Month: January 2016

Sector Five: Rest aka True Rest is Best

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Rest. It seems so beautiful. So precious. And for many of us: SO DISTANT.

When was the last time you felt truly rested?

If you are anything like me, that question may be difficult to answer. When you are in a season of life where littles often determine how much sleep, food, and activity you get to experience, REST seems like a foreign concept reserved only for people who do not have children or have live-in nannies or are independently wealthy or all of the above. However, I have found that even those people, the ones without children (who are working and going to school to figure out what they want to do with their lives), the ones who have live-in nannies (and are working like crazy and trying to succeed at home and career and everything else), and even the ones who are independently wealthy (and use this wealth to do whatever they want whenever they want), still long for being at true rest within themselves.

Why? Because true rest has nothing to do with actual hours of sleep (although this is important) or how much down-time you have without demands tugging and pulling at you. It has everything to do with what you do with whatever “restful” moments you do have, how you fill them, and the inescapable results of the doing and filling. And thus, we have reached the final sector of the private world: how we experience an authentic rest that renews, refreshes, and revitalizes.

True Rest is Best

As Gordon describes, it is difficult for people, especially in our current culture, to rest. Even our “vacations,” which are supposed to be a break from “working” are packed in with activities, excursions, and amusement to the point that I know I often feel like I want a real vacation from my vacation (LOL). That is because true rest is different from the leisure/amusement the world tells us about and in which we have become accustomed.  In fact, while leisure and amusement are fun (and there is nothing wrong with them when used in moderation), I sometimes wonder if they have strategically been designed to present a false sense of rest and keep us distracted from the true Sabbath rest in which we were created.

As Gordon explains, “leisure and amusement may be enjoyable, but they are to the private world of the individual like cotton candy to the digestive system. They provide a momentary lift, but they will not last” (pg. 164). Like the momentary pleasure and seeming satisfaction of candy, when substituted for a real meal, we will be left wanting. And if there are too many meals where only candy is consumed, we will not only be unsatisfied, but we will probably be encountering sickness and a myriad of other concerns. Similarly, if we are so busy during our rest time that we do not or cannot focus on the Lord and embrace the rest He created for us, than we will continue to be exhausted, both physically and spiritually, and ultimately, decline in our effectiveness.

Fortunately for us, God didn’t just tell us to rest, He actually acted it out for us so we could have an example to follow. After taking six days to work and labor creating the earth and all that is in it, including us, the God of the universe intentionally set aside an entire day just for REST. Not just one hour, not just a breather here and there in between making a giraffe and an elephant, but AN ENTIRE DAY devoted to the resting. And not just any type of resting, and especially not the “resting” as we know it that is actually filled to the brim with leisure or fun activities, but purposeful, deep, renewing rest called Sabbath rest.

Sabbath rest, as I have come to understand it, is different than any rest I have ever heard of because it incorporates our mind and body to provide an intentional resting experience. What makes this Sabbath rest so different?

  1. Routines, activities, and labors purposefully stop: Amen! True Sabbath rest is not a seven day fun-filled adventure where you are rushing from place to place to get it all in with only moments of downtime in the car. It is also not the time to play catch-up (this is honestly how I tend to use it if I am not careful) on everything you did not get to last week, like laundry, dishes, cleaning, and house projects. This really hit home with me when reading that for some cultures, Sabbath means you do not even cook, but have prepared the food ahead of time. This sounds awesome to me! Could you imagine an entire day per week where there is no cooking, no cleaning, no working, and just time to be spent on spiritual things?? Personally, while it sounds next to impossible for my current stage of life, it gives me something to hope and work towards for the future!!!
  2. Worship, both corporately and individually, is an essential piece of the experience: Yes, this means that we spend some of our Sabbath time in relationship with others. For many of us, this looks like attending a Sunday morning worship service where we sing, learn, and encourage one another in our faith walks. But it could also be attending a mid-week Bible study or Wednesday night service where we get to interact and worship with people around us. Involving others in our spiritual lives is so important because we were never intended to go through life, even our spiritual lives, alone. From the very beginning, starting with Adam and Eve, we were always meant to have relationship and community with others as we live out our spirituality. Doing so gives us opportunities to learn from one another, be encouraged by one another, and hold each other accountable. It also gives us things to take to the Lord in our individual worship time on the Sabbath, where we can wrestle with the latest sermon, dive deep into a verse that was recommended, or re-play a worship song that really spoke to us.
  3. Peace reigns and guilt (over lack of “productivity”) is not allowed: This may take some practice, but it is OK that the laundry is not done, that the dishes are not clean, and that there is still work to do tomorrow. If you let guilt creep in over the things that are still undone, it will rob you of the peace that is meant to take place with a Sabbath rest because you will be so focused on your to-do list that there is no attention or time truly devoted to rest. Since I tend to fall into this trap myself, I am so glad that Gordon reminded us that our work is often un-ending, and if we waited until it was completed to reward ourselves with Sabbath rest, we would never experience the rest God intended. Makes sense to me: although God was finished with the creation portion of our world, there were still obviously things to do (interact with everything, name things, feed things, etc.). and yet He still took an entire day to rest in the midst, which is a reminder I definitely need on a regular basis. I NEED Sabbath rest in the middle of my never-ending loads of laundry, dishes, cooking, work, etc., to be able to continue to complete them at my best.

When we take this one day (or time) a week to stop our normal routines and work, replace them with purposeful worship, and seek peace instead of guilt, it sets us up to spend time ordering our private worlds (imagine that) through intentional Sabbath rest.

How does this apply to me?

Confession time again: It is very rare that I get the opportunity to experience true Sabbath rest on a weekly basis. Even Gordon acknowledges that there are seasons, like when you are a parent of young children requiring your daily attention and effort, when Sabbath rest will not come easy. I truly believe that God understands this (I mean, He created me and my boys so I am going to trust He knew they would need me LOL) but it does not mean that I cannot still incorporate some elements of Sabbath rest throughout my week as I create time and space to do so. If I want to truly rest (which I desperately do), than I need to find and take advantage of specific moments I have set aside for Sabbath rest to intentionally review, renew, and re-focus.

  1. Review: The first step in Sabbath rest starts with a review of the past. This may be the past week, the past month, or even the past hour, depending on what is coming to mind as you look back on what has occurred or been accomplished. Gordon tells us it is an intentional evaluation, a time for us to “interpret our work, to press meaning into it, and to make sure we know to whom it is properly dedicated” (pg. 165). When you look over the past couple of days or weeks, what did you do? Why did you do it? Do you want to keep doing it and if so, why and how? If not, is there something that you want to change? What? This review gives us the opportunity to affirm the things that went well, learn from the things that went not-so-well, and sets us up for the next two steps.
  2. Renew: The second step in Sabbath rest focuses on renewing the present by ensuring our thoughts, actions, and lives are operating in truth.  When we take the time to review the past in the first step, it leads us to the present and the recognition that our current path may feel a little off-course or our hearts may not be where we want them to be. And so, through the worship included in Sabbath rest, we can take time to search out truth (through reading the Bible, listening to a sermon, claiming the truth from a worship song, etc.) and seek to apply it to our current state of being. This closely connects with the idea of spending time in our gardens, and making sure we are pruning, weeding, and caring for them with spiritual truths. Gordon calls this a “re-calibration” (pg.67) where we look to God’s standards in determining our direction for the present and future, and if off-course, make the needed adjustments. This renewal flows into the next step of looking at what we want for the future.
  3. Re-Focus: The final step in Sabbath rest is an intentional re-focus for the future (the next week to come). Once we have reviewed what has already taken place and renewed our present state, we can proceed to making intentional plans for tomorrow. This process involves applying the lessons we learned from our review, integrating the truths we affirmed in our renewal, and moving forward into the coming moments with a sense of purpose and mission. We can ponder “What is our mission today” (pg. 169) and answer it with confidence and determination to guide our daily thoughts and actions. This mission may change depending on circumstances and seasons, so implementing this step with each Sabbath rest is important to remain current and steadfast in who we want to be and what we want to do.

OK. So what do I do now?

Best. application. ever. 🙂

This coming week, I challenge you to purposefully set aside and guard a specific Sabbath rest spot in your schedule. It may occur on Sunday as most of us associate with the Sabbath, but if you find that this is not conducive to true rest, feel free to make it any other day of the week. As long as you make it happen, I do not believe the actual day is important.

