Posted in What I'm Learning, Work

Slow Processes

Don’t you just love how God can teach lessons during every season of life?

This season of not having a personal writing rhythm has lasted much longer than I would have chosen. Even when it seemed like I was writing regularly, I wasn’t. It was hit and miss. In fact, it has been several years since I have had a good rhythm. And for the longest time, I have seen that only as a negative thing. I’ve wondered why God has not helped me find a rhythm for something that obviously nourishes and grows me.

But here’s the thing…God doesn’t see things like I do. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t see things the way God does, at least not at first. In fact, so many of my experiences are times of needing to gradually gain His vision. Sometimes I’m slow and He has to delay so that I can catch up. But other times I think it’s just the nature of growth. We often want to learn things quickly, but the more quickly we learn, the less we retain. Slow learning – slow progress in almost anything – usually means much more solid retention and growth.

There’s a quote in George MacDonald’s novel The Landlady’s Master that I love, one I recall when I’m frustrated with slow progress. In an idealogical discussion, one character presents ideas and perspectives that seem dreadfully slow and ineffective to his conversation partner. His response concludes with, “All God’s processes are slow. The works of God take time and cannot be rushed.”

That has definitely been true of my writing journey. It has been extremely slow – excruciatingly so at times. But in the process, and especially in this most recent stretch in which a personal writing rhythm has been so elusive, I have learned at least one very important lesson. To really explain it, I need to back up a few years, back to a time when my writing was regular and I had a solid rhythm.

Every morning, I journaled. Throughout the day I would keep a notebook or planner handy to jot notes. I had a notebook in Evernote strictly devoted to writing ideas. Writing fodder piled up so high that I could not write quickly or frequently enough to utilize it all! But as time went on, I began to notice that the ideas were harder and harder to flesh out. What had been great inspiration when I wrote it down was simply an empty statement by the time I got around to fleshing it out. At first I thought it was because I didn’t flesh out the thoughts quickly enough, losing the essence before I could actually write the post. So, I began to take more thorough notes. But, that often failed as well.

It took me a while to realize that the problem was not with the ideas. The problem was with me.

At one time, I’d written from the outflow of what I was learning and experiencing in life. But, somewhere along the way, that changed. Blog writing became the goal instead of the outflow. Instead of internalizing the inspiration, lessons, and Spirit whispers coming to me throughout life, I was simply writing about them.

Over time, the writing well began to dry up. My journal showed huge gaps because I seemed to have nothing to write, even for my own edification. I had not stopped growing altogether, but my growth was stunted because my focus was distracted.

Slowly but surely, I have had to relearn how to journal for the sake of journaling. How to hash through ideas for the sake of real growth. How to remember that life is not blog fodder. Writing is, instead, an outflow of what I just cannot keep cooped up inside as God molds and transforms my heart.

Looking back at it all, I can see why God has not yet granted the wisdom for a writing rhythm. He’s been slowly working on me. Who knows when I’ll be ready for the next step? I hope it’s soon, but I have a little more patience these days now that I’ve realized it all comes down to God taking His time working on me. Working out His slow processes.

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Posted in What I'm Learning, Work

New Habits First

I was recently part of a book study group that processed through Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney. I already knew I struggled in so many areas of discipline. That study confirmed and enhanced that realization. A few of the disciplines are things that I have worked on in recent years and turned into habits – of sorts. But, I still have a long way to go.

One of the most immediate convictions was in the area of Scripture memory, probably because I’ve tried to start memorization efforts multiple times over the last few years, only to fail miserably every time. Since processing through the chapter on memorization, I have tried to restart the process and have had great intentions. There are note cards in my planner and I have a system. But, I still struggle to make progress.

I run out of time in my quiet time.

I forget to pull the cards out during the busy flow of the day.

I let multiple days go by between recitations, forcing me to backtrack and relearn.

After weeks of frustration, a realization hit me: last year when I wanted to start a new habit, I put it first. I wanted to read more books during my morning time. I knew I would dive into my Scripture reading every morning without fail. I didn’t want to diminish the importance of that in any way, but I knew how much time it typically required, so I read other books first, then switched over to the Bible at the appropriate time. Over the course of the next few months, I developed a habit of reading at least two different spiritual training books in additional to my Scripture and devotional reading.

Now I love it. Now it’s a habit. Now I will read additional books no matter when they fall in the morning routine. In fact, I have since returned Scripture reading to an earlier slot in the morning so as to ensure plenty of time for meditation. If I miss a day or two of my other books because I spend extra time meditating on the Word of God, that’s okay. The other reading is enough of a habit now that I know I will return to it.

