Posted in Wednesday Work, What I'm Learning

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.

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Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

Diving

Reading has long been a part of my life. I will never forget the first book I could truly call my own. I started second grade in a school in Georgia while my parents participated in missionary orientation to prepare for the mission field. When my parents wrapped up their orientation and the time came for us to leave Georgia and await our field assignment, my teacher pulled me aside and told me how much she would miss me. Then she handed me a gift – a book. The book was Puff the Magic Dragon, and I read and reread that book more times that I could count. It was my very own, and it was a constant over the following year of change.

I have progressed a great deal in my reading since then, but it still amazes me how much there is to learn, not just from reading, but also about reading. I’ve mentioned before the commitment I made in 2016 to step up some of my reading, and since then I have discovered many new ways to help myself – a not-so-fast reader – process through my book pile more steadily.

One discovery that I’ve made is that some books require a deep dive just to read a small section. These books take a while to read – months, if not a year – because I plunge into a short section then need time to put the book down and slowly process in order to avoid the suffocation that comes from trying to stay that deep for too long or the mental bends that hit me when I surface too quickly. Those are the books that require reading, journaling, and pondering before reading again.

Other books spend an entire chapter diving to the same depths. They let the reader down gradually to the greatest point of depth, then slowly work their way back up to the surface, allowing mental processing during the reading process. This does not mean they are shallow books (I try to avoid those); they simply walk readers through the process of internalizing. As a result, they tend to pack less into a single book and are quicker reads.

Both types of books are useful. And, I’m learning the value of reading both types simultaneously.

I remember reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer right after reading a Max Lucado book. I enjoy Max Lucado. I learn a lot from his books. But they are quick, easy reads. Knowing God is not. It was like a shock to my system. And, where I had processed through Lucado’s book in a couple of weeks (about a chapter a day), it took me close to a year to read Knowing God. There were so many books waiting for me that I got discouraged and did not process the content like I should have.

How much better to read both at the same time! Half a chapter of Lucado and a small section of Knowing God, allowing each one to engage my brain and spiritual growth differently.

That is what I’ve learned to do over the past year. Not with those two examples (although I do intend to go back and reread Knowing God and all of our Lucado books at some point!), but with other titles. Every morning I have a Scripture reading, a devotional reading, and at least two other books that I read from. Just sections from each. And it has worked better than any other method I have ever tried.

How do you approach different types of diving?

 

Posted in Wednesday Work, What I'm Learning

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 Works for Me

Make It Your Own

I love to read, but, as I’ve shared before, I’m not always great at it – especially if it is non-story-based non-fiction. I might enjoy the topic and writing style immensely, but I struggle to retain what I have read. For a long time, I let this dissuade me from reading much non-fiction. What good were the books doing me if I did not retain them? Last year, I decided that had to change.

Here’s the kicker, though. It has not been just about changing my reading plan. I have also had to change my reading habits to help me retain. As I look at the titles I have read over the past year, I realize how much more I have retained from those titles than from any previous non-fiction attempts. So, what has been different?

I’ve been determined to make the books my own.

When I was in high school and college, I recognized my struggle with processing information, and it motivated me to work extra hard. I highlighted, underlined, took notes, and wrote in margins when possible. I did this with my Bible as well. And it worked! My books and their content were my own. The added effort provided a multi-faceted input that allowed me to truly interact with the message and sear the information into my heart and mind.

During my junior year of college, though, I heard someone talk about how marking up your Bible kept you in a learning rut, and it was better to let the Holy Spirit speak afresh every time instead of always seeing what you’d learned the last time. The logic is debatable, but the following summer when a dog managed to get ahold of my Bible and rip it to shreds, I “started fresh” and broke the habit of marking up my Bible. Meanwhile, I started wanting to loan out my books, so I didn’t want to mark them up, either. And with that, my interactive habits stopped.

Unfortunately, I never formed new habits to replace the broken ones.

As I became determined to challenge my reading habits this year, I knew those new habits had to be formed. So, I’m actively exploring ways to get back to making what I read my own. Here are some of the things I’m trying:

Slow Down

Some people – including members of my family are speed readers. I am not. My “to read” stack stays pretty large and daunting, and sometimes I’m tempted to rush through a book just to get to the next one. But, it is better to never get to the bottom of the stack than to miss the great content in each book of choice. In order to process, I have to slow down and really read.

