Give Yourself Grace

In pursuit of living a life of love, I’m coming to realize how immensely important it is to give myself grace. We’ve heard that we’re our own worst critics, and it’s definitely true. We can see it in our New Year’s resolutions— when we set the bar far too high and expect too much of ourselves, only to quit a month later and berate ourselves for our failure.

When we hold too rigidly to our expectations, we’re setting ourselves up for greater disappointment if we don’t meet them. If we do meet them, we’re satisfied (but probably exhausted), and if we don’t, we’re crushed. However, if we set more realistic goals, we’re more likely to attain (and even exceed) them, and we set ourselves up for success. Small victories give us momentum to keep going, pushing ourselves forward one step at a time.

I think it’s safe to say we’ll all fall short of our goals at some point. But how we handle that says more about us than the failure itself. If we get back up and remind ourselves that we can accomplish our goals if we only persevere (and maybe alter our goals a bit), we build up our confidence and keep moving forward. But if we get upset and let our inner monologue fill with critical remarks, we’re moving backward and letting fear get in the way of accomplishing anything except sitting on the couch with a pint of ice cream and binge-watching Netflix.

Sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break and lower the bar. If we set our sights a bit lower (not rock-bottom low, but just a step or two ahead instead of twelve), we set ourselves up for success, making it easier to take small steps forward to achieve our bigger goals. If we expect to take great leaps overnight, we might want to crawl under a rock at the first sign of failure. We’re creatures of habit; it takes a while to break an old habit or break in a new one. We need to give ourselves time and room to grow.

In working towards various goals, I’m trying to remind myself often that I need to show myself some grace.

At the end of the day, when only a quarter of the things on my to-do list are crossed off, I’m going to choose to show myself grace.

I will celebrate small victories, knowing they’re the key to achieving big dreams.

When I take two steps forward and one step back, I will respond in grace.

When I hear myself starting to get frustrated and upset about my inability to meet my exceedingly high expectations, I will lower the bar in grace.

I won’t be afraid to dream, and dream big, but will hold my dreams loosely, knowing they might change and grow as I do.

Tomorrow’s a brand new day. It won’t be perfect, but it will be a whole lot better if I extend myself some much-needed grace. And I bet yours will be, too.

 

 

Image source: www.karipatterson.com

What Really Matters

img_1066All too often I find myself getting upset about little things that maybe ought to just roll off my back. Instead, they get under my skin and set me on the path of creating a rather negative day for myself. Please tell me I’m not the only one here.

One morning last week, I was running late trying to get out the door for work. My sister and I carpool, and we had plans after work, so I had to take more stuff than usual with me. I was flustered, trying to remember to pack everything I needed, feeling like I was forgetting something but unable to figure out what it was.

Knowing we were crunched for time, I grabbed my things (with the help of my sister, because I truly had a lot to carry out to the car), and we headed out. A couple seconds after backing out of the driveway, I realized I had forgotten some of my food inside. I threw the car in park and literally ran back into the house to retrieve my apple and Goldfish crackers (yes, I’m four years old). Then, knowing we were leaving even later than we already had been, I quickly pulled out and headed to work– irritated, still feeling like I forgot something, and just all-around grumpy.

I got to work, where I was surprised to see my supervisor’s almost-two-year-old son. He was getting picked up by his grandparents, but I got to chat with him for a few minutes first. He was so adorable, going on about his shoes and toys, especially his back hoe. It was so precious!

And then I remembered what day it was– the birthday of two of my friends. So I took a moment to message them both and wish them a happy birthday. They both replied, thanking me for thinking of them.

And in that moment, I was reminded of what really mattered. Getting all my ducks in a row wasn’t the most important thing. Celebrating people was. Taking the time to get down to the level of a toddler and ask him about his favorite toys. Sending a quick birthday message to my friends to let them know I was thinking about them.

I have spent a considerable amount of time planning parties for my family members in the last two months, and even more time getting together with friends and family to celebrate various occasions (fiftieth birthdays, new babies, fall, reuniting with long-distance friends, adventuring, and more birthdays). I’ve cooked and baked up a storm, driven all over creation (or so it seems), and made more trips to the store than I want to admit. But I’ve also gotten to have many good conversations, form new memories, celebrate milestones, and I’ve laughed harder than I have for a long, long time.

