How I'm Making Decisions in the New Year

January 8th.  This is it. This is where the rubber meets the road. On New Year’s Day, we write out our resolutions. For the next week, we embrace them with zeal. On January 8th, we are in the weeds. We’re doing the things we set out to do to make the New Year a better one than the last, even when we don’t feel like it.

I used to be a serial resolution maker…and breaker. In my 20’s, I made and broke resolutions faster than the Kardashians pop out children.

In my 30’s, thinking that resolutions are too stringent, I’ve dabbled with the “word of the year” thing. Authenticity. Confidence. Peace. All of those sounded like things I should be striving for, so I chose them as my “words” hoping they would act as a guide for my life that particular year. 

Unfortunately, a word—or even a resolution--mean very little when you’re confronted with life and the daily choices it puts in front of you. Do I eat that donut, buy that pair of jeans, take that job, or try for that third baby? (The latter is not a question I am asking myself, in case you’re wondering.)

We make resolutions because we desire the new, the better, the different. But what if 2018 is characterized by the old, the same or even the worst case scenario? What if life throws us a set of circumstances beyond our control that renders us unable to keep our resolutions?

So, this year, I’m trying something different. Rather than resolutions or words, I’m creating a framework. Three questions (ironically, made up of words) that I want to ask myself before making important—or even trivial—decisions:

1.) Is it simple?

2.) Will it bring me and/or those around me joy?

3.) Is it the right thing to do?

I’ve said before that 2017 wasn’t my favorite year of life, and I think that’s largely due to the fact that I overcomplicated my life and schedule, failed to recognize all that I have been blessed with and in many ways, chose to do things out of my own selfish desires.

I realize that some decisions cannot be boiled down to “simple”, “joyful” and “right.” But for the less complex choices, it seems to me that if I can’t say yes to these three questions, I probably shouldn’t do whatever it is I was thinking of doing. OR, I should at least think twice about it.

What about you? Did you make resolutions, come up with a word or create a framework for 2018? I’d love to hear what they are!

And, if you need some inspiration, here are a few things I’m planning to read, put into practice and use to make 2018 my best year yet!

To simplify: 2018 in 2018 Decluttering Challenge from Nourishing Minimalism

To find joy: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (I know. I can’t believe I haven’t read it either!)

To grow in my sense of what is right: Journaling Bible, Experiencing God (I read this in high school and loved it. Russ and I are planning to go through it together; and I think as an adult, I will appreciate it even more and be able to better utilize it to discern what God has for me and my family in 2018.) 

Here's to a new year and a fresh start! 

Jenn

What to do when you've been doing it all wrong

Last week, I celebrated my 34th birthday.  The night before the “big” day, after an argument with my husband about how "I never have time for ME anymore," I was washing dishes, packing lunches and reflecting on the past year of my life. The transcript in my head went something like this:

"I'm so tired of being the one who does (most of) the cooking and cleaning." 

And 

"If something happened to me, this household would fall apart." 

And then 

"What am I even doing with my life? I thought I'd be doing something truly meaningful at 34. Not THIS." 

But the truth is, if you'd asked me 10 years ago where I thought I'd be and what I thought I'd be doing at 34, I probably would have described a life that looks exactly like the one I have today: married to an incredible man, two beautiful kids, great friends, nice house, working part time at a job I love. 

In the midst of the dishwashing and the ungratefulness, I realized that my 24-year-old self--who longed for nothing more than a husband and a family and the stability that rarely characterizes the early 20s--would have been appalled at the thoughts going through my (almost) 34-year-old mind.

The transcript in my head began to shift to something like this:

“I’m doing this all wrong. When did I become so focused on myself and my needs over everyone else’s—especially my husband’s?”

And

“How can I—a woman who many would say ‘has it all’—feel so dissatisfied with the abundance of things God has blessed me with?”

And finally

“Something has to change. No. Not something. Someone. Me. I have to change.”

___________________

Thirty-three was one of my most challenging years of life. In addition to the physical, relational, political and cultural happenings that rocked my world in 2017, I stepped back from a major work responsibility because I felt God calling me to invest more time into my boys and my husband. Now, the majority of my days are spent doing things that no one can see and that I sometimes don’t even enjoy. (I’m looking at you, butt wiping and laundry folding.) The daily rigors of motherhood are far from glamorous.

To quote the great Kathleen Kelly in “You’ve Got Mail:”  “…I lead a small life—well, valuable, but small…”

During year 33, my small life got even smaller; and somewhere along the way, I stopped seeing the value in the smallness.

___________________

Which brings me to today and my discontentment and year 34.

So, I ask the questions once again:

“When did I become so focused on my own needs over everyone else’s?”

And

“How did I become so discontent, despite so many blessings?”

As I think about the answers to these questions, I realize there’s one more question I should be asking:

“What standard am I measuring my life against?”

____________________

I recently read a quote from J.R.R Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings. It went something like this: “Evil is a shape shifter. After you repel it, it’s just going to change shape and grow again and come at you in a different way.”

As I look back on 2017 and year 33, I see a common thread of “evil” in my life in the shape of (ironically) technology. Not the devices themselves but the content they put at my fingertips and the discontent they often put in my heart. Social media, news and blogs connect the world in incredible ways, but they also place an ever increasing pressure on us--especially women-- to BE and DO and PERFORM and HAVE a picture perfect life, family and career. 

