Don’t Plan Your Week, Guide Your Week

I love organization:  calendars, baskets, hooks, notebooks, planners, colored pens, labels, label makers… the list goes on.  It is in my DNA.  The first born.  Type A.  Disc profile C.  Perfectionist.  Scheduler.  The list could go on, but I am sure you get the drift.

My bent towards organization hasn’t always been my friend.  In fact, it has often been my enemy.  I may appear on the outside to have it all under control, to be gifted and skilled at juggling life’s demands.  On the inside though, it has often been a different story.  The expectations grow and with them the voice in my head pushing me to perfection, telling me “I am not enough”, “do more”.  The anxiety driven by the fear I won’t keep it all together.  The laser like focus keeping me from seeing opportunities and moments around me.  The pursuit all consuming and confining, leaving little room for vulnerability, allowing others to help.  It can be and has been exhausting.  It can be and has been my worst attribute.  But, it is also a gift.

So how do I keep the gift from becoming my demon?  I embrace who I am.  I am created in God’s image, to serve Him and to be reconciled to Him, engaged in the daily ministry of reconciliation.  He is a God of order (simply read the story of creation).  His Word provides a road map.  I am bent towards organization and in His sight that is good, it is just as He desired it to be, just as He created me to be.  However, I have to remember, managing my life:  my things; my activities; my people, is simply a tool to be used to serve Him.  I can’t let it become about CONTROL.  Yes.  Too often  my pursuit of organization is more about my attempt to CONTROL, than to be and serve.  I have to remember He is in control, and my attempts to manage are simply a part of a process.  He teaches me, He guides me, He directs my paths.  CONTROL is the demon.  When I use my talents and my gifts to follow His direction, I relinquish CONTROL, and He is in control.

Maintaining the balance isn’t easy.  The past has taught me.  I have learned to spend less time planning, and more time simply developing a road map/a guide, full of white space, breathing space.  The white space and breathing space give the opportunities to stop, to pray, to listen, to adjust.  My life is fuller.  The pursuit is no longer for perfection or control.  Instead, the pursuit is for relationship, obedience with the One in control.

If you, like me, struggle with this balance, here are a few tools and tricks I use.

  1. I LOVE my Cultivate What Matters planner.  This is not a weekly or daily planner, but a great tool for setting yearly goals, determining what matters most and then cultivating habits to bring it to fruition.  If you haven’t checked this resource out, head over to https://cultivatewhatmatters.com/.  I am not paid to endorse, this product.  I genuinely LOVE and USE this product.
  2. I am a recovering planner addict.  I have spent more money on planners than I ever care to disclose.  Seriously, it is an addiction!  I still struggle.  Each November my Facebook and Pinterest feeds fill with cute images of beautiful planners, stickers, pens etc.  My heart races and I begin to think, “what if…”  I am pleased to tell you though, going on THREE years strong, I have stuck with my Planner Pad planner.  It isn’t all sparkly and cute.  It is practical.  But the layout works for me.  It is a weekly planner format that allows you to “funnel” your tasks, beginning with broad categories, moving to daily priorities, and ending with time specific tasks.  You can find out more by going to https://plannerpads.com/.
  3. I set aside about an hour every Friday to create my road map for the following week.  This helps me focus on the critical and important Friday and keeps items from falling off my radar, as they get moved to the following week.  I am able to assess how much white space I have and make necessary adjustments.  A packed schedule only leads to stress and stress minimizes productivity.  Leave room to breathe, to be the boss, wife, mom, friend you need to be in the moment.  Leave room to run back into God’s presence, seeking His guidance.
  4. Pray.  Years ago, while reading an Emilie Barnes book, I began to practice the habit of praying over my calendar daily.  I am not 100%, but the weeks and months I am faithful to this habit, I am amazed at how my plans change, the resources that come my way or the amount I am able to accomplish.  I am able to view the items in my planner as simply a guide for my week and the unexpected aren’t viewed as distractions, but as opportunities.
  5. Last but not least, I remind myself the goals I have written, the filled in to do lists, are simply guides.  I can’t plan for the future, for I am not in control of the future.  I can establish guides for myself and I can take one obedient step at a time.  When things go awry I remember I am not in control.  When tasks build up or remain undone, when there seems to be no movement toward a goal I step back and reassess.  More often than not, I simply need to make an adjustment, either in my routine or my schedule.  However, sometimes the pause, the prayer helps me see the goal was something birthed out of my desires, and is not a part of His plan.  Sometimes the goal needs to go away.  Sometimes I need to scale back and focus on some small part of the larger goal.  Sometimes I need to ask for help.  Adjusting is better than quitting.  Adjusting is better than making futile plans in pursuit of perfection or control.  Adjusting is bending to His will, growing in faith, growing in relationship, growing in His image.

