Posted in Work & Life

Getting It Done

It never ceases to amaze me the number of practical life lessons I’ve learned because of the challenges I’ve worked through in homeschooling. For instance, in the homeschool community, record-keeping discussions are common. What do I keep? How much do I keep? What information is needed? How do I gather, organize, and maintain the necessary information?

The needs vary from state to state, depending on local homeschooling laws. Some states, like Arkansas, are very lax. I fill out a form every year stating my intent to homeschool. That’s it. In other states, parents have to have regular meetings with education officials, showing not only intentions but also progress. Samples of work, grades, test results, etc.

Now, on the one hand, I am thankful that Arkansas does not require such things. On the other hand, that makes it easy to lose track of where the kids actually are and what progress they have made. I have had to be intentional from the beginning about choosing curricula designed to help me keep them on track, knowing that my husband and I are accountable for the progress of our children – if not to a state education representative, then definitely to ourselves and to their future needs.

This intentionality in homeschooling serves as a continual reminder that there’s not always someone else to keep me accountable and on track in life any more than there is in homeschooling! I have to be intentional and diligent about finding ways to hold myself accountable in every aspect of life.

Keep in mind that just because I know I should find ways to hold myself accountable doesn’t mean I always do it. But, when I am diligent, here are some of the things that work:

Recognize the Trouble Spots

Like with homeschool record-keeping, there are areas where we know we will face problems if we do not keep ourselves accountable. So, the first step is to recognize those trouble areas. One for our family comes at meal-time. I hate to decide what to cook. So, menu planning is critical for me. If I don’t plan, we don’t eat well. We either eat less healthily or more expensively or both. So, the first step is recognizing the trouble spot that mealtime can be for me.

Make a Plan

Once the problem is identified, a plan has to be made. I can say I’m going to cook well or teach my kids well or make progress in any other area of life. But unless I actually create an avenue to accomplish this, it will never get done! So, a plan is critical. I have a list of what needs to be done each year to prepare for and progress through a school year. I know each month when I need to menu plan. (And before you think I’m always on top of this, realize that last year I failed in this area much more often than I succeeded. I’m a work in progress.) I have plans for other areas of life as well, including trying to get back to regular writing. It doesn’t have to be anything rigid, but having a plan keeps the need right in front of me.

Find Accountability

My job is the best example of this. Every Monday, each employee in the small company I work for gives our boss a list of priorities for the week, talking through them with her and with one another for clarification. At the end of each week, we send her a record of how we spent our time. This is not because she doesn’t trust us or is trying to micromanage and nitpick. In fact, it is just the opposite. These lists help her know where our energy is going, allowing her to keep track of whether or not the limited time, energy, and resources of our company are being used effectively. But, this also allows me to clearly see where I am using my time and gives me a measure of accountability for my work days.

By using the same principle in other areas of life, I don’t have to handle the full weight of responsibility all on my own. I can have others help hold me accountable.

Implement!

As is obvious with the confessed menu plan failures, implementation is the final key. We can know what to do, plan to do it, and even have others remind us. But, ultimately, it’s up to us to take action. And when we do, the pay-off is more than worth the effort.

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Posted in Helpful Hints, What Works for Me, Work & Life

Erasable Ink

Sometimes, life really comes down to the practical. No deep lessons. No profound thoughts. Just basic and practical.

Sometimes as I ponder depth and meaning and how to surrender to the surgery I desperately need the Lord to do on the deep parts of my heart, mind, and habits, I forget just how important those basic and practical things are.

Like erasable ink.

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to Frixion pens. I’d never liked erasable pens because they never seemed to really erase. But these? Oh my word…they work!! And I became addicted! They’re pretty and fun and just a treat to use. They add a little pizazz to life.

But, there’s more to these pens than just fun. There are actually two reasons I really, really like the idea of being able to use erasable ink pens, especially in my planners.

Flexibility

The first really is obvious. I always function better when I can plan ahead, and sometimes I need to plan FAR ahead. But the truth is that life changes. Plans change. I need to be able to erase and make changes, both in my personal planner (the Mommy brain, as my kids call it) and in my homeschool planner. It’s just a necessity.

