Sufficient for Me: a hard word for 2018

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This month is a weird month for me.

This time last year I was finishing up the last of my Bradley birthing classes, rubbing cocoa butter on my stretch marks, and doing crazy amounts of walking and squatting as to attempt to induce labor.

My little girl is 11 months now, and we are a month away (obviously) from celebrating her first birthday.

Cue emotional sobbing about the swift passage of time.

Milestones such as this one that is about to occur are a chance to reflect on the year past. However, I will save my motherhood lessons until next month when my little Esther will actually be 12 months.

For today, I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold (yes, I know people usually do this in January, but I’m different and slow, so deal with it).

For those who used to read my previous blog (The Art of Breath), and this post (yes, all five of you), you know that God usually gives me one word to focus on throughout the year. This word was usually given to me in September because, up until fairly recently, I was either a student or a teacher for whom the new school year was usually the best time for start fresh with a new focus. But somewhere between quitting my job and having a baby, the word “Journey” was my word for like a year and a half. This January, The Lord released me from that particular word, although not it’s lessons, and gave me a new one.

That word is Grace.

Grace is one of those words that has a very different meaning depending on who you ask. A dancer might say it is elegance with which movement is executed. A young boy might tell you it’s the short prayer he says with head bowed and eyes closed before he is allowed to dig in. A landlord might think of the period in which she allows for her renters to get away with being late on their payments when the term “grace” is used.

But my word of “Grace” for this year of 2018 refers to the unmerited favor of God, and then my responsibility to extend forgiveness to others based upon my state of such gracious love. Grace, for me, encompasses so much–forgiveness, freely giving without expectation, long-suffering, forbearance, seeing God’s blessing in and among trials, and choosing to bless others when it’s hard.

This word might sound precious and sweet, and oh, it is! But it is also a hard word.

There are some people I need to show grace to (forgive), people who really do not deserve it, or even know that they have hurt me or continue to do so.

There are some situations I have to walk though gracefully, choosing to experience God’s blessing, even though it seems like there is no good that can come from such circumstances.

There is gracious service to give, and the call to not expect anything back in return– not even a “thank you”.

There is the task of letting go of my own ambitions goals and expectations for myself and to receive grace in each disappointing let down that comes this year.

I began this post by writing that I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold. This is not exactly true. Because in all honesty, I do not want to do these things that grace requires. They are not exactly fun to work on and sometimes seem to be bitter pills to swallow in the name of no immediate recognition. And when I’m merely thinking in terms of this world, rather than eternity, I really just want to toss this new word out the window and pick a word that fits with what the selfish person inside me really wants 2018 to hold.

And then I am reminded of hose verses that Shane & Shane put to my current favorite song.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “…’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And I know that it is the weakness in me that cringes at this grace-word, and all it means for me. Not just for this year, but also for the lessons I will learn and carry with me into the next year, and years to come.

And I am reminded too, of the whole point of each “one word” for the year. It is not so I can focus myself on what I would like the coming year to hold. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. The whole point of each one word is to submit to what God wants to do with me and in me for this period of time.

But it is not I who have to worry about producing enough grace to accomplish all of these things–the forgiving, the serving, the walking through trials, the patience, the loving till it hurts. No.

His Word says that it is His grace that is sufficient for me. His mercies are fresh every morning, new and tailored for the particular day, which I am always ill equipped and ill prepared for. His power is perfected in my weakness because it makes me lean on Him fully, rather than relying on myself.

And so I start this February out–because, yes, I’m a little late on the New Years Resolutions, and also because this is not so much a resolution as an acknowledgment of God’s work–with this beautiful, hard, complex, and scary word. A grace-filled word. A word chalk-full of potential and freedom and life. I start this season–because I don’t really know if God will release me from it after a neat little calendar year–with this word:

Grace. 

His one word is sufficient for me.

“So what do you do?”: on work, Millennials, and identity

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It’s been well over a year now. I haven’t been a CPS teacher since June of 2015. It seems almost impossible, when I think of that young idealistic teacher setting her sights on her newly decorated classroom, nervously awaiting the first wave of Freshman to enter in and take their seats.

That girl was going to change the world. Despite all odds, she was going to stick with it and be strong. This was what she was made to do.

… Okay, so maybe I never really felt like that. But that’s what you think you feel when you’re a newly graduated education major about to become educator. You just assume that stereo-typical, overly-idealistic, “Freedom-Writers“-esque attitude that may or may not be around at the end of the first semester. You just do. Because, if you don’t, it is way too easy to admit that you’re discouraged already and are hoping and praying no one notices that you have no idea what you’re doing. And also because, every other young new-hire in urban education acts like they feel this way, so, I mean, what real choice do you have? So you convince yourself that you are going to change the world, one student at a time, and you put on your game face and you assume this attitude as who you are.

