5 Tips For Setting Goals in the New Year (+ a Giveaway!)ย 

I haven’t set goals for the New Year in a long time. I used to do it every year, but I kept feeling so discouraged when I wouldn’t reach my goals that eventually, I gave up and stopped doing it. 

I had no plans of returning to the practice this year, but I happened to come across two resources which have persuaded me to change my mind, and give it another try. 

The first one was a book Ben gave me for Christmas, which was on my Amazon wish list, but I’d forgotten about it. It’s called “Living Well, Spending Less”, and it’s fantastic. It covers all my usual favourite topics, like pursuing contentment, rejecting consumerism, budgeting, getting groceries for cheaper, decluttering, and all that good stuff. 

But then the author slipped in a chapter on setting goals. I was not expecting to enjoy it so much, but she hooked me in! She wrote about picturing what you would like your life to look like ten years from now, and breaking it down into manageable steps to take each year, month, week, and even day, so that you are constantly taking specific steps to get closer to your goals. I think this was one of my big problems with accomplishing goals in the past – I didn’t break things down, and couldn’t pursue my goals with clear enough direction or intention. 

The day after reading the chapter on goals, one of my favourite podcasters shared an interview with Michael Hyatt. I’ve enjoyed a number of articles he’s written, so I knew the interview would be interesting. And guess what it was about – writing down your goals!! He said that by simply writing down your goals, you are 42% more likely to accomplish them. What?! He also shared some great thoughts on how to set good, helpful goals. 

After enjoying these two resources, and spending some time thinking about why my goals failed in the past, I’ve put together a few tips for setting goals for the New Year:

1) Pay attention to what God is already calling you to. 

Making goals on our own without discerning what God is already calling us to means we’re setting ourselves up for an internal tug-of-war. We have to choose between fighting for our own way, and pursuing our own desires, or getting into the flow of what God is already doing. When we allow Him to lead our passions, goals, and ambitions, we can trust that He’ll take us down the best path. 

This is the biggest reason I used to fail with goals when I was younger. (And why I wrote a blog series years ago called “Ditching the Five Year Plan”.) I kept dreaming up all kinds of plans that seemed like great ideas, but didn’t spend enough time discerning if all these “good things” were what God actually wanted for my life.  

But over the years, I’ve been able to determine little nudgings or passions growing in me which seemed in line with what God wanted for me, and learned how to trust His guidance instead of my own ideas and plans. 

I want to make sure to pray a lot about what I commit my time to, not just go with whatever sounds good, or seems to be a popular goal for other people. There are many good things to spend our time on, but we can’t do them all. Prayer can bring a lot of clarity when it comes to discerning what goals to choose, and which direction to focus our energy. 

2) Don’t make a goal too hard OR too easy! 

Michael Hyatt had some great things to say about finding the sweet spot for goals which are attainable, while still challenging us. He said a goal that’s easy to reach is not motivating, and won’t push you to accomplish it. But goals that are far too hard and unrealistic can be discouraging, and not helpful, either. (This is where my old goals usually fell!) He suggests dreaming up a goal that’s unrealistic, and then scaling back to something a little more reasonable will help set the best goals. 

3) Come up with goals for a few different categories. 

In “Living Well, Spending Less”, she writes about asking yourself what you’d like to accomplish in your marriage, your parenting, your work, etc. And in another great episode of The Model Health Show, Shawn Stevenson talks about how everyone should have goals for what they want to accomplish in each category of nutrition, fitness, mindset, sleep, and stress management. 

I really like the idea of categorizing goals, because too many goals can get overwhelming, but if I pick one for each different area of my life, there’s always something I can be focusing on, and being intentional with, whether I’m homeschooling, or writing, or whatever. 

4) Stay flexible. 

This is another area where I usually messed up in the past – I wasn’t willing to quit or change direction when my goals weren’t working out well for me. But goals aren’t supposed to be terrible commitments we’re chained to, no matter what!! Goals that fit well can be fun and life-giving. Unexpected opportunities can come up, and there is freedom to pursue different goals than what we originally anticipated. 

