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

For Today

I’m a perpetual list-maker, in case you didn’t already know that. I love making to-do lists. I like being organized. I like knowing what the day before me holds.

But sometimes my own tendencies trip me up and make me anxious. When there’s too much on the list, I get stressed as I try to think of how I can somehow manage to get them all in anyway.

It’s all too easy to spiral into a whirlwind of craziness in the name of getting things done. Productivity is great, but it’s not the end goal. There’s not much point in doing things just to do things.

Crossing things off a checklist feels good, but if I don’t put the most important things first and recognize which are too trivial to worry about at all, I’m still going to be dissatisfied at the end of the day when there are items left, regardless of how many I’ve already crossed off.

Sometimes I just need to focus on today.

Today, I’m going to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.

Today, I’m going to make enough food for the next couple days and not worry about the rest of the week.

Today, I’m going to smile and have joy no matter what happens.

Today, I’m going to have a good attitude about work.

Today, I’m going to pause and prepare my heart for Christmas.

Today, I’m going to be grateful for what I have instead of lamenting what I lack.

Today, I’m going to be present and pay attention to the people around me.

Today, I’m going to make an effort to reach out and do something nice for people around me.

By definition, choosing the most important things for my day identifies the rest as comparatively insignificant. It sets my priorities for the day, reminding me of what’s most important, what really matters. And that’s critical, especially in this busy season.

While many of the things on my list aren’t productive in the traditional sense (like cleaning my house would be, for instance), they’re far better. They are steps toward becoming who I want to be, and their impact reaches farther than that of a clean house or piles of clean laundry. They impact more than just me and more than just today.

Of course there are dozens of other things I can and probably will do, but I’m going to do these things first because they’re the most necessary for my sanity and my life. If I get every little minute detail done without touching the big things, then I’m no better off than if I had done nothing but lie on the couch and binge-watch Netflix all day (which sounds pretty good right now).

 

What are you going to do today?

 

 

Image source: combiboilersleeds.com

What if You Don’t?

A feeling of overwhelm was descending upon me as I thought about all the things I had yet to do.

There were the time-sensitive, practical things like taking my car in for an oil change, looking into our association documents to figure out how to pay our dues, making time to file some paperwork with the city, and grocery shopping. Then there were the things that were slightly less pressing, but that I nonetheless considered necessary– like cleaning the house before having company over, calling the doctor’s office to straighten out a prescription refill, reorganizing my dresser drawers to make everything fit, wrapping Christmas presents, and cooking enough food for the week. I also wanted to make a Christmas wreath, paint some canvases to hang up for the season, clean my room, crochet a new hat, and curl up on the couch to make a bigger dent in my copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.

Needless to say, not all of those things got done.

Adult responsibilities kept piling up, and I didn’t know what to do with them all. I found myself questioning how everyone else does it. How do other people work full time, keep their homes clean, get food on the table, pay all the bills, have some sort of social life, pursue hobbies, and sleep enough to function?

I’m not sure my answer to that question is very satisfying. The only thing I came up with was to let things go. I can’t do it all (and I’m willing to bet you can’t either). I needed to figure out which things I had to do and which ones I could do without.

In my endeavor to lighten my load, I found myself asking some important questions:

What would happen if I do task x? What would happen if I don’t do task x? Would things fall apart, or would the world keep turning? Would I function as if nothing was different? Would it impact the lives of those around me? Would anyone notice? Would I be more or less stressed?

When it comes to things like cleaning my house, the truth is that nothing would come to a screeching halt. Nobody would likely even notice. However, they might notice if I didn’t show up for work or quit showering. And I would be better off for having taken the time to rest and read than if I spent a whole Saturday doing household chores, even though that’s more productive in the traditional sense. So I prioritized things that had greater consequences.

What can I do right now? Taking tasks one at a time helps me overcome my to-do list. Even if all I feel like I can do in any given moment is small, it’s something. It’s a start. And it’s one less thing to do tomorrow.

Is there a way to simplify things or cut them out completely? I’m still working on this one, because most of what I do is by choice, and I don’t really want to let any of them go. But I’ve come to really like automating things and creating patterns for myself to lessen the burden of making decisions and save myself time. For instance, I have calendar alerts for things I have to do so I don’t forget, and I set out my clothes and pack my lunch the night before to save time in the morning before work. I’m also working on getting better at meal prep to reduce the amount of time spent doing the menial part of cooking.

In the spirit of figuring out how to live a life of purpose without getting distracted or buried by all the other responsibilities and opportunities around me, I just pre-ordered Jennie Allen’s new book Nothing to Prove. It comes out at the end of January, and I’m really excited to read it. Even though I told myself I need to reign in my spending now that I’m almost done with Christmas shopping, I ordered the book in the name of my mental health.

That’s it. I’m not at all finished figuring out what it means to juggle the responsibilities of living life as an adult, but I like to think I’m on my way. I’m still learning and working through it day by day, but aren’t we all?

Thanks for joining me on this journey!

 

What things have you done to keep yourself sane when things get too crazy? How do you handle the busyness of the holiday season and the responsibilities of adulthood?

Know Your Limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Rescuing Your Time

“Time is a squirrely thing. It only goes where you tell it to go. It has no mind of its own. It won’t naturally gravitate to things that matter or work you really care about. It always looks for the easy way out.” – Jon Acuff

Time. What an elusive thing. Try as we might, most of us feel like we just don’t have enough of it.

But is that really the case? Or do we merely spend our time on things we would rather not spend it on? And, if that’s the case, why are we wasting this precious gift on things that aren’t worthy of our time?