Journaling

Let me admit from the get-go that the habit of journaling slows everything down even more! I’m a writer, and I still get frustrated at times with the amount of time it takes to process through journaling. But, for writers and non-writers alike, journaling is an incredibly powerful tool. When we journal, we have to interact with and show an understanding of what we have just read. And journaling can take many forms. It can be coherent sentences and paragraphs, lists or a series of phrases referencing the original material, voice recordings, or even art. The key is the interaction and “teaching back” nature of processing what we have read. And yes, sometimes that will also include underlining, highlighting, and writing notes in the margin!

Talk It Out

I love reading a book at the same time someone else is reading it. This year, I’ve read several books simultaneously with my husband, oldest daughter, or a Bible study group. Having read the same information, we talk it out and share how it impacted each of us. This works for Bible reading as well. I love being on the same Bible reading plan as the rest of my family! But, this also works for books I read on my own. When something stands out to me, I like to process through it by sharing with my husband, the kids, an accountability partner, or friends. Like with journaling, this forces me to process what I have read in a coherent manner.

Own Two

The first time through, I almost never mark up a book. But, there are certain books that automatically go on the “buy a loaner copy and reread” list. When I’m able, I snag an extra copy to have on my shelf. This copy stays unmarked and available for loaning out. At least once a year, I want to pause from reading new books and go back and reread one of the books from that list. And in the reread, I will probably mark it all up and really make it mine! Not every book is worth this. But, some really, really are.

How do you make sure you really process what you read? I’d love new ideas!

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 Family, Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

Table Talk

If you pick up any parenting guide, read any family focused tips, or seek advice on strengthening or restoring family cohesiveness, you will see “share meals regularly” as a common top recommendation. I’m going to admit something that I’m just now coming to realize: I rebel against that advice. Not because I don’t make a habit of sharing meals with my family. I do. Although there are always exceptions, our goal is to sit down as a family for at least one meal every day. Because that is our goal, we are quick to find alternatives when the goal is thwarted. It’s that important to us.

So, why do I balk at the advice to eat as a family daily or a certain number of times each week? Let me answer that question with a brief trip down memory lane.

An Aspirin a Day

Decades ago, my grandparents were told by their doctor to take a “baby” aspirin every day to ward off heart disease. Now, my grandparents were both very healthy right on up into their nineties. Although there were illnesses involved in their deaths, the honest truth is that they died of old age. Their bodies had degenerated too much to fight off normal diseases.

I remember multiple times when my grandmother told me that she was so healthy because of that daily aspirin. So-and-so was having heart or other health issues, and if they would just take an aspirin every day, that would solve their problems!

Truthfully, though, my grandma was just healthy. Or maybe it was just that she was too stubborn to get sick! Either way, the aspirin was just a tip. A suggestion for dealing with a potential underlying issue. It was not a cure-all, but advice based on contemporary medical wisdom.

And that, my friends, is exactly what the family meal suggestion is. It is one method of combating relational distance. Just one method.

Our Talk Time: Table Talk

My family loves sharing a meal together because that is the easiest time to just sit around and gab for a few minutes. Some days we talk, and some days we don’t. Sometimes we have serious conversations and other times a fly on the wall would run away in terror because of our insanity. Sometimes we just so happen to eat multiple meals together in one day, and other times we can barely coordinate sitting down together three times in a week! We might have interesting discussions every day one. week and none for the next two weeks.

The key is that meal time is the most opportune time for us to converse in a spontaneous manner, without pressure or topic orchestration. And, honestly, that’s probably true for the majority of families. Sharing meals as a family has a reputation for being one of the greatest single components of a healthy family, and consequently tends to be the greatest single recommendations for restoring or building family health: because it’s an opportunity to talk.

It’s not about the meal. It’s about the natural interaction and the relationship. It’s about the talking. It’s about the relaxed interaction and communication.

What’s Your Talk Time?

For your family, it might not be table talk. It might be car talk if you are all in the vehicle together at least one to three times a week. Perhaps you have weekly game night or enjoy regularly watching sports together, so it’s game talk. The key is not the meal. The key is finding a time when everyone in the family is together and relatively relaxed so the relational conversation – whether serious, funny, or outright weird – just naturally flows.

Yes, mealtime is what works for our family. And I love that time together! My prayer is that you find the “talk” time that works for you. You won’t regret it!