I never set out to declutter 2015 things in 2015 – it was something I sort of stumbled onto. My original goal was to declutter one thing a day, but somewhere around January or February, I realized that was no where near challenging enough. I’m so glad I changed direction, because I had a lot of fun, I accomplished the more challenging goal, and it changed the way our family views material possessions. 

5) Know the difference between a goal and a dream. 

A goal is something you can do something about, while a dream is something you really hope will happen, but there’s nothing you can do to make it happen. 

Making dreams our goals can lead to disappointment or frustration. My friend once said, “It’s my goal to have a white Christmas!” In Manitoba, that’s pretty much a sure thing, but it’s still not a goal, because there are no actionable steps to take. He could not make it snow. A goal would be more like, “It’s my goal to travel to the mountains so we will have lots of snow for Christmas”, or something like that. 

It’s usually possible to figure out how to set goals which make it more likely to see a dream come to pass, but it always needs to involve actionable steps. I’ve found this very helpful to discuss with my kids. Anika has a lot of dreams for her future, but when she was younger, it was hard for her to determine how to take steps towards those things. Or sometimes I’m the one who really wants to see something happen, but I need Ben’s wild and creative imagination to give me a fresh perspective on how to get out of my rut, and take action. Another person can see things from a different angle, and help you figure out how to turn your dreams into practical, realistic goals. 
I’ve been keeping a list of things I would love to accomplish this year, but I want to take some time to consider each one more prayerfully before I commit to anything. As I’ve been thinking through all of this, I’ve been getting so excited for the New Year, and motivated to accomplish some great things! 

I would love to hear any of your tips or suggestions for setting goals! Or if you already know what goals you’re shooting for this year, share those, too! For every tip or goal you share, your name will be entered into a draw for a free copy of “Living Well, Spending Less”! I’ll do a draw at the end of the week, so you have a little bit of time to figure out some awesome goals to share! ๐Ÿ™‚ 

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Making Space For Christmas

A few weeks ago, I was part of a discussion about how to have a meaningful Christmas. We never came to a conclusion, it was more just a time of expressing a desire and longing for something deeper, heartfelt, of substance. I left that discussion, and then proceeded to think about it for the next three weeks straight. I wanted an answer, and I didn’t have one.

The cliche “Jesus is the reason for the season” just doesn’t cut it for me – maybe because there’s not much truth to it in most places. Christians have a tough fight on this one, because there are so many other things competing with what is supposed to be the “true” message of Christmas. We say we’re celebrating the birth of Christ, but lots of the time, it almost gets lost in the food, the gifts, and connecting with family. Those are all good things, too – I realize in my own heart that I’ve come to see Christmas more of a celebration of love and generosity, not because I’m trying to overlook the birth of Jesus, but because Christmas is so outrageously loud, busy, and flashy, it’s just hard to see past all the other good things happening at Christmas, and focus on Jesus’ birth.

So for weeks, I’ve thought about how to bring back the meaning of Christmas, and I’ve struggled with it. I got stuck on wanting it to be the way it was when I was a kid – it was easy to feel wonder and meaning about everything, and Christmas was like pure magic, but when I looked up the definition of wonder, the problem became clear to me:

Wonder – a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

It’s hard to feel wonder at Christmas, because how much are we surprised anymore? Christmas only comes once a year, so for the first few years of life, it IS unfamiliar, but I’ve lost that along the way. I’m not surprised by the beauty, nothing feels unexpected. I had to come to the conclusion that wonder is not the way to feel deeply at Christmas.

What, then, could replace the awe and wonder of my childhood Christmases?

