Know Your Limits

We can’t do everything. At least, I know I can’t.

In this season, it’s all too easy to fill our calendars and to-do lists to overflowing with holiday busyness. We rush and rush, feeling like we have to do everything in order to have a perfect Christmas.

I want to do ALL THE THINGS. I want to make all my own food (mostly healthy, of course). I want to make frugal, natural cleaning products for my house. I want to buy fresh, local, organic food. I want to support causes that are important to me. I want to pour into friendships with people both near and far. I want to be engaged at work and at home. I want to keep a clean house. I want to crochet blankets and paint canvases and bake treats and watch all the shows on my Netflix queue. I want to serve in soup kitchens and meal packing stations and wherever else I can. I want to donate to organizations helping alleviate hunger, providing shelter for the homeless, safety and hope for the abused, and those that spread the good news of the Gospel. I want to spend time with my family, build my community, and still have enough time to myself to not go crazy. I want to run new routes and push myself to new limits. I want to learn and grow and not be complacent.

But my skills and time are limited. I work full time and have other commitments and plans outside of work, too. I realistically can’t do everything that I want to do. At least not all at once. I need to know when to say no. I need to understand the seasonal rhythm of my life and carefully choose what’s best from all the good options before me.

I’m trying to categorize my options to better decide which things I will say “yes” to and which I will say “no” to.

  1. Core commitments. I have to go to work– that’s not optional. But besides that, I have committed to my church, community, and my family. I have said I’m going to show up, and so I have a responsibility to be present. That means that family birthday parties and holidays take precedence over other things, and church family gatherings are prioritized.
  2. Things that bring me joy. I love reading and crafting. I love exercising and cooking. I would be disoriented without those things in my life, and they’re a part of my regular rhythm. I also love watching Christmas movies (especially with others) and Christmas parties, so those will definitely make the cut this year. But I don’t love stressful Christmas shopping or spending a lot of time outside in the cold. No, thank you.
  3. Sanity-savers. I’m an introvert, and that means I can’t function without enough alone time to recharge. In the midst of the holiday season, that can be challenging, but I know I have to set aside time to read, rest, and recuperate in solitude.
  4. Things that align with my purpose or goals. If I’m presented with an opportunity to take part in something I really believe in, something that fits my personality and gifts, then I will say yes. If my plate is already full, or if something sounds good but not great, then I’ll pass and let someone else who is better suited for it step up.
  5. Spur-of-the-moment things. I struggle with spontaneous plans, mostly because I usually have mentally committed to something else, even if it’s just a night at home to read by myself. That being said, these things get fit in when I do have time (especially if they bring me joy and align with my goals), and I pass on them when I have other things planned without feeling guilty.
  6. Things that can wait. There are things around the house that I would really love to check off my list. But they aren’t necessary for having a wonderful holiday season, so I’m pushing them to the back burner. No painting the kitchen cabinets this month.
  7. Everyday housekeeping. Starting with (but not limited to) actual housekeeping. I will say “yes” to the basic things to keep my house clean but not stress about having it picture-perfect or let it get in the way of my hospitality.

Despite the pressure to move through this season like a spinning top, I am choosing to set aside time to rest and cherish the real reason for the season. I’m going to say “no” to things that hinder my heartfelt celebration of Christmas and purposefully choose to participate in things that let me really enjoy it as much as I can. I’m going to be intentional about planning things out so that I don’t try to cram in more than I can handle or have to pull all-nighters to get things finished in the final hour.

No matter what I do, I’m going to regularly remind myself of what really matters. Investing in my people matters. Being thankful matters. Taking care of myself matters. But having a perfectly decorated house or beautiful, detail-oriented dinner party doesn’t matter if I’m a big ball of stress.

So here’s to a wonderful, intentional, purposeful Christmas season. May you and I both learn to say “yes” and “no” to the right things, respecting our own limits and those of others as we do our best to celebrate the season without losing our minds in the process.

 

What about you? What are you making time for? What are you saying “yes” or “no” to? What are your limits?

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Pause

Instead of human doings, we are human beings, loved not for what we achieve or what presents we give or how well we can cook a turkey, but for who we are—beloved children of a generous and comforting Father. -Nancy Sleeth, Relevant Magazine

Have you already fallen prey to the busyness of the holiday season like I have? In the middle of the chaotic mess that is everyday life (especially around the holidays), I challenge you to pause. I’m challenging myself to do it, too, so you won’t be alone.

