Enjoy Today

IMG_0190I recently changed the wallpaper on my phone to a floral design with the words “enjoy today.” This is definitely a reminder I need to return to frequently, and having it on my phone has proven to be a good way of jogging my memory.

As a planner and generally Type-A person, I think a lot about what I’m going to do in the future— whether near or distant. I often find myself ruining a peaceful experience by worrying about whether I’m going to have enough time later to do X or how I’m going to fit in Y.

Instead of enjoying today, I fill it with thoughts and concerns about tomorrow.

I recently took a trip to visit some college friends, and I had to consciously remind myself to stop thinking about the growing list of things I would have to accomplish when I got home in order to prepare for the week ahead. I was going to be spending several days the following week away from home, so taking time to prepare was a logical thing to do. But if left unchecked, my thoughts would drift into worrying and planning in the midst of spending time with lovely friends, distracting me from enjoying their company. I only had a couple days with my friends, and I didn’t want to waste them trying to mentally organize life back home.

It was the timing that caused the issue, not the fact that I wanted to be prepared. I cannot be in two places at once– physically or mentally. I’m learning that I need to keep myself grounded, paying attention to the things and people around me, instead of removing myself from the world around me by not being present.

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” –Matthew 6:25-34

In my head, I know I’ll be provided for. I have been so abundantly blessed already that I have faith in future provision from my Heavenly Father who loves me and loves to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11). But sometimes in the busyness of life, I get a little planning-happy, subconsciously telling myself that the only way to take care of everything and make everything work out, I have to have every detail figured out ahead of time.

This kind of planning quickly turns into worrying as it seems like my to-do list will never be done or my calendar never open enough to allow for everything I want to accomplish. I stress and fret over it, trying to see a loophole, a way to make everything line up just perfectly so I can rest. It’s as if I have to have all my ducks in a row before I can enjoy my life.

But rest is found in the midst of the craziness, not in its absence. When I step back from my obsessive planning and look at the world around me, I’m struck by its beauty and simplicity. How many days have I spent running around with my head down, internal dialogue turned all the way up, not even seeing the rays of sunshine, technicolor sunset, arching rainbow, or falling snow?

There is always something to be enjoyed, if only I will take the initiative to slow down and look for it. My Creator made a wonderful world for me to experience, and I’m going to miss out on that if I’m too focused on trying to plan out my future. I don’t want to be so busy organizing my life that I don’t get to live it.

When I see the reminder on my phone to enjoy today, I take a moment to breathe, pause whatever I’m doing, and think about how wonderful life is. I give thanks for the things that are making me smile, choosing, even for just a moment, to focus on them instead of the mountain of work in front of me or never-ending to-do list at my side. I certainly have a long way to go in controlling my planning and worrying habits, but for now I’m grateful for the little reminder I get every time I pick up my phone. Today will never come again; may you and I enjoy it to the fullest while it’s here.

You Can Stop

How many excuses do you find yourself making in a given day? Do you tell yourself things like:

I just can’t help it

I can’t take a break now; I have too much to do

I’ll make time for that when things slow down

I’m too busy to take a break/take time for myself

We make so many excuses, but we don’t really change our behavior. We keep running around like little Tasmanian Devils, wreaking havoc on the world around us. Feeling trapped inside our obligations, we watch the plates spinning around us, but feel helpless to stop them. We’re afraid that things will fall apart if we pause for even a second, that we’ll fall even farther behind and never catch up.

As we get older, we think, hope, and pray that the pace of our lives will slow down or we’ll magically have fewer things to juggle. Yet every year, we find ourselves burned out, making resolutions to focus on things that fell by the wayside in the crazy whirlwind of daily life.

But the truth is that no matter how chaotic our lives seem, we have the power to choose how we react to our circumstances. We may not be able to control others’ actions or life’s circumstances, but we are in charge of our own thoughts, emotions, and actions. Herein lies the important difference. In the midst of the busyness and craziness, we can stop. We can set aside our never-ending to-do lists and pause. We can make time for rest.

Before you think you don’t have time or don’t have the ability to do that, think again. You have the power to give yourself the okay to take a moment to re-orient yourself and look up. Making time to take a breath, focus on something positive, gain a greater perspective, and relax will allow you to approach your work with renewed energy and a better attitude.

We deserve to treat ourselves better. We spend far too much time berating ourselves for our mistakes, making terrible excuses for not doing what we want, proving that we are our own worst critics. But if we can first stop our negative thinking about ourselves, seeing what we perceive as faults to be opportunities for growth, connection with others, and reliance upon God, we are more likely to treat ourselves better and make time for rest in even the busiest seasons of life.