The answer came to me in the strangest of ways. It was a busy evening a couple of weeks ago, and I was feeling frazzled because Ben was recovering from knee surgery, and all of the responsibility of home and family were on me. I had to get Ben to a physio appointment, pick up my grocery order at Superstore, and get back to pick him up. As I was trying to get to the grocery pick-up spot in the Superstore parking lot, a woman came out of the store, walked into the middle of the road, and plopped her bags and large purse down right in the middle of the street, stopping traffic coming from both directions. I was concerned about her – surely something must be very wrong in order to cause this woman to stop in the middle of the road like that. She was kneeling on the pavement, and I watched her closely, trying to see what the problem was. She didn’t look hurt, so I started searching for spilled groceries – maybe a bag handle had broken, and she was gathering up food that had dumped.

But there was nothing.

Suddenly, she changed her position and I could see what she was doing – she was lighting a cigarette. She couldn’t even walk ten more steps to get to the side of the street, out of the way of traffic, to get that cigarette lit. Unbelievable.

I drove to my parking spot, and as I sat there waiting for my groceries, I had time to think. I was still marveling at the woman’s utter lack of regard for other people, but eventually my thoughts got quieter, and turned back to this issue I’d been mulling over for weeks about finding meaning at Christmas. Suddenly, the words “Make space” popped into my head. I’m learning to pay attention to those kinds of thoughts – the ones that seem to drop into my mind out of nowhere. I started praying about this, and asking God, “How do I need to make more space at Christmas?” Suddenly I was thinking about that woman again, and how she dropped everything, right where she was, because she couldn’t wait a moment longer to get what she desired. She didn’t appear to have any trouble “making space” in her life for what mattered most.

I held those words in my mind and heart over the next while, and each morning when I got up to do my devotions, they stayed with me. In my quiet, dark home, early in the morning, with the Christmas lights making everything feel cozy, I started reading the Christmas story. I got stuck on a few different verses, as I read everything through my filter – “make space”.

“She wrapped Him in cloths and laid him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

I pictured a busy inn, so crowded that there wasn’t even room for a pregnant woman on the brink of labor. In my mind, I could see how loud, full, and busy it must have been. But then I could imagine the little stable out back, quiet and calm, and even though none of us would want to have a baby in a stable, or spend the night, I could see how it became sacred ground that night, as it became the scene for such a holy moment – Christ being born, in the quiet night, with no one around, the star shining and Heaven watching. God with us, but nobody noticing, because everybody else was crowded into the inn.

And as I’ve thought about making space, I’ve been thinking about how we keep repeating this scene over and over again each Christmas. Even when we truly want a beautiful, meaningful Christmas, we somehow keep getting stuck at the inn, and can’t seem to make it to the stable out back often enough, or for long enough. That bustling inn is noisy and demands a lot of attention, but the quiet stable is removed, easily overlooked.

All the Christmas parties and gatherings and shopping and preparing are like the inn, bursting at the seams, all the people crowded in there, so busy they have no idea what’s going on in the stable.

These things aren’t wrong, but I want to find my way past the inn, and I want to spend most of my time in the stable. I’d rather hang out there this Christmas, and just wander over to the inn occasionally to check in with everybody and see what’s going on. But if I’m looking for meaning, if I’m trying to make space at Christmas, I’ll find it in the stable.

I picture the shepherds with their sheep, out in the fields on a dark, quiet night, when suddenly, the sky is filled with light and angels, and the shepherds also get to experience the miracle of that night. And it’s interesting to me that this also happens out in the night, away from the crowds. So the shepherds go looking for the stable, and for a time, they also enter into that holy space.

I don’t write this to glorify that space – the glory went with Jesus everywhere he traveled while He was on earth, long after He left the stable, but over and over again, people needed to choose to make space for Him, and lay aside all the things demanding immediate attention, to remember what was most important.

We know all this – we’ve heard it over and over again, every Christmas. Anika and I have been joking about how every Christian Christmas story or musical or movie has to be about the grumpy person who has forgotten the real meaning of Christmas, and needs to be reminded by the end of the story.

We know it, and yet we still find it hard to make space, because the inn is flashy, fun, exciting, and demands our attention. It is part of Christmas, too, but it’s not where I want to stay for the night.