Then, make it a priority to enter into this Sabbath time and utilize Gordon’s guidelines to review the past week, renew your present moment, and re-focus for the future week to come in light of what God is doing in your life. Maybe even journal these things to keep a record of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going.

Plan to follow-up this Sabbath rest with another allotted time in the next week, and rinse and repeat. I have to admit that I am excited about the prospect of doing this in my own life, even if it is only for the few moments I can carve out on Sunday morning. I am quite confident that as we implement this concept of rest as God fully intended, we will agree that yes, true rest is indeed best.

 

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Out of the Mouth of Babes: Better Out than In

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“Mommy, I want to run away from you again…”

This was the comment that I never expected to hear come out of my son’s mouth as we pulled into the driveway. Yesterday, for the first time ever in our three years of life together (of course, he has only been walking/running for 1.5 years of them), he had run away from me outside when I told him to go up on the porch. At the time of his “great escape,” I had been working with his little brother, and he knew I was occupied. What he did not know is that moms are built with go-go-gadget arms and superhuman speed, and so with littler one in tow, I was still able to grab him and get him before he got away (not so funny then; but now I can smirk a little at the thought). After some pretty intense discipline (we do not play about safety issues), I felt I had made myself clear that running from Mommy, especially when I have instructed you to do the opposite, is never ok.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard that sweet little voice say those honest, yet incredibly disobedient words. Apparently, this was a practice makes perfect lesson, and so I settled in for a learning moment and discussion (and made sure my shoes were ready to go just in case). I told him I was thankful for his honesty, we talked about his reasons for wanting to run (it is fun), and we talked about what happened last time he ran (mommy got real upset… yes son, she did). We also talked about how he could make a different choice this time (to walk inside like he knows how to do), and then I encouraged him to show me how he could do it. What started off with the potential to end with tears and discipline as it had once before, ended with a wonderful celebration moment when he successfully walked to the door and waited, chose obedience over disobedience, and felt good inside and out about his decision.

While all ended well, and you may be thinking “thanks Sara… what a great story but what’s the point,” this interaction between mother and son has stuck with me all week to the point that I need to write about it and share it with you. In fact, as I have seen God work before, this writing may be intended specifically for you, so please hang on and see how it unfolds (to be honest, I am curious too LOL 🙂 ).

You see, what has been haunting me all week about this interaction, is the awesome confession that came forth (unprompted mind you) from my little one. While it may have been surprising to me in the moment, it has transformed into an incredibly humbling and inspiring lesson of how we should approach our own lives, and the disobedient/destructive/detrimental thoughts and actions we harbor in our own hearts and minds. That’s right: we were created for confession, and as my son so nicely demonstrated in his obedient walk to the door, it can have amazing positive effects for our lives.

Confession: Better Out than In

In our current society of independence, isolation, and anonymity (thank you technology), things happen everyday that no one knows about. You or I can easily cheat on a test, watch something we know we probably should not, or give false pretenses about who we are and what we are about (yes, this is still a lie) with just the click of a button. And NO ONE knows what we are doing, so the little kid in us feels somewhat justified because if no one sees, it cannot really be as bad as it seems. Plus, if you have not been caught yet, you probably think you can continue with it because what everyone else does not know is not really hurting them. Deep down though, we know the truth on the inside and when this truth does not match up with the thoughts or actions we have on the outside, we begin to operate in a state known as incongruence.

When we begin to experience incongruence, it always leads to distress. Why? Because when our inner and outer are at odds, we cannot enjoy life to the fullest due to the often invisible but monumental struggle taking place within us. Think about the child’s toy of fitting a square block into a round hole: it does not work and you can continue to frustrate yourself by trying to make it work but usually this just ends in tears and damage. The same is true when we are acting like someone we are not; when the outer does not properly align with the inner, we describe these feelings as guilt, shame, and angst, and we cannot settle because who we want to be on the inside does not match who we are being on the outside. The longer these thoughts and behaviors in our lives stay hidden and in the dark and we remain in a state of incongruence, often the bigger it appears to become and the less we seem to be able to stop it. What started as something seemingly small and innocent may grow into something big and ominous, leaving us feeling helpless and powerless.

I have witnessed this time and time again throughout my life as both friend and counselor. It may start with a subtle and passing thought that “hmmm… that co-worker is handsome” even though the thinker is currently married (although not incredibly happy about it) and yes, a passing thought like this can by itself be very innocent and happen to anyone at anytime (even those happily married). Then, “randomly” she and he happen to sit by each other at the next work meeting, and wow, he is also funny. No harm though right, because she is married and took vows and even though it is not what she expected, she has no intentions of being unfaithful. But then they get tasked with the same work project, and now she has to spend the next couple of weeks with him working, and in the process they begin to share pieces of their lives about family and marriage and things in conversation and soon she has moved from innocent thoughts to wondering what it would be like to be on a date with him, or if her husband could just listen like him, or look at her like him, and the second she moves from her initial innocent thought to comparing to her husband or something more, she has taken the first step on a slippery slope of potential infidelity and marital destruction. Her outer (starting to look at her co-worker and her marriage differently as well as her role in both relationships) has started moving away from her true inner (wanting to have a healthy, strong, faithful marriage) and if she is not careful to confess, the incongruence will continue to grow from thoughts into action and the ultimate result: despair and distress.

And this can happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime in any situation. If you are thinking “not me,” I pray that you are right but in my personal and professional experience, watch out. Maybe you are at the gym instead of work, or a bible study (yes even there), or in a late night chat room. Maybe it is not infidelity but feelings of “man, I wish I could be like her… she is super mom..” or giving in to feelings of insecurity “I am worthless and could never really achieve what I had hoped for..” or self-medicating to try to feel better “I know this does not solve anything, but it is the last time… for real this time…” Any circumstance where our outer experience begins to deviate from our inner truth can lead to incongruence, hurt, and heartache. And until we find a way to get back into alignment, pretty much everything we do will be tainted by the incongruence in or lives.

Fortunately, this is where the beauty of confession and the title of this post truly rings true (and is not just applicable to bodily functions 🙂 ). Confession, as God intended, is the first step in bringing about the congruence, relief, and freedom that so many of us are longing for. It is bringing all the stuff we want to keep hidden into the open, where we can experience the relief of “better out than in.” When we confess, we acknowledge or admit that things are out of alignment or incongruent, and we begin the process of re-aligning so that who we are and who we want to be match up. Confession is so important because it brings the things we have kept hidden, sometimes that absolutely no one knows about, into the light where others (not necessarily everyone; but trusted others [see below for more on this]) can see.

This is usually where I hear a resounding: Wait. You want me to tell someone about this? Are you kidding me?!?

Why? Because while the concept of being congruent, free and at peace sounds beautiful, it also involves overcoming the risks involved with uncovering a secret that may actually hurt more than just us: it may hurt the ones we love most. And while I would love to keep this post mostly happy and upbeat (not sure if that is really happening right now anyway), I also want to keep it honest. Sometimes confession is hard, and sometimes it hurts us and those that are involved, but it ALWAYS is better to do as early and as thoroughly as possible because NO TRUE PEACE, let me say it again, NO TRUE PEACE can happen without it.

***Important Disclaimer: This post, as many others, is directed towards thoughts and actions that are not healthy, but not typically illegal or outwardly harmful to others. If you are struggling with something that is harmful to your self or anyone else or is illegal in any form, I still support confession as the number one response. Unfortunately, as with any confession, there are also consequences that may result (such as legal actions or needed assistance to maintain safety/sobriety) but facing the consequences truly outweighs the captivity of incongruence. If this applies to you, I encourage you to seek a certified professional, such as a counselor or pastor or lawyer or law enforcement, and start there with your confession.***

You cannot work on authentically healing your marriage with something that still needs to be confessed; because the trust that is destroyed when you are caught will do more damage than you are envisioning from a proactive confession. You cannot work authentically on growing a ministry if you are constantly acting out of fear or jealousy or insecurity, because you will be driven by your own selfish needs and building a foundation on hurt and fear rather than strength and truth. Think about it: If I try to build anything using square blocks in round holes, it will be uneven, unstable, and ultimately, ineffective.

So, while the thought of exposing your deepest darkest secrets (potentially much more serious than my son’s wanting to run away from me again) may seem overwhelming or even terrifying to you, the truth of the matter is that once something like this has been exposed to the light, it invites healing, accountability, and empowerment. What once was a burden that may have been controlling you because you are trying to deal with it alone and in the dark and hoping and praying no one finds out, becomes something you begin to deal with one piece at a time with those trusted others are praying for, encouraging, and challenging you to continue.  And while it may hurt those around you when it first comes out, resolving that hurt will be the first square block in a square hole that results in a solid foundation for the healing, restoration, and growth that is to come.

