Posted in What I'm Learning, What Works for Me, Wonderments

My Sweet Spot of Bible Exploration

I’ve long struggled with finding the sweet spot of keeping myself immersed in Scripture. On the one hand, a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan has always appealed to me because it enables me to not get bogged down in a narrow-minded focus. On the other hand, those broad plans tend to keep me from being able to really dig in and study on a deep level. So, I have tended to alternate between the two, some years reading through the whole Bible and other years spending extensive time in a single, focused spot.

Really and truly, though, my desire has always been to combine both. Time has just prevented it in the past. So, where does that leave me? There are so many depths to explore in Scripture. So many great books to read to help me along in my spiritual growth. So much journaling to do as I process each thought. How do I make it all fit into my schedule?

It’s Not a Race

The first thing I had to realize is that there’s no real rush. True, I only have so many years left on this earth. But, I will not learn it all in my limited lifespan. I can’t. It’s just not possible. And, once I get to heaven, my eyes will be opened as I see clearly instead of through a glass, darkly.

On the one hand, that could dissuade me from studying at all. Why bother if I’ll know it in eternity? But, if God didn’t want us to start here, He would not have given us His Word. He would not have revealed Himself so amazingly. So, even if it doesn’t all make sense to me, knowing that He wants me to do it is enough – at least for me.

So, if I really do need to study, even if I can never know it all, the other end of the argument states that there is no need to rush. If it takes me a year to process through a study, so be it! Progress is progress.

Broad Doesn’t Have to Be So Broad

The challenge of a one-year, whole-Bible plan is that the daily reading portions are long. It takes an average reader about twenty to thirty minutes of reading a day to get through the Bible in a year. I live in a family of above-average readers; they all read much faster than I do. But, I’m average. So, a through-the-Bible plan leaves little, if any, time for journaling, devotional reading, or closer studying.

This year, our church is working through a reading plan that is more focused, alternating between the Gospels (Monday and Friday) and the Pentateuch (Tues-Thurs). I’ve personally re-established the habit of reading a chapter of Proverbs each day as well. Small bites, but broad reading that allows distinct progress through the Bible this year. At this rate, it might take me closer to three years to process through the whole Bible. But, again, it’s not a race!

A Well-Paced Walk through the Focused

Meanwhile, each week I have two aspects of more focused study. One is my Sunday school lesson. This one is definitely time-based, but I try to spend some focused time – even if it’s only ten minutes a day – truly processing the Sunday school lesson passage. Over the weekends, I spend more time in specific lesson preparation, but I’m processing the passage in some form all week.

I choose a separate study for my own edification. This is important, because studying a passage for teaching requires a different form of focus and study than studying for personal growth. My current personal study is in 1 Peter, utilizing a Bible study and a conversational commentary to aid my slow work through this letter.

I love the combination of the time-sensitive focused study for Sunday school and the open-ended focused study of 1 Peter. (And I love how the Holy Spirit can tie them all together!)

It’s Not an Either/Or

This has really been the biggest discovery for me. I’ve always alternated between the broad and the focused, but it really doesn’t have to be either/or! This year, it’s smaller doses of both, with each taking up a certain percentage of my overall time. It may just be for a season, but I’m really enjoying this season!

Posted in What I'm Learning, Wonderments

Not Ready

Hibbard Academy’s thirteenth year of operation began on Monday, but the teacher was not really ready.

All summer, I’ve fought to find moments here and there to prepare for the new school year. I’ve spent evenings working far later than I should. I’ve squeezed as many Saturday moments as possible. Whenever the work and family schedule allowed, I put in hours during the day. But, I still wasn’t ready. Two days before we started, I realized I was missing the lesson plans for an entire course for my ninth grader. Morning of, I scrambled to find answer keys for the work my son had completed that needed to be graded. I still have a folding table set up beside my desk, full of miscellaneous tasks needing to be finished. I even created a brand new to-do list just so I wouldn’t miss something in the middle of the chicken scratch that remains of my working lists. In the middle of it all, I have this crazy feeling that I’ve missed something huge. Major. Critical.

But we still started. The kids dove in happily, asking me questions as we went along and helping me see what still needed to be added to my list – but never in a demanding or complaining way. They’re old hats at this, and they knew how to dive in to even some of the things that weren’t quite ready for them. They bound some of their own loose worksheet pages, made their own reminder notes, and laughed through the first day.

The things undone are still hanging over my head. They still have to be done so I can clean up the chaos around my desk, walk through the year well, and be ready and able to handle the demands for flexibility that inevitably pop up throughout the year. But, as the first day progressed, I realized that the last push to get the most major things ready was enough. We were able to have a good first day, despite it all.

Sometimes, not ready is okay.

