Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Self-Esteem and Glasses

(Obviously we have to start this with the obligatory self-esteem discussion. This is not a tribute to just believing in yourself and how awesome you are. But we can't deny that what we believe about ourselves shows up in how we present ourselves and how others view us. Disclaimer over but I would love to have a conversation with you about self-esteem. Leave a comment or hop over to IG or Twitter.)

One summer during junior high I got a clothing catalog. I don't remember the company or any particular clothes but I do remember colors and an aesthetic that assured me that I too could be beautiful. I wasted too much time that summer browsing that magazine and comparing my appearance with glasses to my appearance without glasses. Time that I can never recover unfortunately. 

I got glasses in the first grade because I couldn't see the board. Seems that it's hard to learn that way and that it caught my teacher's attention. I got my first pair of contacts when I was a freshman in high school. Trust me when I say that drastically improved my physical attractiveness, mostly due to the style of the glasses I was wearing. I religiously avoided wearing glasses in front of people for years. But sometime after I had Micah I developed an eye problem and I can't wear contacts on a regular basis. 

So the glasses are back. I've always had a bit of an ugly duckling syndrome (as has every female I've spoken to). I don't know if you feel like this but I think my appearance has improved as I've gotten older. I could dig up some old pictures for you, but really, why? It was only after college that I (semi) learned to fix my hair, learned some makeup tricks, and started to develop some style. Am I being a little harsh on myself? Probably- but not much. 

When first I started wearing glasses all the time I picked a pair that seemed the least noticeable. My goal was for them to be almost invisible. (Honestly my goal was to be as invisible as possible too.) I took them off for pictures and felt less attractive in them. But somewhere over the past year things have changed- I've started to pick up a little confidence. 

I don't believe that physical attractiveness is the issue in self-esteem. You can't really change how you look and what's the standard for beauty anyway? Instead I started to find confidence in doing what God's given me to do. Proverbs 3:26 says, "For the Lord shall be thy confidence." Instead of looking at the woman beside me and comparing myself to her I could just run my race. 

How we look or how much money we have or how talented we are doesn't matter in life unless we are surrendering all of that to God. But once we give those things to God the less concerned we are with how we present ourselves means the more we have to give to the people and to the work. 

When I was at Influence Conference I had this same conversation with another woman. She felt like it was easier to hide in the corner so she tried to help herself out too. I've been working on my posture: back straight, elbows out instead of tucked in an effort to take up the least amount of room imaginable. Look people in the eyes, smile, speak up. Clean yourself up and then forget about it. You can do that when you've put in some effort. 

I have a long way to go with this but it is working. When I went to pick out glasses this year I knew exactly what I wanted. 

Before it was "I have to wear glasses so let's make them as least noticeable as possible." This time it was "I have to wear glasses so let's rock it out." ("Rock it out" is my new phrase. Let's do it with enthusiasm, passion, and muscle.)

I love my new glasses but you know what I've discovered? 

Nobody else notices you. They get a "air" of who you are. Confident, insecure, vain, others-centered. Very few people have noticed my new glasses. We could help ourselves by remembering that no one is paying attention to us because they are focused on themselves. 

So all those things that you don't like about yourself? Few people notice. The things you would change aren't even a blip on anyone else's radar. Forget them.

While it sounds spiritual to say our appearance shouldn't matter and we shouldn't care, we all know that's not real life. At some point we each have to go deeper than how we look on the outside. That's what's worked for me. I do my best to look nice and then I do the work God has for me today. There's a strong confidence in standing where God put you.

I think we mention in almost every podcast episode that it all comes back to our personal walk with Christ. And by all I really do mean everything. Our confidence, our joy, and the grace we extend to others (and hopefully ourselves) all overflow from our walk with God. I always picture Ephesians 3:19 like a teacup and saucer. We (the teacup) know God loves us which enables us to be filled with the fulness of God. Then guess what splashes onto everything around us (the saucer)? God's love. 
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Ephesians 3:19
What's been your experience with self-esteem? How do you describe it and what's your story? Leave a comment or hop over to social media to tell me.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What I Really Want for Our Marriage

Sometimes it seems that all days are long. I sit feeding the baby before putting him in bed, letting the book close in my lap, while Curious George plays in the kitchen where the older boys eat a snack. His strong legs lift the ottoman off the rug and run the vacuum across it.

Not because I asked. Because it needed vacuumed.

