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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Loving Your Right-Now Life

I often find myself thinking I’ll be happier when I achieve certain things or change this or that. But there’s always something else that sneaks onto my list. It never ends.

And I’m pretty confident that I’m not the only one.

It’s easy to think that acquiring more things or achieving bigger goals will make us happier. And maybe they do. For a while, at least. Until some other shiny thing catches our eye.

When is enough enough?

How do we get to a point where we can just love the lives we’re living right now?

I think we can start today. We can start right here, right now. Wherever that may be.

We don’t have to wait for tomorrow, next month, or next year. We don’t need more money, better jobs, bigger homes, or more impressive lives to flaunt on social media. We just need contentment. We need to be grateful for what we have and see the emptiness of continually chasing after what we don’t have.

If we don’t put a stop to it, we’ll find ourselves in a never-ending chase. We will never be satisfied. We’ll keep pursuing one thing after another, hoping the next one will bring us happiness, only to find that none of them can.

So, how do we find contentment? How do we satisfy ourselves?

We find ways to love our right-now lives. We pursue joy right now, right here. We don’t put off happiness until something else happens for us. There’s no guarantee that it will. The only way to really live abundant, wholehearted lives is to embrace the beauty of life as we know it today.

What can you love about your life right now? It’s easy to see the things you wish you could change, but I want to challenge you (and myself, too) to seek out and list the things that are going well.

Are you healthy? Are your family members healthy?

Do you get to spend time pursuing a hobby or favorite pastime, even just a little bit?

Do you have enough money to provide basic necessities (food, gasoline, mortgage/rent, utilities)?

Do you have access to a wide variety of entertainment options (Netflix, cable, books, music, podcasts, radio, movies in the theater)?

Are you in a season that will pass all too soon, one that you should savor and appreciate as long as it lasts?

Do you have a vehicle that safely gets you from point A to point B?

Do you have a solid community of people to support you and live life with you?

Are there moments of everyday beauty you can pause to enjoy? How about things like the sunset and sunrise, your child’s perfectly imperfect artwork, an adorable puppy, a gorgeous flower, a moment of quiet before the chaos of the day begins, a delicious meal, or a sweet conversation with a friend?

For me, loving my right-now life looks like being grateful for the job I do have instead of spending all my time dreaming about another one I might like more. It looks like investing in decorating and updating my current home. It looks like pouring into my friendships because I have the ability to do so right now without a family of my own to devote time to. It looks like being grateful for my safety after sitting in snowy traffic, because although I had to wait to get around a handful of car accidents, I wasn’t a part of any of them.

What things do you love about your right-now life? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

Image source: Artem Kovalev, unsplash.com

Keep Your Eye On Your Why

img_0544“Keep your eye on your why.” It was the second-to-last step in a set of helpful tidbits for people looking to minimize, but it was the one that stuck with me the most. Maybe because it rhymed, so I found it catchy. Maybe because it’s something I struggle with.

In pursuing my goals, both big and small, I sometimes forget what motivated me to start in the first place. And if I’m not careful, this lack of self-awareness will allow me to give up. I wonder if something is even worth my time and effort if I don’t remember why I started doing it in the first place.

Probably not.

If I want to stay motivated enough to see something through to the end, I have to remember why I’m doing it. I have to buy into the idea hook, line, and sinker. I can’t be one foot in and one foot out. It’s go big or go home, baby.

In other words, I need to keep my eye on my “why.”

Why am I pursuing the things that I’m pursuing?

Why am I saying “no” to some things and “yes” to others?

I can’t do it all. I have to say “yes” to some things and “no” to others in order to maintain some shred of my sanity and make sure I get some sleep. There are many, many things I could choose to pour my time and energy into, but only so many of them are good uses of those limited resources. Only a small fraction of them bring me joy and benefit the world around me.

And those are the things I want to pursue. That’s how I make my decisions. I ask what’s most important to me, what I really want to define my life.

I want to be known for my love.

And, considering that, I think about how to make decisions that reflect my purpose. I choose things that support that goal and align with my personality and gifts. In order to make the most of my time and efforts, it only seems logical to choose things I’m interested in, have an aptitude for, and things that will support my larger ambitions. I don’t want to waste my time doing things I’m going to give up on for lack of interest, get burned out doing because I wasn’t the right fit, or doing things that keep me stagnant.