I have also been blessed to witness and experience this process as well. I gave you an example from my own life in my last post (yes, I still “heart” my husband) when I confessed my horrible thoughts and feelings of hatred, which did not match my true desires or feelings of my husband and marriage, to a trusted friend for wise counsel. I then also confessed those things to my husband, which I know hurt him deeply, but also allowed both of us to be honest and work on true reconciliation instead of me trying to reconcile while still harboring hate in my heart (not effective). I have had other friends confess to me their own concerns: lapses in judgement regarding members of the opposite gender, issues with maintaining integrity at work or in school, jealousies and insecurities spurred on by various circumstances; all examples that involved themselves as well as others and in which they were crippling under the pressure of their own incongruence but experienced the amazing relief and insight that comes with confession.

It is by no means easy, but as we walk through confession and move towards congruence, our inner and outer worlds can begin to exist in harmony, and the distress that was once tainting our moments is now released and replaced with peace and potential.

So Where Do I Start??

Confession is not always as simple as it was for my 3 year old (it helps that this is one of his first real times, it was a proactive confession and not after the fact, and it [thank you Jesus] went well). Many of us as adults have had years, sometimes decades even, to cultivate incongruences that are dark and ugly and have been holding us captive under their weight.  However, there is no time like the present to move towards congruence, and I promise you, while it may appear to get worst before it gets better (confessions are always scary and difficult), the benefits of congruence and living in the light far outweigh the oppression of the darkness. Here are a few tips to get started and begin working towards your own congruent relief. I truly believe you will be excited with the outcome, even if the process is difficult and involves some initial tears and hurt:

  1. Confess to Self and God: As with any sin or issue in our lives, the first step is acknowledging to ourselves that there is actually a problem. However, most of us get this step down without an issue, because we know from the beginning that something was wrong, that the thought or action was not helpful or healthy, but it still stays in the dark because confession to self allows understanding without accountability. Fortunately, along with confessing to ourselves, we can partner this step with also confessing to God, and starting the process of admitting to someone outside of ourselves the truth of the matter, which invites outer responsibility, acknowledgement, and accountability. And the wonderful part about confession to God before anyone else is that there is no surprise because He already knowns, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) only recognition of truth and grace, and in our confession, He is quick to forgive and purify us (1 John 1:9). In confessing to God, we get to begin again with a clean slate, and invite in the empowering of HIs Holy Spirit to be with us at all times to say “no” to whatever we had confessed and say “yes” to the better truth that awaits us.
  2. Confess to Someone Else: After confessing to ourselves and to God, we need to take the hardest step of finding another person to confess to as well. Notice I implied one person, although 2 or 3 is acceptable but I would not extend it beyond this in most cases (unless there is something that is affecting a large group of people, such as a pastor in need of confessing to his congregation; but that is for another post). The reason for keeping it small is to guard yourself in terms of who gets to speak truth into your life as well as to manage your own vulnerability in sharing something so intimate about yourself. This confession should only take place with a TRUSTED person or persons, so as not to tempt anyone for gossip or in turn, add damage to you as you are in the process of healing.  Depending on the nature of the confession, this may be a close and trusted friend (like it was for me) or it may need to be a counselor or pastor (which I have also sought out and utilized for confession in the past). Whomever you choose, the goal of this confession to another human is to acknowledge out loud what you have been dealing with, process it out (just like my son and I did) including your and their current feelings and thoughts, brainstorm together a plan of moving forward toward congruence, and then inviting this person or persons to hold you accountable to walk out the plan you have established. It is amazing the life-change that can result, and that I have seen time and time again, when we let trusted others know those deep, dark things, and then purpose together to walk in the light!
  3. Confess and then seek Congruence: After you have confessed to your self, God, and someone else, the next step is to begin the re-alignment process. If my son had just stopped at letting me know what he was thinking, but continued to operate in that same line of thinking, he would have ended up in the same place as the first time he ran: in tears and being disciplined. For some of us, this is the way that we learn and it takes us a few times of confessing and doing it again and confessing and doing it again before the next step of congruence really starts to take hold. However, do not be discouraged; congruence is always within reach! We move towards congruence when we look at what we have confessed and determine to step in the other direction. In essence, we follow my son’s example and choose to show how we can walk in obedience and make it to the front porch (not run away again). The best way to begin working towards this is to take a moment and write out (yes WRITE or TYPE so it is in written form and not just floating around in your head) what you want for yourself on the inside. Things like “I want to be pure in my internet usage” or “I want to be content in my own circumstances” or ” I want to be sober from [insert your confession here]” or “I want to be faithful to my spouse in my heart and mind as well as my body” or “I want to uphold my integrity both within and outside of the [classroom, workplace, etc.].” You might even find scripture or quotes that affirm these statements and provide added encouragement and motivation to actually pursue them. These written declarations then give us the guidance and direction in which we can re-align our thoughts and actions. When you begin to think or do something in opposition (remember square block in round hole), it is time to stop, evaluate, confess if needed, and try again.

This week, I encourage you to take some time for soul-searching and see if anything prompting confession surfaces. If you are thinking it “might be” something, odds are that it is, and a safe rather than sorry approach is what I typically take when this happens.

For some of us, congruence is out current state of living, and those around them can see it through the inner joy and peace that seems to overflow into others. If this is you, I ask that you would spend some time praying for those that are not currently enjoying congruence as I am sure quite a few people in your own circle could come to mind.

Some of us, like my son, have little things that pop up here and there that when confessed, help us to learn and grow and continue to operate in the light without too much difficulty. If this is you, enjoy the ease of the confession process and use it to its fullest before something small becomes a bigger concern.

And still for others of us, this will be a life-changing, earth-shifting process where we finally have the courage to expose our deepest, darkest secret to the light, overcome any potential risks, and dive deep into the pursuit of congruence that will ultimately lead to wholeness and harmony within.

Whatever your situation, I pray that we will all heed the wisdom of a small child just being honest with his mommy and take it to heart that it is totally worth it to seek healing, congruence and peace. I promise you, as even my son innocently recognized, these things are always better out than in. ♥

 

 

Sector Four: Spiritual Strength aka The Secret Garden

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One of my favorite movies growing up (and probably still now if I am honest LOL) was The Secret Garden. Telling the tale of multiple tragedies (the death of parents and spouses; illness and despair; loneliness on many levels), a triad of hurting hearts finds a sense of hope and new growth through the restoration of a neglected secret garden. Even the hardest of hearts in the story is softened by the beauty and potential of new life, and the transformation that takes place as each character spends time in the secret garden is inspiring.

As a little girl, I remember wishing I had my own secret garden, complete with hidden door and key, to go to when times were tough or celebrate in when times were good. A small bit of secluded earth to call my own, and only invite those in whom I could truly trust.

And sometimes, even as an adult now, I still do.    Maybe you do too…

Which is exactly why this week’s reading on spirituality hit so close to home. It is no coincidence that Gordon begins our discussion of the soul, and its spiritual nature, by using the picture of a garden. If you remember correctly, that is kind of where the story of humanity started in the very beginning. That perfect garden of Eden, which I envision had its own form of amazing gate and key, where humanity and deity lived out unbroken, untouched, PERFECT spiritual communion. Until sin came in and destroyed the perfection, we lived in overwhelming peace, security, and congruence: the spirit and the flesh were one.

However (no spoiler alert here), we know the story took a turn for the absolute worst when sin and selfishness entered the stage and destroyed the perfect peace. Distortion, disruption, and destruction ensued; and now we live in a world overrun by sin and chaos and hurt and tragedy. And our souls and our flesh are often at odds, and we yearn for that long ago fairy tale garden that was so simple, so sweet, and so sacred.

Sin continues to scream at us that the garden is gone forever, and while I am not saying we can return to the garden of Eden anytime soon, I do believe that a still, small voice whispers to us among the noise and beckons us to a remnant of the original creation He has placed within us… the secret garden that still resides within our soul.

My Own Secret Garden

Recognizing that there is a sacred space within me, a spiritual realm known as the soul, is still hard for me to fully comprehend. Although honestly, the little girl within me is jumping for joy at the thought of having my own secret garden. 🙂 And while for the most part, this is a metaphorical discussion, I love love love (yes, I meant for there to be three of them for emphasis) the picture of my inner soul as a garden. Why? Because there are so many lessons that can be gleaned from envisioning  our soul from a gardening perspective (you can probably think of more than I will discuss here if you really think about it).

