Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Determining My Worth

  As a type A person, I am all about getting things done. I constantly have a to-do list I'm working toward crossing off. I feel like I'm being productive and wise with my time if I am doing something. However, I have been learning that the enemy likes to use busyness to keep us from being effective in loving and serving others. We think we're doing good things, but I often find that if my focus is on my to-do list then I am not making time to connect or interact with others. At the end of the day I may have cleaned the house, but I didn't have any meaningful relational interactions with friends and family.

  I have been trying to scale back on activities so that there is plenty of room for spontaneity or interruptions of my plans. I want to be able to answer a phone call or text from a friend or sit down and read a book or play Legos with my kids without it feeling like a disruption to my day. It's certainly not a poor use of my time even though the enemy tries to make me think so.

  This morning while journaling during my quiet time with God, the following statement emerged:
Your worth is not determined by your performance.
It struck me and made me pause in my journaling time. This is a truth I struggle with often. I know in my mind that I am loved regardless of my behavior. I am loved just because I am a creation of God's. But often times my behavior does not reflect this truth. I can get caught up in trying to do things to please God, or perhaps be worthy of his love and grace. I don't need to. I cannot be loved more or less than I already am. I can stop trying to impress God or other people.

  I know some of my efforts are to prove to others that I am a good Christian, whatever that means. It feels like there's an invisible bar I'm trying to reach in order to win the favor of others. This is impossible and yet another trap of the devil. He wants me to be endlessly striving, wearing myself out trying to achieve something that is unachievable. Nothing I do can every make every single person like me or approve of me. There will always be people who choose to judge me negatively. I cannot control others' perceptions of me. What I can do is rest in the knowledge that I am already loved and approved by the one who made me and knows me most intimately.
Am I now seeking the approval of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.          
 ~Galatians 1:10 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Listen, Love, Repeat

  I had the privilege of receiving a preview pdf of a wonderful book, Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World by Karen Ehman that is officially available today. The title of the book immediately intrigued and attracted me. I know that I have a tendency to be selfish and self-centered and was hoping this book would help me to shift my focus more outwardly toward those around me.

  This is a very practical book with inspiring stories and examples that motivated me to try to be more intentional in looking for opportunities to serve those around me. I liked that the chapters were divided into different groups of people in our lives and specific suggestions on how to love them well. I pre-ordered a copy and look forward to using this book as a reference point as I seek to be more intentional in my relationships.

  I want to share some of the encouragement and inspiration with you so I will share some of my favorite quotes from the book. Enjoy!

Only when we love and share and serve, as Scripture commands us, can we live life on purpose, embracing the reason God brought us to Earth in the first place. As we reach out not only to friends and family but to strangers, the lonely, and the less-than-lovely, we will learn to mirror Christ and to let his light shine so that he gets all the glory.
  I have become increasingly aware over the years that my focus should be on loving God and loving others. A very high calling but also a very important one. When doing things, perhaps I should ask myself - does this show love for God and/or others? Only doing things that answer the question affirmatively would certainly save a lot of heartache.

  I enjoyed that Karen consistently reminded me that our reason for loving and serving is to point to Jesus. Our whole lives are supposed to be lived in a way that show Christ's love to the world around us. I know I am sometimes motivated by my personal glory or the approval of others. I appreciated this check of my heart to my underlying desires.
Paul instructs us to help to lighten the load of others, because when we encourage, cheer, help, guide, or simply do life with another person, we let them see a little snippet of Christ and his love. Our acts don't have to be complicated or grand. Even simple acts of service and offerings of time can have a monumental effect in the life of another.
  I like the reminder that we don't have to make grand gestures all of the time to show love and be effective in showing Christ's love. A listening ear can be a great blessing to someone who needs to share what's on their heart. I know how encouraged I am when someone takes a little time to reach out and let me know that they were thinking about me or praying for me. Being told that you are on someone's mind can be a huge lift for your spirit.
The pause and preparation were good for my soul. They reminded me that relationships require work, that remembering isn't always easy - and that sometimes sweat is involved in listening and loving.
  It is good to remember that we should be covering our desires to serve, and subsequent efforts, in prayer. God knows the hearts of others better than we do and can show us the most effective way to love and serve someone. If we will be sensitive to his leading, we can love in meaningful ways, even though it may seem insignificant to us.
Living a life of welcome - opening both your heart and your home - means your stuff gets used. And reused. Over and over again. Your items get nicked and scratched. Your carpet and rugs and linens get stained. While this doesn't mean we don't try to make our surroundings pleasant, it does mean we learn to accept some degree of imperfection. Well-used items often mean that we have loved well.
  I know that this is true, but sometimes it's a struggle for me. I like the things I have in my home and want them to continue to look nice, but if I am really going to love people (and especially families with young kids) I have to expect that some damage will be done. Perhaps I can remember that these loved people are giving my home more character. It is definitely worth losing a book here and there to people who might be encouraged by the message within. It's just stuff. And it's meant to be used to love others. Everything should have a use and a purpose (even if the purpose is just to look pretty or create a welcoming, peace-filled environment). If I can keep a love-focused attitude, then I can keep my hands open to sharing and using my possessions for God's purposes.