He sacrifices his time and resources for our well-being. He works his days because he loves it and to keep us in this home where we play and learn. He rarely asks for anything- occasionally some new sunglasses to put around his shaved head or a sandwich when he comes home for lunch.

He's mine. I said "yes" the day he asked me to marry him. That day when we were still teenagers and only knew we wanted to do life together. I was barely out of my teens the day we said "I do" in a simple ceremony in December.

We moved easily into life together. Homework because I was still in school, dinners that we cooked together in our tiny apartment where we didn't have curtains. We watched movies on the air mattress in front of the TV on Friday nights and slept until 11 the next morning in the cozy bed that had been handed down for generations.

We disagreed. We still do. Two different people moving together through life are bound to. But I went into each day with him with one resolve- to give him more.

More grace when he messes up. More benefit of the doubt when I feel offended. More respect than I give to another. He's been the best of things to me and I want to give him my best. 

It's easiest to give him my worst.

To save the soft answers for the woman at church that hurts my feelings. To keep the patience for the children on a good day or for the slow, grumbling cashier at the store. To consider the emotions of a stranger that cares nothing for me while making assumptions about his intentions. 

I want to save my best for him. I want to nurture a love that's holding hands walking into the restaurant or the hospital, into riches or want. I want to give more to this one whose story is intertwined with mine and not to others who only play a secondary role. 

Because one motivation is out of love and the other is to be impressive. He knows me too well to be impressed; he sees my best and my worst. I can think that those who don't know me well are impressed with me. Maybe they are sometimes. 

The impressions are fake. They don't see me when I'm tired and the kids have been up all night and I've not had any coffee. They don't see me roll my eyes or raise my voice or apologize for sarcastic answers. 

He does. He chooses me anyway. 

And every morning I choose him. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Your Hands Reveal Your Heart

They move across the piano keys, sometimes swiftly, sometimes stumbling. They knead the bread dough, rinse the carrots, chop the chicken. They type on the computer keyboard and jot notes in my planner. They hold my husband's hands, hug my boys, wash little baby toes. They move the pencil to form pictures, hold the broom to clean the floor, fold the shirts out of the dryer. They answer the phone, move the iced coffee to my mouth, and open the door. 

My hands are probably the part of my body I am most aware of throughout the day. They do so much. They show love to others, care for my family, and express creativity. They are the outlet for my brain.

The work they do reveals my heart. 

They aren't a model's hands; no one will ever ask to photograph my hands to advertise jewelry. I used to be embarrassed that my hands were so big but now I'm just thankful. Big hands can spread more than an octave on the piano, set a volleyball with better contact, and hold far more little cars than small hands could. 

This mindset is gradually carrying over to more than just my hands. I'm learning to see things (including myself) for how they work and bless others instead of how they look.  

To be less superficial in my views. 

Less obsessive about appearance.
Less concerned with the outside and more preoccupied with the heart. 

My hands are working hands. When I'm eighty I hope they are hands that have served strangers, painted pictures that have cheered homes, written words that pointed others to Jesus, changed diapers for countless baby bottoms and lightened the load for young mothers. I hope they have helped others up, filled bellies with food, played the piano, and managed money with a balanced heart. 

I am doing that work today because today makes up a piece of the future.  I am typing the words. I am cooking the food, changing the diapers, turning the pages of the story, cutting the grapes, pulling the weeds. I am pushing the keys, drawing the pictures, wiping the counter. This home is at present my primary serving place. I want to do my work here well because to do otherwise would reveal a cold heart toward this mission field.

What are your hands doing? What work are you performing? If you examine your work you will find your heart. 

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today, He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way, He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died, He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.     Annie Johnston Flint

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

When Serving God is Good

My pastor hates when preachers tell stories that make God look small. You've heard them. "I was going to preach somewhere and we were broke. They didn't give me an offering to buy gas but they gave me a chicken. My wife cooked that chicken over a fire by the road and while we were eating someone stopped by and put a gallon of gas in the car." He always says, "Who wants to serve that God?" 

Serving God can get a bad rap. "Come serve God and you can be miserable too!" It's easy to see how it turns into that. After all, God does call us to die to self and take up our cross. He did send His own Son to Calvary. We've all heard someone deliver the "God called me to do all the things I hated in life and I did them and it was hard."

In real life I don't know anyone like that- at least no one I want to be like. That does not inspire or motivate me to serve God. And if I want to serve God I can only imagine how it sounds to people who are on the fence about giving their lives as well as their hearts to Jesus. 