 

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The Little Box I Can’t Live Without

Prayerbox

Prayer.  One of the most difficult spiritual disciplines.  I have prayed as long as I can remember.  I believe in the power of prayer.  I have seen God answer prayer in a matter of moments, in weeks and years.  Yet, my prayer life seems to an area I struggle.  Despite all i know about prayer, I struggle to be consistent.  Yes, that word again.  Consistent.  I don’t really struggle to pray, but I struggle with remembering who I promised to pray for.  I struggle to articulate my prayers.  I give up on prayers when not answered my way or in my timing.  For years (23+) I have journaled.  Those journals hold my inner most thoughts, and much of what I have written becomes prayer.  I often look back through those journals and am reminded, struck with a recurring truth or convicted by lessons already learned.  But in recent years, the journaling alone just didn’t seem to be capturing the entirety of my prayer life.  I wanted more.  I wanted to be more faithful (consistent) in interceding on behalf of others.

The little box pictured above is my Prayer Box, my little version of a Prayer Room.  I LOVE it.  It is simple.  I purchased the box and the embellishment at Hobby Lobby.  I purchased tabbed dividers at Mardells Christian Bookstore.

PrayerBox2

I have divided the box by category and subject.  The pink is for all things related to home: family members, physical home.  Blue is for volunteer activities and organizations I am involved with.  Green is for my business and clients.  Orange is for friends and acquaintances.  I simply date a note-card and write out my prayer and any related scripture. When a prayer is answered I write the date on the back of the card and a prayer of thanksgiving.  On occasion I will send the card on to the person for whom I prayed.  Most often I simply place the card in the back of the box.  There are times when I feel compelled to alter my prayer.  I simply date another card, write out my new prayer and staple it to the front of the original prayer card.

I LOVE my box.  I still journal and often prayers from my journal make it to my prayer box. However, my prayer box has proved a much more effective way to consistently pray.  I keep the box next to the chair where I spend my morning quiet time.  I look through it every single morning.  If a prayer request seems more urgent, or I am prompted by the Holy Spirit, I pull a card and carry it with me throughout the day.  Sometimes I hang the most pressing prayer cards on the back of my master closet door so I am prompted to pray each morning and evening.  I love the flexibility this box system affords me.  I don’t feel limited by space.  I am not having to flip back through journal pages looking for a specific request.  Pages are cluttered with extra notes, lines drawn through answered prayers etc..  it is portable.  I can grab the box and pack it or pull out the prayer cards and slide them into my organizer.  I LOVE it.

Prayer is vital to our spiritual being.  Prayer is the opportunity to connect with God.  I believe in prayer.  I want to be a powerful prayer warrior.  I want to persevere, not giving up and believing with faith action.

If you have struggled with prayer, or like me, want to grow your prayer life I challenge you to create your own little prayer box.  See what God will do.

Steps to Creating a Prayer Box

  1. Select a pretty box that speaks to your creative spirit.
  2. Purchase tabbed dividers. You can find them at any office supply store.
  3. Label the dividers according to subject:  Who do you engage with daily?  Where do you serve?
  4. Set aside 2-3 thirty minute segments over the course of this next week to write out prayer cards.  Put in writing those prayer requests you already have committed to. Begin to place those prayers in the appropriate categories.
  5. Each morning look through your prayer box.  Follow the Spirit’s prompting as you name each prayer.  Pull out those you feel compelled to ponder over.

