2020 Vision

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program for…

Covid-19 is much more than a special news report, and if you’re anything like me, it has interrupted much more than a television program or two. It has interrupted our work schedules, our family gatherings, our shopping trips, our activities, our school system…. it has pretty much interrupted our entire lives.

While these are unprecedented times for all of us, we are all handling the unknown in different ways. During the stay at home mandates, some were staying cooped up in their homes because they were living in fear. Others were staying home and making the most of a bad situation. Still, there are some that continued to go to work every day, my husband and 22-year-old daughter included, but they had to do so following a whole new set of rules and procedures, such as wearing protective masks. As we all proceed with the re-entry process, those of us who are just now starting back to work are following suit.

I admire those who are making the most of a bad situation. I know those who, while spending the last two or three months cooped up at home, were doing their long-avoided spring cleaning, remodeling projects, and even starting new health and wellness routines. Me- not so much. Unfortunately, I was more in the former category. Not that I was living in fear, because we weren’t given a spirit of fear according to 2 Timothy 1:7, however, I will admit that depression had reared its ugly head since all of this began.

Because of my asthma (which, if my Pastor heard me say that, would tell me not to claim it), my husband and children put me under house arrest. Although I am more susceptible to bronchitis and upper respiratory infections, I can’t say for sure that automatically makes me more susceptible to contracting the Coronavirus. However, I do know that if I were to contract the virus, it would be harder for me to fight it off due to my compromised lungs. That being said, I had been holed up for over two months, and it did not serve me well.

Being out of my routine has certainly had its effects on my overall well-being. My sleep schedule had been off, I’d been consistently living off of carbs and sugar for some reason, and regretfully, I wasn’t even writing consistently. (As I’m sure you all have noticed!)  I found it impossible to write something positive for my blog, when I was feeling anything but positive.  In fact, I was beginning to feel lethargic, unmotivated, and irritable, and because I had bitten all of my fingernails to the quick, I felt ugly and less feminine, too.  My clothes were getting tighter, and all my aches and pains were back with a vengeance.

Being away from my family took an even bigger toll on my emotional health, though.  We were taking the advice of our Pastoral leadership and obeying the mandate put out by the authorities, so I was unable to go see my parents, and I definitely couldn’t go see my elderly grandparents because of their compromised health.  With my grandmother in the early stages of dementia, she was having trouble understanding the severity of the situation. She was agitated and emotional, because her family couldn’t come to see her.

I was also missing my oldest daughter terribly.  I had gotten used to seeing Brittany every day when I became a receptionist at the daycare where she works, and now I hadn’t seen her for weeks.  Married for going on four years, Brittany now has her own home in which she was cooped up.  The constant news coverage had caused her to have three anxiety attacks in just as many weeks, and I was growing increasingly worried about her.

By the time Easter Sunday arrived, it had been almost four weeks since I’d seen her, and the day was a difficult one for all of us.  It would be the first year our whole family wouldn’t be able to spend the holiday together, which was a hard pill to swallow for my Italian grandmother who believes her life’s purpose is to cook for and serve her family.  As we saw people posting pictures of their holiday festivities on social media, Brittany was at home crying because, in all her 25 years, it was the first Easter she wasn’t able to spend with her parents and siblings.

This new reality was becoming a great source of stress and heartache for me, and I wasn’t handling it well.  I have a good friend who is constantly sending me uplifting messages, and she was trying her hardest to not only keep me encouraged and motivated, but to also hold me accountable for taking care of my health. But for all of her efforts, it just wasn’t working. I knew it all came down to my state of mind, and frankly, it was a good thing she knew that, too, or she might’ve thought I was avoiding her.

I also felt very far away from the Lord, because I had even stopped spending time with Him every morning like I had grown so accustomed to when my normal routine was in full swing.  Now God?  Him I was definitely avoiding!  I was headed down a slippery slope.  I was already mad at myself for undoing all of the hard work I’d invested in my health, and I was getting worse as time marched on with no end of Covid-19 in sight.  I knew if I kept going the way I was going, I would be much worse off than I already was, and that wasn’t a pretty picture.  Yet for all my logical reasoning for why I should make a change, I remained unable to do so.

