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 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 Others, What Works for Me

Relational Instruction

Last week, I shared the first of two thoughts inspired by a stranger’s random comment. The first had to do with how we learn. The second is more about how we teach – or maybe more how we share advice.

What About Ideals?

When the Facebook stranger offered his one-word instruction regarding my family’s library visit, he gave me instruction without having any knowledge of me or my family. He instructed based on his ideals, not based on relationship.

While I do agree that we must hold firmly to certain ideals, I have learned that the number of firm ideals is, in all honesty, much smaller than I might like to believe. There are biblical truths that must govern every action. Then there are the lesser things.

How we learn is a much lesser thing. And, it is something learned through relationship. Through interaction. I am still discovering how my children learn best. I am still working to teach them according to their strengths, while teaching them also to challenge themselves in their weaknesses.

My husband’s teaching is an even better example. He has served in ministry for over twenty years, and it has been fascinating to watch him tailor his teaching method to each new congregation. He may have taught the same lessons over the years, but he has rarely taught them the same way. Why? Because his audiences – his congregations – have differed. As a result, he has always taken the time to get to know each congregation as much as possible in order to teach according to their strengths.

Relationships are key to teaching and learning.

The stranger who replied to my comment has no relationship with my family. Yet, I also have no relationship with him. Just as he cannot know how to best teach my family, I cannot know how he best learns.

Yet, I wonder how many times I’ve imparted advice in the same way. Without relationship.

These thoughts do not simply apply to parenting and how I raise/teach my children. They apply to life. How do we interact with others who learn and grow in gloriously different ways? How often do we attempt to corral others into our patterns? And how often do we instruct without first building relationship?

Instead of continuing to be agitated, I’m now rather thankful to this complete stranger, because he made me think. I won’t be changing my habits and restricting my children (or myself!) to non-fiction only. But, I will be more careful to stop and think before I speak. To get to know before I instruct. And to delight in the ways God created us to be gloriously individual!

Posted in Thoughts from Others, What Works for Me

The Beauty of Story

Some time ago, I commented on someone else’s Facebook post. It was an innocent comment about letting my children grab books from the library. I made the comment and forgot about it. But, months – yes, months – later, I was drawn back to the post when a complete stranger replied to my comment. It was a simple response:

“Non-fiction.”

That’s all it said. But the meaning was very clear. I would be a bad mother if I allowed my children to choose a new fiction favorite. I would be a bad teacher if I dared think they could learn from fiction.

Yes, I read all of that into this stranger’s simple response. Why? Because I’d heard the argument many, many times before.

Beyond What We Love

A quick response popped into my head. I wanted to make some comment about how sad it was that this stranger had never had the joy of learning from a fictional story. But, something stopped me. And as I took a moment to breathe and think, my irritation was replaced with sadness as two thoughts came to my mind.

Today, I want to share the first of those thoughts.

It is true that learning through story – whether fiction or non-fiction – can be incredibly joyful. But this stranger’s comment led me to realize just how often we dismiss forms of teaching that are not natural to us, simply because we do not learn well through them.

Several dear friends of mine greatly dislike fiction. It holds no allure for them. In fact, their minds simply do not process through story. Yet, they still recognize story as a powerful teaching tool. I, on the other hand, struggle with non-fiction that is not story-based. My mind needs a picture to take raw facts and turn them into something meaningful. Yet, I know that there is great value in learning to process factual information. So, I challenge myself to read non-fiction.

Learning happens in so many ways, yet we often get so caught up in our own learning preferences that we neglect – or even deny – all others. Then we criticize those who do not learn our way.

Every single time I have a “what works for me” thought, I am instantly reminded that it will not automatically work for my husband or my children or my dearest of friends or my fellow church members or my co-workers. If we all learned the same way, how boring would that be?!

So, what works for me? Learning through story and through narrative while stretching and challenging myself through non-fiction.

What works for you?

Posted in What Works for Me

Chocolate!

Yes, I’m going to be goofy. No serious contemplations here today.

Then again…chocolate IS a pretty serious topic, is it not?

Okay, so here’s the deal. We all know the truth about sugar. It’s addictive. It’s poison. It robs us of energy, keeps our clothes from fitting, and tastes oh so good!

