Thursday, 28 December 2017

How do I look ahead to a new year in the midst of ongoing challenges?

In the final days of 2017, I find myself reflective as so many are. This year has had more than its share of challenges, heartache and "opportunities for growth". There has been joy, growth and achievement in there too but the overarching sense that I am left with is heavy and hard. Maybe you can relate to that this year. I am not despairing in this sense of heavy and hard and it has not buried me. There is still underlying peace and strength that carry me through but it requires constant intention to access that foundation. I pray that you are not drowning, even in the midst of the hard. 

Some who know me have made passing comments about how I must be looking forward to seeing 2017 end after such a tough year. I was agreeing to start with, however, the more I think about it, the more I'm not so sure. I realised that there was a danger to that way of thinking for me. It pinned my hopes on a date on the calendar for life to get easier, for the challenges to subside and for circumstances to change. There is no such magic date. The reality of the hard things from this year is that they will continue in 2018 and may even intensify. 2018 does not promise easy for me. The reality is that no year can ever make that promise. Life isn't like that.

So do I choose to ignore the new year celebrations? Do I push aside hope? Do I put my head down and refuse to look ahead? Tempting. But not beneficial. I do choose to celebrate the year that has been and the year that is to come. I celebrate the moments of joy. I celebrate the growth. I celebrate the people in my life. I celebrate what I have learned. I celebrate the opportunities to come. I hold on to hope because I know my hope is not in the outcome by in the God who holds me through every outcome, the God who is still working in me and in those I love. I have hope because I know that when my spirit is overwhelmed within me, God still knows the path ahead (Psalm 142:3). I lift my eyes to the year ahead.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next offers a landmark for stopping and reassessing no matter what other circumstances are going on. It is a reminder to pay attention to what has been and have a dream or a goal or a vision for what lies ahead. So often that changes for me over the year as the unexpected comes up but the core of what I am focusing on continues. I will still make goals for next year. I will still seek to make changes to live life better. (I will be using Amanda Vivier's "New Days Vision Book" to help me in this process if you want to join me.)

A part of my looking ahead to the new year for the past few years has been choosing (or maybe being found by is more accurate) one word to encompass what I want my year to look like and be shaped by. (You can read my reflections on 2017's word, faithful, here.) For me, this is a prayerful process. I had been praying on and off for a word for 2018. I expected something forceful, inspiring and focused on work or strength. I did not expect "savour". I kind of ignored it the first time but it keeps popping back and I am tentatively accepting it. 

Savour: to enjoy food or an experience slowly, in order to enjoy it as much as possible (Cambridge Dictionary)

The idea that has settled in my mind and heart is this need to savour all of life's experiences, to create memories, to draw out the full pleasure, benefit and joy from my days. The dictionary definitions all talk about pleasureable experiences but I get the sense that I need to do this with the hard days too. My default is to push through the hard as quickly as possible, distracting and ignoring. Maybe savouring these days will allow me to process the pain and grow in ways I usually miss out on. To do this, I need to be present in my moments. I am going to have to get ruthless with my technology use. I am going to have to find ways to keep myself centred and clear my headspace. I am going to have to find ways to do what I need to do without the rush and hustle. If I'm being honest, I had half-deluded myself into thinking I already do this. I don't. I am far from this point on an ongoing basis and these past few months have been particularly bad. I look forward to being more present and savouring my life.

And so I say goodbe to 2017. I look forward to 2018, not expecting life to be easier or less intense but embracing it for what it will be. I celebrate, hold onto hope and make time to reflect and make goals. I hold "savour" before me to be explored, unpacked and shaped by all it means. 

I would love to hear your reflections on 2017 and how you are looking ahead to next year or maybe your one word for next year in the comments.

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Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Reflecting on my word for 2017: faithful

As the year forges ahead and is almost at the end, I've started reflecting on my word for the year. My word for this year was faithful.  When I  settled on that word at the end of last year, I had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead. I didn't know that I would be hanging onto that word with a white-knuckled grip at some points through the year. 2017 has brought challenge after challenge for both me and my family. It has felt like the hits keep coming. The word faithful took on a deeper meaning in my life and my walk with God. I was so glad that I had made the decision to have the word engraved on a bracelet to keep it at the forefront of my mind throughout the year.