So every morning, I turn on the Christmas lights, grab the coziest blanket in our living room, and I get comfy on the couch with my Bible to read the Christmas story again, and again, and again. Even though I’ve heard it every year of my life, I pray that as I choose to make space yet again, those verses will sink in, and speak to me in new ways. Every morning, I picture that quiet stable, on that holy night, and how everything changed in a moment when no one was paying attention. I want to soak it in, to stay in that space, to make room, to be paying attention.

I wish you a beautiful, meaningful Christmas, and I hope there will be many opportunities for you to slip away to the stable. Enjoy all the fun craziness at the inn, but make some space this Christmas for all that matters most.

Ready or Not, Here Christmas Comes

This blog post is brought to you by the stomach flu, fevers, and knee surgery recovery, with high fives all around for getting the nasty stuff out of the way so we can all be healthy by Christmas. I was emailing with my mom today about plans for Christmas at their house, and felt a little weird asking if she wanted me to bring any Christmas baking, because as of this moment, there is no Christmas baking yet. But there will be. And really, getting Christmas baking done early is a pain, because then I have to hide it from my kids so they don’t eat it all before Christmas even gets here, so this will work out perfectly….

I’ve stayed remarkable calm about my lack of readiness for Christmas, because I blame everything on the fact that Ben just had knee surgery, so nothing is normal, but we’re getting there, and it will still be great. And really, people celebrate Christmas for like, almost a week after the 25th, right?! We might be late with everything, but it will feel festive whenever it happens, so this is what I’m telling my desire for organization and readiness. I’ll make up for it next year.

In the meantime, here are some more of the pictures I’ve been taking here and there for my little December photo challenge:

Glitter:

Outside:

working on the slide Ben built off our deck before he had surgery

Warm:

enjoying hot chocolate after playing outside

Stripes:

Shopping:

Look Down:

Green:

Happy:

I was going to get the classic picture with everyone smiling hugely at the camera, but then I realized that this IS the picture of her happiness – perched on this bench by the window, lost in her own quiet little world.

Wrapping Paper:

Bright:

Tree:

Peace:

How are you all doing? Feeling any peace, or is Christmas getting crazy in your home, too?

Christmas Photo Challenge

When Christmas rolls around, I’m always drawn to books or articles about how to simplify the holidays. Christmas was magical to me when I was a kid, but when Ben and I got married, and suddenly had seven different gatherings to get to in the span of a week or two, the holiday lost a lot of it’s charm for me. I love family and traditions and festivities, but I ended up feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, exhausted, and in need of some quality alone time at Christmas.

One of the solutions to this came from book no longer in print, which basically said, “Cut out what you don’t enjoy, and do more of what you love about Christmas.”

As I was thinking about this last week, I tried to remember the most enjoyable Christmas I’ve had as an adult, and the usual things which came to mind were the traditions we’ve established as our own little family, and the days we enjoy at our parents’ houses, or when the gatherings are a little more spread out, with recovery time in between! But what popped into my mind which surprised me most was a spark of pleasure when I remembered the Christmas I did a 31 day photo challenge in December.

It seems silly – taking more pictures increased my enjoyment of Christmas? But it really did, maybe because photography is one of my favourite art forms, and art is always good for the soul.:) Or maybe it was because slowing down, paying attention, looking for the little things that make Christmas special for our family stayed with me.

Whatever the case, I decided to follow the joy, and started a Christmas photo challenge for this year. This is not going to produce deep, spiritual reflections on the birth of Jesus, or anything like that. We’ll see if that post comes at a different time! Nope, this is just to take a creative breather, have some fun, and capture some pretty holiday pictures to look back on in the future:

source

Red:

Family:

Lists/Planning:Decorate:

Sweet:

Anika decided to join me, so here are her pictures:

Red:

Family:

Lists/Planning:

Decorate:

More to come! What do you do when you need to take a break and relax a little over the holidays?

Everett Turns Three

Our sweet boy turns three today!! Three years of wonderfulness, with a lot of spice thrown in.