We get to spend our time the way we want. We decide to show up to work on time, get the bills paid by the due date, and projects completed by the deadline. But we have the ability to work in moments of rest for our weary bodies and even wearier souls. We need it.

So today, I give you permission to stop. Put your phone away. Turn off the TV and radio. Walk away from the computer. Get outside if you can. Go for a walk. Pour yourself a cup of tea. Sit down if you’ve been on your feet all day. Breathe. Enter into a time of worship and prayer. Give thanks.

All that remains is for you to follow through. You can stop. Everything will be okay. And you will feel better for having taken a moment of time out of your day to refocus, breathe, and recharge.

From Stressed to Blessed

As I continue learning what it means and looks like to rest, I found myself asking the question what gets in the way of rest? One of the main factors for me is stress. When I’m stressed, I’m camped out far away from a place of rest.

Telling myself not to stress only makes me more stressed as I then try, by force of my own feeble willpower, to stop worrying and fearing the problems and circumstances of my life that loom before me. Instead of trying to push those feelings aside, I’ve discovered a few healthier ways to cope with my stress.

  1. Breathe. Simply taking a deep breath can help me calm down, especially if I focus on the act of filling and emptying my lungs. It may be that it distracts me momentarily from whatever stressful thing I had been focusing on, thereby freeing me to return with a more positive approach. Or it could simply be that it lowers my heartrate back down within the normal range.
  2. Accept help. I’m no good at this. I’ve been told that I’m no good at it. I stress out because I try to do everything on my own, keeping too many plates spinning all at once. I’m slowly coming to see the value in accepting help from others– whether it comes in the form of someone opening a door for me, carrying something for me, making food for me, taking on some of my workload, or any one of dozens of other things. I need to realize the people around me are far more willing and able to help than I usually think, and I have the opportunity to build a relationship with them and let them serve me by helping out when I’m struggling. Many hands make light work.
  3. Be flexible. My perfectionist personality rubs up against this one, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true or helpful. It just makes it particularly difficult. I’m starting to embrace the beauty found in imperfection. It’s okay if my apartment isn’t perfectly clean, I don’t have every hair pinned in place, every detail isn’t planned out ahead of time, every activity on my calendar isn’t done exactly when it’s scheduled, or every task on my to-do list isn’t checked off at the end of the day. Life goes on. Being flexible allows room for growth, change, and for God to rearrange the parts of my life I might otherwise hold too tightly. It leaves room for conversation with others. It means I have breaks to recover instead of flying from one thing to the next.
  4. Take a break. Plowing through days, weeks, and months of life without stopping to rest isn’t a sign of hard work and determination as much as it indicates self-sufficiency, fear of what will happen if things stop, and a lack of control. I’m beginning to cherish my moments of pause. When I begin to feel too weighed down by the task before me, I set it aside briefly, walk away to do something else, and come back with fresh perspective.
  5. Tackle one thing at a time. Too often I find myself freaking out because there are just too many things on my plate, and it seems like they’re about to wage war against me. Instead of staring in fear at my never-ending to-do list, I need to focus on completing one thing at a time. When I pour my attention into just one thing, I find that I can accomplish it more efficiently and make better use of my time than if I was simultaneously thinking about the next five things I have to do.
  6. Consider the worst case scenario. Stressing about things makes mountains out of molehills. If I were to consider the worst thing that might result from a failure, I might just see that I’m making too big of a deal out of things. If I’ve thought it through, then the idea of failing is less frightening because I know things will still be okay.
  7. Count my blessings. It sounds really cliche, but when I’m focusing on everything I am grateful for, there isn’t room for worry and stress. The positive thoughts and praises to God crowd out the negativity and frustration.

It’s going to take a lot more practice with these things, but as I daily pursue rest in 2016, I hope to become better and better at managing my stress. And I hope you, too, find ways to curb yours so you can fully enjoy your life and all the wonderful things it has to offer!

Slow it Down

The older I get, the faster it seems the world is spinning around me. It’s so easy to get caught up in the current of work, bills, responsibilities, penciled-in coffee dates, short nights’ sleep, and pressure to continually be working harder, like I can never have enough or do enough to keep up.

Why do we work so hard for things that matter so little? We work long days to make money to pay for larger homes, better cars, more luxurious vacations, and more toys to show off to other people who, frankly, are more concerned about their own homes, cars, vacations, and toys than they are about ours.

