Posted in What I'm Trying

What I’m Trying

Often when I write a “What Works for Me” or “What I Do” post, it really should fit into another category. Because, in all honesty, I haven’t done it long enough to definitely say it works for me. I try to communicate that as I write, but the truth is I am constantly trying.

A friend of mine wrote a post recently about continuously trying, and it made me stop and think. I’m not as adventurous as she is. I would often rather keep doing what I am doing than try something new. I have never been one to take a dare. I have never been one to tackle something just because it was put in front of me. I need a reason, or at least an interest or a sense that I just might be good at it. Even so, the idea presented in her post definitely resonated with me. I, too, am constantly trying. I don’t tend jump at things put in front of me like she does (although sometimes I’d really love to be that kind of person!), but I am always wanting to improve.

I want to challenge myself. Not because I crave it or enjoy it, but because I want to grow, and I know that is the only way to grow.

So, I, like my friend, am continuously trying. I’m trying to be a more aware and supportive wife. I’m trying to be a more engaged mom. I’m trying to improve my writing skills and increase my writing content. I’m trying to challenge my brain and increase its sharpness by reading nonfiction and learning languages. (Yes, languages…plural. Because I’m beyond crazy.)

But, in order to effectively try, I have to break these things down. They can’t just be general resolutions to be better at ______________. I have to have specific actions. So, I’m creating a new writing category: What I’m Trying.

I doubt it truly matters to you, my readers, how I categorize each and every post on my blog. But this new category will help me. It will encourage me to mentally distinguish between What I Do (the responsibilities that truly drive each day and week’s focus), What Works for Me (those things that are tried and true and really have proven to have long term effectiveness in my life), and What I’m Trying (those things that have come to mind when I have prayed for a solution to some issue in life – things that need to be tested and tried before I categorize them as temporary guidance, stepping stones to improvement, or What Works for Me solutions).

I think we all need a way to categorize those concepts in our heads. Why? Because we often get complacent in what we do and the things that work for us, and we don’t challenge ourselves to try new things – to better ourselves. It’s just easier to maintain the status quo. I’d love for you to join me and share what you’re trying so we can encourage and motivate one another.

So, my friend, please do share…what new thing are you trying?

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Life

Provision

Back in July, our van died. After 235,000 miles, it went kaput. It wasn’t a sudden thing – we knew it was dying. But one day, I needed to go somewhere. So I hopped in and cranked it up. It did not even make it to the end of our short street before it died for the last time, never to truly crank again for more than few brief moments.

If this had happened while we lived out in the country, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. We rarely needed both vehicles there. But here in the city, it’s different. So, I thought for sure God would quickly either fix the van or provide another vehicle.

I was wrong.

Meanwhile, a precious friend’s car died on Christmas Eve. Within a short time, God had provided her a replacement, ensuring that she would not be in a one-vehicle situation. I’m chuckling a bit right now, because I had the thought for this post long before my friend’s vehicle died. But, only now, after seeing how God has worked differently in very similar situations, is all of this fleshing out in my head. I love how God does that!

So, what is the difference in our situations? Well, my friend and I have very different lives and dynamics, and I can give you practical ways that she really needed that vehicle. But, I can point out practical ways we need another one, as well. The difference does not come down to practicalities. It comes down to one thing: God’s will.

God’s provision has nothing to do with my concept of need or desire. If it did, I can point out a myriad of situations that would have had different resolutions – not just in my life, but in the lives of people dear to me who have endured grief and suffering far beyond my piddly concept of needing a second vehicle. No, God’s provision is not dependent on my perception. Instead, it is dependent upon His will.

That may seem harsh, especially in light of grief and pain. But, that is because we view it with our narrow vision.

On New Year’s Day, my mother posted this greeting on Facebook:

I love TIMELINES……… if you put 2016 on a timeline of just the past 10,000 years, it’s barely a BLIP! And, if those 10,000 years are put on a hypothetical timeline of eternity, they wouldn’t even register. 2017 will come and go before we know it, so make the best of it! It will be gone before we know it. HAPPY NEW BLIP!!!

Oh how I love that! It reminds us that God sees eternity. And His provision is based on our lives for eternity. It’s not about what will simply grow me or make me useful during my short blip of a life here on earth. It’s about what will mold me into what I am supposed to be in light of eternity. It is about how what He does through me right here and right now will contribute to drawing all men to Himself…for the sake of their eternal souls.

The most baffling reality of this is that my needs, and God’s provisions for them, do have relevance for eternity. My little life. My little needs. My little journey in this little blip are relevant enough to God that He works His will in and through me today. He chooses to replace my friend’s vehicle but not my van because there is relevance. How incredibly humbling and amazing!