The reality is that we need to press pause in the middle of our busy lives.  We need to learn to take the time we need to find that space to reconnect with our hearts, pay attention to what has meaning to us, and then begin to design a life that includes pausing as we go instead of a forced pause when we come to the end of our rope.  – Danielle Allen, One Foot Coaching

We’re busy, yes. But don’t we want our lives to be purposeful? I, for one, know that when I look back on a week or a month and only see time spent doing the immediate, practical things required to get me through without an ounce of purpose, intention, rest, or fun, I’m disappointed. I find myself wishing I could do it over, think more, spend my time doing more things I enjoy, slow down, and savor each moment. But that doesn’t come naturally to me. And I’m willing to bet it doesn’t come naturally to you, either.

That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to pause, though. We can teach ourselves to set aside our to-do lists, projects, assignments, and ambition for even just a moment and take a breath.

It, like many other things, is a habit we can cultivate. Just like constant busyness, it’s something that becomes more natural over time. So if we decide today to begin setting aside little moments to pause, we’ll slowly find ourselves doing so naturally. And we’ll be able to benefit from the practice as we make the time to rest, re-center ourselves, gain perspective, and see the bigger picture.

Pressing pause allows our hearts the breathing room they need to make us whole and to remind us that our identity is not based in what we do but in who we become.  – Danielle Allen, One Foot Coaching

So in a season that is full of holiday to-do lists, frantic shopping, late-night gift wrapping, and more parties than our social calendars can possibly accommodate, let’s make sure we pause to rest. After all, the holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not rushed through at breakneck speed.

I say enjoy the aspects of it that are special to you, and do away with as many of the troublesome burdening portions that you can. If your family no longer likes some of the traditions you’ve observed in the past, don’t feel like you have to do them just for tradition’s sake. Don’t worry about having a Pinterest-worthy living room decorated with a giant tree and perfectly arranged stockings on the mantel. Don’t feel the need to fill your bucket list and calendar with so many events that your head spins just from looking at it. Set aside time with family, planning low-key moments to cherish one another’s company in the spirit of Christmas, remembering that the holiday is about more than presents, trees, lights, and parties. Whatever you do– however you choose to celebrate– remember to pause and cherish this special time of year.

 

Further Reading:

All the Things You Don’t Need for a Perfect Holiday by Joshua Becker

How to Prevent Holiday Burn-out Before It Starts by Nancy Sleeth, Relevant Magazine

 

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!

We Need Each Other

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. -Ecclesiastes 4:8-10

In our culture of independence, it can be really difficult to admit that we need one another. We like to think that we can do it all ourselves. Somehow we have equated dependence upon others with weakness.

But can we really do it all by ourselves? I know I can’t, as much as I sometimes would like to think I can. It’s when I’m flying high, thinking I’ve got it all together on my own, that I crash and burn, humbled and reminded that I need to involve others in my life if I want to continue to grow and live a full life. I need to rely on the strengths of those around me, especially those who are strong in areas in which I am weak.

I’m often blind to my own faults, and I need people in my life who know me well enough and love me deeply enough to point them out to me. I need friends to encourage me when I get discouraged, make me laugh when I’m down, challenge me when I’m getting complacent, and motivate me when I’m being lazy. The only people who can do this are those that I let get close enough that they can see the not-so-pretty parts, not those that I keep at an arm’s length.

When I set my default I-can-do-it-by-myself tendencies aside, feelings of loneliness and isolation subside, and shame goes running for the hills. I am no longer pressured to hide my struggles and weaknesses, showing the world only select parts of who I really am. Those kind of authentic relationships give me life and joy, instead of leaving me running on autopilot and constantly making sure my mask of perfection is still in place. And when I’m living in the security of knowing I can be honest and real, I give others permission to do the same with me.

As my sister wrote this week, we learn best together. When we experience life in community, we build off one another, sharing our knowledge, points of view, and experiences, and we challenge each other to continue growing. We see the deep, rough parts of each other’s hearts, and we live life together in the darkest nights and brightest days. We get the benefit of multiple perspectives, past experiences, lessons learned, and knowing we aren’t fighting alone.

As we receive help and love from others, we’re learn to extend the same gift in return. And as we discuss difficult questions, create an atmosphere of safety and acceptance, open up the floor for any and all questions, and struggle to find answers, we forge some of the deepest friendships we’ve ever known.