Prayer boxes are great for families and children.  When my girls were young we kept a small box on the kitchen table.  They would pull a card each evening to pray over.  You can simplify or expand the idea above to meet a multitude of needs.

Storms Change Our Perspective

http://www.port.ac.uk/uopnews/2012/09/03/scientists-win-1m-to-measure-storm-impact-on-river-pollution/thunderstorm-over-river/
http://www.port.ac.uk/uopnews/2012/09/03/scientists-win-1m-to-measure-storm-impact-on-river-pollution/thunderstorm-over-river/

Yesterday storms rolled into my area.  The weather man predicted 4-6 inches of rain, winds up to 70 mph, and the threat of tornadoes.  I woke up in a stormy mood.  I had a large Mary & Martha event scheduled.  High winds and rain at the peak of the event were not quite what I had in mind.  My business partner and her husband are going through some life transitions, which include jobs.  One of my best friends is having to defend her job of 25 years.  I had not completed my weekend list of “to do” items and someone had backed out of an event schedule for down the road.  Quite frankly I woke up in a stormy mood, mad at the day, mad at life and REALLY mad at God.  I’d say I was just frustrated, but that would be a lie.  My feet hit the floor and I let the grey skies, high winds, rain and thunder ease me into an overall bad mood.  My thoughts were stormy.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly our thoughts can be taken captive, can alter the course of our day?  Nothing went right.  I spilled my coffee.  I had to run a load of laundry a second time because I had forgotten it the day before.  I barked orders at my kids, told my husband my story of doom and gloom which I was certain to be my day.  Soon, my whole house was feeling a bit stormy.   Not good for a Monday.  Despite my mood, I knew the day had to carry on.  I got my daughter started on her home school assignments and gathered up my supplies for the Mary & Martha event.  The storm hit and much to the dismay of the weather men, it didn’t hit with the force they had predicted.  We got some decent wind, and a fair amount of rain, with some booming thunder, but that was it.  (unfortunately south of us did get the damaging wind and there was a fatality)  I put a little praise music on in the car and began to pray.  I’d love to tell you I prayed a beautiful prayer, but it was anything but.  It went more like this, “God, what are you doing?  I swear I am giving it everything I have to obey you and this is what I get?  Seriously?  A storm on a Monday morning when I have a full day? …”  Not pretty.  Real, but not pretty.

The day went on.  The Mary & Martha event went great and in fact, I made a new friend and met some wonderful women.   My daughter got all her stuff done and we got to go watch my niece play volleyball and win.  All day long though, despite the fact that things were working out, I felt myself holding on to the storm.  I kept thinking, “I want to quit this day, go home, crawl in bed and call a do-over.”  It wasn’t until I had my pajamas on, a plate of warm chicken pasta and some Blacklist recording that I gave any real to thought to my thoughts and actions and the storm.  Just the thought of rain and high winds had gotten me all upset, worried, fretting.  The same happens in life with the metaphorical storms.  The truth was, I wasn’t ready for the storm.  I could have loaded my car the night before.  I could have sought scripture to pray for my friends.  I could have sought God’s wisdom and asked for direction for my business and business partner.  I could have called upon my prayer warriors asking for their intercession (which I did, but not until after my bad mood had sat in), I could have laid it all at His feet.  Instead I carried it.  I carried it in my head.  The thoughts took on a life of their own and became actions.  When I lay them at His feet there is no time for anxious thoughts to grow.  He fills my mind with His truth and promises.

I sat feeling ashamed of my choices.  I sat realizing despite me, the day had gone well.  God was still in control.  My self-inflicted storm created as the result of negative thinking about a real storm was nothing compared to the storms so many of my friends are facing, storms raging across this world: cancer, persecution, death, hunger.  No, my storm was really nothing more than a lack of faith, a pity party for myself.

Storms come. Storms are real.  We often have reason to fear the storm.  But storms should not ruin our day.  They should not take our thoughts captive and push the truth far from our minds.  Storms should give us perspective.  They should be the reminder that we need God, we need friends, we need to be ready.  Dark clouds lingered for a bit this morning, but then the skies cleared and the air was crisp.  The sun sparkled off the rain puddles.  A new day.  A new perspective.  Confession from my lips.  Gratitude to those who stood in the gap for me.  A lesson learned.  A spirit strengthened.