Sometimes I see a glimpse of that relevance. Sometimes I can point to some semblance of a “why.” But I never see the full scope of what He sees. What He knows. Why He works the way He does. But He’s the God of the universe. The King above all kings and Lord above all lords. He’s the utmost Ruler. Yet He knows me, and He considers the little details of my life – the details He works in daily – to be relevant to eternity.

Wow.

Lord, may I be reminded of this truth every time I doubt Your provision. Your provision is in line with eternity. And I am overwhelmed that I get to be a part of that.

Posted in What I'm Trying

Reading

Anyone who knows us knows that we are a family of readers. I’m probably the least well-read member of my family, partially because of other obligations, but also because I often just don’t take the time to read. But, I do have a huge stack of books I really want to conquer.

Last Year

Last year, I decided to become more aggressive about conquering that stack, determining to always have two books going. The first would be something fiction, primarily because that is my number one way to relax. For years, I limited my fiction reading to slow times. But, I’m learning that rest does not come by waiting until after everything is done or life is slow. (When does that really happen, anyway?) It comes by trusting God to take care of the needs while I obey and take moments or days of rest. One of my active steps toward rest has been to intentionally keep a novel going. It might be just a chapter at night before I go to bed two or three nights a week, followed by a little more reading time on Fridays. But, it’s always progress.

The second book would always be a nonfiction title. I’m not a strong nonfiction reader, and it is very easy to not ever get around to that stack. But, the more I read nonfiction, the easier it becomes. So, while intentionally reading fiction was about rest, being intentional about nonfiction was an effort to stretch myself and grow. Last year, I chose titles I could read in short bursts during my morning Bible and prayer time. Again, it wasn’t much each day – typically only a section from a chapter, rather than even an entire chapter. But, I saw more progress through nonfiction than I have seen in a long time! Through the course of the year, I read several great books that way, including Aimee Byrd’s Housewife Theologian, Ken Shigematsu’s God in My Everything, and The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan.

What’s New

This year, I’m continuing the trend, but I’m adding a third reading slot to the schedule. I have a list of “want to read” titles that don’t really fit in my morning Bible reading and devotional time. These titles are aimed to help me with my writing goals, show me a little bit of what it means to adopt a child, or strengthen my ability to teach. So, on “normal” days, one work break will be a fifteen minute time slot set aside for reading one of those books.

Right now, I actually have six books going, which is incredibly odd for a gal who is typically a “one book at a time” kind of reader. But, that’s temporary. I just had some time-sensitive reads that needed to be tackled – including some school titles that I need to read alongside my high schooler. I’ve got a good rotation schedule going, and I’m enjoying every single book!

Right Now

Here are the titles I’m currently enjoying:

  • Catalyst – a Star Wars novel, prequel to Rogue One. The rest of the family has already read it, and considered it a fast read (a few hours). That means I’ll hopefully have it done in about a week!
  • The Heart of Revelation by J. Scott Duvall
  • Words That Change Everything by Karen Jordan
  • Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot
  • Can You Drink This Cup? by Henri Nouwen
  • Self-Promotion for Introverts by Nancy Ancowitz

Meanwhile, I am finally making use of the Goodreads account I’ve had for a while, entering upcoming titles so I’ll be able to just glance at my list to pick my next read.

What about you?

Are you a reader? Do you make time to read, or do you just read when you can? What are some of your favorite – or current – reads?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Prayer, What Works for Me

Intentional

Word of the Year?

Have you ever noticed the people who choose “word” for their year? That word becomes their focus – the thing around which their goals and growth center. Perhaps this is something you do.

Maybe you are among those who actively choose their words. These people spend time in thought and prayer, trying to determine a direction and a focus. I’ve never done that before. I know me – it would be too forced. I second guess myself too much, and this approach would stress me out. Better for me to work on my routine and focus on productivity than to try to choose a focus.

For the longest time, I thought that was the only approach to choosing a word or focus for the year. But, more recently I’ve noticed a different pattern among some of my friends, so I avoided it. These are the people whose words have chosen them. A lesson or idea or thought just keeps presenting itself until they finally latch onto it, determined to see where the Holy Spirit is leading.

And now I know how that feels.

Intentionality Everywhere

Everywhere I’ve turned lately, intentional has been on the tip of my tongue. I cannot describe my sense of direction, urgency of action, or areas of growth without using that word or some variation of it.

