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 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 Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Intentionality

Earlier this year, I wrote about utilizing time blocks to help with my productivity. As I have progressed through the year, I have waffled in the discipline of utilizing those time blocks. But I have also learned something about myself and my productivity from the times I have been diligent to use the time blocks well.

Still Can’t Do It All

When I first determined to set timers, it was so I could progress through my to-do list better. I wanted to get everything done. I wanted to be able to answer the “How do you do it all?” question with, “Well, I use these nifty little time blocks, and…” Instead, I am still stuck with my old answer: I don’t do it all. Some things just get left undone.
My first inclination is to believe that I have failed because I still do not get it all done. I am a completer. A finisher. Incomplete projects leave me frustrated, and sometimes I want to put everything else aside so I can just finish one thing.

Unfortunately, life is a never-ending flow of the incomplete. I will never be done this side of heaven. Accepting that reality has been half of my battle. I have had to become okay with the fact that few things in my life can be completed. The to-do list will never be cleared.

That thought is enough to make me want to throw up my hands, give up the time blocks idea as just another failed attempt at making progress, and decide that I’m just going to be under stress for the rest of my life. But, honestly, that sounds awful. In fact, it sounds downright disobedient to the Savior or commanded me to “be anxious for nothing” (Phil 4:6, NASB).

So, what is the alternative?

I’m learning that intentionality is the real solution, and the time blocks are my best tool to get there.

You see, without time blocks, I flounder all day, putting too much time into this task and too little into another. Wasting a great deal of time staring off into space. Getting distracted. And, ultimately, letting the clock boss me around.

With time blocks, though, I have a focus. Before I start my 25-minute productivity timer, I evaluate what needs to be focused on in that time block. Not what needs to be completed. Just where I need to put my focus. (Just as an example, I might not complete this post in my 25-minute slot, but I’m not doing anything else until I’m either done or my timer dings!)

There is a spiritual side to this too, but that would take another 500+ words to walk through! So, come back next week and we’ll explore part two!

Posted in Around the Web, Repost, Thoughts from Life

Sock Dolls & Homeschool Tradition

Remember the “looking back at old posts” idea from yesterday? Here’s a post that I wrote nearly three years ago for work purposes. The sock dolls aren’t as prominent these days, having given way to other things. But, the traditions birthed from those sock dolls are still growing. This is a precious memory. 

My daughter’s ninth birthday was just around the corner. She loves homemade gifts, but this particular year she had no requests and I had no ideas. So, my husband and I made plans to purchase a gift or two instead of making something. Suddenly, inspiration struck! Two mere weeks before her birthday, my precious child decided all she wanted for her birthday was a homemade sock doll.

To this day I have no idea where she got the sock doll idea. I wonder if she even knows! I began to interrogate her, trying to determine where she had seen or heard of the idea, but she would just shrug and say the thought popped into her head. I dug deeper, hoping to determine just what sock doll image she carried in her mind so I could attempt to create what she was envisioning. A doll made out of socks seemed to be her only criteria.

After finally remembering a sock doll pattern book my mother-in-law had passed on to me some time before, I set to work. Pressed for time and lacking in confidence, I prayed I could create something that would make my daughter smile. By the time the big day rolled around, a nightgown, two dresses, and a brown-haired, green-eyed sock doll named Susan were wrapped and ready for my brown-haired, green-eyed birthday girl.

Not Just A Doll…

I never would have imagined the tradition that sock doll request would become.

Hardly a birthday or Christmas passes without at least one more doll joining the family. A year after Susan’s arrival, William graced my daughter’s tenth birthday celebration. Ella joined the sock doll family a few months later when my daughter decided that her little sister needed a doll of her own. William and Susan now have a son named George, and Ella met Oliver this past Christmas. My son, who was given a blue-eyed chef named Han for Christmas, is helping me assemble a little sister for George. I believe my middle child has created a sock bunny, and both George’s little sister and the sock bunny will soon be wrapped up and presented to my oldest for her twelfth birthday.

When I first started homeschooling, I mourned my inability to establish homeschool traditions.

I hate paper crafts, and I never could get my act together early enough to plan the perfect food celebration for every holiday. I felt like a failure because holidays such as President’s Day and Valentine’s Day would pass by without an educational, yet celebratory, plan. An old school year would simply end with little fanfare, and a new one would begin in much the same way.

…A New Tradition

Only after the sock dolls began multiplying with great rapidity did I realize that our family really is creating homeschool traditions. We usually forget to work in thankfulness activities all through November, put out the perfect Valentine’s display, or welcome Easter with reminder-filled baked goods. But we do not forget to line up the sock dolls and their stuffed companions to help recreate the first Christmas. We always remember to pull out a favorite book in March to make sure the stuffed menagerie knows the story behind St. Patrick’s Day. Napoleon the Penguin preaches stuffy church every Sunday, and Alf the Calf has performed at least one sock doll wedding in full-fledged Impressive Clergyman fashion.