I'm not at all suggesting that we water down God's Word to be appealing to me or anyone else. I'm not suggesting that we make the will of God seem like walks along the beach at sunset. I am suggesting that maybe we should look at our own lives and see what's been true for us. 

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. Psalm 34:8

We have to purposely look for the good in life. We are naturally bent to notice the negative. The heartbreaking moments of life are seared into us by force of emotion. We don't have to try to remember them. But we do have to challenge ourselves to see the good; otherwise we can walk right by without once thanking God for it. 

Writing is an excellent memory aid. I have an apparently faulty memory and it helps to look back over answered prayers and issues and events in life. So I started a list. I have my own family and a home to care for. I get to work in various ministries through our church. I'm using my writing skills not just here on the blog but also in other avenues. I've coached volleyball and counseled women. I could go on but I'm not really that interested in your knowing my list. 

I want you to make your own list. Sit down with a pencil and notebook (or the notes app on your iPhone) and think about the things that you do now or have done. Write down all the things that you do that you truly enjoy or have always wanted to do or hope to keep doing. Most of you can come up with something. 

But what if you aren't there yet? Maybe your list is small. Maybe you're a new Christian and you don't know where to start. You might not be sure how life can be good once God starts reshaping your heart. Here are a few ideas. 

1. Take opportunities. 
Don't worry about whether you are the most qualified. There will always be someone more qualified. But they might not be where you are. If you are available and willing you are the person. 

2. Develop skills even if you don't know how/when you will use them. 
You can't expect God to use you if you won't put in some work. If you are interested in something, learn more about it.  As you learn skills God will bring opportunities to use them in His timing. 

3. Learn to love what you do. 
Life will never consist of only doing your favorite things. If you can learn to love what is in front of you, you will enjoy life so much more. Don't we all want to radiate joy even in the midst of a less-than-perfect life? It might take some practice but you can get there. Start by asking God to change your heart. 

Every person has hard things in life. In no way am I trying to remove that truth. But as I walk in hard things I don't have to do it alone. The presence of God is a gift that softens the sharp edges of difficulties. 

I should serve Him just because of what He's done for me- whether or not it's hard, whether or not I like it. 

Instead He gives me opportunities to serve in ways that I love. That makes me love Him more. 

Maybe you're not at a place in life where you can say that. That's ok. You can say that living for God is hard- because it is. But hear this- God made you; He knows you; He loves you. And He has a plan for your life that surpasses where you are at this moment. Don't quit. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Quit Before You're Finished

I played volleyball in college for two years. I knew I was on a downhill stretch after I turned down a varsity spot twice; what's really the point after that unless you are playing for fun? I have to try really hard to play for fun; I want to win. We were playing to lose and I don't like losing. 

When we lost a Thursday night game I was aching all weekend to get back in the gym. Sweat through another practice remembering it wasn't over yet. That loss wasn't the final call.  Practice was like a sign that it wasn't over. There was still a game even if we had lost. Again. 

I love to play volleyball so practice was always over before I was ready. I loved to play even in the gym with no air-conditioning and I would have ran drills and scrimmaged all night. But for some reason even colleges are weird about you spending time doing homework and passing classes and not just playing ball. So I left every day looking forward to the next practice. 

One of the tricks you learn with kids is to quit before they're done. Stop the activity while everyone is still having fun. Stop before they get bored and start looking to derail the activity. It's a great rule of thumb for small children. 

I've also learned that most rules of thumb for small children are also applicable for adults. Don't run yourself into the ground over something (without a serious deadline) if you want to keep enjoying it. I love to blog. I make no money from it and I'm not trying to. I've read that's one of the quickest ways to hate blogging and I think it would be for me. I don't want to start stressing over something I enjoy. 

This principle means that I don't do things to exhaustion. Ok, correction, I don't do "work" tasks (writing, art, piano) to exhaustion. Some of this is others-imposed. I can only practice piano for so long before my children start climbing the walls. But this practice pays off. 

Creative experts tell you to quit when you know what you're doing next. Quit when you know what the next line is, the next topic, the next chapter. Quit when you know what you need to work on next on the piano- the next scale, the next add-in. Quit when you want to draw another picture or work on chins one more time. 

It's much easier to come back the next day knowing where to start. That's a lot more energizing and you waste less time than if you have to sit and try to think of what to do. Find the new places to start while you are still in the work flow. Give your future self a head start. 