  • When I think of my routine and productivity (or lack thereof!), I realize that I’m so often just floating through life. I bounce from this to that, randomly walking through my to-do list, focusing on whatever seems to pop up next. I have been convicted of the need to be intentional with every moment of my day – whether in work, play, or rest.
  • When I think of my reading goals, I see that I have stacks of books with no plan for reading them. I’ll get around to it, eventually. I know I won’t. Not without being intentional.
  • When I see the resources I have acquired for this project or that, only to never get them done due to lack of whatever, I feel the frustration and discouragement rise. If I want to ever make progress, I have to make time. Intentionally.
  • When my brain fills with the larger ideas I have for writing, I jot down notes only to forget what I was thinking. I desire to do more – to actually write a book. But, all I ever get around to are random blog posts about whatever happens to pop into my head at the time. I will never truly become what I want to become as a writer unless I intentionally make and work toward goals.

But the biggest area is my spiritual life. I know I’m growing. I see it. But, there are many ways in which my spiritual growth is just as haphazard as my growth in other areas. I’m random, and I don’t always follow through, turning thoughts and convictions into actions. I have to become intentional about spiritual growth by making a plan for action as soon as the Holy Spirit nudges my thoughts.

Staying Open

I know how my brain works, and I know that it’s not a good idea for me to say that 2017 will be my intentional year because I’ll become more fixated on the word than the general sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit needs to do in and through me. Maybe I’ll be a slow learner, and it will be with me for several years (like rest and sabbath have been focus thoughts for two or three years!). Maybe I’ll establish a habit and pattern of intentionality in a few months, and it will be time to push forward again. I do not want to miss the Lord’s direction just because I am stuck on a word. But, for now, intentionality is my overarching focus as this year begins. Already I have seen it impact my time and energy. I’m ready to see where the Lord takes me from here!

Posted in Marriage Monday

Little Signals

Every three months, I replace my tube of mascara. It’s what the “experts” recommend, but even if that was not set as the recommended lifespan for the mascara, I would know the time had come. An evening rolls around when I cannot wait to remove my eye makeup. Almost inevitably, that evening falls right around the three month replacement point. My eyes automatically give me the signal that a change needs to be made.

Our marriages offer the same signals, some warning signs and some positive signals.

We are probably more familiar with the warning signs. Many pages have been written, talks have been given, and hours of counseling have been devoted to the red flags that arise when we are choosing actions that can lead to tension, distance, or even infidelity. But, there are lesser signals as well. Little things that alert us to ways we can daily act to avoid issues, meet needs, or find precious moments in our marriages. I could make a list of those signals, just as the books and lectures make lists of the marital warning signs.

If I made a list, though, it would be for my marriage. For my situation.

Each couple and family has their own rhythm and flow. We have things that work for us that will not work for you, and vice versa, so my list might not help you notice your signals. What I will do instead is share a few thoughts that might help you notice both the positive signals and the warning signs.

Come Together

Probably the best thing you can do as a couple is come together on a regular basis, probably as often as once a week. I’ve shared before why my husband and I have date night every week, but this is actually something different. This coming together is more to take a few minutes and make sure you are on the same page. Take a look at the planner. Walk through the calendar. Just chat for a moment about expectations and desires for the coming week.

Not only does this exercise ensure that you are on the same page schedule-wise, it also lets you know what’s on your spouse’s mind this week. You will see where his priorities lay and what’s on his mind. By paying attention to those little details, you can then notice warning signs of stress, signals for finding those sweet memorable moments, and ways you can encourage and strengthen him in the coming week.

Share Prayer Requests

It’s amazing how praying for one another brings little signals to light. It might even help you both see something you would not have otherwise noticed. It is one thing to pray for our spouses on our own, knowing the ways we need to hold them up before the Lord without even asking. But by asking them how we can pray, we get even more insight into what is on their hearts and minds – and discover little ways we can encourage and strengthen them through the week.

Listen

How many times do you say something in passing that you don’t want to make a big deal about, but you still wish someone would just notice? Now, turn that around. How many times does your spouse say things like that? Sometimes, the signals can be picked up simply by listening. Truly listening.

Attitudes

Is your spouse especially clingy this week? Or, perhaps a little more energetic than usual? Maybe there’s a restlessness in the air, or possibly the clutter of life has just gotten to be too much. We often notice attitude shifts and think something is wrong. Believe it or not, more often these shifts simply mean that there is a special need that day. An opening to provide a little more attention. Give extra snuggles. Make space in your schedule. Put a little bit of energy into making one area of the house look special. Make a surprise dessert or plan an out-of-the-ordinary dinner. Don’t always assume an attitude shift means there is a problem. Instead, consider it to be a signal – then choose how to determine what is being signaled.

