Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2017: Renewal

Each year I chose a word to focus on throughout the year.  I'm not a fan of resolutions - because I break them in about 30 days - nor am I the best goal setter in the world.  I'm an extreme Type A perfectionist, which means if I'm going to set goals, I best complete them, and in record time.

Last year's word was contentment and I can say that the year really proved out as a great learning ground for that word, especially the last three months.  As I prayed and thought about what my 2017 word would be, I decided upon the word Renewal.  The definition that rung true to me for this choice was "the replacing or repair of something that is run-down, worn out or broken."  See the last three months of 2016.  That was me.

Life is always busy, and with my full-time job, ministry roles at my church, and maintaining some semblance of a social life, this introvert gets a bit overwhelmed and overstimulated.  The word Renewal seemed to be the perfect word to focus on for 2017.  I need time to renew myself spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally.  If I don't do these things, then I'm of no good in all those roles I outlined at the beginning of this paragraph.

How would I accomplish this?  One of the things I've learned over time is saying "no" when it's hard and I want to say "yes."  Even when something is a good thing, it may not be the best thing for me.  I can easily get overextended and over-committed of my own doing.  When I was getting my MBA, I did a much better job of saying "no" because I set boundaries to be able to continue my life as normal as possible and still do school.  Now that I don't have an educational degree to help me keep that boundary, I've lost it.  In 2017, if I tell you "no" don't take it personal.  Remember that I'm looking to recharge and renew myself.

The other thing I wanted to do was declare a day of renewal each month.  I'd choose a day - preferably not one when I'm working my full-time job - where I'd only do things that renew my spirit.  I would also fast from all social media that day.  I have done this for January and may I say it was an absolutely glorious day.  I started the day off having breakfast with a sweet friend, Martha, who I adore.  Any time with her fills my heart with joy, so this in itself was a time of renewal.  The remainder of the day I listened to podcasts, colored (I'm an adult coloring book fan), read, and watched Netflix.  I started The Crown on Netflix and had no idea how much I'd love that series. I may need to write a post on that at a later date.  All the while, no matter what I did that day, my phone was used only to play podcasts, make/receive calls, and receive/respond to texts.  

What were the results of that day of renewal?  It was good to listen to sermons, and other spiritually-focused podcasts to refresh me.  Pulling away from social media honestly wasn't hard.  What I discovered was social media doesn't keep me focused on my here and now, but divides my attention to include others' goings on.  I may take daily social media breaks more often for the benefit it provided.  

I'm already excited about scheduling my day of renewal in February and looking forward to what God is going to teach me this year.  God can use a broken person, but He doesn't want us to be so broken down we're no good to others or ourselves.  

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: Contentment

In lieu of New Year's Resolutions, each year I pick a word that I focus on for that year.  This year the word has been Contentment.  My word in 2015 was Joy and Contentment was really a byproduct of focusing on the word Joy for an entire year.  Joy isn't found in circumstances, it's found in the strength I receive from the Lord.

If you ask most people, they will tell you they are ready for 2016 to be over.  The political chaos that ensued during this year's Presidential election was enough to make me want to hide under my bed.  In reflecting on my past year, I have to say that I truly did feel contentment even in the most "non" content circumstances.

For the first time this year, I was privileged to be on three launch teams for new books from Lifeway - Looking for Lovely, The Gospel of Mark, and Giddy Up, Eunice.  My participation in these teams has now garnered me the role of a Lifeway Women's Ambassador, which may just be the closest I'll get to being an Ambassador of any kind.  Aside, I always thought it would be the coolest thing to be a Disney Ambassador, but I digress.  Each of these books focused my perspective on the right things.  My devotional life and time spent with the Lord has greatly improved over the last two years and this was aided by my reading and studying with these books.  Contentment is easier for me when I'm clinging closer to the Lord.  Sounds cliche.  Sounds like that Sunday School answer.  I know, you are rolling your eyes.  But really, it's true.  You can't just conjure up contentment.

My dream came true this year of being a guest on a Podcast - What Should I Read Next.  You take a podcast about reading and have me as a guest to talk about it and I think I may have died and gone to Heaven!  I've become more and more obsessed with reading and even joined the online Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club that is led by the host of What Should I Read Next, Anne Bogel.  Reading is my happy place.  I find contentment curled up in my recliner reading and escaping from the world.  As of this post, about 24 hours before the end of 2016, I've read 32 books with a challenge of reading 25.  I'll be upping my goal for 2017 and hoping I blow it out the roof!

