Posted in Wednesday Work, What I Do

Learning, Not Doing

I am realizing something as I learn and grow. What I do – the methods I have perfected over the years – isn’t automatically the best thing, even if it seems to be working. Sometimes, what I do need a serious overhaul.

Take my learning, for instance. I love to learn. And I like learning about practical things. How to do something. How to improve an area of my life. I like to gather resources that will help me out and supplies that will make a practical application easier. It’s fun to try to figure out all of the ins and outs, getting everything lined up and perfectly in place so that the doing will be easier.

There’s just one problem. I can go on and on and on without exhausting all there is to learn, figure out, or plan. In the process of trying to make the doing easier, I neglect to get around to the doing.

I justify my behavior by watching those on the opposite end of the spectrum. They are the ones who dive in full-force, doing without putting any time or effort into figuring out how to do what they’re doing. Sometimes they accidentally succeed, but more often than not they blunder their way into a mess. Surely my way is better than theirs, isn’t it?

Except that they, at least, are doing something.

Learning, planning, and gathering tools are important. But, they are as useless as the blundering mess if I don’t actually take a step and act. I suppose fear is often what holds me back, just as impatience leads the go-getters to skip the learning stage. I am afraid that I’ve missed something. Afraid that I don’t know enough. Afraid of failure. Embarrassing, humiliating failure. (Maybe there’s a little bit of pride in there, too.)

I don’t ever want to stop learning and exploring. But, if at some point I don’t also step out and do, then I am not walking in obedience. I’m not glorifying Christ in all things. I’m not furthering His kingdom or pointing people to Him. Instead, I’m just filling my brain with information that could be useful but won’t be because I don’t act.

Learning is good only if it leads to doing.

I want to learn to do.

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Posted in Wednesday Work, What I Do

Do It Anyway

I’m a writer.

For a long time, I resisted referring to myself that way. I did not feel that my piddly efforts truly qualified me to claim the title. I accepted the title of blogger. I talked about my love for writing. But, a writer? No, that was a title for someone who made a living writing. Someone who did not have a gazillion other things taking precedence. Someone I could only hope to be someday.

My husband finally helped me realize my faulty reasoning. I may not be writing the way I would love to be writing, but I am a writer. I can’t get away from that reality.

Unfortunately, being a writer does not automatically mean it comes easily. It does not always produce the results I hope for or flow as consistently as I would desire. The blog I hope to keep constantly fresh sometimes remains stagnant. The stories and ideas that have floated in my head for years are still there, changing, evolving, and growing as they wait to be birthed.

But one thing I have learned is this: if I do not write, I do not produce. If I do not write regularly, I do not write well. If I do not remain in practice, I do not enjoy writing. It still stirs within me. I still feel compelled to do it. But, it is much harder than it should be. My brain does not work as it should – not just in writing, but in all areas of life!

So, I have learned a very important lesson: I have to just go ahead and write. Constantly. Continuously. No matter what it is or where it ends up. It might remain in a Scrivener note, hiding away until I revisit it months or years later to re-evaluate whether or not it is even worth publishing. It might be something for work that will not even bear my name. Perhaps it is something that will go into another publication. Maybe it is a letter or e-mail, expressing my thoughts to a friend or a reference helping another friend secure a job or position.

I have to go ahead and write even if the thought is terrible. Even if the flow just won’t come. Even if the idea is good, but the implementation will need a lot of work before anyone can make any sense of it.

Whatever the case may be, I just have to do it.

There are a lot of things that stand in the way of writing. Time pressures of life as I balance homeschooling, work, and ministry responsibilities with being available to my family and being engaged with friends. Negative thoughts and feelings that flow through my mind on a daily basis telling me I’m not good enough. A to-do list that screams, “This is more important!” The extra things of design and social interaction that seem required in the writing world these days – things I’m not really that good at. The need to learn more about writing, even as I’m working to do it with what I know.

So many things try to distract and derail me. But, I have to do it anyway.

What is it that you need to “do anyway”? What talents and skills has God laid upon you that must be practiced, honed, and utilized daily? What is it that seems to be threatened on all sides by the rest of life?

Whatever it may be, do it anyway. It’s worth it. Then encourage someone else – including me! I may not like it, but I know I’ll need the reminder tomorrow.

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 What I Do

What I Do: The Best Learning

One of my longest-running “jobs” is that of homeschool mom. The start of 2016 marked the beginning of our tenth year of homeschooling, a concept which still floors me. How have I been doing this for so long?

When considering longevity in homeschooling, just like in anything we stick to for a long period of time, there are always several components. But, the core of what I do always comes back to two things: obedience and personalized learning.