First, when cared for properly, gardens are usually beautiful, breath-taking, peaceful places where people have celebrations, get engaged, get married, and have deep, romantic, intimate interactions. All of the senses are usually involved with an experience in a garden: you can hear the soothing sound of water falling from a nearby fountain, you can smell the sweet perfume of blooming jasmine, you can see the brilliant colors of a variety of petals and greenery, you can touch the soft green grass or smooth stones as you sit for a moment, and you can taste the refreshing sweet of a nearby fruit fresh off the vine (yes, in my garden there will always be food of some kind). Our inner garden can be the same way! According to Gordon, it is “a place of potential peace and tranquility. This garden is a place where the Spirit of God comes to make self-disclosure, to share wisdom, to give affirmation or rebuke, to provide encouragement, and to give direction and guidance. When this garden is in proper order, it is a quiet place, and there is an absence of busyness, of defiling noise, of confusion” (pg. 118). Sounds wonderful to me!!!

Second, an amazing garden like this takes regular maintenance and hard work to create and maintain. That is the exact reason I do not have a real garden in my backyard (even though there was one there previously from the last owners of our house) and why I truly admire those that do keep one. Even in the small flower bed I have kept close to our house, there are ALWAYS things to be done: rake up the leaves that have fallen, prune the rosebushes, mulch the rosebushes, pull up all of the weeds because we can no longer see the dogs when we let them out (I am not joking), and this is just routine maintenance. This is not even trying to get them big and beautiful and amazing. True gardeners spend hours upon hours tilling the soil, working the soil, trimming and pruning and raking and hauling, expending both time and energy on hands and knees before taking the time to enjoy the beauty around them. The same goes for our inner gardens (which exist whether we want them to or not): it will take the time (when we are using it properly 🙂 ) and the efforts (good thing we have that mind to help us out) of regular inner work to create and maintain.

Fortunately, there is typically a reward for all that work: a gardener that is putting in the time and effort to create a thriving garden can expect productivity and harvest. Blooms in season are anticipated, and you can see the pride and joy of any gardener when they can display the beauty they have cultivated. We on the outside like it too; hence the desire for fresh flowers at weddings and celebrations and even funerals, as symbols of love and friendship and condolences… to encourage and enjoy in the deepest of moments. Similarly, our inner gardens will produce a harvest in season as well: fruits of the spirit including “courage, hope, love, endurance joy, and lots of peace. Unusual capacities for self-control, the ability to discern evil and ferret out truth are also reaped” (pg. 120). We will grow in wisdom and knowledge and character, and those around us will enjoy the beauty displayed.

Finally, even the most amazing of gardens can fall into disarray when left unattended for too long. If the gardener is unable to keep up the necessary maintenance, weeds and overgrowth of the plants will take place. What once was beautiful, organized and peaceful will become a knotted, chaotic mess that may ultimately lead to plant destruction and death. There will be few, if any fruits, and the awaited harvests will no longer take place. Gordon warns us that our inner garden is no different, and that it “cannot remain uncultivated for long before it becomes infested with the sort of growth that makes it uninviting, both to the indwelling Lord and to us ourselves” (pg. 157). However, the alternate is true as well: even the gardens that are in most disarray can be brought back to life with the right amount of time and care.  If we truly want to experience the inner peace that comes from within, we will need to remain vigilant and not let our garden slip into this overgrown state and if it has, then it is time to take action.

How does this apply to me? (aka How does your Garden Grow? )

As we discussed above, a beautiful, thriving garden does not get that way by accident. Even if there is a form of beauty in the overgrowth, the health of the plants and the soil may not be what it seems. Even weeds can be pretty at times, but in the end rob both the earth and the plants of their life-giving properties. With this in mind then, how then do we cultivate or re-cultivate our gardens to bring forth substantial, vivacious, and thriving life?

Gordon tells us that there are four main disciplines we can start with (there are many more that are not covered in this book but can be found elsewhere; a good friend of mine just recommended the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster and it is on my to-read list) to take action and stimulate growth within out gardens. A summary of each is provided below:

  1. Silence and Solitude: Taking time just to be with no noise, no distractions, and no other living thing. This might be a local park where you can find a secluded place, the inside of your car in your driveway (I use this one a lot), or the inside of a closet or bathroom (as long as it is quiet). Depending on your circumstances, you may need to use ear plugs (LOL) or close your eyes, but the point is to get as quiet and focused as possible. For me, this means no kids, no husband, no dogs, no cell phone, and no mess (I get easily distracted by mess). There is sometimes an initial culture shock at the lack of noise and bustling, but once you take some time to embrace the lack thereof, there is also something refreshing about the silent space. It allows you to take a deep breath, and transition from listening to everything else our next discipline: listening to God.
  2. Listening to God: This is probably the hardest of the disciplines for me to practically explain, even though I have experienced it many times. I have never audibly heard God talk to me (although I think it would be incredibly scary and cool at the same time), but I have seen Him speak directly to my needs and situations through reading the Bible, reading Christian literature, and even through the words of a trusted friend, sermon, or worship song. Gordon recommends that to supplement the listening process, we can utilize a journal to record what we hear God saying. While I do not journal daily as he describes, although I am seriously considering an earnest attempt after being inspired from this reading, I have always been a note-taker. For every class or sermon or even in meetings, I am always taking notes because there are things that I want to keep with me when I hear them. This is often when I hear God speaking, as I have been asking specifically for guidance or direction about something and a verse or quote appears to speak directly to that matter. Then, I can record it, confirm that it matches God’s character and will as described in the Bible, and act upon it.
  3. Reflection and Meditation: Once we have created the time and space to be alone and quiet with God, have listened to Him and recorded what He is saying, we have the ability to integrate it into who we are through the tools of reflection and meditation. As Gordon explains, this is the process of “pressing enter” in our spiritual computers and inputting the new information into ourselves (pg. 140). This is literally thinking about the thing God told you over and over and over again until it becomes second nature. For instance, my word from the Lord for this year is discipline. As I seek to “enter” this word and practice into my life, I am purposefully thinking of it as much as I can in multiple contexts. I have looked up the definition, looked up verses, and posted the word throughout my house and places I will be as reminders. I reflect and visualize and meditate on this concept of discipline, until it becomes a part of my regular existence. When God speaks to you and you hear Him, you can do similar things to let His word integrate into your life as well.
  4. Prayer: This is our part of the conversation with God, and how we actually communicate with Him. I love that God is not just one-sided; He does not just give out orders and then leave us to complete them. Instead, just like in the original garden, He longs to live in relationship with us, hear our thoughts and our dreams, both positive and negative, and encourages us to take an active tole in our relationship. Since we do not live in the original garden though, prayer can often be difficult, especially since it can sometimes feel like talking to empty space, but if we can begin to cultivate our inner gardens, I bet we will start to feel differently about this too. I know even envisioning myself in my garden with the Lord changes how I view prayer, as something that has to be done or is empty to an actual conversation to a present participant. Gordon tells us that prayer is a combination of timing, posture, and content. Timing is different for each person, but setting aside time for intentional prayer is essential. My time is best in the morning (I tend to fall asleep at night) but yours may be in the evenings or even on your lunch break. Posture is a matter of preference, and to be honest, it depends on the content of my conversation (just like any real relationship). Sometimes I am standing, sometimes I am on my knees, and there have been those most desperate times when I am all out, face down on the ground, crying out to God. Content is what we pray about, which I personally think can be anything and everything. But for those who like structure, Gordon lists adoration(praise and thanksgiving), confession(anything that is bothering you or sin you have observed within), and intercession(praying for others and self) as the main components of his prayer life.

When we make time for silence and solitude, listen to God, reflect and meditate on what He says, and then pray to speak with Him as well, we do the hard work of tending to our inner gardens. With the powers of these combined, we can truly cultivate our secret gardens to reflect the original one we miss so much, to be the sacred place where Spirit and soul collide, and to truly walk with the Lord as we once did.

Ok. So what do I do now?

First things first, I know I am desperately in need of some one-on-one time with the Lord. I can feel it in the very core of my being, this desire to know Him more, to connect in the way I’ve been writing about in this entire post. Yes, even I can write about these great things and then recognize my own want for them because to be honest: I am doing great at confronting my drivenness, taking hold of my time and using it versus losing it, and even stretching my mind through this book club and other means, but I am struggling with cultivating my secret garden. Struggling with actually spending time in my secret garden to walk with the Lord and commune with Him in that personal, intimate space. This is my heart’s cry… and I am guessing that if you are just now realizing you have a secret garden or remembering it because you have not been there in a while, you probably feel it too.