Having the right motivation is key. If we don’t know why we’re getting up early to workout, we’re more likely to hit the snooze button instead of throwing off the covers and breaking a sweat. If we forget why we’re pinching pennies and budgeting, we’ll probably be less committed and find ourselves still impulse buying.

We need to remember why we do what we do.

I’ve found that having reminders around me is extremely necessary to living a life of purpose. I painted a sign over the summer with the word “beloved” on it that serves as a reminder in my house. I also have a beautiful necklace from my friend’s company She of Noble Character that says “beloved” on it and allows me to walk around with a constant reminder of who I am and how I’m called to live.

Remembering that I am loved and am called to be love in the world is my why. And I’m trying really hard to keep my eye on it.

 

Why are you doing what you’re doing? Do you have a big, overarching goal for your life that you filter decisions through? How do you remind yourself what your purpose is? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Further reading:

A Guide to Let Go of Your Perfectly Good Things by Zoë Kim, featured on Becoming Minimalist

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What I Can Do

Do you ever get tripped up complaining about how things aren’t going the way you want them to? Wishing things could just be different?

I do.

I find myself listing off things that aren’t the way I’d like them to be in a perfect world. But, in case you weren’t already aware, our world isn’t perfect.

And worse, it isn’t at all productive to just sit and stew in the midst of a pity party, feeling sorry for myself because things aren’t being handed to me on silver platters.

I’m trying instead to ask myself a follow-up question. When I begin to think, ‘I wish this was different,’ I probe further to ask, ‘What can I do about that?’

Can I change the situation?

Can I change my expectations?

Can I do something to prevent it from reoccurring?

Can I react better?

Can I put on my big girl pants and just deal?

Asking myself what I can do about a situation is productive. It takes the blame off the shoulders of others and puts the responsibility on mine. But it doesn’t burden me with unnecessary worries about things I can do nothing to change.

Sometimes challenges seem really, really intimidating, and I think I’m incapable of doing anything to make a difference. But when I take a moment to think about it, there are little things I can do to make small differences.

I can’t wipe out hunger, but I can donate money and pack some meals with organizations that serve the hungry.

I can’t magically transform the atmosphere of my workplace, but I can choose to be positive regardless of the negativity around me.

I can’t resolve the refugee crisis, but I can support organizations who are working on it.

I can’t stop child labor, pollution, or animal testing, but I can buy products from companies that are sustainable and responsible.

I can choose love. I can choose hope. I can choose faith, perseverance, and humble service.

There are times when I can’t do much of anything except trust that things will work out. There are times when I can only have faith that God will carry me through, believing that He’s doing something even when I can’t understand it.

My job is just to trust. To trust and do my part to make the world (or at least my little corner of it) a better place. And I do that by living like love, pursuing joy, and having faith through it all that while my abilities are limited, there’s nothing my God cannot do.

 

What are you reminding yourself that you can do today?

 

 

Further reading:

How We Can Love Refugees Today- List of Organizations by Jennie Allen

 

Image source: Kathy Jeffords, The Dreamy Giraffe

Be > Do

Today I’m deciding to focus on who I want to be rather than just what I want to do. I’ve always had a hard time thinking of an answer when asked “what do you want to do with your life?” It seems like such a complicated, nuanced question, and I’m still not really sure what the answer is. But if I instead ask “what do I want to be?” I have the freedom to interpret the question a little bit differently.

I’m pretty confident my career path will change as I get older, and I’m okay with that. As someone who graduated without an idea of what she wanted to do, that’s actually kind of comforting. I can try different things out and see what works in different seasons. And it gives me the freedom to also try out different hobbies and roles in other places, like with my church.

But when it comes to who I want to be, the answer is not so easily changed. If I think about it, I know what kind of characteristics I want to embody. Now, I’m not for a second trying to say that I possess them already. I’m saying I know what my aim is.

For all the unknowns about what I want to do or how my future might turn out, there are some things I do know. And I found a list from Jordan at Feel Free to Laugh that fits really well with those things:

  1. BE KIND. You want to be attractive to other people? Don’t be a jerk. Choose kindness, because it IS a choice. Not just sort of kind, and not fake kind. Be the for real, actual kind of KIND. Look for the best in others and then tell them what you see. Go out of your way to help someone in need, and do so without expecting anything in return. Speak words of life into those you meet. If you’re someone who is genuinely nice to others, you will instantly be more attractive to them.

