What I Learned in January

januaryJanuary is always the month of newness. It inspires resolutions, and then demands readjustment. By the end of thirty-one days of trying to improve everything, I’m usually ready to hibernate. Forget the New Year. I need a new bedtime.

With that first month behind us now, I’m pausing to wonder where it went. What I accomplished. What I learned.

I’ll be sincere: January did not go as I intended. I had high expectations in several areas, and I didn’t live up to them. I barely wrote a few chapters in the manuscript I planned to complete; I haven’t figured out my future yet; what I want changes at the slightest notice; when I evaluate my actions from the last month, some of them make me cringe. This year already feels like it’s off to a choppy start. Outwardly, nothing drastic has happened, but I can’t shake my inner sense of unsteadiness.

I’m tempted to delete that entire paragraph, but I’m going to leave it because I promised myself something for this year: I am going to be authentic. It’s too tempting to create a perfect persona. It’s too uncomfortable to be vulnerable and real. Yet I’m learning that I connect most truly and deeply with others when there’s a sense of sincerity. In a world of photo shop and plastic, I think we want to know what’s genuine. We want to know we aren’t the only ones who feel messy and uncertain. Every intimate detail doesn’t  need to be spread. We still need a sense of privacy. But that doesn’t mean we need to pretend we’re perfect.

So in the midst of others celebrating their life-changing resolutions, their unstoppable success, and how 2015 is the best year ever, I’m happy for those people. But I’m not going to claim I’m one of them. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

January was not the triumphant month I imagined. It had ups and downs, but I can honestly say I learned along the way. I am learning. Here is a scattering of my humble findings for last month:

  1. Even when I don’t get the results I want, there is no regret in being brave. Courage is a choice I have to make with trembling limbs and knots in my stomach, but once I do, I am free. I no longer have to wonder what would have happened if I had stepped out. Fear doesn’t deserve the final word. Faith and freedom do. It’s empowering to type those words, even though it’s a little harder to breathe seeing them.
    be brave quote birds
  2. Patience is a process. Every time I think I’ve got it mastered, I have to learn it over. And then over again.
  3. Even loners can’t always walk alone. I am an introvert through and through, and I lean towards working by myself. I’ve recently discovered the true value of teamwork, though. I used to talk a good game about it, but now I’ve played it. And on a great team, everybody really does win. I’ve been able to watch this happen in ministry, at work, and recently in writing when I joined the fantastic team of The Fangirl Initiative(Which is a super fun, nerdy blog! Here are a few posts I’ve had the pleasure of sharing there.)
  4. It’s important to make time for what makes me happy and whole. A couple of weeks ago, I stayed up reading until 4 AM, something I hadn’t done in years. It actually felt amazing. I need books to read like I need air to breathe; I need to journal and clear my head often. And I need to make that a priority, not a luxury. Rest should be a gift, not something I have to earn by doing enough work.
  5. Speaking of books, we can no longer say Harper Lee published only one! In a bizarre twist of fate, the novel she wrote before To Kill a Mockingbird is being released at last this summer. Decades later, the public will have something of a sequel to the beloved American classic… The beloved classic I have yet to read. Since To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, I kind of felt there was no rush. Now that the buzz is all about the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, I probably need to get a move on!
  6. Bookworms share a common problem: There are so many reasons to buy books! It’s impossibly hard not to give in to all of them! Dratted budgets. Thank you all for the brilliant response to my last bookish post- I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in my struggle. 😉
  7. Words have such power. In the last month, several people spoke encouragement to me, whether through texting, over Twitter or in person. They may never realize the light those words gave me, but I’ve clung to them. Speak kindly. Lift others. You never know how you’ll inspire them.
  8. Even the best intentions may go awry. I fully intended to have this post finished in time to participate in the link-up on one of my favorite blogs, Chatting at the SkySadly, I missed the deadline. I didn’t want to miss reflecting on January, though, so here it is. And if you’d like to see what other bloggers learned in January, here is the post I was *supposed* to add my link to. 

What did you learn in January? Is there anything you’ll change for February, or do the same? How has this month started off for you?

All the best for February!

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Forward into ’15

Go forward: 2015

Eleven days into 2015, and zero posts until now. That was definitely not one of my resolutions. I have such high hopes for this year, and myself in it, but the truth is I’m having trouble shifting into this New Year at all.