But, that can be done in pencil, can’t it? Yes, it can. And, for a long time, it was done in pencil. Erasable colored pencils, to be certain, because I color code. In the homeschool planner, each child has a color for independent work and a color for work I do with them (read-alouds, etc.). In my personal planner, I have separate colors for general family life, school, work, church, writing, and personal development. It saves space, helps me keep it all distinguished, and helps me not overlook tasks and activities. Color is my friend.

But, why ink?

Commitment

While pencil works well for flexibility, it doesn’t work well – at least mentally – for commitment. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “I’ll pencil you in.” More often than not, that means plans will change. We are not committed to penciled-in obligations, tasks, and events.

Yes, it’s mental. And yes, it’s something we might just need to get over. But, for me, being able to use ink instead of pencil helps with that mental commitment – even if they are equally erasable. There’s just something about seeing it in ink that solidifies a task, event, or other commitment in my mind.

It’s just a little thing. But sometimes those little things make the deeper things more feasible. Even something as little, as practical, as basic as using erasable ink.

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 Thoughts from Life, What I'm Learning

Sufficiency and Tightropes

I’m procrastinating today.

We slept in a bit this morning, which has me running a little later on the routine than normal. But, that’s not really what has me moving slowly. In reality, it’s the subconscious knowledge that, if I keep putting off writing, I once again won’t have time to get a blog post written, edited, and published before I absolutely have to get to work in order to get my hours in before church. That subconscious knowledge has actually become my safety net. And I’ve been spending more time in the safety net than on the tightrope where I belong.

You see, I have quiet a few blog posts stored in my files right now. Some are just thoughts tapped out quickly that need to be fleshed out. But others are fully written and just need to be edited. I have good intentions of starting my morning with some editing, photo searching, and publication prep so I can get one of those posts up. But each morning I find a whole list of other things that just have to be done. Then my time is spent, and I have to get to work. So, the posts never go up.

But it’s not really because of a lack of time or because of so many other things that are pressing. It’s really because staying in the safety net is more comfortable. It keeps me from falling. Because I know that I’m not going to stay on that tightrope. I will fall. How much easier to just stay down here where I know I’m going to end up anyway?

I’ve always been like that. I’ve never been a risk-taker or a daredevil. Thrill has never enticed me. In some ways, that’s a good thing. There is a place for people like me, because we like to keep the show running. We like to be in the background providing everything the thrill-seekers and dreamers and brainstormers and visionaries need. We make their ideas happen because we’re good at the practical and the organizational and – to be completely honest – the boring. That’s our place. That’s our strength.

But, too often it’s also our hiding place. And we have a litany of reasons to hide. One of the big ones for me is a feeling of insufficiency.

One of my daughters surprised me one day by verbalizing exactly how I feel so often, especially in the presence of my children. They are so talented. So amazing. They all have such incredible skills. I feel pretty mediocre standing next to them. Yet, one morning my daughter expressed how she felt useless and untalented, especially compared to her siblings. They, in turn, stared at her with mouths gaping and quickly began stating all of the ways she was so awesome and her talents were so amazing and useful, especially compared to how they viewed their own talents and strengths. As I worked to build up and encourage each of them, I also ached because I knew exactly how they all felt.

Insufficient.

They believe about themselves the same things I believe about myself. We may have our skills and talents, but what difference do they actually make in the real world? How can we possibly compare to the extraordinary offerings of so many other people? What impact can we, with our piddly contributions – actually make?

We recognize that we’ll never know if we don’t try, but we’ve also all – yes, even my three precious children at their tender ages – have tried and have fallen off the tightrope. Multiple times. Sometimes because of our own failing and other times because we’ve been shoved. Every time because of some insufficiency.

We long for the tightrope. We even do all of the preparations needed to walk the tightrope. And really, we don’t mind falling in the process of learning to walk the tightrope. But, we know that we won’t always fall on our own. Sometimes we will be knocked down, whether accidentally because of a lapse of attentiveness on someone else’s part or intentionally because of jealousy or rudeness or pride. But, it will happen. And in that fear, we stay in our safety net and wish that we were already experts on the tightrope. Already skilled to the point of being able to better resist the shoves. Unsure that we can handle both the learning and the struggling.

That’s why I’m procrastinating today. That’s why multiple posts remain in my folders, unedited and unpublished. And that’s why I’m forcing myself to publish this post today. Because it’s time to get out of the safety net and get back on the tightrope.

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 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?