Five Checkpoints for a Quality Day

5 Checkpoints for a Quality Day

I love resale shops. Some of my favorite clothes are from thrift-shops and resale boutiques. Often I find exactly the right color and fit in one of these stores, even when a hunt in typical retail shops turns up nothing.

However, resale shopping requires a keen eye for quality. Many of the clothes are wonderful buys, but there are also a lot of garments with stains, torn seams, and pilled fabrics. Sometimes I get so excited about a fashionable find that I forget to check all the details. Later, when I am about to wear the new sweater or skirt, I discover a flaw that makes it unusable. To help you avoid my mistakes, I offer this list.

Five Checkpoints of a Quality Garment

1. Is the garment clean, without stains?

2. Is the fabric in good shape? Or is faded, worn, or pilly?

3. Is the stitching tight and secure?

4. Are the buttons reinforced?

5. Does the garment have a wide, even hem?

The lessons from quality garments can apply to our lives as well. Often, I live life without paying attention to the details. I rush from appointment to appointment without the considering how to better spend my time.

The philosopher Plato wrote:

The unexamined life is not worth living.

So how should we examine our lives? What elements create a day well spent?

5 Checkpoints of a QualityDay

Drawing from the checkpoints of a quality garment, here are some features to look for in a day well spent:

Five Checkpoints of a Quality Day

1. Was the day cleaned? Did it include a time of confession and receiving God’s forgiveness?

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 NIV).

2. Were joy and laughter included in the fabric of the day?

The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10 NIV)

3. Was the day stitched with love?

Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14 NIV)

4. Was the day reinforced with God’s Word?

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

5. Was the day hemmed in prayer and thankfulness?

“By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:8)
I pray that God will bless your days with love and laughter, with His grace and guidance. May you count your blessings and enjoy His fellowship!
Next step: Print up the checkpoints of a quality day and keep them by your bed. Do a quick check at the end of each day!

4 Ways to Have a More Productive (and Meaningful!) 2017

4 Ways to Have a More Productive2017

At the end of each year, I often make New Year’s resolutions.  As I put up a new calendar on my fridge I make lists of goals and plans. (I love lists!)

But most of the time what happens is that I make a beautiful plan for the new year–and then promptly forget about it.

So this year I am trying something different. To help me actually accomplish my goals (and have a meaningful life–not just a productive one) I’m making these 4 things my 2017 priorities.

A Daily Routine

I learned about daily routines from Crystal Paine. A routine is simply a set of things that you do in the same order every day. Choosing to do what is important or useful and then developing the habit of doing those things every day helps me actually do what I intend. I already had a morning routine that consisted of exercise, breakfast, getting dressed, and a quiet time with God. But Crystal suggests also using afternoon and evening routines.  So now I have developed a routine for the end of my workday. When I am ready to quit for the day, I:

  • save the day’s work
  • do a final check of email
  • check my calendar for upcoming commitments
  • neaten my desk
  • shut down my computer
  • say a prayer of thanks for work accomplished

My evening routine is:

  • clean kitchen counters after dinner
  • have time for reading
  • lay out clothes for next day
  • practice examen before I go to sleep

These simple routines help me end my day peacefully and start the day with a clean slate.

Weekly Review Time

The idea of a weekly review came from leadership expert Michael Hyatt. A weekly review is a specific time slot in your schedule set aside for evaluating the past week and setting up the next. During this time you will review:

  • your goals
  • the calendar for the next week
  • your to-do lists (What did you accomplish? What do you plan to do next week?)

I love the concept of a weekly review. For two years I have tried (unsuccessfully) to incorporate them into my schedule. But this year I am making this a priority because I think it will help me stay focused on my goals. It will help me concentrate on what is important and not just what is urgent.

Monthly Personal Retreat

The daily routines and weekly reviews help me be productive and goal-oriented. But checking things off on a to-do list doesn’t guarantee a meaningful life. Planning and goal-setting don’t get me anywhere but lost and frustrated if I’m not following God’s plan for my life.

I am convinced that I need extended quiet time to connect with God to hear His voice and seek His will for my life. So I try to take one day (or one morning) out of each month for a personal spiritual retreat. But again, I have not been consistent in this practice. So I am determined to make 2017 the year I make time to get away each month to read my Bible, journal my concerns and questions, and wait for God’s answers. You can read more about a personal retreat here. You can also get my Soul Spa Kit with 59 ideas for a personal retreat by entering your name and email address in the upper right-hand corner of this blog.

