Reflecting on a Word

In 2019, I purchased a goal planner, which included a process of setting goals and choosing a single word to focus on during the year. I was intrigued and chose the word, reflect. I placed it on a card on my desk and over the year, I did think about what that meant in my life and how it was working itself out.

Last year, I decided to try the word of the year again. I chose a word, wrote it down, and then, at some point, lost the card with the word. It made so little impression on me that I can’t even remember the word I chose.

With such an abysmal failure with the word of the year, I had decided to skip it in 2021. I have plenty of intentions for my year and don’t really need that single focus. Or, at least, I didn’t think I did until the last week in December. A friend posted a discussion topic on a forum I’m part of and asked if we could discuss choosing a word of the year. I confessed what had happened in 2020 with my now lost word and that I didn’t think I would choose a word this year.

But I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. In my desire to improve my prayer life and draw closer to the Lord, one thing I am learning to do is to stop and listen, to notice when I see or hear patterns or trends in my reading, thinking, sermons, friends’ counsel, etc. Over that last week in December, I started noticing the theme of rest coming up over and over. That noticing caused me to stop and think about what rest might mean for me.

Anyone who has known me for any length of time probably has picked up that I am a planner. I like to have my ducks in a row, to know what is happening throughout a day, a week, a month. I track progress I make in several areas of my life. In order to best use my time, I have built structures into my life to help me stay on track with intentions and goals.

However, as I have been pursuing a deeper relationship with the Lord this past year, I had added regular Bible reading and study, regular prayer times, and other means of grace, but I knew something was blocking me going further. As I pondered the idea of “rest”, I began to realize that in the good and godly pursuit of knowing Christ more and drawing closer to Him, I was striving in my own strength to do it. Instead of resting in my union with Him and allowing His life and power to pour through me, I was trying to make myself fruitful. To use an analogy from Rankin Wilbourne’s book Union with Christ, I was frantically try to blow the wind on my own sail to live the Christian life.

I saw the idea of rest in the study of Matthew I’m doing with friends at church. I saw the idea of rest in this book I’m reading on union with Christ. We sang the hymn Jesus I am Resting, Resting in church the last Sunday of December. Rest was everywhere I looked when I started paying attention.

Listening is not my strong suit but even I couldn’t miss the fact that the Lord was telling me something. I didn’t need to strive and do a bunch of things to draw close to Him. In fact, all of that doing was possibly getting in the way. Instead, He desires me to rest in Christ, to know the truth of the gospel—that Christ became the wisdom from God, the righteousness, sanctification, and redemption for us. As we rest in Him, His life flows through us and we are fruitful as a result of that life, not as a result of our own work.

I have been a Christian for many years and I know these truths in my head, but I keep having to go back and work them out in my life. I have been saved by grace and I walk by grace but again and again, I need to learn what that looks like. Every time I want to go deeper with God, I have to see what that grace looks like in my day to day life in a new way.

After all this thinking, I ended up choosing a word for 2021: REST. I have written it down in my journal, on that forum with friends, and placed it in several places so I can’t forget it. This year, I will once again learn what it means to rest in Christ.

Do you choose a word to focus on each year? What have you chosen for 2021? Please share in the comments so we can encourage each other in our growth this year.

January is For Reflection

You will see the theme of reflection throughout my January posts. Last week, I mused about my reading life in 2020. Today I want to focus on using these first weeks of the new year to think and set my intentions and priorities.

I started using the first few weeks of January for reflection after reading an article in the old Victoria magazine back in the 1990s. Each January, the magazine would print a “winter journal”, focusing on different topics about the season. One year, there was an article which talked about using the quiet winter months for reflection and thought. This resonated with me, and I have viewed January as a time for thinking about the new year ever since.

Years ago, I chose September as my calendar start since it coincides with the start of school and many activities after summer vacations are done. This crisp season seems right for jumping into a new calendar.

January, on the other hand, is the time that I stop and think about priorities, values important to me, and intentions. It’s a quiet month. The holidays and their busyness are over. Often, the weather is more conducive to staying inside with a hot cup of tea than for gardening or taking walks. Even the trees are quiet with their leaves long gone and their branches stark against the sky. Birds and animals are asleep or slow this month. Even my garden is asleep, sometimes under a coverlet of snow.