Jesus modeled upside-down living and loving. In addition to loving people who were socially marginalized, Jesus loved those who hated and despised him. Those who treated him terribly. He encouraged his followers to do the same, without excuse.
  This can be a tall order. We all love caring for those who also care for us. It's the ones that rub us the wrong way or are outright contentious or rude that cause us to struggle against what Jesus has asked us to do. We all have at least one person in our life we'd like to pretend does not exist. But if we are not consistently kind and present, how will they know Christ's love for them. Obviously we should not willingly submit to abusive relationships. We should be wise in our relationships.
The only way to go about loving the difficult is to expect nothing in return. If we do good in order to gain accolades or to receive praise, or expect to convert someone and have a great redemptive story to tell, we will quickly give up. We love others out of obedience to God. Then we leave the results to him. When your expectation bar is lowered all the way down, you will not have to fear being disappointed by their lack of response. So expect nothing in return. Zero.
  This is a big challenge for me, and probably many others. We are results oriented. We want acknowledgement for our hard work. We want others to know what we have done, to be raised up. But Jesus wasn't like that. He was seeking God's glory, not his own. And, if I really love God and others, then my glory should be the last thing on my mind. I can't say this won't be a constant battle, but it is one I am willing to wage.
If you long to be a person who scatters God's kindness, surround yourself with others who have the same desire. You can share ideas, pray for each other, and encourage each other during those times when you think the effort simply isn't worth it. Christian support is crucial if you wish to live a life that follows and reflects Jesus.
 I love this reminder that loving others should be done in community. We need people to encourage, support and inspire us or we will be tempted to give up when it becomes challenging or tiring. We don't need to be continuously expending energy and effort without pausing to refill and refresh ourselves.

I think this book is amazing. If you were encouraged or inspired by the quotes you read, I would highly recommend getting a copy of this book for yourselves.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Forget the Clock: Learning to Rest in God

  The theme of this year for me has been trust and rest. I am not good at either of those, it seems. And they are definitely intertwined in my life. I struggle a lot with feeling that I always must be productive, always working and doing something. I seem to equate resting with being lazy. Yet God commands us to rest. He demonstrated this concept for us by resting himself after six days of work. Jesus took breaks from his ministry. He slept, he stole away from people to rest and recharge. Our bodies are not made to work indefinitely without rest, certainly not at top functioning capacity.

  I had recently been feeling frazzled and overwhelmed (two major signs that I am in need of rest). I know it was because I had allowed my schedule to become too crowded for rest, quiet and refreshment (as an introvert, times of quiet are very important). I have been trying to acquire a more relaxed, unhurried rhythm to life and my schedule but my desire to be productive and to accomplish has been steadily creeping back in, especially as we approach the holidays. (I think we all associate the holidays with a flurry of busyness and lots of extra activities, but who says we have to accept every opportunity and get swept up in the craziness? Who says November and December have to feel rushed and demanding instead of peaceful and joy-filled? We can slow down or remain steady and continue to maintain breathing room in our days and weeks. We can have a simple, pleasant season if we are mindful about what is truly needed and important.)

  I decided two days ago that I would spend all of my free morning the next day while both kids were in school focusing on my spiritual health and drawing closer to God. (Usually on Mondays I go to a yoga class I love, but last week I went to a different one on Wednesday that I enjoyed almost as much and decided afterward that it could be an acceptable substitute for Monday's class if I ever needed more flexibility in my routine. This made it infinitely easier to not go to this morning's class and instead be able to follow through with the idea of a spiritual health day.) Before I took J to preschool I prepared the front room (my chosen space) by putting my Immanuel/Gratitude Journal, other notebooks, the Bible and Jennie Allen's Nothing to Prove book near my chosen seat.

