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5 Helpful Guidelines for Managing Time

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“Time’s this priceless currency and only the slow spend it wise enough to be rich.” ~ Ann Voskamp

We make budgets for our money, and if time is truly more valuable, we ought to make budgets for that, too. The preacher on  Sunday walked us through this logic as a gentle reminder. Really that is what we all need, a reminder. For in the recesses of our mind we already know that a wise life invests time well. However, time is a slippery intangible, never content to hold still, always flitting and fleeing. An undisciplined soul can be caught off-guard by it’s wily tactics. We must master our time instead of letting it taunt us, and what works for one season of life must be re-evaluated for another.

No, there can never be too many reminders. 

We are hurried,

over-committed,

choice rich, but relationally poor,

a people where the words “tired”, and “busy” are the standard greeting responses, void of joy or peace, but worn as warped badges of honor.

Deep down this kind of life feels wrong, but somehow makes us feel important. Ineffective, but important.

I can only imagine how much happier we would all be if we took control of our time and lived each day with purpose, following our own paths instead of looking at the path of the person next to us. Maybe if we slowed down for a moment we would be able to call time to our side and instruct it, instead of the other way around.  Just maybe.

In keeping with the nature of humanity, I am constantly working on this time management, and there are a few principles that I consistently return to.

1. Put the walnuts in first.

Suppose you have a jar that you need to fill with a certain amount of rice and a certain amount of walnuts. The rice representing the little details of life, the daily tasks and errands and chores. The walnuts representing the more important things, like prayer and bible study, loving my family, and serving others. If you try to put the rice in first, and then the walnuts, the jar would be overflowing and unable to hold it all. However, if you put the walnuts in first, followed by the rice, it all falls into place and the same size jar is suddenly sufficient. We need to be diligent to attend to the “walnuts” of life first, and not allow ourselves to be distracted by the “rice”. Have you prioritized your relationships? Do you start your day with prayer and reading the Bible? Do you begin with the difficult and most important tasks first? Do you work before you play?

2. Schedule rest.

It’s so easy to let rest fall by the wayside, but running on all cylinders for too long diminishes capacity, stunts spiritual growth, and reaks of pride. Do you have a regular bed time that you adhere to? Do you practice the sabbath? Do you set aside an hour a day to rest before the Lord?

3. Restrict time suckers.

It’s amazing how little minutes turn into hours if we are not careful. Even in the good things. My daily Bible reading can easily turn into two hours of study if I am not careful. Looking for recipes for dinner can move to internet surfing without warning. Writing becomes an extended luxury instead of a task to be accomplished. To combat this, I often set the timer, or give myself a cut-off time. Once I check my emails for the day, I turn them off. Once I have checked Facebook, I turn on Self-Control, which keeps me from re-entering for a predetermined period of time. I schedule meetings that back up to another obligation so they can come to a close easily. (Conversely, when it comes to jobs that I don’t want to do, I set the timer for 15 minutes and force myself to do them for at least that long. I can do anything for 15 minutes.)

4. Batch.

It is a proven fact that we really can’t multi-task. Our brains truly can only do one thing at a time. It may be that we can switch back and forth between those things more quickly than some people, but multi-tasking is an illusion and in many cases actually makes us less efficient. It is better to do one thing to completion before moving on to the next, lumping all the same activities together. Run all your errands at once. Go grocery shopping once a week instead of every day. Have an email hour, instead of letting them trickle in or out throughout the day. Set out all your outfits for the week on Monday.

And, since I tend to worry that if I don’t tackle something that comes to mind in that moment (which causes me to flit from thing to thing), I have a running list each day of things I need to do, or groceries I need to by, or emails I need to send, or errands I need to run. As soon as I think of it, I write it down, leaving it to do for when I am ready to tackle that “batch”. It really is a time saver.

5. Create a to-don’t list.

Just as helpful as a to-do list, is a to-don’t list: a list of things that I am not going to do. I am not going to work on my computer in bed. I am not going to take anyone a meal (with rare exception), because I can’t even figure out what to make my own family, there are far too many requests for this, cooking is not my gifting, and it takes a long time. I am not going to fold the kids’ laundry. I am not going to make their lunches anymore (they are old enough to do these things themselves). Etc.

You get the idea. Reading the to-don’t list can make you feel a little guilty, until you realize that all the to-don’ts free up time for your to-dos. It’s intentionality at it’s best.

6. Plan, but pray.

You should know better than to say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to the city. We will do business there for a year and make a lot of money!” What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears. You should say, “If the Lord lets us live, we will do these things”. James 4:13-15

We can make our plans for the future, but we are never guaranteed tomorrow. We can only do what God calls us to do as we walk with Him each moment. Make your lists, set your course, but then hold it all with palms up in prayer, acknowledging that He is in control and can change whatever He wants.

He is the owner of time.

We are to be the good stewards.

 Hoping to spend time wisely,

God given dreams

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I remember the excitement that I felt on the day that I was to go into the obstetrician’s office to find out the gender of our unborn child. Truly, all I cared about was the health of the baby, but I couldn’t wait to get to know who this little one was, to begin dreaming and planning of their future in our family. If it were to be a boy, I envisioned days of playing catch in the backyard, dirty kneed pants, blocks and trains. If it were to be a girl, I imagined sweet frilly dresses, bows in the hair, dolls and pretend play.