So I take my direction from the rest of nature and become still inside. What is going to be important to me this year? What do I want my life to look like? How will I focus my reading? My writing? My use of time and energy?

As I ask myself these questions, slowly ideas form in my mind as to where I want to focus. I write down these big ideas, from which I will derive the quarterly, monthly, weekly, and even daily intentions that land in my planner.

Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert that I particularly admire, often talks about the importance of being intentional in using your time. There are millions of things we can choose, but we have a limited amount of time. How we want our life to look, things we want to accomplish, priorities in our spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual lives that we want to set–all of these are the things we use to choose how to spend our time.

I will spend the next few weeks, curled up in a comfy chair in my bookroom with pen and paper in hand, reflecting on my progress over the last year and creating or sustaining the intentions for this upcoming year. This will help me to know if I used the time I have been given wisely the next time January rolls around again.

Do you have a specific time to set your goals or intentions? Are you intentional in your use of time? I’d love to hear about your choices in the comments below.

Reading the Bible Fast and Slow

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A few weeks ago, I read this article on reading the Bible fast and slow. If you are like me, perhaps you have tried, and maybe succeeded, at reading through the Bible in a year. There is a satisfaction in reading through all of Scripture in one year. However, one thing that irked me was that while I did get a big picture idea of Scripture and how it all hangs together, I would miss many of the details. I would skim so fast that I wouldn’t think about applications, and I wouldn’t go deep.

Tired of skimming the surface of the Bible, I would then decide to focus on one book of the Bible, like the Psalms or Proverbs or Romans, or Genesis, during a year. That was great because I would go deeper, but then I missed that bigger scope.

This article piqued my interest because the author suggested that rather than choose one of these approaches, you can do both at the same time. Each type of reading complements the other.

So, I planned my Scripture reading for 2019, using this idea.  I chose to read through the New Testament over the year, using a plan by the Navigators. I’m also reading along with She Reads Truth, an online Bible reading group that covers several books of the Bible over the course of a year. Then I am slowly reading through the Psalms. I read only one Psalm or a portion of one each day plus I will study a Psalm in depth every week.

By the end of the 2019, I hope to have read several large chunks of the Bible and to have delved into 50 Psalms. I’m going to read fast and slow. What are your plans for reading God’s Word this year?

Cultivating Friendships

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Friendships are like gardens. When we first plant our flowers or vegetables, we spend time preparing the soil, digging, and watering. But then, summer comes, we are busy with other things, and it’s all too easy to neglect our flowers until they droop and, sometimes, die.

Just as we need to continue to weed and water and fertilize our gardens, it is also necessary to spend time and energy on our friendships lest they fade away from neglect.

In these days of “crazy busy”, it can be hard to find time for friendships. By the time we finish work, paid or volunteer, take care of our homes and families, and fulfill our responsibilities, it is difficult to get out of the house one more time to see a friend. However, while all of those things are important, so are our friendships.

It was easier when my children were young and I was home with them. We had play dates, and the mothers chatted. We hauled the kids to the YMCA for pool time or ping pong or racquetball games, and the mothers exercised together. There were multiple activities at which the parents grew to know one another for a season or for several years, depending on the activity.

Now that my children are grown and gone and I’m working outside the home, finding time for friends is much more difficult. Making new friends is even harder.

One of my personal goals for 2018 was to make time for friendships, old and new. I am doing this in a variety of ways: walking about once a week with my closest friend, having coffee or lunch with at least one friend a month, and occasionally watching someone’s baby with a mutual friend so we can both get baby cuddle time and have time to talk, too.

Another way I found time to cultivate relationships was to throw a spring tea this past March. A dear friend and I worked together on it, which gave us time together, and then on a Saturday, we had a small group of women come share tea and delicious food with us for the afternoon. We scattered groups of chairs in several rooms so everyone had an opportunity to sit down with someone they hadn’t seen for a while. My friend and I had the joy of talking with our dear friends and giving them an afternoon of beauty, tea, and conversation.

Not only did I have the opportunity to cultivate my friendships, I helped others to cultivate theirs as well and created memories to add to our histories together. It was well worth the time and energy.

