Thursday, December 18, 2014

Five Reminders When You Are Feeling Mediocre

When I graduated high school I was the valedictorian. (I cringe to think of what nonsense I probably said in my speech.) Don't be too impressed; it was a class of thirteen. Then I graduated college with a 4.0. I'm not saying all of this to brag just to let you know that I come to my work with a viewpoint of doing the best I can. And occasionally that best has been better than someone else's best. That's not always the case; high school and college are both years in the past now. 

Lately I've been feeling mediocre. Like I'm not really good at anything, even if I don't actually stink at it. Let's face it, I spend most of my days changing diapers, nursing a baby, and cooking dinner. None of that is exactly rocket science. Now I hope I do it with some flair and excellence but how can I really know that? I have amazing friends and I know they are pursuing their work with equal skill and passion. (Maybe I need some bum friends?)

Now when I start questioning my abilities I want to stop everything. I want to stop going out in public because people might make judgments about me. (They will.) I want to stop playing the piano because so many people are better than I am. I want to hide and let fear win. But that's not the best option. You can't quit life because someone else possesses more skills and abilities than you do. And you certainly can't quit life because people aren't always going to like you. 

Five Steps for Moving Forward 

1. What God thinks about you is what counts. 
I'm trying to remind myself that what really matters is what God thinks. This circles back to my tendency to people-pleasing. I want to only care what God (and my husband) think of me. But sometimes even what I think of me drags me down. I'm trying to replace my feelings with what God says because my feelings really don't matter at all. Confidence comes from obedience, not feelings. 

2. You are not responsible for your talent, only for your work.
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) the men weren't responsible for how many talents they got, just for what they did with them. Likewise, I'm not responsible for my talent, only for my hard work. I didn't get to choose what talents or abilities God gave me. I do get to choose how hard I work at what God has placed in front of me. I didn't get to give myself an ability to play the piano by ear, but I can choose how much I practice and how focused my practice is.  

3. Don't compare. Work from a place of passion.
I must stop comparing. I want to start thinking, "Oh, I LOVE doing this!" instead of wanting to say I'm good at it and realizing I can't because a large proportion of society probably does that exact same thing much better. But if I do it from a place of passion and give it to God to use for Him instead of seeking glory for myself...if He can use that ability for His kingdom, for some eternal work, then that is enough. I must keep myself from focusing on whether others are impressed or not. That is not the point of life. I don't want to strive to impress others. Do it with love. Do it with excellence. Do it out of obedience. 

4. Remember you are always improving.
I must remember that I'm learning every day. That's why I show up to the work with all my might every single day. That's why I learn from wiser people, why I take classes, why I read books, why I listen to podcasts, why I write to straighten out my thoughts. Because I am learning. In five years I will look back and be amazed at how far I have come. Especially when day by day there seemed to be no difference. 

5. Realize what you are.
I am just the glove. The hands, the feet, the voice, the eyes that God uses. God supplies the power. I can do nothing by myself and God wants it that way. When it is obvious that I can't do anything God gets all the glory for the results.

Recognize those feelings of inferiority. Beverly Hyles once said, "You'll never be what God wants you to be as long as you hold yourself back by feeling inferior." I will never be the best at anything. But I can tackle my work with excellence and passion. 

Don't let not being THE best keep you from being YOUR best. They are two different things. Whatever work God has given you deserves your excellence. 

"Be the best you that you can be."  Marlene Evans

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter Goals

Winter should be one of my favorite times of the year. There's Christmas, our anniversary, and my birthday in there, even if they are squished into one two and a half week span. Instead winter is my least favorite season. It's dark. It's cold. I love sunshine and playing outside with the boys. This year, in an effort to put my least favorite season to work for me, I decided to set some winter goals.

Now goals are different from resolutions, at least in my book. It's really all in the definitions. Resolutions must wait for New Year's and generally don't change your life because you quit about two weeks in. Who wants to even bother? But goals are actionable steps that you can take to change your life. I worked quite steadily through some goals last year and it helped me focus on purposeful work.

A few months ago I talked about where I wanted to be when I turn 30. I won't just magically get there. It will involve working toward those goals day after day. A little work today and a little work tomorrow. 

My winter goals this year are for December through February. I may keep setting goals in three month cycles that coincide with the seasons and different family schedules; this might be a genius idea. I'll tell you in a year. I did have one exciting goal that popped up a couple of days ago and doesn't start until January. But I have been working on it in various forms for a few years and I'll tell you about it last. 

