Trust In The Midst Of Trials

Photo by  Maria Stiehler  on  Unsplash

This post is different.

Usually, when I share something, it’s from a rearview perspective—I’ve experienced something, learned a lesson or had an “a-ha” moment and I want to share it with you.  

This post is different.

I am very much in the midst of the circumstances I’m sharing today.  I don’t know how this story will end, but I feel God prompting me to share the journey, not just the final destination.

For the past six months, I’ve battled minor health issues and major anxiety brought on by those health issues. This battle has robbed me of more joy, contentment, memories and emotional wellbeing than I care to think about.  It’s made me a mediocre wife and a mom with a short fuse (at best). It’s caused me to throw myself into my job—because work is (usually) something I can control, unlike my emotions these days.

Last week, everything started to fall apart. I went to the doctor for a (minor) issue and came home with more questions than answers and a body so wracked with fear, stress and anxiety that I was barely able to function. What followed for the next seven days were more inconclusive tests, pain radiating throughout my entire body, one epic meltdown in front of my husband and a child who missed show and tell day.

And that job I thought I could control? I cancelled meetings, moved a final exam and made careless errors.

At multiple points during the week, I cried out to God, begging him to “show Himself” and “help me.” These are prayers I’ve prayed hundreds of times over the past six months. Mostly, I’ve heard nothing in reply.  

Sometimes God is unexplainably silent; and while His silence is never due to lack of caring or love, it may not be for us to comprehend this side of Heaven.  

In my desperation last week, I remembered the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. The widow petitioned a judge—who was neither a Christian nor a good man—for justice. He refused her request for a while, but after a period of time, she wore him down and he granted her request.  

Jesus used this parable to encourage the disciples to pray and not give up, saying in Luke 18:7 “will not God bring justice for His chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

So, I kept praying. I’M STILL PRAYING. I’m claiming the promises of Hebrews 4:14-16. I’m trusting that Jesus is interceding for me before God and I’m approaching the throne of grace with confidence. I’m also choosing to believe Psalm 41:3 and 42:11—that the Lord will restore me to full health and my downcast soul will yet praise Him.

 And when those promises seem empty, I’m focusing on the ways that God has shown up in my life over the past year: the lump in my breast that they literally COULD NOT FIND on an ultrasound or mammogram, the pre-cancerous mole that was removed without need for further treatment (save annual mole checks) and my father-in-law, who was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in August 2018, ended chemo last month and as I write this is playing at the beach with my boys.  

When circumstances cause us to doubt God and His goodness, we must call to mind His promises, remember His history of faithfulness in our lives and above all else, we must NEVER STOP PRAYING.  

I’m currently reading Jennie Allen’s “Made For This.” In it, she talks about praying an “anything” prayer…of “laying your life in the hands of a reckless, invisible God,” because our time on this earth is short and pointing others to HIM is all that truly matters.  

This post is my anything prayer.

This is my testimony in the midst of trial that God is who He says He is. That He is good regardless of what my circumstances tell me. That HE WILL COME THROUGH…if not in this life, then the one to come.

Today, I go back to the doctor to ask for more tests…

 I DON’T KNOW HOW THIS STORY IS GOING TO END, BUT I TRUST GOD WITH THE OUTCOME.

 If you find yourself in similar circumstances today, know that you are not alone. I see you. I feel your pain, both physical and emotional; and I’m sorry.

 In her book, “It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way,” Lysa Terkeurst says:

“Perfection intimidates. Compassion inspires. And in that you will finally find the why. Why did this happen? Because there’s someone else in the world who would drown in their own tears if not for seeing yours. And when you make one other human simply see they are not along, you make the world a better place.”

We may never know the reason for some of the suffering we experience, but our questions and our tears can unite us if we let them.

 

Why It's Good to Grow Small

As I type this, there are two little boys pillow fighting in back of me. Occasionally, one screams, and I’m pretty sure another just went flying through the air ninja style in order to avoid a death blow from his brother.  When I think of life as a full-time writer and speaker—my dream career—this is not the scenario I picture. Then again, neither is taking a nearly two month hiatus from writing.

But that’s what I’ve just done…

There’s been almost two months of silence on here. We live in a world that values noise. She who speaks loudly and speaks often gets the most attention. Two months of silence gets you, well, more silence.

I didn’t write anything these past two months because I needed to be present in my current season of life: young (often sick) kids, a husband with a demanding career, and a busy teaching job of my own leave me with little time for passion projects right now. There are seasons to speak and teach and write and there are seasons to turn inwards and reflect and listen. There are seasons to push and pursue and do all the things, and there are seasons when simply showing up and taking care of your people each day are enough.

I’m learning to recognize the season I’m in and welcome rather than resist it. It’s all part of the process of life, not just of writing.

 I’ve noticed a pattern among women my age, especially those of us who engage on social media. We see other women working harder, doing something (we perceive as) better or getting more attention and we feel the need to do more and try harder ourselves. If SHE can “have it all,” why can’t we? This leads to another trend I’ve observed among women my age: BURN OUT.

We’re tired. We’re frazzled. We’re running ourselves ragged; and we’re over it. At the end of the day, we have nothing left to give but we can’t tell you what it is we’ve given everything to—or at least what we have to show for it.

Here’s a secret: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY. 

Right before I had my oldest son, I read an article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter on why women can’t have it all. Seven years later, the article still holds so much truth.

Slaughter was the first female director of policy planning at the State Department. In the article she states VERY matter-of-factly that women who have achieved high levels of success in their career and in motherhood are superhuman, rich or self-employed. She also dispels some “half-truths” that women tell themselves about success and work-life balance. These include misconceptions like: “It’s possible if you’re just committed enough” or “It’s possible if you marry the right person.”

March 2nd will mark one year since I committed to pursuing my dream of a full time writing and speaking career. In the last 12 months, I’ve given up TV and free time and sleep and social events and all manner of other things to pursue my dream. If we’re talking about commitment to dreams, I’m all in. As far as marriage is concerned, I married the exact right person. My husband is incredibly supportive of my writing endeavors. He’s never said “no” to me investing in myself. He ALWAYS agrees to stay with the boys when I need to get things done; and if he can’t do it, we have enough money to pay for babysitters.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the last year:

You cannot give 100% of yourself in every area of your life. Something will slip. You will burn out.  

This is where knowing yourself and the season you’re in is important. If you know who and what are important to you as well as what’s realistic for you to accomplish in the season of life that you’re in, then you’re more likely to say “no” to the wrong opportunities—the things that will stress you out and put a strain on other areas of your life--and “yes” to the right ones. You’re also less likely to guilt yourself over the things you’re not doing or the opportunities you’re passing up.

For those of us hard-charging, goal oriented enneagram threes and eights, let me say it this way:

There’s nothing wrong with growing slow and growing small.

 Success is never achieved overnight and success at the expense of your mental or physical health or relationships isn’t the type of success you want to achieve in the first place. Stop comparing your achievements to others and start pursuing your dreams on your own terms.

Here are five resources that have helped me grow at my own pace—both personally and professionally—over the past twelve months:

1.) Christy Wright’s Business Boutique- Whether you have one business idea or just lots of ideas and hobbies, this book will help you narrow your focus to figure out whether that dream you’ve always had is worth pursuing.

2.) Cultivate What Matters Intentional Goal Planner- You don’t have to have a career or a business or even a side hustle to get a lot out of this planner. The Cultivate What Matters Goal Planner is perfect for anyone who has a vision for what you want your life to look like in the next year and is (somewhat) motivated to stay on track to realizing that vision.

3.) Personal Capital Finance App- Admittedly, I don’t use this app as much as I should. However, my husband does and he is slowly turning me on to the awesomeness that is solid financial management and growing your bank account in a small, yet steady way.

4.) Day Designer Daily Planner- It is honestly the best daily planner I’ve ever had. The “Today’s Top Three” list helps me to focus on what’s most important that particular day, and the to-do list that sits side by side with the daily schedule helps me see where I can fit in various tasks throughout my day.

5.) Actionable Core Values Worksheet- Full disclosure: this is something I created. Knowing my core values—who I am, what I stand for and what’s important to me—has served as a basis for my decision making over the past year. Sign up for the email list below and get the core values guide sent straight to your inbox!

My Favorite Podcasts of 2018

Photo by  Alphacolor 13  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alphacolor 13 on Unsplash

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m a podcast junkie. I listen to at least one, if not two per day; and I take notes on a lot of them. It’s my dream to have my own podcast one day. Maybe 2019 will be the year I start one. I’m praying about it. Until then, I’ll keep listening and doing the occasional podcast interview (here, here, here and here) myself.

Today, I’m sharing the podcasts I listen to regularly as well as my top 10 favorite podcast episodes of 2018. If you’re not a regular podcast listener, that’s ok, we can still be friends; but if you don’t take a listen to THESE podcasts, I may reconsider our friendship.

Happy listening!

1.) Chai Talk Podcast- My friend Jennifer Padilla- Burger is a licensed MFT and shares tangible ways to improve your mental and emotional health and live more intentionally. I honestly have a hard time picking my favorite episode.

2.) The Next Right Thing with Emily P. Freeman- This is another podcast that I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I’m pretty sure Emily’s “Start Before You’re Ready” episode and her episode on looking back are my two favorites.

3.) Pastor James MacDonald podcasts on prayer from 12/6-12/14 have renewed my desire and focus on prayer over the last few weeks.

4.) That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs- Remember God. This is my second favorite podcast of 2018.

5.) That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs- Melissa Radke on remembering the goodness of God.

