Tuesday, 28 February 2017

What I learned this summer

In the rush of life, I have become more and more invested in taking the time to stop and reflect. I used to do this monthly but I am joining with Emily Freeman in moving to a seasonal approach. Today marks the end of summer here in the Southern Hemisphere. The end of a season provides a chance to stop and take stock of what I have learned. I share those lessons here with you, both the deep and the mundane.
(This post contains affiliate links which help to support me and my writing at no extra cost to you.)

  • Sabbath from social media- I have been reading the journeys of other people in breaking the hold of social media and screens in their lives by taking a Sabbath break. It was while reading a post from Amanda Viviers that I finally felt the conviction to commit to it. I have been toying with the idea for so long. I had already been using the Quality Time app on my phone to add scheduled breaks into my day, restricting access to certain apps at those times. It was a logical next step to block it for a day. I had to carefully consider which apps I would allow myself access to and take the step of setting up the break in the app. For me, Sundays were the best day for this. I have had this implemented for the past few weeks. It was harder than I would have liked that first week but I have noticed it becoming easier. I have also noticed a knock on effect into the week as well. The habit of constant checking is being lessened. Maybe this will be the encouragement that you need to implement breaks from your phone and social media.

  • Falling in love with Doterra essential oils- I knew that I would and avoided exploring them for a long time because of it. My daughter's sleep has improved. My mood has been impacted for the better. My health has been supported (I was really sceptical at first but have now stopped two colds from developing past a scratchy throat!) Now to build up my collection and uses slowly!

  • This year brought all new routines- I expected this with my daughter starting school full time and being in a new MOPS role. The anticipation and trying to work out logistics was a constant hum bubbling under the surface. I was so glad when school actually started and we could just start living it and figuring it out as we went. We are now almost 5 weeks into the term and life is settling into the new normal more or less.

  • Do it scared- A lesson that I have had to relearn on many occasions. This season has contained huge learning curves in fully stepping into the MOPS State Leader position, running my first Leadership Training Event, speaking at groups I haven't spoken at before, becoming a mum to a full-time school attendee and seeking answers to some health issues with my daughter. Every part has required that I do it scared. I have had to model that to my daughter as she faced the anxiety of starting at a new school and as she went through multiple blood tests. I refuse to allow fear to rule my decisions and actions. I refuse to allow fear to keep my daughter captive. I am so grateful for Scriptures that provide truth to combat fear and friends that pray me through tough moments.

  • Sometimes you will need to buy winter pants in the middle of summer- The weather this summer has been confusing and unpredictable, particularly in February. Normally you can predict what it will be like- hot, hot, hot. This year we have had many really cold, wet, rainy days that would fit in perfectly with winter. This required a mad dash around multiple shops and shopping centres trying to find school uniform compliant pants for my skinny daughter. She was well set up with summer uniform. Silly me to think that winter uniform could wait until winter! Further proof that life will throw up the unexpected in any and all areas.

  • I still seek distraction when overwhelmed- Long to do lists, an impending event that I was organising and running and tasks waiting in every area of my life would surely spur me on to productivity, right? Nope. I binge-watched Netflix. It took me a couple of days to realise this pull towards mindless entertainment and distraction was a symptom of the overwhelm I was feeling internally. Just when I think I am getting a handle on managing stress, self-care and rest that actually restores I am faced with the truth of my default setting. Recognising what was going on helped; prayer helped more; giving myself grace and other sources of rest helped still more. I am still working on finding the most helpful rhythms of rest and work within my new routines. I am working on how I approach higher workload times leading up to events. I am working on utilising distraction when needed without sacrificing too much of my time and emotional energy to it.

  • My introvert soul loves being a school mum- I miss the extra time with my daughter and some of the things that we used to do, like library trips, but I love this new season of parenting. I am (mostly) a better mum in the times I am with her now. I have days where I have the flexibility and space to spend hours alone, whether working on MOPS work at home, doing housework or something fun. My soul is thriving with this quiet and space. I find I have far more emotional energy to give her when she is home. We play games together and I find myself less pulled to do other tasks instead (although that is still a work in progress!) I really wasn't sure how I would respond to this season. It is not without challenges, of course, but I am embracing this time.