By having a solid base of people to turn to, we have a support system and firm foundation for when things get rough. We know we can ask them for prayer and help no matter what life throws our way, and that knowledge alone is empowering. Seeing prayers answered and witnessing true change is a powerful force, but one that we only experience when we live up close and personal with one another– enough that we get to see both the “before” and “after” pictures. It allows us to face life’s obstacles more confidently, trusting that although we can’t climb all of our mountains alone, by God’s grace and with the support of those who have our backs, we can continue moving forward.

The Gift of Time

I have been in a sort of minimizing mindset over the last year, and that has made me reconsider my gifting habits. I think a lot longer about what I might want when gift-giving holidays come around, trying to be wise about my choices and not ask for anything that I won’t really use, and I spend a lot more time carefully planning and choosing gifts for others.

We all likely have things in our homes that we don’t use, like, want, or need. Gifts from others sometimes can contribute to that. Although we know the gift-givers always mean well, we so often end up throwing unwanted gifts away or donating them after the holiday season passes (or during spring cleaning years later, depending on your style). This year, I wanted to personally challenge myself to rethink gifting and inspire others to also consider choosing gifts more wisely.

As the holiday season approached this time around, I endeavored to create presents that felt more personal than just things decided upon and picked out quickly and without much thought put into them. I wanted each gift to be specially chosen for its recipient, and I chose to give some people experiential gifts instead of just tangible things.

My extended family decided a few years ago to stop exchanging gifts and instead give of our time. We began an annual tradition of packing meals at Feed My Starving Children around the holidays, and we spend our Christmas day playing games together and eating too much delicious food.

Our focus is no longer on how to pack all the presents in the car to take them home, figuring out what things we need to hold onto the receipts for, or thinking of where we’re possibly going to put everything. Instead, we get to turn our attention to enjoying one another’s company free from the stress of gifts. We do exchange white elephant gifts as part of our new tradition, but it’s more about playing games together and getting a good laugh out of the kinds of things we find to wrap up than it is about the gifts themselves.

As much as we all have loved getting tons of presents every year, my family and I have agreed that the most special ones are the ones we’ve been able to share– things like our trip to Walt Disney World last year, or our tickets for Joyful Noise Family Fest. As our schedules become more and more hectic and difficult to align, we have begun to really cherish our time together. Because of this, I wanted to give some of my nearest and dearest the gift of time spent together.

For instance, I gave my dad popcorn, an assortment of boxed candy, a movie, and four customized tickets for the rest of us to join him for a movie night whenever he wants. We’ve been giving him movies for a long time, of course, but I thought it would be a fun twist to incorporate the movie into a night spent together as a family.

For my best friend and fellow winter weather sufferer, I put together a coupon book of adventuring ideas, themed after winter activities and Christmas carols. The book included things like roasting chestnuts on an open fire, decking the halls with boughs of holly, walking in a winter wonderland, and building a Parson Brown snowman. I hope that with some ideas to get us started, we can come up with ways to enjoy the season despite our aversion to the cold weather.

For my mom’s birthday in early January, I put together a jar full of mother-daughter date ideas. I looked up some lists online for inspiration, choosing things I thought she would enjoy. I included vouchers for a movie date, spa date, shopping date, lunch date, crafting date, and sort of a wild card– a “you choose” date. I look forward to seeing what she chooses to redeem first, and I think we’re going to have a blast getting together to try some new things and pursue some old favorite hobbies together.

I was really excited to give each of these gifts to their recipients because I had put so much more thought and energy into each and every one of them. It was as if more of my affection and appreciation was being communicated by these gifts than ones I could have more easily picked up off the store shelves, like a part of my heart was given to them as well. Feeling that pride and excitement was all the reward I needed for my efforts.

How do you feel about giving the gift of time and experiences instead of tangible things? Do you have other ideas about giving others the gift of time spent together?

A Christmas Prayer

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Let your heart be light.

From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.

Take just a moment to think about what it would look like if we lived like those words were true. Because this is how the Christmas season ought to be. Our troubles should be miles away, worries thrown out the window, concerns long forgotten in the light and joy of the celebration of Jesus’ birth. In comparison with that wondrous gift, that moment when all of history was forever changed, how can our little concerns (and even our big concerns) possibly compete? They ought to be dwarfed, completely eclipsed by the sheer greatness of our God and the celebration of the gift of His Son.

In the place of this kind of holy holiday, when we gather with extended family for this annual event, old feuds rear their ugly heads, tensions rise, and tempers flare. Impatience reigns, and stress isn’t far behind. Our troubles and stresses certainly aren’t out of sight; instead, they loom before us like physical foes ready for battle.