So put up the playdough while everyone's having fun. Stop practicing piano while you are still loving it. Write the first section of that new chapter and then put it down. Let it live in your mind until it's time to go at it again. Work in enthusiasm and not necessity whenever possible. 

Of course this doesn't really apply to cleaning toilets or folding laundry. Just do those and be done. Until tomorrow at least. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Woman Across the Table: Where Service Isn't Fame

In less than two weeks, I'm going to be at Influence Conference. I'm so excited! There are several people I know online that I can't wait to meet in person (Why was that so much creepier 10 years ago?) and some of my favorite internet people will be speaking. My husband always laughs when I mention something that one of my favorite internet people wrote. But really, that's a thing; you have favorite internet people too. Yes? Yes. 

The internet makes the world so small. 2015 is amazing. We have companies helping people around the world, women encouraging women from their living rooms, and access to all the learning and education we could want. It's also easy to find the women who have a gift for speaking truth or sharing their lives online. 

As much as I might love their work or their art or their whatever-it-is-that-they-do they are still only internet people. I don't know them- at least no more than what they choose to reveal about themselves. They don't know me. They aren't going to come alongside me when my child is ill or teach me new skills that I can use to serve God. 

They are just one or two or three people. Do you know how many women there are in the U.S.? 158.6 million in 2009. Can ten, twenty, or even fifty "famous" online women, no matter how gifted or intelligent they are, really know and help all those women? 

Of course not. Jess Connolly wrote a beautiful piece about having to choose to create or respond. All of us only have so much time and so many resources. 

It's always in human nature to be drawn to the big names. We want to know the leader, to sit at the cool kids table, to feel validated by being accepted by the "famous." And there's value in surrounding yourself with the right kind of people. Jeff Goins has talked about it in a podcast about Hemingway and his own move to Nashville. But sometimes it's just a search for validation. "If I know the popular kids then I'm accepted." We're not that far above elementary school lunchroom behavior after all.  Why not make our own table?

We all know women who love God and are serving Him. They have just as much to offer even if they aren't well-known or don't have a huge online following or haven't written a book. We know women who are digging into the Word and loving their neighbor well. We know women who serve their families and strengthen their husbands and train their children in righteousness. We know women who dedicate time to pursuing skills and passions so that they can use them for God. 

Make a table with those ladies. Invite them in. Get to know them- learn from them and help them. Maybe even face-to-face and not just on Twitter (although Twitter is really growing on me). This may be your grandma who makes cookies every week for the neighborhood kids. Or it might be the lady who volunteers at the shelter, works in the church nursery, or teaches teens English. You may be surprised how often you find these people who have so much to teach you right in your life. 

Stop waiting to be recognized. We cannot all be the popular people and we don't need to be. Forge a path where you are. You don't have to be known by the big names to be accepted or valuable (although, let's be real, your message might reach more people that way). That confident walk where Christ has called you will speak for itself no matter where you are. 

Stop waiting for the known names to do all the work. There are people that only you can reach. You at home with your little kids still impact others. You caring for your aging parent, working two jobs to support your family, or struggling in your season of life will still meet women who need the help you can give. We can't leave the work to the missionaries, our pastors, or the ones who have authored books. They can't do it all. 

We can each do our part though. If we all served up the influence we have where we are- pointing others to Jesus- we might be surprised at what we can do throughout our lifetime. One day at a time, one person at a time. 

Now when I go to Influence Conference am I going to introduce myself to my favorite internet people? You betcha. I'll probably even try to take a selfie (or if I get lucky, someone else will take the picture). But I'm going to spend most of my time getting to know the women sitting at the table across from me who are doing extraordinary things with their ordinary lives. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

8 Tips for Planning Personal Projects + a #52for2015 Update

"I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it." Picasso

Most of the projects I do are, in some sense, for someone else. The writing shows up here on the blog and on social media. I practice piano partially (but not mostly) because I play at church. This year I unintentionally started an art project and today I jotted down some reasons this project was succeeding and accomplishing more than what I set out to. 

Maybe you want to plan a project and don't know where to start. Fear is what typically stops me. What if it all turns out to be a waste of time? Well, watching tv probably is a waste of time too and we all do that. So why not get to work? 

1. Decide your purpose. My art project was solely for me. Maybe you want to do a project that will allow you to make handmade Christmas presents for your family or crafts to sell. 

