Seasonal Planning

For as long as I can remember, I’ve made elaborate plans for each new year.

Call them what you will – resolutions, goals, plans – they’re always far-reaching, ambitious, and set down long in advance of the new year.

I’ve always figured that this was normal, at least inasmuch as I can be normal. I’ve certainly never gotten meta enough to analyze why I plan like this, why I am so drawn to elaborate year-long plans.

But then our foster son left our home in July and I threw myself (unseasonably) into planning for the preschool year. Every spare moment – which, admittedly, is not many in a home that was still inhabited by three children under the age of three – but every spare moment was spent researching preschool activities, synthesizing my previous notes on the topic, and developing our customized Prairie Elms Preschool plan.

It was then that I began to realize the role that planning plays in helping me to cope when daily life seems out of my control.

I could have gone through my days as normal, feeling the hole that his departure left in the day to day. I could have attempted to deaden our loss with any number of things – but what I chose was planning. Particularly, planning for the children we had left – the children I knew would still be in our house.

Then we opened our home again. We started Prairie Elms Preschool and I was busy doing all the “new baby in the house” things. I had no time for extensive planning – and no desire for it either. Now was time to work the plan.

Until winter set in.

The nights grew long and the days grew dark and I no longer had energy to work the plan that had been working so well.

The house was cleaner than it had been in past years – but it was not kept to my summertime standards. I still put meals on the table. I still got the children clothed and changed. I kept up on washing the laundry, but one basket of clean-but-unfolded laundry quickly turned into four. I felt out of control.

And my mind started drafting plans for 2019. Plans for how I’d restart all those things that had been working so well for me until the days got gray. Plans for how I’d begin new things, build on what had been working. Plans for how I’d try ambitious new things.

That’s when I realized that my New Year’s plans were more than simply an escapist coping technique. They’re also an act of faith.

When November hits and I barely feel like I can get out of bed, much less accomplish something, making plans is a way I say to myself, “It won’t always be this way.”

I don’t have energy now, but I will have energy again.

I’m not accomplishing much right now, but I will accomplish something again some day.

The days are getting shorter now, but the solstice will come and the days will lengthen again.

January will dawn and I’ll start again as planned.

2016 Goals in Review: Prayer

The primary goal in my “relationship with God” category was to “cultivate confident dependence on God by establishing a vibrant prayer life”. I resolved to do this by 1) establishing daily times of prayer, 2) establishing a method for recording prayer requests and answers to prayer, 3) experimenting with prayer “styles”, and 4) reading books on prayer.

I was helped along greatly in this goal by our Tuesday morning women’s Bible study, which happened to be going through D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul during the spring semester. Having my “public” Bible study and teaching correspond with my current spiritual goals kept me focused and provided both tips and accountability. For example, my Bible study discussion leader mentioned the “PrayerMate” app, which I looked up and found to be helpful for objective 2, which was “to establish a method for recording prayer requests and answers to prayer.” Also, although I wasn’t required to, I read Carson’s book (rather than just the discussion guide) along with our study – allowing me to complete just one book on prayer this year (objective 4).*

So Tuesday Connection helped me with objectives 2 and 4 – but what about objectives 1 and 3?

I never did end up doing anything with objective 3, unless you count using Paul’s prayers as a model for prayer. I didn’t do any prayer walking or praying published prayers or following specific formats (Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication, for example). It just didn’t seem to fit this year. And that’s just fine.

Objective 1, to “establish daily times of prayer”, got off to a good start. I resolved to pray consistently with Tirzah Mae before our meals and snacks and before her bedtime, to pray during my personal time in the word, and to pray while doing dishes. At the beginning of the year, Tirzah Mae and I were eating 3 meals and 2 snacks daily (pregnancy while breastfeeding is a doozy!), affording me plenty of opportunity to pray. Dishes were a convenient “peg” to hang prayer on – they’re something I have to do daily and they’re a rather mindless activity, which allows me plenty of opportunity to pray.