Instead of letting the truth of the season and the significance of the celebration work its way into our hearts, we only let it permeate our calendars. We fill our schedules with things that seem connected to Christmas but really bear no resemblance to the spirit of the holiday. We fill our days with activity without taking a moment to pause and relieve our hearts of the burdens they carry.

In the midst of the craziness and busyness, I want you to take a breath right along with me and focus on the good. Instead of adding more and more to our wishlists this year, let us count the abundant blessings we already have.

Whether your plans include gathering all the extended family together for a big, loud dinner, or a sweet, small celebration with just a few of your nearest and dearest, may you truly have a merry little Christmas. I hope you and I can both remember that it’s not the size of the group, the culinary quality of the meal, or the cleanliness of the home that makes this time special. It’s about time spent together as we pause to reflect upon the joy and peace that can be ours if we will accept the gift being offered to us in a still, small voice that we can only hear when we slow down and clear away the clutter.

The holidays can either be rife with stress, tension, and hastening from one thing to the next with arms full of unwanted, overpriced gifts, or they can be simpler times of joyful company with the minimized importance of gifts and the focus shifted to what really matters– the hearts of those nearest and dearest to us.

In the spirit of the season, let us choose to cherish this time with our loved ones, no matter what else happens. Let us deliberately approach these next few days with a clear head, pure heart, and positive attitude. Let our hearts be light, free from overwhelming stress. If the turkey burns, that’s okay. If we don’t get everything we asked for, that’s probably a good thing. If people arrive late or have to leave early, let that teach us to be flexible and forgiving. If it doesn’t snow and we’re left with a rather brown Christmas, let us rejoice in roads without ice that take us safely to our destinations.

I don’t know about you, but I want to look back on this next week with a smile, knowing I didn’t strive in vain to create a perfect experience that will inevitably disappoint, but that I recognized that there is a time for everything– a time to prepare and a time to plan, and then a time to set things aside, declare them done, and just relax and spend time with people. And I have a sneaking suspicion that you would agree.

My prayer for us this Christmas is that we would set aside our differences, refuse the temptation to stress and worry, instead focusing on our many blessings, valuing people over presents, and truly make this Christmas one to remember as we gather together to praise our King.

 

Prepare Him Room

“Let every heart prepare Him room.” A line in a well-known Christmas song, but what does it mean? How do we prepare room for Him in our hearts, especially in a season so fraught with busyness?

In the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, endless to-do lists, and the ever-present chill of winter weather, where do we begin to somehow make room for more? Can we possibly squeeze in another task? Maybe that’s not even the question we should be asking. Maybe we should be asking how we can make room for less.

We try to do too much all year long, packing our calendars with practices, rehearsals, coffee dates, meetings, parties, errands, and work. This tendency to fill up our schedules to the brim is only magnified as Christmas nears. We add to our already full plates the responsibilities of making treats, decorating the inside and outside of our homes, picking out the perfect presents, sending out cards, planning the ideal meal, and trying to keep some shred of our sanity while doing it.

But what if in the midst of the Christmas season chaos, we chose to pause, even for just a moment? What if we take a collective deep breath and remember why we do everything we do? What if we refocus on the friends and family we already have instead of the list of gifts we want to buy and list of gifts we want to receive? What if, instead of a complicated list of holiday traditions that clutter our calendars without adding any meaning to our celebrating, we choose only to participate in things that bring us together with our loved ones, spread the joy of the season, and celebrate Christ, without whom we wouldn’t have Christmas? What if we were to pare down our plans to get back to the simple joy of Christmas that is there to be found beneath the layers of busyness and strain? What if we were to truly prepare room for Jesus in our hearts?

Preparing room, yes, means preparing. It means being intentional about getting some necessary things done. But it also means setting aside time to just be– to dwell in the presence of the One who came to this earth as a precious child so many years ago, born to a virgin inside a stable, surrounded by animals and angels.

It means being willing to break traditions if they no longer hold real meaning and making room for ones that continually remind us of what we’re really celebrating. It means taking a good, deep look at what we really need. It means recognizing how much we’ve already been so blessed with the best Gift ever given, and seeing that nothing we buy from a store could ever top that. It should prompt us to strip away the fancy wrapping, the finishing touches, the polished look, the impressive decorations, and getting to a place where our heart is free to worship. It means setting aside our lists of things to do and being okay with them not all getting done, at least not right away. It looks like revisiting the silent, holy night that our Savior was born, contemplating the brilliance of the shining star, the humility of the manger, and the servant King that precious baby grew up to be.

This season, may you truly prepare Him room.