What a mistake I made in doing this. 

Because three years later, when I find myself utterly hating my job and myself, and feeling completely ineffective and drained, I decide it’s time for teaching and me to part ways. Yes, it’s only been three years. But I’ve been in romantic relationships for less time than that before I realized it wasn’t meant to be either. So, there.

But now that I am no longer Hilary Swank, the dedicated teacher who is willing to give up her entire personal life in order to reach the “unteachable”, who am I? And why did I place my identity in such a fragile place as a 22-year-old hoping for the best in a toxic work environment with little to no resources or support?

I don’t think I am alone in this. I hope not. Because then this blog post is solely for my own benefit, which I guess is fine…

The Millennial generation, of which I am a part of, often gets a bad rap for being socially inept, obscenely selfish, and unable to hold down a job for more than a few years, much less have a successful longstanding career. Now, believe me, I could write an entire blog post on why I think this reputation has come about, and my response to it, but I’ll save that for another time.

I will say though, that after being laid off every single year I worked as a public school teacher, I was only able to successfully be rehired each time (sometimes the only rehire in the entire school), by working long hours, volunteering to lead professional development, obtaining outstanding evaluations, and sufficiently increasing my student’s test scores. I was able to successfully make myself invaluable to my Principal and co-workers, and I hardly think I could have been rehired each year without some level of social skills, strong work ethic, and an inexhaustible desire to keep my position. Just sayin’.

But the reason I mention the whole Millennial thing is because I think this reputation (specifically about the job/career piece) stems more from the changing times than from a character flaw spreading across the entire generation–which oddly includes 19-year-olds all the way to 39-year-olds.

According to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today will stay at one job for an average of only 4.4 years. And according to a recent survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers, 91% of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for even less than that: three years. This means that most men and women of this age group will have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their entire working lives. But this is due more to things like an unstable economy and technology replacing workers than to an entire generation of fickle people who can’t make up their mind about what they want to do with their lives… which is sort of how I feel, but which I don’t think is the norm.

This intrigues me for a number of reasons:

  • 1.) I have found that many people’s response to my 3-year “career” as a teacher is mixed. Upon examination of the different reactions, many people within my generational age group (20-something Millennials), seem to totally get it, while the majority of retired people (of the Baby Boomer generation) seem to view my short-lived career as puzzling, even if they act extremely polite about it all.
  • 2.) I have always been told that job instability on a resume could cost one a future job. From what I understand, “chronic job-hoppers” are often screened out, and recruiters instead seek prospective employees who seem to offer longevity.
  • 3.) From my limited experience, and from a bit of research, the average person gains a sense of identity from their work. The question we almost always ask a new acquaintance at a party is “so what do you do?”, meaning not “what hobbies do you have that make you happy?”, or”what do you like to do for fun?”, or even “what is your mission in life?”. No, this question invariably means “what is your job?”, which places a lot of importance on what we choose to do to make a living, rather than how we choose to live. I find this interesting coming from a generation that will ultimately answer this question of “what do you do?”, 15-20 different ways throughout their working life.

Okay so, that’s the end of the statistics and research part of this post. Back to the point.

I have been mulling over this whole  “identity thing” for a while now– really, ever since I quit my job last year. What are the elements that go into shaping who we are, and how is who we are perceived differently by different people, and do those different perceptions impact our identity?

As a Christian, I often remind myself that my identity is in Christ. However, I believe that God made each of His children to have unique characteristics and purpose, despite our commonality of contentment with our lives through His will. I know that I personally have discovered more of my true identity as I draw nearer to God, which I have done quite a lot since last year. So, although I know that my mission is the same as other Christ-followers in helping to bring God’s Kingdom here on earth, I know that God has equipped me to do this in a way that is true to my identity, and which will not be the same as every other Christian.

As a Millennial who has accepted the fact that job-hopping is probably unavoidably in my future, I am seeking ways to define myself verbally to others so that more of myself is revealed rather than simply what my job happens to be at that particular time. I know I am viewed differently now that I do no answer the question “so, what do you do?” with “I’m a High School teacher in the inner city”, although I do not think the core of who I truly am has changed much at all. How one makes money at a particular season in life, is not always an accurate reflection on who they are.

All this is rather complicated. And I find that it is made further complex by this new season in life that I now find myself approaching currently.

You see, I found out in June that I am pregnant. And since then I have had this vacillating sense of what this means about my identity, as if the other stuff wasn’t enough to think about.