Pondering this, I have realized that Scripture memory has always been at the tail end of my quiet time. When I run out of time because reading takes a while – which it always will! – it is too easy to drop the memorization off the end of my morning routine. So, I never make progress.

Could it be that easy? Could that truly be the simple, practical solution to establishing a habit of discipline?

It’s certainly worth a try! I can tap the voice recorder on my phone and recite those verses, playing them back later to check them. I can even work on it while pouring hot water into our French presses for coffee and Choffy – or while waiting for them to brew. Who knows? I might even end up taking a few notes here and there as I process what is being written on my heart and mind.

Discipline is often a matter of simplicity. Removing the gimmicks and tricks to try to apply something new and choosing instead to simplify. To shift details. To put new habits first on the list, knowing that everything else will fall into place behind it.

Posted in What I'm Learning, Work

Review & Remember

I learn a lot. Constantly. Maybe too constantly.

I learn things about my husband and children. I learn as I homeschool the kids. I learn about ministry. I learn new-to-me spiritual truths from Scripture. I learn new things about myself and ways I need to grow and change. I learn new skills through work. I learn and learn and learn.

The Proper Handling of Learning

I honestly love learning. It’s a passion instilled in my by my mother, who was constantly learning. I used to think she was insane, especially during my high school years when the intensity of my school schedule kept me constantly exhausted in my learning. But it didn’t take long to learn what she meant. It’s not just about the academic studying. It’s about an intake of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding that transforms who we are and how we respond to life and grow in our relationship with Christ and others.

And that is the kicker. Sometimes I take in so much learning that I forget to truly let it transform me. I learn, but do not process and retain. It comes in and gets buried somewhere under the next round of learning.

Sort

Because I’m constantly sifting through new in-flows of information through morning reading, school, work, ministry, and life in general, it’s hard to slow down enough to truly process it in a way that allows me to grow from the learning. But, I have to. So, the first step is to sift through the influx of information. Is it information that will propel me closer to Christ and further His kingdom? Or is it simply information that I need to handle the needs of the moment? The former should be processed. The latter should be used and discarded, even if it has to be relearned later.

Process

The second step is to process that which needs to be retained. I need to record it in a way that imprints it on my heart and mind in the immediate and maintains it for future review. That’s why I always grow more effectively when I am diligent to journal raw thoughts so they can be contemplated, revisited, and remembered.

Practice

Thirdly, I must practice what I’ve learned. That is accomplished in a variety of ways. One way is by taking the raw thoughts of my journal and rehashing them in a way that is understood by others. This is accomplished through talking things out with my family, writing blog posts and articles, and teaching others through homeschooling, a Sunday school class, or individual mentoring.

An Experiment to Try

I encourage you to try an experiment with me. Before you go to bed tonight, find a notebook, journal, computer, or something to write a few notes on. Jot down one thing – just one – that you learned today that needs to be processed and implemented into your life. Spend just a few minutes writing out (or talking out into your phone’s voice recorder, if that’s more your style) your raw response to that one lesson.

When you get up tomorrow morning, take a look at it, and write down one action you can take to implement that lesson into your life through the course of the day.

Then, tomorrow night, write down how you grew through the implementation and add one more bit of learning (or an expansion on today’s learning) and start the process all over again.

Create a new habit that will allow you to sort, process, review, remember, and grow through the learning that bombards you each day. And may we all learn together in a way that grows us in our relationship to Christ and our ability to bring Him glory and grow His kingdom!

Posted in What I'm Learning

Mindful Leisure

The more I think about rest, the more I have to analyze, practically, what that looks like. If I were to put the question to the wide, wide world, I would probably receive many responses related to leisure.

Our culture is all about leisure.

We live for weekends and holidays, during which we want to unplug from everything. We have movies, books, video games, ball games, amusement parks, and all manner of activities that allow us to escape life for just a little while as we supposedly rest.

So, why do we stay exhausted all the time?

I think it’s because rest was never meant to be mindless. It was never intended as escapism. Yet, so much of our leisure is just that. It’s mindless.

Now, I’m not saying that the activities I mentioned are bad. But, when we approach them as escapism, they become something that sucks the life out of us instead of pouring it back in. If we’re going to enjoy a good ball game, snuggle up for a movie, read a book, head to an amusement park, or engage in any other activity, we need to be intentional to engage in them mindfully. We must choose to actively explore how we can avoid the mindlessness that rises as the archenemy of rest.

What does this look like?