Not seeing Brittany for four weeks had soon turned into five weeks, and then six; it was the most time we’d ever spent apart from each other.  We tried to FaceTime regularly, but that was nowhere near the same as seeing her in person.  Depression engulfed me in waves, and the more depressed I felt about what was happening and what I had done to myself, the worse it got.

I stopped listening to Christian music, and I withdrew from God instead of running to Him.  I began to waste more time than I care to admit on mindless computer games and Netflix binges, because it took me away from my current reality.  Because I was feeling so unattractive and so disgusted with myself, I withdrew from my husband, too.  When it came to intimacy, I could take it or leave it, so I hadn’t been there for Greg in the way a wife would want to be there for her husband under normal circumstances.

Mondays were coming and going, and with each passing Sunday evening, I would resolve to make the new week better than the last, but to no avail.  It seems that the overall theme for 2020 is “Vision,” and most of us started the new year off with hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  But in the blink of an eye, all of that changed for me.  We were heading into June, and the way I saw it, half of the year was gone already.  Although I’m not trying to be the glass-half-empty type, I do bend towards being a realist.

A few days before the next “Fresh Start” Monday began looming over my head for the umpteenth time, the Lord was once again beginning to pierce my thoughts.  I had put Him on the back burner long enough, and with God’s gentle prodding, my heart and spirit were beginning to fight back.  I tried to avoid the impending battle instead of trying to embrace it.

But when Monday morning came, and I had to try on three different outfits for work before I found something that actually fit comfortably, I found myself at the proverbial rock bottom.  I looked at myself in the full-length mirror behind my door, but being all cried out from the years of repetitively being in this same predicament, all I could do was stare.

The usual feelings of regret and disgust ushered in, followed by defeat.  After I was finished getting ready for work, I collapsed in my kitchen chair and uttered, “Okay, God, You win.”  Instead of turning on my computer, I opened up my Bible app.  I would normally turn right to Psalms when I needed to be encouraged, but I couldn’t quite identify which emotion was weighing the most heavily on me.  I checked out my saved reading plans and clicked on one about God’s grace.  Although I wasn’t necessarily feeling it in my heart, I knew in my head that God’s grace was unconditional and unending.

About halfway through the devotion, a familiar sting in my nose signaled the sudden onslaught of tears.  There, right in the middle of my devotion, was the word that identified which emotion I had been feeling… guilt.  I realized I had withdrawn from God, not because I was angry with Him or living in fear, but because I felt like I had let Him down by not taking care of myself during this trial.  I felt that I had disappointed God yet again, because I allowed my circumstances and emotions to dictate my behaviors.  I was depressed, and so I became uncaring.

I didn’t care about what I ate, how I spent my time, or when I slept, and knowing I had “done it again” made me feel as though I had no right talking to God or spending time with Him.  I felt like the black sheep of God’s family, and rather than run into God’s arms, I chose to hide from Him instead.  I felt, dare I say, unworthy of His unconditional love.  The words of Matthew 17:17 must have been distorting what I know as truth.  In this verse, Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you?” (NLT) The silent cries of my own heart were, “Oh, Lord!  How long will You put up with me?!”

The answer is, as long as it takes!  The answer is, forever and ever, Amen!  I understand that Jesus found Himself feeling frustrated sometimes; after all, we were created in His image, so I have no doubt that Jesus, at one time or another, felt every emotion that we humans ever feel.  But the good news is that, above all, our Lord is kind, loving, and forgiving!  And not just today, but every day, forever and always.

The words in my devotion that struck my heart were this: “Guilt is not part of God’s plan.  It drains the life out of us and separates us from reality.  Yet, we keep guilt around never looking to see how much it steals or controls.  God wants more for us!  He wants us to be free.”

The author, Markey Motsinger, goes on to say, “Guilt is a mental and emotional experience that occurs when a person thinks or realizes they have compromised their standards of conduct and accept responsibility.  When we don’t give these experiences over to God, they can quickly turn into shame.  Shame, in return, attacks our identity, causing us to feel unworthy or not good enough.  Guilt and shame take us away from the heart of God.”