Don’t get me wrong! I am extremely happy and utterly ecstatic about this news! The baby was planned, and my husband and I are over-the-moon-excited. This is what we want. And yet, it’s difficult to imagine, or rather, realize, that my identity is now shifting due to another living being occupying my body. Already, this little creature is impacting who I am–what I eat, what I (don’t) drink, how often I eat, sleep, and pee, and what limitations my body has, even down to what positions I can comfortably sleep! These things are also not who I am, but I’m sure they effect other’s perception of me, and I know I personally am starting to see myself differently: as not simply a woman or even a wife, but as a mother.

Side note: this is totally the first time we will be sharing this news publicly online (for those that actually read this far), so please forgive the lack of cute announcement photos or “bump pics”– that’s just not our thing.

Upon reflection of the loss of my “career” as a teacher, the realization that my elder Baby Boomer friends and relatives  probably won’t fully understand the generation I was born into, and this growing child inside me, slowly becoming more and more a reality that impacts the way I do life, I guess the question I am really wrestling with is this: how do I apply a minimalist ideology to my ever-shifting and complex identity?

We live in a world where who we are is presented in so many public ways. To some extent, we can even control the public perception of ourselves by way of facebook, linkedin, “about me” sections in blogs, and other social media outlets. And sometimes these things do truly reflect our true selves. But I believe it also over-simplifies our identity. Which makes me wonder if having a minimalist approach to defining my identity is even realistic or possible.

Perhaps this continuous exploring, changing, and figuring out of one’s identity is simply a part of our work as people living in a complex and changing world. Perhaps finding our calling is more about finding the common thread in our motivation for life rather than what our work entails in the moment–public school teacher, fitness instructor, or stay-at-home-mom. Perhaps it’s less about saying nice phrases like, “my identity is in Jesus” and more about figuring out how God made us, so we can understand what that truly looks like in real life.

So when someone asks me that question, “so, what do you do?”, I think I’ll respond with something, well, not so minimal. Something like,

What do I do? I wake up every morning praying that I can figure out who I am so that I can live the way I will be most successful at bringing knowledge of Jesus Christ into people’s hearts. I try to eat healthy so that my baby can grow strong and develop good eyesight and a taste for a variety of foods, while at the same time, making sure I don’t throw up at Praise Dance rehearsal. I blog, but not as often as I would like, because I’m trying to balance sleeping 8-9 hours a day and helping my husband with his career, which often means hardcore napping, but also filming random auditions or promo videos at moment’s notice, or faxing in music contracts or mailing out posters in time for upcoming shows. I thought I was going to be a teacher for my whole life, but now I’m content with teaching fitness classes and preparing to be a stay-at-home mom in the not-so-distant future, and maybe homeschooling our kids–who knows!? I hang out at Starbucks and work on my book, I make color-coded lists and meal plans in my passion planner, I do my BSF lesson every morning, I go to MOPS on Tuesday mornings, and recently I started swimming laps since I can’t run while I’m pregnant. I do a lot of stuff, actually, and hopefully some of those things will give you an idea about who I am. But mostly, I just hope that you can be courageous enough to know that your identity is not always defined by what you do, especially what you do for a living, because it’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion, and I’m still shedding so much of who I thought I was in order to see who I truly am. 

But…that’s not really my initial idea of a “minimalist answer”. However, I do think it’s probably more genuine in reflecting my thoughts and feelings towards the question. And who knows? Maybe it will let people know what I actually do.

That was the question in the first place, right?

Make Over Your Mornings: Before Bed Ritual

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Making the most of your mornings starts the night before.  I recently shared this on my facebook page after I had just finalized my morning prep before going to sleep.

First of all, we need to know why it’s important to make the most of our mornings.

In “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast”, Laura Vanderkam explains that mornings kick-start the rest of our day. How we spend our mornings usually set us up for great productivity during our day, or a poor use of time and resources. If we roll out of bed after hitting the snooze button ten times, trudge into the kitchen to find it’s a mess from the night before, and then glance at the clock, realizing we only have 30 minutes before we have to be clocked in at the office…. chances are we are starting the day off hurried, frazzled, and without a clear direction.

But, if we make the most of our mornings, we can use that time to do the things that energize us, invigorate us, and help us have a positive attitude before we begin to interact with the rest of the world.

But before we get into how to make the most of our mornings, we need to realize that it starts before we even wake up.

I suppose I always knew this, but I really started putting into practice when I took Crystal Paine’s Make Over Your Mornings e-course last summer. I learned a lot of valuable tools from this 14-day course, but this one lesson was a game-changer.

I began using a “before bed ritual” as a way to mentally envision a productive morning, foreseeing little preparations that could set me up for success when my feet hit the floor in the am.

