On the Value of Small Steps in a New Year

 

Many of us have sat down to set some goals for the year, contemplate our word for the year, and discern what 2018 needs to be about. But then there is the reality that our children headed back to school today after a 6-week break, and we find ourselves back in the rhythm of schooling schedules, deadlines, basketball games, and Scouting events.   Sometimes the schedule + deadlines + activities don’t seem to line up with “all the things” we contemplated and want to happen in a new year. We quickly realize that on the way to the Big Things, we forgot about our Real Life.

 

How do we set meaningful goals that actually mesh with the reality of our dailiness?

 

I love challenging goals. I love idealistic dreaming. I love envisioning my best self, giving out of my gifts, ideas, and strengths in big ways. It’s easy to write down all that I want to be and to do, all the ways I want to change and to give, the idealized version of myself and my time, but then there is this thing called reality that hits. I have six children. I homeschool. I have a limited energy capacity. I need solid sleep. I have a home that needs tending and care. 

 

In the past, I have made the big goals, but the reality of the demands on my time and life hit, and so I gave up on them. I decided that I wasn’t “in the right season” for goal-setting and making progress. So I kept walking around the same mundane mountains, being ineffective with my time, my energy, and my gifts. “Maybe when the kids get older.”  I stayed stuck in so many areas because I dismissed them as being too “small” and unimportant. Goals have to be big, right? That was the lie.

 

The truth is that I had many foundational areas of my life that needed growth, change, rhythm, and healthy habits. The ways my house gets cleaned, organized, and decorated. The way I plan for birthdays and holidays. The way I tend my time, social media, and hobbies. The way I drink water, begin my mornings, or incorporate movement/exercise. The way I feed my family, plan my dinners, and grocery shop. The way I build a culture of gratitude, encouragement, creativity, reading, music, and games.

 

I began to realize that the growth + effectiveness of my home, my time, my mothering, my marriage, my community, and my health needed some simple, sustainable goals that weren’t fancy, but fruitful.

 

So the past few years, I have used my PowerSheets in new ways. Small ways. Life-changing ways. Little by little, I have made big progress in my daily life. I drink more water. I started yoga. I get more sleep. I go to a chiropractor. I meal plan and implement it. I celebrate birthday, holidays, and seasons well. I use my time effectively and am more focused. My home is pared down and my style has simplified. My extended family receives birthday cards. I don’t have as many library fines. 🙂 My kids’ projects get done in a timely way. Do balls still get dropped? Sure. Is all this done perfectly? Nope. But I feel more joy, less stress, and my family and home is getting the best of me! No amount of big goal setting can compete with that.

 

So if you have given up on goal setting all together OR you are an overachiever who goes big or goes home, there is a middle place. Women in the middle years need to know that your work and small progress in any area is valuable, meaningful, and needed. Your dailiness matters and how you live your life changes lives. Find some meaningful goals that align with your priorities, and day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, cultivate faithfulness.

 

It’s easy to get pumped up by the big + grand, to overextend our energy + adrenals to make things happen, but faithfulness over time is where meaning meets sustainability. And that changes everything.

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Give Yourself Holiday Grace

 

I am not sending out Christmas cards this year. No last-minute family photo, scanning card options, or making my own. My soul is craving simplicity and minimalism coupled with meaning this year, and the cards aren’t making the cut. On another year, they would have, but this time, no. And that’s okay.

 

It’s important to listen to your soul during the holidays.

 

In her podcast episode “Quit Something”, Emily Freeman says, “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it forever.” I have been good at over-decorating, over-buying, over-planning and offering too many traditions. Sometimes we think that our Christmas might not be “meaningful” or special or magical if we don’t offer all the things that we have always offered.

 

Here’s some good holiday grace: You are never stuck.

 

There is no rule or judge that will deem you a failure if you step away from the Elf on the Shelf, the Christmas pajamas, the handmade gifts, or the Advent readings. You have great freedom to change Christmas for yourself and your family according to your health, your season of life, and your personal sanity. No one will fall apart or have the worst Christmas ever or have a scarred psyche if you change things up.