All of us can find a couple of hours a month to spend with a friend. Do things together that you have to do anyway like exercise or grocery shop. Grab a quick cup of coffee on your way home from work one night a month. Join a book club or Bible study that meets regularly so you see the same faces repeatedly and have the time to get to know them. Spend the time with a friend in real life that you would have spent on social media.

As Laura Vanderkam says in her book 168 Hours, there are 168 hours in a week and not all of them are spent sleeping and working. Dedicate a certain amount of time to your friends and you will find that the time and energy spent is multiplied in pleasure.

How do you make time for friendships? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to have more ideas to reach my goal for 2018 and add to my treasury of friends.

 

Achieving My Goal

There is nothing as satisfying as achieving a goal you’ve set for yourself, especially if that goal is one that stretches you outside of your comfort zone. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I decided to spend the month of November participating in NaNoWriMo to develop the habit of daily writing.

If I had plenty of time at home to work on my goal, reaching it would have been easier, but between going to work daily, organizing a conference, and preparing for Thanksgiving, my time has not been free and easy this month. Instead, I had to do what many writers did over the centuries.  Anthony Trollope, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and many others had to fit their writing in around their day jobs and so did I. Each morning, I wrote until my timer went off, signaling that I had to quit writing for the day and prepare for work.

I wrote about books and reading, my faith, prayer, and listening to sermons, memories of my mother and favorite authors. Despite many responsibilities, I was able to carve out moments for reflection, creativity, and turning my thoughts into words and sentences and paragraphs.

I missed one day of writing and found myself writing in my head instead. I once read that the more you express love the more it grows, and creativity is similar. The more I wrote, the itchier my fingers grew, waiting for the time to put my words on paper.

I never stop thinking, but my thought life can become stagnant when I don’t feed it or let it flow freely. Like damming a stream, you can stop up your mind until the algae forms on top and nothing can grow because the water of your mind is stagnant. On the other hand, when you let your stream of thoughts run freely, the flow brings many kinds of thoughts and ideas and words and mental images tumbling out, eager to be shared. Writing daily gave my thoughts a place to go which, in turn, allowed more thoughts to form.

Before I started, I didn’t know whether I could make the time or have the discipline to write every day this past month. Some days I didn’t want to write. If I did my writing at the start of my day, I was more likely to succeed than if I waited until later in the day when distractions abounded and my brain was overflowing with too much input.

Like regular exercise, I became used to working on a new idea each morning and began to look forward to my daily creative time. I had listed topics for possible blog posts in October, but I ended up using only half of them because the more I wrote, the more new ideas would pop up during the day that I wrote about as soon as I could find time.

November was a good month, and I plan to continue to write or at least edit every day. I hope to share the fruits of my work with you over the next several months.

Do you write every day? If so, when is your best time for writing and how do you carve out time for your creativity each day?

Daily writing and NaNoWriMo

For the past four years I have been leading and facilitating local writers groups at the library where I work. Each November I encourage the writers to take part in NaNoWriMo, but I have never participated myself. I had multiple excuses: I write nonfiction, not novels. I am homeschooling and working so when would I find time to write?  I could never write that many words in a month. That’s for real writers not my wannabe self.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Each year hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words in November. If they succeed, they “win”. What do they win? Nothing monetary, but they will have a completed rough draft of a novel and a banner to download to their website/social media.

So why participate? There are several reasons: it’s more fun to write with others cheering you on which happens a lot during the month. It’s more likely you will sit down and write when you have made it public you are writing 50,000 words. There is nothing quite like the pressure of making a public pledge to keep you accountable. Even if you don’t achieve 50,000 words, you will still develop the discipline of writing every day.

Writing is only successful when you sit down every day and put words on the paper. Neil Gaiman said, “To be a good writer… read a lot and write every day.” A writer once commented that it takes a million words before you are a competent writer. That means if you write 1,000 words a day, it will take three years of daily writing to get the bad writing out of your system. Only then will you start to write the good stuff. But if you never start, you will never reach competency.

I cheered others on but never took part myself until I  decided to join in the fun this year. Why did I change my mind?