So, my first step: I need to get back in my garden; take inventory of what is flourishing and what could use some tending, and then get to it.

When was the last time you visited your garden and what does it look like? Are the plants fresh and blooming? Are the trees full and strong? If not, are you up for the challenge of tilling the soil, weeding the overgrowth, and planting new seed?

Do you know where the entrance is, or like in the movie, do you need to search for the key (no worries; you are the one who owns the key, so I promise you it will be found) and open the door for the very first time?

I encourage you this week, as we read through the last sector and finish this inaugural month of the book club, to pick one of the disciplines above to work in your own garden. Maybe you can focus on spending some time each day in silence and solitude to find and begin visualizing your secret garden. Maybe you can invite God within the walls and ask Him to speak to you in that sweet, whispering voice so you can listen and take notes. Maybe you can take time this week to intentionally reflect and meditate on what you’ve been hearing from God, so that we integrate His voice into our everyday lives. Maybe you can set aside time specifically for prayer, with a list of thanks, confessions, and intercessions as a guide.

Whichever you choose or however you do it, my hope for all of us is that each step we take will allow us to reap what we are sowing: to bring restoration, renewal, beauty and strength to our inner worlds and the most precious of places… our own secret garden.♥

I “♥” My Husband

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It happened again. At the end of a long day after a long week with two kids with runny noses and crazy objectives to complete both at work and at home, I let loose on the one adult who is closest to me: my husband. Now do not get me wrong, the words spoken were truthful and not without cause; however, they were also delivered from a place of hurt, anger, and malicious intent. I was a living manifestation of hurt people seek to hurt people.

And there was no speaking the truth in love.

Which is just a little bit crazy because honestly most of the time on the outer level, and all the time at the deeper inner level, I truly love my husband and know that he is an amazing guy. But at times, things happen (like a lack of communication, or a lack of consideration, or an easy oversight, or an unintentionally selfish moment on his part) that influence my said outer level and all of a sudden, a neon sign invades my thoughts and sparks feelings of hurt and anger that resounds with a horrible but unstoppable…

“I hate my husband.”

There; I said it. It is out in the open for all to see. And while I realize that “hate” is a very strong word and no, I do not actually want to “damn him to hell” as all my good Christian Southern women are gasping about in this moment, the feelings I am experiencing are real, intense, and desparate – just like you may feel about any difficult situation and think in that moment that you “hate” this. And for some reason (which I have yet to figure out although I have tried and tried) this is the phrase that surfaces when I’ve reached my limit and have left too many things unresolved, unsaid, and still hurting. And if I’m not careful, especially given the weight of this hefty statement that seems to blow up my mind in the moment, these thoughts and emotions that are only on the surface will begin to creep in and exert pressure or depreciate the foundation of my true love and appreciation for my husband.

Kendrick and Kendrick (2008), the authors of the Love Dare, provide my favorite way to understand this situation with the picture of two rooms within our hearts. One room is called the Appreciation Room, and is decorated with all of the awesome things I love about my husband, his attributes I admire and respect, the sweet and tender moments we have shared, and all those things that make me smile when I think about him. If you get the warm and fuzzies about it, it resides in your appreciation room. In contrast, the second room is called the Depreciation Room, and it houses all of the negative things that have hurt me, disappointed me, annoyed me, and all of the destructive moments that have occurred in our relationship throughout the years. While I consider us to have a strong and healthy marriage, these moments and things DO exist and after over 10 years of marriage and over 15 years of being a couple, this room has its share of devastating decor. If it makes you sad or angry, it resides in your depreciation room.

***Important Disclaimer Here: This entire post is about a marriage/relationship that is for the most part, healthy. It is NOT speaking to any relationship where ANY form of ABUSE or TOXIC dynamic is at play. My husband would NEVER intentionally hurt me in any way and so that allows me to write this post from a place of safety and security.  If you are currently involved in or think you may be involved in an abusive marriage/relationship, where you do not feel safe and secure, I encourage you to STOP READING and REACH OUT to someone to get help. There is an amazing, anonymous hotline you can call (1.800.799.7233) or access online (www.thehotline.org) or you can contact me using the contact page and I will get you connected with someone right away.***

Each of our significant relationships, whether it be a marriage or friendship or parent-child or sibling relationship, has these two rooms within our heart just for them that accumulate the above noted things over time. While it might be nice to just destroy or lock the Depreciation Room, we are all human and unfortunately, this is not possible. However, we can make an intentional choice each day of where we want to spend the majority of our time. And I guarantee, even in reading this post if you have never heard of this concept, the effects of choosing to spend more time in your Appreciation room versus your Depreciation room are life (and relationship) changing!

To Appreciate or Depreciate: That is the Question

When I first think things like “I hate [insert your own word here: dislike, can’t stand, am super annoyed with…] my [insert your person: husband, boyfriend, mom, dad, sister, brother, bestie, etc…]” I am usually reacting to a specific situation and it is very difficult to retrain your brain to stop an initial reaction the second it happens (possible yes, but it takes much time, effort, and practice and that is for another post).  However, like with most things in life, it is what we do with it once it is here that really matters.

If I choose to KEEP dwelling on my hurt, KEEP replaying that phrase over and over in my head and possibly adding other negative words or meaning to it, and KEEP making a list of everything he has done that might have hurt or bothered me recently – then I am making an intentional choice to depreciate him and spend my time in the Depreciation Room in my heart. In this room, the walls are decorated with framed pictures recounting all of our worst moments: the very few times when he did not keep his word, the very frequent times where he has had to choose work over me, the times when he forgot certain things that were special to me and I spent the whole day wondering if he would remember. And now, adding parenting to the mix, I would have to add a TV in the corner of the room on replay of him driving to work everyday, going to the office all by himself, eating lunch while it is still hot with his co-workers, and enjoying the adventures of the outside world (ok… this might not always be realistic, but the Depreciation room does have a tendency to distort reality a little bit) while I stay at home with our two littles all.day.every.day. (ps: which I absolutely love to do, but if you have ever had the joy of being a stay-at-home mom, there are days which are not so delightful and going to work looks quite enticing).

If I stay here too long, I become immersed in the worst of our relationship, which as noted above, is not all that there is and at times, comes from a distorted sense of my own selfish expectations and thoughts instead of the truth of reality. The results of this immersion and time spent in the Depreciation Room are additional hurt and anger that breed bitterness and resentment in my heart towards the one I truly love. And the scary part is that bitterness and resentment are silent killers. They destroy from the inside out, so if left unchecked, will eat away at my own quality of life and my marriage, and innocent parties, like my children and others around me, will be devastated in the process.

Fortunately, recognizing the risks, I sought the wise counsel of a trusted friend and confessed these thoughts so that they would not take root in my heart. Remember, this is often the best answer to things we are keeping hidden: get it in the light so it no longer has power over you or your situation. In this case, she made a suggestion that has stayed with me ever since, and has dramatically changed who I am and how I approach my husband. Sweetly and kindly, if you knew her you would be able to picture it (suffice it to say: she won the please and thank you award as a child), she said “Next time you think “I hate my husband” maybe you should replace it with “I heart my husband.” What?! 🙂

In essence, with one flip of a word, she encouraged me to turn my frown upside down (LOL I spend a lot of time with people under 4) and make the conscious decision to get out of my Depreciation Room, walk down the hall (sometimes with my feet dragging), and enter my Appreciation Room to take a look at what is there. To move past my initial reaction, as justified as it may be, to truly appreciate my husband, and redirect my time and energy to where I really want to be. And to be honest, my Appreciation Room is awesome! Inside, I have framed memories from what seems like a lifetime ago, to the first youth conference in Ocean City, MD, where my husband (only an acquaintance then) protected my honor from some strangers, to a youth event a couple years later where I knew I was going to marry him (I was watching him throw another kid into a pool… yup he is mine!), to walking down the aisle as he is beaming and vowing to love me, to the birth of our sons, and so on and so forth. There are TVs and music playing… songs we love to sing and family dance parties on replay. There is an hourglass counting down the time until he can retire, and valuing every grain of sand that stands for another day that he has faithfully gone to work to provide for his family (yes, in my appreciation room I actually like that he goes to work and works hard and provides for us). This is where I want to be all of the time, dwelling on what is true, what is good, what is honorable (Philippians 4: 8), and enjoying the good memories we have made together.

