Making Time for What’s Important

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One of my favorite inspirational authors, Lysa Terkeurst, writes of planning things to look forward to as a way of fighting off her “ugly,” as she calls it. As a self-proclaimed Melancholy Mom, this thought has stuck with me.

Without us SAHMs getting in the driver’s seat of our schedules, the days run together, an endless barrage of domestic tasks and childcare chores. If I want to beat my blues and become a positive role model for my family, I know that more planning–of fun things–is essential.

Choosing What’s Important Over What’s Urgent

Taking time for what’s “important,” not necessarily what’s “urgent,” is how Stephen Covey described it in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Life will always keep us preoccupied with mundane details if we let it—phone calls, emails, dirty laundry, Facebook notifications, crises, deadline-driven projects, and interruptions.

Source: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Source: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

But if we want to live effective, meaningful (and non-melancholy) lives, we must focus on “non-urgent” important stuff, like relationship building, goal planning, and some recreation. We will always have to deal with some urgent stuff that can’t wait, says Covey, but as we spend more time planning and getting organized around our personal goals (he calls these “quadrant II activities”), those urgent things will shrink.

Finding My “One Thing”

Here’s a great question to ask ourselves:

What one thing could you do in your personal and professional life that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life? Quadrant II activities have that kind of impact. Our effectiveness takes quantum leaps when we do them (p. 154, The Seven Habits).

Six years ago, when I first read Covey’s wisdom, my “one thing” was regular prayer and Bible study. Check. Doing that one thing made a huge difference in my life. These days I may have a melancholy outlook at times, but because I believe in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and his coming again, I don’t think I could ever be suicidal again.

A few years ago, writing my memoir became my “one thing.” At first it was about personal accomplishment and fulfilling a childhood dream. But as I gained a personal testimony thanks to getting to know the Lord, that writing project became about more than myself. It became a Christian mission and ministry. From those who have read the final version or heard me speak about my “new life after attempted suicide,” I have confirmation that this is a message people need to hear.

Next, after the memoir-writing goal was underway, my “one thing” became having children. God has used Sam, and soon will use #2, to teach me so much. I needed the rounding out of my person that kids provide, and I am so glad God has provided it. (This is still very much a work in progress, of course! Stay tuned for more.)

So, what is my one thing now?

I think there are two.

  • Date nights with my hubby
  • Babysitting breaks for me

Taking stock of my life recently, I realized I wasn’t really getting either. My daily tasks were running together into one seemingly endless lump, to the point that both Buc and I would fall into bed at the end of most days too tired to really talk. It’s no wonder I felt run ragged, disconnected from (adult) humankind, and unhappy.

Just because.
Sam knows how to enjoy life. I’m trying to get better at it…

So, I have been slowly tweaking my schedule. Buc and I reserve at least one night a week to spend quality time together; if we don’t have a babysitter, we still share a bubble bath and a heart-to-heart after Sam’s bedtime (no iphones allowed). And today I dropped Sam off for the first time ever at a Parents’ Day Out program at one of the local churches. While the initial crying hurt my heart, those three hours ended up being great for both of us. Sam had fun with new toys and a new playground, and I finally had some time to browse the library alone, shop for curtains for our new house, and get a much-needed haircut.

These date nights and babysitting breaks have taken a little extra planning and intentionality, but I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have gained these little breaks from the mundane. I may not find much time for writing these days (maybe after I get the curtains up–creating a livable living space is a priority right now), but I am finding more time for myself, and more time for my marriage. I have things to look forward to now, and it is making a difference in my mood.

My husband is passionate about Corvettes...so one of our recent date nights was to this bette-themed restaurant.
A stop on one of our recent date nights.

If you’re feeling melancholy, don’t ever think you’re too busy to take care of what’s most important. It goes without saying that your kids are important, but don’t forget that you are also important, and so are your other relationships. I’m learning that as I get these things straight, everything else falls into place.