Obedience

The obedience aspect is pretty cut and dried. When we pray about the education of our children (which we do regularly), homeschooling is the direction we receive. How exactly do we receive that direction? Through an ongoing relationship with Christ. Period. It’s not a fail-proof, step-by-step plan that I can share. It’s just pure and open relationship with our Creator. When we maintain that relationship, His Spirit guides us clearly. When we don’t, we grow rather hard of hearing – in all aspects of life.

Personalized Learning

Secondly, there is the personalized learning aspect – a tremendously important aspect of education. What does this mean? Well, it’s the idea that we each learn uniquely, and it is important for us to learn according to our strengths while also learning how to convert less favorable learning experiences to fit our uniqueness.

Consider this, for example: One child learns best by being active while learning, but being around other people is distracting. So, ideally, this child needs an exercise ball or trampoline set up in a location where she can move to her heart’s content, but still be in a mostly quiet environment.

In reality, though, even a homeschooled child will encounter struggles in church, co-op, extracurricular activities, etc., because not all learning experiences will cater to her need for active peace.

So, what’s the solution?

The best learning experiences come when preferred and necessary learning techniques are combined. Combining multiple learning techniques is not easy. So, how can it be accomplished? Here’s what I’ve learned.

Like with the obedience aspect, it all must start with prayer and an active relationship with Christ. Period. He created our children! He created us as well! He knows how they learn, how we learn, how we teach, what learning experiences we will encounter, and how those various methods and needs all flow together. And the combination will be different in each situation. So, pray. And listen.

Practical Steps

There are also some practical steps to take. There are a variety of learning style evaluations and tests in books and on the Internet. (I love Carol Barnier’s approach in books like The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles and How to Get Your Child off the Refrigerator and onto Learning because she’s practical in her approach.) So, I like to begin by educating myself on learning styles.

But, the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years is that freedom to experiment is the key. We’re all unique. Our children are unique. Explore that! Let them explore it, too! Be open to learning in ways no one else learns.

I used to lie on my stomach on the floor with a book held out in front of my while my son turned somersaults over and around me – reading the whole time. If I ever made him stop, he struggled. But, if he was moving, he usually read flawlessly!

One of my daughters would rather teach herself, even if it means that I have to go back and correct something she has learned incorrectly. So, instead of teaching her content, my energy has gone into teaching her how to be taught. How to be willing to learn from others when the need arises.

My other daughter grasps information so differently than I do! I’ve had to learn over the years to let her take the lead in how she learns. Let her figure it out her way, even if her way seems counterproductive to me.

One of these days, I will no longer be a homeschooler. But, I have no doubt in my mind that what I’ve learned about obedience and personalized learning will remain a large portion of whatever I do next. And that excites me! But, for now, I’m off to get a day of school started with my children.

Because, for now, that’s what I do!

Posted in What I Do

What I Do: Not My Identity

If nothing changes in our family, I will have homeschooled for somewhere around eighteen years by the time my youngest graduates. Meanwhile, my husband and I have been in ministry most of our married life. It is reasonable to say that most of my life is tied up in homeschooling and ministry.

The danger comes when I let those things be my identity.

It’s an easy transition. We do something for so long that we think ourselves to be that role. But, what would happen if God instructed my husband and me to put our children in a traditional school this fall? How would I feel if our family role changed and we no longer served in a ministry role. (We’ve actually been there before, and it was quite strange!)

If my whole identity is caught up in what I do, then when what I do is removed from my life, I have no idea who I am anymore.

In a way, I want to go ahead and say that I am a pastor’s wife, homeschooler, writer, editor, teacher, etc. But, the truth is that those are the things I do. Who I am is very different.

  • I am a child of God, called to live out the Great Commission. (I just happen to do it as a pastor’s wife.)
  • I am a parent responsible for the education of my children. (I believe that God’s instruction for our family is homeschooling.)
  • I am a personality who learns best by organizing her thoughts in written form. (I have the privilege of submitting portions of what I write for publication.)
  • I am the type of learner whose brain processes grammar well. Add to that the fact that I received a solid grammar-based education. (I am entrusted with the privilege of editing the work of others.)
  • I am a learner with the ability to communicate to others what I have learned. (I am honored to be able to turn that communication into lessons for my children as well as youth and young adults at church.)

This list is incomplete, though. I am also an organizer and administrator by nature, yet I am not officially in an administrative role right now. I have always been sought out for counseling, and I pursued a counseling degree in college as a direct result of that. But, I never felt any inclination to follow through with a graduate degree that would allow me to practice counseling professionally.

I could go on.

The point is that what I do and who I am are different. Yet, they are also intertwined. Anytime I say goodbye to one aspect of what I do, it feels like I lose a bit of who I am.

But, the reality is that I never lose anything. I am just forced to find new ways to reflect who I am.