Here is my Before Bed Ritual that helps me have a successful morning:

Turn off phone. Studies have shown that screen time right before bed can keep you up longer, causing you to sleep in longer than intended when that alarm clock goes off the next morning. For me, this is the case. I actually keep my phone in another room entirely and use a traditional alarm clock near my bed so I am not tempted to surf the web while lying in bed.

Tidy the house, do the dishes, and wipe down counters. It stresses me out to wake up to a mess in the kitchen, and it makes it harder for me to prep my coffee and breakfast when the sink is full of dirty dishes. Having a clean kitchen, and even prepping the coffee before bed helps my mornings go smoothly the next day.

Brush teeth, wash face, and wipe down sink in bathroom. Multitasking is great in this area! While I’m in the bathroom getting ready for bed, I can swish some mouthwash and wipe down the sink/toilet/counter so it’s clean for tomorrow. This helps me maintain a semi-clean bathroom for a majority of the time, even when I don’t deep-clean.

Lay out clothes appropriate for the first task of the morning. Depending on the day, I am doing different things during the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes it’s jumping to work right after my quiet time. Other times is going out for a run or heading to the gym. Depending on my task at hand, I’ll set out nice clothes that will help me get into work mode, outdoor gear if I’m braving the weather outside for a jog, or some gym attire if I’m heading there. I prefer this to just getting up and starting the day in my pajamas. I find I am much more productive if I dress for the occasion, and picking out clothes the night before saves me time and helps me avoid making a decision when I’m not yet fully awake. If you find yourself having issues picking out your clothes even the night before, you wardrobe might be too expansive. Here’s some inspiration to practice minimalism in this area of your life!

Look over or make the next day’s to-do list. Most of the time the list is already written in my planner, but going over it before bed helps me anticipate the next day and get excited to accomplish my goals. Also, I can sleep better because I know when everything will get done; I don’t have to fret about when I’ll have time for such and such. I already know.

If I have time, read before hitting the lights. This is usually something enjoyable; it’s not usually the time for a heady informative book. Just some light reading to relax my brain and get ready for sleep. Here’s the book I’m currently reading: a classic minimalist choice!

The times of all of these little rituals change and shift based on when I need to get up in the morning and what time I get home from work or an evening event. But this is the general order I usually do things in so that I can be set up for a successful morning.

Now it’s your turn! What things do you need to do in order to have a stress-free and productive morning?  

Here are some points and questions to consider:

1.) This is the most important: Make sure to schedule in enough sleep. You can’t have a successful morning if you are falling asleep in your cereal. Personally, I like to get 8 hours of sleep; this doesn’t always happen, but it’s what I shoot for. If you have a fitbit or another activity monitor, you can track the quality your sleep. But over all, you need to go to bed on time.

2.) What stresses you out in the morning? For me, it’s a sink full of dirty dishes or a filthy bathroom mirror. For you it might be your pet’s feeding, or laundry on the bedroom floor. Whatever it is, try to incoorperate getting rid of these stressors before bed so you don’t have to deal with them in the morning.

3.) What can you do before bed so that you can save time in the morning for something more enjoyable? If you hate preparing breakfast, set up the crockpot with apple cinnamon oatmeal the night before, or make a batch of freezable breakfast burritos and take one out to thaw overnight. If things would go smoothly once you knew what you were going to wear, then pick out your clothes ahead of time like I do. You can even do this for the entire week, setting up outfits on hangers in your closet complete with accessories and shoes! I used to do this when I was a teacher and it saved me so much time in the mornings. You can use this time for something more enjoyable, which brings us to out next point of consideration…

4.) Think about what would make you want to get up in the morning.  I start each of my mornings off with a devotional and prayer time with God. I have a chair in my dining room already prepped with my bible, prayer list, and gratitude journal so I can go right to it as soon as I wake up. But what about you? If you love reading, spend some time in the morning reading something you enjoy. If you love running, then hop on the treadmill first thing in the am. If you like to bake, wake up early and bake something yummy for breakfast. Even if it’s only for 20 minutes, at least you will have made time for something you love and started out your day on a positive note.

Make preparations so that it is easy to go right to this activity, and get rid of any distractions that might take it’s place. For instance, if you want to spend time reading God’s word in the morning, but the kitchen is a mess, you might be tempted to start right in on cleaning it rather than beginning your day in prayer and study. This change of order might totally change the course of your day and your attitude. Do something that is live-giving first thing, and guard that time! It will make you get up out of that bed and be ready to give your best to the rest of the day! 

What are some of the things you can do before bed to make sure you have an amazing morning? I’d love to hear your ideas and input!