Here & Now

Oh, how easy it is to continually be looking either forward or backward.

We can get caught up in our past— who we were, what we did, how our experiences have shaped us, for better or worse. We feel confined by a past that clings to us like gum on the bottom of our shoe.

Or we spend all of our energy looking to the next step, the next new thing. If we could only get our dream job, move into a bigger house, or start a family of our own, we’d be all set. We think that once we get there, everything will be better. But when we get there, we find ourselves looking forward once again to what’s beyond the next turn in the road.

I don’t usually like to share such a large portion of someone else’s words, but I can’t say these better myself, and as they struck me as words I needed to hear, I thought I would share them with all of you.

Because here’s the trick to the whole thing: If we’re always looking a step ahead, then we’re always looking a step ahead.
When we finally get to that next stage, or job, or weight-loss goal, or when we finally get married, our eyes will still be fixed ahead. The satisfaction will still evade us.
We won’t ever have arrived.

And the reason this is so sad is because when we’re so focused on what’s next, we miss what we have today.
If we spend our time peering over the fence—longing for grass that isn’t ours— that means we’re totally missing the beautiful gifts God has for us right here, today. We miss our lives longing for what’s next, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss my life!
I want to love my stage of life to pieces—to wear it out like an old pair of sweatpants I can’t bring myself to get rid of.
I want to dig into this season — to be present, and to savor it, and I want to do the same thing in the next season — soaking it in for all it has to offer, drinking it up to the very last drop.

…And so this is the work I’m inviting you into today — something I think about in my life a lot. Let’s keep our eyes on our own side of the fence. Let’s be present and full of gratitude in where God has us, right now, today. And let’s trust that when we get to the next season it will be just as wonderful, and even MORE wonderful because we’ve been practicing this present, grateful way of living.

Today I’m praying that in whatever season you find yourself in, that you lay back in the grass, the sun warming your skin, as you soak in the goodness of this season, knowing that the next season will be there when you get to it. – Stephanie May Wilson (emphasis mine)

Amen to that! May you and I fight the tendency to get stuck in the past or caught up in worrying and dreaming about the future, choosing instead to focus on the great things our present season has to offer and teach us. We are where we are right now for a reason. Let’s rest in that knowledge and not rush ahead to the next step.

Lightening the Load

It’s so easy to get pulled down by the weight of the world that we carry on our shoulders. Everywhere we turn there seems to be more and more bad news, destruction, disappointment, devastation, pain, and loss. But what if we didn’t have to carry it? What if we could lay it down and walk freely?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 1:28-30

We need to recognize that we are not defined by the world. We are not defined by what we do, what happens to us or the world around us, or who others say we are. We are defined by whose we are. And we are God’s. We are His masterpiece. We are His heirs. We are victorious in Him. We are beautifully and wonderfully made.

What if we decided that we will no longer be defined by the length of our to-do lists or the relative weight of our accomplishments? What if we were to choose each day to let ourselves be defined by something completely independent of our striving? What if instead of trying to do more, instead of trying to be more, we simply embrace the fact that we already are enough?

No matter what this world tries to convince us of, we are enough. We don’t have to live the way others tell us to live. We don’t have to believe the lies of the enemy. We don’t have to try to fit ourselves into the box set before us. We don’t have to live in the shadows, where shame, guilt, fear, and insecurity surround us.

In Christ, we have the freedom to release our stress and our heaviest burdens and walk through this life helping others do the same. We get to leave behind the cares and concerns and worries of this world and set our sights on one in which God will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. And there will be no more sorrow or crying or death or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

Yes, difficult times come to us all. Bad things happen. We get hurt. We make mistakes and suffer the consequences. We get ourselves in over our heads with committing to too many things and comparing our lives to those around us. But we don’t have to live our lives that way. We can grieve and hurt and heal and keep moving, keep living.

No matter what happens in our personal lives, we are God’s. We can rest assured in our identity in Him. Regardless of what goes on in the world around us, we can be comforted knowing our God is never shaken. He stands firm in the fiercest storm and holds us close. We don’t have to carry our baggage around like dead weight. Through individual struggles and in the midst of a culture filled with fear, we can dare to live differently.

We can show this world that there is more to life than our endless to-do lists and the bleak outlook the news broadcasts give us. There is abundant hope and overwhelming joy for the taking.

Will you join me in taking it?

 

Further reading:

When You Feel Like You’re Not Enough by Renee Swope, (in)courage

Have You Made Busyness an Idol? by Rachel Moreland, Relevant Magazine

Kairos 20’s by Kristyn Emmer, Awkward 20-Something & Surviving It

September 2016 Favorites

I thought it would be fun if I took a moment each month to let you know what things are currently striking my fancy, so here goes the September installment!