Live Like I’m Loved

My type-A personality loves goals and plans. but lately, God has been teaching me that these can get in the way of my relationship with Him. I tend to base my self-worth in my accomplishments. When I check off everything on my to-do list, I feel good about myself. When I don’t, I feel like a failure.

But God is teaching me that my self-worth is not based in how many goals I can accomplish. My value comes from being a daughter of the Most High King. I’m finding that a meaningful life does not come from to-do lists, daily routines, weekly reviews, and monthly retreats–but from abiding in Christ’s love.

Jesus said,

As the Father loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9

Living in Jesus’ love is the best way to have a productive and meaningful 2017.

Next step: Start by posting John 15:9 somewhere you will see it every day to remind yourself to live loved. Then consider if a daily routine, weekly review, or monthly retreat might be useful for you.

4 Ways to Have a More Productive2017 2

 

 

 

When You Feel Ordinary

Luke 1-38

This holy season we are examining the characters of Christmas. Last week we looked at Elizabeth. (Click here to read her story.) This week we will look at Mary.

Mary’s story is so familiar to us. Every Advent season we hear the story of the angel visiting the young girl. We see the picture of Gabriel giving the news to Mary on dozens of Christmas cards every year. The artist usually pictures Mary sitting very serene, looking at the angel. And so it’s easy to assume that it was easy for Mary to accept this special role. That it was effortless for her to say yes to God’s plan for her. After all, she was given the most important task any woman would ever have. She would be honored for all time. Who wouldn’t want that?

But we know the whole story. We have the advantage of looking back at history and seeing how God worked everything out. We know the story has a happy ending. Mary didn’t have that perspective.

Young Mary was betrothed to Joseph–which is a little like our engagement process. But in the eyes of the law, a betrothed woman was legally bound to the man–even if the marriage ceremony hadn’t taken place. And so, if a betrothed woman was found pregnant by another man, she was accused of adultery. And the punishment for adultery was stoning by death.

And even if she was not put to death physically, Mary realized that life as she knew it was going to die. Friends would probably not believe her story of an angelic visit. Not to mention her fiance!

So if I had been in Mary’s shoes I probably would have reacted to the Gabriel’s message with something like, “Sure, I’ll go along with God’s plan if you will just go out into the streets and tell everyone that I, Mary of Nazareth, have been chosen to be the mother of the Savior.”

But what did Mary say?

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Mary was selected for the most special role any woman could have. But think about it—very few people during her lifetime would truly understood her unique calling. Most people would have seen her either as a tramp, someone who violated God’s laws, or as a crazy person, someone claiming to have a virgin birth.

And that’s why it’s so amazing that she responded to Gabriel with the words, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary’s humility enabled her to say yes to God.

Unlike Mary, I struggle with acceptance. I struggle with acceptance because I subconsciously put myself on a level with God. I don’t see how my life fits into God’s big plan and, truth be told, my mighty self sits on the throne of my heart more often than Christ does.

Maybe you struggle with acceptance too. Perhaps life is not going as you had planned. And there is no relief in sight.

That’s why we need to remember Mary. She accepted her God-given role. And even though we now see her as special, to most people in her day she probably appeared very ordinary. Mary was able to say yes to God because she understood her small life was a piece of God’s big plan.

You may feel like you are nothing special. But the Bible tells us that each of us has been selected for a unique calling (Ephesians 4:10). Only one woman is mother to your children. Only one woman is the wife of your husband. Only one woman can minister to the needs of your church with your specific God-given gifts. Only one woman can reach into your world with your particular skill set.

When you feel ordinary remember that is not how God sees you. God sees you as special. God sees you as unique. God sees you as a one-of-a-kind person with a one-of-a-kind life. All those tears you wipe away, all those dishes you wash, all those memos you type–all add up to one incredible life when you see them through God’s eyes.

God sees you as unique. God sees you as a one-of-a-kind person with a one-of-a-kind life. Click To Tweet

Sometimes it’s hard to accept the life you have right now. 

But maybe it’s a little easier when you remember that all the little things you do matter in God’s big plan.

God’s plan is more immense than we can imagine, but every little piece of the intricate design matters. You matter.