But then Tirzah Mae got older and started “helping” with dishes. What was once a relatively solitary and mindless activity (for me) became a busy activity, requiring all sorts of brain work as I attempt to keep Tirzah Mae from dumping all the dishwater on the floor or from putting dirty dishes in my rinse water or from transferring muck from the dirty dishes onto the clean dishes drip drying in the drying rack. That prayer time, where I had been making most of my petitions and praying over the requests (recorded in PrayerMate), disappeared. It took me most of the second half of the year to find a new rhythm – and this year I’m picking up my intercessory prayer during my after-breakfast and after-lunch cleaning times (Tirzah Mae only helps with segments, allowing a little more time for prayer!)

So what is the state of my goal to “cultivate confident dependence on God by establishing a vibrant prayer life?” I certainly wouldn’t say that my prayer life is vibrant at this point. But I also wouldn’t say that all has been lost. Establishing the habit of prayer (even though part of it, daily petitions and intercession, fell by the wayside for a significant portion of the year) has indeed served to help me cultivate confident dependence of God.

One of the reasons I chose prayer as my spiritual goal for the year was because I was noticing in myself a significant tendency towards self-reliance. I felt that I could do things on my own – and, when I couldn’t, I despaired. That wasn’t what I wanted though. I wanted, and still want, to live a life of dependence on God – a life that recognizes my need for Him and hopes in Him. Last year’s focus on prayer has helped in that. Where once I went to my phone to text my husband in despair or to Facebook to write a frustrated post or where I once gritted my teeth and cleaned the house/parented/pounded out the letter/whatever with a bad attitude, I find myself more and more turning to God, breathing those little Nehemiah prayers “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 2:4b ESV).

By the grace of God, this was a good goal – with a good outcome. I pray God would help me continue to grow – both in dependence and in prayer.

*While D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul was the only book on prayer I completed last year, I did read about half of Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare and was greatly encouraged by Spurgeon’s reflections.

Epic Project: 4.5 Years

I’m a sucker for epic projects.

And I’m not exaggerating.

of unusually great size or extent
Trying to read every book in her local library is a project of epic proportions

Yes, I definitely go for epic projects.

I’m four-and-a-half years into this one–and probably not even one tenth of one percent done. (Purely a guess, I have no idea how massive this project is. I don’t know how big my library’s collection is–and I don’t know how fast it’s growing either.)

But I am moving towards my goal, reading with unabashed abandon.

Library Item Use in Past 4.5 Years

Per Year Per Month Per Week Per Day
Total items 550 45.8 10.6 1.5
Total books 468.7 39.1 9.0 1.3
Books (excluding children’s picture books) 200.7 16.7 3.9 .6

Notes on Each Category of Books

Items over 4.5 years Items in last 6 months Notes:
Juvenile Picture Books 756 160 Authors “Babcock” through “Bartoletti”. Reviews found under the category Reading My Library
Juvenile First Readers 49 0 I have not read a juvenile first reader since September 9, 2009
Juvenile Chapter Books 79 0 I have not read a juvenile chapter book since October 22, 2009
Juvenile Fiction 243 5
Juvenile Nonfiction 76 8 I’ve read more juvenile nonfiction in the past 6 months than I did in the year prior.
Adult Fiction 323 26
Adult Nonfiction 523 20 I’m reading nonfiction at less than half the rate of last year. Then again, last year was my year for “exercising my mind towards the things of God”
Videos/DVDs 137 12 About two per month, not bad for someone who really doesn’t DO movies.
Cassette Tapes/Compact Discs 227 70 More than I listened to in the entire year prior-It’s amazing what a commute can do for your listening practices.
Periodicals 57 0 Although I’m going to add another in the next 6 months, since I found the quilt I’ll be making for my little nephew in a quilting periodical!

So there you have it–4.5 years into an epic project (and still going strong!)