  I dropped J off and returned home, heading immediately to my red couch. I started by doing a brain dump of everything swirling in my mind onto a notebook page (mainly my to-do list). When I was finished, I meditated for a few minutes using an exercise to help me focus and relax - taking some deep breaths and then checking in to all five senses (what I could see, hear, feel, taste and smell). Then it was on to writing in my Immanuel/Gratitude Journal which I love. This exercise always helps reveal things in my heart I may not have realized. And, of course, this is where things took a turn away from my planned, productive morning with God (as is usually the case when truly meeting with God). While journaling, God showed me that I am still too busy and failing to rest, evidenced by the fact that I had created quite an agenda for my morning. He cited my to-do list and the stack of notebooks and books as proof that I struggle so much with resting. Below is an excerpt.
I appreciate your effort though you are still focusing too much on doing and not enough on just being and resting in my presence. You work too much. Rest more...Trust that any and all time with me is wisely used even if it doesn't check anything off of the to-do list...You feel pressure to constantly be doing but that is not from me. I invite you to come and rest. The enemy wants you to be too busy to love and serve, too overwhelmed and exhausted to be kind and generous and patient and present. Don't fall into his trap of busyness and performing to receive approval. You already have my approval...I am glad to teach you the unhurried rhythm of grace. Be content just to be with me...Trust me. Trust my ways...I can do something about your fear. You don't have to hurry through your day. Resting does not make you lazy. The world will not fall apart. I rested to show you that it is good and necessary. You do not have an endless supply of energy. Recharging is necessary; it's how I made you. I made you to be insufficient, to be not enough so you would see your need to depend on me and so that my power can be seen through you.
  I want to use my time wisely and he reminded me that no time with him is wasted even if my to-do list remains undone. I have long struggled with being able to just rest and do nothing. I am driven by the clock and my to-do list and desire for accomplishment. It was convicting and encouraging to have God remind me that he sees me, he sees my striving, and he can give me true peace and rest if I will trust him and surrender in obedience.

  As my Immanuel Journaling time was winding down I was beginning to yawn and feel sleepy, relaxed even. The following internal dialogue occurred:

          Me 1: Perhaps, I do need some real, physical rest.
          Me 2: No, that's a waste of time.
          Me 1: Perhaps this is an opportunity to trust God and be obedient.
          Me 2: Well, perhaps. If it's a short one. Can God guarantee it'll only be about twenty minutes?
                     There are things to be done!
          Me 1: No, God is not negotiating. He is simply asking me to exercise faith and trust.
                     Okay, God, make this time holy.

  So I managed to not look at my watch (miracle of miracles!) before I curled up on the little red couch I was sitting on and closed my eyes. I drifted in and out of consciousness, praying some, listening a bit to the sounds of the house. After awhile, my brain kicked back on more alert than before and I wondered how much time had passed. I was more easily able to avoid looking at my watch because it wouldn't be able to tell me anything useful. I decided the best thing would be to ignore clocks for the remainder of my morning and let my phone alarm alert me to when it was time to end my quiet morning and pick J up from preschool.

  I really need to become more relaxed with time. It's a compulsion to know what time it is or how much time remains before the next activity on the schedule. I should just sent alarms for the important things and not worry about exact time. Instead I use known time to try to squeeze in as much as I can. I can't relax because I am waiting for time to signal the next thing. In fact, before I started my spiritual time this morning, I thought perhaps I would get it all knocked out with enough time to do several things on my to-do list. It's an unhealthy habit and mindset. It keeps me from being fully present where and with who I am and cuts down on peace, rest and enjoyment of life.

  I loved our fall break at the beach when I kept my watch in a drawer for the week and just enjoyed where I was and what I was doing with minimal regard for time. It was glorious and I wish I could live like that all of the time. Perhaps there's something in between that's still healthy and would improve my quality of life.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

October Goal Review

October is over. It is the gear up toward the holiday season. It can be a lot of fun but also quite stressful. Let's see how my goals fared this month. If you want to read about previous months' successes and failures, click the appropriate month:  January,  February,  March,  April,  May,  June,  July,  August,  September.