It’s amazing how one little word change, one small decision can have such huge ramifications. Even in writing this post, the difference I feel between reading about the Depreciation Room and the Appreciation Room is astounding. When I leave off in the Appreciation Room, I am filled with love and gratitude and value for the man in my life. And while it does not resolve the issues that are present and that invoked my initial reaction (this is another post on conflict resolution because that is a topic all by itself), choosing to purposefully value my husband and spend time appreciating him sets me up to confront him, to resolve our issues, and to [wait for it; that’s right…] actually speak the truth in LOVE.

So, Where do you spend your time?

If you have the chance (it only takes a moment), I encourage you to think about the relationships that are most important to you. It does not have to be a marriage, as these rooms apply to all relationships. Maybe you and your spouse are doing great, but your mom has said or done one more thing to add to the tension and you are about to explode. Maybe you have found that you dread one more interaction with your teenager, and you are always on edge when you are around him.

Whatever your situation might be, I challenge you to think about those two rooms for this relationship. How would you decorate your Depreciation Room? How would you decorate your Appreciation Room? If you are honest, where do you spend the most time and why? Then, make it a point (an experiment even) to see what happens if you intentionally start spending more time in your Appreciation Room. Who knows? Maybe it is time to re-decorate and re-establish the things you love and appreciate about that person. Maybe it is time, before you explode or confront or cut-off, to try to value and cherish and operate from a place of positivity rather than negativity. Maybe it is time to turn hate into heart. I know it is for me, because honestly, I do “heart” my husband. ♥

PS: There is actually a shirt LOL… I had no idea until today! 🙂

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Sector Three: Wisdom and Knowledge aka The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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Since we are halfway through our readings, let’s re-cap before we continue our reflective adventure of getting to know how to order our private world. So far, we’ve discussed our motives and the why behind what we do (whether we are operating from being driven or being called) as well as how we allot the time we have (whether we are truly using it or losing it). Both sectors showed us that there is so much more to life than the world often tells us (the lie that we have to be ambitious and/or busy to have value) and that getting to the core of who we are to truly live out our calling and steward our time will promote an ordered private world of peace (sounds nice doesn’t it?).

When we re-focus our understanding of our motivation and time, it frees us to consider the next important part of our inner world: the mind and how we think. According to Gordon, “thinking is the amazing capacity God has given the human being to discover and observe the stuff of creation, to compare and contrast each of its parts, and when possible, to use them properly as to reflect the glory of the Creator” (p. 95). It is this thinking that sets us apart from other mammals, and allows us to investigate, explore, and create with the world around us. It is what is allowing you to read this blog, and then hopefully wrestle with the concepts discussed here, before coming to your own opinion on what to keep with you and implement (or not) as you go along. With this in mind (pardon the pun… I couldn’t help it), we must understand and utilize the gift that is our mind, or miss out on much of what God has for us in this life.

The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

To truly order our private world, Gordon encourages that we must learn to discipline our minds for thinking with “strong mental endurance and intellectual growth” (p. 90). This is not an easy task in our quick-paced and information overload society. Endurance, by its very nature, takes time, and it implies working with something for an extended amount of time until it is completed (like a marathon or parenting or a career or any other long-term commitment). It is not a quick Google search or asking Siri to get an answer at a moment’s notice, although there is a time and place for this type of knowledge gathering as well.

Similarly, most growth processes do not typically happen quickly (although it may feel that way). For instance, my oldest son is now 3 and it feels like I have only blinked to find him walking and talking and becoming increasingly independent, but when I look ahead, I realize the next 15-20 years are still to come and have to be “endured” (LOL) to watch him grow. To really take advantage of all that our mind has to offer, it will take our efforts to endure (founded by our motivation) and our time to grow (which we must make available).

If we do not take the time and effort to train our minds and develop those higher order thinking skills, we will operate much like other mammals around us: we will live for primary functions (survival) and amusement (or “function without thought” p.97). We will tend to conform to those around us, without question or hesitation, because we have not exercised our mind to consider, evaluate, reason, and decide. Our mind becomes like a dull blade; not having the ability to cut through the weeds of deception or every so-called “truth” out there. This dullness of mind renders our private world weak and defenseless to protect ourselves from the many distractions we face each day.

Believe it or not, the type of thinking that we are talking about (the kind that employs both wisdom and knowledge without dulling) does not come naturally to us just because we are humans. These higher order thinking skills must be learned, and practiced over time to reap the benefits. In the educational realm, these skills are called cognitive skills, and there is a classification system known as Bloom’s taxonomy that allows us to understand how our mind works from innate to higher order methods of thinking (see illustration below). As teachers interact with students, they attempt to move students from remembering and understanding to the higher order skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

 

 

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When we move to the higher ranks of thinking, we start to integrate the knowledge and wisdom we are acquiring into our selves, and then give it back with our own little twist. We sharpen our minds to thinking beyond simple memorization and actually interact with the material in front of us.

Imagine if we did this with most things in life: If I went beyond remembering and understanding how to eat healthy, and actually applied what I know, analyzed and evaluated what I was eating, and then started creating healthy alternatives to meet my goals. Or what if I went beyond remembering and understanding a sermon on Sunday morning and actually began to apply the principles, analyze and evaluate how those principles interact with my life, and create new choices or behaviors as a result? This is higher order thinking in play, and it is an amazing thing to both experience and watch.

How does this apply to me?

Confession time here: There are seasons in my life where I have witnessed the dulling process (or lack of mental endurance and growth) in my own life. These typically occur when I begin binge-watching large amounts of television (thank you Netflix and Hulu). I like a variety of shows, from the somewhat weird like Wayward Pines, to the reality home shows like House Hunters, to survival shows like Man vs. Wild, to shows with a flare for the dramatic like Nashville, or my ultimate favorite which is a beautiful culmination of all of the above: LOST.  And while at certain times this is not an issue (like when I am temporarily sick and have to stay in bed), on the regular, it can become a fruitless endeavor that really is only for my amusement/entertainment. There is nothing productive about my time here: I tune in to tune out and turn off. If I allow this to become a habit, much like my time that can be full but still lost, my mind can be occupied but not growing.

For me, I stop this cycle when I start to come out of the TV-induced fog and think about what I have been filling my mind with. When I do this, it allows to me figure out if I have been spending my time looking to promote my mind through the process of learning, or if I have truly been dulling it with the distractions of amusement. To take inventory of your own mind input, Gordon gives us three objectives to consider (which you will notice that I slightly reword):

  1. Am I filling my mind with truth? This is a hard, but most important place to start. As a counselor, I am constantly working to help my clients discern truth from lies in their core being or self-talk so that they can be freed of things like fear, anxiety, and defeat. People are often keenly aware of the lies that have been coming from within, but we tend to overlook the lies that we allow to influence us from the outside each day. When we choose to watch and read things that are not based on truth, especially without those higher order thinking skills in play, we take the risk of not only being dulled, but being deceived into disorder like being driven or losing our time. Think of it in terms of, I am what I put in. If I am truly honest, when I am watching the television shows above in overwhelming amounts, there is little truth or redeeming qualities about them that I would want to shape me into who I am (other than the survivor skills that might come in handy one day LOL). Again, there is nothing wrong with the occasional escape into amusement, but I know I personally am more likely to escape completely if not enacting a disciplined understanding and filter for what I am letting influence me. As Gordon describes, our truth comes from Christ and the way of living described in the Bible. This should be my filter when I watch, listen, or intentionally chose the things I am using to fill my mind.
  2. Am I filling my mind by observing and exploring the world around me? I am a huge fan of getting outside and in touch with the world around us. Not necessarily hugging a tree (although I am not opposed to it and have done so in the past), but engaging all of our senses in the learning process. When we do so, our mind goes crazy: there are so many neurons firing as we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear the world around us. Engaging all of our senses is difficult to do by staring into our smartphones or watching the TV (even if you do have popcorn and headphones). If you feel out of practice with this endeavor, try going to a local park with your own or a family of young children. Let them lead the way! I have learned so much by observing and exploring with my little guys: the things that they see, hear, touch, smell, and yes, even taste :), are astounding.
  3. Am I using what I am filling my mind with to serve others? As we acquire knowledge and really begin sculpting our mind, the input will reach a point where it needs an outlet. If I am sharpening my mind for its intended use, then my output will be in line with my calling and useful to those around me. For instance, although she is not currently “employed” as a nurse, my mom went to school for and maintains her nursing license through continuing education courses to this day. And as a result, she is constantly being utilized as the community nurse and resource, getting calls in the middle of the night over a sick child, medication questions, wound care, you name it, she does it. She is living proof for me of taking  her knowledge and using it in service to others. This is definitely not the case for me when I am watching hours upon hours of the shows listed above: while fun and entertaining, they do not equip me with anything to overflow into service for others.