It could be easy to have a look at all that has happened this year and feel like faithful is the furthest from the truth.  if I look on the surface I could wonder where God has been in the midst of all the difficulties. I have had friends ask me how I can still be at such peace when telling them about all the latest developments. That is where the faithfulness of God has come in. Life has been tough. They have been tears and heartache. The difference is I have not been buried by these emotions. I have felt  God near and sensed his strength and sustaining presence deep within me. God's faithfulness is not measured by everything in my life going smoothly or circumstances turning out the way I would want them to. It can seem cliche to say but His ways are higher than our ways; He is not in the business of taking out all the rough spots in our lives. He is more interested in developing our character,  our resilience and especially our relationship with him.

It can be easy to write those words but harder to live them out.  Knowing the idea that God is faithful in my mind is different to believing in my heart and living as though it is true. At times this year singing songs about how faithful God is or even just declaring that God is faithful has been an act of obedience,  a way of reminding my own spirit of the truth. I have needed the reminders to take my eyes off the circumstances around me and hold onto the greater truth.  I don't know what circumstances you are facing in your life today. I know that these words can seem hollow or even anger you when you are facing so much pain.  I can only speak of my experience seeing these truths lived out over this year. There have been times when I have not wanted to acknowledge God's faithfulness. I just wanted him to fix things. I know what that is like. I encourage you to seek the truth for yourself. The circumstances may not change. The way we walk through them can.

The word faithful took on a double meaning for me. I have been reflecting on my own faithfulness throughout this year. Do I keep my word? Am I consistent? Do I fulfil my responsibilities? If I'm honest, the answer is not always yes. This has challenged me this year. I have wrestled with the idea of what is being faithful and what is stubbornly persisting when a change should be made. I recognise that there are times when an idea does need to be laid down or an expectation is not healthy. I don't have all the answers yet. This will be an ongoing learning process in my life. I recognise that I can be far more critical of myself than I need to be. It makes me smile when I look through a box I was given at the end of last year. It contains words that people close to me have written about me. Faithful appeared in several of them. Others can see that In me so why do I struggle to see that in myself? Maybe I hide my flaws from others better than I think.  Or maybe I magnify them out of proportion.

Did you have a word for this year? Do you remember what it is? I have been choosing a word for the year for the past few years. Often I have forgotten what it is long before the middle of the year. This year has been different. I have seen the impact of that regular reflection on a  concept. I would love to hear your reflections on your word for the year. Has it made a difference to your life? I haven't found my word for next year yet. Honestly, I'm a little nervous to see what it might be. I am stepping into greater responsibility. Some of the challenges from this year will continue into next. What word will I need to hang onto in the midst of all this?

Do you need a dose of encouragement? I have collated all of my October posts on "For your encouragement" into an ebook free for you. Click here to get your copy.

Friday, 1 December 2017

What I Learned Spring 2017

I may only be able to type one-handed and in short bursts, but I didn't want to miss out on this practice that I have come to value. This season has been intense in more ways than anticipated. September to November was always going to be busy with birthdays, calisthenics concerts, MOPS retreats to organise and attend, camping trips and so many other commitments thrown in. Add in a shoulder injury requiring surgery and the season ramped up exponentially. In the midst of the busyness, there has been so much joy, learning and growth.

  • What started as a season of limbo ended with unexpected changes.
So many areas of my life felt in limbo, up in the air with an underlying feeling of restlessness. Now I feel more settled, clearer and with some answers. Once more, I discovered that a season of limbo and restlessness precedes growth and new steps to take. If you are in that time of limbo and restlessness, hold tight and keep your eyes open. The changes you are waiting for can come unexpectedly.

  • Step ladders work best when you aren't mostly asleep
I missed just one step on the ladder in our camper trailer at 4am and managed to tear a tendon in my shoulder. A brief moment of inattention has had a long-term impact. 