Current favorites:on-which-side-of-the-road-do-flowers-grow

Book: On Which Side of the Road Do the Flowers Grow? by Wendell E. Mettey. I’ve had the ebook version of this book on my Kindle for a long time, but found myself in need of another book to read the other day, and finally cracked it open. I like the sweet stories about the people Reverend Mettey encountered throughout his life and the encouragement each vignette provides. It’s not always incredibly happy, as most of the stories end with the individuals dying, but their stories and joy live on in those whose lives they touched.

Verse: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10. I have liked this verse for a long time, going back to it often. I need the frequent reminder that I am not alone. The God of the universe is with me, so I have every reason to hope, trust, and have faith that everything will work out– maybe not the brave_moriah-petersway I always want, but in a way that is beautiful in the end.

Song: Brave by Moriah Peters is my current favorite, one that makes me turn it up every time I hear it. My sister and I were jamming to this song on the way to work this week, and I was once again reminded of the powerful truth the lyrics hold. Not to mention the upbeat tempo that makes for a great sing-along at the top of your lungs!

No one ever told me
This would be easy
But I never knew
That it could be this hard
Oh the worry the worry the worry
Is weighing on me
Could you help me break down
All these question marks
And make me

Brave
I’ll fight like a soldier
Brave
Rise like a warrior
Brave
Won’t stop till the final day
Brave
I want to be stronger
Brave
Gonna be bolder
Brave
Look up and I see the way
You make me brave

I know, I know, I’m no superwoman
But impossible is possible with You
So no, no, no more running, no more hiding
Strike the fire so I’ll be fearless too
And make me brave

…None go with me
Still I’ll follow
Through the joy
And through the sorrow
Cross before me
World behind me
There’s no turning back

Brave
I’ll fight like a soldier
Brave
Rise like a warrior
Brave
Won’t stop till the final day
Brave
I want to be stronger
Brave
Gonna be bolder
Brave
Look up and I see the way
You make me brave

Food: The best thing I made in the last month was Pinch of Yum’s BBQ Chicken Sweet img_0780Potato Pizza. It was delicious! I’ve tried making a sweet potato crust for pizza before, but it didn’t come off the pan too well. This one held together much better, and the toppings were spot-on. I was really sad when it was all gone. I guess that just means I’ll have to make another one!

Blog: Food Faith Fitness by Taylor Kiser. I like the recipes Taylor shares– they’re both healthy and tasty, made with real ingredients. Sometimes they’re indulgent, sometimes they’re not; she strikes a good balance of both. I also like that she posts Sunday Reflections, where she writes about a specific passage of Scripture and what it’s been teaching her, along with prayer requests. She’s really honest about where she’s at in life, and writes like she’s talking to a good friend. Check it out!

Memory from this month: Our family trip to Nebraska img_0805and Colorado was the highlight of the last month for me. I loved getting to see members of both sides of my extended family that I hadn’t seen for a long time. And I got to fly a plane with my cousin for a little bit!

Looking forward to this month: My church is having our fall launch this Sunday, so I’m really excited to see our hard work pay off. We’ve done a lot with new signage, a different location, and new equipment, so come check it out if you’re in the area! We also have our third birthday celebration in a couple weeks– I can’t believe we’ve been around for three years! I’m looking forward to celebrating everything God has done with my church family.

Now it’s your turn. What are some of your favorite things? I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Book image source: http://moneysavingmom.com/2015/08/free-ebooks-how-to-reduce-food-waste-jump-start-your-day-plus-more.html

Album image source: thesoundopinion.com

happy-dreams-03

Holding on to Happy

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8

In a world so full of stress, pain, and heartache, how can we possibly think of excellent and praiseworthy things? In the middle of our own chaotic, busy lives, how can we find joy? Is it even possible to focus on the positive things in life when we’re so caught up with our to-do lists and our own little corner of the world’s problems?

I think we can. In small, incremental steps, I think we can move toward being more joyful. I’m not advocating for walking blindly through life, ignoring the hard things. Those need to be seen and felt, too. But I am saying that we shouldn’t get bogged down by our adult responsibilities and stress to the point where we feel like all of life is stress, responsibilities, and to-do lists.

Even so, I didn’t know how to just stop thinking the way I had always thought. If I didn’t think those thoughts, what was I supposed to think? The rutted pathway of negative thinking was so deep and worn that I literally couldn’t imagine my mind going in another direction.

I am learning, though, that our minds are not made for inactivity. They are lazy, though, and will take the path of least resistance every time. The only way for my mind to stop thinking one thing is for it to start thinking on something else. The only way to stop focusing on the worrisome aspects of life in this broken world is to intentionally fix my thoughts on even the most ordinary of gifts every day.

The only way to change the belief that I can’t change is to deliberately focus on the fact that Jesus says I can.