I’m choosing, once again, to say no to it. I’m not getting all nit-picky – at least not yet – about every little ingredient of every bit of food I eat. Honestly, it makes a big enough difference to just say no to the mouth-watering peanut butter chocolate chip cookies or peanut brittle currently sitting on our kitchen counter. Accomplishing that is a major success, and I’m much less concerned, for now at least, about the type of yogurt I eat or the amount of sugar in this food or that.

But then there’s chocolate. I love chocolate. I crave chocolate. Yes, truly I do. So, how does that fit into the mix?

Here’s the catch – I know that in the process of cutting out sugar, I know that the teetotal mentality just does not work for me. Been there, done that many times before. What does seem to work, though, is allowing myself two small pieces of good chocolate – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – to the plan.

Nice, dark chocolate. Really dark. Sometimes with almonds and a hint of salt. Mmmmm. Oh, and my cup of Choffy, especially now that I drink it “black” most of the time – only occasionally adding a touch of dark chocolate almond milk if it happens to be a weak brew.

So, here I go. It’s day two (nope, I haven’t gotten very far!), and I’m already feeling a bit better. And somehow that chocolate was even more enjoyable yesterday when it was the ONLY sweet I ate. I can handle that!

Posted in What Works for Me

Making Change Easier

Yes, I’m still thinking about change, probably because we’re still processing through how to implement some of the things I mentioned last week.

We often shy away from change because we think of the disruption. We think of the mess it will create and the temporary frustration it will bring. And, my friends, it definitely causes all of that! So, why not just leave things as they are?

It comes back to those positive effects. The results. Whether my change has been willing or unwilling – even when I fought against change very, very hard – the Lord has brought unimaginable beauty into my life as a direct result. Every time.

He has also taught me how to make the change a little easier to bear. Yes, there are practical ways to help process through change, whether it’s something as simple as reorganizing a room or something as big as a complete life upheaval.

  • Pray fervently. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but how often do we skip it as we approach or find ourselves in the middle of the chaos of change? Or, how often do we neglect to pray when it’s only a “small” change? I’ve used rearranging a room as an example of how I tend to change things up now and then. Does that truly require prayer?Honestly, it’s not about praying over every little detail. It’s about living a life of prayer so that we may do everything for the glory of God. When I’m not living a life of prayer, all change is hard – yes, even reorganizing a single room in my home. But, when I’m in a communicative, growing relationship with my Savior, His guidance flows through everything I do, no matter how big or how small.
  • Build a haven. Have a spot in life that is normal. This could be one room that isn’t touched until right before a move – or is the first to be set up afterward. This could be a relationship that keeps you energized through a life change. It could be a stretch of time in every day that stays the same no matter what else changes. Every time change faces me, my haven is different.
  • Step away now and then. Not all change requires this. If it’s a change in a schedule, for instance, a new rhythm will form within a few days and be better than ever. But, when change introduces a stretch of utter chaos, it’s a good idea to find a way to step out of the chaos for a time.

What does this look like practically? Well, for someone who likes to finish, it looks like an interruption. A delay. So, I often don’t like to follow through with this one. But, I’ve learned that I have to. It’s important to find a way to completely step out, refresh a bit, then dive back in. It can be as simple as making myself go to bed at a decent hour instead of trying to push as late as possible to continue progressing through the change through discussion, planning, or physical work.

Change is unpredictable. Change never impacts us the same way twice. But, we can process through change well when we are fully surrendered to the way the Lord is working through us!

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 What Works for Me

A Little Digging

I’m a little odd when it comes to solving problems. You see, I don’t want to do something just because that’s the way it’s done or because a number of people recommend it.

If I choose an avenue or solution, I want to do it because it works for me or my family.

That means I’m not going to automatically reject something because it’s a fad or a common solution. But, I’m also not going to automatically select it.

Here’s an example. A couple of months ago, I suffered for a week from an ear infection. Now, I don’t like going to the doctor. Don’t get me wrong – I am so incredibly thankful for available medical care. But, if I can find an alternative, I’d rather not pump my body full of medications, even the OTC pain relievers and various allergy meds we keep on hand at home, and deal with the side effects.

This time, though, my ear hurt. Badly. So, I went to an urgent care clinic and got the dreaded steroids, 10 days of antibiotics, and prescription strength antihistamine/decongestant.