He is such a sweet, cuddly, playful, fiercely independent, determined little boy, and we are all delighted with him. He’s funny and imaginative, and is more in tune with people’s emotions than anyone I’ve ever met.

He answers to many names – Bud,ย  Pumpkin, Buddy-Boo, Evvy-Oo, Muffin, Snuggums, Peanut, Snugglebum, etc. But he will not tolerate being called “cute” – he always says, “I’m not cute, I’m Everett.”

Someone said to me the other day, “He must have three mothers.” And it’s true. He puts up with it fairly well, and is very devoted to his sisters. When he gets a treat for going potty, “the girlies” must have one too.

He gives me plenty of opportunities to develop patience, because he is so determined to do everything by himself, whether it’s physically possible or not. I do a lot of deep breathing in the corner, forcing myself to calm down/slow down while I wait for him to eventually figure out that he must give in and accept help.

I often think about how close we were to missing him – how there wasn’t supposed to be another baby, and I’m thankful every single day that God blessed us with the miracle of Everett. He is my constant reminder that no matter how impossible something seems, we really have no idea how it will all turn out, because God has endless amounts of surprises up his sleeve.

And so we celebrate Everett’s birthday today, but we also celebrate so much more, as we think about all God has done for our family. He is so good, and our sweet boy is the best little miracle I could ever hope for.

Photo credit: Morgan Braun

Fruit at Your Fingertips, and Strength When You Need It

This has been my year of abiding. I’ve written about it before – about how Ben tricked me into getting up early every morning, so that I would have time to pray, journal, and read my Bible before my family got up, because I read that when we abide, we give the Holy Spirit the chance to change us in ways we can’t change ourselves. My year of abiding is coming to an end soon, and I wonder how much has changed. It becomes clear how much I need a lifetime of abiding, not just 12 months, and maybe I’m not that different than I was a year ago, except for this: I’m aware of how much I need this time each day. I’ve felt empty on the few days I missed it, because of sickness, or the couple of times when the alarm didn’t wake me up.

So if nothing more, I’ve developed a habit of making time for abiding each morning, and that’s worth a lot.

When I’m finished my quiet time on the couch, I spend half an hour stretching and exercising while I listen to a message, usually from Bridgetown Church (if we ever have to move, please let it be to Portland!).ย I just started a fantastic series about the Holy Spirit (which you can find here), and it fits well with this year of soaking in God’s presence. It’s a different way of looking at things for me – less doing and trying, and more just being and quietly focusing.

A strange and beautiful picture came to my mind the other day as I was praying and thinking about living my day in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was as though I was leaning against the trunk of a huge tree, and I could see massive, leafy branches spreading out thickly about my head, loaded with fruit, hanging there ready for me to pick whenever I needed the Fruit of the Spirit (give me all the “patience” apples!!!!). And when I looked down at my feet, it was as though I could see deep roots growing far down into the ground beneath me, giving me strength and depth, securely grounding me in all the power available to me in the Spirit.

It gave me a feeling that’s hard to describe – like the strength was already there, filling me up, and the fruit was so close, right within my reach at any time I might need it. In my mind, as I saw this picture, there was such a feeling of steadiness, security, and relief – I knew I didn’t need to do this on my own, it wasn’t up to me to try to produce patience, kindness, or faithfulness, because it was all right there, ready and waiting to be picked at any moment.

I’m trying to remember this picture everyday. One of my lovely, adorable children has decided to express all anger with screaming instead of words, and there’s often bad attitudes or conflict to work through with three kids in the house all day. I try to picture that fruit right within my reach. I try to remember the feeling of leaning against a thick, strong trunk, knowing those roots are beneath me.

This was the picture I got, but maybe it can be a picture for you, too. If you close your eyes, can you imagine that beautiful fruit, already waiting for you to pick it during those tough moments? Can you feel rough bark, a strong trunk to lean against when the craziness of getting back into the routine of the week is sapping you of all your strength? Do you feel the strength that flows into you because you are rooted in Christ, and He is grounding you, holding you steady, and keeping you strong in every single moment?

