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 What I'm Learning, Work & Life

Slow Processes

Don’t you just love how God can teach lessons during every season of life?

This season of not having a personal writing rhythm has lasted much longer than I would have chosen. Even when it seemed like I was writing regularly, I wasn’t. It was hit and miss. In fact, it has been several years since I have had a good rhythm. And for the longest time, I have seen that only as a negative thing. I’ve wondered why God has not helped me find a rhythm for something that obviously nourishes and grows me.

But here’s the thing…God doesn’t see things like I do. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t see things the way God does, at least not at first. In fact, so many of my experiences are times of needing to gradually gain His vision. Sometimes I’m slow and He has to delay so that I can catch up. But other times I think it’s just the nature of growth. We often want to learn things quickly, but the more quickly we learn, the less we retain. Slow learning – slow progress in almost anything – usually means much more solid retention and growth.

There’s a quote in George MacDonald’s novel The Landlady’s Master that I love, one I recall when I’m frustrated with slow progress. In an idealogical discussion, one character presents ideas and perspectives that seem dreadfully slow and ineffective to his conversation partner. His response concludes with, “All God’s processes are slow. The works of God take time and cannot be rushed.”

That has definitely been true of my writing journey. It has been extremely slow – excruciatingly so at times. But in the process, and especially in this most recent stretch in which a personal writing rhythm has been so elusive, I have learned at least one very important lesson. To really explain it, I need to back up a few years, back to a time when my writing was regular and I had a solid rhythm.

Every morning, I journaled. Throughout the day I would keep a notebook or planner handy to jot notes. I had a notebook in Evernote strictly devoted to writing ideas. Writing fodder piled up so high that I could not write quickly or frequently enough to utilize it all! But as time went on, I began to notice that the ideas were harder and harder to flesh out. What had been great inspiration when I wrote it down was simply an empty statement by the time I got around to fleshing it out. At first I thought it was because I didn’t flesh out the thoughts quickly enough, losing the essence before I could actually write the post. So, I began to take more thorough notes. But, that often failed as well.

It took me a while to realize that the problem was not with the ideas. The problem was with me.

At one time, I’d written from the outflow of what I was learning and experiencing in life. But, somewhere along the way, that changed. Blog writing became the goal instead of the outflow. Instead of internalizing the inspiration, lessons, and Spirit whispers coming to me throughout life, I was simply writing about them.

Over time, the writing well began to dry up. My journal showed huge gaps because I seemed to have nothing to write, even for my own edification. I had not stopped growing altogether, but my growth was stunted because my focus was distracted.

Slowly but surely, I have had to relearn how to journal for the sake of journaling. How to hash through ideas for the sake of real growth. How to remember that life is not blog fodder. Writing is, instead, an outflow of what I just cannot keep cooped up inside as God molds and transforms my heart.

Looking back at it all, I can see why God has not yet granted the wisdom for a writing rhythm. He’s been slowly working on me. Who knows when I’ll be ready for the next step? I hope it’s soon, but I have a little more patience these days now that I’ve realized it all comes down to God taking His time working on me. Working out His slow processes.

Posted in What I Do

My “Thing”

Do you have any idea how many writers there are out there?

This year I have discovered quite a few new favorite authors and have marveled at the way they are able to put their thoughts into words. At the way they are able to devote the time and energy into researching, writing, and seeing their work to the finish line.

I see articles written by amazing bloggers who have a knack for communicating.

I am surrounded by a family of powerful imagination and vivid talent.

Every time I turn around, I meet another writer, whether someone who has achieved official publication or not. They have a message to share through story or essay or book, and they have an incredible ability to put that message into the written word in a way that draws and engages readers.

Writers are everywhere.

And then, there’s me.

I am compelled to write, even if no one else reads. I speak more succinctly when I have first written. I think more clearly when I hash out thoughts in a written form. I communicate more efficiently with my fingers than with my mouth. I can even speak in other “voices,” much like an actor who excels at impressions.

But when it comes to truly succeeding as a writer like those authors and bloggers and talented family members, I fall short. Why? Because when the time comes to sit down at the keyboard or pick up a pen and paper, I hesitate. I shrink back. I make excuses. I flip through a journal full of inspiration and ideas, but then convince myself that the thoughts were really only meant for me. For my own growth. Besides, I should not be journaling in for blog fodder. The more I mark journal thoughts and ideas for sharing, the more I’m tempted to just journal for the sake of blogging, not for the sake of learning. So, if I don’t use those ideas at all, I won’t be tempted to ignore what God needs to do in my own heart. I will be processing for me, not for content fodder.

At least, so I tell myself.

But the truth is that I am allowing laziness and feelings of inadequacy to rule the day. I find a moment to write and then find every excuse in the book to not follow through. Lack of inspiration. Thoughts won’t flow. So many other things I should be doing. If the words don’t write themselves in the first few minutes, I walk away.

And every time I walk away, I strengthened the unsettled feeling of my spirit. The feeling that comes from not being vulnerable through the written word.

What is your “thing”? What is the compelling drive, the delight, the freedom you are neglecting? What do you feel too inadequate to accomplish? What passion do you allow laziness to thwart? What do you claim to have no time for yet refuse to do when even a small pocket of time presents itself? What do you ignore because you cannot complete it according to your unrealistic and perhaps ridiculous standard of perfection?

Standing here, writing these words, I’m still tempted to keep them hidden. I actually typed out a post, but is it worth the posting? Even if it is, can keep up the flow tomorrow? Next week? Will I write again soon, or will months pass?

