when you have a deadline closing in

She sits in tears at our white kitchen table, small hands covering her face in defeat. She’s fought in this battle before – she’s on one side, math’s on the other.

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The test is tomorrow. It’s timed. They aren’t allowed to count on their fingers.

Math is bad enough without a deadline. But four and a half minutes is all they’ll get.

She isn’t calming down and it’s getting late so I ask her to join me on the porch. I’m surprised when she agrees. I guess even eight year olds know that sometimes the best thing to do is walk away. We grab jackets near the door, walk outside into the dark November.

It’s silent for a time, her tears are nearly dry. I ask her if she wants to hear some music. She says yes. After a few minutes of listening together, snuggled up on the porch, I bring up math. She tells me her fear about not finishing, not having it memorized yet.

She thinks only of math.

I think only of her.

The song is over, it’s quiet now. I ask if she’s ready to go back in. She nods and takes the lead.

We sit together at the table again and I hand her a pencil. She asks if we can time this one and I agree on one condition: Only one line at a time. She agrees, seeming to appreciate the limit.

As she works to subtract the eights from the eighteens, my focus shifts to me. I’m not always so patient with her or with math. But I took the day off and it seems to make a difference.

It also seems slightly crazy. I have a deadline of my own to work toward, a manuscript due in three and a half weeks. Today was a day I could have worked for hours. As it turns out, I worked a lot but not on the book. While the kids were in school, I cleaned their rooms the way a mama can’t do when they’re around.

I moved the couch around in the living room, swept the hardwood floors, found a place to store some books, got rid of a few old clothes. The house and I had some business to take care of in the corners and cabinets I’ve overlooked for months. The work isn’t finished but we made good progress, most of it invisible in my soul.

Wrestling and tripping toward the deadline is one way to do it. It’s the way I’m used to if you want to know the truth. But it isn’t the way I want to do it this time.

I’m taking deep breaths in dark November. I’m anticipating the nearing deadline as an opportunity to trust.

Somehow these words I’m living will multiply like fishes and loaves when I get them down on paper. I don’t know how they will, but I can’t wait to find out.

My favorite kind of math.


  1. says

    Loved this post and I can so relate. I just had my own “front porch talk” with my 7 year old this week. It was precious and I cherish that moment of quiet and solitude. Away from the house (and other family members), away from the noise. Almost like a mini retreat, for my child to feel safe, secure and loved.

  2. says

    “Somehow these words I’m living will multiply like fishes and loaves when I get them down on paper. I don’t know how they will, but I can’t wait to find out.” ~ Wowzers, beautiful words on trust!

    You’re a great mama, Emily. And a great writer. Love you.

  3. Anna says

    I love that last thought. God invented Math and then He takes delight in multiplications that are outside of it. I too love that kind of Math – looking forward to seeing what He produces through you!

  4. says

    I can relate to this on so many levels. I’ve never considered a deadline as an opportunity to trust. But I like that thought. I’m keeping it. Thanks, Emily.

  5. says

    This is such a beautiful, inspirational post. It’s so hard to prioritise and I often neglect the members of my family and the running of the home for the more pressing deadlines. Yet, if we honour the people God has given us in our lives He will honour the time we need for the other commitments we have been in which we have been called to serve too.

    Thanks so much for your writing ministry – I’m reading Grace for the Good Girl at the moment and love it. Your have described so much I can relate to.

  6. says

    This is beautiful. I love the part about wrestling and tripping…I don’t want to do it like that anymore either. How great to take a time out and to invite your daughter to the porch and the music…I wish I had done that more with my kids when they were younger…I want to teach them to not hurry…to take a break and a breath…it’s okay. We can trust. We must trust. Thank you for this today.

  7. says

    While the writing is certainly important and the deadlines are looming, you have been doing the most important God given opportunity and this is of Mother.

  8. says

    “I’m taking deep breaths in dark November. I’m anticipating the nearing deadline as an opportunity to trust.”

    From the girl who just got the art up on the wall (http://languageofsilence.tumblr.com), I can say, yes, yes this is possible. Glue drying at 7:27 a.m. and art going on the wall at 10:32 a.m. And it was all in His time and His will. There was a lot less of me in it this way.

    Thank you for sharing.

  9. says


    Thank you for this post. You brought me back to my own struggles with math, not only as a young girl, but as a college student, trying to get through the math placement test so that I could move on to study what I really wanted to learn. There were tears all through those years. Lately, I’ve been reminded of that same kind of frustration in life. There are things that I think I should know how to do, things I want to be good at. But they aren’t coming easily. This post was just the encouragement I needed today.

  10. says

    Oh Emily, this shows me tender patient trust through the eyes of a woman/momma/writer. You speak of the tension the pull and push and balancing act that lives out under our roofs. And you speak so artfully of it all. Thanks for being a voice for many. And tell your daughter that when math calls, I run and hide behind the nearest tree. I so understand. Numbers, who needs them. :)

  11. says

    Loved reading your words on this dark November night. I’m doing the same kind of math you are…trusting God to multiply my time and efforts. I design custom Christmas cards. It’s a whirlwind right about now, yet I was craving butternut squash soup…something I didn’t have time to make (when it comes to my own economy of time). God made a way. And then there are the moments I just want to sit with my family instead of staring at the computer. He makes a way. And multiples my time. Only God!

  12. Kim says

    My eight-year-old and I just read this together! He wants your daughter to know that he knows how she feels… Thank you for sharing.

  13. says

    Please, don’t ever stop slaying me. (well, you know…)

    We have had similar math tears from our almost-eight. He’s a finger counter. The whole thing makes me want to hold him like a baby and sniff his head.

  14. says

    Emily, this is just perfect and beautiful. Thank you for taking the day off and for taking time to just wait and be with your 8-year-old. Love that. I, too, can’t wait to see how God turns your fishes and loaves into to so.much.more.

  15. says

    What encouragement! I’ve had a stirring to trust in my living like you wrote, and the way you described the fruit of now — fish and loaves — draws me nearer to Him. I appreciate your sharing, friend.

  16. Kiersten Owings says

    Thank you for this post! I am one with a deadline coming up on November 30th. I am a teacher who technically has to have 2000 anecdotal (observations on 20 students) done with only 200 complete. I have conferences that start the first week in December and I am brand new to Head Start. I feel so overwhelmed and took yesterday off work because of a migraine. For some reason this post told me it was okay to take that day off because now I am refreshed and ready to go!

  17. says

    This is lovely stuff. Thank you for being so honest about the processes you go through… someday I would love to write as well, and it’s nice to know it’s work!!

  18. says

    Such a simple reminder of how we pin ourselves into our own corners of expectations… I hope four and a half minutes was enough, but thankfully know that even if it wasn’t enough time for her to finish the arithmetic, that she too, will begin learning that the math gets very funny in real life, and there will be more important things to wrestle with.

  19. says

    Thanks for that encouragement. I am a first year teacher and have had near constant anxiety all year–lesson plans, classroom management, having excitement each day for the content I teach. I need to step back, and to take it one line at a time. And thanks for reminding me of the fish and loaves story. He will always provide what is needed.

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