We leave early to drive back north to Pennsylvania. We learn the snow and ice will come this evening. We wish to get ahead of the storm. As we near home, the landscape changes. I see the beautiful deer dotting the edge of the forest. It’s hunting season now. I look out ahead down the road to check for leaping deer. When you drive in Pennsylvania near the woods, you’re always scanning up ahead of you. We settle into the warm house and gather groceries in case the ice keeps us inside. Pennsylvania, more than anywhere else, teaches me to get ahead of nature.
The nephews teach me two new card games: Mafia and James Bond. We also play Spoons. When they ask me if I’ve ever played Spoons, I tell them that it’s a classic game of childhood—right up there with Spit, War, and Egyptian Ratscrew.
I love gathering to play cards. So many things have changed since I was a child in the 80’s, but when I play cards with these teens, I remember that some things stay the same.
One of the Italian Mamas reminds me that everything “is as it should be” today. The phrase brings me back to God’s sovereign plan. It’s wonderful to rest in this.
The other evening, I remembered a post from ten years ago called “The Not To Do List.” It served as a wonderful reminder that you can actually diminish your workload by thinking carefully about what not to do. You don’t have to do everything. In fact, certain tasks or activities, when prayerfully considered, might fall on the Not To Do List.
During the holidays especially, it’s a good practice to think of what not to do in order to preserve energy, a good mood, and a sense of well-being. Maybe God wants you to eliminate a few things this season. Living with flair means we think of our Not to Do list.
I woke up in the night thinking about the beautiful words in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. This passage marks one of the very first times I delivered a devotional reflection on scripture. During one summer at Camp Greystone, I stood in the Dining Hall and told the campers these words:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I needed these words for my own heart. I needed the challenge to turn from negativity, complaint, and cynicism. I wondered what it would mean to take this gratitude challenge and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become a person who knows how to give thanks in all circumstances.
I learned this (and continue to learn this):
Giving thanks acknowledges God's power, provision, and presence. It's a new way to see life. It means choosing to look for hidden blessings in the midst of painful things. This is how we give thanks in all circumstances. Click To Tweet
I took the challenge. I began to train my mind in God’s will for my life: thanksgiving.
This weekend at my church’s prayer meeting, several people shared with me their story of God’s work in their lives. I listened to stories of miraculous provision, miraculous peace, and miraculous deliverance from what tormented someone. I heard stories testifying how God had set the lonely in families and how He used one couple in the life of a little girl (only to learn 10 years later the impact of their ministry to her). As each person told their story, I realized their story became my story, too. My heart enveloped them; my soul responded with joy and recognition. My heart also felt enlivened to experienced God like they had, to pray like they had, to trust in God’s word as they had. Listening to their stories encouraged me, strengthened me, inspired me, and gave me hope.
That’s what happens when you and I tell our stories. I’m learning that my story isn’t just for me. It’s for you. And your story is for me. For us. I pray we tell our stories.
Sometimes I wake with the whole day stretching before me of grocery shopping, meal planning, chores, grading, errands, driving teens places, etc. etc. etc. And what about exercise, socializing, or all the other things you want to pack into the day? It’s so tempting to launch yourself into the fresh day like a rocket. That’s what this morning felt like.
But then I remember the truth: Time in God’s word will change the whole focus, course, and temper of the day. God’s word supplies the wisdom, correction, and reminder of precious promises. It invites you to pray in response, to journal to the Lord, or to sit and worship. Time in God’s word is never wasted time. It always bears good fruit in our lives. There’s always a nugget of joy for you when you read it. You’ll open a new gift every single morning (or whenever it is you read God’s word). When you feel overwhelmed with a day’s work ahead, I invite you to pause for maybe 15 minutes and open the Bible. Think about Jesus. Ask for what you need. Pray for others. Respond to the truth of what you read.
Start with Psalm 119 because you can list out all the benefits of knowing God’s word. I promise you’ll be blessed.
I love learning from leaders and creative people how they protect their time and energy. A leader once told me that the most important resource to protect is your time. And a mentor reminded me that as you age, your greatest resource to protect is your daily energy.
One of my friends knows exactly how to protect her energy, especially when she needs that energy for a vital reason. She limits draining conversations. She says no a lot. She structures her day to protect whatever might unnecessarily rob her of energy.
I want to get better at this.
I want, too, to learn to enhance things in my life that energize me. Certain people I spend time with simply energize me; I leave their presence more excited, more inspired, and more happy. Certain activities also do this.
And certain activities don’t. Certain people don’t because of what we’re choosing to discuss and how negative the conversation turns. It’s worth taking inventory of our own moods and energy before and after various experiences to see how we feel.
Recently another wise friend reminded me how draining decision-making is. It sucks all the energy out of me. And it takes up my time. That’s why doing things like packing a lunch the night before, laying out your clothes in advance, and pre-loading as many decisions as you can protects your energy and time. You’ve eliminated decision-making during your morning routine. This explains why meal-planning matters so much to me. It explains why I need to keep a very simple and repeatable daily schedule while completing a manuscript. After all, the task of writing involves a million decisions with each sentence. Can you imagine the possible permutations of any given paragraph? No wonder I have decision fatigue!
Living with flair means we learn how to protect the precious personal resources of time and energy so we might truly bless others with our presence and input.
I talk to students today about their own minds. I want to give insight on what it means to have a healthy mind based on things I’ve learned and continue to study over the years. A healthy mind, I’m learning, knows where to focus attention. My students agree that most of their thinking involves reviewing the past. They replay conversations. They dissect what others must have thought. They consider what they might have done or said.
Is that you? Some of my family members fall into this category.
Unfortunately, much of this past focus bears no good fruit. Instead, reviewing the past keeps you in the realm of shame, regret, or longing. It’s good for some things (reviewing joyful memories, recalling lessons learned, or gaining wisdom from mistakes or victories), but mostly, it’s not very good for you. But it’s so hard to snap to attention and stop ruminating over past behavior.
The majority of my students admit they live in the past. Their minds simply stay there. Others, however, live in the future. They worry about unknown outcomes. They attempt to visualize what will happen to gain control. They play out the whole day before it even happens. They often live in anxiety or fear as a result. Like living in the past, living in the future isn’t always productive or good if it only breeds negative emotions. However, looking ahead can indeed allow for advanced planning, goal setting, and hope for things coming. But sometimes, we live too much in the future. That’s me. I’ve already pictured this whole day including dinner. I think about deadlines, the next thing coming, and what I’ll do after this. I’m rarely living in the present moment. I’m planning writing lessons for tomorrow as I walk across campus. I’m thinking of future outings. I’m wondering what I’ll make for after school snack.
I have learned the importance of the present moment in order to balance my tendencies out: I can swing from past to future, but when I enjoy the present moment by indulging in all five senses, by listening intently to a person speaking to me, or learning to simply observe carefully with a curious heart, I keep the negative emotions associated with past or future thinking at bay. This helps explain why I love writing so much. It’s here right now. I’m here right now. There’s no past, no future. It’s just so now.
My students agree that things they truly love have everything to do with present joy: the smell of lasagna cooking, the softness of snuggling with a beloved dog, the feel of cold air on your face.
Stay present. Inhabit this moment as fully as you can.