2. Pick something you like. I have always loved drawing. I used to fill sketchbooks when I was younger. However I haven't made time for art on a consistent basis since I took a drawing class freshman year of college. Use these personal projects as a space to explore something you like. 

3. Pick something small. One of the biggest excuses against doing a project of any sort is a lack of time. My original plan was to spend 20 minutes a week on a drawing. That's a totally reasonable goal even with everything else I do. It did grow over the year because I have enjoyed the project so much. But start small and get bigger instead of realizing it doesn't fit your life. 

4. Designate a work time. I decided I would do my weekly sketches on Tuesday night once the boys were in bed. When I decided I wanted to do the small daily sketches at the beginning of quiet time I tried it out for a week to make sure it would fit into real life. 

5. Build in accountability. I share my #52for2015 work every Wednesday on Instagram. There have been plenty of times I would have skipped the work on Tuesday but I knew I was supposed to share it. Granted, this is causal accountability. Nobody is going to hunt me down if I don't post but it still works. 

6. Allow your focus to change. I do the small daily sketches now; I did not plan on that at the beginning. I have also changed mediums during the year to keep the work fresh and interesting. If you are too rigid and don't grow with yourself you will lose interest. 

7. Find your supporters. Every time I show a drawing or painting to my husband he says, "I want it for my office." We joke about it now but it still feels nice. (He actually does have the elephant drawing.) There is also a large artistic community on Instagram and I've connected with some of them. 

8. Decide what success looks like. You might want to get all those Christmas gifts made or finish some projects you have already started. But have some general idea of what you want to accomplish. I want to finish 52 pieces by the end of the year (I completed #36 this week). I also want to learn some new techniques. Knowing what I want to accomplish keeps me from comparing my work to anyone else's and getting discouraged. 

I'm about to fill up my sketchbook. Obviously it's full of terrible drawings; I did not show you all of them on purpose. But I have a sketchbook full of drawings and not just tv shows I've watched to account for some of my time this year. I think it's fun to track small progress (that's why I'm keeping a list of books I've read this year); it's easy to think you're not doing anything when you really are. 

Reclaim some old passion that you haven't visited in years. Then tag me on IG or Twitter (@delighting_days) so I can see it. Or you can post it to the facebook wall. I'd love to see what you're working on! 

-Most of the drawings are based on book illustrations or Pinterest ideas. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

One Brushstroke at a Time

"A masterpiece still comes together one brushstroke at a time." Ruth Simons

Ruth is one of my favorite internet people (and I get to hear her speak at Influence Conference in a few weeks!). She has six boys. She writes. She homeschools. And she has a shoppe. That's impressive work but her words point out an easily forgotten truth. It's the little things. 

Our lives are made up of days. How we choose to live our days turns into how we live our lives. We see the overall vision for life in the Bible; it's not a secret. But the details will be different because God doesn't stamp people out factory style. He designs each person individually. My work today will be different from your work today. 

But each day we both get to choose. What kind of brush stroke will we put on the painting? Will I pick the right colors?  Will I put on strength and honor as my clothes? Will I be virtuous, prayerful, careful with my words? Will I bend my will- surrender- to the things in life I didn't expect? Does Jesus have full control over my life today? 

I get to choose where the brush stroke goes. This is a time of laying on the broad underlayers of colors. It's necessary- the painting won't be complete without it- but it's nothing fancy. 

Today I do all the unseen things. I clean up accidents and spills. I cook dinner. I run errands. I do the reading lesson and push the swings. I welcome my husband home and celebrate his work. I work on memorizing a piano piece.  I write my 500 words. I draw today's sketch. I pour the Bible into my heart and mind. I run and do yoga. Nothing big. Nothing flashy. But all important. 

Because what will life be if I don't cook dinner and teach my children? How will my writing read in five years if I don't write the words today? What will be left to celebrate in my marriage if I don't nurture it now? Do your work with the future in mind. 

These are the things that add up my children's faith, character, and education. The training they receive now will shape the adults they become. Necessary though often tedious. Ordinary and yet split through with glory. The little moments that make me want to pull out my hair are changing my children's lives. The words that I write today in Evernote and in my notebook are going to turn into blog posts and podcast episodes. It all adds up over time. 

Today matters for today. Pick well. If you go to bed exhausted tonight go to bed exhausted from pouring yourself into your work. 

Today matters for the future. Consider the future as you make your choices today. Today shapes tomorrow.