Let’s not pretend for a second that this always comes easily. I weathered an hour and a half long tantrum this morning – my sweet child was exhausted by the end of it, and so was I. It’s always difficult for me to be in the middle of a tense situation, and I tend to take on the emotion of people around me. But this morning was different. I kept leaning into that strength, and continued to remind myself to be the peace and calming in the midst of the chaos. I don’t always remember, but today I did, so we celebrate the progress, and know that if things don’t go so well next time, there is still growth.

So whatever your Monday holds for you today, know that you can picture yourself with that sweet fruit of the Spirit in your hand, its juiciness dribbling down your chin, and your feet firmly planted, because you are His, and He’s got you covered.

 

Slow Down Right Now, Just For a Second….

My dad is flying off to Germany today, so I called him last night for a little chat, since it had been awhile. Whenever we talk, he always wants to know that we’re all okay, that we’re happy and healthy and feeling good about life, and if we’re not, then he wants to convince me that things are better than they seem at the moment.:)

So we talked about what the kids are up to, and about parenting, and he said, “We need to be intentional. There needs to be a way to enjoy the moment as much as we can, because it passes too quickly.”

It reminded me of something Ann Voskamp wrote years ago:

When I fully enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here.

Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of timeโ€™s river slows, slows, slows.

I’ve thought about that often over the years since I read it – time slows down when I am fully here, in this moment. When I stop being distracted, and stop wishing for anything different than what I have right now. When I use all my senses to savor everything I can about that moment.

And I think Ann Voskamp is right – the moments stay with us in sharp clarity when we take them time toย really live them, and become aware to the fullest sense. I can look back over my life and remember times when everything stood still and I was fully there….

The night Anika was born, and I stayed awake all night, even though I was exhausted, just listening to her and Ben breathing softly on either side of me.

Slowly walking through all the rooms of the little house we built for the last time before we moved away to live at camp.

A particularly beautiful sunset at the lake, or a morning when I skipped breakfast and went down to the water because it was like a perfect mirror.

Standing in the hallway of our little house, right where I could see both Anika and Kaylia asleep in their rooms, overwhelmed by the fact that after years of waiting, I was finally the mother of children (plural!!) and my heart was overflowing.

Coming into the room and just stopping right there in the doorway, watching Anika holding Kaylia in the rocker, thinking about all the years she’d prayed for a baby sister.

Walking down the road at camp in winter with my eyes closed, so I could focus on the smell of wood stoves and pine trees, and listen to the snow crunching.

Turning to see Everett for the first time after he was born, hardly able to believe he was here, surprised by how light his hair was and thinking about how he looked exactly like Ben.

Feeling Everett put his little arms around my neck, and thinking how I wanted to remember the moment for my whole life.

Lying on a blanket under the trees in our backyard, and consciously thinking about how the sun felt on my face, the sound of the leaves rustling in the breeze, the feeling of having my little family around me, the luxury of having absolutely nothing else to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I could go on and on. Beautiful moments, clear memories that are mine to think over, and add to whenever I choose to slow down and think fully about what I am experiencing in that moment.

I’m learning that it can be done in the most ordinary of moments – this morning I stopped myself just to listen to the silence in our house, thinking about my peacefully sleeping family, filling myself up for the loud, crazy day ahead. Everyone is here, and everyone is happy, and someday, it will not be this way. I don’t want to ruin a beautiful day by getting depressed about that, or bring stress into the moment by adding tons of pressure TO ENJOY EVERYTHING and live a life of scarcity.

Rather, I just want to be aware of blessings, and not take them for granted. I want to be intentional with my moments, my memories.

So if you stopped right now, and sat there really quietly, making yourself aware of what you are feeling in your body, anything nice you might be smelling or hearing or seeing, what would you notice? Can you slow the current down right now, just for a second? I would love to hear what you become aware of!

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