First, I discovered the “rebels” group. There are various group forums on the NaNoWriMo site. Groups for research, various genres, resources and support, fans, and the rebel group. The rebel group includes poets, playwrights, bloggers, nonfiction writers, and others. They set their own goals. Some want to write 50,000 words on a nonfiction project. Others want to write a poem a day for 30 days or work on their thesis or set research goals for a new book. There are as many goals as rebels, which is okay.

Since there was a group in which I would fit, I thought about joining. But what would I write? I still have far too much research to do on my book and I didn’t want to set research goals this first time out. I did, however, want to develop the discipline of writing every day, and I decided to write 30 blog post drafts in 30 days.

I won’t be posting all thirty immediately since the point of this exercise is getting a rough draft down.  However, I hope to post at least once a week, and by the end of the month, if I succeed, I will have two things: thirty blog post drafts for the future and the discipline of writing every day.

As I have been writing regularly over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that it easier to get my thoughts on paper and I have been increasingly creative. Also, it is autumn and I spend more time thinking and pondering and meditating this time of year.

To reach my goal, I’ve been rearranging my morning time customs: I am getting up earlier each morning to make time for more contemplation and prayer, more reading, and regular writing. I am spending less time on social media and the internet. I am picking up pen and journals more often. I’m attempting to spend more time with real books rather than electronic books.

I’m not against electronic books but it is too easy to get distracted when the internet is on the same device as the book. With a paper book in my hand and the internet devices in another room, I am more likely to lose myself in the story than go look up a rabbit trail topic. With a paper journal and pen, I am more likely to keep writing rather than go find the perfect word or do research on my current topic or find the exact wording of a quote I want to use.

Expect to see more regular posts from now on and also ask me how it’s going. If my friends and family know about this, hopefully they will encourage me, keep me accountable, and check in on my progress throughout the month.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? I’d love to hear about your goals and cheer you on in your writing.

Autumn has come

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The other morning I stepped outside to go to work and discovered that autumn had arrived. The sky was that perfect blue that you only see in September. Geese were flying overhead, calling to one another as they flew toward warmer climes. A slight mist was floating over the trees, bushes, and the flowers in my garden. The air had the faintest crispness, hinting at the cooler weather soon to come. Just like that, in the space of a day, summer had turned to autumn.

Autumn is my favorite time of year. It’s a time of new beginnings, of starting over, of turning the page of my life. As I was growing up, January never seemed as strong a new year as September, when the season began to change, new classes were starting, new books were bought and begun, and new unknowns were yet to be explored. New notebooks were full of white, clean pages, waiting to be filled with thoughts and ideas, facts and questions, many of which would influence my soul and my mind from then until the present.

Even now, when I no longer go to school myself nor teach others, I still view September as the beginning of my year. I turn over the calendar page to September and breathe a sigh of relief—the heat of August is waning and cool weather is right around the corner. Sweaters, my favorite garments, will soon be required in the mornings and evenings. Lap blankets and hot tea will accompany me to our back deck, as I read, write, and ponder the world while my nose grows rosy in the chill and my fingers and cheeks get cool.

Autumn is also a time for reflection. As the world around us readies itself for winter, I watch all the non-essential things be cast off. Plants stop blooming, trees drop their leaves, birds fly off and leave their old nests behind, animals prepare to sleep, and insects die after taking care to leave eggs for the next year. Everything prepares for cold days, in which only the truly necessary things will be kept.

So it’s a time for me to get back to basics, too. What is truly necessary in my life? What activities and relationships and duties are sapping my strength and dividing my attention unnecessarily? What is not in line with my most important goals, the things I believe I’m called by God to accomplish? Which thoughts are entangling me and keeping me from walking this particular path in a God-honoring way?

It’s a time to regroup, to choose again from all of the good opportunities for growth and service, to decide on the best things that fit in to the calling on my life at this time. With prayer and pondering, I consider each activity. I measure, not just my time but also my energy and margins, to determine how many extra things I can fit in to my schedule. I weigh the benefits (to others as well as to myself) of every opportunity before me to decide whether or not it fits in with my life goals, my family’s needs, and the gifts with which I have been blessed.

Autumn is a time for new beginnings, for shedding expectations and unnecessary encumbrances, and for looking to future blessings and work with a joyful heart. How glad I was, the other morning, to see that autumn had arrived!