Don’t let the storms alter your truths.  Remember.  Most of all, be ready.  Time in His word.  Share your needs and worries with Him.  Allow others to intercede on your behalf.  Rest in the quiet before the storm and then let Him and His truths see you through the storm.

Three Simple Steps to Success

Simple Folders

I was asked today how I get things done.  I had to laugh, because this morning was another morning I found myself awake at 3:00 a.m. worrying about all the things I hadn’t gotten done, or feared I would never do. It always amazes me how we see ourselves so different from the way others see us.  I wonder sometimes which view is more accurate, more true.  I think most often how others see us is a more accurate reflection of who we are.  As women we are hard on ourselves-we set high standards and often expect the impossible of ourselves.  It’s nice every now and then to hear from someone else what they think of you-how they perceive you. The innocent question this morning served as a little pick me up in the midst of my worry and striving.

The truth is “it” will never be finished.  There will always be more to do.  If I am growing and learning and stretching, that is exactly as it should be.  Doesn’t make it any easier.  Frustrations rise when the dog tracks in mud on the clean floors, the kids pull out from under the bed or floor of their closet, two more loads of laundry just when I thought the last piece had been dried and hung and the husband informs me we are out of coffee just after my face is washed and visions of pajamas are dancing in my head.  Add to that the request to serve one more day of lunch duty or fill in for a sick co-worker/friend.  I know you know.  We all know.  We all get it.  It’s life.  We can either fight it or we can embrace every moment of it as a gift and give it our all.  We can linger in frustration, resist doing or we can give ourselves a pep talk (coffee with a friend does wonders for me!) and pick back up.

I don’t do it all.  In fact I am almost (believe me when I tell you it has been a long work in progress) done trying.  I have learned to scale back my to do list.  I have learned that there is ONE thing I absolutely will not give up.  I have learned  there is a time (literal time) to stop.  I haven’t learned the lessons easily.  I am not perfect.  But these three things truly transform my day, which transforms my week, which transforms my life.

1.  I arise early and spend time with God.  I used to think there was no “right” time to do this.  I would now argue strongly that is false.  God asks for first fruits.  The Old Testament was full of instructions about offerings and first fruits.  Christ came to fulfill that law, but we see in His daily living that He gave God His first fruits.  Choosing to spend time with God first thing in the morning matters.  It matters because that is about as close as I will ever be to being sinless.  It is important because no one else has begun pecking at me, seeking my attention.  It matters because He says it matters.  I began this practice in high school.  While I have missed days, it really rarely happens, and believe me when it does, it is rarely pretty.  Arise early and spend time with God.

2.  Drink 8 glasses of water a day.  This one I struggle with.  I love water.  I grew up being a water drinker.  I prefer water to most drinks.  But some how, the idea of drinking 8 glasses in one day overwhelms me and the more cognizant I am of it, the harder it is.  However, nothing makes me feel better than doing this one thing.  I am more energized.  I think more clearly.  I rarely get a migraine.  I eat less.  The list could go on.  Drink 8 glasses of water a day.

3.  This last one is fairly new to me.  Shortly after my girls were born (about 15 years ago) I began to struggle with fatigue and some autoimmune health issues.  I need sleep.  Like every good American, I wasn’t getting it.  I began to go to bed earlier.  For me to do number one, arise and spend time with God, I have to get up between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m.  So, count backwards and that means a 9:30 bed time.  I rarely make it to bed that early and NEVER fall asleep that early (but that is a whole other issue), but I did begin “shutting down the house” at 9:00 p.m.  My girls quickly learned that coming to mom at 9:15 to get a signature on a paper, ask for a school uniform shirt to be washed etc… wasn’t gonna cut it.  In fact, it wasn’t gonna happen.  Recently though I found myself filling the evening time with other items: e-mail, Facebook, writing, cards, ironing, etc…  I was finding myself less and less engaged with my family.  So, I now try to wrap up all work by 2:00 p.m.  I try to have the three most important tasks for the day, the ones that move me towards my goals or project deadlines, completed by 2:00 p.m.  That leaves me the afternoon to catch up, do household chores etc…  I am now getting dinner cleaned up and then focusing on time with the family.  I am getting a lot of reading done, but I am less distracted and way less irritable if someone wants to sit and visit or needs a little extra help with homework or simply wants to talk.  I’ll even throw in a last minute load of laundry.  I am not as firm about “shutting down the house”, but having this extra couple of hours to just be, relate with my family, has honestly resulted in all of us being more ready to “shut it down” around 9:00/9:30.  Complete your three most important tasks by 2:00 p.m. and then block off the time after dinner for family.