I no longer mourn the holidays and events that pass us by without the typical homeschool crafts and foods.

A cheap bag of men’s tube socks, some fiberfill, and a supply of fabric scraps might not seem like much for other families, but for us they symbolize surprising tradition in the form of pilgrim and Indian sock dolls retelling the story of the first Thanksgiving. That, my friends, is tradition enough for me!

This article was originally written for Home Educating Family’s blog, now WellPlannedGal.com.

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Looking Back

I forget things. Quite easily, in fact. So, I need a lot of reminders. That’s part of why I started blogging – as a sort of online scrapbook for family events and online journal for thoughts I’ve processed and lessons I’ve learned. Sometimes I look back just to remember the sweet things I’ve experienced.

Other times I need to look back in order to progress forward. Old ideas and experience spur new ones. Tips I shared at a time when things were going smoothly for me (at least in that one area!) help me get over humps when my own road is not so smooth.

I also need to look back sometimes to see how far I’ve come. Recently, I went back and reread some of my earliest blog posts. Wow! There are some I’m tempted to unpublish! But, they remind me of how much I have learned. How practice does bring improvement – at least, I hope I’ve improved!

Finally, looking back motivates me to start new things. It reminds me that, once upon a time, I got started on something that is now a natural part of life. I have several things on my “want to accomplish eventually” list, and right now they seem to be rather daunting. But, so was blogging, once upon a time. So was knitting. Teaching. Editing. Homeschooling. Some of them are still daunting. But, I’m doing them, and they have become a part of normal life – because at some point along the way, I just started.

So, I choose to look back.

My sweet husband handed me a couple of sheets of paper this week. They are all about looking back in order to progress forward. They guide me through finding the good things that happened over the course of 2016. They are helping me look back.

And by taking the time to look back, my hope is that I will be spurred to progress, improve, and begin in 2017.
What helps you move forward?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What I Do

Working Mom

I have a question for you. When you think of your identity, what title do you give to yourself? I have several. Pastor’s Wife. Homeschool Mom. Writer. Editor. And, up until recently, Stay at Home Mom.

Has something changed? you might ask. In fact, I can almost see the wondering on the faces of some friends, wondering if I’ve suddenly decided to put the kids in school and work outside the home. And, no, it’s nothing like that. It’s more of a discovery.

Defining Stay at Home Mom

It’s a realization that for many, many years, I’ve struggled with my role as a mom.

I have this mental definition for the “Stay at Home Mom” title. It’s a mom who essentially structures her life around the care of her home and family. Everything else is secondary.

For fifteen years, I’ve called myself a stay at home mom. But, can I share a little secret with you? I have never fit the boundaries of my own definition, and I have always felt the conflict of that without ever understanding why.

Just recently, it all clicked in my head when I realized that I have actually worked for nine of my fifteen years of motherhood. And, in the years I didn’t work, I always had something specific to focus on. In the early years of motherhood, it was photo editing. I loved to take pictures, keep them well organized on my computer, and edit them in a variety of ways. Later, I started writing and discovered the world of product and book reviews. Only now do I see that I looked upon both of those “hobbies” as jobs.

Only now do I see that I’m not really a stay at home mom, and I never have been. On the contrary, I have always been a working mom. The whole time.

A Beautiful Mental Shift

Admitting that is a big deal for me, because I realize I have always felt a bit ashamed of my jobs – ashamed that I enjoyed them more than keeping up with my home or cooking for my family. It’s not that I preferred being away from my family. Quite the contrary! I love being with my family. But, I’ve always preferred the work that is not home related. The more I loved my jobs, the more I felt like a stay-at-home mom failure.

Something about the simple admission that I am a working mom changes so much in my head. You see, like many of my friends who also work – some from home and others outside the home, both in part-time and full-time capacities – I still prioritize my family. I shape my work options around doing what’s best for my family. I work in a way that allows me to homeschool. I work in a way that makes me available to my children when they need me, while still setting parameters and boundaries for work time. My family is no less of a priority. But, the care of my home is not my job. It’s a joint responsibility for every family member.

I cannot even begin to explain how that admission has eliminated conflict for me. That realization has helped me interact better with my children. It will allow me to share responsibilities of home care more freely, rather than feeling like a failure because I thought I couldn’t keep up with my job.

I’m a work in a way that most vibrantly nourishes my family working mom.

And, do you know what? I still highly value stay at home moms. But I also absolutely love who I am and what I do.

What about you? What title have you adopted? Does it fit?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Time for Change

People who know me well know that I like to change things up, especially in my house. The fact that we have rearranged very little in our house over the past year shows just how crazy the year has been!