Have truer words ever been spoken?  For someone who devotes an entire website to our identity in Christ, I sure do forget God’s truths much more often than I should!  How easy it is for me to allow self-condemnation to breed guilt, shame, and feelings of unworthiness!  Oh, Lord!  I am so weary from this ongoing battle! Can any of you relate to this hamster wheel experience?  Yet, in those moments when I was reading my devotion, I felt anything but condemnation.  I felt warmth, peace, and love.

As I allowed God’s grace and forgiveness to wash over me, I made the conscious decision to lick my self-inflicted wounds and get my act together.  I began planning out some healthy lunches for the work week.  Greg was stopping at the grocery store after work anyway, so I asked him to pick me up some no-sugar-added strawberry preserves.  Apparently, our local grocery store no longer carries the brand I wanted, and Greg arrived home that evening feeling frustrated and disappointed because he was unable to find what I desired.  I know his comment wasn’t meant to sound harsh, but I was hurt nonetheless when he said, “You didn’t care about sugar last week when you were eating ice cream!”

In the moment, I wanted to retaliate.  But before I spoke, I took time to reflect on the variables.  For one thing, I know the underlying issue was really that my dear hubby felt bad for not being able to deliver.  For another, I was fresh off the Self-Destruct Express, so I immediately took offense to his words.  My first instinct was to take it personally, as if Greg were insulting my inability to stop the vicious cycle.  But the Holy Spirit instantly made me realize it was my own frustrations that caused me to feel angry with Greg.  I’m the one who felt self-conscious about not being able to stop the cycle.

I calmly told him that if I were going to eat refined sugar, I would choose to have it in my ice cream, not in my fruit preserves!  And really, that’s all life really is, after all.  A series of daily choices.  Instead of choosing to be strong during a difficult time, I chose to succumb to my weaknesses, which started a domino effect of repercussions.  Given what’s happened, I have a new choice to make.  I can choose to not forgive myself and sink deeper into the pit of despair that I’ve created for myself, or I can choose to accept God’s grace and forgiveness, pull myself up by my bootstraps, and start again.

I talked to Greg later that evening and told him that I can understand why he gets frustrated with me sometimes.  I admitted that I have times of weakness, and people that don’t struggle with food addiction will probably never understand how difficult it is to not give into certain impulses.  Enjoying chips and soda while watching a favorite television program is something about which Greg will never have to give a second thought.  I explained that that’s not the case for me, and I tend to slip up now and again- especially on the weekends when things are much more relaxed at home.  But I also told him that one thing I know for sure is that I never give up!

Hebrews 12:1b-2a states, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith….” (NIV) This is the race that is marked out for me.  This is my cross to bear.  Although I get frustrated more times than I can count, I am grateful, too, because it could always be worse.  I have a great job, a great purpose in life, and a great family who faithfully gives me their unconditional love and support.  Although this race makes me weary, God gives me the strength and endurance I need to keep going.

What is the race marked out for you?  What choices will you make when the going gets tough?  Will you give into guilt and shame the next time you take two steps back instead of one step forward?  Or will you pull yourself and remember God’s promises?  I know I’ve shared this verse in other posts, but it is one of my favorite promises, and it is worth repeating: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6 (NIV) Don’t throw in the towel, my friend.  2020 still has a long way to go, so bring that vision into focus and carry on, because God is not done with you yet!

Time Management

Well, I haven’t blogged as routinely as I originally intended when I birthed this project.  Part of me is afraid that if I’m blessed enough to gain lots of new followers, they will miss the little nuggets that I’ve shared thus far, because they won’t take the time to scroll down.  But if I’m being completely honest here, the other half of me has allowed too many distractions to get in the way of my consistence and determination.

When my husband lost his job of 26 years back in May, it felt like our whole life had come crashing down.  No income, no medical insurance, and no back-up plan.  It was all gone within 24 hours, when my husband’s plant abruptly closed its doors after 77 years of operation.  It threw us for a loop, to say the least.