  2. BE JOYFUL. No one likes a Debbie Downer, you know what I’m saying? The Word says to be joyful in all things, yet we tend to poo-poo the idea as unrealistic and unachievable. The thing is, I’ve met the person who is joyful in all things. Joyful in health AND joyful in sickness. Joyful in plenty AND joyful in want. It’s an actual THING, and it does exist! To be joyful doesn’t mean to feel happy all the time, which is good news considering we ALL know we won’t feel happy all the time. It’s simply an underlying sense of hope and peace that comes from knowing that all things work together for good, and it is contagious. Solidify where your hope and peace rest, and then share it with others. Joy spreads like wildfire, and THAT is beautiful to see.

  3. BE GENEROUS. Hold everything you have with open hands, and loosely. I’m not just talking tangible things like money and possessions; I’m talking praise, platform, and power. Be generous at all times with the things entrusted to you, and don’t join in the cutthroat competition. Share your finances when you feel led, and share your praise freely and often. Invite others into the things you’re doing, and promote their unique gifts and abilities. Jealousy is hideous, but when others feel safe with and valued by you, they’ll see you as someone whose beauty oozes from every pore.

  4. BE HONEST. Be a truth teller, both when it’s easy and when it’s not. Tell the truth with grace and compassion, but ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH. Be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get person, and never leave those around you wondering how you really feel. Transparency is breathtakingly attractive, and it paves the way for others to be transparent, too.

  5. BE UNEASILY OFFENDED. For the LOVE of Mother Teresa, stop taking yourself so seriously! Life’s too short to be uptight, and the only one who suffers when you are too easily offended is YOU! Receive valid criticism well and graciously, and let everything else roll off your back. Keep short accounts and forgive often. Chances are good you’ve offended someone before too (that’s right, I’m looking at YOU), so extend the grace you’d want to receive. Oversensitivity is not pretty, but thick-skinnedness is. Be thick-skinned.

  6. BE AVAILABLE. It’s tough to carve out time for others in the crazy-hectic lives we lead. That said, we are a relational people, and as my mother always says, “People matter before projects.” Be willing to set aside your valuable time to love another well. Be a listener. Be an encourager. Be a helper, be a safe place for the ones you love, and a safe place for the ones who are HARD to love. Draw boundaries, for sure, but be reachable and present. Others will know they can rely on you and you’ll be beautiful to them for it.

  7. BE LOVE. Let love flow from the deepest parts of you in all you do and to all you meet. Love is the single most beautiful quality in heaven and on earth, and love is the only tool that builds an inroad to people’s hearts. Love well, and love generously — you’ll never regret it. – Jordan Baker Watts

Those are the things I want to be. And they are far more important than whatever career path (or paths) I choose to pursue, what kind of car I buy, where I live, or what my family looks like. Those things are circumstantial, and I can’t always control them. But I can pour energy into becoming the best possible version of myself, regardless of my situation.

Will you join me in focusing on what you can be rather than on what you can do?

 

Further reading:

HOW TO BE BEAUTIFUL (A Step-By-Step Guide) by Jordan Baker Watts, Feel Free to Laugh

Just Keep Moving

It’s been hard for me to figure out how to exercise the way I want to as the weather continues to get colder. I love running outside, but I seem to have a particularly low threshold for cold weather this winter, leaving me unable to bear the temperatures outside.

Honestly, that was a hard blow to my heart, since I enjoy running so much, but it forced me to think outside the box and search for new fitness options. It also opened my eyes to the high value I had placed on running in terms of fitness.

I did enjoy running, but it wasn’t always my main motivator, and sometimes I had a really bad attitude about it as I reluctantly walked out the door into the cold, as if running had become an unenjoyable form of personal punishment once the weather got too cold.

“The best way to avoid this type of self-sabotage is to view your runs themselves as rewards rather than as chores to be gotten through and rewarded…

[Y]ou should do whatever you need to do to enhance your enjoyment of running. Studies have shown that when people manipulate their workouts in ways that make them more fun, they are more likely to stick with their programs. If you enjoy running with music, run with music. If you prefer running with a friend or group, do that. If you like running in the park, run in the park. There’s really no wrong way to run for weight loss if you’re having fun.” – myfitnesspal article

While there is by no means anything inherently bad about making fitness, exercise, or running a big par of one’s life, it isn’t the only way to exercise. This winter has challenged me to rethink my approach to fitness, just like I’m doing with nutrition. I want to live a healthy lifestyle, not one that feels confined or treats fitness like an obligation or punishment. I want to really enjoy what I’m doing, and running in the bitterly cold weather just doesn’t fit into that.