Winter Goals: (in no particular order of importance but grouped by category which are listed as well)

1. Lose 7ish pounds. (personal) Let's say "adios" to the last of that baby weight, shall we? That probably means saying "goodbye" to snacking on chocolate chips. Sad day. 

2. Once a month out-of-home dates. (marriage) We do weekly Friday night dates at home but for these three months of winter we are going to prioritize getting out of the house by ourselves (with baby Caleb probably) once a month. Of course this month it will be to celebrate our anniversary! Seven years, people. I'm starting to feel a tad old.

3. Marriage book club. (marriage/friendship) A friend of mine and I worked through a motherhood book back in the fall and it was so refreshing to get another perspective on the work. This time we are going to use a marriage book and read through it together and discuss what we can apply to our lives. Informal and fun, but very helpful. Ever done anything like that?

4. Read two books on mothering. (motherhood) I have two picked out and I've read them before. But they are good and I guarantee I don't remember everything they said. 

(Am I intentionally not telling you names of the books? Yes. Email me if you want to know but the particular book doesn't matter. Learn something on what's important to you! Use what you have if you don't want to spend money.)

5. Start preschool again mid-January. (motherhood/homeschool) Our homeschool co-op will start back then and Caleb will be almost three months old. Seems like a good starting place. Although I must admit we haven't totally stopped the past weeks, just scaled way back. 

6. Join The Influence Network. (personal grad school) Start attending the free monthly class. Done and done for this month. I got to attend two free classes this month because I got a free class for being a new member. They were both amazing and I took copious notes. 

And the one that surprised me at how quickly it worked out but excites me the most...

7. Start piano lessons in January! (personal grad school) I've been working at piano for five years as an adult and have always thrown around the idea of taking lessons again. So starting in January I'll be taking lessons from a lady that I worked with ages ago at our local university. I am super pumped about this one because I was having a hard time setting goals for my piano work. 

How do you set goals? Do you wait until the New Year? Does that approach work for you? What are you working on now? 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weekend Reading (and Listening)

Some weeks the internet is just full of extra good things. (At least if you are looking in the right places!) So in the interest of sharing some goodies I've enjoyed this week, here's another edition of 'weekend reading.'

--I recently started reading Design for Mankind. Which means I put the feed into Pulse and skimmed most posts. Until this one. Bring the Crowbar makes me question why I bother to write and then I remember that's what she's encouraging: writing. It's beautiful.

--Phylicia Delta is at it again! She's speaking so many thoughts that make me want to shout, "Say it again, sister!" The whole women's lib movement is beyond me. We're being liberated for what? To be intelligent, insightful creatures who add value to our worlds? No. To parade around in our underwear. Go figure how that's an advance. Take a few minutes and go read why she doesn't watch the VS Fashion Show.

--Now moving on to the listening. I've mentioned before that Ruth Simons from GraceLaced is one of my favorite online people. This week she was featured on one of my favorite podcasts! Check out Inspired to Action to listen to her wisdom. I'm sure I'll listen to it a few more times this week.

My favorite part was when she said that you don't expect boys to sit and crochet for an hour. A few of hers paint with her but they would rather pretend a big stick in the backyard is a machine gun. Until someone hits someone else over the head and then everybody cries. Beautiful... because similar scenarios have occurred here.

--And on another podcast (you did know that I'm obsessed with podcasts, right?) Crystal Stine shared all kinds of wisdom about writing and being online. I did listen to this several times already. You will enjoy it too! That's my solid vote of confidence there.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Work and Results

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.  Thomas Edison 
With few exceptions (none that I can think of but I'm just covering my bases), anybody that accomplishes anything does so because they work. The brilliant men of the past like da Vinci and Einstein probably worked more in a few years than most modern people will in a lifetime!

God loves work. And he loves work done right. Just read Proverbs 6:6-11 for starters. God wants us to do our work on our own motivation, no boss. Sometimes we act like we are supposed to do as little as possible but that was never what God intended. He wants us to do something with our lives; work is discussed over and over in the Bible. The Bible even states that Jesus did so much (work!) that the world couldn't contain the record of all of it if it were written. (John 21:25)

We can do far more than we realize if we are willing to work hard. It's easy to be jealous of what others have without realizing they have worked for it. I don't just have a clean house. I have a clean house because I do the work to have a clean house. Now I have removed most of the mental work from cleaning by having a schedule but I still have to do the physical work. I have to get up, get my supplies, and scrub.