  • Recovering from shoulder surgery sucks!
Related to the above point, recovery from shoulder surgery is rough! Of course, this is still well worth it for the long-term goal of being fully functional and pain-free. I am so conscious of how lucky I am to be facing a process of months not years or permanent disability. It has made me value the everyday things that I am usually able to do.

  • Big next steps are scary every time.
It has been a series of a few years of taking on new roles with MOPS here in Australia. I was confident that I had reached the point where I would be sticking with the same role for at least a couple of years. I was wrong. Next year, I step into a national role. I am excited to be part of a team taking MOPS into its next season but feel the weight of this responsibility. I wasn't looking for this opportunity but know that it is my next right step. If you are facing a scary next step, I know what that feels like. Don't sell yourself short. Expect to make mistakes but also expect to have an impact that is unique to you. (You may also like to check out The Next Right Thing podcast by Emily P. Freeman for more encouragement and soul space.)

  • A retreat that you have organised can be just as soul refreshing for you as for your team.

  • I love writing with the purpose of encouraging in mind.
During October, I joined in the Write 31 Days challenge and asked my readers about areas they wanted encouragement for. It was the most inspired I have been in my writing for awhile. I quickly realised that it was because of the connection to the community around me and the opportunity to use my words to encourage others. What a privilege! 

Click here to receive a free ebook of all of the "For Your Encouragement" posts that also includes exclusive content.

  • I am not great at being able to sit and do nothing.
I thought I had been improving in this but a recent trip home from a camping trip where my headphones broke showed me that I have trained my brain to need constant input. My technology addiction is still alive and well and old habits have slipped in.My challenge for the next few weeks is to be able to use all the extra rest and downtime forced on me to rest my soul as well. So far it has mostly been Netflix but my brain fog is slowly lifting to allow reading and other more nourishing forms of rest. A good opportunty to practice stillness if I take it.

  • My love for Advent is still strong buts looks different this year.
You can read about my simplified Advent plans here. It includes my annual Advent planner pages free for you. It isn't too late to create a simple but meaningful plan or Advent.

This has been a glimpse into my last three months. Maybe there was something you related too and you could say "me too!" I hope something has encouraged you or caused you to think for a moment. 

I am joining in with the community over at Emily P. Freeman's blog sharing what we learned.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Simplifying Advent this year

If you have been following my writing for a while, you will know that I LOVE Advent. Each year I plan out intentional ways for me and my family to mark this season and celebrate to the full. (You can read more of my advent posts from previous years here.) This year is going to look very different. Next week, I am having shoulder surgery and will be very limited in function for many weeks. In the midst of trying to get through the everyday challenges this will bring, I don't want to miss the opportunity to celebrate Advent. This is especially important to me for the sake of my daughter. Every year we make memories together over our Advent activities. Her little world is being turned upside down and I want to provide some fun and stability in the midst of it all.

My previous years' plans have been jam-packed at times. This year, I have had to consider what is most important in this season and what will be achievable, without losing the real meaning of why we celebrate. Maybe you are wanting to look at celebrating Advent but feel lost as to where to begin. Maybe you feel overwhelmed at all the other events you have coming up but want to be intentional in having some focus on Advent in the midst of it. Maybe my plans will help you to find one thing to try this year.

(You will find an Advent planner template for download below to help you to figure out what your Advent will look like this year.)

If you have young children, I cannot recommend this highly enough. It is an inclusion every year for us and will be part of our plans again this year. If you have the time, the craft activities included for each day are easy to make and so worth it. If you are like me and needing to keep it completely simple this year, there are printable ornaments that can be coloured in and even a printable tree to stick them on. Click on any of the images below to purchase your own ebook and printable ornaments. (This is an affiliate link that gives me a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. It helps to support my writing.)

I have treated our family to a new Advent book and it has a pop-up tree! Each day there is a family devotion and a little ornament to hang on the pop-up tree. I can't wait for this to arrive. 

Kindness Angel

Most years we have included Kindness Angel activities as part of our Advent. This has been with the purpose of focusing on others in the midst of a season that can so quickly become about us. To be honest, I don't know if I will get to this. I am keeping this one as a plan in mind depending on how my recovery is going. It will take some creativity and extra planning to make happen as I will not be driving during this time. I encourage you to make a plan to include some sort of activity that draws your family's focus away from the busyness and commercialism that can take over and look at how you can bring joy to others.

