Strengths and Struggles

What are you good at? What are you not so good at? Most of us would far rather answer the first question than the second. We’d prefer to think about our strengths over our struggles.

It’s hard to admit what we struggle with. Our culture has set up the expectation that we live as though we aren’t weak in any areas, like we don’t need help with anything at all, like we can do it all ourselves.

But I know that’s not the case for me. And I’m willing to bet it’s not the case for you, either.

There are things I’m good at. But there are also things I’m not good at. Some of those things are issues I’ve battled time and time again, frustrated each time I see them cropping back up even after I think I’ve wiped them out.

Struggles make us stronger. If we only paid attention to areas in which we’re already strong, we wouldn’t have to challenge ourselves as much. We wouldn’t experience as much growth.

We should recognize and lean into our strengths. We have them for a reason. They provide us with ways to help those around us and make the world a better place. They give us opportunities to do things that we enjoy.

But we can’t be good at everything. You and I are unique. We have different sets of talents and gifts. We are good at different things, and we work better together as our strengths complement each other. If we were one hundred percent the same, our friendships would be very dull. We wouldn’t have as much fodder for conversation, less to learn about one another, fewer things to discuss, and less room for growth. We need our strengths and struggles to make us unique individuals.

We are better together. We need each other. In order to work best, though, we have to acknowledge the areas in which we are weak, the places for growth in our lives, and be willing to be vulnerable with others we trust. Then they can walk with us in our struggles, provide advice, give encouragement, and share their own experiences.

Our strengths can provide opportunities to teach others and share our skills with them. And our struggles are areas in which we can seek opportunities to learn from others. In both cases, there are ways for us to challenge ourselves, grow, and build relationships with others.

It’s important to focus on strengths and struggles that are really important to you. If you’re strong in an area that you’re not passionate about, know that you don’t have to spend all your time pursuing it. Maybe it will come in handy in some small (or not so small) way later on. Maybe it is something you can simply choose to not pursue right now. There are plenty of other things you can focus on instead that would be a better use of your time.

Similarly, I suggest focusing on improving areas of growth that you think are important to your life. You don’t have to be good at everything. You can choose to just not worry about being good at some things, knowing that you are good at others and your worth doesn’t lie in your ability to excel at everything you try. However, sometimes there are things that you really do want to improve on, like photography skills (that’s where I’m at), organization, healthier eating, exercise, or kicking a bad habit.

In order to pursue anything very well, we need to be willing to really focus on it. If our attention and efforts are divided between too many things, we aren’t able to pour enough energy into any of them because we’re spread too thin.

Choose to pursue what matters most to you, whether you consider it to be a strength or struggle.

Know your strengths. Lean into them. Find ways to explore them in new ways. Grow them. Challenge yourself.

Admit your struggles. You can’t get better at things if you don’t face them. Look to others who are good at what you’re not. Seek advice from them. Get help if you need it. But give yourself grace to know that you don’t have to be good at everything.

What are your strengths? What are your struggles? Have you found good ways to improve your strengths or grow in areas you’ve struggled in? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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On Loving the Ordinary

It hardly makes our Instagram feeds or Facebook pages, but we spend most of our time living in the in-between, the ordinary, the mundane moments of life.

We trudge through our work weeks to get a break on the weekends.

We plow through the day to celebrate and kick back at night.

But what about the time in between? Do the moments and days between the big moments count for anything?

In them, we work, manage our households, provide for ourselves and our families, build friendships, create a life for ourselves, and try to keep all our ducks in a row. Those are the days filled with washing dishes, cooking dinner, packing lunches, washing laundry, mopping floors, wiping runny noses, reading bedtime stories, filing reports, checking emails, and running errands.

They are the ordinary days, the regular rhythms of our lives.

We don’t give these regular spaces much value but view them as the mindless path to the more important and productive times in our day. But more and more I see that these routines, chores and daily times of transition are the liminal spaces where we can meet God.

We need not separate the sacred from the ordinary, the “quiet times” and church attendance from our vacuuming and showering. Jesus showed up with a body that ate, slept, walked, built, taught. He told life-changing stories in fields and by mountains, shared truth around tables and while he washed feet. He listened and obeyed the Spirit at every small turn, trusting in the Father to accomplish His will through Him, step by step, person by person, meal by meal. – Aimee Kollmansberger

Did you catch that? We don’t have to separate the sacred from the ordinary. Every moment is sacred. Especially when you consider we don’t know how many more we’ll have.

There is beauty in a well-made meal, time spent with friends and family, a quiet evening alone, a project well done, a quick break to breathe deep, a brief message to encourage a friend, a doodle, a good book, art, and anything that makes us laugh.