  • Lent has caught me by surprise- This is strange since I have been thinking about it in flashes since Advent! It starts tomorrow and I have done no planning towards it. I loved how focusing on Advent brought depth and significance to Christmas. I want the same for Lent and Easter. This season coming up is a busier time for me in many ways. It will take a high degree of intentionality to pull it off. I am grateful that it is 40 days which gives me the space to allow myself extra time to come up with a plan for how to focus on this time of year well. I am still undecided about what Lent devotional I want to use or if I will use one at all. I am undecided how I wil build this in around the many trips away I have between now and Easter. I am undecided on how I want to celebrate Easter itself with my daughter this year. In fact, the only thing I have decided on is using the Sense of the Resurrection again this year with my daughter. It is written by the same woman who wrote Truth in the Tinsel that we use at Christmas time. It is only 12 experiences to fit in to the whole 40 days of lent making it achievable. I love how hands on and sensory the activities are and how they make the stories come alive in new ways. I am excited to see how much more my daughter grasps this year.

If you are like me and want to create space to focus on Lent but haven't got there yet, I would love to share a Lent planner with you for free. Sometimes we just need something to give us the structure and reminder for each day. You can sign up to receive the free planner below.

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Friday, 10 February 2017

The lure and lie of safety

The concept of safety is one that I have long wrestled with, especially since becoming a parent. I long to keep my daughter safe and protected but want her to be able to take risks and live life fully too. How do I balance the two?

Add in faith and trusting in God and the conflict rises to a whole new level. I struggle to trust at times because I know that God doesn't promise safety in the way that I want. He doesn't promise that nothing will go wrong, that no harm will come to my family, that life will always be smooth. In fact, He says the opposite. The safety that he brings is a deeper, eternal perspective of safety. It is recognising that this world is temporary and safety here is not the ultimate goal.

Seeking safety in my life would mean missing out on so many opportunities to grow and learn. My life would not be the same. It would be boring. It would be tied up in even greater levels of anxiety if my whole focus was keeping my safety ideals in place, knowing that I can never control every variable.

My challenge is how to live with this knowledge and increase my surrender and trust to God, while helping my daughter feel safe and navigate her anxiety. I can't promise that there will never be a fire in our house like she has nightmares of. I can't promise that I will never be gravely ill as she fears. I can only lead her to the truth of God's faithfulness even when things seem dark.

This post is part of the Five Minute Friday challenge- writing five minutes unedited on the prompt word. This week's prompt is "safe" and you can read other people's thoughts here.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The ever-changing dance of control

The wrestle between control and letting go is an ongoing dance in my life. Sometimes that dance is frenetic with a tugging between my desire to trust and my desire to feel an illusion of safety through control. At other times, it is a slow waltz where I am able to relax a little but can still see that need for control simmering in the background. Just when I think I have the steps of this dance mastered, the music changes. I enter a different season, my hormones flare up, family cohesion shifts, I have to lay down another level of myself. I recognise that this is a dance that will continue throughout my life. The key is letting Jesus lead in the dance and following His steps. I am amazed but shouldn't be at the difference that happens when I am walking in His presence, praying and tapping in to his peace and joy. The situations around me may remain the same and may rage at times. I am sheltered in the midst of the storm. I hear the wind and waves and may even get wet from the spray but I am not consumed by the water. When hit with situations I feel out of control in, I am learning how to let go and rest instead of trying to plan and control.

This post is part of the Five Minute Friday challenge, where writers come together to write for 5 minutes unedited on a prompt word. This week's word was "control" and you can read what thoughts others had on it here.

If you are interested in a bundle of tools to help you be more organised, have a cleaner and clutter free home and manage your time and energy more effectively, check out the amazing Super Bundle on offer until Monday 30th January 2017. (Contains an affiliate link that helps to support me at no extra cost to you.)

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Loosening the grip of clutter from around my neck and how you can too.

If you are anything like me, clutter and disorganisation can creep up on you until you suddenly feel strangled by it. It seems to spiral and compound on itself making it harder and harder to claw back. Part of me is naturally organised but in other ways, I am really relaxed. Becoming a mum took this to a new level. I didn't have the energy or headspace to deal with my environment too often. The bare minimum was done and that was ok for that time. I am no longer living in survival mode, though. 