It’s been a very full season, but it has been SO GOOD. Normally so much time spent surrounded by other people would drain me, but I’ve loved just about every minute of it (you know, except for carrying in huge grocery hauls and rushing around frantically, but what are you going to do?).

Sure, some house projects that I’ve been meaning to do are still not done. I would have loved to check more things off my to-do list. But at the end of the day, I’m happy knowing I invested in my people. Because that’s what really matters.img_1064

Less Stress

We could all use less stress in our lives, right?

More and more results of high stress levels are being made known to us: poor sleep, poor eating, lack of energy, lack of desire to engage in relationships, poor health. As if those weren’t enough, there’s always the feeling of spinning out of control looming right around the corner, the threat that we feel might be sneaking up on us, the deadline we’re sure is approaching like a freight train.

We all can get consumed by stress, whether it’s in our work, relationships, health, finances, or life goals. We’ve become so accustomed to struggling under the weight of our stress that we don’t even realize it’s possible to live without it.

But as someone who has lately been battling high stress levels, I think it’s time we all check out an alternative option. What would our lives look like if we didn’t accept high stress levels as an inevitability? What if we actually believed that this isn’t how we were meant to live?

What if we actually tried to reduce the stress in our lives?

I know, it sounds rote. Or like make-believe. Like an unattainable goal. You’ve probably heard it before and don’t really believe it. But hang with me for a second.

While there certainly are circumstances that we can’t change, there are things we can do to better manage the stress we experience. We don’t have to carry the weight around and let it taint the rest of our life.

I know one thing that has helped me immensely has been taking a second to breathe when I’m feeling overwhelmed. If it seems like there are too many things being piled on my plate all of a sudden, threatening to crush me with their cumulative weight, I take a moment to pause and just breathe. As simple as it sounds, it allows me to come back with better perspective and a renewed sense of my ability to conquer whatever it is that I’m facing.

Taking the time to figure out what stresses me and what relaxes me was a big step, too. I didn’t realize how helpful it would be just to think about what kinds of things in my life are causing negative emotional and psychological impacts and what things drive me or excite me helped me reframe the concept of stress. I can better limit the things that overwhelm me and incorporate more of what is life-giving.

I also have found that limiting distractions is really indispensable. It’s easy for me to feel like things are spinning out of control when I’m trying to manage too many spinning plates at once. But if I focus on one thing at a time, tuning out other things around me, I have a much better chance of finishing things because my attention isn’t divided.

Appropriate self-care is huge– namely, sleep. When I don’t get enough sleep, I know I am far more likely to be stressed and irritable. Sleep has a way of making us relax, which is definitely necessary when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

Giving thanks for things I’ve been blessed with is also a way to lower my stress levels. It’s really hard to be stressed and thankful at the same time. When focusing on the good things, I’m not dwelling on the things I can’t change or the frustration of having a to-do list longer than my arm.

And I still think there’s something to be said about making a plan. You probably all know by now that I’m a Type-A, organized person. I like having a plan and a schedule. I used to live out of my planner in high school and college. Now I’ve just moved on to using the calendar and to-do list apps in my phone.Having a plan allows me to take intentional steps toward my goals and filter through the things in front of me to better prioritize them. It helps me to know what I want and where I’m headed.

But I also know that I can’t hold onto my plan too tightly. Things are constantly changing, and if I’m too rigid in my planning, I’m probably going to miss out on some good things and be disappointed when things don’t go my way. There’s a delicate balance that must be struck in creating a plan and holding it loosely.

And, if all else fails, there are always the tried-and-true methods of taking a nap, relaxing in a bubble bath, or eating some ice cream. : )

 

What helps you relieve your stress?

 

Further reading:

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/7-proven-ways-de-stress-your-life

Here & Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holding on to Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some small things that bring me joy are:

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

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

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

 

 

Further reading:

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

Happiness Hijackers by Jessica Bolyard, (in)courage

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

Project 7: Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Courage of No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting Small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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