Three simple disciplines.  They make a difference.  They keep me centered.  They help me know my priorities.  They make me healthier.  They create opportunity for being.  I got number one down.  I’m not giving up on number two and three.  I am less “successful” there, but I’ll keep on trying.

 

Cup of Fresh Brewed Coffee and Main Things Remain the Same

My day of planning on the 31st went well.  As mentioned in Monday’s post.  I have been fairly purposeful about my calendar and project notebook, so I spent the time I had looking back through my journal.  I keep a daily journal.  Well, there are a few days missing.  For over 20 years I have held a morning quiet time.  For me, it is a spiritual discipline.  I love to sit with a fresh brewed cup of coffee, my Bible, journal and a devotional (or two).  My husband sits in a nearby chair, practicing the same discipline.  We don’t talk.  We dwell in the peacefulness of a morning not yet disturbed.  We dwell in the beauty of day not yet spoiled by our own sin nature.  The sun slowly rises and with it the robin sings and nature begins to stir.  In those moments our minds are clear.  What truly matters seems to rise to the forefront of our thoughts.  My husband ponders.  I write. Often the words I write bring clarity to my mind.  They determine the course of my day, or the next step in a decision to be made.  I often look back upon these words, amazed that I penned them.  Often it is evident, the Spirit has spoken.  Often the words penned are quotes from the devotional I am reading or a verse that hits me with a fresh perspective or new conviction.  When I take time to look back upon my journal I can see clearly the tapestry He has woven. What may have seemed chaos at the time, comes into focus and makes sense in hind-sight.

As I enter this period of raising teens, this Second Season, realizing my role is changing and my time to instill in them is quickly passing, I long even more for my actions and decisions to be purposeful.  I want my decisions to reflect my priorities, to reflect who I am, to reflect my convictions.  I want my decisions to have impact.  As I read through my journal words confirmed.  I am attempting to work a real estate business and organizing business part-time, but my main role is still at home.  Our home is our ministry tool.  Our home is my daughters’ safe haven, their soft place to land during these pubescent years.  I am now homeschooling one. The decision to do so based upon frustration with both public and private educational systems that struggle to see the capacity of children with learning disabilities, especially those who just need a little boost, a little accommodation.  The decision to do so based upon a need for my relationship with her to be more than one of tutor and task master.  The decision based upon a child who was losing hope.  My job is to protect her heart, but more importantly to teach her to fly.  I am blessed that in this time, I can do this.  It is a privilege and one I will not and dare not take lightly.  In addition, I am still meeting weekly with dear friends who know a ministry vision God has placed on my heart.  It’s been burning in me for years, but the time is not yet.  It’s not easy for someone like me to wait, but I am learning.  Words penned in the early morning hours in faithful discipline remind me to wait.

The main things remain the same.  Over a fresh brewed cup of coffee in the early morn, it is clear.

P.S.  I am currently reading “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley.  Life altering.  I highly recommend it.  If you want something challenging related to being a mom, I recommend the following:  The Passionate Mom, A Woman After God’s Own Heart, Disciplines of a Godly Woman or The Gentle Ways of a Beautiful Woman.

I also challenge you to join me in praying for three simple things.  I have prayed weekly for these the past six months.  They are simple, but alter my mindset.  I pray weekly for Provision Not Prosperity; Peace not Panic; Gratitude not Grumbling.