6.) The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey- Michelle Mckinney on marrying for love and purpose.

7.) The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey- Marshawn Evans Daniels on being bold and believing bigger.

8.) The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey- Ruth Chou Simons on intentional parenting and marriage, teaching culture to children, and how to decide what to post on Instagram. This is my absolute favorite podcast of 2018.

8.) Confessions of a Crappy Christian Podcast- Jeanette Tapley on Community Over Competition

9.) It’s Time for Coffee- Sabrina Sandberg of Peace at Heart Parenting

10.) At Home With Sally- Motherhood: Beautiful by Design

11.) The Fearless Chase- Blake Guichet on working from a place of more heart, less hustle.

Some of my other favorite podcasts include:

This Is Thirty-Five: Four Questions To Discern The Voice of God

Photo by  Allen Taylor  on  Unsplash

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

Preface: December 2nd was the first day of Advent in the She Reads Truth Advent series. Last night’s scripture reading was from Micah 7:7:

“I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. He will hear me.”

Read on to find out why that scripture on that day was significant…

Yesterday, I gave birth to my blog baby. Nine months ago, I launched This is Thirty Four into the world. Like birthing an actual child, I’ve coddled this website and the dream of a writing career from the day it was conceived. Also similar to an actual child, I made lots of assumptions about what “it” would be like: what I would write about, how many “followers” I would gain, what opportunities I would be presented with.

What I didn’t think of was how the process of writing and sharing my life would change me. Nine months ago I couldn’t have foreseen the way that God would use what started as my desire to achieve and be known to HUMBLE ME and help me understand what it means to FIND MY IDENTITY AND MY REST IN HIM.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

Nine months ago, I thought I’d use This is Thirty Four to tell the story of my own victory over challenges I’ve faced in life. Yet, during this gestational period, I realized that it isn’t my victory or my story at all. MY LIFE IS A TESTIMONY TO GOD’S POWER, GRACE AND MERCY.

How did I recover from an eating disorder in my early 20s?

BY THE GRACE OF GOD.

How do I live with and fight anxiety attacks as they threaten to steal my joy?

BY FILLING MY HEART AND MIND WITH HIS TRUTH.

How can I cure the ails of perfectionism and stop placing so much emphasis on material things? By remembering that I AM ONLY MADE PERFECT BY HIS BLOOD and EVERYTHING I HAVE IS FROM HIM.

Any story I share is one HE has written.

“He must increase, and I must decrease.” John 3:30

I turn 35 on Friday. What has been one of the most challenging years of my life is finally coming to a close. The past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned this year. Here are two:

I can make plans for the future, but the Lord directs my steps each day.

More of Him. Less of me. In all things.

Can I be honest? I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me 35 years to figure these things out. I wonder if I could have learned these lessons earlier and in another way; but I don’t think so.

We see the blessings God has given us in the good times, but we EXPERIENCE GOD and GROW TOGETHER WITH HIM in our difficulties. The easy seasons of life call us to praise what God has done. The hard seasons show us who God is and how much we need HIM to guide us every step of the way.

I assumed that when the tough stuff ended--when I made it to the other side of my year of “wandering in the wilderness”--I’d emerge with clear direction and renewed focus, both for my writing and my life. I spent months praying for clarity, and God seemed silent.

Sometimes the wilderness can end, but the waiting continues.

The closer I came to 35, the more frustrated I became over God’s silence. Not only would the URL I (poorly) chose no longer make sense (if it ever did), but I could not reconcile the feeling that I was supposed to keep writing with the lack of direction for what to write about.

Until yesterday…

I was cooking breakfast when the phrase came to me:

STYLE YOUR LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT.

Immediately, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and excitement. I paused and reflected on where the words came from. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than eggs at the time.

STYLE YOUR LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT BY KNOWING JESUS, LOVING WELL AND BEING INTENTIONAL.

It even fit with my core values, the things I’m passionate about and what I’ve already been sharing.

And then it hit me: Those words were from HIM. At what felt like the 11th hour, God showed up. On the day of my blog’s “birth,” He answered my prayer for clarity, not just for this website but for my 35th year of life.

KNOW JESUS. LOVE WELL. BE INTENTIONAL.

So how do I know that those words were from God?

To a certain extent, I don’t. We can never TRULY know, this side of Heaven, whether we have heard the voice of God. If we could audibly hear His voice or know with 100% confidence that He was telling us to do something, we wouldn’t need faith. I once heard a pastor say, “On the outside chance I heard God, I’m gonna do what He told me.”

Same here, Pastor.

When I think I hear the voice of God, I do ask myself a few questions. If the answers to these questions are yes, then I (usually) take it as a green light to move in the direction I feel Him leading me.

1.)  Did I pray about it?

2.)  Is what I think I’m hearing God tell me to do in line with Biblical truth?

3.)  Do I feel a sense of peace about what I’m hearing?

4.)  Have other people or life circumstances aligned and affirmed what I’m hearing?

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of questions; and of course, if the decision was about something bigger than the direction to take the content of a website, I would talk with more people, continue to read scripture and PRAY, PRAY, PRAY.

But for now, for this decision, I can confidently say that God spoke, and I am listening.

One more thing before I go…

I mentioned this post on social media last week. At the time, I only had a few lines of it written. Last night, I sat down to write and couldn’t come up with a single word. So it seems, we’ve come full circle.

Any story I share really is one that HE HAS WRITTEN.

“I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.” Micah 7:7

The Cost of Connection

connection.jpg

Her name is Ferida. She lives in the Spanish style house at the end of my street with her husband Charlie. They are are both in their 80’s, and Charlie’s health is declining; thus, they don’t participate in our weekly neighborhood curbside gatherings. (Those are a real thing. I live in present-day Mayberry.) Until last week, my relationship with Ferida consisted of the pleasantries exchanged while getting the mail or the happenstance of walking in or out of our houses at the same time.

Last Tuesday night, there were emergency vehicles at Ferida and Charlie’s house. The other neighbors and I discussed the trucks at our Wednesday curbside gathering. None of us knew what happened; and we all agreed that someone should walk over and see if everything was ok. I waited for someone else to volunteer. It was close to dinner time and my spaghetti pie wasn’t going to make itself. More than that, I wondered whether knocking on Ferida’s door would open my eyes to a new person to care for—someone I couldn’t unsee due to our close proximity. Did I have room in my schedule—or my heart—for that?

As a strong two on the enneagram, I’m a helper and a connecter by nature. I pride myself on being able to form deep relationships with people—sometimes to my detriment. I take on too much. I say “yes” because I feel like I SHOULD. I offer to help when I don’t really have the time; and I feel people’s pain deeply. Oh, how deeply I feel things.

I’m getting better about managing my “twoness” as I get older. I’m learning to prioritize the essential over the urgent and giving my family, friends and their burdens over to God, rather than trying to shoulder them on my own. Still, developing a relationship with my elderly neighbors seemed like a step backward in my tidy schedule management as well as a potential tax on my emotions.

Long story short, another neighbor volunteered to check on Ferida and Charlie, and I (in true Two form) walked over to check on them with her. That visit opened the door for a series of visits with Ferida this past week.

As it turns out, Ferida needs very little from me, other than someone to sit shoulder to shoulder with her and help her sort through information and her emotions related to her husband’s impending death. As it also turns out, the heart that I didn’t think was big enough to hold one more person’s pain expanded just a little to let Ferida in. After Sunday night’s visit, Ferida looked at me through tearful eyes and said: “Thank you for helping me process this information. I think I just needed someone to listen.”

*****************

I won’t lie, I woke up yesterday feeling depleted. Not just from supporting Ferida, but from a week—maybe even a couple weeks—full of connecting with people. People I legitimately love. People I would give the shirt off my back if they needed it and who I willingly give my time to. Unfortunately, I think I’ve become so good at connecting with other people that I’ve forgotten how to connect with myself.

In their book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath say that connecting with others requires two things: responsiveness (e.g.- validation and caring) and openness (e.g.- vulnerability). I’d add time and availability to that list; and I’d venture to say that the same principles that apply to connecting with others apply to connecting with ourselves (e.g.- self-care). We can’t nurse our own emotionally depleted souls back to health unless we do the following:

  1. Acknowledge the problem.

  2. Understand the cause of the problem.

  3. Make time to fix the problem.

Here’s what this looks like in practice:

1.) Acknowledging the problem: I’m exhausted. I feel like I never have any time to do the things I love because I’m always doing things for other people. (This is pretty much the siren song of Enneagram twos, by the way. Please don’t take pity on me. I’ve done this to myself.)

2.) Understanding the cause of the problem: I’ve told myself that the world—or at least the people in my world—NEED me. That their lives will fall apart if I am not there to HELP them. While I genuinely LOVE helping other people, the problem arises when I start to derive my self-worth from the helping. Lately, I’ve not only derived my worth from the helping, but I’ve become resentful of the very thing that’s “supposed” to bring me satisfaction.

3.) Making time to fix the problem: Notice that I didn’t go straight to “fixing the problem.” For people like me, who value connection, our calendars can be so booked with volunteering and meetings and coffee dates and helping, helping, helping that we often need to clear our schedule before we even have TIME to helping ourselves. For me, making time to fix the problem means making time for myself. Clearing my calendar for a week to do things that I enjoy—for no other reason than the fact that I enjoy them.

Fixing the problem also means connecting with THE ONE who gives me life and remembering who I am in Christ. I am loved, and I am worthy. Not because of what I do or who I help but because I am HIS CHILD. As Brian Frost, the pastor of the church I attended in grad school, once said:

“Jesus, not my productivity, is my justification.”