Next step: Read Mary’s story in Luke 1 (click here to read it online). Imagine yourself as Mary receiving the news from Gabriel. How would you have wanted to respond? Then write out Mary’s response, ““Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” and post it where you can see it often. Repeat this words back to the loving Savior.

mary

When You Feel Defeated

CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!

My son texted me with these words when our home team, the loveable-loser Cubs got into the World Series. Truthfully, I was stunned. And even more amazed at what happened in the next week and a half.

On Sunday when the Cubs were down three games to one–I’ll admit, I thought this was the end of their remarkable season. A victory seemed too unlikely. Once again the team would go home as the loveable losers.

But then they won and won again and won again! After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs were once more the best in baseball.

If you don’t live in Chicago or don’t care much for baseball–this victory probably doesn’t matter to you.

But the whole scenario reminds me of another unlikely victory.

Ever since Adam and Eve bit into that apple, the human race was on a losing team. We lost our righteousness, our health, our very lives. Sin and pain and death entered into the world. We were forever lost.

But then a new player joined the team. A man, to be sure, but also God. Jesus came to bat for us–to do what we couldn’t do.

He lived the perfect life we were unable to manage. He took our sin and our punishment. On Good Friday, it looked like defeat. Everyone thought the worst. But three days later, Jesus rose again–the ultimate unlikely victory!

Now Jesus says to us,

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Perhaps today you feel like you are losing. You are down three games to one and victory seems impossible. You’re beaten down by pain. Or by financial hardship. Or by disappointment and discouragement. That’s when you need to remember Jesus’ unlikely victory on your behalf.

In Jesus, we will overcome. It may not look exactly like the victory you envisioned. Perhaps you will have to battle through many more games to get victory. But in Jesus it is possible. He promises, “I have overcome the world. Anything that seems too hard for you, I can conquer. Trust me. Even when all seems lost. Trust me.”

Next step: What victory are you waiting for? Write out a prayer, thanking Jesus for the triumph that He will bring–in this world or the next.

when-you-feel-defeated

How a NOT-To-Do List Can Help You Succeed

packingtime2

Today I’m posting over at my friend Melanie’s site. Read this preview and click to read the rest!

Last year started out with grim news.

My husband was diagnosed with lymphoma.

It was a shock for this guy who never takes a sick day. He never had any symptoms. He didn’t feel ill.

not-to-do-listSoon all of our to-do lists were relegated to the garbage can. Instead of our usual work and social activities, our schedules were crammed with doctor visits, tests, and treatments. Our over-packed lives had to make room for more important things. I personally needed to weed out the frivolous to find time for what was necessary—being available for my husband….

Read more…

 

You Are God’s Chosen Instrument: 3 Ways to Make Music in His Hands

choseninstrument

Piano is my chosen instrument. 

I started playing the piano when I was five years old and loved it from the beginning. The ability to make music with my own fingers seemed like magic to me.

After a year of piano, my parents bought a spinet organ and for about seven years I took lessons on that instrument, but it never had the same magic for me. When I switched back to the piano I was much happier. While a powerful organ can blow your socks off, an organist never has the same control of the touch and sound that a pianist does.

This week I was reading the well-known story of the conversion of Saul in Acts 9:1-19. I have read this story many times so I asked God to show me something new this time around.

And what I noticed was in the exchange between God and Ananais–the man God sent to Saul after Saul’s encounter with God on the road to Damascus. Ananais was pretty skeptical about going to see the man responsible for executing Christians all around the Roman kingdom. But God reassured Ananais that this was the plan:

“The Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” Acts 1:15

Saul (or Paul–as he was later known) was God’s chosen instrument.

And I thought: What significance is in the phrase “chosen instrument”? If I am also an instrument of God, what does that mean?

First of all, when an instrumentalist performs, the audience rarely praises the instrument. They applaud the performer. As an instrument of God, I do not receive the admiration and acclaim. God does.

Second, the instrument cannot make music on its own. It relies on the hands of the performer. Yes, now there are marvelous machines that can be attached to pianos to make music automatically, but even there the machine is made and programmed by human hands. Music is dreamed up by talented composers. On its own, the piano can only sit on a stage and take up space. I sometimes think that I am like the machine that can produce something wonderful on my own, but in truth it is all in the hands of the Creator who made me, the Programmer who guides me, and the Performer who works through me.

piano keysFinally, I thought of how a piano doesn’t rebel in the hands of a musician. My piano doesn’t stop making sound if it doesn’t like the song I’m playing. It doesn’t run out of the room if it doesn’t agree with my musical interpretation. It doesn’t pout and complain if the song is too difficult. Here is where I am much different from my piano!

