Reach Farther

Reach Farther

This week, a new planner arrived in our house, for my husband. It’s called the Monk Manual, and it’s part planner, part spiritual journal, part training. (Also, just very cool!) One of the reasons we got it for him to try is because it doesn’t just have regular planner stuff…it also encourages you to think through your weekly theme, to reflect at the end of each day on your victories and your challenges…and to have a day set aside to test your own limits. To push hard and see how you do.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, especially this early in the year, when topics of productivity and efficiency and quarterly or yearly goals are talked about everywhere. And I’ll admit it. Often when I see things on how to be “more productive and efficient,” my hackles rise. Because I like to think I’m very productive. I like to think I’m constantly finding ways to be more efficient. And when I share what I’ve accomplished each week with my accountability partner, my P&P group, and my Write Here, Write Now Facebook group, the responses are always the same, and they always go something like this: “Wow, you amaze me. How do you get so much done?”

But there’s always room for improvement, and I know that. I know that because I’ve always thought I was good at managing my time well, and yet when I look back at where I was a decade ago, I see how far I’ve come.

What’s more, I hear so many creatives talking about the challenges of making time and space for their creativity, and I hear familiar refrains over and over. Refrains I myself have chanted time and again. There’s just not enough time

Sometimes, it’s simply true. Sometimes, we manage everything perfectly well, but there’s just no more space. I know that feeling. I have days and weeks and even months where I know I’m using my minutes and hours wisely, but there still aren’t enough of them to do all the things on the list.

And yet…just as often, or even more often, we are simply content to stay within our limits. But what happens if we reach father? If we stretch? If we push?

I mean, the short answer is that the limits change places, of course. Much like physical exercise, we can push ourselves a little harder and a little harder, and we get stronger, faster, more flexible. The same is true in our work, our creativity, and our general goals.

Last Friday, my husband had an “establish your limits” day in his planner, and at the end of the day, he said, “You know, I really think I did it. I really think I pushed to my limits.” It was a challenge he set for himself, and one that left him feeling accomplished, even though he didn’t actually check off all the boxes of things he wanted to get done. He still knew he’d done a great job at what he did work on, and he hadn’t wasted time or energy. He established his natural limit for where he is at this point in his life.

Now that he knows that benchmark, he’ll strive to hit it regularly. Maybe not every day (because let’s face it, we all have off days!), but most days. It will become the norm. His routine. His standard.

And then he’ll add one more thing. Stretch a little farther. Work a little faster, perhaps. Tackle something that had seemed too big.

There are a lot of ways to stretch our limits. If stamina is our issue, we work a little longer, just by a few minutes. If we work the “right” number of hours but aren’t accomplishing what we want to in them, then maybe we focus on speed instead and try to find ways to make that hour-long task only take 50 minutes. Then 45. Then, maybe 30. If it’s the quality that needs work, then it may be wise to set aside time for learning and practicing.

The important thing, I truly believe, is that we reach. Higher, farther, wider, longer. Strain your muscles–your physical ones, your emotional ones, your spiritual ones, your mental ones. Don’t be content to stagnate where you are, even if you’re in a happy place. Try something new. Learn something more. Chase that dream you’ve always thought was beyond you.

What limits do you need to test and stretch this year?

Word of the Week – Meat

Word of the Week – Meat

Did you know that meat didn’t always mean “the flesh of warm-blooded animals used for food”?

Nope. The word meat actually comes from the Old English mete, which was used for ANY food or sustenance, including what was fed to animals, and could even mean “a meal.” It came from Proto-Geremanic meti, which then influenced many Germanic languages through the ages in their words for food.

But by around the 1300, the meaning quoted above began to edge out the broader sense, basically as a shortening of “flesh-meat,” which was used before that. By even into the 1400s, vegetables were still called “grene-mete,” and dairy was “white-mete.” We still see that earlier meaning preserved in a few random dishes/items, like sweetmeat and mincemeat.

Dark meat and light/white meat became popular distinctions when talking about fowl in the 19th century. Meatloaf is first recorded in 1876.

Word Nerds Unite!

Read More Word of the Week Posts

Complicated, Imperfect Grief

Complicated, Imperfect Grief

Last Thursday, my grandmother died.

I’d just sent out the newsletter with a “Let Me Tell You a Story” segment that reflected on how God’s perfect love welcomes us amidst our own, so very imperfect love. That even though we’re a mess, He came down from heaven for us, and because of that, we can lead a redeemed life, even when we don’t lead a picture-perfect life–reflections from my visit to my grandmother’s bedside at the nursing home, as she lay there in stage 4 renal failure.

When I posted on social media about her passing, the messages of prayers and condolences soon poured in, of course. Along with the usual sentiments about how much we’ll no doubt miss her and how our memories will comfort us, and how much we all must have loved her. And all those things, all of those sentiments…they’re true. But they are so very far from the complete picture.

Because Grandma Helen lived a messy, complicated, broken life. And mourning her is going to require a messy, complicated, broken grief. And you know what? I think that’s not just okay…I think that’s right.