But those are perfectionism questions, irrelevant to what I share today. Right here. For today, I will do my “thing” and let tomorrow handle itself.

Will you join me? Will you do your “thing” today, no matter what perfectionism says? No matter what inadequacy says? Even if motivation doesn’t strike immediately? I invite you to come along and join me. As I write these last words, I can honestly say it’s worth the effort.

Posted in What I Do, Work & Life

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.

Posted in What I'm Learning, Work & Life

New Habits First

I was recently part of a book study group that processed through Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney. I already knew I struggled in so many areas of discipline. That study confirmed and enhanced that realization. A few of the disciplines are things that I have worked on in recent years and turned into habits – of sorts. But, I still have a long way to go.

One of the most immediate convictions was in the area of Scripture memory, probably because I’ve tried to start memorization efforts multiple times over the last few years, only to fail miserably every time. Since processing through the chapter on memorization, I have tried to restart the process and have had great intentions. There are note cards in my planner and I have a system. But, I still struggle to make progress.

I run out of time in my quiet time.

I forget to pull the cards out during the busy flow of the day.

I let multiple days go by between recitations, forcing me to backtrack and relearn.

After weeks of frustration, a realization hit me: last year when I wanted to start a new habit, I put it first. I wanted to read more books during my morning time. I knew I would dive into my Scripture reading every morning without fail. I didn’t want to diminish the importance of that in any way, but I knew how much time it typically required, so I read other books first, then switched over to the Bible at the appropriate time. Over the course of the next few months, I developed a habit of reading at least two different spiritual training books in additional to my Scripture and devotional reading.

Now I love it. Now it’s a habit. Now I will read additional books no matter when they fall in the morning routine. In fact, I have since returned Scripture reading to an earlier slot in the morning so as to ensure plenty of time for meditation. If I miss a day or two of my other books because I spend extra time meditating on the Word of God, that’s okay. The other reading is enough of a habit now that I know I will return to it.

Pondering this, I have realized that Scripture memory has always been at the tail end of my quiet time. When I run out of time because reading takes a while – which it always will! – it is too easy to drop the memorization off the end of my morning routine. So, I never make progress.

Could it be that easy? Could that truly be the simple, practical solution to establishing a habit of discipline?

It’s certainly worth a try! I can tap the voice recorder on my phone and recite those verses, playing them back later to check them. I can even work on it while pouring hot water into our French presses for coffee and Choffy – or while waiting for them to brew. Who knows? I might even end up taking a few notes here and there as I process what is being written on my heart and mind.

Discipline is often a matter of simplicity. Removing the gimmicks and tricks to try to apply something new and choosing instead to simplify. To shift details. To put new habits first on the list, knowing that everything else will fall into place behind it.

Posted in What Works for Me, Work & Life

Diving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you approach different types of diving?

 

Posted in What I'm Learning, Work & Life

Review & Remember

I learn a lot. Constantly. Maybe too constantly.

I learn things about my husband and children. I learn as I homeschool the kids. I learn about ministry. I learn new-to-me spiritual truths from Scripture. I learn new things about myself and ways I need to grow and change. I learn new skills through work. I learn and learn and learn.

The Proper Handling of Learning

I honestly love learning. It’s a passion instilled in my by my mother, who was constantly learning. I used to think she was insane, especially during my high school years when the intensity of my school schedule kept me constantly exhausted in my learning. But it didn’t take long to learn what she meant. It’s not just about the academic studying. It’s about an intake of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding that transforms who we are and how we respond to life and grow in our relationship with Christ and others.

And that is the kicker. Sometimes I take in so much learning that I forget to truly let it transform me. I learn, but do not process and retain. It comes in and gets buried somewhere under the next round of learning.

Sort

Because I’m constantly sifting through new in-flows of information through morning reading, school, work, ministry, and life in general, it’s hard to slow down enough to truly process it in a way that allows me to grow from the learning. But, I have to. So, the first step is to sift through the influx of information. Is it information that will propel me closer to Christ and further His kingdom? Or is it simply information that I need to handle the needs of the moment? The former should be processed. The latter should be used and discarded, even if it has to be relearned later.

Process

The second step is to process that which needs to be retained. I need to record it in a way that imprints it on my heart and mind in the immediate and maintains it for future review. That’s why I always grow more effectively when I am diligent to journal raw thoughts so they can be contemplated, revisited, and remembered.

Practice

Thirdly, I must practice what I’ve learned. That is accomplished in a variety of ways. One way is by taking the raw thoughts of my journal and rehashing them in a way that is understood by others. This is accomplished through talking things out with my family, writing blog posts and articles, and teaching others through homeschooling, a Sunday school class, or individual mentoring.

An Experiment to Try

I encourage you to try an experiment with me. Before you go to bed tonight, find a notebook, journal, computer, or something to write a few notes on. Jot down one thing – just one – that you learned today that needs to be processed and implemented into your life. Spend just a few minutes writing out (or talking out into your phone’s voice recorder, if that’s more your style) your raw response to that one lesson.

When you get up tomorrow morning, take a look at it, and write down one action you can take to implement that lesson into your life through the course of the day.

Then, tomorrow night, write down how you grew through the implementation and add one more bit of learning (or an expansion on today’s learning) and start the process all over again.

Create a new habit that will allow you to sort, process, review, remember, and grow through the learning that bombards you each day. And may we all learn together in a way that grows us in our relationship to Christ and our ability to bring Him glory and grow His kingdom!