I don’t mean that I’m still writing 2014 on all my checks and journal entries, although I actually just did that. I feel like I’m still living in 2014, repeating all the patterns I want to change in 2015. This first week and a half has been unstructured and rather sporadic, reminding me of last year.

2014 was filled with changes, most of them out of my control. So much shifted, from my priorities and responsibilities to my dreams and relationships. I spent much of the year split between fighting the wave of change and learning how to ride it. Last year tested my faith and forced me to trust God; to wait on Him. More often than not, it meant simply being still. Which, for me, meant waiting anxiously for something and going partly crazy because I felt like I was doing nothing. For a girl who likes being in control and keeping busy, it’s a hard lesson to learn.

It didn’t go perfectly, and I have a lot more growing to do. Eventually, though, I settled into the stillness. (For the most part, anyway; my family could tell you I still had my “moments.”) Overall, though, I had to accept that God was doing something in the seasons of nothing. I had to learn not to fight those times, and even to give thanks for nothing. Not all the answers in life are instant or permanent, and it’s a little easier to see that now. I stopped trying to figure everything out and gave up my “five-year plan.” (And also my ten, fifteen and twenty year plans.) I don’t know what’s happening next month, or even all that could happen in the next two weeks. Even so, I know God is truly in control, not just because my Pinterest quotes say so, but because I have seen Him arrange my life before. I have seen what happens when I finally get out of the way and give Him space. 2014 was the year of being still and seeing the salvation of the Lord. It was the year Exodus 14:13-14 came true for me.

“Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today…… 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”  

That was hard to accept initially, but it truly worked and now I’m rather comfortable where I am. There are still other things I want to accomplish, dreams for me to chase, yet the routine of 2014 has at last become familiar. I might not be completely satisfied, but I’m safe here in the waiting… In the stillness.

And now that I’ve found the faith to wait on God… I have a dilemma. He’s asking me to have the faith to go forward again.

In verse 15 of that same passage, in 2015 of this same girl’s life, the stillness has ended. To paraphrase that verse, the Lord says, “Why do you cry to me? … Go forward.” (emphasis mine.) 

Go forward? It’s what I was straining for last year, before I learned the importance of being still. In 2014, I didn’t need to go forward. I had been racing forward too long, and needed to slow down. To stop. Breathe. Rest. Wait.

Now? I’ve found that rhythm of silence. And I’m afraid to leave it. It’s puzzling, how last year, being still seemed like the worst thing. I was chomping at the bit for the command to go. It’s finally come, and suddenly I want to curl up and stay still.

It’s what I’ve done for the last several days, fighting the strain of going forward. If I go forward, I have to move into the unknown. This season of stillness has given me a chance to recover my faith and grow it gently. If I move ahead, it will be tested all over. It will be strained and shaken and forced to dig its roots deeper in the rough patches.

In the nothingness, I could dream safely about the someday’s filled with something’s. If I go forward into that someday, and start doing that something, I’m afraid those daydreams will be shattered. What if I fail at everything I’ve been waiting to accomplish? What if I somehow mistake where God is leading me, and derail onto the wrong road entirely?

Forward is frightening. Moving forward might mean falling or failing.

But the time has come. If I want to live my life as a symphony of God’s grace, it’s time to start playing the song. I can no longer be silent, even if it means I’ll be missing beats and playing plenty of wrong notes.

The faith I learned through stillness has to carry me forward now. It’s time.

What are you going forward into this year? 

Forward into 2015!

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10 Tips for Keeping Calm in Chaos

coffee on windowsill

Hello friends! Remember me? The girl who’s gone about a week and a half without a word?

When I launched the blog a month ago, I had a solid schedule, but alas, life isn’t always so tidy.

It’s a constant volley between stress and stillness, and usually, the ball stays on the stressed side of the court longer. We all have to juggle those times, when the schedules grow longer and the days shorter.

Although I like to consider myself mostly laid-back, there is an irritable, anxious side to me. When life tugs all my strings, I get wound up in tight knots. My mind races in ninety directions at a hundred miles per hour, leaving my head spinning and heart pounding. I feel like I’m trying to keep up in a marathon, which is really bad because I do not like to run.

The last word that applies to me in all the chaos is calm. How can I keep calm when there’s enough to fill my calendar until Easter? Yet the more I worry and work myself up, the harder it is to accomplish anything. The more I flail, the faster I sink.