Well, that’s just it. This is all a work in progress for me. A mission of discovery. I am creative in many ways, but I do not think outside the box well. I have a hard time breaking the mold of what has been exemplified for me. If I dislike the mold, I am more inclined to leave it empty than to recreate the shape. I know I cannot leave this one empty, but I am often stumped as to how to change it. Fortunately for minds like mine, changing the mold often starts with evaluating the mold itself to see if there are useful aspects to it.

For instance, think of one thing that so many of us struggle with: time on the Internet.

We “hop on” for a “quick” look, only to find we have wasted thirty minutes without realizing it. How can we turn that around? By choosing to be purposeful in our time on the web. Think about Pinterest. Many of my friends laugh at me because I avoid Pinterest as often as possible. It’s a bottomless pit of overwhelming. But, when I have a specific task to accomplish, it can be very helpful. I choose my keywords, set a time limit, start a search, and then take my finds and go apply them to whatever project I wanted to tackle. A few years ago, ten minutes on Pinterest and a couple of hours of sewing resulted in several adorable gowns for my girlies to pack for camp. I had so much fun making those gowns, and the whole experience was one of mindful leisure and rest.

Mindfulness. Intentionality. Purposefulness. And fun! That is actually restful!

I have so much to learn about rest. How to avoid feeling guilty when I say no to people so I can obediently rest. How to balance personal and family rest. How to anticipate the Sabbath so I don’t spend the first few hours of the day wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what to do to avoid the mindless leisure that so often comes to mind first (and never satisfies!).

But I am excited to know that God will teach me as I discipline myself to rest His way. Mindfully.

 

Posted in What I'm Learning

One Sentence at a Time

Sometimes a great idea for organization or structure or time management flows through my mind. I try it. It works. I begin to implement it and see the difference. I share it here. Then something happens to derail that wonderful thing.

April was a month of derailment. Looking back, I accomplished one single thing: I finished my large, annual writing project. But, in the process, just about everything else fell apart. And I mean everything. Almost no grading was accomplished in the month of April. Writing, other than that one project, was nonexistent. Discipline went out the window, as did motivation and inspiration. I pulled off a column, two blog posts, and a book review in April, but little else. May was even worse.

My husband looked at me recently and said, “You’re struggling because you’re not writing.” He’s right. Every area of my life is a challenge. But, every time I sit down to write, the blank screen or blank notebook page mocks me. Even writing for work has been a challenge. How in the world can I get past this? How can I improve when the one thing that will help me just won’t come?

By writing just one sentence at a time.

I intended to give a blog post a go on Monday, but fear of the blank screen caused me to avoid it. I had no accountability. So, that night, I told my husband I would write a blog post the next day. At some point, I’d just sit down and do it. I’d make myself write one sentence. Then another. Then another. Accountability. One stage of discipline and one small measure of motivation.

Maybe the sentences, when compiled, would make sense. Maybe they wouldn’t. But at least I would be trying.

One sentence at a time.

You see, I’m a finisher. I like to see a project through to its completion. But I also struggle when the project is huge and finishing seems so far away. Small, manageable tasks that I can check off are helpful, but often I have trouble breaking the big picture down into small manageable bites. So, I get easily overwhelmed by the big picture.

And lately, even a single article has felt like too great of a project.

So, as I sit down now to write, I choose to break it down. One thought. One sentence. Word by word. I can do that.

And just like that, I have over 400 words. Not the greatest blog post in the world. Not worthy of publication anywhere other than my own blog – if even there. But it’s a start.

And right now, that’s what I need. A start. Choosing to actively work to put discipline, motivation, and inspiration back into place.

One sentence at a time.

Posted in What I'm Learning, Work

Walking Away

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people walk away from Facebook or take breaks. I’ve thought about it many times myself but have never actually done it. After all, that’s where my work “office” is and it’s the way I interact with various groups for ministry and productivity purposes. And, in all honesty, there are certain people I only interact with via Facebook because of our distance. Frankly, I don’t think it was the right time for me to pull back before now.

Now, however, it seems to be a different story.

I’ve come to realize three things.

1. When I rely on Facebook interaction for local friends, I am much less likely to interact with them on a face to face level. I’ve already seen their pictures or heard about their week. Why ask? Ouch. Facebook can only go so deep. I need to be face-to-face if at all possible.
2. There is far too much to wade through in a Facebook stream. Too many friends. Too many statuses. Too much time. And the important stuff is too easily missed.
3. When I rely on Facebook to interact, I don’t write. I can look back over the last few years and see this as a proven fact. Posting to Facebook instead of to the family blog reduced my posting there. Facebook posts are short, uninformative, and easily lost. On the blog, however, I have to force myself to explain and give details – and I can easily read and reread the posts as the kids grow! That’s a big deal to me.
I also wrote less on my personal blog because it was so much easier to offer a Facebook blurb than to process my thoughts enough for a blog post. When you can share brief thoughts, why bother to hash them out?