Ok. So what do I do now?

If there is one thing I have have learned from being a student all of my life, it is that the more I am supposed to know, the more I realize I really do not know. There is still so much knowledge out there for me to learn, and fortunately, I have developed a love of learning that has sustained not only my higher education endeavors, but also my curiosity and love to explore, investigate, and continue learning outside of a classroom today. To fill our minds with the truth, experiences, and input that then overflows into the lives of others, we must engage in the learning process as much as possible. Practically, this looks like the following:

  1. Learn by listening: Get out in the world, ask people questions, and then LISTEN to their responses. What does your husband really think about his job and the tasks he has to face each day? What does your best friend really think about her current relationship? What does your 3 year old really think about the snow or the trees or the bug in front of him? What does your grandfather think about the current state of our country and our world? You do not have to agree with each one, but hearing ideas and thoughts from outside of yourself is a great way to start thinking outside of yourself and utilizing those higher order skills.
  2. Learn by reading: Or in other words, look for published forms of information to take in as well. Now I realize not everyone is a reader, and so there are great alternatives such as podcasts, documentaries, or sermons, to be able to still accumulate knowledge when others are not present. Having some sort of worthy input (refer back to guidelines above), at all times is essential for maintaining and encouraging growth. Reading this book and blog are great ways to start!
  3. Learn by studying: After you have listened and read, go one step further and study the material presented. For some of us, this sounds weird since we are no longer in school. However, it is really just a deeper exploration of something you have recently learned. My favorite form of “studying” is what I call “word study.” When I find a quote or scripture or experience that is especially meaningful, I take the time to investigate the definition of the words involved and see how it really integrates into who I am. Words that I am studying lately include discipline and intentional.

For this week, I encourage you to look at your mental input and ask yourself the questions above to discern if your input is really worthwhile. As a response, whether it is or is not, resolve to try one of the three modes of learning: listen to someone new or read something new or study something new and see what you encounter and how your mind grows. My hope for us is that by doing so,  we will reignite and/or fan the fame of learning in our lives: to truly go beyond amusement and seek intentional thought, to question, to listen, to always be growing and stretching and exploring, to analyze, evaluate and create, and to truly maximize and not waste the mind we have been given.♥

 

Sector Two: Time aka Use it or Lose it!!

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The concept of time has intrigued me for years. When I was younger, I remember my parents and grandparents telling me that time was “flying” and “it was only yesterday…” But to me, it seemed like it always passed at a snail’s pace. There were so many things that felt like they would never happen: the arrival of summer break, getting my driver’s license, going to my first prom, graduating from high school, going to college, turning 21, getting married…day in and day out… TIME MOVED SO SLOW.

But the older I’ve gotten (cause that clock does keep a’tickin), there has been a drastic increase in my perception of the speed of time around me. All of a sudden, summer takes on a whole new meaning (because there is no more break), that driver’s license has been renewed multiple times, prom seems like forever ago (because it was), high school reunions have come and gone, 21 was way too many birthdays ago, and that marriage has moved beyond the 10year mark with a preschooler and a toddler to tag along. Think about it… Even January 2016 is halfway over… and I thought we just celebrated the New Year! 🙂

The reality of how quickly time truly does move is mind-blowing, and depending on how this time has been spent, we can either look back with reflective nostalgia or uncomfortable regret. And typically, how we feel when we look back on the time behind us will either accentuate or depreciate our excitement about what is to come. That is why this second sector on our use of time is so very important, and a definite struggle for most of us this day in age (ain’t nobody got time for that LOL).

In this section, Gordon describes that how we use our time and what we choose to fill it with (work, school, friends, family, church, Facebook, Netflix, exercise, blogging, etc.) is what really matters when it comes to having an ordered private world. Much like assessing our motives for whether we are operating as being driven versus being called, he gives us an understanding of what it looks like to either appropriately USE or inadvertently LOSE the precious time that we have.

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For my husband’s job, we (I say we because “his” leave is really “our” leave LOL) still earn so many hours of annual and sick leave per paycheck per year (I know this has changed for a lot of companies/organizations) that we can either use or carry-over into the following year. However, there is a cap on carry-over, so if you do not use a certain amount of leave within the allotted time frame, you cannot keep it. Essentially, you LOSE it and the company gets free work from you 😦 Nobody really wants that, so each year we sit down around Easter and begin accounting for all the leave we want to use in an effort not to “lose” any in the carry-over process.

This is exactly how Gordon encourages us to view our time: If we have it available to us, then we should be fully using it! But let us make an important distinction here: just because it is being filled does not mean it is properly being used. According to Gordon, even full time can be lost, and this is where we need to start being intentional about how we are either using or losing our time.

Specifically, if you are using your time, you are filling it with the things that matter most to you and your calling (going back to being driven or called). You are being wise, making the most of each moment and opportunity, and there is an intentionality to your way of life (Ephesians 5:16) and how you live out each day. While life still happens and things pop up (especially when you add things like work, spouses, kids, and ministry to the mix), your “normal” consists of organized, regular times that are focused and productive. You fiercely guard these times, because they provide the foundation for order that breathes life into the other, discretionary moments. You feel empowered because you start having an influence on your life and you can see things starting to happen around you.

In contrast, if you are losing your time, it may be full of things to do, but when you take stock… the fillings are not really that important. Gordon calls this being disorganized; meaning that your time is all over the place, and you feel out of control. You may feel overwhelmed as you think about each new day, new week, new month… even the next moment because you have no clue what it will hold and how you will make it through because of the million other things that need to be accomplished. Life is happening to you, and at times, you feel like you are unwillingly along for the ride and you are powerless to stop the madness.

He adds many other descriptors beyond those above, so see the chart below for a summary of how to know if you are truly using or losing your time:

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How does this apply to me?

If we go back to that whole honesty thing, this sector (and really most of them as you will see), has always been a struggle for me. Since I already struggle with those lovely driven tendencies we looked at last time, I have always tried to pack in as much as I possibly can into each moment without actually discerning whether or not those moments were being actually useful to who I am and what I am about. There have been numerous occasions where I have taken on responsibilities that I was not excited about because I felt obligated or it would promote my career or I just did not want to say no and then realized I was in over my head and struggling just to complete things (not do them well or the way I would have liked). I would end up overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed… and have very little to show for it. I knew that “being busy” has been my way of life for a very long time, even though it was not always fruitful.

When I had my first baby, I was so relieved for the “vacation” of indefinite maternity leave. I knew I would eventually return to the working world (since I have the option to work from home), but it was according to my terms and how I wanted to do it. All of a sudden, I had full freedom to do whatever I wanted all day (within reason given the demands of my toddler and the fact that he did not always operate according to my plans; but that is another post). And if I really stretch here with the honesty, my initial response was to hide in the non-busyness/new-busyness of it all. To take the time off under the guise of motherhood (which do not get me wrong, has been completely amazing and I am not trying to invalidate that experience at all) was just like when I was super busy with not a moment to spare because I was filling my time with meaningless things and not being very fruitful… as a mom or as a me. 🙂  I knew I was being called to something else while enjoying all that motherhood has to offer and I chose a lot of times to push it aside because I had “things” to do. I went from one extreme to the other, and neither was really using my time wisely.

Maybe you can relate to either or both of my situations above, with your own unique twist. Maybe you are a working mom trying to juggle home and career but still feel a spark of something more and yet there does not seem to be enough hours in the day.

Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom that is tired of using nap time for mindlessly surfing Facebook and Pinterest (although there is noting wrong with either and I use both of them in moderation 🙂 ) and feel the call to something more but are unsure of where to start.

Maybe you have been in ministry for years and feel incredibly burned out because no matter how much you do and how busy you are, it is just never enough.

Maybe you are using your time wisely and love the balance of your current season but see others all around you struggling with the many distractions our world has to offer and you are trying to figure out how to help, how to pray, how to guide.

