A Rule of Life

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For some time, I’ve been feeling a need for a shift. 2020 has an increase of activity in store for my husband and me and I’ve been stressing about how to make everything fit. I know God’s capacity will make up the difference for the capacity I lack, but I can sabotage myself by living in a default of unhealthy rhythms. So this year I’m cultivating a rule of life—daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms of spiritual disciplines.

Because I’m entering a new normal of increased activity, a lot of these rhythms are practices of being with God over doing for God.

This isn’t something I’m entering legalistically. None of this is set in stone and I’ll periodically adjust it as my life rhythms change and as my soul and spirit needs. But for this season, here’s my rule of life:

Daily

Morning hour of solitude and quiet:

  • A time to quiet my heart, soul, and mind so God’s voice can become clearer and louder.
  • No to anything that pulls my focus away from God.
  • Yes to getting ready for work, tuning my heart to God’s through prayer, Scripture, writing, driving to work, music, and planning for the day.
  • Inspired by Jess Connolly, I ask God this question: God, what have You ordered for me today?

Wash off the day:

  • When I get home and don’t plan on going out for the rest of the day, put on some relaxing music or a fun podcast, wash my face or take a long shower, and put on pajamas. This is a moment to transition from a mindset of activity to rest.

Evening 15 minutes of quiet:

  • No to devices.
  • Yes to free thinking, journaling, and prayer.

Weekly

Sabbath: (Thursday evening to Friday evening)

  • No to striving.
  • Yes to rest, play, and worship.

iPhone / social media break:

  • I’m ashamed of my addiction to my phone and social media. At the same time, these things are important tools for my work and ministry. So I need this weekly break to keep my phone and social media in their place.

Monthly

One fun thing: This is one of my goals for the year because taking time to have fun is hard for me.

  • No to anything that involves striving or productivity.
  • Yes to…well…something fun.
  • This is worship!

Yearly

Family vacation

  • “change of pace + change of PLACE = change of PERSPECTIVE” ~Mark Batterson

Monastery retreat

So how about you? What are some of the rhythms you’re cultivating this year? I’d love to hear them!

My Goals (and Un-Goals) for 2020

The approaching of a new year means new beginnings and new goals. I have the amazing ability of getting stuck in a rut and judging myself harshly for it, so January 1 is like my grace and hope filled reset button.

I didn’t complete every single goal I set out to accomplish in 2019. But I did complete a good number of them. And for the ones I didn’t complete, I’m definitely much farther along from a year ago. I’d rather set a goal and have progress than not set a goal and not move forward! To help me make progress this past year, I tried out Powersheets from Cultivate What Matters. It’s a tool that helps you articulate and track your goals. I loved it so much I’m using them again this year.

My Goals for 2020

1. Cultivate a prophetic ear + a rule of life.

This is what everything else in my life will flow from.

(If you’re wondering what a rule of life is, it’s simply a plan for spiritual disciplines within daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms. If you want to know more about a rule of life, you can learn more about it in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero and Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton.)

2. Love my people and the people in my circle of influence well.

This means meals, coffee dates, hospitality, and life in the mundane.

3. Save, spend, and give money meaningfully.

Track my spending and create a budget!

Buy no more than 10 clothing/shoe/jewelry items…the whole year.

4. Send my book proposal to a literary agent (or 20).

This means I have to finish writing my book proposal!

5. One fun thing every month.

What is fun? Nothing that involves striving or productivity, and not something I do every/most weeks.

This is a goal I’m bringing back from last year because it was so life giving and I want to keep growing in this area. (And the fact that I have to make fun a goal in order to do it lets me know I still have a lot of growing to do!)

7. Project Dream Room: make our home library beautiful.

This is another goal I’m bringing back from last year. I made some baby steps, but our home library still looks like a disaster.

8. Love my body.

Take care of it. Nourish it. Make it strong. Be grateful for it.

*****

Un-Goals

It’s a great practice to have positive goals where we want to accomplish things or make changes in our lives, but we can’t do that if we’re just adding more and more things to our to-do lists. There comes a point where we can’t add anymore. We have to say “no” to things so we can say “yes” to the things that matter most.