We belittle the small moments when we discount their ability to bring us joy. When we rush through them toward the few and far between big things, we don’t do the small moments justice.

They provide the safety and predictability of rhythm when other things get too chaotic. And the simplicity and beauty of them hold so much beauty and joy.

They are the very things that keep us grounded. They fill up our lives in seemingly small ways, but when we look back, we’ll see that they were everything. They’re our normal, our solid ground, our home base.

We could be living lives that are more consistently joyful if we took just a moment to pause and realize the amazing potential our daily lives have for bringing us joy in seemingly small but noticeable ways.

 

Further reading:

On Finding God in the Pots and Pans by

February 2017 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 February installment!

Current favorites:51hg3cuofzl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Book: I’ve been enjoying Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. I’ve been taking notes like crazy (8+ on my computer) and trying to absorb all the wisdom. I love how she writes such practical things in a way that I had never thought of before. I’ve also read Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, another book of hers, and it was fabulous, too! It currently resides on my nightstand. : )

Food: My family made some chocolate-dipped strawberries and lemon_berry_chia_front_01__04872-1423265860-1280-1280bananas this week when we had dinner together. They were so simple, but so tasty! I also sampled some delicious Whole Me lemon berry chia granola at the Fit for Her Minneapolis event earlier this month, which I loved!

Verse: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” – Ephesians 2:10. I love being reminded that I, that we, are God’s masterpiece, His workmanship, something He’s immensely proud of and satisfied in. We aren’t mistakes. We aren’t accidents. We’re beautiful and beloved treasures of the Most High. Not only that, but He has good things in store for us. He knows each of us so well that He has set apart things for us to do, unique ways for us to impact the world around us. How amazing is that?!

Song: “Road Less Traveled” by Lauren Alaina. I love the reminder to stand out, be different, be yourself, and not find your worth in your appearance or your ability to fit in.

Why do you keep on staring?
That mirror, mirror, it ain’t fair at all
Dress sizes can’t define, don’t let the world decide what’s beautiful

You won’t make yourself a name if you follow the rules
History gets made when you’re acting a fool
So don’t hold it back and just run it
Show what you got and just own it
No, they can’t tear you apart

If you trust your rebel heart, ride it into battle
Don’t be afraid, take the road less traveled
Wear out your boots and kick up the gravel
Don’t be afraid, take the road less traveled on
Take the road less traveled on

Don’t follow anyone
March to the rhythm of a different drum
Why do we analyze, break out, and criticize the crazy ones?

You won’t make yourself a name if you follow the rules
History gets made when you’re acting a fool
So don’t hold it back and just run it
Show what you got and just own it
No, they can’t tear you apart, no

If you trust your rebel heart, ride it into battle
Don’t be afraid, take the road less traveled
Wear out your boots and kick up the gravel
Don’t be afraid, take the road less traveled on
Take the road less traveled on
Take the road less traveled on

Put your hands up, show me that you’re one of a kind
Put your hands up, let me hear your voice tonight

If you trust your rebel heart, ride it into battle
Don’t be afraid, take the road less traveled
Wear out your boots and kick up the gravel
Don’t be afraid, take the road less traveled on

TV Show: I’ve been watching Revenge on Netflix, and I love how complex it is, even if it thgets a little darker and more diabolical than what I usually gravitate toward. I can’t anticipate what happens next and am continually surprised at how all the characters stories and motives are so interconnected. I also watched all of Hart of Dixie and fell in love with the characters. It helps that Needtobreathe’s music was featured in a few episodes (including a huge dance number in the finale), and they performed on the show, too!

Memory from last month: I had a really good time hanging out with some of my best friends for a galentine’s party a few weeks ago. We had lots of treats, watched the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies (sort of, we may or may not have talked all the imageway through them), and did each other’s makeup, trying all sorts of new products. It was so good to catch up with them and just spend time in each other’s company.

I also had a wonderful time at the Fit for Her Minneapolis event hosted by nourish move love, Fit Foodie Finds, and The Her Initiative. We had an intense HIIT barre workout, ate delicious snacks, perused some amazing products from local, women-run businesses, and raised $6,700 for clean water and hygiene education!

Looking forward to this month: My sister’s birthday is in March, and I’m excited to celebrate with her!

 

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

 

 

Book image source: https://www.amazon.com/Gifts-Imperfection-Think-Supposed-Embrace/dp/159285849X

TV show image source: http://masterherald.com/

Wholeme image source: wholeme.com

What’s Saving My Life Right Now

This is inspired by Modern Mrs. Darcy’s link-up as a reminder of the things –both large and small– that save our lives and our sanity in the midst of the chaos of life.