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I am Weak (and Hormonal), but God Is Strong

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Making time for family photos is one of my weaknesses. In almost nine years of marriage, we have never had professional pictures made. Not even for our wedding.

This week has been a roller coaster. Imagine me moping because friends and family finally pushed me to choose a baby bedding set; yelling at my husband because he “can’t do anything right”; panicking because we have less than two months to paint the room; sobbing because I can’t get Target’s baby registry website to work; and generally freaking out because “I don’t know how I’m going to handle this all!”

Yeah. It’s finally sunk in. I’m gonna be a mom. And suddenly, all my shortcomings are hitting me, smack dab, in the face. The necessity of dealing with the baby room, especially, has slammed me with bad memories from my childhood, where I never knew how to decorate my bedroom and was always dissatisfied with my pathetic attempts. My mom tried her best to make our shabby houses nice, with inexpensive touch-ups like a coat of paint and tablecloths, but decorating wasn’t her strong point, either. To this day, she and I both freeze at the prospect of even hanging pictures.

I knew this would happen. I knew having a baby would call on me to face my weaknesses: decorating a room, learning to be a better homemaker, learning to depend on others, and setting aside my own goals in favor of the family. In short, Baby Sam is calling on me to be less selfish.

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David and Tasha, some of our good friends, offered to take semi-professional pictures of my husband and me about two years ago for Christmas. This last weekend, we finally took them up on the offer. Baby Sam made the difference.

But everyone knows that. It’s obvious that parents have to be less selfish. It’s also common knowledge that parenting calls forth people’s weaknesses. I knew this all along, and that’s why I put off children for my first eight years of marriage. I knew kids would test me, and until now, I wasn’t ready for that test. Instead, I subjected myself to lots of other tests, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, where all the questions were safely embedded in a two-dimensional world. There wasn’t much to mess up—at least, it would be hard to mess up someone else’s life. Now, the game has changed. Now, my decisions can make or break someone’s life.

Ironically, I know I’ve done some messing with my husband’s life by keeping too busy and being self- and career-absorbed over the years. It wasn’t really possible for me to live a self-contained life: our decisions always impact others. I just wasn’t ready for the mega impact of a parent-to-child relationship.

Good news, though. God is stepping in, like he always does. The verse I keep hearing this week is 2 Cor. 12:9-10. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Thank God for that!

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We were tempted to cancel our photo shoot, because it came after a long day of grocery shopping for me and outdoor work for hubby: my feet were swelling, and his whole body ached from putting up a greenhouse.

One practical demonstration of God’s sufficiency (“my God shall supply all your needs,” Paul writes) has been a new friend, who enthusiastically agreed to help me with the baby room. She came over on Tuesday and helped me order a bedding set. She talked me through using the breast pump my other friend gave me. She went shopping with me to choose paint and other baby supplies. And she’s coming again today to help make some decorations for the baby room. Maybe these things seem trite to you homemaker women out there, but to me, they have been a godsend.

I don’t think my new friend realizes why this stuff is so hard for me—it’s fun for her. But that’s because she’s a hands-on woman; I’m a hands-off type (read: I like to work with words, ideas—basically stuff I can’t break). Amidst my wallowing that “I suck” this week, God has turned my sorrow (and raging hormones) into joy.

The beginning of the week was hard, but the end is getting better. So I know that homemaking is not one of my strong points. So what? God’s power is made perfect through my weakness, and through friends and loved ones he sends to make up for what I lack. I feel so blessed this week to be surrounded by friends and family who can help me. Generally I don’t like to ask for help, but this lack of dependency is just another weakness God is helping me through. It’s a weakness I intend to ditch, because I know if I hope to get through parenthood, I’ll need some help. It sounds corny, but that old adage is really true: the first step to change is admitting we need help.

Thank you so much, Lord, for sending help just when I needed it.

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But we went to take pictures anyway, tired and grumpy. In the end we had a lot of fun, and now we will always have the memory of this moment. Thanks to Deborah, Tasha’s mom, for the great pictures!