I'm not just learning the Bible. I'm learning the Bible because I'm working at learning the Bible. Do you want to know what the Bible says and how it applies to you? Good! But God's not just going to zap the information into you because it's a good request. You have to read and study and listen. For years. Just keep doing those things and you'll be learning the Bible. 

I have fun and (for the most part) obedient children. But it's not because I'm lucky. I work at that. A lot! If you want the results you must do the work. There are no exceptions to this.

Sometimes work is called something else, like practice or training.

Want to learn to play the piano? Practice and practice some more.
Want to be a better cook? Get in there and cook. 
Want to learn a foreign language? Practice. Read. Study. Exercise your skills.
Want to run a 5K? Run. Train.

Arm yourself with God's view of work. I want to bring all of my views in line with the Bible because that's the way to success in life (Joshua 1:8).  And it's going to involve some work. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

It's Not Supposed to Be Easy

Some things in life can knock us off track before we even have a chance to get started. Expectations are like that for me. It's easy for me to have expectations and to allow myself to be guided by what happens to my expectations. For example, I expect my children to behave a certain way. Expectations met? Wonderful; what a great day! But unmet expectations in any little thing could derail my whole day. That's no way to live.

Here's a big expectation for me: It's supposed to be easy. If I were good at what I do- if I were a good Christian- then being a wife and mom would be easy. I wouldn't struggle with being content. I wouldn't struggle with finding my joy in Jesus instead of my circumstances. I wouldn't struggle with selfishness.

But you won't find that expectation in the Bible. The Bible speaks of taking up our cross, dying to self, mortifying the deeds of the flesh, persevering in adversity. It never mentions only doing things that feel good or that you enjoy. Or even that living a life that honors Christ is easy.

You're not necessarily doing anything wrong if it's not easy. This realization is reassuring beyond measure to me. I always assumed that if it was hard or I struggled then I was doing something wrong. Or there was something wrong with me. That's a crippling expectation because I find that doing this work God has placed before me isn't easy. It's not easy to be a wife as the Bible defines a wife. It's not easy to be a mom that loves, teaches, and trains her babies. It's not easy to strive to be the lady that's outlined in the Bible.

We can see this principle in all areas of life. The activities that bring results aren't easy. Working out isn't supposed to be easy; sitting on the couch is easy. Ever tried Insanity?  People push through the hard for the results they get.

Life's like that too. Mothering, marriage, jobs, relationships aren't necessarily supposed to be easy. Some days I have to make myself do the things I don't want to. (And fake a smile while I'm at it.)

Some days it's hard.

So many days I think "Wow, this is not easy." And then I remind myself it's not supposed to be and it takes so much pressure off myself.  It can be hard. That's ok. God knows that I appreciate being a wife and a mother even while I acknowledge that it can be hard. It doesn't mean I'm not trying to be godly or thankful or loving.

But God is using those hard days to make me better. He's using those days to bring results in my life- to make me more like Jesus.

The goal is for me to look like Jesus (Philippians 1:21). Not for life to be easy. I am God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), His masterpiece. He is sculpting me into something useful, productive, and beautiful.  Sculptors use tools like sandpaper, chisels, and hammers. I don't know about you but I would rather prop my feet up on a velvet stool and be pampered than to be molded with sandpaper and chisel. But God has an Image in mind to guide Him and He is working on me. Velvet doesn't seem to bring about much change.

Don't stop because it's hard. Know your Bible principles and follow them regardless of how you feel. Relieve yourself of your expectations and remind yourself that it's ok if it's hard.

It's supposed to be hard.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What About Today?

He who does not serve God where he is would not serve God anywhere else.  Charles Spurgeon

What did you think about today when you got up? Did you see a to-do list miles longer than what you could accomplish? Did you see a dreary day that was covered with burdens and problems? Did you see a chance to serve God right where you are?

One thing I've noticed among the many missionaries I've been blessed to meet and know is that they aren't super people. They aren't the top crust Christians that were just so amazing that God said, "You are exactly what the mission field needs!" And I'm not attempting to slight them at all; I know some amazing missionaries! What I have noticed is that they are normal Christians who were willing and available. They are normal Christians with struggles and problems and slip-ups. They are normal Christians who want to serve God but just aren't sure they are doing a good job. They are just like you and me.