And that my friends, is the essence of what I do. I reflect who God made me to be. I take the creation of God and turn it back into something that will bring glory to Him. Because, ultimately, that is who I am – a being created for the glorification of God.

It is such a blessing to do what I do today. But, may I consider it an equal blessing to glorify God in the next stage of life, even if all the things I love and do today suddenly disappear!

Posted in Thoughts, What I Do

What I Do: When I Don’t Know What to Do

Have you ever been pulled from a place of belonging into a phase of uncertainty? From a place of confidence in your skills to a moment of feeling as if you really have nothing to offer? What do you do in those moments?

Hold Loosely

Last week, a sermon illustration reminded me of the importance of holding everything so very loosely. Allowing God to give and take away for His glory. It was not a new concept. I’ve heard it time and time again – and tried to live by it diligently. Yet, while standing in the middle of a long stretch of time in which my confidence has been challenged again and again, God knew I needed the reminder to hold loosely to everything.

So, what do you do when you don’t know what to do? You hold loosely. Surrender. Trust.

Admittedly, I don’t do any of that easily. Especially when my confidence is being stripped. When I feel like I don’t really have a place. When it seems as if I’m not doing anything well – or that I’m outright failing.

But the Lord never promised it would come easily. In fact, He promised suffering. He promised struggle. He promised challenge.

And He promised Himself right in the middle of it.

He Does Best When I Can’t

I know this all seems much more spiritual than practical. Like it fits more in my Friday Faith Nugget post. But, in truth, it’s very practical. Because what I do – every single aspect of what I do – is riddled with insecurity. I never experience a day when I don’t feel like I am failing in at least one area of life – being a wife or a mom or a homeschooler or a pastor’s wife or a teacher or an editor or an employee or a whatever-else-I’m-doing-at-the-moment. Or all of the above.

Only when I hold it all loosely is the Holy Spirit capable of performing the jobs through me. And only then do I see success.

That makes “holding loosely” a very practical part of what I do. Even if it’s a part I forget regularly and have to be reminded of.

Hold loosely, my friend. Be ready to let Christ be the success, not you.

And be ready to remind me of this very thing tomorrow, because I’ll need it!

Posted in What I Do

What I Do: Reading Reviews

Last week I shared some tips for writing reviews. But, most people are more likely to read a review than to write one. Reviews helps us discover new products that might be useful to us. They help us make a decision on major purchases. And they help us discover whether or not a product lives up to its claims.

Unfortunately, not all reviews are reliable or useful. Here are some tips for finding the best and most reliable reviews.

Avoid the extremes.

Although there are honest one and five star reviews, those are also the most likely places for scam reviews. Someone paid to write a review will almost always give a five-star ranking. Someone determined to undermine a product or brand (yes, those people exist!) will go with the one-star. Most truly thoughtful reviewers will fall somewhere in between.
Seek details. If a review is rated low and begins with a comment about slow shipping or a damaged product, it is probably not going to be helpful or relevant. Also, if a reviewer either raves about or bashes a product without giving true context, it might be hard for you to apply those pros and cons to your own situation.

A caveat to this would be the reviewer who says that the product arrived damaged, but an assessment of the product was still possible. In fact, a review like that could be incredibly useful!

Look for experience.

How many ways was the product used? For how long? Is there information that is not in the product description? Does the review candidly respond to the product description? Or does every detail seem to simply mirror the description?

Consider the relevance of the review.

An example will actually work best to explain what I mean. A few months ago, I took to the Internet to search for a shoulder rest for my daughter’s violin. I found one with solid reviews, but there was one primary complaint: there were no instructions for mounting the shoulder rest. The shoulder rest received several one-star ratings for that one reason.

In all honesty, lack of instructions is not a bad reason for a product to receive a low rating in some cases. Users need to know how to use a product. In this case, however, other reviewers offered slightly more helpful input than those who just gave the product a low rating. These reviewers stated that, although a newbie might have issues, someone who had mounted a shoulder rest before would have no problems. Our conclusion? YouTube and knowledgeable friends were close at hand, so the negative was not relevant for us.

Bottom Line: Before you accept the reviewer conclusion, whether positive or negative, make sure his arguments are relevant to your unique needs.

Compare reviews.

The more reviews a product has, the easier it is to make a genuine assessment. Compare pros and cons. Consider voices and credibility. Often, good reviewers will evaluate other reviews and directly respond to common negatives and positives.

As a side note here, a low number of reviews doesn’t automatically mean a product is bad. If you are familiar with a product that has few reviews, consider that an invitation to write one! Other customers will be grateful. And, if your review is positive, so will the manufacturer. (This is especially true of authors. They will love you for your help!)

The ultimate advice for reading reviews is this: pay attention! With a little discernment and practice, it becomes quite easy to sort out the bad reviews from the good.