So what’s saving my life right now?

  1. Tea. It’s my drink of choice, and really comes in handy in the winter months when I need something hot to warm my hands and soothe my throat. I tried Nourish Move Love’s detox ginger turmeric tea, and while I still have to play around with the ratio of tea concentrate to hot water, it’s been really good! I like knowing that I’m putting good things into my body that not only taste delicious but also help my body function better.
  2. The Hope*Writers podcast. I sat in on the webinar last week, and it was just the motivation I needed to really work on my writing. I’ve been listening to the podcast (is binge-listening a thing? I think it is!) like crazy since then, and all the information and encouragement is so good! I’m actually taking notes.
  3. Rest. I’ve been doing a lot less in the last month or so than I was in the previous several months. Some of that has to do with the cold and dark days and the lack of motivation that brings. But I’ve also been giving myself permission to just sit and rest after work and on the weekends. I’m trying to find the middle ground between productivity and rest, and I feel like I’m getting closer.
  4. Dark chocolate. It’s just the best. Nothing makes a long day feel better like some dark chocolate.
  5. Mail-order products. I’m not talking about ordering tchotchke things from a catalog. I mean having things delivered to my house that I would otherwise go to the store for. I signed up for Express Scripts prescription delivery to save trips to the pharmacy, and notify me a few weeks before the prescription runs out. Hooray for not running out because I forget to pay attention! I also started a subscription to Cora, which is a feminine care service that uses organic, vegan products that are comparable to traditional ones, and every subscription provides products for women in developing countries who don’t otherwise have access to them. Win-win! And again, it arrives on my doorstep. Hooray! If you’re interested, you can use my code and get up to your first month free (a $7 discount): jessica6483
  6. “Yes To” products. I’ve been trying to find better personal care products, and these are great! I love the Yes to Carrots body lotion and the Yes to Tomatoes face care line. They have a charcoal face bar soap that I love! I like knowing that I’m not putting dangerous chemicals on my skin, since what we put on our skin really matters (it’s the largest organ of our body and absorbs what we put on it, into our bloodstream).
  7. Mrs. Meyers and Norwex household products. Again, I’ve been working on having cleaner products– this time for my home! I don’t like the idea of having a lot of toxic chemicals spread all over the surfaces in my home. I like Mrs. Meyers soaps (hand and dish) and their all-purpose cleaning concentrate. They have so many lovely products and scents! I also like Norwex products because of their BacLoc technology. Because of the natural antibacterial properties of the silver in the cloths, I don’t have to worry about germs. And with their polishing cloth, I can finally get windows and mirrors clean without streaks!
  8. Community and friends. As an introvert, it’s often a challenge for me to balance social commitments and “me” time. I’ve been working on finding the sweet spot in the middle, and I feel like I’ve been making some good progress. I’ve spent some fun time with some wonderful people– crafting, pampering, chatting, cooking, and more. It’s been a great time and a good reminder that I need people in my life. 😉
  9. Books. True to form, I’m reading a few right now. I’m still plugging along through The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and it’s as great as I expected. It’s massive (we’re talking 1169 pages, people!), though, so I’m going at what seems a turtle’s pace. I’m also reading Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I think my love for the original is tainting my view of the new book, but it’s interesting to say in the least. I’m eager to see how it ends. And I just finished reading Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift: An Advent Devotional. It was lovely. I read more than a day at a time since I borrowed it from the library, and after Christmas since it was unavailable in December, so that was a little odd, but I loved it nonetheless.
  10. Netflix. I’m so grateful that my parents let my sister and me use their Netflix account, especially since we don’t have cable. There are so many good movies and shows on there that I hardly know where to begin. I like having familiar shows on in the background while I cook, and sitting down to watch a movie after dinner or on the weekend is a nice way to unwind. Sometimes I just need to de-stress and find something funny, and I often turn to Netflix for that. Lately I’m liking A Series of Unfortunate Events, One Day at a Time, Bones, and The Imitation Game.

What things are saving your life right now?

 

 

Further reading:

What’s saving my life right now by Anne Bogel, Modern Mrs. Darcy

Our “Calling”

Oh, the ever-so-elusive “calling.” I can’t tell you how many articles and books I’ve read, hoping to find the one that will once and for all spell out what it is I’m supposed to do with my life. But the fact that I’m still searching proves that I have had no luck finding such an article or book.

(Hint: That’s because it doesn’t exist.)

There’s no book or article that can definitively tell me what job I should pursue, where I should live, or what my life journey will look like in detail.