How to Make Your Dream a Reality

Rule number 1: You have to DO something.

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Photo credit: felipedan

It sounds really obvious, but so is most of the advice in any self-help book you can read. I complained for a lot of years that my dream of publishing a book was not coming true, but, um, it was no wonder. For a lot of years, I wasn’t doing anything about it. So then, one day, I sat down and started to write. And promptly ran into a problem.

 

Rule number 2: Push through roadblocks, however slowly

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Photo credit: Jazza

It could be a lack of time, a mental block, or a naysayer. For me, my roadblock was not the oft-cited “writer’s block”; rather, every time I tried to sit down and write that book I had in my head, I’d be reduced to tears for the memories the work brought. And then there was the naysayer. Someone told me my book idea wasn’t respectful of my family…and I should reconsider what publishing it would do to them.

No matter which roadblocks you’re facing, there is always a way to keep going. For aspiring writers (or aspiring whatevers) with little time, the best advice I know of is to set a realistic goal for yourself, whether a daily or weekly goal, and stick to it. Maybe you’ve only got fifteen minutes a day. Maybe you’ve only got one hour a week. Whatever you have, build that time into your schedule, and then guard it with your dream.

When I started having those toxic emotional reactions to my work, which literally could incapacitate me from living the rest of my life, well, I shut down for awhile. But in hindsight, I realize that I eventually found other ways to keep moving in the direction of my dream. I came at it from another angle. Although I wasn’t yet ready to write that book in my head, I started reading up on the publishing industry, and I started reading about honing my craft. As I did this, I put the naysayer out of mind, and hoped for a better day to write and publish my book. And this leads to rule number 3.

 

Rule number 3: Learn from the masters

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Photo credit: krayker

So, how did you first develop that precious little dream of yours? I’d just bet it was from watching someone else who was doing that very thing, and saying to yourself, “I want to do that someday, too!”

So here’s the deal: the same place you go for inspiration—be it a bookshelf, a rodeo, or a runway—is the same place you should go to apprentice for your craft. Once I identified memoir as my medium, I became a student of the genre. Not only did I read books about how to write memoir, but I read memoirs. These days I have become a sponge for these things, keeping them by my nightstand, on the coffee table, and in my CD player in the car (audio books). Where I once read only for entertainment, now I read for craft and technique, story development and organization. I read with a critical eye, judging a book’s execution and effectiveness, asking myself, is this a technique I could use? Is it one I’d want to use? Whether a memoir is well done or not, I learn from it.

 

Rule number 4: Work through personal problems to clear room for your dreams

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Photo credit: brainloc

Okay, this is probably the hardest rule to follow, and I can’t tell you how to do it; I can only point you to a blog post describing what worked for me. But if you do have some kind of mental or emotional block impeding your work, there must be something you’ll eventually have to deal with before getting on with your dream. If you have to “take time off” from your project to get your life or emotions in order, by all means, do it! This is not wasted time, because when you come back to your project free from the impediment, you will find that you have a vigor for your dream that you never had before.

 

Rule number 5: Set a deadline with measurable goals

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Photo credit: mimwickett

This rule will vary from person to person, and obviously your timelines and deadlines can change. But the thing here is to write down steps, measurable goals, that will move you closer to your dream, bit by bit. If you can give yourself a deadline and stick to it, you will be much helped, as most people operate best with a deadline.

For myself, after I started doing something and I learned how to keep plugging away at it in some form, even when it was hard; after I had started bathing my mind in masterful examples, and after I had worked through my poisonous personal problems…I came up with a schedule for completing my dream that I’m hoping will carry me through to completion. For now, I am trying every day to “move in the direction of my dreams,” even if it means only fifteen minutes of work. I hope you will do the same, and good luck!

Reviving Relationships—Rethinking Goals

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 “The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked are all in vain.” (Proverbs 10:28, NLT)

When I read this verse today, two questions immediately sprang to mind.