So here are a couple of my Un-Goals for 2020:

1. Read less books and read slower. (My Goodreads goal: 5 books) Don’t read out of obligation or self-imposed pressure. Don’t let books clutter my mind.

2. No buying any bags or pouches. I’m obsessed with bags and bags I can put in bags! I have enough. So unless someone breaks in our house and steals every bag and pouch I own, I’m not buying another one for at least a year.

*****

When I get to the end of 2020, I don’t want to be full of guilt and regret. I want to know I lived the abundant life God ordered for me.

So let’s do this! Let’s enter this new year (and decade!) with expectation, intention, and a whole lot of grace!

In-Between Spaces

In March of this year, I went on a monastery retreat. I’m the kind of person who’s good at getting stuff done, but I struggle to be still. And there’s something about getting away from the daily grind, noise, and cellphone reception that revives my soul. I never leave the monastery the same as I arrive. And when I’m in the solitude and silence, I can hear God’s voice better.

The last time I had been to the monastery was October 2017. I left with a resolution to obey something God had been speaking to me for a while: write a book. I left excited, scared, and armed with a list of next steps that included finding a coach.

I didn’t know what I was doing. How do I write a book? How do I go about getting a book published? Who do I know who might possibly know someone who can kind of answer one of my gazillion questions? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

But I took a step of faith: I bought a notebook and started writing. Then I took another step of faith: I told a few friends and asked them to pray for me. And then when I felt like backing out, I took another step of faith: I bought a Giving Key personalized with the word, “Write,” so I could have a constant reminder of this thing I felt God calling me to do.

I took step after step after step.

And in the midst of all of these steps, there was a LOT of writer’s block and discouragement. I could write details about my book’s target audience, posts for my blog and social media that had nothing to do with my book, and other random stuff…but every time I sat down to work on my book proposal, nothing. It’s like the faucet of book proposal words had been shut off and the handles for me to turn it back on had disappeared.

Going into 2019, I took yet another step of faith: I joined a Go Team, an intensive coaching experience with Go + Tell Gals. I was hesitant to do it because I was nervous about the money and time it would require, but something inside me told me I needed to do it. I prayed and prayed, but the nagging feeling wouldn’t go away. But what if I spend all this money and time and it ends up being a waste? That’s the thing about taking steps of faith: you have to take the step before you can see what’s on the other side of it.

Each Go Team session felt like a transformative experience—scrubbing my soul, clarifying my vision, awakening inspiration. A few months into it, after an intense day of back-to-back coaching sessions, I felt something I hadn’t felt in almost a year: words bubbling up inside of me. I opened up Google Docs and my book proposal began to have less blank space and more substance. A couple days later, I went on my monastery retreat. And while I was there, I mapped out my chapter-by-chapter synopsis and wrote two whole chapters. Of course, everything I wrote was rough and in need of a lot of work, but it was huge breakthrough. And sometimes, that’s all we need. Not perfection, just breakthrough.

When we think of breakthrough, we tend to think of the flashy moments with all the big feelings. But breakthrough is made up of all the stuff that happens in the in-between spaces, the spaces where it seems like nothing is happening.

Praying even when God seems silent.

Daily choosing to obey God in the way He’s ordered for that day.

Consistently taking the next step even when it seems inconsequentially small or unfeasibly large.

Constantly surrendering our egos and desire for control and trusting the capacity of God.

Regularly doing the disciplines of writing and research (or whatever it is this calling requires) even when they bring out our insecurities and we feel like what we’re doing is trash.

This is the stuff, right here. The stuff people don’t see. The stuff that’s hard. You may not be able to see it now, but this in-between space, yeah, this is where the great stuff is being forged.

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October 2017 – when I decided to obey God’s call to write a book
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March 2019 – in the middle of obeying the call to write a book

Not Called to Be the Best

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Warning: If learning about someone’s insecurities makes them less credible to you, then stop reading and feel free to unfollow me. But if you’re all too familiar with struggling to figure out how you can honor God when you’re not the best, not good enough, and your mind is drowning in insecurity…this is for you.