Everyday, I’ve been feeling the pressure
I always gotta know the plan
It’s a weight that I’ve tried to shoulder
I thought I could, but I can’t
And I’m so tired of chasing dreams
When I am wired to let you lead

You’re changing my heart
To want what You want
To love how You love
And that is enough
There’s no greater plan
That I need to know
You only ask me to follow

-Tenth Avenue North, “What You Want”

As a Type-A control freak, I know full well how tempting it is to want to have everything planned out. I don’t like it when things don’t go the way I planned. Even worse, I don’t like it when there is no plan at all.

But when it comes to our lives, God’s will isn’t always black or white. Yes, of course He gives us commandments and guidelines (love as He has loved us, obey our fathers and mothers). But He doesn’t tell all of us to quit our jobs and travel overseas to be full-time missionaries in the traditional sense. He doesn’t expect us all to have jobs in churches, youth groups, or campus ministries.

He just asks us to love. Right here. Right where we are. Right now. Today.

He cares more about how we live than what we do. He’s more concerned about the position of our hearts than the location of our feet.

The way my pastor explained it last weekend was that God’s will isn’t a blueprint; it’s more like a game plan. Blueprints go into very fine detail and are incredibly precise. They have to be exact or things will fall apart. There’s no deviating from a blueprint. Game plans, on the other hand, are far more flexible. There are still guidelines to keep things from getting out of hand– rules to make things go more smoothly– but there is freedom within those boundaries. Changes can be made to account for different circumstances.

What I realized is that my calling was more like a life message.  A life message is less a motto and more something you become and embody in everything you do. And what I found as I was struggling in my business and wondering if I’d made a wrong turn is that I could live out my life message in any job.  While being a life coach.  While working at the World Market.  By being a copywriter.  And you can too.  – Danielle Allen, One Foot Coaching

So when you’re struggling to grasp what God’s perfect, pleasing will for you is, remember some of the things He has called us to do:

-Love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt 22:36-40)

-Go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20)

-Love others as He has loved us (John 13:34)

-Care for widows and orphans (James 1:27)

-Serve others in humility (John 13:14)

-Store up treasure in Heaven, not on earth (Matt 6:19-21)

That being said, we were each created uniquely, and we will impact the lives of those around us in ways others can’t. Our purpose is to discover how we can use our talents to point the world back to God.

Our job is to say yes.  God’s job is everything else. – Danielle Allen

It seems so intangible, this “purpose.” What it really comes down to is finding a way to do what you do to the glory of God. Embracing challenges. Facing fears. Taking chances. Having faith that even if you don’t see it yet, it will all work out.

God works in the imperfections. Stop worrying about getting everything right and trust God to work through your weaknesses. When we recognize our limits and God still works through them, He gets all the glory. And that’s the beauty of it. You were designed specifically for this time and place, and the world needs what you have been called to do. Begin building.

-J. Scott McElroy

We don’t have to do it perfectly. We just have to do it. We have to stop letting the fear of not doing the “right” thing keep us from doing anything at all.

And in everything you and I do, we need to love. Love God and others. In our workplaces, we are to love. We are to be light. In our homes, we are to love. In our schools, we are to love. In our neighborhoods, we are to love. In our friendships, we are to love. Regardless of what our day jobs and titles might be, our real job is to live like love wherever God has placed us.

 

Further reading:

Living Out Your Calling by Danielle Allen, One Foot Coaching

Don’t Overthink Your Calling. It’s Closer Than You Think by J. Scott McElroy, Relevant Magazine

 

Image source: www.todayschristianwoman.com

What Are You Gonna Do About It?

Have you ever felt like things in life just aren’t quite the way you want them to be? Do you get that nagging feeling that you’re not living life to the fullest, like there are things you can’t quite put your finger on that are slightly off-kilter?

I know how that goes. I’ve gone through times of disengagement and vague dissatisfaction, not quite sure what was “wrong,” so to speak, which left me unable to do anything to change it.

But when I started really thinking about it, I could do more than I initially thought. I can reflect on my strengths, talents, gifts, and personality, trying to see how God uniquely made me, and begin to search for ways to lean into them. I can evaluate the different areas of my life, asking myself whether I’m satisfied with them, noting what is going well and what areas I can improve in. I can process through how I can use my strengths in the various areas of my life, allowing more passion into my daily rhythms. And I can do what I can to improve my circumstances and choose to be content with the things I can’t change.