In the past few years, I have used a personal Advent devotional for myself on top of what I do with my family. This year, I am giving myself grace. There are so many great options out there if you are wanting one for yourself. 

No matter whether you have elaborate Advent plans or completely simple, they can be swallowed up in the busyness of this time of year. The planner below will help you to stop and think now and allow you to be intentional and prepared. Include events you want to attend together like Christmas parties, Carols in the Park or Christmas light viewing to make sure you don't miss any of them and make your plans achievable.

If you enjoyed the series from October, I've turned it into an ebook that includes an exclusive post not published anywhere else. Sign up below to receive your copy!

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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Work out what brings you rest

Many of the posts over this series have had this idea of true rest at the core. I am discovering in my own life that prioritising rest is even more important in busy seasons. Ironically, activities that I find restful and recharging are usually the first things that get dropped at these times. With this year seeming to accelerate as we near the end, I am reminding myself to make rest an essential in my everyday life.

Rest might look like spending more time in silence and increasing the whitespace in my days. It may look like getting creative. It will definitely look like switching off devices and getting to bed at a good time. It may look like taking care of myself physically through good nutrition and exercise. It may look like connecting with friends. Rest incorporates all of these and more. None of us has the same rest needs as another. What fills my tank won't be the same as yours. Only you can work out what recharges you and make the time to do these things.

In these last days of 2017, when end of year activities and Christmas events draw on our reserves of energy, make sure you are doing all of this from a place of rest. That is what sustains us.

Thank you so much for being a part of this Write 31 Days Challenge with me. I have loved using my words to encourage and uplift and will continue to do so, although not daily! I hope to write more regularly and finish up some projects I am working on to be able to share with you in the coming months. If you want to stay in touch, please add your name to my email list so that I can include you in my emails. 

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Inspired by the Five Minute Friday prompt word: rest. It was written by Five Minute Friday guidelines- five minutes of free write without editing. Making this series achievable this week!
This post is part of a series for Write 31 Days called "For Your Encouragement." 

You can read the rest of the posts in this series here.

Monday, 30 October 2017

What areas of your life need to be refined?

What areas of your life need a little refining? I have been reflecting on some areas in my life that have been good but need to be fine tuned to be great once more. I have habits in place that help me to spend time with God each day but they need to be refined to give me more uninterrupted time. I need to look at the times of day I set aside and how these can be adjusted to new seasons of life.

Ways that I clean and seek to keep my house in some semblence of organisation need looking at as well. I have refined some of my habits, like doing dishes after each meal, to claw back little moments of time and space that impact on my headspace. What might I need to look at next?

Relationships are another big area that I feel the call to work on. I've been married for almost 13 years now but know that our relationship needs constant refining and tuning up to be strong and healthy, getting rid of the junk that builds up and amping up the connection and intimacy. It is the same in other family relationships, friendships and even in connections online that mean a lot to me.

It can be easy to think we have "arrived" and figured things out. The reality of life is that it is never that simple. We never fully arrive. We can take that as a discouragement or see it as abounding opportunities to refine our lives to be better, healthier and more well rounded in small little steps each time.

Inspired by the Five Minute Friday prompt word: refine. It was written by Five Minute Friday guidelines- five minutes of free write without editing. Making this series achievable this week!
This post is part of a series for Write 31 Days called "For Your Encouragement." I am taking requests from readers on what they want encouragement about and responding to the best of my ability. I would love to hear from you.

You can read the rest of the posts in this series here.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Some encouragement from Ephesians

These verses have long been part of my favourites. This version highlights them in a different way for me. It highlights my part in this- not the effort that I need to make or the willpower I need to generate but the role that God has for each one of us to be part of the amazing things that He is doing. He invites us into that. It doesn't stop there, though. He transforms us from deep within to be able to do what we need to in this plan. He won't force this on us. 
This week, my post on the fear of having missed your calling hit home for some. This is the verse that I want to share with you especially. His plans are far more than you can dream up or imagine. It might not look like what you have imagined. He invites you into that. Will you accept His invitation and allow Him access to do the transforming work within?