 

There are no holiday rules. Repeat that 20 times.

 

The best parts of Christmas for me are the coziness, the twinkling, the candles, the smells, the warmth, the music, the games + puzzles, reading, and connecting. I need more of that with my family and less shopping, creating, wrapping, and mailing. Every year looks different. Our capacities change with age, season, and health. We don’t need to grit our teeth, power through, and make merry happen when our hearts are filled with dread.

 

What is your soul telling you about Advent? Where do you feel stuck? What “tradition” can you let go of this year to make space for peace? What honest conversation do you need to have with your family about where you are and what to expect? 

 

Today is December 1st. Let’s begin this month with clarity in our souls and peace on our agendas. May we move to a holiday rhythm of lightness, restraint, and simplicity. Let’s offer ourselves to others, our best selves, not the cranky, stressed, perfectionistic versions that don’t do us or anyone else any good. May our next right thing be to offer our presence, filled + overflowing, kind + wise, joyous + generous, all the best parts of us, to everyone we meet, starting here in our own little homes.

 

 

An Invitation to be Tended

 

I haven’t done much in the way of self-care this semester. My days are filled with teaching, managing, and serving while my evenings filled with practices, games, and meetings with a date night thrown in here or there. My personal rhythms for my soul and body haven’t kept pace with what my schedule says is the next thing to do.

 

Somehow by canceling two different meetings and arranging rides, I was able to get to Holy Yoga this week. Sometimes getting what you need takes a lot of work, communication, and the help of others. I came to my yoga mat feeling worn and frayed. I prayed before I walked in, “Jesus, would you meet me on my mat?”

 

I felt relieved when the instructor (that word doesn’t describe her though…she is more a kind + bold guide for body + soul) said that the evening would be a slower flow than usual. Gentler. I sighed a deep prayer of thanks. After some beginning stretches, she read from the end 1 Peter 2 in The Message:

 

He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.

 

As we breathed and moved our bodies, Jesus kept whispering, “Aimee, you have been the shepherd of your own soul. This is an invitation to let me shepherd you, your mind, your emotions, your desires, your tender places. I shepherd and delight in those soul places in you. You have no idea who I know you as and where I want you to go. Let me call you Beloved, keep you close, and tend you well.”

 

As these verses were repeatedly read, my heart was kindled and vulnerable. By the time we reached the end when we lie on our mats under a blanket in silence for about fifteen minutes, I had a steady stream of tears leaking down the sides of my face. I hadn’t felt that near and seen by Jesus in so long. It was as if He were sitting cross-legged near me saying the Truth about Himself and about me. The Good News is that Jesus doesn’t only care about what we do, where we go, and how we obey in this world, but He wants to tend our souls, the hidden places of ourselves, as a Kind Shepherd tends vulnerable, confused sheep.

 

His wounds became our healing. Our wounded Savior wants to come alongside each one of us and heal, ridding us of stubborn sin and setting us free, naming us and keeping us for good. If there is one thing I am learning this Fall, it’s that intimacy with Him can happen in the busiest of seasons as we make space to be open to Him as we sit and as we rise, as we go out and as we lie down.

 

I don’t have hours of solitude, quiet, or time alone. I have minutes as I drive, as I wash dishes, as I shower, as I wait at a practice. I have stopped using these times to get on my phone and have begun using these small moments to choose openness, listening, being. I have stopped bringing an agenda or ideal of what spending time with God looks like, and instead, I am wasting time with Him. I am learning to be a daughter, a friend, a companion of Christ. It is simple but not easy. I can’t see any “growth” or “fruit” or measurable outcomes that my production-oriented self craves. My soul simply is becoming quieter, less scared, more peaceful, more at ease with Presence than Quiet Time Production. 

 

As we walk deeper into October, may we recognize that all of our crazy thoughts, mixed-up feelings, and the creative ideas of our souls have a Shepherd that wants to tend them. He’s as close as our breath, as near as anyone can be. His Spirit has made a home within us, has tender access to it all, and promises to keep our souls for good. Amen.

 

linking up with Coffee for your Heart and Salt & Light and #HeartEncouragement

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