I’m not writing this so you pity me or excuse my sporadic blogging habits. I don’t mean to vent or whine. In fact, I’m not trying to write this for me at all, even though it is sort of therapeutic. I’m sharing this because I think you understand. I think you’ve had those drowning times, when the tide keeps rising and your energy keeps waning; you know how it feels to fight the waves but lose sight of the shore.

I’m sharing it because I think we can reach the surface together.

I’m not the best qualified to offer advice on the subject; I still have trouble breathing from impending panic. But I have found ways that help me get a lungful of air, so I’d like to share those in case they can help you breathe again too. And if you have any other methods, please do share! Here are some of the things that help me keep my head above water:

  • Write it down. I can’t remember everything, although my friends tell me I have a knack for recollecting old, mostly pointless details. To handle more practical matters, I make a lot of lists. About a month ago, I finally bought a planner and it’s been the best $2 I ever spent. It allows me to see what’s happening each day, week and month, which helps me balance the big picture and the present. It’s also rewarding to cross off events and tasks as I accomplish them.
  • Simplify. This message is on plaques in every gift shop, but this year I’ve been truly learning the blessing of that little word. It’s okay to evaluate priorities and rearrange or remove some. Having less to do means less to stress over. Even having less clutter makes me feel more focused and in control. Simplicity = sanity.
  • Make time for personal care. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming; just the basics, such as a cool shower, sweet-smelling shampoo and smooth moisturizer are enough to make me feel better. It seems easier to face the world when I’ve taken care of my face first.
  • Don’t worry about keeping up appearances. While I do need time to take care of myself, I don’t like to exaggerate it. When I am pressured, I try to keep my routine simple and both comfortable and presentable. I have a few hairstyles I can do in under a minute, and some go-to outfits at the ready. Having limited options boosts my confidence under stress, because I still get to look nice but I don’t have to try too hard.
  • Healthiness helps happiness. When I’m stressed, it’s so easy to reach for the comfort food; when I feel like I’ve been running around all day, the last thing I want is to move more; when there’s so much to do, sleep is hardly a priority. However, when I do put a little effort into my health, my energy is boosted and I feel better. Just like personal care, I try not to expect too much of myself. I’ve missed plenty of workouts, I don’t always get to sleep on time, and sometimes a girl needs chocolate! But I have been better about drinking water, eating vegetables, sitting less and sleeping a bit more, and those little things make me feel a little better.
  • Schedule time to unwind. At least half the time, I don’t do this, but on the nights I do, I feel so much calmer. I’ll listen to soft music (Josh Groban’s voice is seriously the most soothing thing on Spotify), watch a happy movie, or do some reading. Although I generally prefer books with suspense, when I’m worrying about work, moving and deadlines, I don’t want to worry about a fictional murder investigation too, so I try to stick to lighter genres. As a side note, I’m always open to recommendations!
  • Be kind. When I’m pressured, I evolve into Grumpy Cat. As much as Grumpy Cat amuses me, being cynical does nothing for me or anyone around me. I need to work on it more, but I’m trying my best to be kind to others when my natural tendency is snappishness. And I’m trying to be gentle with myself, too. After all, it’s hard to be nice to others when I bully myself. Especially under stress, it’s important for me to cut myself some slack and find a smile.
  • Avoid isolation. Hibernation looks appealing sometimes. While I certainly do need time alone to recharge, I have to make sure I don’t avoid everyone I love when I feel low on energy. As much as I pride myself on independence, I need people. God has placed some of the best in my life, and difficult times become easier when I don’t face them alone.
  • Carve out quiet time. Can I be honest? I’ve barely had a devotional time lately, because I can’t seem to slow down and focus my mind long enough. Every time I look at my devotion app, with its dozen notifications, I feel a twinge. My soul is dry and I desperately need a drink of Living Water. I’m going to finish this post and do my best to quiet my mind before God tonight, even if only for a few minutes. In other stressful times, spending time with Jesus has been the best source of strength. Even when I don’t understand how it happens, He offers me peace in His presence. I desperately need that.
  • Remember it’s going to be okay. No matter how overwhelming and chaotic things are, it really is going to work out.

I could go on and on with this list, but I’m afraid I must stop there for tonight and take my own advice. I could use some quiet time and then a good long rest! Since I didn’t cover anything, please continue the discussion in the comments. Let me know what I missed, and what helps you keep calm in the chaos of life.

Chin up, buttercup!

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