As a planner addict, I’m not really okay with a lack of readiness in most situations. I want to have all of my ducks in a row and all of my plans lined up. It’s not so much that I expect things to go as planned – I’ve learned that they almost never do! But, when I have the plan well laid, I’m more ready and able to make adjustments when the need arises.

That’s not a bad thing. In fact, when things fall apart, it can more frequently be traced to lack of planning than to over-planning. I’ve seen it time and time again. We need to plan. We need to be aware of what’s coming and think through the logistics of what needs to be done. But, sometimes planner people like me take it too far. We plan and plan and plan, aiming for a point of readiness, often missing that the specific target is not very solid. There is always some other way we can plan. Some other avenue we can pursue. Some other contingent we need to create an alternative for. There’s always something.

And in the planning, we neglect to act.

On Monday morning, it was time to act. Although it went against the grain of who I am as a planner, I chose to hold myself to that deadline. And it worked – three days in, the first week of school is going quite well. More remains to be done, but I’ll get it done along the way. For now, though, I feel better for the acting. Yes, sometimes “not ready” really is okay.

Posted in What I Do, Wonderments

A Habit and a Smile

I have been sitting here for 15 minutes, trying to decide what to write.

I want to write something. Anything. I want to make myself re-establish the habit of writing. But, at the end of the day, my brain is tired. My creativity is shot. My attitude it not always so great. And the writing doesn’t always flow.

Besides that, I have to be off the computer by 8:00 or I won’t sleep well. So here I sit, at 7:45, tempted to just give up and not write anything.

And that, my friend, is how habits come to be formed – or broken.

Once upon a time, I wrote regularly. It was a habit. Occasionally, the words just didn’t flow, but I could usually get back to it in the next day or two. Until the day I couldn’t. Maybe I’d invested all of my ideas in my work writing for Well Planned Gal or one of my other side writing jobs. Or I was just brain-tired too many days in a row. Or I’d had a day (or a week or month) of spiritual distance and disconnect, and I felt like I had nothing left to say because I wasn’t really listening to the nudges and guidances of the Holy Spirit – the only one who can make my creativity flourish in a truly meaningful manner!

So one day flowed into another day. And another. And then my habit became to give up.

Tonight, I don’t want to give up. Tonight is my last chance to write for the rest of the week because I don’t have another free evening. So, tonight, I’m just writing the first thing that comes to my head: thoughts about changing my habit.

Whenever I read about spiritual growth, whether in Scripture or the various other books I’ve worked through lately, I’m reminded just how much I struggle with discipline. How often I falter. How easily I give into the pouty “I don’t want to” attitude.

The thing about being undisciplined is that it affects even the most enjoyable aspects of life. I not only don’t want to eat right or exercise or devote the energy to prayer or diligence with my schedule. I also no longer want to create. Because creating takes effort, too. Even when it’s fun.

I love to write. But, sitting down to do it – to try to put my thoughts into coherent words, to be vulnerable at times, to open myself up to be criticized or ignored – takes discipline, just like any other aspect of growth and health. And at the end of the day, it’s so easy to convince myself that I’m done. I’m tired. I just don’t have anything left to give.

And I don’t. But God does. He never tires. He never runs out of creativity to share.

And now, I’m smiling. Because I’m realizing something. I don’t need to force one more boost of energy to write tonight. I just need to open myself up to let the Holy Spirit’s energy and creativity flow. Yes, it takes discipline. Yes, it takes a decision to sit down and write. But it can flow, if I let it.

And now, fifteen minutes later, I have well over 500 words. Not a great article or anything super deep or meaningful. In fact, this is more for me than for anyone else. Because it’s the re-creation of a habit. A habit that doesn’t demand I write every day or that I publish everything I write, but that motivates me to write when I do have the space. To choose to not give up and walk away. To write something, even if I only have fifteen minutes in which to do it. And I’ve taken the first step.

Yes, that definitely makes me smile.

Posted in Wonderments

Is Simple Better?

I am a longtime WordPress user. My own blog is one of the freebies because I have never taken the time to learn how to customize my own site. But, I work for a woman who is brilliant when it comes to coding and design. I must confess to being a bit spoiled by the WordPress site she has created. That is probably the other reason I’ve never taken the plunge and designed my own site – it could never measure up to hers!

A few months ago, though, I noticed something. WordPress kept trying to get me to change to the “new editor.” It was promoted as easier. Simpler. Sleeker. Better.

The simpler was definitely true. In place of the familiar dashboard that took a bit of learning to manage, every detail of the new editor was practically self-explanatory. But, many of the things I’d previously taken care of on my own were done for me automatically – and not always the way I wanted them to be done. Instead of choosing to utilize them, they were chosen on my behalf. Easier? Yes. Better? I wasn’t so sure.