Paul was God’s chosen instrument to the Gentiles of his day. And he acted as an instrument should. He worked for the glory of the Performer. He relied on the power of the Creator. He didn’t complain if the song was too hard.

I believe we are each God’s chosen instrument. The Father lovingly chooses each of us to play for His glory. He works through each of us in various concert venues around the world. He produces beautiful music in those who yield to His gentle touch. 

Next step: Reflect on your role as God’s chosen instrument. How have you made beautiful music in the hands of God? How have you performed for your own glory or tried to make music on your own?

 

Freedom From The Tyranny Of People-Pleasing

freedom

The Fourth of July is upon us–a day of celebration in our country. A time to celebrate the freedom we enjoy in America. A time to be thankful for the fact that we still have the freedom to worship God.

With all the emphasis on freedom during the days ahead, it made me realize that even though God has given me freedom, I don’t always live as if I am free. I get tangled up in the chains of ambition and people-pleasing. Although I am free in Christ, I sometimes willingly step into shackles that prevent from living in that freedom.

It seems like this is nothing new. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, he said,

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Galatians 5:1)

The Galatians had experienced the freedom of salvation in Christ–the joyous freedom that comes when we realize that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. Christ has already done everything necessary.

But they had been convinced by other people that they needed to follow some of the old laws, such as circumcision. They were willingly stepping into the shackles of trying to please other people by doing things God had told them they didn’t need to do.

And when I read this passage again, I realized that, in a way, I had done the same thing. Lofty ambitions, avid goals, and the desire to do what the “experts” tell me I need to do, have chained me to an unrealistic work pattern. I have probably been trying to do more than God has asked me to do–more than I was meant to do.

Sisters in Christ, I hope that you have not been shackled to people pleasing and working beyond what Christ has asked of you. But if you have, here a few steps you can take to break free of the chains.

  1. Write down everything that you do during a normal week and everything you feel you “should” be doing. Include everything from cooking meals and laundry to driving kids to school and organizing play dates.
  2. Take your long list into God’s presence and mentally lay it at His feet. Pray over each item. Ask yourself questions like: Is this activity necessary? Is there a simpler way to do this chore? Why am I choosing this activity–is it because God asked me to do it or I am doing this simply to impress the neighbors or please other people?
  3. Eliminate the activities that God asks you to purge from your calendar. Find simpler, less stressful ways to accomplish some of your chores. Do what God is calling you to do–but not more.

Experience the freedom of doing what God has asked you to do. Live free.

Next Step: Follow the three steps above to break free of the chains of people pleasing. Write Galatians 5:1 on a sticky note and display it where you will see it often.

The Trouble With Living For Applause

 

living for applause

I recently finished a slow tour through the book of Mark. I read and reflected, slowly contemplating God’s message to me in these words.

I noticed an amazing truth in the stories of the week leading up to Jesus’ death.

We cannot live for applause.

I came to this conclusion because of the 180-turn the crowds made that week.

On Palm Sunday, the crowd gathered around Jesus, laying their garments at His feet, and shouting praises:

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10)

But just six short days later, the crowds changed their tune. Now they were shouting,

“Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13)

Astounding. How could the people change their minds, their words, their opinion of Jesus so dramatically? How could they want Him to be their king at the beginning of the week and want Him dead by the end?

Of course, all of this had to happen for Christ to fulfill His mission to rescue us. But it also shows the fickleness of people.

One day you are invited to all the popular parties, the next you are excluded. One week the boss likes everything you do and the next someone else in the office is her favorite. One year you have great success, the next you are scrounging for business.

So if we are only living for the approval of people, we are in big trouble. People’s opinions change daily. What they like and don’t like is influenced by the media, the latest styles, and even by how much sleep they got the night before.

Jesus knew this so He wasn’t rocked by the applause OR the condemnations of the people. He simply focused on living to please His Father. He told His disciples,

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:35)

and even said,

“I do not accept praise from men.” (John 5:41)

The trouble with living for applause of people is people are fickle. Their opinions are often inconsistent. If we keep living to please other humans we will find ourselves with a million different game plans. We will bounce from one goal to another because the world keeps changing. People’s opinions constantly fluctuate.