Instead, I’ve upped my strength training. I’ve been doing some strength training for a long time now, but I’ve been incorporating more HIIT and regular cardio into the routines and extending the length of time of my workouts as I get more into them and build endurance. While this option seemed second-best to running initially, I’ve grown to like it for this season. I have a wide variety of video workouts to choose from that keep me continually challenged and never bored.

When I consider long-term goals and motivation, I don’t seek to be able to lift a certain weight or run at a certain pace. Instead, I just want to keep moving. This idea dawned on me while I was watching a video by FitnessBlender, one of my favorite workout channels. The couple who hosts the videos regularly reminds viewers to take breaks when necessary, but to always keep moving. It’s not as important to complete the full HIIT or cardio or strength workout as it is to respect your limits, and you’re still reaping great benefits as long as you keep moving.

That is exactly what I want to do: grow stronger, continually challenging myself to move forward toward new heights, recognizing and respecting my limits as necessary for preventing injuries that would cause setbacks, but being willing to try new things and push myself outside of my comfort zone to avoid getting stuck in a rut, making sure I enjoy what I’m doing.

And oddly enough, this concept is true for the rest of life as well. No matter what comes my way, trips me up, distracts me, demands my attention, threatens to steal my joy, or hinders me from reaching my goals, I want to just keep moving. Even if it’s just one little baby step at a time, I will keep moving, keep striving for new heights, trying to figure out what works for me, and refusing to give up. Because I believe greater things like ahead than any I can leave behind.

Quote

You Won’t Relent

“You won’t relent until You have it all
My heart is Yours
You won’t relent until You have it all
My heart is Yours

Come be the fire inside of me
Come be the flame upon my heart
Come be the fire inside of me
Until You and I are One.”

Jesus Culture – You Won’t Relent Lyrics | MetroLyrics

I’ve been reading Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, and it has been doing a number on my heart. I’ve been on this simplifying journey for a little while now, and I felt like I had done a decent job of going through my things and getting rid of (or setting aside until I could take a trip to drop off) things that I don’t use or need.

Little did I know, I was going to be challenged to do more. I still have far more than I need or even want. I still am surrounded by a mountain of evidence of having bought into my consumer-driven culture. I still live in a place of abundance and extravagance. I still pride myself on filling one or two garbage bags with my second-hand cast-offs all the while ignoring the shelves, drawers, and closets full of things I barely touched in the last six months. As my eyes are being opened to my selfishness, my heart is breaking, and the kind of person I want to be is becoming clearer.

Giving away my ratty leftovers is no longer enough. Scheduling a pickup or quickly dropping things off in a drive-through at the local thrift store isn’t going to satisfy me any longer. I am being called to more. I have so far to go.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy,and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” -Matthew 6:19-20

How many times have I read those words and told myself the rewards of Heaven far surpass the trinkets of this world? How many times have I still labored to get the next best thing that will be cast aside shortly after I attain it?

I need to get to a place where I am not relying on my ability to provide for myself. I have been a packrat for years, keeping things “just in case” I might need them later on down the road. The actual number of times I’ve used those things should make me ashamed. I have feared that if I got rid of too many things, I would be left wanting for them, left in a state of need. As if by letting go of my material possessions, I could give away enough to enter into a state of pseudo-poverty. As if I thought the Lord wouldn’t provide for all my needs, like I didn’t recognize His hand in having provided me with the means to buy all this stuff in the first place, or His provision for the more meaningful things in life that I can’t buy with all the money in the world (family, friends, health, security, peace, love, joy, eternal security in Heaven with Him, to name only a few).

I’m done buying into the lie that I need more and more and more stuff to make me happy, to make me feel secure, to make me feel accomplished for having been able to provide for all of my needs, for having the forethought to stockpile things for my potential (and mostly superficial) future needs. I am choosing today to be more mindful of the things I spend my money on and spend my time doing. I will take a more honest, critical look at the things I’ve been holding onto and release more of them from my possession so that others (who actually need them) can have them and make use of them.

Jesus, You are all I need. I have been so incredibly blessed with everything in my life, but it’s not mine to hold onto. It all belongs to You. Show me how to best use it all.

This will begin a series of posts dedicated to more specific areas of life, areas that Jen covered in her book and/or areas that others have inspired me to look at in greater detail as I endeavor to take a more critical look at where I need to change some habits in order to become a better manager of everything I’ve been given.