I think we feel obligated to do some things, like go to work, for good reasons. We know we need to earn our paychecks to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. But we also sometimes feel obligated to do things that we maybe shouldn’t. Maybe we feel like we have to pursue a certain career path to appease others or strive for a bigger, better home or a family of our own by a certain age. But we have the power to choose a different path for ourselves. There are some things we have to do as responsible adults, but there are also a great many things we have the privilege of getting to choose for ourselves.

What would happen if, aside from the things we can’t change like going to work and getting sleep, we prioritized doing things we want to do?

I’m not saying we should shirk all responsibilities– deep down, we still want to do some of those things. I want to wash the dishes to avoid having to scrub dried food off later. I want to do a load of laundry so I can have clean clothes. But I don’t want to spend all night doing those things. So I get what needs to be done (pots and pans, one load of laundry), and I move on to doing what it is that I really want to do (hanging up art work, reading a book, spending time with friends). I don’t get caught up doing the little things and miss out on the big things. I decide how I’m going to spend my time, even if it’s different from those around me.

I’m suggesting we do what’s absolutely necessary and then relax and allow ourselves to have some fun doing what we love with the people we love. Let go of the obligations and standards imposed on us by the world around us, and exercise our right to choose to focus on what we value most in our current season.

Certainly, there is a time for everything. Some activities go with specific seasons, like planting seeds or harvesting them. The same is true with our lives, although the length of seasons may differ.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Maybe you’re in a season of intentional self-care after a time of neglect. Maybe you’re in a season of abundance in which you have the privilege of blessing others. Maybe you’re in a season in which you are bursting with creative energy, looking for an outlet. Those things change over time, and that’s okay. In order to feel like we’re making good use of our time, we must know where our time is most needed right now, and take steps to act accordingly.

What do you really care about? What needs to happen for you to be able to devote more time to those important things? Are there things you need to say no to? Are there things you need to let go of in order to focus on others? What do you need to get out of the way, set aside, or delegate so you can focus on what matters most?

Will you join me in figuring out where to pour our time and energy? I sincerely hope you can figure it out and make the most of the time you have right here, right now. Because this is the only today you’re going to get, and nobody can leave a mark on it quite like you can.

 

 

Further reading:

3 Signs Your Life Is Too Busy by Eden Jones, Relevant Magazine

 

Image source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/your-most-valuable-possession-time

Narrowing the Focus

You don’t have to do it all.

We often set the bar too high for ourselves. Our tendency to over-commit stems from societal pressures to do everything, and beyond that, to do everything well. We take an all-or-nothing approach, pushing ourselves to create picture-perfect moments, dishes, photos, homes, and lives to share on social media.

Again, saying you want something is one thing, doing something about it is very different. We prove what we desire most by our actions, not by our words.

So let me ask you: What is it you want most? What life change do you desire?

Then, ask yourself this follow-up question: Are you taking the steps necessary to accomplish that goal? Or, are you settling for something else instead?

After all, a goal without a plan is just wishful thinking. – Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

Did you set New Year’s resolutions only to join the majority of people who fall away from them when life gets too chaotic? Did you try to change too many things at once? Did you jump on the bandwagon and make a resolution that you weren’t genuinely motivated to pursue? If you feel discontent with where you’re at, I encourage you to ask yourself what you really want to change, and what steps you can take today to get closer to being the person that you want to be.

If you’re like me, and you let too much time go by without actually planning steps to achieve your goals, you might find them slipping into the back of your mind, never again to see the light of day. If you were to be asked, you would say that you certainly still wish for the same things, but you just don’t know how to accomplish them.

Where does the disconnection happen? I don’t think it’s that we’re not motivated; we all want to change things. I don’t think we don’t know how; there are others to ask, plans to follow, and, of course, the Internet to go to for ideas. I think we just fill our lives with too many other things, leaving ourselves too little margin to put enough effort into the things we most want to work on. We try to pour ourselves out into too many buckets, causing there to not be enough in any one bucket to accomplish anything.

I know that when I choose to see life as a series of seasons, it makes it easier for me to make decisions. I know that I won’t be forced to stick to them for the rest of my life (at least in most cases), but can rest assured knowing that I just have to choose what’s best in my current circumstances, and I can later choose something else. I don’t have to commit to one career path. I don’t have to live in one place for the rest of my life. I don’t have to pour my time into just one lifelong hobby. Depending on my current needs and the opportunities I’m presented with, I can step forward in faith, knowing I’ve made the best decision possible with the information I had at the time.

Prioritizing my goals allows me to see what’s most important to me in my current season. It allows me to rearrange different pieces of my life to focus on the piece that’s the biggest at the time. When I narrow my focus, intentionally picking and choosing what it is that is worthy of and desperately requiring my time, I feel a greater sense of purpose. I don’t feel like I’m wandering aimlessly, just waiting to see what comes next. I have a greater part to play and know that I’m making good use of the time and gifts so graciously given to me.

It also helps me realize when I need to say no to some things that are good in order to say yes to things that are the best. I can’t do everything, so I have to be willing to turn down some opportunities, even if I would really like to do them. Because deep down I know that there are other things that would be an even better use of my time and energy. If I truly want to accomplish my goals, I have to be willing to spend more time working on them and less time on other things. And the things I say no to open up the door for someone else to say yes.

And when I remember to take life one step at a time, focusing on fewer things, I find that my slower pace allows me to better enjoy the life I’m living. If I’m trying to go through it at a sprint, I trip over my own two feet and completely miss all the roses I’m meant to stop and smell along the way.

So here’s to saying no to the good to make room for the best, narrowing our focus, slowing down to smell the roses, and reminding ourselves that we don’t have to do it all. May you and I both remember that today and walk freely without the unnecessary weight of our ridiculously high expectations, choosing instead to love this season and love ourselves and our lives in it for however long it lasts.

 

Further reading:

WFMW: Just Do One {Special} Thing by Mary Carver, Giving Up on Perfect