Wherever you are, Gordon gives us an example of someone who I could envision would have the most weighing on Him, yet utilized his time to the fullest: Jesus. And while some of you may tune out because the church answer was just given, if you could stay with me just a little bit longer, I hope you will see that there is amazing potential for life application here. Jesus, knowing his time on this earth was limited, could have been on a race to the finish to go go go his entire ministry. And yet, throughout the accounts of his life and interactions with people, there is no sense of rush or urgency but always a peace, a calm, and slow and steady pace that exudes from Him. I LOVE IT!  He knew who He was, He knew what his mission was, and He ordered His time to ensure He had time alone, time with God, time for his family/disciples, and time for his work/ministry. This is truly what I want for my heart, for my family, for my ministry, and for those around me. I am guessing you might want that too.

OK. So what do I do now?

As Gordon would tell us based on his own experiences and studying how Jesus lived, the remedy for using it instead of losing it, is to recapture our time with an intentional, proactive budgeting approach. This involves three main characteristics:

  1. Figuring out your rhythms of maximum effectiveness (or when you do your best at what times). For me, I know I have to exercise first thing in the morning or it will not happen; while I know others who can only exercise after work or in the evening. When it comes to my writing or working, I am at my best in the morning or afternoon when I have no distractions (which means nap time or someone else is watching the littles). In the late evening, although sometimes I have to use this time, I am most ineffective, and what would take me 10 minutes to do in the morning will surely take me two to three times longer.
  2. Figuring out and writing out criteria for how to use your time (or having a filter for what you do and do not do). As Gordon explains, there are fixed parts of our time budgets: like time with God, time for self, time for spouse, time for family, work, ministry, etc. And then there are discretionary parts: hey, this event looks interesting or so and so asked us out to dinner, want to go? For me, my days are full with the kids and work during naps, so I really end up budgeting the evenings and weekends.  I have developed an understanding that Mondays are discretionary, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays are for ministry and people; Thursdays and Saturdays are for my work (when my husband can have special time with the kids), and Fridays are usually for family. While of course things happen and even our best plans sometimes fall threw, this structure gives everyone in our house an understanding of a regular schedule, and allows us to properly place things that ask for attention without losing the things that are most important.
  3. Figuring out how to apply above rhythms and criteria IN ADVANCE (or taking that proactive approach and planning ahead). In this lovely digital age where you can have a calendar on your phone, your computer, hard copy, and now, I even have it on my watch, scheduling in advance should really not be too difficult. Gordon said he plans eight weeks out, but that is too much for me. I usually go a month (so about 4 weeks) at a time, but specifically focus on planning a week at a time. With the normal routine noted above, it is easy to look at the next week and have a good idea of what is already in place. The nice part about doing this is that when things come up, I can often schedule them around the things that are most important because I already know what they are. The biggest challenge here: just actually doing it.

This week, I challenge you to take time (LOL) to ponder your own sense of time. Look through the chart above to assess if you are using it or losing it, and act on one of the three characteristics. I recently had to do this at the start of the year, taking stock of my criteria and what my schedule could realistically hold in embarking on this writing adventure. This meant having to say NO and turning down an extra teaching gig this quarter so that I would have time to invest in writing this blog and budgeting my limited exercise time for first thing in the mornings (which sometimes means with the kiddos… another post there too I’m sure).

What will it mean for you? What needs to change so that you can recapture your time? Is there something you need to say NO to so that you can say YES to what really matters? My hope and prayer is that we will all challenge ourselves in this year and beyond to take the time we have been given and truly USE it, not lose it. ♥

 

 

“Mom” Games: A Salute of Solidarity

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Sometimes, being out in the world as a mom can feel just like a scene from the Hunger Games.

I am dead serious (no pun intended), and for those of you who do not regularly take young children to intense places like the grocery store or Target or (heaven forbid) a RESTAURANT, you may not truly understand… but I guarantee you have seen it in play.

Let’s explore the grocery store for instance. I recently took a trip to such a place this morning, with my 3 year old and 1 year old in tow. It was not a trip I wanted to make, it was somewhat coerced due to the rumbling bellies and the mouths that apparently wanted food to consume for lunch and yes, even dinner. 🙂

As I pondered whether or not to make the trip, I could hear my name being called from the stage in all the pomp: “Yes Sara Wood… You are the January 8th tribute chosen to brave the Food Lion arena. May the odds be ever in your favor!”

Noooooooooooooooo!

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But, like the dauntless (wait… wrong movie) Katniss, I packed up my littles and we made our way there. If only I could have had some awesome burst-into-flames attire created by Cinna and a chariot with horses… although I was rocking my sports bra and jeggings in my minivan (giggle).

Once there, I made it through the first obstacles of unloading the boys and entering the arena: one in a cart and one with a hand which may not sound difficult but when the one in said cart decides he will not bend his legs and the one with said hand wants to run the whole way and the said cart is of course, the one that cannot drive straight without incredible force… it actually becomes quite the show.

Upon entering the arena, the games begin.

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Literally, how quickly and effectively can I get in, actually get what I need, get out, still have both children somewhat safe, and still have enough sanity to get us home in one piece as a true victor (eating poison berries, while sometimes a legitimate concern due to those lovely bushes outside my house, is not an option). Not only do I have to complete all of the above (hopefully), but this is a PUBLIC arena, so I get to give it my best with tons of people watching me. Can you hear my enthusiasm?

Now, I will be completely honest here: sometimes, its not so bad. Sometimes, like this morning, my kids are on their absolute best behavior (thank you crackers in a snack container for the youngest, pint-sized drive your own grocery cart for the oldest, and sweet Jesus for the angels you obviously sent to keep them entertained and somewhat quiet). But sometimes, when the game makers decide to throw a curveball, my kids act like they have lost their minds and make a teeny tiny trip to the grocery store seem like a fight to the finish.

And since my kids were playing with their angels and enjoying their snacks this morning, this is what I got to witness in the line next to me as one of the other tributes, a mom with a boy probably 2ish, who decided in the middle of the arena to scream at the top of his lungs and cry and meltdown no matter what anyone said or did (and believe me, many people tried and failed).

Besides the overwhelming sense of selfish gratitude that Praise the Lord it is not me this time (I know… but I am being honest, remember), my heart truly went out to this mom. Because I have been there, and if you are a mom that has ever gone anywhere with one of your children, you have probably been there at some point too. And while I do not know the backstory and yes, I could easily judge as to her parenting skills or lack thereof and maybe if she had ensured a good quality nap or a snack and prepared properly or whatever and it could all be true, in that moment I felt an overwhelming sense of sympathy and solidarity.

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And this is where this post all began, because right there in line, regardless of who was watching or how crazy people might have thought I was:

I wanted to raise my hand and somehow salute this woman and the only thing I could think of in that moment was the sign of the mockingjay. That’s right; no judgement here. Just a simple salute of solidarity to say:

I see you. I hear you. I am for you not against you. You are not alone!

I realized right then that we moms need a sign (it does not have to be the mockingly, although it is pretty catchy ([ha ha again with the puns] and no… the other bird is not nice nor appropriate) to be able to salute each other when times are rough.  To let us know we are not fighting against one another for the best show in mommyhood but feel each others pain and wish to encourage each other when we get to witness one of your less than shining moments.

Words just do not seem to do it justice. No matter what I say in that moment, whether it be”It’s ok” or “that was my kid yesterday” or “this too shall pass,” it all seems to fall flat or cannot even be heard depending on how loud the kid is screaming. But a sign… a strong silent salute with the emotion and understanding of someone who has been there… that silence overpowers the screams and sparks a movement of unity, power, and true victory.

Can you see it?

Mom in grocery line with said screaming kid… I salute you.

Mom at Panera last night with her oldest of three throwing a tantrum because it was not the right pastry and middle child crying because daddy accidentally fed her a bite that was too hot and third child still in the carrier… I salute you.

Aunt running down the aisle at Target while nephew is pulling everything off of the shelves because you had to say no to the toy he really wanted (because he already has three of them at home but who’s counting)… I salute you.

Grandma at Chick-fil-A who is scaling the play place at wildfire speeds because grandchild number one has decided he can no longer go down the slide to get down and grandchild number two is so kindly helping him along because she can do it and he should too… I salute you.

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So the next time you embark on your bi-centennial trip out into the public arena (with or without kids along) and hear those tragic words… “May the odds be ever in your favor.” Just think… maybe they will be. Maybe this will be the experience of the lifetime (ok). But if not, may someone share in your pain, not with a smirk or unsolicited advice or an empty but well-intentioned phrase, but with a show of support and a salute of solidarity (mockingjays all around).♥