We still had my meager income, which is a tiny fraction of what he contributed to the household, but I had been looking for other employment for months prior.  Things were looking very bleak as both of us were now looking for new employment.

I mentioned distractions in my opening paragraph, and while this major life change was certainly a distraction that sent us both into an anxious and depression-ridden rut, I can’t blame my lack of discipline solely on the new tragedy that took place in our lives.  The truth is, I’ve been trying to adopt better time management skills since I went back to college in 2011.  It is now the middle of 2019, I’ve completed my Associate’s program and obtained my degree in Psychology, but I have not yet, however, mastered the art of time management. Furthermore, what seemed like a tragedy at the time was actually a blessing in disguise. (You know how God works!) But that’s a story for another time.

So here it is, three months after I launched Learning Life Together, and what am I blogging about?  The fact that I haven’t blogged regularly!

Since getting married in 1993, I bore three little “distractions,” so for most of my life, they were my top priority.  But our youngest baby is now fifteen years old.  What is my excuse now?  Truth be told, my distractions have become the “little things” now.  Dishes in the sink, wanting to hit the snooze button, the most recent episode of Master Chef, and, wait for it…. my pathetic addiction to Match Three games.

What is my point?  The point is that when God puts a dream on our hearts, why do we let these mindless things control our lives?  Why do we let them manipulate our time, when time is such a precious commodity these days?  I’m all for chilling out or winding down, maybe even for a few minutes every day, but when these useless time suckers get more of our attention than the productive things that give our dreams and plans their wings, it’s time to step back and reevaluate our priorities.  

I’m currently listening to the audio book Born Gifted, by Nisan Trotter, which I highly recommend and have added to my Shop page with all of my other suggested resources.  I am on the chapter that talks about this very thing, and Nisan graciously admits that he allowed sports programs to be a distraction in his life.  As he was asking his listeners to think about their own distractions, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Well at least his distraction makes sense!  My distractions are lame!”  This isn’t the first time that God has beat me over the head with this, either.

I have a dream to retire my husband early and make family vacations a regular occurrence instead of a rare treat.  Playing games on my phone is not going to make that happen by any stretch of the imagination.  I’ll even watch those thirty second advertisements just to gain three extra lives.  And you know what?  The devil wouldn’t have it any other way.  Yep, I said it.  The devil makes me do it.

In a constant effort to try to be a good steward of the hours I’ve been given in a day, I have attempted to implement many useful morning routines. I’ve read books on the subject, and I’ve even gone as far as to purchase several “1-Minute Devotions” books that I can read while I’m using the restroom.  (Hey, it puts a new spin on multi-tasking!)

In all of my research and failed attempts to adopt a good strategy for a productive morning, I’ve come up with my own morning ritual.  I’ve combined all the things I’ve learned over the years and rolled them all up into one. I’ve created an acrostic using the word “VICTORIES” to help keep myself on track, and to remember that implementing these strategies will give me a much more victorious day!

I’m going to share this acrostic with you to help you gain some of your own direction.  Don’t be overwhelmed; it’s a lot!  To be honest, I still don’t do all of these things every single day, so feel free to pick and choose your favorites, and just start there.  Baby steps is the best way to achieve any goal, so just take this exercise in little chunks based on what’s most important to you, and then you can slowly add more.  Some of these activities only take a few minutes, so with the right level of commitment to this process, you’ll be able to get through this list in about an hour.  An hour a day is all it takes to get yourself in the right frame of mind to attack your day with motivation and positivity!