Why? Because I need to.

So, now I believe it’s time to start walking away. I’ve narrowed down my friends greatly and will continue to do so in the coming year. Those who are left will be there for very specific and personal reasons. It’s not that I don’t enjoy keeping up with the people I “unfriended.” I do! I just want to keep up with them more intentionally and personally.

(That word intentional just keeps showing up!)

It’s not easy. I still have Facebook. I still have quite a few nonlocal friends to try to keep up with. But, I have already seen a positive change with local friends as we are more intentional about our face-to-face interactions.

So, if you don’t see me on Facebook anymore, that’s why. I’ll be writing more here and on the family blog. And I’ll be trying to interact with you more personally. I might need help, and it will take balance as I still have to manage a full homeschool, writing, work, and church schedule. But, I look forward to seeing how this choice to walk away strengthens the ability to be more intentional in writing and in relationships.

Meanwhile, here’s my question for you. As you work to walk more closely with the Lord and with your community of believers, is there something you need to or have walked away from? If you feel comfortable, I’d love for you to share either here or in person! After all, I had to wrestle with this decision because other people have mentioned their own wrestling. That’s community, my friends. You are part of my community, and I’d love to see us encourage one another in this journey!

Posted in What I'm Learning, Work

Five Minutes

What do you do when you have five unoccupied minutes?

You know, those time slots when you’re waiting for noodles to cook or for a child to finish something so you can progress onward together. When you need to leave soon, but if you leave right this minute you’ll be earlier than you want to be. So, you are trying to just kill time.

I have five minute slots throughout my day. The work timer I use (Tomighty’s Pomodoro) has three sets of times: a 25-minute work slot, a 5-minute break, and a 15-minute break. When I first started using the timer, I interpreted “break” to mean completely fluff. Walk away and do something – I don’t know – brainless. Just pass five (or fifteen) minutes not doing work.

I don’t like brainless, and my breaks were annoying instead of restful. That led to a habit of ignoring the timer and just continuing with what I was doing right through the break, then diving into a new 25-minute work session. Kind of defeats the point.

So, I’m trying something new.

I definitely need the time constraints. I’ve shared before how I work better when I know I need to stick to __________ for 25 minutes. So, what about doing the same for the 5 and 15 minute slots?

I’ve already shared how one 15-minute slot per day is going to reading. I’ve also directed both 5- and 15-minutes slots to completing a section in DuoLingo or reading about one part of speech in the German grammar book we’re using to fill in the gaps left by the immersion style training of Rosetta Stone. I run up and down the stairs to the garage a few times in a 5-minute slot or do a quick workout session with the kids in 15 minutes. I prep one part of lunch, take a bathroom break, chase one of the kids around, or give a hug. All of these things are little ways I am learning to make my “breaks” both restful and productive. Even when I do something productive, my break feels so much more restful when I don’t want the break on a mindless roam through Facebook (which is why I’m pulling back from Facebook this year!) or just keep working because I don’t want to be mindless.

Amid all of the things I’m trying as I work to grow more productive, I’m still struggling with writing time. How can I get a rhythm and flow to writing that fits even as life fills up again? I’ve always felt like I needed a large block of time to really “get into” my writing. Half an hour. An hour. Even more. That just feels impossible. And, in all honesty, it is impossible in my current phase of life. I’m not a night owl who can write into the night after everyone is in bed, surviving on just a few hours of sleep. I don’t function that way. Yet my days are full. What’s the answer?

A month or two ago, I realized just how much I could get written in a 25-minute work slot if I put my mind to it. But, just recently the question occurred to me: what about 15 minutes? What can I do in that amount of time? Maybe I can’t get a truly coherent post or chapter section written, but I can brainstorm. I can furiously type up a general idea that I can go back and refine later. Or, I can spend fifteen minutes editing something I have already written. I can play with design.

If that’s what I can do in 15 minutes, what can I do in 5 minutes? Could I create a skeleton of what’s in my head, just typing whatever outline comes to my mind before the timer goes “ding”? Can I create a graphic? Get an edited post scheduled? Create chapter organization in Scrivener? Come up with titles?

I’ve become increasingly amazed by how many 5 minute segments I tend to waste during the day. And, I’ve been even more amazed by how much I can accomplish in those brief segments. I have succeeded in changing that on many levels, but now I think it just might be part of the writing solution. So, that’s what I’m trying: answering the question, “What can I write in five minutes?”

So, what about you? What can you do in 5 minutes?