Now I'm not saying that God is going to call you or me to the mission field. (But would you go?) What I am saying is our willingness to serve is proved in our daily lives. We can't claim that we would serve God in big ways if we aren't serving in the little ways. We can't claim we would speak to presidents and rulers about him if we won't speak to our neighbor about him. We can't claim that we would live with conviction in a foreign city if we won't proclaim Christ with our lives where we are now.

Do you want to serve God? Serve Him today. Serve Him in the diapers, dishes, laundry, preschool, homework, filing, bookkeeping, customer service work you do. Serve Him by serving your husband, your children, your boss, your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends. Serve Him by biting your tongue instead of letting those words fly out. Serve Him by putting on clothes that honor God. Serve Him by spending time with Him and then getting up to tackle your work. Serve Him right now, today.

Yes, the daily can seem like nothing. It can seem like it doesn't matter; like it doesn't make a difference. It can seem like nothing but when God is looking for a faithful servant it will mean everything. Don't discount what God has given you today.

If God were to suddenly put you on whatever platform you imagine- the mission field, a speaking position- you would be the same person. You wouldn't suddenly be more godly, more patient, more loving, more anything than what you are now. What are you now? Can God use you as you are right now?

We are so willing to say that God loves us in our mess, that His grace conquers all- and it does. But it doesn't give us an excuse to not grow. Instead it should motivate us to do more than what we are. Christ's love for us is our great motivation for life, for our daily service.

Be who God wants you to be and let God put you where He wants you. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Be Your Best...At Home

There are several people who only see our family a couple of times a year and only for one specific purpose. They don't really know that much about us or why we do what we do.  I once remarked to Justin that I felt incorrectly perceived by a few of these people. He thought for a minute then agreed that I might be. (Not what I wanted to hear!) But then he said, "But you are the same everywhere so I don't think it's anything you are doing wrong."

That was reassuring to me. I can't really do anything about what others think about me or our family, even if they see us more often or we try to explain our motives. What I can do is try to serve God consistently or daily. God wants me to take up my cross daily. I don't get to wear my Christianity only on Sundays or only in front of people I want to impress. I get to live out, or die to, the life God has called me to every day.
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. -Luke 9:23
God doesn't want a parade of my "spirituality" when I am in full view of others. God wants my daily life at home with my husband and my children (and the laundry and dishes) to shine for Him. I find that it much harder.  And this isn't just true in my life; this has been God's way for His people throughout time. Joseph may have run the entire country of Egypt for Pharaoh but it was only after he did his best for God in the prison.
But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper. -Genesis 39: 21-23
Joseph served with excellence when it would have been easy to say that it didn't matter. He pursued the work God gave him with all of his strength and ability and didn't wait for someone important to show up to notice. We form invaluable habits when we pursue excellence in little things, in hidden things. 
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. -Colossians 3:23 (emphasis mine)
God wants me to do ALL in His name: encouraging my husband, changing diapers, cleaning toilets, reading "The Cat in the Hat," preparing meals, disciplining toddlers, teaching preschoolers, or writing blog posts. There is nothing so lowly or menial that God doesn't want me to give it my best. Nothing so unimportant that I can give it less than my best attitude.

God doesn't want me to sit at the piano on Sundays and smile and pretend to be an example of a Godly woman while my family knows that I grouched at them all morning and was too undisciplined to get out of bed in time to manage our mornings.
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. -Luke 16:10
I want to know that if I was nice to someone it was my husband. If I was patient with someone it was my little boys. If I encouraged anybody it was one of the dear people who live in this house with me. I want to give my best to my family, to these people that God has given into my care. I want to pour out God's love on them before I try to give anything to others. I want them to have my smiles, my fun, my heart.

And I don't mean that I don't try to be a good testimony and encourage others. But it won't mean anything if it's just a show that I put on in public and isn't real in my daily life. And who better to tell me than my husband? And if he thinks it's true you can bet that I want it to be. I don't want to disappoint him! 

If we are displaying a Christlike attitude and character at home, you can bet that it will come out when we are in public. Who we are at home is who we are. You can't hide there for long. 

What are you giving your family today? Are you saving your best to impress someone important? Be your best at home and that character will shine in public too.