The older I get, the more I realize that when I take my eyes off of Him—whether that’s by focusing too much on others or on myself—everything falls apart. This doesn’t mean I won’t keep checking in on Ferida or that I’ll stop trying to connect with people I love. It simply means that on weeks like this one, when I feel my body and soul growing weary from all the doing, I need to pause and redirect my focus. The biggest help I’ll ever be to othesr is in pointing them to Christ.

ALL EYES ON HIM.

Finding God Through The Questions

I’ve been struggling lately. With fear and anxiety. With my children and my role as their mother. But mostly, with God. I’m struggling to reconcile the God who created the world and who loved us so much that He sent His Son to die so that we could be rescued and spend eternity with Him, with the God who allowed my friend Sarah’s 12-year-old son to die or who allows two of my close friends to struggle with infertility or who allowed my father-in-law to get stage three Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I question why these things happen. I question why life has to be so hard. Every day, it feels like a new question arises; and the one answer I keep coming back to is HIM. GOD.

HE IS BOTH THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER.

He is a profound mystery that calls us to have faith in what we cannot see, and yet, He is the most certain thing I know. He is there in death and life and sickness and health. He is I AM.

My 34th year of life has been one of the best and the hardest of my existence. The highs have been high: Starting this website, a summer filled with beaches and lakes and Paris. The lows have been low: death, cancer, self-doubt and fear. As I look ahead to 35 and 2019, so much of what’s to come feels uncharted. Yet God is there. In the midst of the unknown.

He is both the question and the answer.

In my heart, I want a plan. I crave strategy. I think that if I can save enough, obey enough, parent a specific way, everything will be ok. But God is not a God of plan and strategy. He is a God of will and purpose. If the beginning of 2018 was about understanding who I am and what I’m passionate about, the latter part of the year has been about surrendering myself and my passions to God and His design for my life and for this world.

Life is joy and pain, beauty and mess, excitement and confusion. Life is both/and, not either/or; and God is still God in the midst of all of it. When the world seems overwhelming, take heart, He has overcome the world.

Because I am a woman who likes plans and strategies, I also want blog posts—both the ones I read and the ones I write—to wrap themselves up in a nice little bow; but life isn’t like that and sometimes blog posts aren’t either. There’s no good way to end this post, so I will leave you with Ephesians 3:14-21. It’s a passage of Scripture that I have come back to time and again over the past year, both in prayer for myself and for those around me. Wherever you’re at in life or your faith, know this: God is big enough. When we seek Him, He promises to make himself known to us. His love is high and deep and wide—even when it doesn’t feel like it.

He is both the question and the answer.

Ephesians 3:14-21

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

How To Choose The Essential Over The Urgent

Photo by  Alex Geerts  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash

It’s officially fall, and the holidays are rapidly approaching. I like to think that “Fallidays” Jenn is the best version of me. I fill my days with all the cozy sweaters, pumpkin spice and festive celebrations that my schedule will allow. I spend time with my people, and I savor every minute.

Starting today.  

Simplify September is over, and as I look back on it, I realize that I didn’t enjoy much of last month. In all of my efforts to help others simplify, I made my own life more complicated and got away from the original mission of what I set out to do.

The goal of Simplify September was to slow down, scale back and take a deep breath; but the components of the project—the daily prompts, the meal plans, the capsule wardrobe and the workbook—left me feeling frantic and depleted.

Yet, I don’t look at Simplify September as a failure. I look at it as a lesson in essentialism.

Too often, we trade the essential for the for the urgent.

Simplify September was filled with “urgent” things like social media posts and photos, not the essentials of encouraging others to be more intentional in the way they live their lives—and demonstrating that quality in my own life.

So how do you differentiate the urgent from the essential? We must know ourselves well.

For me, the best thing to come out of Simplify September was defining my core values. About halfway through the month, when that familiar lump in my throat and heaviness in my chest returned because I was trying to DO ALL THE THINGS, I paused and wrote down what was most important to me: Knowing Jesus, loving others well, living with intentionality and being confident in who God made me.

When you know what’s most important to you, you can start to eliminate the things that don’t fall into those categories and make time for the things that do. But eliminating the urgent and creating space for the essentials doesn’t happen JUST by knowing ourselves and our core values.

Making time for the essential over the urgent requires rest and reflection.

This weekend, I turned things off and tuned things out. I sat in silence—and with my thoughts--on solitary car rides, while washing dishes and folding the laundry. And when I had an extra hour between events yesterday, I chose to talk with a women I barely knew instead of catching up on emails, texts and messages. After a month characterized by posting and responding and consuming, taking time to rest and reflect was life-giving.

This week, I’ll hop back online. I’ll answer the emails, write the posts, share the photos; but I won’t get lost in them. In October, if something feels forced or uncomfortable or if I’m dreading doing it, I’ll take some time to evaluate whether that thing is really in line with my core values and thus, absolutely essential.

While September may not have been the month I envisioned it being, 2018 isn’t over yet. Let’s make our goal for the rest of this year a TRULY SIMPLE one: Know who we are and live by those values.

What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do

This isn't a post I want to be writing. This definitely isn't a place I want to be in; but I'm here, and I'm writing. I learned a long time ago that the difficult seasons of life are easier when let others in. I also believe that the hard stuff is all for naught if we fail to learn from it and share those lessons with others. This post is my attempt to make sense of a difficult season of life...while I'm still in the middle of it. 

A few months ago, I felt as if the Lord was preparing my husband and I for something hard. I thought maybe "the thing" we were preparing for was to homeschool our oldest child this year. After a lot of prayer, we decided to put him in full-day kindergarten. That wasn't "the thing." Then, I thought "the thing" might be the lump I found in my breast in June. That was benign. It wasn't "the thing" either.

And then someone very close to us got sick. Very sick. Night sweats, metallic taste in mouth, fatigue and weight loss sick. Unlike the lump and the homeschooling, this was "the thing." It was (is) Hodgkins Lymphoma. And so, our family has entered a season of life characterized by chemotherapy and doctor visits and test results and uncertainty. So. Much. Uncertainty. 

When I was younger and something bad happened, my dad would go into "crisis mode." In crisis mode, dad took care of the logistics of the situation as well as our family. He was calm. He was strong. He was the glue that held things together and assured my mom, brother and I that everything was going to be ok...even when it wasn't. 

I am the opposite of my father. I run from crisis. I fall apart. I want someone else to handle it. 

I'm learning that there are times when it's ok to fall apart and there times when we have to be the glue. Right now, in this season, I feel God calling me to be the glue. And yet, because my default "crisis mode" is to fall apart, I'm not entirely sure how to be the glue. So, what do you do when you, quite frankly, don't know what to do?

You let go.

Of trying to control the situation. Of worry over the situation you can't control. Of anger that you are in the situation in the first place. Of unnecessary commitments and responsibilities (because when one part of life is complicated, it's important to simplify in other areas). The reality is that we cannot always control the path we are forced to walk in life; but we can control our response to the challenges we meet along the way and find peace in the journey. 

True peace doesn't mean the absence of chaos, but rather a deep sense of calm, harmony and wholeness in the midst of the storm.

True peace is feeling an incomprehensible stability and confidence when everything around you is unsteady and confusing. True peace can only be found in Jesus. Which leads me to point number two. In seasons of life when you don't know what to do,

You run to God. 

As one who runs from crisis, you'd think running to God would be my first inclination. I assure you, it is not. All too often, when running from crisis, I run to the things of the world that will bring me immediate pleasure or distraction: Shopping, Netflix, reading, talking with a friend, a good glass of wine. These things, in and of themselves, can be good things; but when used at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons, they are all destructive.

In crisis, a wise person runs to the name of the Lord. Who God is. What He has done. What He promises. 

Finally, in seasons of life when you don't know what to do,

YOU MUST KEEP GOING.

Sometimes inch-by-inch. Sometimes carrying other people--or at least their burdens--on your back. You move forward because you realize that life doesn't stop just because you or someone you love is hurting. Life is fun and hard and beautiful and painful...often all at once. You must use the good times to fuel you through the bad; and you MUST KEEP GOING. 

But here's the good news. You were never meant to keep going alone. Rachel C. Swanson, one of my new favorite authors and podcasters says: "It's easy to shut down in our weakness instead of investing in God's strength." Ephesians 3:14-20 is my absolute favorite passage of scripture these days. I send it to everyone I know who is going through a tough time; and I read it daily. I'm going to write it out here because I think writing and reading scripture is the most important way to get TRUTH to sink into our hearts and minds: 

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Friend, I don't know what season of life you're in. I hope it's a fun and beautiful one. But if it's not, know this: I'm right there with you. I'm praying for you. And YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

 

Simplify September: Calendar and Details

Photo by  Steinar Engeland  on  Unsplash

In less than 24 hours, it will be September 1st. Because I am a planner--and I think many of you are too--I'm posting the details of the Simplify September project TODAY! That way, you can hit the ground running tomorrow morning! 

The whole point of Simplify September is to make our lives less complicated. Things tend to get busier and busier during the last few months of the year. Simplify September is a way to slow down, scale back, clean up and figure out what's really important to you. That way, when the holiday season hits (believe it or not, it's just around the corner), you'll know who, what and how to prioritize in order to spend as much time as possible with the people who mean the most to you. 