We live in a culture that doesn’t understand mourning anymore, that doesn’t always make room for grief. Especially in Christian circles, we’re often told to just cling to the fact that our loved ones aren’t suffering anymore, that they’re in a better place, and that if we truly believe that, we ought to be rejoicing instead of mourning.

But you know what? Jesus wept when His friend died, even though He knew He was about to resurrect him. He mourned over Jerusalem, even though He knew it would someday be redeemed. Those emotions are part of being human, and they don’t have to be neat and tidy. They often can’t be neat and tidy, because WE aren’t. And because the people we’ve lost weren’t either.

My grandmother had bipolar disorder. It didn’t make itself known until she had kids, but then it struck…and its impact could be felt for generations. It meant a tumultuous childhood for my dad and aunt. It meant periods of institutionalization throughout their youth and my own. It meant that, even when they found meds that worked for her and which kept her stable, she may at any moment decide she was fine and didn’t need them anymore and stop taking them…which would send the family’s world into a tailspin again. It meant manic phases where she’d buy and buy and buy, and depressive phases where she’d say the cruelest things. It meant five failed marriages. It meant behavior that threatened lives with recklessness. It meant countless tears shed countless times.

She wasn’t a perfect mother, wasn’t a perfect grandmother, and we can’t just ignore that as we mourn her loss. Because our love for her, while so very real and so very big, is wrapped up in so many other feelings. Frustrations and disappointments and maybe tinges of resentment.

But that isn’t the whole story either.

Because there are so many amazing bright spots too, which shine all the brighter because it shows the way she loved through her own brokenness–the way she would stop by with gifts out of the blue. Part of a manic phase? Maybe. But even so, she thought of us. The way she served others for decades with her work in the nursing homes, and how she would help her patients with single-minded care and love that left me slack-jawed when I witnessed it. She wasn’t just a nursing aid, she was a champion. Because, I think, she knew what it was to need help. She could make friends so easily and would corral them to church so often. She would take in stray cats because she couldn’t bear to think of them alone and cold and hungry outside. And her laugh! Oh my gracious. My grandmother didn’t just laugh or chuckle. She cackled. You couldn’t help but grin when you heard it.

Anyone with mental illness in their family knows that it makes life…complicated. But they also know that in most ways, depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder or OCD don’t create symptoms outside the normal experience–they just amplify them. We all experience highs and lows, compulsions, anxious times, and times where we’re down. The “disorder” is when it’s just more than normal, to varying degrees.

And as I feel my way through this new loss in my life, I realize this anew. Because we are all, in some ways, like my grandmother. We all love our families and God imperfectly. We all have moments of generosity and moments of harshness. We’re all a mess–I know I am.

And we’re all redeemed, if we choose to put our hands in our Savior’s, like Grandma Helen did. We’re all loved so perfectly by Him, even as what we offer to him is broken and weak and twisted by our own biases and understandings. But still, He came down from heaven for us. He became man for us. He suffered for us.

We’re all going to suffer in this world, too. Maybe from physical ailments, maybe from mental ones. Maybe from loss of fortunes or loss of loved ones. We’re all going to suffer…and we can know He suffers with us. We can know that, if we let it, that suffering can draw us closer to Him. Show us the depths of His love. And then He can use it to help us reach others who suffer too.

Remembering my grandmother can’t be just remembering the good times, though we certainly will remember those. Why? Because that’s not the full picture, and we lose the beauty of the redemption if we ignore the broken people that needed redeemed to begin with. We are not just our strengths–we are our weaknesses too. Jesus loves us in those weaknesses. We need to love each other in those weaknesses. And so mourning and grief need to make room for them as well.

Grief doesn’t have to be simple. How can it be, when people aren’t? Grief shouldn’t be simple. It shouldn’t be ignoring so much of a person because we’re afraid of how it might look. Instead, I think it should be acknowledging those faults and flaws…and marveling at how they still loved, how God still used them, how those faults and flaws are always paired with graces and strengths.

I do take immense comfort in knowing that in heaven, there’s no more brokenness. No more imbalance. No more disorder. I know that when united with Christ, all those imperfections get lost in His perfection, that she stands before Him now as the person she was always meant to be, the person she was beneath the illness. And that does bring me joy, not just for her, but because it reminds me that we are all shackled by chains of weakness and sin, but they’ll fall away someday. We’ll all be as free as she is now.

Some day, I’ll hear her cackling in heaven, I know. And I’ll grin, and I’ll embrace her. There will be only joy then. But for now, I’ll give room to the sorrow. To the complication. I’ll think through who she really was and how she’s shaped our lives. And I’ll thank God for the 41 years I knew her.

Word of the Week – Spinster

Word of the Week – Spinster

If I were to ask you what spinster means, what would you say? My answer would be the typical one: “an unmarried woman who’s older than the perceived prime age for marriage.” And that’s what the word has come to mean, yes.

But did you know that originally it referred to any unmarried daughter, no matter how young?