It’s possible I wasn’t really losing anything with the new editor, but I ended up deciding to go back to the old one. I knew where everything was, and I didn’t have to undo things that were automatically taken care of for me. The old design much more closely matched what I work with day in and day out through my job, so it was more natural to just continue with that layout. After a while, WordPress stopped asking me to change, and I fell back into a nice rhythm again.

Now, some of you might be reading along thinking, “She’s just resistant to change. She needs to be willing to accept new things.” And, that is true. I have experienced a lot of change in my life over the years, and sometimes I get tired of it. I just want to stay the same for a while, and I have to be reminded that growth and change often goes hand in hand.

But not all change is helpful, and that includes change that automatically makes life simpler for us. Much of our society is moving that direction: toward the simple. Toward having work done for us. Toward a reality where we don’t have to figure things out because it’s all taken care of.

I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. Easier is not always better. Simpler is not always the most helpful. Sometimes it just makes us lazier, less attentive, and less able to think and problem-solve for ourselves. Then when problems arise that our easy, simply, do-it-for-us lifestyle can’t quite handle, we suddenly find that we have forgotten how to problem solve. How to really think.

In many ways, yes, simple is better. But in other ways, it may be robbing us of the best.

Posted in What I'm Learning, Wonderments

A Little Tea

I’ve never liked tea.

I’m a southern gal who grew up in Jordan. A love for iced tea is assumed in the South – and it’s assumed that your preference is sweet tea, unless you specifically declare otherwise. And Jordan? Well, sweet hot tea is a must. It is served to any and every guest, and refusal is rude. I was fortunate that my siblings loved tea. As the oldest, I was the first to reach the age to be offered tea along with the adults, and the first to come to an age where it was not acceptable to refuse. But my parents allowed me to “share” with my siblings, as long as I sipped politely when our hosts were looking. It’s amazing how small of a sip can be taken – and how hard it can be to stifle a shudder every time the horrid taste hits the tongue. I still shudder at the memory of the taste.

And yet, as I spend a few minutes typing out a few thoughts before heading to bed, here I sit drinking a nice, warm cup of “tea.”

Admittedly, it’s not like any of the tea I grew up sipping with distaste. It doesn’t have any of the “tea” flavor to it. This particular concoction tastes predominantly like spearmint, although there are other herbs blended in with it to create a restful evening concoction. Bottom line? It’s not “real” tea. It’s herbal tea. And there is, I’ve learned, a difference.

I’ve tried a few herbal teas in the past and haven’t enjoyed them. But, a couple of months ago, my friend Hannah encouraged me to try an orange tea that, with a little honey added to it, was incredibly soothing. Then more recently, my friend Becky shared her favorite licorice root tea suggestions for colds and sore throats. In the process of picking up boxes of those two herbal teas, my husband found a sampler box that he thought would be a good idea as well.

I was skeptical, but I thought I’d give them a try. So far, I haven’t found one I dislike. Granted, I’m still getting used to the idea of drinking anything with “tea” in the name, and there are times when it tastes more like flavored hot water than anything else. But, as much as I love my Choffy in the mornings, these mugs of herbal tea really do seem to be hitting the spot better for afternoon and evening beverages.

So, what’s the point of sharing this little tidbit about myself and my drinking preferences?

Well, things change. Even our tastes. But sometimes we get so buried in our habits that we don’t break out enough to discover those changes. I don’t know if I’ll ever grow to like real tea, but I have tried herbal teas in the past and not enjoyed them. That is obviously changing as I try them again.

This isn’t the first thing that has changed about me in recent years. But discovering these changes means I have to be willing to set aside past negatives, past dislikes, and even past failures and try again. (That’s why I occasionally go ahead and take a sip of Doug’s coffee – just in case those tastes have changed! Not so far!)

Once upon a time, I couldn’t get my brain to process learning to knit. No matter what my friends did to try to teach me, I remained baffled. Twenty-five years later, I taught myself successfully.

Guitar has been elusive for me in the past. But, I’m picking it up again – trying to learn – and somehow my fingers are responding better now.

Things that worked for me in the past don’t any more, but other things that didn’t now do. Things I enjoyed once upon a time no longer bring pleasure, but I’m discovering new enjoyments. Things change. But, if I am not willing to continually explore, try, revisit, and learn, I will not discover the changes. I’ll just be stuck. And, oh the delights I’ll miss out on! Like a delightfully relaxing cup of herbal tea.

Do you need to try some tea this week?