There are five elements to the Simplify September project: 

1.) The 30-day Simplify September calendar (posted below)

2.) The Simplify September Meal Plans. Week One here. Week Two here

3.) The Simplify September capsule wardrobe

4.) The Simplify September reading plan (more info below)

5.) The Simplify September workbook (more info below)

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO ALL THESE THINGS.

You can do some of them. You can do most of them. You can do none of them and simply follow along and see what other people are doing. Pretty much everything in the Simplify September project can actually be done during any month of the year. 

 The Simplify September 30-day calendar is at the bottom of this post. 

Each week on the calendar, we take on a different area of life. In week one, we clear the physical clutter. In week two, we calm the mental chaos. In week three, we simplify our schedules; and in week four, we work on our relationships. Some of the items on the calendar repeat themselves. That's because they are REALLY THAT IMPORTANT. If you find one suggestion extra helpful, try incorporating it into your daily, weekly or monthly routine. 

On Sundays, we meal prep and reflect.

Every Sunday, I will post a new meal plan--with recipes. The meal plans will be updated weekly. Week one is here. Week two is here

I will also take time to reflect on the previous and upcoming week; and I encourage you to do the same. I've created a workbook for each week that includes questions to help you with those reflections. 

If you want the Simplify September workbook and weekly encouragement from me in your inbox, sign up for the Simplify September email list below. 

You can find information about the Simplify September capsule wardrobe here. This includes links to most of the items I'm wearing next month. 

And finally, the Simplify September reading plan is so simple that it doesn't need it's own post: Simply read one chapter from the book of Proverbs every day for the next 30 days. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs, so you'll have to read two chapters one day this month. That's it.

One more thing before you go...

In addition to my Tuesday Truth (Tuesday mornings at 7 a.m. PST on Instagram Live), I'll be doing some bonus Instagram Lives throughout the month. I'd love to have some of you join me on those Instagram Lives to talk about the Simplify September project and what you're learning through it. Send me an email and we can try to set up a time for a LIVE CHAT!  I'll also be using the #simplifyseptember hashtag when I post something related to the project on Instagram. Feel free to tag your Simplify September posts with the same hashtag! 

Everything about Simplify September is supposed to make you feel more calm, more organized and more present for the people and things that matter. If something in this project makes you feel stressed out or frazzled or anxious or not good enough, DON'T DO IT! 

I'm so excited to calm the chaos in our minds, relationships, time and possessions with you! Let's Simplify September together! 

Simplify September Calendar

This calendar was designed by my friend  Amy at Amy's Art Table . 

This calendar was designed by my friend Amy at Amy's Art Table

On Mental Health Awareness and Being a Crappy Christian: An Interview with Blake Guichet of Magnolia Ink

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Can I be honest? I struggle with social media. I vacillate between feeling inferior and alone because it looks like everyone is doing something infinitely more awesome than me or feeling like I'm part of the problem. On an Internet where people only the show the highlight reel of their lives, it's rare to see someone whose feed--and whose life--is beautifully honest. 

When I think of my friend Blake Guichet, those two words come to mind: BEAUTIFULLY HONEST. One look at her Instagram feed (@thegirlnamedblake), and you'll know I'm right. Blake is both beautiful and honest. She's also a talented writer, a mental health advocate and a self-proclaimed "crappy Christian." And did I mention that she's hilarious??

Blake and I connected through the RISE conference, and though we didn't get the chance to meet face-to-face, I felt confident enough in who she was as a person (and in her amazing graphic design skills) to ask her to re-design This Is Thirty Four. Every interaction I've had with her over the past few months--and everything I've seen her post on social media during that time--has only confirmed that Blake is as real deal. 

Blake's Instagram feed offers daily encouragement to me to be more intentional (you know I love that word) in the way I'm living my life. Her heart for Jesus and for others shines through in everything she writes. So, read this interview and be encouraged by Blake's words; and then go follow her on Instagram. You'll thank me later! 

Jenn Prentice (JP): Hey Blake! Thanks for doing this interview. For those that don’t follow you on Instagram (but will after this interview), tell them who you are.  

Blake Guichet (BG): I’m a born and raised Louisianian, like in the “never lived anywhere else” sense. I graduated from LSU in 2011 with plans to move very far away and begin my career as a writer/speaker, but God had other ideas. I met my now husband, Jeremy, about two months before I graduated, fell head over heels in love, and kept my roots right where they were. We got married a year later, had our first daughter, Pacey, a year after that, and our second daughter Elliot two years after that. We’ve packed a lot of life into the last seven years, but it’s pretty dang beautiful.

So now I’m a work from home mom wearing a lot of hats – business owner, graphic designer, writer, sometimes-blogger, and I’m sure a whole bunch I’m forgetting. But I love it. I love our life, and I’m thankful that God’s plan is always better than our best-laid ones.

JP: Well, from my perspective, you are rocking each of the hats you’re wearing, especially Magnolia Ink. Tell me more about your business.  

BG: Magnolia Ink is my branding and website design business, officially born in July of 2017, but it had been kind of lurking in the background in an unofficial sense for years before that. My number one priority in my business is using my abilities to enable other business owners to move forward towards their dreams with a brand and a web presence that accurately represents them.

JP: From working with you on the redesign of This is Thirty Four (thank you for that, by the way), I know that you have a well-oiled process for designing people's websites and branding. How did you develop that process? Or maybe a better question is: what lessons did you learn early on that led you to develop such a great process?

BG: This question cracked me up because my process is built exclusively off of trial and error. I did (& still do) a lot of “business” things wrong, have to learn lessons the hard way, & put policies in place to ensure they don’t happen again. But I definitely love where my process is now. My two week turn around for a brand and a website is really attractive to a lot of people because it enables me to focus on one client at a time and give them the attention and product they deserve. My business is super automated so that I spend minimal time on the small stuff and maximum time on the things I love and with my people.

JP: You have a beautiful blog yourself, but you recently took a step back from blogging. Can you talk about that and why you chose to step back?

BG: Honestly, I felt like God was telling me to. Is that a super Sunday school answer? I just started to feel like the blog isn’t where I needed to be putting my energy. So I stepped back and asked Him how he wanted me to move forward, knowing He’d be faithful to funnel my desire to serve Him with my words and thoughts to something else.

JP: So, what does rest and simplifying and scaling back mean to you right now?

BG: It means keeping my heart in check above everything else. It’s asking myself “why am I doing this, what is my intention? Is it to achieve and to feel better about myself, or is it to glorify the kingdom and use the gifts God gave me?” It feels weird to say that encouraging and challenging others is my “gift,” but I’m learning to lean into that a little more. I recently launched an email campaign where people can subscribe, and I’m sending out a weekly email with everything from Biblical insight to my favorite bra, and everything in between. It feels like a perfect middle ground between blogging and nothing at all. It’s much more personal and more private, but still a huge way to connect with people and continue building a community.

JP: Speaking of connecting with other people, one of the things that I think a lot of people can connect with you on is mental health. You're extremely open about mental health and the importance of managing your mental health. Can you talk about your own struggles and some of the things you've learned?

BG: I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression when I was 20, and it’s taken me about nine years of walking through life with those disorders before I started really openly talking about it. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is that pulling the things that Satan wants to be left in the dark - our struggles, the things he can pin us down with - that’s where the power is. Pulling that stuff into the light and declaring that Jesus already has victory over them, that’s when we win. Because then we get to join in with each other and stand next to our sisters and brothers and then no man is an island.

JP: You have a list of resources for people who are struggling with anxiety/mental health issues. Talk about that and how people can get access to it.

BG: Yes! I put together Through the Waves: Prayers & Verses for the Anxious Heart honestly as a resource for myself at first, but as I cultivated it and really leaned into using it, I realized so many people could benefit from it as well. So you can find it on my blog at https://www.thegirlnamedblake.com/home/through-the-waves

JP: I think pretty much everything I write starts out as something I need to hear and then ends up as something I share with other people in the hopes that they might benefit from it too. I know your resource guide is touching a lot of people’s hearts and minds and helping them in their journey.

 Let’s lighten things up a bit.  You are such a fun person to follow on Instagram because you are so freaking funny. What role does humor play in managing anxiety/mental health?

BG: Hah! This question made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. I don’t know if I’m funny as much as I am painfully honest, but I think sometimes that translates to funny. I absolutely have had to learn to laugh at myself & my circumstances. I honestly use sarcasm as a bit of a defense mechanism, sometimes to a fault (ask my husband). But being able to allow things to roll off your back and have a snarky comment to go with it makes life a little less heavy and can make it feel like the walls aren’t always closing in.

JP: And speaking of funny, you want to write a book, potentially entitled "Confessions of a Crappy Christian." I would read that book. I feel like that describes my life...or at least my journal entries..can you talk about your faith, the role it plays in your life and what it means to be a "crappy Christian"?

 BG: I think that’s going to end up being the official title of the book because so many people identify with it. I know some Christians will probably be highly offended by someone describing themselves as “crappy” in their faith, but my heart and prayer for this book are that not just Christian women are reading it. I want people who have heard about Jesus but are maybe turned off by this idea of perfectionism and holier-than-thou believers to pick up the book  and see someone who loves Jesus more than anything, telling the story of how often they get it wrong, and how much Jesus still loves them because of it.

JP: Yes! Yes! YESSSS! I think that’s a message we all need to hear, regardless of where we’re at in our faith journey. Well, you know me well enough by now to know that I could talk to you for hours. BUT, I am going to end the interview with the question I ask everyone: At the end of your life, what type of legacy do you hope to leave?

