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 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 Do, Work & Life

Do It Anyway

I’m a writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What I Do

Working Mom

I have a question for you. When you think of your identity, what title do you give to yourself? I have several. Pastor’s Wife. Homeschool Mom. Writer. Editor. And, up until recently, Stay at Home Mom.

Has something changed? you might ask. In fact, I can almost see the wondering on the faces of some friends, wondering if I’ve suddenly decided to put the kids in school and work outside the home. And, no, it’s nothing like that. It’s more of a discovery.

Defining Stay at Home Mom

It’s a realization that for many, many years, I’ve struggled with my role as a mom.

I have this mental definition for the “Stay at Home Mom” title. It’s a mom who essentially structures her life around the care of her home and family. Everything else is secondary.

For fifteen years, I’ve called myself a stay at home mom. But, can I share a little secret with you? I have never fit the boundaries of my own definition, and I have always felt the conflict of that without ever understanding why.

Just recently, it all clicked in my head when I realized that I have actually worked for nine of my fifteen years of motherhood. And, in the years I didn’t work, I always had something specific to focus on. In the early years of motherhood, it was photo editing. I loved to take pictures, keep them well organized on my computer, and edit them in a variety of ways. Later, I started writing and discovered the world of product and book reviews. Only now do I see that I looked upon both of those “hobbies” as jobs.

Only now do I see that I’m not really a stay at home mom, and I never have been. On the contrary, I have always been a working mom. The whole time.

A Beautiful Mental Shift

Admitting that is a big deal for me, because I realize I have always felt a bit ashamed of my jobs – ashamed that I enjoyed them more than keeping up with my home or cooking for my family. It’s not that I preferred being away from my family. Quite the contrary! I love being with my family. But, I’ve always preferred the work that is not home related. The more I loved my jobs, the more I felt like a stay-at-home mom failure.

Something about the simple admission that I am a working mom changes so much in my head. You see, like many of my friends who also work – some from home and others outside the home, both in part-time and full-time capacities – I still prioritize my family. I shape my work options around doing what’s best for my family. I work in a way that allows me to homeschool. I work in a way that makes me available to my children when they need me, while still setting parameters and boundaries for work time. My family is no less of a priority. But, the care of my home is not my job. It’s a joint responsibility for every family member.

I cannot even begin to explain how that admission has eliminated conflict for me. That realization has helped me interact better with my children. It will allow me to share responsibilities of home care more freely, rather than feeling like a failure because I thought I couldn’t keep up with my job.

I’m a work in a way that most vibrantly nourishes my family working mom.

And, do you know what? I still highly value stay at home moms. But I also absolutely love who I am and what I do.

What about you? What title have you adopted? Does it fit?

Posted in What I Do

What I Do: The Best Learning

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

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


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

Personalized Learning

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

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

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

So, what’s the solution?

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

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

Practical Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because, for now, that’s what I do!

Posted in What I Do

What I Do: Not My Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could go on.

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

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

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

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

Posted in Thoughts, What I Do

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

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

Hold Loosely

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

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

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

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

And He promised Himself right in the middle of it.

He Does Best When I Can’t

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in What I Do

What I Do: Reading Reviews

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

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

Avoid the extremes.

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

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

Look for experience.

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

Consider the relevance of the review.

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

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

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

Compare reviews.

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

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

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

Posted in What I Do

What I Do: Writing a Review

According to my blog, I wrote my first review seven years ago this month. Wow. It’s quite incredible to think of all the doors that have opened because I started writing book reviews. Something I’ve learned along the way is that not all reviews are created equal. So what does it take to write a solid review?

Nuts and Bolts

The first thing to keep in mind is that a review is not an excuse to gush over or bash a product. Instead, it is to inform. With that in mind, there are a few practicals to consider before even looking at the content of your review.

Word Count

The ideal review length is 300-500 words. Setting a minimum goal of 300 words (or, if you are reviewing on a site like Amazon rather than on your blog, 150-200 is sufficient) makes you stop and truly think about a product that you might be tempted to review in two sentences.

On the other hand, a limit of 500 words keeps you from rambling and gushing. The review I intend to publish tomorrow currently stands at 835 words. So, part of the editing process will be to cut out the unnecessary wordiness and make it more manageable.

Note: There are some reviews that require more words. Be as concise as possible, but don’t be limited by self-imposed word counts in those situations.


Use visual stimulation in your presentation. Bullet points, numbered lists, and headings are very useful!

Order is Everything

Whether this is a negative or positive review, try to both start and finish with a positive comment about the product. “This didn’t work for us, but ______ would find it useful,” makes for a great closing statement to a negative review.

Credit to Product Source

If you received a product in exchange for review, remember to include a statement such as this at the end of your review: “This product was sent to me by COMPANY NAME in exchange for my honest review.”


Now you’re ready to start building content! Here are some tips (in no certain order – you can build your review your way!).

My Story

Set the stage by sharing in just a few sentences how this product fits into your family. That is relevant to the reader, as it shows readers how your family differs from theirs. But they don’t need all the fine details. Keep it brief!

Pros & Cons

Find at least one con about a product you love. Putting this thought into the review builds your credibility and indicates that you’re not a paid reviewer. Of course, you also should find at least one positive about a product you greatly dislike, in addition to the “this would be useful for” statement mentioned earlier.

In fact, whether this is a positive or negative review, ending with a recommendation statement makes closing comments a cinch!

Just the Facts

When it’s all said and done, however, the facts are what people are looking for. Be helpful. What would you want to know about this product that you can’t find through other sources? Does the product actually live up to the company’s claims? Are there additional pieces of information a customer would like to have before buying? This is the meat of your review around which the rest is built.

Clean-Up Time

Finally, don’t forget the edit! Walk away for five minutes, or even a day, and then come back to reread. Does it make sense? Are there spelling or grammar errors? You don’t have to be a grammar Nazi or an editor to make sure your review is well-written. Just pay attention. It makes all the difference!