1. One arts and crafts time with the kids each month

  We went to the beach last month and gathered quite a few shells during our week on the beach. My mother-in-law mentioned she might like an ornament of shells as a memento of our beach trip together. I thought it would be a great idea for our monthly arts and crafts time. The kids and I each made a personal ornament after creating a very special one for Grammy. Kaitlyn decided that shells were needed on the outside of the ornament as well as inside so I followed her instructions. I think they turned out well. It'll be nice to put the ornaments on the tree and remember our trip to PCB each Christmas season. (Side note: I love having ornaments that commemorate trips and special events/occasions. It's a fun trip down memory lane.)

  At a later date, the kids requested more art time so I pulled out a bunch of supplies and let them have fun. In addition to some marker drawings, Kaitlyn used felt and buttons to make a couple of pieces.

2. Blog at least twice per month

  I bit off more than I could chew last month with all of the blog posts. This month I managed to get myself into a busier-than-desirable schedule which has sent writing to the back-burner. I had a post that I had written awhile ago about my grandparents that I published later in the month. However, I just couldn't get motivated to write something new in October until the last day. I wanted to get some thoughts jotted down and figured I'd share it as well. I barely achieved this goal but barely is better than not, right?

3. Grow in gratitude, contentment and generosity

  This month I continued my gratitude journaling. I did not do it as often as I previously have, probably averaging once or twice each week. Every time I do it I wonder why I don't do it every day. It is so encouraging and a great way to feel more connected to God. It helps my perspective of life to remember everything I have to be grateful for in my life.

  My family is in a bit of a transition right now so at times it's hard to feel content when I don't really feel settled in some parts of life. When I make time for expressing gratitude, I do feel more content with where I am. I am appreciative of all that I do have.

  The kids and I put together two Operation Christmas Child boxes for children in other countries who might not otherwise receive gifts. It has become a tradition to put together one box for a girl about Kaitlyn's age and one for a boy about Jackson's age. It makes it easy to have the kids pick out gifts they would love to receive at Christmas themselves. This year Kaitlyn was given a page to fill out about herself and where she lives to include in the box. I helped Jackson fill out his and we included a family photo in each box as well. I like being able to include the kids in service and generosity toward others.

So that's been my month. How has yours been? Are you already stressing out about the holiday season and how it might wreak havoc on your goals? Or is that just me? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

October Book Review

There are only two months left in 2016 and they are the busiest two of the whole year. I don't anticipate having much time to read so I tried to get as much as I could in during October. I completed eight books. You can read more about them below. If you want to read previous months' book reads, click the appropriate link:  January,  February,  March,  April,  May,  June,  July,  August,  September.

1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

  I had heard a lot of positive recommendations but didn't know a thing about it until I started reading it. I actually thought it might be a fiction book. It is most definitely not. It is about a thirty-six year old neurosurgeon resident who received a lung cancer diagnosis during his last year of residency. Despite the depressing circumstances, I really liked the content of the book.
  The first half of the book focuses on his life before the diagnosis. I learned about his family history, his college passions and experiences and his experiences in med school and residency. I found it fascinating his experiences, his reasons for taking the path he chose, as well as the way his experiences changed his understanding of the mind, personage and death.
  The second half talks about his life after the diagnosis with the last part being written by his wife to share what he was not able to recount because he passed away. It is inspiring all that he learned from his experiences and so eloquently shares with us through his book. It causes you to think about how you are spending your life and what might be the best use of one's unknown amount of time on earth.

2. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

  A lot of people had said good things about this book as well. I didn't care much for Eat, Pray, Love but thought I'd check it out since I heard it reminded the reader that they already have permission to create. It seemed like a good book to read while I am in the process of pursuing writing with more purpose and dedication.
  I found it to be an inspirational and encouraging book for anyone who is interested in pursuing a passion in their life. I did not agree with everything she said or thought but found a lot of helpful information, including the reminder that we do not need permission to pursue our passions; we were created with passion and creativity as part of our makeup. If you have a dream you desire to pursue but need some encouragement, motivation or inspiration, definitely check out the book.

3. Setting Their Hope in God: Biblical Intercession for Your Children by Andrew Case

  This is a book that contains numerous prayers for parents to pray for and with their children. Interspersed among the prayers are quotes about prayer - it's purpose, benefits, etc. I enjoyed having a daily reminder and opportunity to pray for my children. I am not always great at making intentional, purposeful prayer time for my children. This enabled me to think about them and their needs and have directed prayer that could lead me into more specific prayers for each of my children. It was an enjoyable exercise that I usually did shortly before bed.