Let’s look at the word itself. As soon as we pause to consider it, we see that its original meaning of “a woman who spins yarn” makes perfect sense, right? Spin is right there in it, and that -ster ending just means “one who does.” So…why is this applied to unmarried women? Well, the word dates from the 1300s, and from that time forward into nearly-modern ages, girls who weren’t yet married were expected to fill their time with something useful and productive, especially the family’s spinning.

What’s fascinating is that from the 1600s until the 1900s, spinster was actually a legal definition in England of “all unmarried women, from a viscount’s daughter downward.”

So if you were nobility, you weren’t expected to spin, hence wouldn’t be a spinster if you were unwed. But all us commoners? We were all spinsters as long as we were single! It wasn’t until 1719 that the “past her prime” connotation began to arise.

We can also note that in its technical sense of “one who spins,” it was a word that could be applied to either gender. In the 1640s, the feminine variation of spinstress also arose…and also meant “maiden lady.”

Makes you wonder what the modern equivalent would be, doesn’t it?

Word Nerds Unite!

Read More Word of the Week Posts

Because You Ask Not

Because You Ask Not

You do not have because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives,
so that you may spend what you request on your pleasures.

~ James 4:2-3

Have you ever felt like you stand at the door and knock…and no one answers? Or perhaps that someone comes to the door and promises to help you, but minutes and hours go by and you’re still standing out in the cold, waiting? Have you ever looked around, and seen other people seemingly skipping through life, bumbling along from success to success, and you just can’t quite squelch that feeling of Why not me?

Most of us as believers have a kind of strange relationship with money. We see those who eschew it, who use every penny for ministry, and we admire them. The monks and the missionaries, right? I read the stories of George Muller or St. John of the Cross and just think, Wow. Their trust was so complete! But at the same time, we recognize that we have families with needs that must be met. Or we have dreams that need funding. We take it all before God and ask Him to provide…or maybe we do the traditional thing and get a job that pays well, to fund not only our lives but what we view as our callings.

Is there are a right or wrong way to approach these things? For that matter, are we dreaming the right things? Asking for the right reasons? Taking the right steps?

I’m not going to come to you today with any answers at all, LOL. But as the new year stretches out before us and my husband and I try to figure our what we will do and chase and dream in the year to come, we wanted to pause to ask these questions too, especially in light of a podcast we listened to together.

The podcast is called The Art of Accomplishment, and this episode was “Much Ado about Money,” in which one of the hosts told his story about having a love-hate relationship with money all through his early life, born of a resentment of how his father pursued financial success above his family. Joe told the tale about how, as an adult, he would vacillate between “job that raked it in” and then “rejection of it and being broke and in debt.” For him, what changed it was when he and his wife started a daily practice of gratitude.

This grabbed our attention as we listened. Though this host was raised in the church at least nominally, he doesn’t currently identify as Christian…and he certainly wasn’t offering a “prosperity gospel” approach. There was no, “Be a good Christian and God will reward you with money.” No, he had a very interesting, intriguing take. And it is this:

The more he and his wife appreciated what they had, the less they focused on what they didn’t have. The more they saw how blessed they already were, the less they felt the lack. And after a few months of retraining their spiritual and emotional eyes to see the abundance, the more potential for abundance they began to see. Simple, small opportunities that before they wouldn’t even have noticed began popping up. People they previously would have either resented or sneered at became friends, and those friendships opened doors. They didn’t then return to those jobs that had written a good paycheck. They chased dreams they just hadn’t seen before, when they were blinded by the “don’t have enough” outlook.

The podcast talks about a whole lot more than that, but this was the part that struck me and stuck with me. Because it fits so well with that passage from James quote above. We don’t have because we don’t ask. We ask and don’t get it because we’re not asking for the right reasons. We just want things selfishly, to bring us pleasure or happiness. But we need to ask for what HE wants for us, for the good of HIS kingdom.

And what’s more, we need to have eyes to see what’s around us. The opportunities and the needs. The people who so desperately need to hear the hope we can offer them, and the ones so desperate to help us if we’re humble enough to invite them in.

I’ve written before about how I hear (including in my own head!) so much complaining in this world today. I hear so often how people who have everything “don’t have enough” to chase their dreams. We’ve said it too! “We’d love to create this, but we just don’t have the funding.” Okay, sure. That’s simply true. But…what am I missing? First, am I pursuing things that will glorify God, and seeking them because they glorify God? If so, then what have I looked past that could have helped me? Am I trying to do it all on my own might…or just sitting back lazily waiting for God to drop something from the sky? Neither approach is right, I think.

Jesus talks to us about “having eyes to see” when He speaks of “healthy eyes” and “bad eyes.” Those “eyes” weren’t talking about our actual vision, but about the ability to see those in need around us. That fits here, too, I think.

Do we have eyes to see where He is already moving? Do we have eyes to see the answers and opportunities waiting all around us? Do we have eyes to see His footprints in our world and follow them?

In the coming months, my husband and I are going to be doing this daily practice of gratitude. We’re going to be examining each aspect of our lives and thanking God for all the good things He’s blessed us with in them. And then we’re going to pray that He opens our eyes. Not to what will benefit us…but to what will equip us to chase after Him.

I’ll let you know how it goes, LOL.