BG: Dang. This is a good one. My first thought is my girls. I want my legacy to be two strong, deeply rooted, on fire for the kingdom women who are consistently rocking the boat and confident in who they are in Christ. I want people to remember me as someone who made them feel a little less alone in their day to day crap, who challenged them to be the best version of themselves and maybe made them laugh along the way.

blake guichet family .jpg

12 Ways To Live Intentionally Today

In 2008, I started a blog called The Style Geek where I wrote about the intersection of fashion and technology----years before Instagram and Pinterest launched and well before the term "brand influencer" was in our common vernacular. Women like Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere and Joy Cho of Oh Joy started blogging around the same time. They, along with so many others who hopped on the blogging bandwagon back them are now millionaires..and I'm, well, not. 

So what happened? Why did Emily and Joy succeed and I didn't?

First, they didn't give up. They consistently produced quality content, even when it felt hard or they weren't motivated. I, on the other hand, was often too tired from working a full time job and binge watched "How I Met Your Mother" on Netflix instead of pursuing my dream of being a successful author. 

Second, they remained confident in themselves. I'm sure they had days, weeks or even months of self-doubt, but they didn't let temporary discouragement or anxiety influence the course of their lives. I spent a lot of time looking at what THEY were doing, told myself "I could never be like them" and threw in the towel. 

Third, they managed the "everyday chaos" of life (their minds, schedules, relationships, money, etc) so that they could focus on what mattered most and reach their goals. Ten years ago, I was still getting control of the basics of life: managing my anxiety, learning how to be a good friend and wife and figuring out how to spend my time and money. Launching a blog and pursuing my dreams was pretty far down on my to-do list and seemed like something only people with money, intelligence or some sort of magic could do.

If I had known then what I know now, I might be farther along in my career than I am today. Emily and Joy weren't richer (at the time), smarter or more magical than me. They just kept going, remained confident and controlled their chaos a little better. And yet, I'm grateful for my journey--for the struggles and the self-doubt and even for the fact that I shuttered The Style Geek after a few months--because all of it brought me to today. To thirty four years old. To this blog and this post. 

My goal with (re)launching This Is Thirty Four is to create a space on the Internet where women can come to find encouragement and practical tips for how to find freedom from the "everyday chaos" of life, so that they can live more intentionally and spend time on what truly matters. To be honest, I'm still a work in progress myself. Most of what I write on here is just me, preaching to my own heart. By God's grace, I'm growing in new ways every day, and if something I write on here can make another woman's life a little easier, then I'll consider this whole thing a success. 

Now about those practical tips I just mentioned...

Since this blog is called This Is Thirty Four and since I'll be talking primarily about how to manage our minds, relationships, time and possessions, I created a list--a manifesto, if you will--of 34 things you can do RIGHT NOW to start living more intentionally in the aforementioned areas of life. I've listed 12 of my ideas for intentionality below, and you can join my newsletter list below to get the full list! The Monthly 34 email goes out on the 30th of every month, so you'll get this month's edition delivered to your inbox tonight! 

For now, here are 12 ways to start living more intentionally TODAY: 

Intentional minds:

  1. Start your day off centered- Meditate, pray or read your Bible. Then, write down three things that would make today great and three things you are thankful for. 
  2. Listen more than you watch- Queue up podcasts about topics you enjoy (I'm always sharing my favorites in my Instagram stories), and listen to those instead of watching TV. I quit watching TV (with the exception of a Monday night Bachelorette viewing party with friends and the occasional Netflix comedy special) earlier this year. I cannot believe how little I miss it or how much I've grown from listening to podcasts instead. 
  3. Realize that people think about you far less than you THINK they are thinking about you. That conversation you keep dwelling on or that thing you had stuck in your teeth or that time you ran into your boss while you were wearing a bikini at the beach. No one is thinking about it more than you are. Stop wasting mental energy on something that's not really that important after all. 

Intentional relationships: 

  1. Make a list of people who are important to you, but who you haven't talked to in a while then text them just to let them know you're thinking about them. I guarantee it will make their day! 
  2. Don't mix phones with food. If you're eating a meal with someone, put down the phone and engage in conversation with them instead. 
  3. Let your "yes" be "yes." If you told someone you would be there, be there. Keep your commitments to others and they'll keep showing up for you. 

Intentional time: 

  1. Put down your phone- Full disclosure: This is something I'm still working on. I'm TRYING to designate specific times of day to check social media and texts and then put my phone down the rest of the day. I think I'll be a lot more productive, and I know I'll be more present with my friends and family. 
  2. Prioritize your day- At the end of each day, take a look at the next day's schedule and to-do list and decide what MUST get done first and what can't be put off one more day. 
  3. Share a calendar with your significant other- Seeing what each of you has going on during the week helps avoid surprises--and conflict. If you haven't already listened, Rachel and Dave Hollis just did an entire RISE Together podcast on how to plan with your spouse

Intentional possessions: 

  1. Control what comes in- One of the main benefits of going A Year Without Clothes is that there's not a lot of new stuff coming into my house these days, and thus, it seems a little less cluttered. Be aware of the ways new "stuff" creeps into your home. It comes in through shopping and through things like party or wedding favors, hand-me-downs, artwork from preschool, mail, etc. When you figure out the source of the clutter, you can stop it before it starts. 
  2. Clean your kitchen every night- I know it sounds painful, and at 10 p.m. when you just want to go to bed and the dishes have piled up in the sink, it FEELS painful. But starting your day off with a clean kitchen will help you better manage the state of your entire household throughout the rest of the day. 
  3. Realize you need far less of everything than you think you do. 

If you like these suggestions and want more of them, don't forget to sign up for The Monthly 34 Newsletter. And, if you've got a tip of trick for living more intentionally, leave it in the comments below! 

***Updated 7/30/18 @ 9:00 PM***

I had high hopes of creating a beautiful PDF entitled "34 Ways To Live Intentionally RIGHT NOW" and send it out to everyone who subscribes to my email list. At 9 PM, after working on said PDF for two hours and then realizing I didn't actually know how to include it in my newsletter, I decided to pivot. I'm listing the additional 22 ways to live intentionally below. If you're still reading this post and you aren't subscribed to my newsletter, you win. If you are subscribed to my newsletter, I'm sorry; and I hope you know that I mean it when I say that "perfect is the enemy of the good." 

22 More Ways To Live Intentionally RIGHT NOW

1.) Plan your week- Every Sunday, sit down and look at what's coming up on your schedule and your to-do list. Mark down when you want to accomplish what and where you need be when. 

2.) Identify your time sucks- Determine the things that take more of your time than they should and figure out a way to stop doing those things. 

3.) Stop multi-tasking- Focus on one thing at a time. I guarantee that whatever you're doing will get done so much faster than if you were multi-tasking while doing it.

4.) Learn to say "no"- It's the most powerful word in your vocabulary when it comes to protecting your time. 

5.) Schedule seasonal purges- Especially of toys and clothes. (Pro tip: You can make a decent amount of money by selling toys your kids no longer play with right around late October or November. Market them as Christmas presents. People will go nuts. 

6.) Hang wash and line dry your (nicer) clothes. It's a pain, but they will last longer. 

7.) Focus on quality- It's better to buy one pair of shoes that cost more but lasted longer than six pairs of shoes that only last a week. 

8.) Read before bed- Get out your Kindle...or a headlamp..and read a book before bed. You'll go to be happier than if you spent the night looking up other people's Instagram profiles. 

9.) Text people back ASAP- I am so guilty of not texting people back in a timely manner. In fact, I can think of one person I owe a text to right now. BUT, I'm working on it. Bottom line: Texting people back within a reasonable amount of time, shows them that you truly care about them.

10.) Identify your people- You can't be friends with everyone; and you definitely can't develop quality friendships with lots of people. Figure out the people who matter most to you. Put them first. Spend most of your time with them, and cultivate those relationships. 

11.) Try to "out-give" the other person- This is especially helpful if you're in a long term relationship. Do more for them than they do for you, and don't keep score. 

12.) Keep learning- Never stop. If you think you know everything you need to know, you're wrong. 

13.) Workout- Do something active every day, if possible. This is probably the best tip I can give for mental health. 

14.) Eat healthy- Cut the alcohol and processed food. Add in the veggies, proteins, fibers and fats. Read Body Love by Kelly LeVeque for more.  

15.) Go to sleep- Everything looks better and less overwhelming after a good night's sleep. 

16.) Stop listening to music that makes you feel something you don't want to feel- Maybe music doesn't affect you the way it affects me, in which case, this recommendation is not for you. But if the songs you listen to put you back in a relationship you don't need to be focusing on or a season of your life you'd rather forget, then STOP LISTENING TO IT. 

17.) Realize that you have a choice- You control your mood, what goes into your mouth and what comes out of it. You choose what your day is going to look like and who you are going to spend it with. You get to choose your life. 

18.) Unfollow people who make you feel bad about your life. Social media can be a great place, and it can be a terrible one. If someone is causing you to feel insecure or insignificant, then UNFOLLOW THEM and don't think twice. 

19.) Know yourself- Make a list of your core values as a person. Start with three to five, if you need a number. Then structure your schedule and your life around those values. 

20.) Stay organized. 

21.) Surround yourself with people who push you to be a better person. 

22.) Know that one mistake doesn't define your day or your week...or who you are. 

Nice Girl Uprising: An Interview With Marriage & Family Therapist Jennifer Padilla-Burger

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Can I be honest? I don’t enjoy the process of making new friends. I find the initial phases of friendship to be an awkward dance of “Does she like me?” and “Should I text her?” and “What can we talk about?” There are too many similarities to dating, and I have always been more of a long-term relationship girl.