Following the whisper of God isn’t easy.

“Write,” He said to me.

There are days when I feel inspired to write and words come gushing out as my fingers race to catch them before they disappear. But more often than not, writing feels like squeezing droplets of stuff that’s barely intelligible from my brain.

I’m not the best writer. Most days, I don’t even believe I’m a good writer. And my goodness, are there any other writers out there who write as slow and inefficiently as me?!? (I mean, I know there are, but when I’m alone with my computer, it feels like I’m the only one.)

And this is where following God’s whisper gets tough.

I want to give God my best, but when my best doesn’t feel good enough, I exclaim, “God, why did You choose me for this? I can’t do this!”

And what I really mean is

I’m not the best at this.

This is too hard for me.

You picked the wrong person.

I tried. Can I quit now?

And God whispers to my frustrated soul,

“Walk in obedience.

Abide in My presence.

Rest in My capacity.

This is going to be beautiful.”

God hasn’t called me to be the best or to a life of endless productivity and efficiency. He has called me to obedience, abiding, and rest.

And I must daily die to

my perfectionism and competitiveness,

my obsession with productivity and efficiency,

and my ego and insecurities,

so I can follow Jesus

into a life of wild abundance,

wonder and beauty,

and the pursuit of God-sized, Kingdom dreams.

 


 

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)

What is God whispering to you in this season of your life?

What do you need to die to today so you can follow God’s whisper?

 

Why I Threw Out My Five-Year Plan

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“Do you have a five-year plan?” she asked. I had heard this question many times before, but something in her tone and furrowed brow made me feel small in this moment.

“I used to have a five-year plan,” I replied, “but when I was diagnosed with lupus, everything slowed down. That’s okay, though, because things are still moving and there’s so much God has done that wouldn’t have been possible if I had tried to stick to the five-year plan. He’s done more in the seemingly slow than I could’ve imagined!”

This was not the answer she was looking for.

Even though we had just met, she had a lot of opinions about how I needed to conduct my life to get “back on track” with my five-year plan. And as I quietly listened to her well-intentioned words, I found myself feeling sad for her. I had told her of the beautiful miracles God had done in the past six years since my diagnosis and the things He is doing in the here and now, but she couldn’t see any of that. All she saw was someone who couldn’t stick to her five-year plan and was a failure because of it.

When did we decide that success is measured by five-year plans?

And where in the Bible does it say that we must have a-five year plan in order to adequately follow Jesus and obey the Great Commission?

When my husband and I were fresh out of Bible college, we moved to DC to be part of a church plant. It did not go well. Mark Batterson—before he was a bestselling author, but after National Community Church started to get a lot of attention—told his administrative assistant, “If anybody from that church planting team want to meet with me, put them on my schedule.”

We took his offer, and he spoke life into our wounded souls. He showed us the ten-year plan—or was it twenty?—for the first church he planted, a church that never got off the ground. And he told us the lessons he learned from that failure and how they impacted the life of the thriving church he now pastors.

About a decade ago, my husband and I were on staff at a church in the Philippines when we both (separately) felt God calling us to move back to Springfield, MO for the purpose of preparing to one day move to Japan. When we came back to the States, we had a five-year plan. It included both me and my husband getting master’s degrees, Japanese language study, and a slew of other things to accomplish before moving overseas again. When we reached the halfway point of our five-year plan, we were right on schedule and feeling quite accomplished. I had earned my master’s and it was my husband’s turn to start grad school. At the halfway point, we were literally halfway done with our ambitious to-do list.

And then a diagnosis changed everything. Our progress slowed down and our timeline went out the window. And eventually, I decided to give up on my five-year plans.

Please don’t misunderstand: I have given up on five-year plans. I have NOT, however, given up on God’s call on my life.