If we take a step back to see that we already have far more than we need, and far more than many other people in the world, we ought to be satisfied knowing we don’t have to work ourselves to the bone to attain any more. Assuming that most of us have shelter, food, clothing, and clean water, our basest needs are met. Beyond that, many of us have employment, strong relationships, education, health, freedom, clean air, some form of transportation, and an array of leisurely activities to engage in. We are very fortunate indeed.

So why don’t we pursue things that matter more? Why don’t we choose to center our lives around the things and people that have captured our hearts? Why aren’t we willing to sacrifice the accumulation of accolades and possessions for the greater prize of relationships?

When I look back on my life, I would much rather see strong, vibrant relationships than a long list of worldly accomplishments and corporate ladder-climbing resulting from endless hours spent behind a desk, all the while neglecting my loved ones.

Doing so requires first acknowledging the pull of the world around us toward endlessly striving for more, never being satisfied with what we already have. We live in a consumer-driven culture that thrives on telling people they need the newest gadgets to make their lives easier, promising them happiness, success, beauty, and love as a result of purchasing an As-Seen-on-TV product. Deep down we know these things will never satisfy us. They will only leave us wanting more as we discover a feeling of emptiness that comes with not attaining the happiness or success we thought would result from getting the newest thing. It’s a vicious, endless cycle. But we can stop it.

We can choose to say that we already have enough of the things our society peddles. Instead, we can focus on slowing down, truly enjoying our lives, investing in experiences over things, and pouring our energy into relationships instead of checking tasks off our never-ending to-do lists. We can eschew the dreams our world says we should have in favor of our own simpler goals of focusing on the things that are truly important.

This journey will look different for everyone, but I found inspiration for slowing down from the Slow Your Home blog and breaking free from the chains of our consumeristic culture at Becoming Minimalist. For me, slowing down looks like leaving laundry undone, dishes unwashed, carpets un-vacuumed (no matter how badly they may need to be cleaned), and putting off my latest solo project or hobby when a friend wants to get coffee or go for a walk. It means not upgrading every chance I get just because I can, but realizing the things I have work perfectly fine for now, and I don’t really need the newest versions to make me happy. It includes taking time to relax and enjoy the world around me, appreciating sunsets, butterflies, lake views, wooded paths, and lazy Sunday afternoons, instead of overlooking them in my hurried pace. It likely will mean saying no to some activities so I can say yes to others that mean more to me, and choosing to not feel guilty about it. It means making sure I give my friends quality portions of my time and attention, requiring that I close my computer and put my phone away when we’re having a conversation. It means putting off getting a new computer so I can save more for traveling with friends. It means regularly reminding myself that people matter more.

What does slowing down look like for you?

What We Need

We like for things to be wrapped neatly in pretty packages and tied up with ribbon. But real life is so much messier than that. And it’s within that mess that we can discover its beauty. It may be hard to see at first, hidden in an unexpected place, covered with a layer of dirt, but it’s there. And it’s that much more glorious when we weren’t expecting to find it.

We need to be open to stumbling upon these great moments and beautiful discoveries hidden in the messiness of life. We believe so many falsehoods about who we are and what we ought to be, all in the name of religion or face-saving or reputation. Let me take a moment to encourage you to believe some refreshing truths that just might allow us to live a more authentic, beautiful, messy life.

We need to not pressure ourselves to feel like we have to have it all figured out all the time. The world will not fall apart if we admit we don’t know what we’re doing. We grow closer to others when we admit our own faults and failures, as we then give others permission to do the same, allowing us to grow together and support one another.

We need to just take a step back and breathe. Things are not as bad as they sometimes seem. Taking a moment to gain proper perspective can relieve much of the stress we carry around every day. When we take an account of all the ways in which we have been blessed, we see the brighter side of life.

We need to remember that we have enough, have accomplished enough, have been productive enough, have planned enough, and most importantly, that we are enough. Right here, right now. We don’t need to acquire more stuff, check more things off our to-do lists, or climb more rungs on the corporate ladder to be an accomplished, successful group of people. We have all triumphed over obstacles and battles in our lives, both great and seemingly small. Let us not compare our trials to those of others, but instead remember that we are enough just the way we are. We are loved and cherished for who we are, not what we have done.

We need to remember that it’s not up to us to make everything go smoothly. We have been given the gracious opportunity to let go of this burden. We worship the God who is at work in our lives and those around us, making new things happen where we can’t see them right now. When we have faith in His plan, trusting that He is working both in and through us, we no longer feel the responsibility of striving to work for Him. Instead, we know that He is already working, and we get the amazing chance to work with Him, as He uses our daily interactions to point people to Him. How freeing it is to realize that we have been blessed with this gift, allowing us to do our part, but to trust that God will work everything together for good in His perfect timing and unique way that is far beyond what we could ever dare to ask or imagine.