Looking back on previous seasons of life to see what worked and what didn’t reminds me of part of Tsh Oxenrider‘s book Notes from a Blue Bike, in which she talks about missing the culture of Turkey after returning to the US. She missed the laid-back atmosphere and the loose concept of time, being able to drop in on friends and stay the whole day without calling first or feeling like she was imposing on them. She knew it wasn’t practical to treat friends in the US the same way, since it rubs against the way our culture functions, but she challenged herself to incorporate the things she loved about Turkey into her family’s life in the US as well as she could, changing what was in her power to change and accepting the parameters around her as they were. When I first read her book, I couldn’t believe how I could have missed such an obviously beneficial practice for creating a life I really love.

As I prepare to move to a new place, I’m reflecting more on what I’ve liked and disliked about places I’ve lived in the past, as well as places I’ve visited, like friends’ homes. I’m working to incorporate some of the things I’ve enjoyed into my new space, and trying to find ways to avoid the things that didn’t sit so well with me.

Taking the time to think about what things I’ve liked about where I’ve been allows me to get to know myself better. When I think about my preferences, I catch a glimpse into a part of my heart that isn’t often exposed. I can move from a vague feeling of discontentment to knowing what it is that isn’t quite working to actually taking steps to change so that things do work well. Throughout the process, I continue to learn what works best for me and how I can work to build a life I love, even if figuring that out takes some trial and error.

I liked living with friends in La Crosse and in the Cities. I loved being able to walk nearly everywhere I wanted to go when I was in school, too, instead of having to drive like I do now. I now know that working in sales doesn’t suit my personality. I’ve also learned that being able to be involved in strong community is a must. The summer I moved home after college was hard without a good network of people to support me; since I have gotten plugged back into a church family, I’ve felt more encouraged, supported, and connected, and I plan to continue engaging in community everywhere I go. Not knowing my neighbors in my apartment building has been uncomfortable at best and guilt-inducing at worst, so I plan to make greater effort to get to know and interact with my neighbors when we move.

As I’ve learned more about how I’m wired, I’m able to make some small changes that allow me to spend more time doing the things I love, feel more comfortable in my surroundings, and pour passion and purpose into my life. Setting aside time to reflect and actually write down lists of things that have made me feel alive, things I’ve absolutely loved, things that have just fit, gives me a greater ability to focus, to say “yes” and “no” to the right things, and to feel like I’m slowly moving in the right direction and becoming the best version of myself. I highly encourage you to do the same.

 

What things in your life aren’t quite satisfying you? What are you going to do about them?

Keeping Up With the Joneses

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Why do we work so very hard to accumulate things to impress others? Why do we waste so much of our precious time comparing ourselves to others? Why do we feel so dissatisfied, like we never have enough or do enough to be content? Why do we crave more, and more, and more?

Our paths in life are uniquely our own. We may walk alongside others for a season, but we have each been given a role to play in this world, one that is designed specifically for us.

We don’t have to strive to attain what those around us have. We can choose to focus on the path we’re on, appreciate what we have, and work toward our own goals. Not everyone is called to the same lifestyle. Those around you aren’t called to the same purpose you are; they have their own just as you have yours. And when we all go boldly in the direction of our own path, our actions work together with those of others, creating a beautiful piece of art that wouldn’t have been possible if we had all tried to paint with the same color.

When we spend too much time looking at what others have and what they’re doing with their lives, we lose focus on our own lives. We think we need to copy them in order to be happy. So we pursue the things they have, do the things they do. And yet, somehow the result isn’t a reflection of their happiness. We’re still empty. We’re surrounded by things we worked really hard to attain, but haven’t found satisfaction in. We don’t feel comfortable in our own skin because we’ve been trying to fit ourselves and our lives into the box we’ve created from our misled expectations.

Social media has made it even easier to constantly compare our lives with those of our peers. But what we have to keep in mind is the fact that the things we see online are just small glimpses into the lives of others, and often only the highlights. Our friends and family members may also be a few steps ahead of us, and it’s only going to discourage us if we keep comparing our progress to theirs instead of focusing on our own paths. So let’s set our eyes on the goals we have set for ourselves and resist the temptation to draw comparisons between our lives and the pieces of others’ lives that we see.

If we can see that we were uniquely created for a specific place in this world that nobody else can fill, we just might find the ability to deviate from the course we thought we had to walk down and instead forge our own path toward a much greater destination, one specifically designed for us by our Creator.

Consider this your permission to do just that– throw off the weight of the expectations placed on you, the constraints of the box you’ve never been able to fit comfortably in, and the hoops you’ve tried so unsuccessfully to jump through. May you and I walk confidently toward what lies ahead of us, freed from the burdens we’ve carried, ready to embrace our unique paths and all life has to offer as we travel them.

 

Image source: https://annegarrisonstudio.com/products/be-yourself-everyone-else-is-already-taken