When I met up with Jennifer-Padilla Burger last week to talk about our new projects, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Jen and I had met through mutual friends on a few other occasions, but she was very much an acquaintance. Still, I had a suspicion that getting to know her would be different than making other new friends, and I was right.

Chatting with Jen felt like talking with someone I’ve known for years. (If you listen to Jen’s Chai Talk podcast, you’ll know exactly what I mean.) She is incredibly relatable, down to earth and kind. SO SO kind. Another great thing about Jen? She’s a licensed therapist, so pretty much everything she says is insightful and wise.

In this interview, Jen talks about change (this month's theme on This is Thirty Four), the power of saying NO, and what it means to be a NICE GIRL. I needed to hear so much of what she had to say, and I know you'll love it too! 

Jenn Prentice (JP): Hi Jen! Thanks for doing this interview. Can you take a second and tell everyone about yourself?

Jennifer Padilla-Burger (JPB): My name is Jennifer Padilla-Burger and I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Arroyo Grande, California.  I grew up in Mount Shasta, CA which is a small mountain town in the Northern part of the state.  I belong to an amazing tribe which includes my husband, two children, family, and friends that feel like family.  I am blessed to get to do work that I absolutely love.  I am passionate about connecting with people to explore their story, voice, and dreams.  In my free time I’m creating, reading, practicing yoga, or spending time with my family.

JP: We met through mutual friends a while ago, but we’ve really connected over our new writing (and for you, also podcasting) projects. What is your new project, Nice Girl Uprising, all about? 

JPB: Nice Girl Uprising is a movement designed in the spirit of connection, collaboration, and opening up discussions about things we are aching to talk about. I grew up wanting to please others.  I was often concerned about what other people would think and I wanted to be perfect.  Through life experience, yoga, and The Daring Way™ (a highly experiential methodology based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW) I began to peel my layers off and live as a wholehearted person. 

JP: Wholehearted. That’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean?

JPB: To me, living wholeheartedly, is about embracing our dark and our light, our joy and our sorrow, our successes and our failures.  I am choosing to bring my whole self to the room instead of trying to minimize or abandon parts of myself.  Through Nice Girl Uprising, I am hoping to spark discussion about what’s going on, where we’re headed, and what we want.  With soft hearts and open minds I hope that we can unite in supporting each other in living a life that is kind, fierce, and brave.

JP: Supporting each other through kindness, fierceness and bravery…I think the tension between those three things is a struggle for a lot of women. What are some of the big issues you see women struggling with? 

JPB: The major issue that I see women struggling with today is self-care.  Self-care can seem weird or selfish to women who are accustomed to putting themselves last.  When we continually put ourselves last on our list, we FEEL it.  It tends to show itself through irritability, discontent, and can sometimes progress towards anxiety and depression.  Along with the resistance to self-care, I see women struggling to use their voices and to say “no”.  Part of my work with women is supporting them in using empowering language, to say what they mean, and to choose how and with whom they spend their time.  I am a major advocate for self-care, self-love, and self-forgiveness.  When we are in alignment with ourselves we can give our love and attention to the people that we care about.  It’s in this space of empowerment that we can better discern how to share our energy, time, and love. 

JP: You talk a lot about the importance of saying NO. I tend to be the type of person who says "yes" to a lot of stuff and then regrets it later. Why is it important to learn how to say "no"? 

JPB: For women, I think that “yes” originates from a desire to connect, live in harmony, and formulate positive relationships with others.  When I say “yes” it’s often easier than saying “no”.  My “yes” often means “I like you”, “I don’t want you to be mad at me”, “I should be helpful/generous/dedicated”.  However, the warning call is when I begin to dread my “yes” and drag myself to the event with an irritated, annoyed, closed-off internal state.  That’s not how I want to live my life.  It has been important for me to learn to say “no” so that I can give my energy and attention to what really matters to me.  A “no” to one thing means a big “yes” to my family, my time, and my energy.  I believe that I can shine brightest when I am able to focus on the people and things that make my life meaningful.  Though saying “no” is uncomfortable, that discomfort is brief and frees me up to design my own life.

JP: “Saying no –while uncomfortable at times—frees us up to design our own lives.” I think that’s a message a lot of women NEED to hear. I know I need to hear it. So, what is one tip for saying NO without being mean?

JPB: When I was doing research for Nice Girl Uprising, I found that women didn’t want to seem mean so they avoided saying “no”.  Of course, we don’t want to be the mean girl!  We’re not wired for it.  I designed a video on my website that offers a 5-step process to saying no without being mean.  The first step in this video is using a mantra which is just a word or short phrase to help us stay focused and grounded.  One of my favorite mantras is, “Shoulders back; Heart forward.”  This mantra reminds me to stand strong in my power with my feet rooted firmly on the ground while allowing my heart to lead so that I can communicate in a way that is kind.  This mantra encompasses what Nice Girl Uprising stands for:  women that are soft and strong, kind and fierce, gentle and brave.  We can say “no” in a way that honors our integrity and keeps us in connection with the person that we’re saying “no” to.

JP: This month on This is Thirty Four we're talking about CHANGE. One thing I'm trying to change is my default response to stress and discontentment. Usually, my response is to go shopping. So, because I am an all or nothing person, I’m taking drastic measures and not buying clothes or shoes for an entire year. What would you say to someone, like me, who wants to make a big change in their life? 

JPB: Oooohhh, how exciting!  I can’t wait to follow your journey with this new commitment.  I think you touched on something that is important to talk about in our culture:  numbing.  We all numb to take the edge off of our emotions.  For some of us that might be scrolling through social media, drinking wine, or buying stuff that we don’t need.  We do these things to avoid acknowledging our true feelings.  When we make the brave choice to live in a new way, I think it’s critical to understand our “why”. 

For me, lasting change usually happens when I strive towards how I want to feel versus an end goal.   For example, if someone wants to lose weight it would be important to connect with how they want to feel (free, empowered, strong) rather than the number on the scale.  Jenn, I’m guessing that you made this choice to feel lighter, freer, and more present to your life?  How do those feelings show up in your body?  What activities support those feelings?  When we’re choosing to live according to how we want to feel, our commitments stay in line with our whole outlook on life.  Living in this way can transform goals into lifestyle.  Big changes become part of your path instead of an endless climb.  When we can feel it, we can become it.

 JP: For me, not buying clothes (or shoes) for a year is also an effort to be more intentional in the way I’m spending my money and where I’m focusing my mental energy. I think materialism can take up more mental real estate than we give it credit for. When you and I hung out last week, we talked about the importance of being intentional in the way we live our lives. What's one area of your life that you're trying to be more intentional with and how are you going about doing that?

JPB: I am trying to be more intentional about spending quality time with my kids.  Being an entrepreneur, I make my own working hours, which is great, but I sometimes don’t have a closing time.  Lately, I’ve noticed my desire to “complete just one more thing” which turns into an hour if I’m not careful.  When I am with my kids after school now, I shut down my electronics and play baseball with my son or create art with my daughter.  I figure there will always be time to work later, but they will only be this small for a blink in time.  When I slow down and play with them I am reminded of my “why”.  Seriously, they are the coolest kids!  They refresh me and move me from my head to my heart in a matter of minutes.

JP: You have a daughter. What are you hoping to teach her about what it means to be a NICE GIRL? 

JPB: My daughter is six years old and I think she has been teaching me more than I have been teaching her!  When she was three-years old she was getting ready for bed and she said, “I love my mom, I love my dad, I love my brother, and I love myself.”  I practically did a double take because we often don’t give ourselves permission to openly express love for ourselves as adults.  As her mama, we are always talking about empathy, self-care, and generosity (both in our actions and in our assumptions of others).  When a conflict happens with her peers, I encourage her to stick up for herself but we also talk about what her friend could have been feeling in the moment.  I remind her that her voice and her relationships are equally important.  She can say how she feels in a way that keeps her connected to her friends that she loves and that love her.  My girl is so wise, nurturing, strong, and funny.  I’m seriously considering having her as a guest on the Chai Talk Podcast!  She has so much to offer the world. 

JP: Last question. It’s the one I ask everyone I interview: At the end of your life, what type of legacy are you hoping to leave? 

JPB: I am hoping that people will remember me for how I showed up in my relationships.  I would want to be remembered for being a dedicated wife, a loving mother, a dependable family member, and a loyal friend.  I am hoping to leave a legacy that inspires people to be brave in their lives.  I don’t mean big dramatic bravery, but small acts of bravery that happen when you show up as you are, try new things, and say what you mean.  I hope that my legacy inspires people to be fierce with their time, energy, and schedule.  Doing what we love creates space for more love and that’s worth being fierce about.  Lastly, and most importantly, I hope that I leave a legacy of kindness.  In a harsh world, it’s refreshing to show up with a kind heart.  The connection that kindness breeds will be the very thing that changes the world.

Making Meaning in the Chaos

This month's theme on This is Thirty Four is CHANGE. Today, I'm talking about how unwanted change (read: the impending death of a loved one) and sitting at a table with eight men I'd never met caused me to make a few changes on this website. 

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In a few weeks, maybe days, my husband’s 88-year-old grandmother will leave this world and enter the gates of Heaven and into the arms of Jesus.

Kay Prentice is a strong woman who eloped at 18 with her high school sweetheart, Waller. She and Waller have been married for 70 years. He still calls her “baby” and tells her she’s beautiful. She still beams every time he gets close to her.