I daily strive to walk in obedience to what God has called me to do in the now and the ways He wants me to prepare for the not yet. I don’t need a five-year plan to do that. In fact, I’ve grown more and accomplished more without a five-year plan and with a chronic illness than I did when I had a five-year plan and healthy body. After all, God’s call on my life isn’t about a certain country, dream, or timeline; it’s about so much more. It’s about a Kingdom.

Our five years have now become ten. There are things that God has done in and through us that we would have missed if we would have tried to force a five-year plan. God has been in the waiting living. He’s not waiting to do “the good stuff” when I get to a certain destination. He’s doing the good stuff now, and I don’t want to miss it because I was too busy obsessing over a timetable.

Five—or ten or twenty—year plans are helpful tools to get us moving in the right direction, but sometimes the right direction means coming to a point where God asks us to lay down our five-year plan and simply obey His voice. Sometimes, that was all the five year plan was meant for—for getting us where God wants us to be.

I still make plans and goals, but I (try to) hold them loosely because I know that God can interrupt my plans with beautiful opportunities, and I don’t want to miss it.

I don’t want to miss Him.

Overture for the Year

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It took me a long time to decide my goals for this year. For me, year goals are important. I’m the type of person who’s constantly working on improving myself—I’m a 1 on the Enneagram—but having times of reset helps me evaluate my progress and recalibrate. So months before this new year, I spent a lot of time dreaming and asking God for direction.

In an episode of The Office, the Dunder Mifflin employees were watching Andy perform in a musical. As Michael Scott was muttering something at the start of the performance, Darryl said, “Shh. If we don’t listen to the overture, we won’t recognize the musical themes when they come back later.” That’s what this post is: an overture for this year. You’ll see these themes in my writing. And hopefully, as this year progresses, those who do life with me will see these themes become more and more woven into the fabric of my life.

My Goals for 2019

1. Love well. 

I want my life to be marked by love.

I want to love God well. I want to love my husband well. I want to push myself beyond my introvert tendencies and love my friends well over cups of coffee. I want to love my students and the people I minister to well, going beyond requirements and pouring my heart into their lives.

2. Cultivate a prophetic ear.

I want to cultivate a prophetic ear so I can have a prophetic voice. I don’t mean I want to stand on a street corner with a sign warning of the end of the world. I want to be a voice that speaks life and hope and change into my culture and generation. And this starts with something simple: less noise and more prayer.

3. Spend money meaningfully.

I’ve got three subgoals for this one:

  • Live on a budget.
  • Be generous.
  • Slow/ethical fashion. (I know that’s not a complete sentence, but I’m still trying to figure this one out and this is going to be a year of learning.)

4. Write a book proposal.

This one scares me because I had this goal last year and didn’t come close to achieving it. And when I realized it wasn’t going to happen, I was filled with guilt. But the end of this year, my book proposal doesn’t have to be completely finished, but I want to make significant progress towards being done.

5. Grow into the performer I want to be.

I want to keep refining my craft, to be a more secure performer, to have a stronger vision for what I want each piece to be, and to push my artistry and ask more of the music.

6. Love what I see in the mirror.

My perfectionism makes it tough to look at myself in the mirror. This year, I want to cultivate healthy rhythms of exercise and rest. But more than that, I want to look in the mirror and see beauty regardless of my weight, hair, or makeup.

Also, I want to dress like an adult…because I’m 37 years old and don’t need to wear Hello Kitty and three separate patterns. It’s time to limit my outfits to one cutesy thing at a time. Again, progress.

7. Donate healthy hair.

When I was diagnosed with lupus, I lost about half my hair. Because of scarring on my scalp, the doctors weren’t sure how much of it would grow back. The long, healthy hair that falls on my back is part of my testimony. It is an Ebenezer reminding me that God has brought me this far. But a few months ago, I realized that I can’t just let my hair grow out forever. So this year, I’m paying it forward.

8. Make the library in our house a place where I want to be.

This is my decluttering goal.

9. Read/listen to 100 books.

How will I do this? I’m an avid reader, but my husband introduced me to a game changer: Hoopla. An app where I can borrow audiobooks for free? Yes, please!