I am not condemned to a life of unhappiness. The way I am is not the way I always have to be. Changing my mind is not easy, but through small daily gains — choosing where to direct my thoughts — I am coming to believe in happiness again. – Jessica Bolyard, (in)courage

We don’t have to stay stuck in the cycle of negative thoughts. We don’t have to let worry consume us. We can live differently.

So how can you and I be happier in our everyday lives? Vacation is one thing, but “real life” is quite another. I was a much happier, more relaxed person while on a recent trip with my family, but I knew it was going to be a challenge to not fall right back into old patterns of stress when I got back. It was going to take work, and I’m just beginning to feel how big of a challenge that really is.

I think something we can all do (I know I could use it!) is to regularly make time for some small things that bring us joy. We don’t have time to invest in everything we love every day, but we can make small changes to incorporate some small things into our normal rhythms.

Some small things that bring me joy are:

  1. Listening to a favorite song
  2. Sending a quick message to a good friend
  3. Enjoying a cup of tea
  4. Taking a few minutes to walk outside
  5. Setting aside some time to read a book
  6. Thinking of things I’m thankful for
  7. Making and eating my favorite foods
  8. Doing something to help someone else
  9. Watching funny YouTube videos
  10. Puppies (other people’s– all the fun with none of the work) : )

I’ve noticed that my stress level goes down when I take a minute to breathe and engage in something that makes me smile when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m still working on making it more of a habit, but I’ve already seen how it can really make a difference.

What are some little things that you can incorporate into your daily life to bring you more joy?

 

 

Further reading:

Five Minutes to a Happier You by Jennifer Dukes Lee, (in)courage

Happiness Hijackers by Jessica Bolyard, (in)courage

Image source: http://lifenlesson.com/happy-dreams-interpretation/

img_0804

Family Fun

I recently got back from a road trip with my parents, sister, and both sets of grandparents. We drove out caravan-style to Nebraska and Colorado to spend some time with extended family on both my mom’s and dad’s sides of the family.img_0809

We’ve made similar trips before as a family of four, but not for a few years now, and we never took both sets of grandparents with us. But it worked out really well! While I’m not crazy about extended time cooped up in a car, I had a really good time visiting relatives I haven’t gotten to see for quite a while. And I got some pretty good reading time in while in the car, so it was a win-win.

We stayed the first few days in Scottsbluff, Nebraska with my dad’s relatives. Jackie and I spent a good part of that img_0805time with our cousins. We went hiking in the badlands (and managed not to fall this time or get bitten by a rattlesnake), watched some movies, and got to fly in an airplane with our cousin. He even let me control the plane for a bit, but let’s just say my piloting skills still need some work. It was a exhilarating experience, though!

Our relatives showed us the best Scottsbluff hadimg_0734 to offer, complete with the requisite trips to the Scottsbluff zoo and “the Walmart.” One afternoon, we even helped shuck corn, making us true Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Our time there flew by (haha, pun intended), and before we knew it, we were off to the next leg of our trip!

In Aurora, Colorado, we visited our great aunt and uncle on my mom’s side, where we had a few more days to enjoy meals together, watch movies, shop, and sightsee. We stayed at their img_0810house and were so incredibly blessed by their hospitality and company. My aunt even had brochures and lists of places we could go while we were there. One day we drove to Estes Park to walk around a bit and have a picnic lunch, followed by a trip to the historic Stanley Hotel.

Another day we went to Casa Bonita for nostalgia’s sake, and it was every bit as cheesy and tourist-y as I remember it being when we first went several years ago, but it was a lotimg_0807 of fun to go back and spend an evening there with my family.

Then we spent one final night in Nebraska on our way back home to Minnesota, one in which we celebrated my great-uncle’s birthday with lots of good food, games, conversation, and even more family than before!

I had thought it would be stressful to leave for vacation only a few days after moving into our new house, but it was actually a welcome break. We had gotten enough done at the house that I was comfortable leaving the rest until after we returned, and I couldn’t wait to get away from the piles of boxes and remaining to-do list.

While on vacation, I found a much lower-stress version of myself. I didn’t have to worry about getting a long to-do list of tasks done every day. I just got to enjoy my time spent img_0808with family. I think I laughed more in that week than I have all summer.

We didn’t have everything planned out every day, and I was surprisingly okay with that. I was more flexible and relaxed, and it was refreshing. As much as I normally like to control and plan everything, it was a relief to get a break after so much stress and chaos from buying and moving into a new home.

As I move back into the rhythms of post-vacation life, I hope to hold onto the more relaxed version of myself I rediscovered on our trip. I’m going to work on that in a more intentional way going forward, and you can read more about that here.

Did you go anywhere fun this summer? I’d love to hear about it!