Okay, here we go:

V VISUALIZE Where do you see yourself six months from now?  One year from now?  Five years from now?  Close your eyes and really try to picture it.
I IMAGINE What do you desire that, until now, was only ever a dream?  This step is great for entrepreneurs and business builders who tend to doubt their ability to succeed.
C CLARITY Clarity journaling- Gain some clarity by jotting down all of your thoughts, feelings, and desires.  Set a five or ten-minute timer, and just “let it all out.”  No one will see your journal but you, so don’t hold back, and don’t worry about mistakes.  Let yourself be free as you fill the pages.
T THANKFULNESS What are you grateful for today?  Think of at least three things you’re thankful for, and jot them down.  It doesn’t have to go too deep here, either; since I only eat carbs and sugars a few times per week, sometimes I’m just grateful for a fruit day! This is a great step in starting your day off right, and it only takes a minute!
O OBJECTIVES Set goals.  Goal-setting is great tool to use in any area of your life, be it health goals, financial goals, family goals, or what have you.  Set some short-term goals and some long-term goals, but make sure they’re truly attainable, so you don’t set yourself up for failure.  One of my short-term goals every day is to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water. Remember, baby steps!
R READ Scripture and Devotion time is essential to anyone trying to cultivate a relationship with Jesus.  No matter what method you use to get the Word into your spirit, make it a priority.  Even if you can only read a chapter a day, or even just a few verses, it’s important.  If you can only choose one or two activities on this list, make this one of them!  And don’t forget, you don’t need to “schedule in” prayer time.  You can pray in the car, in the laundry room, or even in the shower.  The bible tells us to “pray without ceasing,” so remember to pray every day, all day!
I “I AM” STATEMENTS Daily affirmations are a must when trying to reprogram your negative self-talk tapes.  Pick a few of God’s truths that resonate with you, and say them with conviction every single day.  One of my favorites is, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”  Get the idea?
E EXERCISE I know, I know.  Bleck.  This is probably my least favorite, but one that’s equally important when trying to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.  Find an exercise that you ENJOY!  I love to dance, so my Zumba and Body Groove DVD’s are usually my go-to’s for fitness.  Choose an activity you look forward to, not dread.
S SELF-DEVELOPMENT I know that in our society today, “self-help” books carry a negative connotation, but they really are very helpful!  Whether you choose a book to read or listen to, or an inspiring podcast to follow, self-development is the key to success when you’re in need of inspiration and motivation.  There are so many great avenues for this one, that I can’t even begin to list them here.  You can check out my Shop page for some personal book recommendations, but don’t forget that if you don’t have time to read, you can always listen to a podcast instead or an audible version of your book. You can easily do this while getting ready for your day or while on your morning commute.  A couple of my favorite podcasts are Rise with Rachel Hollis, and On Air with Ella for some great health and wellness education!

I hope you find this list helpful, and not intimidating.  For you own printable copy of a “Victories Chart,” check out my Freebies page! Remember, even if you take baby steps forward when trying to implement these strategies, you’re still moving forward.  These daily exercises are meant to encourage you and to get your day started off right, so if time management is an issue for you like it’s always been for me, at least try to replace some of those mindless activities with something productive off of this list.

I know what you’re thinking.  “I don’t manage my time wisely enough as it is, and now she wants me to make time for this list?”  Well, the truth is, adopting these habits is actually what is helping me learn how to better manage my time.  I know it sounds crazy, but just the fact that I have this little “to-do” list, that I know is going to help me have a better day, is what keeps me motivated to change those bad habits into good ones.  When it’s beneficial in so many ways, why wouldn’t I choose these activities over the unproductive ones?

I’ve prayed about this very issue on several occasions, and God has always told me the same thing… “Put away childish things.”  (See 1 Corinthians 13:11) If I’m striving to honor God with all that I say and do, why wouldn’t this count, too?  Obedience seems frustrating at first, but when you want your own children to be obedient, isn’t it for their own good?  How much more would that scenario mean between us and our Father?

When it comes to using your time wisely, even listening to a little self-development each day will help you “train your brain” to make better choices.  And don’t forget that once you’ve got your priorities checked off of your to-do list, you won’t feel as guilty when you end your evening with your favorite “down time” activity.  I used to call my cell phone games my “guilty pleasures.”  God doesn’t want to take away our pleasures; He just wants us to put them in their proper place.  Wanting to honor God will naturally make us want to be better, and wanting to be better will ultimately help us to do better- and vice versa.

*As always, I love to hear your feedback!  What are some of your habitual “time suckers,” and what are some of your favorite “positivity routines?”  Share them below!*