Their relationship survived war, financial hardship, long years of hard work (she owned a flower shop and he was a captain in the Oakland Police Department) and numerous illnesses. Together, they raised two boys—one became a lawyer and one an architect. Those boys had boys of their own and those boys (my husband and his cousins) now have boys of their own.

She is the matriarch in a family of men who run to greet her with a kiss when she comes in the door and who stand at the end of the driveway waving goodbye as she leaves.

Her impending death is not a surprise to anyone, and my husband’s family will emerge from the fire that is grief more bonded to one another than ever. I can say that with confidence because in addition to leaving behind her doting husband and family, Kay leaves an even greater legacy: She LOVED WELL and taught those around her how to do the same.

Success to Significance

Last Thursday, I was at an event full of local business leaders, sitting at a table with nine older men. The speaker posed this question: “What would it take for you to go from success to significance?” He asked everyone to share their thoughts with the people at their table.

Other than my husband, I didn’t know any of the men I was sitting with; but lately, something in me says “SPEAK UP” when I’m out of my comfort zone—especially around men. I am tired of letting them dominate the conversation. (#sorrynotsorry) So, I went first:

“For me, success to significance would mean being more intentional about the way I interact with my husband, my boys and my friends. I want to love them well and leave a legacy of love behind me. Significance would also mean extending my influence among my students and in the online community I’m building so that I can help others learn to live with intention and leave their own legacy.”

BOOM. MIC DROP.

I know I’m biased, but I saw the faces of the men around the table, and (minus my husband) they were clearly not expecting me to give that answer. As I listened to their answers, which were mostly all the same (focus less on their careers and more on their wives and kids), I realized that women have known for years what a lot of men are only starting to figure out:

IMPACTING THE LIVES OF THOSE AROUND US IN A SIGNIFICANT, POSITIVE WAY IS FAR MORE FULFILLING THAN ANY WORLDLY SUCCESS COULD EVER BE.

That’s what my husband’s grandmother has known and modeled for the past 88 years, and that’s why I started This is Thirty Four. I believe you and I are created to make an impact on those around us; and I want to create a space for us to figure out what that looks like in each of our lives…TOGETHER.

What now?

It’s been over two months since This is Thirty Four officially launched. Every day, I feel a bit more clarity on the type of content that I want to produce here. Today, I’m ready to put a stake in the ground and further crystalize what This is Thirty Four is all about.

Here’s a preview:

At This is Thirty Four, we (I chose this pronoun because I’m dragging all of you along with me) are MAKING MEANING IN THE CHAOS.

Life is busy. Every day, hundreds of things clamor for our attention and threaten to distract us from what is really important. If we don’t know what’s most important to us—what type of legacy we want to leave—then we can’t prioritize our lives around those things. If we aren’t intentional about our thoughts, choices and actions, then society or someone else will tell us how to think, what to choose and when to act.

When I look at the last 34 years of my life, I see that the more chaotic seasons stemmed from an imbalance in one of these four areas:

Myself—my emotions, my spiritual walk, my health

Relationships- my marriage, my parenting, my friendships

Possessions – my finances, my focus on material things

Time- my over commitment and lack of margin in my schedule

If all, or even one, of these four areas of our lives are out of whack, we CANNOT live intentionally and the legacy we may end up leaving could be one of little consequence.  

So, what type of content can you expect to see on This is Thirty Four in the future?

More of the same…with a bit more focus on the four aforementioned categories.

I’ll still have a monthly theme, but those themes and the related posts will (mostly) fall into the self, relationships, possessions and/or time categories.

I’ll still be conducting interviews with awesome women who are doing amazing things related to the monthly theme or one of the those topics. Why? Because I am not an expert on, well, anything. By God’s grace, I’ve figured out how to do a few things well, and I’ll certainly be sharing some of that advice on here; but I also heavily rely on the advice of others to guide me along the journey that is life.

Finally, what do I need from you, the This is Thirty Four community? I NEED YOUR INPUT! What topics do YOU want to see more about on the blog? What are some of the things you struggle with related to self, relationships, possessions and time? Who do you look to for advice in those areas? Who would you like to hear from in a blog interview? (Bonus points if that person is not a mega star and I can actually get in touch with them.)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We’re all in this thing called life together. It’s better if we lean on and learn from one another along the way. Thanks for sharing in my journey and sharing your journey with me. 

XX,

Jenn

 

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Made For More: Reflections on Eating Disorder Recovery and Perfectionism

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This month’s theme on This is Thirty Four is BEING BRAVE. A few women have shared their stories and moments of bravery, and now it’s time for me to share mine…

I’m not exactly sure when it started, but I know it was well before the first time I threw up. Perhaps it started in first grade, when as a perfectionistic and overly self-aware child, I first experienced shame by being placed in the intermediate, rather than the advanced, reading group.

For weeks afterward, I hit the phonics hard in order to move up to the top tier group, and when I achieved that goal and received praise from my teachers and parents and acceptance from the “cool kids” in the advanced group, I felt exhilarated. My malleable seven-year-old mind learned a lesson that day:

Shame can be channeled into achievement and turned into acceptance.

In middle school, I was hit with the trifecta of early adolescent insecurity: braces, glasses and a very flat chest. (Sadly, things haven’t changed much in the latter category as a 34-year-old.) So, I did what any middle school girl would do: I got contacts, begged my parents for clear braces instead of the garish metal ones that many of my peers were wearing and bought padded bras and stuffed them with tissues to give the appearance of something more than speed bumps under my t-shirt.

These tactics worked. By high school, I was one of the most popular girls in school. (Sidenote: It is not hard to be the most popular when your graduating class is only 36 students. Thank you, private school education!)  Despite questionable haircuts and cringe-worthy fashion choices (It was the 90’s, you guys!), I don’t remember feeling terribly insecure about my body in high school; but I do remember constantly comparing myself to others and striving to maintain my status as one of the cool kids.

You see, my middle school transformation taught me another “life” lesson:

Outcasts become cheerleading squad captains when you look cute and work hard to fit in.

I took the narratives of achievement, outward appearance and their combined power to bring about popularity and acceptance into my freshman year of college. Having grown up in private Christian school my whole life, college was the first time my world views were challenged…and the first time I was around alcohol.  The lack of organized sports (e.g.- regular workouts), crappy cafeteria food and late night snacking coupled with a string of poor decisions left me with an extra 10 pounds and a deep sense of shame within my first month of college.

Shame plus perfectionism and a desire for acceptance is a lethal combination.

Not knowing how to cope with my emotions, I turned to food for comfort. By the end of my first semester of college, I was trapped in a weekly, sometimes daily, cycle of binging and purging. Thanks to caring roommates who called my parents and told them what was going on, I landed in a counselor’s office during Christmas break from school. That well-meaning man gave me tactics to stop over eating and throwing up (God bless the male heart to “fix things.”); but he never addressed what was really going on.

The problem with an eating disorder is that an eating disorder is very rarely the root of the problem. It is merely a manifestation of a deeper issue. For me, those issues were perfectionism, constant comparison, an unchecked desire to fit in and an inability to deal with the inevitable failures that come with being human.

And so, the cycle of binging and purging and lying about binging and purging and being triggered by the lying and starting the cycle all over again continued throughout all four years of college and into graduate school. Often, I would throw up less—or sometimes stop altogether—when I was in a new relationship (my desire to be perfect and accepted was never more strong than with a boyfriend); but as soon as that relationship got difficult or ended, I would start the cycle all over again. 

The scary thing is, once I convinced my parents and roommates that counseling had done the trick and I was cured of my eating issues, no one really knew I was still throwing up. I was a straight A student who had my choice of graduate schools and appeared to most people—including family and close friends—to be relatively happy and healthy.

Eating disorders are often a slow, silent killer.

And then one day, the bottom dropped out.

In the fall of 2005, during my first semester of graduate school, my boyfriend of two years announced he was no longer in love with me. He cut off contact overnight; and I moved to a different section of town, away from him and from our mutual friends. I changed churches and ate my feelings away. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but the three months after our break up were characterized by empty cartons of ice cream, nights spent lying on the bathroom floor and deep, deep shame.

There comes a point when you can no longer cover up what goes on when no one’s watching, and I had reached that point. One night, after a particularly violent binge/purge cycle, I remember laying down in the hallway of my apartment, extending my right hand up in the air and saying: “I can’t do this anymore, God. Something has to change. Take my hand. Walk with me through this and help me out of it.”

Through the love and encouragement of my parents and friends, a counselor named Angel (I swear I’m not making that up) and a huge helping (only slight pun intended) of God’s grace and mercy, I slowly began the process of recovery. I learned to identify my triggers. Then I learned to avoid them. Then I learned to anticipate them. And finally, I learned to manage them. It often felt like three steps forward, two steps back; but day after day, I made progress.

A year and a half after the bad break-up that became the catalyst for getting help, another relationship ended unexpectedly. This time, instead of falling back into old habits, I fell on family, friends and God. Two months later, when I met the man who became my husband, I knew I was ready for a healthy relationship because I was healthy myself. Six months later, when I moved across the country to be closer to my now husband, I felt confident that I could handle a huge life change without fear of relapse. And you know what? By God’s grace, I was right.

But my story doesn’t stop with meeting a guy, moving across the country and living happily ever after. While I'm no longer battling an eating disorder or (major) body image issues (I still have those tiny boobs, afterall...), perfectionism and constantly comparing myself to others are still things I struggle with.