1) First, am I godly?

2) Secondly, what are my hopes—in other words, my goals? I have the sense that they have changed in just a few short years—and I’m not sure I’ve really defined them.

You should understand something about me. A few years ago, after my older brother recommended the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I got a little obsessive about my life’s goals. Looking for ways to improve my abysmally ineffective first year of teaching, I lapped up those seven habits, even making my second-year students endure a three-week unit on said habits.

During my third year of teaching, on my own I completed some exercises found in the back of my new 2011 Covey planner. These entailed writing out my roles and goals, my values, and my bucket list. You can find that list here.

On paper, my goals look good, but in retrospect, I think I’ve done badly—at least on the relationship points.

A Few of My Failures

“Conscious steps toward building or maintaining my relationships.” Maybe a few. We did start a weekly small group Bible study after I left teaching. But it took my new Bible-study-buddy, Tasha, to get me out of my comfort zone for social outings–sporadic spa days.

“Avoid overcommitting myself in areas that do not desperately require my attention.” My hubby’s feedback heavily suggests otherwise. In fact, just now I am kicking myself for getting too involved at church, yet again, this year.

“Don’t forget to make and take time for friends.” I’ve forgotten often. I have plenty of relationships that have fallen by the wayside, a topic for another time, but the biggest relationship I’ve neglected by far is my marriage.

This is hard to admit. Suddenly I see that all these years I’ve tried to blame him for our shortcomings as a couple. I’ve deluded myself into thinking I was the one doing most of the giving…he most of the taking…but now I’ll put the question to myself: What have I really done for our marriage?

As I think back on the eight years we’ve been in this union, all I see is a panorama of achievements I’ve chased—degrees and jobs and dreams—that were all selfishly motivated. To this day, I can list lots of things I’ve done for myself, but it’s hard to say what I’ve done for our marriage.

The Undefined Emptiness

Lately, with plenty of quiet time on my hands, I can’t help but reexamine my life, and what keeps coming up is that I have an emptiness inside. None of the degrees or achievements have filled it. God and my husband have done much to soothe it, but after much time on my knees, I feel it will not be enough to keep to myself—just me and my God and my husband and my writing.

There is something else I’m supposed to be doing. I know I need to be less selfish in my marriage, yes–and I’m working on it–but to deal with this maddening quiet when he’s not here—when it’s just me and my writing and my restlessness—is there something else?

So this morning I prayed: “Lord, please: I’d like a breakthrough of some sort. A pregnancy. A job. An acceptance letter [from my MFA program]. Some other place to belong, some other place to get my mind off myself.”

And you know what I heard?

“Lindsey, you are troubled about many things. But only one thing is needful.”

In his sequel to The Seven Habits, entitled First Things First, Stephen Covey uses an illustration involving a ladder and a wall, saying it will do no good to climb a ladder if it is leaning against the wrong wall. He’s right, of course, but only because it was God’s principle, first.

So says God and Stephen Covey: Lindsey, you better focus on question 1) Am I godly? Before you (re)tackle 2) What are my goals (and Where should I go, What should I do)? Because without getting number 1 right, number 2 is a moot point.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things [whatever they are] shall be added unto you.”

Well, okay then. Back to my knees it is.

My Mission and Goals from 2011

Values Clarification

God: God is my Redeemer; he is the reason for my existence and my ultimate destination

  • I put God first every day
  • I use God’s word as my compass for all my life’s decisions
  • I strive to be Christlike and to be a witness to others in the way I conduct myself and live my life
  • I do what is right even in the face of opposition

Family and Friends: My family members and friends are the most precious gifts from God I have on this earth, therefore:

  • I take conscious steps toward building or maintaining my relationships with family members, such as family Bible study or spending quality time with them
  • I avoid doing things that would harm my family relationships, especially with my husband, such as over-committing myself in areas that do not desperately require my attention
  • I don’t forget to make and take time for friends; I keep my friendships in good standing; I do not “hoard” or limit my friendship; I am open to making new friends