This post is part of a series for Write 31 Days called "For Your Encouragement." I am taking requests from readers on what they want encouragement about and responding to the best of my ability. I would love to hear from you.

You can read the rest of the posts in this series here.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

How can you connect with someone today?

What has blessed me the most in writing through this series has been the connections with people. People that I didn’t think would connect with my words have commented and reached out to me. It has been a privilege to see my words make that connection between our hearts and our experiences. It has been a reminder that so much more connects us as people than divides.

Connections can be through our words, a smile, a touch, a hug. So often we think in big terms but it is in these little everyday moments that deep connection can be formed over time. I don’t want to miss any of those opportunities to connect. I am preparing a talk on phone addiction for a group and it has reminded me again of how damaging it can be to those connections with my family and friends. I don’t want to be so absorbed in a screen or in my busyness and expectations that I miss an opportunity for my heart to connect to another.

Where do you have those connection moments in your day? Have you been neglecting any of them? Maybe we can spur each other on to value those simple moments and be intentional in making connections with others. Seek out those opportunities. Be brave and bold.

Inspired by the Five Minute Friday prompt word: connect. It was written by Five Minute Friday guidelines- five minutes of free write without editing. Making this series achievable this week!
This post is part of a series for Write 31 Days called "For Your Encouragement." I am taking requests from readers on what they want encouragement about and responding to the best of my ability. I would love to hear from you.

You can read the rest of the posts in this series here.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Do you fear that you have missed out on your calling?

When the dreams of our youth haven’t eventuated, have we missed out on our calling? I struggled for years believing that I had missed out on what God had planned for my life because of choices that I had made and pathways I had taken. I came to a place of settling in my mind that I would never have that calling and would live out my days with a consolation prize type of life. The ideas I had in my teen years seemed forbidden to me, that I was disqualified. Maybe you can relate to that in some way.

I think it was this feeling and belief that has made the leadership journey of the past few years seem even more out of the blue and unreal. It may not look like the picture I had in my head as a teenager. It may not be what I had ever imagined for myself. And yet I know that I am living out my calling for this moment. I am living in my calling by being a mother. I am living in my calling in the positions I hold. I am living my calling in the quiet moments alone that no one else sees. I have had to challenge the belief that I am not qualified time and again. I have had to challenge the notion of what I thought my calling would look like in order to step into what it is now.

What has stopped you living out those ideas you had in your youth? I think that would be the place to start. If it has only been fear or the belief that you aren’t good enough, maybe you need to start with seeking out the truth of who you are and the strength that you have. If you have taken steps and made choices based on what you felt led to at the time, maybe you are exactly where you have been called. It might just look different than you expected. If you are in a season of feeling restless and dissatisfied, my experience is that there is something new on the horizon and you’d better get prepared.

Comparison is a dangerous trap in this. We can look at someone else and the path that they are on and think that we have missed out. We might see amazing things going on for another person or in an organisation and fear missing out on being a part of that. We have to question deeply if we are trying to insert ourselves into someone else’s calling or actually following our own. Do we devalue where we are at because it isn’t the “bright and shiny” stage that we had hoped for or see for someone else. Each of us is on a unique journey with unique timing. I am learning that so much of a journey is done in the mundane, seemingly boring parts of life. So much of our calling is developed in those secret, out of sight places. The visible results and “shiny” parts of a calling are not the full picture. Never underestimate the importance of where you are right now.

This tension in you may be a call to take another step forward. It may be an invitation to overcome the fear holding you back. It may be an indicator that you need to be fine tuning your self leadership and everyday life to be ready for something that is ahead. It may also be a call to challenge the perspective you have on what you are doing that is actually what God has called you to, even if it looks different. Nothing we do takes God by surprise and His pathway rarely looks like you expect.

This post is part of a series for Write 31 Days called "For Your Encouragement." I am taking requests from readers on what they want encouragement about and responding to the best of my ability. I would love to hear from you.

You can read the rest of the posts in this series here.