WiW: Great Expectations

The Week in Words

You have such expectations,” my Dad tells me again–the third or fourth time. “and it sets you up for great disappointments. You see, I never really expected much from myself or from life. And so when I turned out to have a wonderful life, I was pleasantly surprised. You have great expectations, so when things don’t turn out the way you expected, you’re disappointed–even if your life is still objectively quite good.”

It’s an observation, not a statement that his way is better or worse than mine.

But I think of it when I read these words in Anne of Green Gables:

You set your heart too much on things, Anne,” said Marilla with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “you mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, ‘Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.‘ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.

I’m glad my Dad doesn’t make light of my aspirations, like Mrs. Lynde and Marilla seem to of Anne’s. But his observations–and those of Marilla, Anne, and Mrs. Lynde–do make me think.

I do expect a lot from life. I expect a lot from myself.

I want to do, I want to be, I want to see, I want to hear, I want to write. I want to live an extraordinary life. I want to do extraordinary things. I want to be an extraordinary person.

I have great expectations.

But, as my dad and Marilla and Mrs. Lynde observe, it does set me up for more disappointments than if I hadn’t such expectations.

I end up with less time and energy than I thought I’d have even after moving permanently to Columbus–and I’m disappointed not to be able to accomplish the grandiose expectations that I’d had for how my first few months in Columbus might look.

I find myself in a corner of dietetics I didn’t expect to find myself in, in a corner of the state I didn’t expect to find myself in, with…

I find that life is very different than what I expected.

On the other hand, like Anne, I love the expectation itself–the dreaming, the planning, the process of trying to make the dreams become reality. I still haven’t taken that bike ride across Nebraska, but I’ve loved what training I’ve done (I’ve trained gung ho three springs in a row, only to find busyness and/or medical issues stymie the actual completion), I’ve loved the planning, I’ve loved the bike rides taken with friends in the meantime.

And, as my Dad points out, my high expectations, while not always achievable, have enabled me to achieve a great deal more than someone who just floats through life with no goals or expectations.

My dad makes it clear that my driven personality is not a fault but a blessing. But he is also quick to caution that it can become a fault. When I become so focused on results that I ignore people. When I become so focused on unmet expectations that I fail to be thankful for unexpected blessings. When I set my heart on things instead of Christ.

And ultimately, that is what it comes down to.

“You set your heart too much on things,” Marilla says.

She’s right. I do.

Not that there’s anything wrong with doing things, having things. Neither the doing of things nor the desire to do things is wrong. It’s the setting of my heart on things that is wrong.

“Do not trust in extortion
or take pride in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.”
~Psalm 62:10, NIV (c)1984

I was made to do great things.

It is right that I desire to do great things.

But my heart was made to be set on Christ.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
~Colossians 3:1-4, NIV (c)1984

Be sure to follow through with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”, where bloggers collect quotes they’ve read throughout the week.

L. M. Montgomery Reading ChallengeI’m reading Anne of Green Gables as a part of Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge. Check out the link to see what others are saying about (or reading of) L.M. Montgomery this month

Goal-oriented Gal

“If I could do a tenth of what you do…” my dad told me in the car yesterday.

I couldn’t help but be confused. I don’t know what sparked the comment. We hadn’t been discussing busyness or schedules or goals or anything.

He clarified his thoughts (a little). “You’re so goal oriented. Almost to a fault. I just can’t imagine doing as much as you do.”

I still don’t know what brought on his observation, but he’s probably right.

I am a massively goal-oriented person. I figure out what I want to do and I find a way to get it done. My list of Life Goals is dozens of pages long (and I’ve only included some of my life goals online.) And though many of my goals are undone, incomplete, or in progress, I have managed to accomplish quite a deal in my first quarter century of life.

The difficulty enters in my dad’s second comment: “Almost to a fault.” He wasn’t meaning it as a criticism. He wasn’t putting me down. But I am aware that one of my greatest strengths is also one of my greatest weaknesses.