About two years ago, we had planned to sell our house to upgrade to a bigger place. We packed up so much of our house to make it more display home worthy. We did some decluttering at the time but still had at least 30 boxes packed. Then the plans fell through at the last moment. I was devastated and discontent with where we were. I refused to unpack anything but the essentials. The boxes were retrieved from the various garages and spare rooms of family members and stacked in our back room. There they had stayed. I had some heart work to do. I have made peace with staying where we are for an indefinite period of time. I have fought for contentment. Now I wanted our home to reflect that.

I have spent the summer Christmas holidays unpacking boxes, donating several boxes to op shops (second hand charity shops for those not in Australian lingo), throwing away bags of things. I have had to shelve some of my sentimentality and be realistic about living within the space we have. My biggest motivator was clearing space to set up a home office for myself. I knew that this year would be infinitely more difficult without some dedicated work space. The more I have decluttered and cleared, the more I noticed my internal system breathing deeper and feeling more at peace. I have had the head knowledge that our external environments impact our internal space. I have experienced this now. Our house may not ever be a model home of organisation and minimalism and that is ok. 

With the calmed internal space and added benefit of rest over the holiday period, there was a flow on affect to other aspects of organising, like getting into better house cleaning routines. Doing a little each day really does save time in the long run. The challenge I now face is maintaining these gains with work starting up again next week and my daughter going into school full time for the first time. I have vague ideas of routines and ways to manage my time effectively but have no idea how they will work when reality is here. There are still areas of clutter and spaces that need better organisation strategies to prevent the same build up from happening again. That is the challenge of the rest of this year.

A large part of my motivation in all of this effort is to better position myself to lead well in my family, in my work and in my ministry. If I can be organised, use my time effectively and save time on the mundane tasks, I open up space for what is really important in life. I recognise the tendency in me for this organisation and discipline to start becoming the focus and perfectionism to raise its head so I need to keep that end goal in mind. It is not being organised and disciplined for its own sake but to enable me to love and lead more effectively.

In the midst of sorting and trying to work out strategies, I found that the next Ultimate Bundle release is called "Conquer your clutter" and is not just about clutter management but has ebooks and online courses on time management, family organisation, cleaning and chores, and decluttering. I have been looking forward to getting this for myself to help maintain and progress on the gains I have made already. I wanted to share it with you too. I love the value that they pack into the bundles and the practical nature of the tools they contain. Below you can see some of what is contained in this bundle. Click on the image to find out more. (This contains an affiliate link which helps to support me at no extra cost to you.)

Friday, 20 January 2017

Refining my life

While the start of the year has not been without its challenges, it has been wonderful. Taking that time to reflect on last year and look ahead to this one was so valuable. I am now in a time of refining that view. I am refining what it means to spend time with God. I am refining what I want my house to look like. I am refining what organisation looks like for me. I am refining the goals and expectations I have for myself. This is a messy process but I am happy. I am deep in my soul happy and at peace. Life is not all smooth sailing and some of the realities of my new role have slapped me in the face this week. That has not shaken the core of who I am and what I am focused on. I am feeling rested, excited and committed to doing the hard work necessary to fulfil what I feel needs to be done this year. I know that my faith is being refined, even through things like decluttering my house. I sense a deeper maturity, a letting go of stuff and expectations and a quiet sense of God's presence as a daily constant. I love seeing the refined gold that God is moulding in my life. I have a canvas up in my room that I made at the beginning of 2014 with the big things I wanted to focus on. They are still true today and are being constantly refined to reflect the season I am in and my day to day.

The writing that I have been doing has been for my book or preparing MOPS talks and leadership training events so it has been pretty quiet around here. The Five Minute Friday link up is always a wonderful way to stretch my writing and let me dip my toe back into my blog in busy seasons. Five Minute Friday is a community of writers who write for five minutes unedited on a prompt word. This week is "refine" (if you hadn't guessed!) and you can read the contributions of others here.

Friday, 6 January 2017

My connection epiphany

In the process of finding my word for this year, another word kept coming up, "wait." I resisted this word. Wait is connected in my mind and heart with a dark season of two years where all I ever heard from God was wait. Every Scripture and message seemed to drill this unwanted message home. It was a time of frustration, feeling stuck and overwhelmed. I have come so far from that time that "wait" was the last thing I wanted to hear. Was there another season like that coming? It didn't make sense seeing that all the other signs point to a year of surging forward and making brave steps. "Faithful" felt a much better fit and definitely came out on top in the end. I needed to focus on God's faithfulness in this season of brave and on being faithful myself to what is required of me. That word wait couldn't be fully silenced, though.