Instead we need to live to please the One who never changes. Our focus will be clearer if we let praise from men roll off our backs. Our lives will be richer and less chaotic if we live to do the will of the Father who loves us no matter what.

Next Step: Look at your schedule or to-do list for tomorrow. Choose one item and ask yourself: Am I doing this to please other people? What difference would it make if I worked at this task simply to please my Savior?

 

living for applause2

original photo credit

 

When You Struggle to Find Success

when you struggle to find success

How do you define success?

The other day I was reading Genesis 39 and a verse about success jumped out at me.

The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. (Genesis 39:23 NIV 1984)

Out of context this verse may not be all that surprising. If you know the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, you know that he became a ruler in the land of Egypt. Only the Pharaoh was ranked higher than Joseph. The would fit most anyone’s definition of success.

But Joseph doesn’t become an important ruler until Genesis 41. In chapter 39 Joseph is not in a palace–he is stuck in a prison. The success he had was not in ruling a nation, but in aiding a prison warden manage the other prisoners.

So I wondered, did it look like success to Joseph?

I doubt it.

Maybe he thought: Sure the warden is impressed with me. But the only people who see my hard work are the ones stuck in this hole with me. What difference does it make?

Obviously it made a difference to God.

God saw Joseph’s work and declared it a success. So perhaps God’s view of success is a tad different than the world’s definition.

The world defines success in terms of how much money you make or how many people you influence. A prisoner in a dark cell working to help other prisoners simply wouldn’t be lauded for his achievement.

So why did God declare Joseph a success? Because Joseph did his best in whatever situation life threw at him. He was responsible and accountable. He worked hard even when it seemed that hard work would not benefit him personally.

That is God’s definition of success.

I often get hung up on the world’s definition of success. I tend to pay too much attention to the “experts” who tell me I need to sell more books, have more Facebook followers, have a bigger platform. But at least for today I’m going to listen to God and embrace His definition of success: Do your best wherever you are.

God sees. God knows. God will bless your work.

Next Step: What task do you need to accomplish today? Do it to the best of your ability. Declare it a success even if no one else notices.

definition of success

Five Ways God’s Love Changes You Part 2

wa

5 more ways God's love seeps into our hearts and transforms us.

 

I struggle with many things:

caring too much about what people think of me

second-guessing my decisions

accepting God’s plan for my life

focusing too much on material things of life

spending way too much time at my computer

Maybe you can relate.

This world is full of conflicts between pleasing God and pleasing others. Our life is characterized by clashes between our spiritual side and the part that simply must type the memo, get dinner on the table, and generally survive in the world.

I have found one simple act that helps me win the battle:

Basking in God’s love.

As I said in a previous post, basking in God’s love during a particularly stressful season kept my heart at peace. Simply stopping for a few minutes to contemplate my Father’s unfailing love for me helped me win the battle against doubt and anxiety.

A look in God’s Word confirms: God’s love transforms me.

Here are 5 more ways God’s love changes you and me:

God’s love enables us to stay on His path. “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness” (Psalm 26:3). When I am mindful of God’s never-ending love for me, I am much more confident that God’s path is the best one. I don’t walk in my qualifications or in my competence. I walk in His faithfulness.

God’s love gives us the confidence to pray. Psalm 69:13 says: “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.” Because we know God as a caring Father, we can come to Him as His much-loved children. His unfailing love gives us the courage to come with our debilitating failures, our overwhelming dilemmas, and even our pesky problems.

God’s love motivates us to obey. Psalm 106:7 tells us the reason for the Israelites’ rebellion: “Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.” After all God had done for them, how could they forget His love? Yet I often do the same. But when I do bask in the abundance of God’s love, my rebellious spirit is tamed. I’m drawn to follow Love.

God’s love in our hearts enables us to please God. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11). Just like any loving dad, what pleases our Abba Father most is for His children to curl up in His caring arms–to put their hope not in their own cleverness or ambition, but in His love for them.

God’s love helps us to love others. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). We are to love others as Christ loved us. That little word as can have a couple of different meanings. It can mean, “Just like I have loved you, I want you to love other people” or “Since I have loved you, you are to love one another.” Loving others in the same way Jesus loved us is a difficult task. It’s made a little easier because God has filled our hearts with His love.

So take a minute right now and bask in God’s love. Meditate on Christ’s sacrifice. Repeat the words of God’s affection from Scripture.

Allow His words of love to seep into your heart and change you.

(Find the first 5 ways God love changes us here)