10. Do at least one fun thing every month.

The fact that I made this a goal this year is already a sign of growth. This goal may sound frivolous, but my struggle to intentionally take time to have fun has worn on my mind, emotions, and even my body. And to be perfectly honest, this is the goal I’m scared of the most.

A quick note about goals: As this year began, I didn’t expect sudden change. If I would’ve done that, I would have already felt like a failure and given up. I’m approaching this year looking for progress, not perfection. So if you’ve started this new year feeling like you’ve already messed up your New Year’s resolutions and goals, that’s okay! The year’s not over!

 

I Can’t Do This

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I was behind on my book writing schedule. Days of trying to write left me mentally fatigued and overwhelmed with my inability to produce something that wasn’t trash. I was at the end of myself and I broke down in tears.

God, I can’t do this, but You can.

You—whose voice can thunder and break the cedars

whispered this dream into my heart.

You—who spoke life into existence

can speak this book into being.

Amen.

On this day, these were the only words I wrote that I didn’t immediately discard, their substance making up for their small number. Words raised towards Heaven are never wasted; they’re the ones that can change everything.

Redeeming Our Full Schedules with Sabbath

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I wear a lot of hats. Not literal hats; metaphorical hats. I’m a wife, friend, professor, pianist, mentor, writer, volunteer at my church, and occasional speaker. And then there are my hobby hats: reader, hand letterer, Target deal finder…I think you get the idea. I love to do things, and when I’m not doing things, I’m doing other things.

How do I get it all done? My favorite two words are “productivity” and “efficiency.” I don’t procrastinate or dawdle. I manage my time and focus. I carry around books and things to work on in my purse. I stay busy.

Busyness is like a security blanket for me.

But a life of busyness isn’t sustainable. Without rest, busyness ceases to be productive. The quality of our work diminishes, our efficiency wanes, our relationships suffer, and our souls begin to feel empty. I don’t want busyness; I want abundant life.

We are to be productive with our lives, but we aren’t made for constant work and no rest.

“We can squander today by feeding two different sins: laziness or busyness. Both the lazy person and the compulsively busy person subtly reject the God-ordained boundary of time…Busyness believes that the time God has given is not adequate. We must redeem the present by leaving time to observe the practice of stillness and precept of Sabbath, taking on the trusting posture of one who sits at the feet of her Lord.”

(Jen Wilkin, None Like Him)

Keeping the Sabbath is number four in the Ten Commandments.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

(Exodus 20:8-11)

But even before the Law, Sabbath was built into creation.

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

(Genesis 2:2-3)

Jesus modeled rest—He even slept on a boat in the middle of a storm!—and taught His disciples the importance of rest.

“The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.”

We need Sabbath to be a regular part of the rhythm of our lives just as music needs rests in order to have breath and movement.

When we don’t observe Sabbath rest,

  • we decrease our productivity and efficiency by wearing down our bodies and minds,
  • we neglect our emotional health,
  • we cease to produce good fruit,
  • and we miss opportunities to experience the presence of a God who loves to show off, to hear His voice, and to enjoy His creation and beauty.

Now, there’s something a bit sticky I want to address:

Jesus got into trouble with the religious leaders of His day for healing people on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14, John 5). Most of the times when I’ve heard these passages preached, the message is that we shouldn’t use the Law as an excuse to not help people. I totally agree with this. At the same time, if the speaker isn’t careful, they can give the impression that the principle of Sabbath rest is outdated and unimportant. No wonder so many pastors and church volunteers easily get burned out!

So let me talk directly about Jesus healing on that Sabbath. I believe one reason Jesus healed on the Sabbath is simply because that’s what God does: God heals on the Sabbath. He heals our weary bodies, stills our unsettled minds, and soothes our raw emotions.

In another passage where Jesus came into conflict with the religious leaders because of the Sabbath, he said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NLT)

The heart of the Sabbath is not a law to bind us. The Sabbath is a precious gift from the God who loves us and cares about the big and small details of our lives.

If you’re feeling drained, maybe the solution isn’t to quit. Maybe you need to rest and make Sabbath part of the rhythm of your life.