Signals are precious components of marriage and family. May you notice beautiful signals as you go through your life this week!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Listening & Obeying

Last week, I introduced the idea of being intentional about my time blocks. But, I’m somewhat saddened by the fact that it took me a while to figure out that the time blocks are not the key component. Time blocks are a great tool, but they do not automatically solve the problem of what to spend my time doing. That is where my relationship with the Lord comes into play. Shocking, I know.

Tools for Listening

God knows what He wants to do through me each day. In my floundering, I neglect – and sometimes refuse – to be a fully surrendered vessel to Him. I believe He uses me anyway, because that is a large component of who He is. He can and does work through those whose hearts are completely hostile to Him (the Bible is replete with examples), so I know He can use me even when I’m not focused. But, oh how much better it is to actively let Him guide each day!

The abstract concept of obedience becomes this in real life practicality: seek and accept God’s guidance for every time block. If I prayerfully ask Him to point me to the task for each time block, He can use it as He wishes.

Restricting God?

Some will say this restricts Him to the clock. The opposite is actually true, at least in my situation. The timer reminds me to stop and seek Him frequently instead of plunging through my day with a meager prayer for guidance in the morning but no real listening to that guidance throughout the day. If I finish a task seven minutes into my time block, I must seek Him for the best way to finish the block. Or, it might be that the 25 minute timer ends, only for Him to say that I need to continue what I’m doing. Or walk away for a few minutes only to come back and continue. Or even to pursue something that takes me away from the time blocks altogether!

The point is not to confine Him, but instead to focus me. I’m not always diligent to use my time blocks, and even when I am, I am not always diligent to seek His plan for each block – or His guidance away from them. But, I cannot begin to express the sense of peace and productivity I feel at the end of a day when I am obedient and diligent to do both!

Room for Growth

In all of this, I realize something that makes my heart ache. I have been a Christian for over three decades, yet I am still so very weak in the discipline of listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for every single act of my day. Perhaps that’s why I need the time blocks. Maybe a year from now my story will be very different. But for now, this is where I am. I am determined to be intentional. Not every now and then. Not only when the stress builds and the incomplete list is phenomenally overwhelming. But daily. When the productivity flows on its own and when it falters. When I’m in a good mood and in a bad. When I feel well and energized and when I am barely functioning. Intentional surrender.

I love what this has looked like so far, and I am excited to see where God takes me in the coming year!

What About You?

Finally, I’d love to hear from you. How does the Lord help you intentionally work in obedience through each day?

Posted in Marriage Monday

Marriage & Friendship

I opened my stocking yesterday morning to find two huge surprises (in addition to a nice pile of dark chocolate filling the toe!). The first thing I pulled out was a small, finely woven sack. Inside was a braided bracelet with a small tag in the center. On the tag were coordinates.

“Actually, you need the other bag,” my husband smiled, and I reached back into the stocking. Sure enough, there was another bag with another bracelet. The first bracelet held coordinates for my home. The second? Coordinates for the Solomon Island village home of our dear friends the Choates. One bracelet was for me; the other was for my friend Joanna – one more connection across the many miles that separate us.

The second surprise was a beautiful fountain pen with extra cartridges. Not too long ago, I had told Doug that I wanted to become more regular about writing letters – real, snail mail letters, something I used to thoroughly enjoy doing as a child, before the days of e-mail and social media. So, when a friend asked what I wanted for Christmas, my sweet husband suggested she get me stationary. Then, he found this elegant pen to go with my new stationary. His desire was to intentionally support my goal of letter writing.

Both gifts, though, supported something much deeper – they both supported my need for friendship.

Doug will always be my dearest, closest, and most desired friend. That is how marriage should be, and I love it. But, we both know that we need other friends as well. Because we are both introverts – and because we move a good deal – it is not always easy for us to find and build deep, local friendships. But, God is not restricted by distance or time. Sometimes He builds friendships across the miles as easily as He does across the street.

My husband knows which friends I need when, and he actively helps me stay connected to them. He not only supports my friendships, he equips them. He nourishes them. He encourages and helps build them.

And I pray regularly over his friendships. I pray that he will be able to develop the deep relationships he needs and that I will see ways to nourish those friendships as he nourishes mine.

Friendship with one another is such a vital part of marriage. If we allow outside relationships to supersede the one that exists within the confines of our home and marriage, our marriage will suffer. But, it will also suffer if we close out all other relationships or if we allow ourselves to feel as if we are in competition with one another’s friends.

There is no competition. All are needed in very specific ways to meet very specific needs.

I am blessed beyond words to have a husband who is my dearest friend while simultaneously supporting and equipping my vital external friendships. That, to me, is the epitome of friendship in marriage.