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not deleting my social media apps and throwing away my iPhone. What I am advocating for—something I did very poorly in 2017—is being intentional in the way I (we) use and consume technology. (In case you’re wondering, I’m not yet sure what that looks like.) I do know that cutting myself off from technology won’t solve the problem. My problem—our problem—is deeper than social media and playing the comparison game. The real reason I’m discontent with my life is my own sinful nature and separation from God.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I see the beauty of Christmas coming in December. It’s a reminder that no matter how much we might have messed things up the past twelve months, the God of the universe still loves us deeply.

God sees us as we are—sinful and unable to bridge the chasm that exists between us and Him. Despite our sinfulness, despite the fact that He knew we would never be truly grateful for all He’s given us, He still chose to send His Son to rescue us.

__________________

So what do you do when you realize you’ve been doing it all wrong?

You fall on your knees and ask God to forgive you for where you went wrong. Maybe, like me,  it was in the area of contentment or maybe evil takes a different shape in your life.

You thank Him for the gift of Jesus' birth and death and resurrection.

You make changes. Intentional changes. Consistent changes. Small changes that lead to big ones over time.

As I close out 2017 and look forward to a new year, I’m taking time to reflect on what Jesus did when He came to earth at Christmastime and what that means for how I should be living my life in 2018. Less of me. More of Him.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

To My Beautiful Boys, In A Messed Up World

Dear Holden and Brooks,

As I write this letter, I am lying in bed sick—physically sick with pneumonia and emotionally sick in my heart and mind. It’s difficult to process what has gone on in the world these past few months…natural disasters, mass shootings, rampant racism, stories of sexual assault from the highest levels of power…and a president who lacks the integrity and leadership skills that it takes to navigate the scary world we live in. In my own personal circle, just this week, a friend was raped in a parking garage and another friend lost a child to miscarriage.

Outside my germ-filled room, I can hear you laughing and playing with your dad; and I take comfort in knowing that you have no idea just how bad things are right now. Just how terrible the world we live in really is. At this young age, it is your dad’s and my duty to protect you from these things, and I think we are doing a good job of that.

But there will come a day when we cannot protect you…from the world and the disasters that happen around the globe…or, on a smaller scale, from the challenges you will face in your own life: difficult relationships, peer pressure, unspeakable things on the internet or any number of other evils that will crop up between now and your adolescence and young adulthood.

So, on this day, when I have some time to reflect, I’m writing you this letter. You might read it one day. You might not. But my prayer is that you see these words enacted in my daily interactions with you and that you grow each day in your understanding of what I’m about to say. Your time living under my roof is limited, but I promise to spend as much of that time as I can teaching you these three lessons and, hopefully, so many more:

First, I promise to teach you to value women and see beauty in their heart and their minds, not just their bodies. Women are more than just a “swipe right” on a Friday night. We are more than an image on a computer screen. We are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Woman are beautiful, but we are not defined by beauty.

To that end, I’m praying for both of you and for your future wives. That you will shun the rampant “hook up” culture that currently exists. That you will protect your hearts, minds and eyes from the sexually charged images the media is constantly throwing at you. And that you will see and interact with your female friends, your girlfriends and your future wives for who they are: daughters of the King.

Second, I promise to teach you that life is not always fair. Senseless acts of violence happen for no reason. Natural disasters wreak havoc on cities and communities and lives without warning. People are not always fair and not always kind.

While I will do my best to surround you with individuals that love and respect you that will not always be under my control. Once you enter school and the “real world” you will face bullies. You will meet mean spirited peers and colleagues who are only looking out for themselves. You will be talked down to, criticized and wronged.

But know this:  We serve a God of justice. It is not your responsibility to retaliate when people are unkind or even cruel. I know you will want to—and sometimes you might actually do it. That’s ok. It’s human nature. Ultimately, though, humility wins--maybe not in this life, but definitely in the one to come. Humility trusts that a just God is in control in the midst of injustice. Humility overcame the world. (1 Peter 2:23)

Finally, I promise to teach you WHOSE you are and where you are going. You belong to your father and I for a short time on this earth, but you will always belong to the God of the universe. A God who formed you to be uniquely YOU (Ps 139:13-14). A God who loves you unconditionally (Eph 3:15-19; Titus 3:4-5; 1 John 4:16). A God who is THERE and who is REAL—even if we can’t see Him.

That same God has prepared a place for YOU in Heaven (John 14:1-4). A place that can’t be removed because of what you might do here on this earth or what someone else might do to you. A place where there are no deaths, natural disasters, shootings, racists, sexual predators. A place where the person in charge is the image of perfection.

Oh, boys. Over the course of your life, we will share highs and lows. We will learn lessons and we will make mistakes. We will experience the struggle that is being human, but we will also experience life. And when it looks like the world around you is crumbling…and it may very literally crumble one day…I pray you turn your eyes, your hearts, your minds and your faith upward.

You are free to mourn the brokenness of this world—and there is much to mourn—but then you must remind yourself of who God is, what He has done and what He will do. And you must also remind yourself that even in the brokenness there is still good in the world and there are still good people. You must always have hope.

To coin a phrase your dad and grandparents often say: I love you both more than tongue can tell—or, in this case, any letter can express.

Forever,

Your mom