Both were wonderful options. I held both with joy in my heart. And, as wonderful as it would be to find out which one it was, I also had to let one of those dreams go. There would be rejoicing for the one, but a sense of loss for the other.

So, too, it is with our lives.

At least it was for me.

When the world stretched out before me as a graduating high schooler, I envisioned the  possibilities. On the one hand, I could imagine myself being a missionary in Africa, either translating the Bible to unreached people groups or working in an orphanage. On the other hand, I could imagine myself being a pastor’s wife at a suburban church in the Americas. Both sounded just as wonderful to me, so I prepared and dreamed for both.

It is why I became a teacher, and why I went to a Christian college.

As I walked gingerly through open doors before me, it was clear that I was moving closer to the latter dream, and further away from the former. And I was (and am) happy.

However, I have always had a little piece of me that yearns for the African orphanage.

In the “grass is always greener” mentality, I could see myself traipsing through the dirt and the sickness and the poverty for the sake of rescuing a life both physically and spiritually. Sometimes it’s the living in a culture that tries to hide the “dirt” of their life behind a false exterior, behind stubborn pride and independence that wears me down. Give me a people group that knows their need for a Savior because there is nothing else on which to depend. The living may be hard, but the lives are real, and raw, and miraculous, and moldable.

For me, the sacrifice isn’t living with nothing in a third world country sharing the love of Jesus with others.

The sacrifice is staying here, in this beautiful community, in my beautiful home and tilling the hard soil of hearts that would rather have stuff than a Savior.

Going to Africa two years ago, reading Kisses from Katie just recently, and hearing of those who choose to adopt internationally has peeled back the old longings of my heart. I love where God has placed me, but I also could love rescuing vulnerable children from the streets of Africa. I nearly did it once.

Yet, God is teaching me something profound. It’s not new, or huge, but it is changing me. He has me here because He wants me to do it here.

Care for vulnerable children.

Till the soil of those hard hearts.

Get down into the deep dirt of a broken life, no matter how beautiful the exterior appears.

Take on the hard work of loving others even if it is not exotic or noteworthy.

Many African churches have taken their mission to care for the orphans amongst them seriously, and are doing a good job of it. We have a lot to learn from them, I think.

Because the orphan amongst us? They are in the foster care system. And whatever preconceived notions that I have about foster kids need to be filtered through the lens of God’s call to care for the least of these, the fatherless. Here it seems more complex, more stigmatized, more risky, more messy…less “sexy”. But it is here that God has planted me, and so it is here that I will serve.

Will you join me? Will you join me in being content where you are at, with much or with little, in easy times or in hard times, in suburbia or in the country? Will you join me in caring for the orphan in your own community? Will you join me in figuring out how to live the dreams that God has placed in your heart wherever you are planted?

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance. Psalm 16:5-6

So, maybe my life isn’t an either/or. Maybe it’s a both/and.

I just need to walk in obedience, and if Jesus is there, it’s where I want to be, too.

Slowly learning,

The Gift of New Birth

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This is day twenty-three of contemplation in the 25 Gifts of the Nativity series. I am glad you are here. May these devotions draw you into the gift of Christ this season.

There is something captivating about a new baby.

The sweetness of their skin.

Their eyes as they open them to their new world.

The awakening of the senses.

The possibilities that lay before them.

The unjaded heart and mind. 

The embodiment of a new life.

When Mary gave birth on that first Christmas to the Christ child, hope for all mankind emerged into the world. As God the Spirit took on the new life of human flesh, it became possible for human flesh to take on the new life of the Spirit.

The heart of man could be born again.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is bornagain he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. Andas Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:1-17)

Not just born again in the sense that Christ would tack on some patchwork salvation to mend our broken souls. No, the coming of Christ means that our spirits, our essence, our being, could be born again as an entirely new creation. A heart transplant. A replacement. New birth.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Every morning that we wake up and embrace the sacrifice of the Christ child, we receive a fresh start. The new spiritual birth that has occurred within you means that you no longer have to be a slave to sin. It means that you can live your life just as God says you can, in victory, in freedom, in righteousness. Any wayward thoughts or actions are simply a deviation from whom you most truly are, a child of God.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-5)

I have beencrucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me andgave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Christ’s coming, His death, His resurrection was sufficient and thorough. We are no longer the people that we once were, because His miraculous birth paved the way for ours.

May I encourage you today to live like the new creation that you most truly are? Can I bless you by reminding you that you do not have to live in defeat, discouragement, and darkness as you once did? You no longer need to act like a sinner, because Jesus has made you a saint. You have been born into the kingdom of glorious light. The newborn flesh of the baby Jesus is not the only thing that is fresh, holy, sacred, and new. So, too are our hearts when we have received Him.

Yes, you may need to repent. He promises to make your heart as clean as snow, and He wipes the slate clean. In Christ, dear one, you are altogether new.

May you celebrate the birth of Jesus with great joy, living out the wonder of the new life that lays ahead of you.

Thankful for the beauty of new,