Project 7: Stress

“It is such folly to pass one’s time fretting instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus.”– St Therese of Lisieux

How often do we find ourselves worrying and stressing about life and all the little details of it instead of resting? How frequently do we get wrapped up in concerns about things we can’t change, wondering what we will do if x, y, or z happens, wasting precious time and energy trying to create a survival plan for the future instead of really living in the present?

I just got back from a family trip to Nebraska and Colorado, and while I was gone I noticed something: I was an entirely different person on vacation than I had been at home. I was more flexible about what time I went to bed, what time I got up, how I spent my time, and I was fully content living out of a duffel bag. I found it easier to be cheerful and positive. I had more fun. And I was more fun.

And coming back to “the real world,” I knew I didn’t want to fall back into my old patterns. Yes, I have a new house full of projects. Yes, I have to return to work and get caught up on everything I missed. But that doesn’t mean I have to become a bundle of nerves.

In the spirit of Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess and my own Project 7, I am endeavoring to reduce the number of things I fill my calendar and my to-do list with. I don’t want to be stretched so thin and weighed down by so many things that I can’t enjoy my life or feel held back from the things I really want to do. I want to be free to experience all that life has to offer.

I know I need to learn how to prioritize and set boundaries. I can’t expect to get everything done in a single day, and I shouldn’t try to. Nor do I have to say yes to everything that comes my way. I found some helpful guidelines for figuring out what to say yes to and what to say no to, and I thought I would share them.

The Courage of No

1 – Know who you are. It’s tempting to tie our worth to our yeses, our hustle, and our ability to get ‘er done. But women who have a clear sense of purpose and identity in Christ are able to say no without letting it prescribe something about their worth. Take time every day to affirm your truest identity — the one you have in Jesus.

2 – Know your priorities. The clearer your priorities, the easier your decisions. Filter every request through the prism of your core values and calling. If it doesn’t pass the priorities test, it might be a sign that you should decline.

3 – Be resolute. Sure, it’s polite to offer some explanation for your “no,” but don’t feel like you have to give a drawn-out justification, even if you know that your “no” will disappoint the asker. As Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’” {Matthew 5:37}.

4 – Keep perspective. Remember that a “yes” to one thing means “no” to another.

5 – Remind yourself that your “no” is someone else’s “yes.” Your “no” may open the door for another soul to learn, lead, and serve.

6 – Hear God’s big yes over you. There is wisdom in knowing when to walk away, but it takes courage to take that step. Know that when you need to say “no,” God is still in your corner, pouring all kinds of yes down on you! -Jennifer Dukes Lee, (in)courage

We can’t do everything. But we can do some things. The key is to be willing to say no to the things that, although they may be good, are not the best— the best for us in this current season, location, circumstance, and step in this process called life.

Here’s to learning to make that distinction. May you and I both stress less and rediscover the joy that can be found in saying yes and no to the right things.

Starting Small

Many of us have goals we want to achieve that seem big, intimidating, maybe even impossible. We don’t know how to make them come true because they’re so incredibly big that we can’t figure out how to actualize them.

But what would happen if we broke them down into smaller pieces? What if we tried to just tackle one small bit at a time until we conquer the whole thing?

Imagine what would happen if we just decide to start somewhere, anywhere, just for the sake of getting started and making a dent. Instead of fretting over whether we’re choosing the right entry point, we take a jump right into the mess and choose to work through it, little by little, because we know that even though it won’t be perfect, it’s better than standing paralyzed at the start line.

Today I read a post by Ruth Soukup from Living Well Spending Less about how to crush your goals, and it reminded me of some truths I had forgotten about pursuing accomplishments.

I’m learning that I need to write my goals down. In the midst of the craziness and busyness of life, I forget things. If I don’t write them down, they’re almost guaranteed to get lost in the chaos. On the other hand, if I write something down and put it somewhere I can see it often, I am frequently reminded of what I’m aiming for and can act accordingly.

I also know that I need to continue reminding myself why I’m pursuing my goals. It’s so easy to think certain tasks can wait or aren’t important in comparison to others, letting myself fall back into bad habits instead of challenging them. But if I remember why I want to make changes, I’m more likely to stick to them.

For instance, getting up early to workout isn’t necessarily the most fun thing, especially in the winter when my bed is far warmer than the air on the other side of the covers. But when I tell myself that I will feel better, be more energized, get stronger, and be more ready for the day, I can more easily get up and lace up my shoes.

Seeing everything through to completion is key. When we moved into our new place on Monday (more to come about that later!), I was at a loss about where to begin. We had boxes piled up everywhere (I mean everywhere), and it was nearly impossible to know where to begin. I started on one task only to get pulled toward another twenty minutes later, starting a pattern that kept repeating itself, leaving a slew of half-finished projects in my wake. Only when I realized how inefficient that cycle was did I stop myself and focus on one task at a time. I unpacked the dishes, put things away in the front closet, and assembled the laundry sorter one at a time only by thinking about one of them at a time.