Workmanship/Artistry: I have been endowed with specific gifts from my creator which I strive to develop to his glory

  • I write to share the story of what God’s done for me and to bring others to Christ
  • I play to be a service to others (such as in church, at funerals, etc.)
  • I use my talents not to uplift myself but to uplift God

Education: God has given me a wonderful mind to be filled with all that is lovely, pure, and true

  • I continue to learn constructive new things everyday that will benefit my own or others’ quality of life
  • I share what I learn with others
  • I obtain greater education for the purpose of  bettering my life or the lives of others
  • I avoid that which is emotionally harmful, mentally dwarfing, depressing or vulgar

Health and Fitness: My body is the temple of God, to be cared for accordingly

  • I choose to eat as healthily as is possible and realistic in my current lifestyle
  • I learn and implement new healthy recipes as often as I can
  • I exercise regularly to keep my body in good physical shape and to keep my mind clear
  • I choose to be happy with the body God has given me and my own personal “best”
  • I do not measure myself by unrealistic, worldly standards of beauty

Stewardship: I use all that I have to the best of my knowledge and ability to glorify God

  • I use my time constructively
  • I spend my money wisely
  • I treat my body as a vehicle of service for God and input accordingly

Roles

Christian

See Item 1 above

I read and learn what the Bible says, first, to prepare myself to witness, then, to know what and how to share with others

Wife

  • I am supportive
  • I think before speaking
  • I choose my battles wisely
  • I use my energy to encourage rather than nag
  • I find meaningful ways to show and reinforce my love for him everyday

Daughter/Sister

  • I am learning to have normal relationships with my parents and brothers
  • I call on a more regular basis

Teacher

  • To the best of my abilities, I teach the kids what will be most necessary, useful and uplifting to them
  • I am a positive role model
  • I maintain an active interest in their wellbeing and salvation
  • I discipline them when needed, even if it is hard for me to do so

Artist

  • I spend a significant amount of time (or that which is feasible) each week developing or practicing my talents, especially writing
  • I use my writing for a healthy emotional outlet
  • I use my talents to benefit others

What one thing could you accomplish in your professional life that would have the most positive impact?

Get my doctorate

What one thing could you accomplish in your personal life that would have the most positive impact?

I don’t know…

  • Start a small-group Bible study?
  • Have a child and learn how to have a normal, healthy family life?

The kind of person I want to be:

  • Self-confident
  • Loving
  • Wise/Discerning
  • Spiritual

All the things I would like to do (Bucket List):

  • Read through the entire Bible
  • Get my masters
  • Get my doctorate
  • Be an English Professor
  • Publish my writing for significant pay and in the venue that will impact as many people as possible
  • Take aerobics or Pilates classes for fun!
  • Be an aerobics instructor
  • Live in MN again, even if just in the summers
  • Lead a group Bible study for young adults
  • Find and participate in a ministry or service activity that both my husband and I are interested in and can do together
  • Compose music in a preserve-able form (learn how to use a music program to write electronic sheet music)
  • Achieve financial freedom so that money is never an obstacle, say, in taking trips to visit my family
  • Maybe adopt kids or do some kind of foster care or service for children
  • Get over my issues with technology; embrace that technology which is good
  • Become a Women’s Ministries Leader after my children have grown or I decide I’m not having children
  • Learn to see the best in people; never facilitate or further gossip

All the things I would like to have during my lifetime

  • Continual assurance of salvation; every day an open connection with God
  • A healthy, happy marriage every day
  • Maybe kids; don’t know yet
  • A lake house in Minnesota
  • My own study or writing room
  • A grand piano
  • A maid

Note: These prompts and questions come from my Stephen Covey planner from 2011. They spring from the principles of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and I include my responses from 2011 here to help readers make sense of my next blog post, Reviving Relationships–Rethinking Goals.

I’d love to read any goals or bucket list items my readers would like to share! I look forward to your comments!