It didn’t work. Oh, the steroids helped bring the pain back down to a manageable level, but over two weeks later, my ear still bothered me, and I was still sick. Doug had found some homeopathic ear drops that were supposed to boost my body’s natural ability to deal with an ear infection. I’d been using them sporadically while following the doctor’s prescribed treatment plan, but after the antibiotic was gone, I finally decided to stop all other meds and use the ear drops aggressively. Within two days, the issue was gone.

Why? Because that’s what works for my body.

  • Four out of five family members have experienced migraines. We take magnesium instead of prescription strength medication. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for all of us.
  • We all use essential oils and local honey instead of medication for allergies as often as possible.
  • We prefer homemade laundry detergent over store bought.
  • We like to use simple ingredients for cooking instead of boxed ingredients.

It’s not because we’re anti-medication, anti-doctor, anti-chemical organic health nuts. We’re not. In fact, it drives me crazy to be fanatical about any one method or fad. There are too many options out there to be fanatical about any single one. Certain diets. Plexus. Various essential oil companies claiming to be the best. A push for organic. Anti this and anti that.

My family doesn’t make choices because we’re sold on any specific plan. Instead, we make choices based on what our experimentation shows works for us.

  • Choffy has been a beautiful help for ADD, anxiety, and any potential blood pressure issues – besides just being a delicious and healthy warm beverage for the mornings.
  • We are expanding our usage of essential oils because the ones we’ve already experimented with have worked so well. It’s time to try more.
  • We planted fruit trees in our yard not because we want to be organic but because we go through a TON of fruit.
  • We make our own laundry detergent because our recipe cleans clothes better than the store-bought options, and is cheaper.
  • We cook from scratch because it’s cheaper and the reduced preservatives truly do keep us feeling better.

But, all of this takes a little digging. A little research. A little experimentation. It can be uncertain and confusing at times to dig on our own. There’s so much information to sort through! So many possibilities! So much conflicting information. And we’re all unique. So, we can’t just take someone else’s word for it. We have to experiment for ourselves, learn what works best for us, and advise other people accordingly.

I’m learning more and more how to dig, and it’s becoming more and more fun.

Have you done any digging? What has worked for you? What you share just might help the rest of us in our digging!

Posted in What Works for Me

Time Blocks

As I process the flow of my days, something stands out very clearly – it’s so much easier now than ever before to give into distraction. Once upon a time, distractions had to be much more intentional, at least for me. I could hide a book – my biggest distraction – from myself. But, since I work on the computer and need the Internet for just about everything I do, it’s so incredibly easy to just click over to Facebook or follow this or that.

I Must Focus!

Focus has to be very, very intentional. That’s always a challenge, but some days are harder than others.

I’ve tried little tricks here and there to help me with this intentionality, but the one that works the best is time blocks.

Thanks to a little app on my computer, I have an automatic timer that gives me consistent work and break blocks. It seems that 25 minutes is the perfect work block. My timer gives me a work block, followed by a break block – with my choice of 5 or 15 minutes for a break. Usually, I take the 5 minutes. That gives me enough time to go to the bathroom, check on the kids, do a few lunges, grab some water, or whatever. It gets me moving (helpful since I have a desk job!), but it doesn’t waste work time. In fact, in a one-hour stretch, I’m more productive with two 25-minute work blocks and two 5-minute breaks than with a solid attempt to focus on work for one hour. I get more done with the blocks.

But, the breaks are only part of the productivity benefit. The flip side is that I set myself specific tasks in my 25-minute work block. I might have a writing block where all I’m going to do is write for 25 minutes without flipping back and forth to this or that. Just write. Then I set aside another blog for e-mail and miscellaneous small tasks. It’s amazing how much I can write in that block when I don’t allow myself to be distracted!

The catch is this: I have to do it.

I have to remember to utilize the timer.
I have to be diligent to take that break when the timer goes ding.
I have to be diligent to come back to work.
I have to be diligent to not allow myself to be distracted until the work timer goes off!

Whether it’s time blocks or some other productivity technique, none of it works without the discipline to diligently use the tools.

Discipline, my friends, is what is lacking in so many aspects of life. We refuse to discipline ourselves, so none of our tricks work! The techniques that work for me may or may not work for you. But, discipline works for us all. It makes us a better version of who we are. Every single time.

May we grow in discipline this week, no matter what our technique of choice may be!