But, contrary to what some people may believe, I do not like change for the sake of change. In fact, I often shy away from change as strongly as the person who has lived in the same house, with the same furniture arrangement, for forty years. Change in and of itself is not fun. The benefits, though, are great. Perhaps that is why I enjoy changing things up – I have lived a life full of changes and moves and rearrangements and I have seen and enjoyed the positive results too many times in my life to ignore the fact that it can be a good thing.

Change reduces clutter.

Whether it is in a home, a schedule, or a heart, change helps us see where we have piled up junk and forces us to at least acknowledge the junk. Even if we just move it from one place to another, we cannot ignore it. We have to recognize. Over time, if we are growing in maturity, we will deal with the junk and clean up the clutter in our lives. We’ll free up space to move in our homes, space to serve in our schedules, and space for the Lord to reign in our hearts.

Change deals with problems.

Have you ever experienced the ripple effect of a schedule that no longer functions? As a homeschooler, I have dealt with that many times! Our needs change, and sometimes that old routine causes more harm than good. The same is true in all aspects of our lives. We cling to what used to work, even after it no longer functions properly. As a result, we often find ourselves struggling unnecessarily. A simple tweak is all we need to get back on track.

Change brings freshness.

There is a reason we are inclined toward spring cleaning! We get stuck in ruts that make everything seem stale. Spring cleaning – even if nothing is drastically changed – shakes things up a bit and freshens up the stale. Whether we realize it or not, that alone is change, and it does not just impact our homes. It impacts our emotions and sense of freedom.

Right now we’re praying about changes in our family schedule and routine. What will help our mornings run more smoothly, giving us a peaceful start to the day instead of leaving us feeling rushed and behind? What will allow us to interact more fully with our neighbors whose schedules seem so different from our own? What will ensure that we all get the rest we need while maximizing each day? All of this will throw us out of rhythm for a bit, but once it’s all said and done, I think we’ll feel more refreshed than we have felt in a long time!

No, I don’t love change just for the sake of change. But, the benefits are truly wonderful!

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts, Thoughts from Life

Living on the Lake

Two weeks ago today, we were starting our meandering trip home after several glorious vacation days. The time away didn’t quite turn out like we’d planned at first. At the last minute, we found ourselves scrambling to make a backup plan. Well, a backup plan for us. I can’t help but think that it was actually God’s original plan.

Instead of staying in a hotel and with friends, all of which would have been a treat and fine and lovely, we ended up in a cabin on Tims Ford Lake in Tennessee. For three nights, we went to bed with every window open so we could sleep to the smells and sounds of the lake. For three mornings, we woke up to the calm quiet of springtime in a secluded location. Everywhere we went over the course of our four-day vacation, we had to drive through wide stretches of nature and farmlands. Every aspect of our environment spoke to our souls, filling and nourishing us.

Inevitably, every time we passed a church in the middle of that beautiful, peaceful environment, we joked, “Hey! We can see if they need a pastor so we can just live here!” It had nothing to do with wanting to move or leave our current church and start over. We really have no interest in doing that! But, the environment of the countryside we stayed in or drove through soothed, revived, and refreshed us in wonderful ways. And we just wanted to stay.

In truth, though, staying in a place that revived us momentarily would not have the same effect long term. Every time we are revived, we then come to the time when we must get back to work. We must take the refreshment and apply it to the task at hand. We cannot stay in a constant state of soothing. We were made to actively glorify God in everything we do, not just to soak up moments of nourishment.

This truth reverberates across all areas of our lives. Whether it’s a physical location, an emotional or mental state of being, a place of fellowship, or a period of spiritual illumination, none of these aspects of nourishment are meant to be our solitary state of being. We are meant to live, not simply absorb.

The beauty of life in Christ, though, is that we can have both simultaneously. Our nourishment and refreshment can come even in the midst of the work. Our space of beauty explodes from the Word of God and the handiwork of the Spirit all around us. Our filling comes from communion, true relational communion, with our Savior. Sometimes, yes, we need to physically get away from the noise of everyday life. But there is no need for getaway in our spiritual lives. God equips us to live every single day in the nourishment of His presence.

We lack, not because we need a spiritual getaway, but because we do not choose to live in His daily nourishment.

I would still love to live in a home built in the hills overlooking a lake. But, I don’t want to live a life of escape. I want to live a life daily nourished by my relationship with the Lord. Some days I do experience that life. Other days, I fail to rest in Him. But, that is my goal. That is my heart. And when I choose it, there is no lakeside home that could ever match the comfort of a Christ-enveloped life.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts, Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Scripture

Purpose Enough

I’ve done it all my life. When I hit a bump in the road, a struggle, a discouragement, or a time of suffering, I ask why. I think the reason will help me cope. It will make it worthwhile. It will give me joy in the suffering.

