If you know me and this is not the case, please break it to me gently.)
Prep time was habitually discounted in my world, and never factored in appropriately - it happened late, and always with gross underestimation of the time required. Feeling squeezed, pressured, and frenetic, my focus fell on the ANTI-thrill of will-I-or-won't-I pull it together, and worst of all I was robbed of anticipating the pleasure of whatever I was preparing for.
The impact ran pretty deep. It left me feeling depleted and exhausted before the good stuff even happened, and could crack open an unlovely and not-so-generous place in my heart.
It turns out that preparation is the antidote.
Last year I finally decided I was getting a little old for this day-before stress and pressure, and I determined to learn the discipline of scheduling prep time for recurring tasks a few days in advance. For example, my lesson plans for next week are finalized on Tuesday afternoon, which circumvents the frenzied Monday morning scramble to get it all together before (sometimes after) the kids get up for school. The final preparations for Friday Enrichment classes are done on Tuesday and Wednesday, lending Thursday evening a luxuriant spaciousness. Last summer, I applied the prepare in advance concept to vacation prep, wherein I spread all the gathering of clothes for a family of six and washing and folding and packing and cleaning over four days, and we were packed two days before departure, a never before in history event of epic proportions.
It's a lesson I'm trying to push into other areas of my life, this scheduled and purposeful preparation. It helps me feel grounded and grown up. It makes the days longer and rhythmic. Yes, there is still a mountain of things to do, but there is plenty of time when I don't deny there's a multitude of tasks, schedule them out and keep to the plan.
Karen Mains, in her book Open Heart-Open Home says, "Hard work indicates I'm not managing my time well, not planning or preparing ahead, doing too much, not being dependent on the the Lord's strength, but on my own." Yes, my own strength has me frazzled and frenzied, chasing the mess into the master bedroom before guests arrive. Leaning on the strength of the God of Order has me grounded in reality, planning and preparing. Sometimes, it has me facing the fact that I can't do everything, and editing the list down to manageable. And best of all, I enjoy the preparation and have the pleasure of genuine anticipation.
I talk like I've got this thing down, but in reality I know my grip on it is a little more tenuous than it is disciplined. Somewhere down the orderly line of days on the calendar, I'll reach that point where I'll have had ENOUGH with all the discipline and will be powerless to do anything but ignore the to-do list for a little while. I suspect it's possible that the discipline of intentional preparation can be applied to that part, too. I'll let you know :o)