Like anyone, I am a work in progress; but my battle with bulimia taught me five truths that still serve me well as I actively fight off the lies that this world and the culture we live in try to tell me:

1. There is no cool kids club.  

If someone around you has created one, believe me, you don’t want to be a part of it! No matter how much better someone else’s life might look, at the end of the day, we are all human. Sit at all the tables. Jesus eats with everyone.

2. Each day is a chance to start over.

You are not your mistakes; and the mistakes you made yesterday don’t dictate the person you are today.  God’s mercies are new every morning. He is faithful, and He is good to those who seek after Him.

3. No two people have the same journey to recovery.

What took me two years might take you ten months or ten years. Don’t compare my ending to your beginning. Your journey to recovery or overcoming a particular obstacle is unique. There are stories and truths that you will be able to share that I can’t, simply because your journey took you different places than mine.

 4. You cannot do this alone.

We were made to live in community; but things like eating disorders and addiction and even perfectionism and comparison often force us into isolation. We think we’re the only ones who struggle. We fear that people won’t want to be our friend if they really know us; but we are wrong. If you don’t have at least one person you can talk to, seek someone out--a counselor, a pastor, ME. You cannot walk the road to recovery—or this life--alone, and you shouldn’t have to.

5. This is hard work.

Overcoming an eating disorder or a mental or physical challenge of any kind is probably some of the hardest work you will ever do in your life…but it just might save your life. Or your marriage. Or your job. Or your family. You were made for more than struggle. You were made to thrive. So, dig your heels in and know that there is light at the end of what might look like a very dark tunnel right now.

With God…and counseling…and hard work…but mostly God… all things are truly possible.

 

 

Process Over Product

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It seemed like the stars were magically aligning. A few weeks before I launched This Is Thirty Four I saw that Visit SLO Cal—our local destination management organization--was looking for digital influencers. (They're calling them storytellers.) At a very basic level, storytellers are people who blog and post on social media about how cool San Luis Obispo County is, in exchange for free experiences.

I literally teared up when I read the position description. As a marketing professor, I know that being a digital influencer is a great way to build a social media presence—something I’m obviously looking to do as This Is Thirty Four gets off the ground. PLUS, I love living in San Luis Obispo County. I love writing and sharing my experiences with other people; and (shocker!) I love free stuff.

I spent the last few weeks planning out exactly what to write about and what pictures to take. I planned to take the entire day on Friday, while my husband was off work, to create and submit the application. I was ready. I was going to nail it. Who had two thumbs and was going to be the next Visit SLO Cal storyteller? THIS GIRL.

While I’m pleased to report that I still have two thumbs, I’m probably not going to be the next Visit SLO Cal digital influencer.

A lot of life happened last week: My blog launch and teaching prep took a bit more time than anticipated. A friend needed me to watch her kids so she could attend a funeral. My son went on a nap strike; and my husband--who normally has Fridays off--got called into work. The application was due at 11:59 p.m. this past Friday, and at 9 p.m. that night I finally sat down to start writing.

Needless to say, the application didn’t turn out quite the way I planned. In fact, at about 10:30 p.m., I seriously considered giving up and going to sleep. Instead, I decided to scrap my original idea and take my blog post (which you can read here) in a different direction. I don’t know about you, but any decision I make after 10 p.m. is questionable at best.

I went to bed that night second-guessing myself and my writing abilities and questioning why I’d even wanted to apply for the position in the first place. I wondered why I spent so much time preparing for something only to have it turn out, quite honestly, so substandard.

When I woke up Saturday morning, the answer hit me: Sometimes, the process is more important than the product. Going through the process of applying to be a Visit SLO Cal storyteller drove home three important lessons. These are things I know in my head but now feel in my heart a bit more deeply:

People always come first.

I could have said “no” to my friend who needed a sitter for her kids. I know she has a large pool of babysitters she could pay to watch them. I also could have politely declined my other friend who, at 4:30 on Friday, asked my boys and I to come to the local park to support her daughter’s free face painting booth. But I didn’t. I said “yes” to these women because they would do the same for me. At the end of my life, no one will remember the things I did on social media, but they will remember the things I did for them.

I am not defined by my successes…or my failures.

I’m proud of what I did last week while launching This Is Thirty Four. I’m proud of myself for simply SUBMITTING the application to be a SLO Cal Storyteller; but if (when?) I don’t get chosen, that’s ok too. I’m not saying this to discount how badly I want the "job." (Remember the aforementioned tears?) I’m saying this because sometimes we don’t get what we want. Sometimes that’s because of some “failure” on our part to make it happen or because of some confluence of unfortunate events or simply because God has other plans.

If the thesis of my blog is that we all have something to contribute regardless of how “famous” we are in the eyes of the world and the thesis of my life is that I am a child of God with an identity firmly rooted in HIM, then my successes or failures should have little impact on my self worth. Perhaps it’s time I start walking my own talk.

My ability can only take me so far.

I truly believe that I could write the EXACT post that Visit SLO Cal is looking for and NOT get chosen. I also believe that I could write something way worse than what I actually did and still become a SLO Cal storyteller. Why? Because the deciding factor isn’t my ability to do something, it’s the God who is charge of those abilities. He directs my comings and goings, the opportunities I receive and the very breath that I breathe.

That’s not an excuse to phone it in, and that doesn’t mean I can’t dream big. It means that whether or not I’m the next Visit SLO Cal storyteller, I can confidently know that I’m exactly where God wants me.

So, what about you? What are you dreaming about doing these days and what’s standing in your way? I’d encourage you to go for it--no matter how much or how little time you have, no matter how confident you are in your abilities. It’s in God’s hands anyhow, and the process is sometimes more important than the product.

This Blog Isn't For You

Last month, I became mildly obsessed with Justin Timberlake. Alright. The JT obsession goes further back than that. I’ve been a fan of Justin since his NSYNC days. We’re talking pre-BYE BYE BYE era Justin Timberlake. The frosted tips, muscle tee, Drive Myself Crazy, 1997 version of JT.

I never went to an NSYNC concert. I've missed all of his solo tours to date (thanks, broke college student and brand new parent eras of my life). So this year, my JT obsession revolved around seeing him in concert on his Man of the Woods Tour.  Something I am happy to report I will be doing in April.

During the Super Bowl, I made everyone at our house—including my two and five-year-old--be quiet, sit down and sing along with me to every word of Justin’s halftime show. Critics be damned, that man put on one of the best halftime shows ever, and I can’t stop that feeling! (See what I did there?)

Often, we look at the JT’s of the world and think that to really accomplish something—to truly leave a legacy—we have to have an extraordinary talent. And culturally, that may be true. Fortunately, the Bible flips the notion of what it takes to be successful on its head. Throughout scripture, we’re given example after example of ordinary, untalented people who did extraordinary things by simply being obedient to God and allowing HIM to work through them.

And by people, I do not just mean old Jewish men. Look at Ruth, Rahab, Esther, MARY. Four women. Four hearts yielded in obedience to God. They did what He asked them to do, WHEN He asked them to do it. And through them, countless lives—and even the entire world—were changed.

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Recently, a friend and I—both of us in our mid-30s—were talking about the legacy we’d like to leave after we die. It’s doubtful that anyone will write a book about either of us. And I’m 100% certain we’ll never star in the Super Bowl Halftime Show. But those weren’t the things we said we wanted to be remembered for anyway.

Kindness.

Faithfulness.

Loving others even when it isn’t convenient.

A relationship with God that causes people—most especially our children—to turn to us for wise advice and spiritual mentorship.

When I left my friend, I started thinking about how to accomplish the things we discussed. I know WHAT type of legacy I want to leave, and I know WHY I want to leave one in the first place; but I’m not always good at figuring out HOW to do those things in the midst of every day life. At 34, there is still so much I want to accomplish…for myself, for my family, for God. In fact, I’d say that my vision for what I want to do and who I want to be has only gotten stronger as I’ve gotten older. Unfortunately, most days I feel lost in the rat race of laundry and playing with (or disciplining) my boys and making meals and TRYING to be an attentive wife. I get to the end of the day and realize that while my house may be clean, I haven’t made progress on the things that really matter.

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A few days after talking with my friend, I read—more like devoured—Rachel Hollis’s book “Girl, Wash Your Face.” She talks about the importance of keeping promises to yourself.  

I realized that the reason I’m not good at the “how” isn’t b/c I don’t KNOW how to live with intention and leave the legacy I want to leave. It’s b/c I stopped believing myself when I said I was going to do it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that the laundry (can everyone tell, by now, that I hate laundry?), the kids’ activities, and even the (shame on me) reality TV watching will take precedent over pursuing something with eternal value.

Rachel’s book was the wake up call I needed.

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So, here I am, launching a new blog on a random Tuesday in March because, honestly, I need to start keeping promises to myself.

I said 2018 would be a better year than 2017. I’ve been saying I’m “going to do something with my blog” for YEARS. And by God’s grace, I’m going to do just that.

Maybe no one will read This is Thirty Four. Or maybe only the same 10-20 friends who always read my writing will follow along. Or maybe lots of people will read it and love it… or hate it. Any of those outcomes are fine because this blog isn’t for you. (Ok. That’s a lie. It’s actually very much for you.)

This is Thirty Four is for me and for that fire that has burned so deep in my bones since I knew how to put pen to paper. And it’s for God...because I don’t think He gave me the desire to encourage other women through my writing for nothing. And I do believe He has a story—a lot of stories—for me to tell.  

To quote another inspiring author, Sally Clarkson: “Part of owning your life is trusting God and stepping out in faith when he puts something on your heart.”

So, this is me, owning my life. This is me, stepping out in faith. THIS IS THIRTY FOUR.

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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.

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