We need to give ourselves more grace. We are far more forgiving with others, allowing them room to make mistakes. But when it comes to forgiving ourselves for our inadequacy, we are stingy. We hold ourselves to much too high of a standard. And we need to take this moment to extend ourselves the same measure of grace we give to those around us. We need to love ourselves like we love others.

We need to remember that we are beloved children of the living God. We serve a God who is far greater than this world and all its sorrow and darkness. He delights in giving us good gifts, and He is our loving Father, abundant Provider, and strong Deliverer.

 

What else do you think we need to remember? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dear Twenty-One-Year-Old Me

This month, I’m going to be writing letters to myself at various stages in my life. Below is the fifth and final installment, for my twenty-one-year-old self.

Dear twenty-one-year-old me,

Breathe. Just breathe. And then let go. Let go of your expectations. Let go of your agenda. Let go of your timeline. You are not God. You are not in control. He is. His timing is perfect. His plan is perfect. Relax. And breathe once more for good measure.

Preparing to leave such a rich community is heartbreaking, I know. But what you can’t see is that there is a wonderful opportunity for you to build a new community in a place that desperately needs it, if only you will keep moving forward instead of getting stuck in the despair of leaving your current home.

I know you’re agonizing over the fact that you still don’t have a job lined up for after graduation. I know that tortures you. I know it keeps you up at night as your mind continues spinning long into the night, trying to devise a new plan of attack to provide your own safety net in what feels like a free-fall with no view of the ground. But take heart; the moment you let go of your will in this is the very moment that the pieces will start to fall together without your interference.

God is going to do far greater things that what you can even imagine. There will certainly be a lot of painful goodbyes involved, but there will also be times of joyous celebration as you see how He will graciously provide for all of your needs. You will later be able to look back and see how He was working all the while, putting the pieces together to create something beautiful.

Life won’t unfold just the way you want; it’s not your story to plot out. You focus too much on what you alone are capable of, putting God and what He can do inside a box of your limitations. Lay down your expectations, and you will be surprised with what wonderfully amazing things come up that weren’t possible while you were holding so tightly to your own agenda.

Expect great things, but don’t tell God how or when to do them. Know that you will make a difference, but leave margin for the when and the how. Explore your passions, giving God room to work with them and fashion them into a meaningful way to spend your time and invest your life. And don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

All my love,

Jessie

Dear Eighteen-Year-Old Me

This month, I’m going to be writing letters to myself at various stages in my life. Below is the fourth installment, for my eighteen-year-old self. Check back next week for the next letter!

Dear eighteen-year-old me,

You are about to embark on a grand adventure that has the potential to dramatically change your life. This is your chance for a fresh start. Be bold. Be courageous. Be a little crazy.

I know you don’t want to let go of the world behind you and the life you’ve lived until now, but you can’t hold onto it and move forward at the same time. Acknowledge that you will have to let go of what you’re trying to desperately to cling to in order to embrace the better things that lie before you. You will be okay. You will make new friends– some of the best friends of your life. You will find work. You will find a major that you love. You will find an amazing community of people to live life with. But you must start by letting go of what’s behind you.

You will never again have so much free time, so make the most of it. This is a unique stage of life– one in which you have the freedom to build your own schedule, live in close quarters with some amazing people, and have opportunities at every turn to do crazy things with them. Don’t miss out on it because you’re too busy trying to get everything on your to-do list crossed off.

Although schoolwork is important, don’t forsake relationships in the name of academics. Your homework will always be there; opportunities to build your friendships and create memories may not. My hope for you is that you will invest more in people than in things, so that you will be able to look back in three years and see that you gained more than a diploma, that you were able to accomplish far more in the way of life experiences.

Don’t be afraid to try things you’re not good at for fear of looking foolish. Join the dance party. Play sand volleyball. Throw a Frisbee around. Don’t allow fear to hold you back from living your life. Some of the craziest things that push you outside of your comfort zone will turn out to be the most memorable experiences. Don’t sacrifice those in the name of your responsible reputation and comfort with doing only familiar things.

You will meet and get to know some of the sweetest, boldest, most genuine people in the next few years. Let them get to know you in return. Don’t hold back just because you know this season of life is temporary. Your entire life is temporary. Live fully every day, as if it were your last. Cherish the friendships that come your way, for some of them will prove to stand the test of time and distance.

All my love,

Jessie