4. Love Warrior: A Memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton

  I had read Carry On, Warrior several years ago and enjoyed it. I was not a regular visitor to Momastery so most of the essays were new to me. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect in this book. I had heard that it would be a chronicle of Glennon's marriage to Craig. Anyone familiar with Momastery would know the bones of the story - how Glennon found herself pregnant and at rock bottom and choosing to start fresh for the sake of her baby, how she and Craig chose to marry, that there was some News a few years ago that Craig shared with Glennon that they had to work through.
  The gist of the story was known, but it was very interesting to have the details fleshed out and to learn more of Glennon's history, the pivotal moments in her life and the origin of the sayings attributed to her (We can do hard things. Do the next right step.) I was a little uncomfortable during parts of the story. I felt that the book resolved well and contained quite a bit of encouragement and inspiration for the reader. If you like Glennon's previous writing or have followed her for awhile, you would probably enjoy this book.

5. At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

  A friend of mine said that this was one of her favorite book series. I trust her opinion so I decided to check it out. I haven't read a lot of Christian fiction lately. I got kind of burned out on some of the authors and genres within Christian fiction. This one, however, was quite refreshing and unlike what I've read this year.
  This book (the first of The Mitford Series) follows the daily life of Father Tim, an Episcopal priest in the small town of Mitford, North Carolina. The reader experiences the daily, unpredictable schedule of the rector as he seeks to care for his parishioners and members of his town. He acquires a stray dog who is disciplined by scripture, a rambunctious boy whose grandfather is stricken with pneumonia and many secrets of the inhabitants of Mitford.
  I became fond of all of the characters in the book and enjoyed the twists and turns of the story the author led me on. When the book ended, I had so many questions about various characters and want to know what happens next. Thankfully there are twelve other books in this series so hopefully I will get to become even more acquainted with and delighted by this town. The book is an uplifting and encouraging read that makes me yearn for small town living.

6. Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World by Karen Ehman

  I saw a Facebook posting about applying for the launch team for this book. The title of it struck me and I knew I had to check out the book. I received a PDF of the book to read and review but I love the message so much that I have pre-ordered a copy of it for myself (it releases November 15th) to be able to have on hand and re-read as I anticipate doing regularly.
  This book is full of helpful and doable advice about loving the people in our life. She shares her experiences with looking for opportunities to love and serve others in meaningful ways. She reminds us that the purpose of our love and service is to reflect Jesus. She is such a genuine and caring person, like a mentor you didn't know you needed. Her words resonated with me and encouraged me as I desire to live out God's greatest commandment of loving him and loving others.
  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who desires to know how to better love those around them - family, friends, kids' friends, neighbors, co-workers, and the "necessary" people in our lives (mail carrier, garbage service, teachers, etc).

7. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

  I had heard that this was a great book for writers, fiction or non-fiction. It is part autobiography, part information and advice. I really enjoyed hearing about Stephen King's life and his interest in writing from an early age. I enjoyed hearing about his writing process and how he fleshes out ideas.
  I do not have a desire to write fiction but a lot of his writing information is applicable to writers of all types. I have read one of his fiction books and watched a couple of the movies adapted from his books. Horror is not my genre of choice for books or movies but my genre preference does not matter as far as receiving useful information from this book. If you are a writer or desire to improve your writing skills, I would definitely recommend reading this book.

8. First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

   I think I have read one of her other books but was not familiar with her style and storytelling. I knew she was a Georgia author and I loved that this book was set in Atlanta so I recognized the places mentioned. This book is told from the alternating perspective of two sisters, Josie and Meredith. Fifteen years ago their older brother Daniel was killed in a car accident and it has affected their relationships with one another and others. Meredith sees Josie as irresponsible and self-absorbed while Josie views Meredith as a judgmental perfectionist. Josie's been carrying around a secret that may completely tear their family apart.
  I enjoyed the two-person perspective as it allows the reader to see each person's strengths and weaknesses. I had no idea what the secret might be and enjoyed learning about each sister's lives and their own fears and concerns. It was a good story that held my attention throughout the book. It's a good fiction read.

I am amazed that I finished six non-fiction books this month! Some of them I had begun in September (or earlier in one case) so it's perhaps not as impressive as if I'd read them from cover to cover in October. It was a fairly diverse selection of books. They all had something beneficial to share with me. How many books did you finish in October? Please share any that you would recommend!