Posted in What I'm Learning, Wonderments

Rambling

Recently, I sat down to start writing with what I thought was a clear focus in mind. I wrote quickly and steadily, more quickly than usual, in fact. There was only one problem. Eight hundred and thirty-two words later, I was nowhere near my original thought. I’d somehow progressed through at least three partial trains of thought that somehow, maybe loosely connected. But, the first one didn’t have an ending, the second was simply there, and the third really didn’t have a beginning.

I apparently just needed some rambling time.

Perhaps sometime in the near future I will sit down and split the rambling out into coherent blog posts or articles, fully fleshing out each of the partial thoughts. But in the meantime, the rambling itself introduced a new thought: the fact that we all need to ramble a bit.

Any of us who have had any interaction at all with at least one other human being have heard rambling at some point in our lives. Sometimes rambling pours from someone who simply has the need to talk. If you are or have ever been a young mama, you’ve probably experienced that need! Other times, rambling comes from the need to organize thought, which some people do best through trying to ramble through what they’re thinking.

That is where I was the evening I typed over eight hundred rambling words. I needed to process. I needed to think something out. I needed to retrieve an idea that was floating somewhere in the shadowed corners of my brain but couldn’t quite form itself. So, I had to ramble. I just didn’t recognize the need until later.

Here’s the problem. Rambling is, for the most part, considered to be a negative thing – and that’s not an unfair consideration. In many situations, rambling wastes time and energy. It causes us to miss matters of importance buried in too much nothingness. It exhausts the young mom and misdirects real communication between a married couple. It skirts issues and delays problem-solving. It keeps relationships shallow.

Most of the time.

Except in those times when it serves the opposite purpose. When it becomes useful. But how do we know the difference? How do we make good use of rambling when it’s needed?

I don’t really have a good answer. But I can’t help but wonder if one of the secrets might be intentionality. You see, I rambled that night because I needed to grab hold of a real idea – I just didn’t know how to get to it without expressing a whole slew of other ideas in the process. Sometimes, I need to ramble verbally with someone else, gaining their input as I seek to grab the illusive thought. Other times, writing is better because I can process what I’m trying to say better through the written word than the spoken.

In either situation, though, it needs to be intentional. Not just rambling for the sake of putting words out there, whether written or spoken. But rambling because I know a thought – a good thought – is hidden somewhere in the middle of a jumble of other thoughts, and the only way to free it is to walk through the thoughts. Like untying a knot.

Perhaps you’re like me – a little afraid to just ramble. Afraid you’ll bore someone or sound dumb. Concerned that you’ll never make any sense. I think, though, that sometimes the thoughts, ideas, bits of creativity, or spectacular solutions that we have to share are buried somewhere in the middle of a pile of rambling. And the only way to get to it is to process the randomness that surrounds it.

May we never waste our words, our thoughts, or our relationships on idle words. But, may we also not be afraid to ramble now and then, trusting that those intentional rambles will lead us to something real, meaningful, and even productive.

Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from Life, Wonderments

Just Write

Remember the old Nike “Just Do It!” slogan? That’s how I’m feeling today. “Just write it, Ann!”

But what do I write?

I don’t care…just write. Every day.

It’s one of those disciplines. I’d say it’s like exercising, because I want the results of working those writing muscles just like I want the results of working the physical muscles.

But really, it’s more like practicing an instrument. You always know how to do it, but you get rusty when you don’t do it daily. And you miss its impact on your life. The calming influence it has. The connection it provides with your Creator.

Do you get what I mean?

When I was growing up, I could always tell when my dad had not had a chance to build something. He loves to work with wood. It’s his outlet. And when he goes a while without the chance to create something with his hands, it shows. His creativity, energy, and joy all wane.

I see the same with my husband and teaching. If he gets so buried in the administrative side of pastoring that he doesn’t have a chance to truly teach – an interactive type of teaching – his joy in ministry fades. He also enjoys writing and gets discouraged when he doesn’t have the opportunity to write. Then there’s cooking. And oh, is he ever good at cooking. He’s not the only one who misses it when he doesn’t have the chance to cook! 

If my oldest doesn’t get to play the piano or write, it shows.

If my middle child doesn’t get to draw, sew, or do needlework in some shape form or fashion, it shows.

If my youngest doesn’t get to create from paper or Legos or some other medium, it shows.

All of these things require regular practice to maintain – and progress – in the skills. But, they also provide a sort of natural therapy. They are an avenue of connection with the Creator who gave us these skills and desires. And I can’t help but think that we are disobedient if we don’t utilize and hone these skills while also embracing the doors they open in our hearts.

Yet how often do we consider ourselves selfish for setting aside the time to daily practice? We forget that through them we are actually connecting with our Creator, refreshing ourselves,  strengthening our talents, and equipping ourselves to truly minister.

What do you need to buckle down and do today?