I am goal-oriented. It means that I get things done. I accomplish a lot. I have lived a life rich with experiences and accomplishments (even for someone only a quarter of a century old).

But sometimes my goals distract me from the greater purpose in life. The purpose that can’t be formulated as a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goal. The purpose of glorifying God. The purpose of walking in relationship with Him and others.

Too busy with my blog, I neglect the Word. I bow out of relationship because I’m too busy getting something done.

It’s a dangerous road, a fine line that I must learn to walk.

I believe that it is to God’s glory that I enjoy life. It is to His glory that I accomplish things. He is glorified when I use my goal-oriented personality.

But He is not glorified when I follow my goals rather than His Spirit. He is not glorified when I choose things over people. He is not glorified in my becoming internally focused.

I must learn, somehow, to use my temperament to glorify God–to be goal oriented, yes, but not to a fault. I may be goal-oriented, but above that I must be God-oriented.

That is the ultimate goal–but the one that is most difficult in its accomplishment.

Litany for Life

Every finished venture, and every new adventure begun, calls for a time of reflection, of preparation, of prioritization. As I have just completed my internship and am returning to graduate school, this time for my first semester as a teaching assistant, I have been reflecting, preparing, setting things in order.

I have set a few SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Relevant, Timely) goals for myself–some more frivolous than others. But beyond that, I have spent some time reflecting and praying over my next step, using a little tool the Navigators sent me at the beginning of the year. The tool is called “PREP for a New Year” and is intended as a sort of New Year’s reflection. The “PREP” stands for Praise, Reflect, Evaluate, and Pray and Plan.

When I got to the “Pray and Plan” segment, I found myself crying out to God that this year would be different than the last. My internship experience was great, but I felt like it was one of the few things that was great about the past 7 months. I experienced great professional and educational growth–but my growth in other areas has been stunted or non-existant.

When I look at what I REALLY want in life, apart from my professional goals, very little has been accomplished in 2009. I have not grown in my relationship with God like I would have liked. I have not grown in relationship with the body as I would have liked. I have not lived with the lost as I would have liked.

My life vision is to glorify God by growing in daily relationship with Him, being conformed to the image of Christ; by growing in relationship with others, taking time to live life together; and by growing personally, always learning and practicing what I’ve learned. Yet little I’ve done in the past seven months has moved me towards that vision.

So I was crying out, asking God for priorities for this upcoming semester, begging that it be more than the previous semester–and God directed me to three simple words. Listen. Love. Learn.

With a hundred things jockeying for my time, my attention, my heart. Listen. Love. Learn. Listen for the voice of God; Love Him with all that is within me; Learn to do His will.

Faced with a deep discontent with the status of my friendships. Listen. Love. Learn. Listen to what others are saying; Love them as Christ loved me; Learn how to serve them.

It goes against my instincts, against my fallen nature. I prefer to talk, to be proud, to teach. But God would have me Listen, Love, Learn.

It would have been easier if God had given me good SMART objectives (or at least something I could DO). You know, thing like:

  • Read a chapter of the Bible every day at least six days a week
  • Spend at least 15 minutes in prayer daily
  • Limit blog-reading to one half an hour per day
  • Don’t listen to secular music
  • No “R” rated movies
  • Memorize a verse a day

Those are all nice, good, EXTERNAL things. Things that only change what I do, but not who I am. They are the easy changes to make, the legalistic changes that can let me feel good about what a great Christian I am.

But God did not give me rules to follow. He did not tell me to do these five steps daily and everything will be just fine. He did not tell me to give up these five items and I’ll be a better Christian.

Instead, He gave me a litany to live each moment of my life by. Listen. Love. Learn.

Lord, may I keep Your word ever before me as I begin the next small chapter in this adventure You are taking me on. Help me to ever be mindful to listen, to love, and to learn.