This week the epiphany of the connection between those two words came as I wrote out the Scriptures from this Scripture writing plan

Contained in this passage are both wait and faithfulness. I suddenly have a clearer understanding of how these fit together. This season of wait is not the same as what I have experienced before. (*) My ability to be faithful is entirely dependent on my ability to wait on the Lord. The other verses that came to mind to back that up were these. 

This is the waiting that I need to be doing: connecting with my Father every day, waiting for that presence and deep connection, not simply crossing off a task on my list for the day. 

This post is linking up with the Five Minute Friday community: a group of writers who gather and write unedited for 5 minutes on a prompt word. In the interest of honesty, my five minutes was up at the * but my thoughts needed to be completed more. This week's prompt was "connect". Read more of other thoughts on this word here.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

How do you reflect back on 2016 and set yourself up to start 2017 well?

Do you find yourself slipping into a reflective mode in this week between Christmas and New Year? I do. I booked time by myself to work through Amanda Vivier's New Year Vision book earlier this week as my brain was furiously trying to process through the year that has been and wanting to get organised and look forward to next year. It was feeling like a chaotic process. My mind and soul were desperately trying to make meaning of a year that turned out very different to what I had thought at the start. I had ideas and plans flooding through my brain but in a haphazard way that was not lending itself to pinning down goals or action steps. I was left feeling overwhelmed and at a loss as to where to begin. The dedicated time I set aside was just what I needed. I loved using Amanda's book at the end of last year to focus my scattered thoughts and it was what I needed again this year. 

One aspect of reflection that I have been chewing over this week is what impact my word for 2016 has had. Has "abide" been reflected in my priorities, my everyday life and the big moments too? It would be a lie to say that I have thought on my word every day. As I reflect back over the year, I do see subtle shifts though. Despite huge changes, steps of courage and potentially stressful events, I have sensed a deeper calm and centring than I have been aware of before. I recognise that this peace has come through consistent time with God and seeking his presence in my days. I am far from perfect. I don't pretend to have some miraculous connection with God every day. I am realising more and more how it is the daily obedience, the small shifts, the minor moments that add up to abiding. As I come to the end of 2016, I am not done with the concept of "abide". This will be a life-long pursuit. I was searching for my word for 2017. Would I continue with "abide" or was there something else that God was calling me to focus on?

During my retreat time away, a word came clear to me: "Faithful". I shouldn't have been surprised given that this word has come up repeatedly for me all year in the decision to take on the MOPS State Coordinator role. It is the word that has been on my heart to focus on during centring prayer times. 

I see two parts to this word: a firmer trust in God's faithfulness and being faithful myself to what God has called me to. I am looking forward to diving deeper into this concept this year but am sensing some hard lessons ahead. Growth is often uncomfortable and I choose to embrace that.

My time of retreat has had two overall outcomes. 
I feel ready to start a new year now. My mind and soul don't feel so chaotic. I have a sense of focus for the new year even if I don't have a list of resolutions. 
I have struggled to pull myself out of introvert mode. This is a less desirable outcome but recognising it has allowed me to have grace for myself and my family. Immersing myself in reflection and deep processing is a valuable time but can be hard to shut off for this introvert. I have had to remind myself that other people, especially my daughter and husband, are not intruding or confronting. I am withdrawing. It has taken some effort to stop a spiral down into self-absorption and engage with those around me. This tells me that my soul needs more times of retreat and reflection. The time I have taken for myself has often been more in distraction mode than processing mode. A change to consider for next year.

It may be the last day of 2016, but it is not too late to end this year well and begin the new year in a better headspace. It won't even be too late at the end of next week. Make some reflection time a priority. If you are like me, that will be a retreat by yourself to work through some questions. Maybe you are more of an external processor who needs to book some time with a trusted friend to work things through. Maybe you need to journal, paint, vision board or find a word. Whatever it looks like for you, I encourage you to make it a priority to start your year well.

What have been your reflections on 2016? Do you have a word for 2017? I'd love to hear from you.