More than that, it will help me comfort others. “Look what God is doing,” I could say.

But what happens when a reason is not given?

I’ve been there. Instead of, “Look what God is doing,” I have to fall back on, “God is in control and He does love us, whether we feel it or not right now.” That’s harder, my friends. So much harder.

I confess, the lack of being able to see God’s hand – an inability to see how He was being glorified through the situation – has distracted me from resting in Him at times. I needed evidence. He gave me none.

Instead, He gave Himself.

He gave just the provision needed to process through the struggle.

But I wanted more. I wanted some great vision of how this fit into His grand plan. And when that vision didn’t come, the fight against bitterness and disillusionment was strong.

What was the point of the struggle if I could not see Him glorified?

Little did I know that my real struggle had nothing to do with our physical circumstances and everything to do with my train of thought. I looked for an immediate purpose. I looked for clarity. I looked for Him to reveal some magnificent glorification through our suffering.

But God…

Just stop for a moment and soak up those words. But God.

I’ve been overwhelmed by those words before, and even as I type them now, I cannot get away from them. In any situation when our hearts cry out in anguish, we need only hear those words, and our whole perspective turns around.

But our amazing God doesn’t leave us with only those words. He goes even further.

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1-2 NASB

He reminds me of the point to our suffering: TO CEASE FROM SIN!

Wow. Just soak that in for a moment. When we endure suffering faithfully, suddenly those fleshly lusts lose their allure, don’t they? We realize what is truly precious, and we cling to it, turning away from the sin that once ensnared us.

Yet how many times do we forget that truth when we are standing in the midst of a struggle? We ask for more – or, should I say, lesser – purpose for our suffering.

I would love to be free from suffering. But, I hunger more to be free from sin. And if I have to choose one or the other, I choose to suffer and do away with sin. And even while I suffer, I will think with joy of the day when both will be done away with and we will live in perfection with Christ our Savior. With God our Almighty Father and Creator.

No matter what the suffering, may that truth return to my memory and be purpose enough for me.

Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from Life, What I Do

What I Do: Just Start!

One of the most intimidating aspects of writing is the blank screen. That cursor flashes, just waiting for words to flow. Inspiration. Thought. But what if nothing comes?

I think that’s the way it goes with much of life. We have a task before us, but we don’t always know where to start. My natural tendency is to wait until inspiration strikes – or I’m out of time. I hate working tight up against a deadline, but I often find myself doing just that because the inspiration just has not struck.

How much better it is to just go ahead and do something.

I’ve learned a few things through my years of writing (and tackling other projects) – tips that help get started. I confess that I’m not always diligent to follow these tips, but I’m getting better. Whatever your task may be, perhaps these tips I’ve learned from writing will help when you’re tempted to await slow-arriving inspiration.

Start with a Question

Whatever the task, one specific question always seems to help: What is my goal? In writing, if I have a sense of direction, I can usually hammer down the details more readily. Just tapping out the purpose of my article helps formulate a flow in my mind.

The same is true of many other tasks and projects. We often wander aimlessly if we don’t have a specific goals.

A more specific question is also sometimes useful – one that directly pertains to what you intend to say or do. In writing, I often use a question as my opening sentence, then attempt to answer it through the course of an article. Sometimes the question stays and sometimes it is replaced with a more declarative opening. Either way, the question provides a framework in which the rest of the article can develop.

Start in the Middle

Have you ever noticed that a project often ends very differently than it starts? We plunge in to the task, confidently plowing ahead. Suddenly, something shifts. Perhaps we hit a snag in the plan. Or maybe we discover more depth. As a result, the starting point no longer encompasses the task ahead.

If a clear goal has been established and the task ahead does not require a starting-point foundation, beginning in the middle can be very helpful. In writing, it allows me to get to the meat of what I’m trying to say. Once I have the meat, it is much easier to go back and introduce the article.

Start Somewhere and Do Something

Ultimately, starting is really the key. Whether I start at the beginning, in the middle, or even at the end, I must start. Whether I attack the easiest portions of the task to get into a groove or dive right into the hardest tasks to get them out of the way, I must do something.

It’s easy to put off a task because we thing that we don’t know where to start or what to do. But, the truth is that we just don’t want to think. It’s easier to put something off than to devote brain power to diving in. Or perhaps we are afraid that we’re not really up to the task. What if we fail? As long as we don’t start, we won’t fail.

But we won’t succeed, either.

Even if the results of my first effort end up in the trash can, they always serve a purpose. They get me going. Active. Moving. And that, my friends, is the key.

Whatever stands before you, may I encourage you to just start? It’s worth the effort.