You may think with all this goodness, surely it was easy to be content.  But come September, circumstances changed.  The end of the month, my boss announced his resignation.  I'd worked with him for years, but only a couple as my boss.  The news was jarring and I knew would be life changing.  This all occurred during the last week of September, my birthday week.  I couldn't help but think back a year prior when I was celebrating my Golden Jubilee and life was grand.  Not so much this birthday.  His departure meant I would be inheriting more responsibility, which was challenging.

October brought a new boss, which I really do love, and lots of changes as we began to turn our division around.  The reality of all the things we should have been doing but weren't became abundantly clear and some things had to be torn down to be rebuilt.  It seemed daunting but I felt I was up for the task.

The beginning of November, the day after the election to be exact, my company suffered the largest workforce reduction in their history - 25%.  Our local office had 9 folks that were laid off, while headquarters had such a large number they did it as one large group.  Along with another Director in my office, we had to administer the layoffs.  I've been on both sides of that table before - being laid off and doing the deed - neither side is pleasant.  Not only had we just adjusted to a new leader and many changes, we were about to really see life change.

Since that time, I've absorbed the duties of a complete employee.  I knew about 50% of what he did, and how to do about 30% of his job.  I've spent the last two months figuring his job out.  I'm getting there, but really feel like a CIA agent uncovering what has to be done and how to do it.  I also lost an employee that resigned in December.  It was hard to see her go as I don't have a lot of turnover on my team voluntarily, but one of our competitors recruited her.  Now we're in process of hiring a replacement.

The last three months of this year proved to be a real challenge to my contentment.  I lost sleep, worked long hours, constantly dreamed about work, but yet, I can say, I'm content.  There is a reason why I'm here.  I recalled when my company was first acquired and I begged and cried out to God "why didn't you take me out of this company?"  Five years later, I see His Hand on why I'm there, even in all the turmoil we're in right now.  Learning comes in the struggles.  If life was a bowl of cherries, we'd never know the need for God, or contentment.  If life was perfect, contentment wouldn't even be something we strive to achieve.  

I've seen God's Hand even in the last 3 months to encourage me that He's at work.  Our company had a holiday shutdown starting December 22 and it may have been the greatest thing to happen to us in years.  We all needed a mental break.  We needed physical rest.  But what I know now and hope I remember long into 2017 and beyond, is that my circumstances don't define my contentment.  If God is near (and, newsflash, He is), then I am content.  

With 2017 approaching, I'm looking forward to the new year, like I look forward to a fresh clean notebook ready for thoughts to be penned.  I'm pretty confident in my 2017 word, but I'll reveal that in the new year.  It's making me excited already to think about what focusing on a new word will bring in 2017!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Favorite Books of 2016

As another year comes to a close (good grief, Charlie Brown!), I become reflective, as the title of this blog indicates I do oft times.  I set a goal at the beginning of the year to read 20 books.  I am now at 31 and may read a few more before the year is through, so I feel rather accomplished!

This year reading has become my therapy and way to decompress from that which is life.  I've clung to it more now than ever before and it brings back memories of summer vacation spent in the aisles of my local library checking out books to fall into during the summer, and clutching my Weekly Reader paperwork to make sure I didn't lose it before turning it in.  My reading has brought me back to my roots, and for that, I feel really, really good.

I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite books of this year...in no particular order....

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - This was gifted to me and it sat on my bookshelf much longer than I'd liked, but I knew diving into it would be a challenge.  It was, yet rewarding at the same time.  The story of Louis Zamperini as an Olympian and POW survivor from World War II was redeeming and torturous.  I had to take breaks from reading as the POW scenes were hard to take, reminding me of the sacrifices so many made for my freedoms.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - A controversial book turned movie, I really did enjoy reading this book.  Do I agree with the outcome of the characters and all that took place?  Absolutely not.  But it was heart-wrenching and thought-provoking all at the same time.  I read the sequel, After You, which made me like the original more.  

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend - This was my first book after joining Book of the Month Club and I have a theory that your "firsts" dictate your thoughts of those experiences forevermore.  The fictional memoir of Frances Conway, who was a real-life person, kept me intrigued and engaged throughout the whole book.  I didn't want it to end and I wanted to have a conversation with Frances, though I'm sure she has passed by now.  

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - Written in the 1930s inspiring an Alfred Hitchcock movie, I stumbled unknowingly on this treasure.  I was searching for a classic romance as a book prompt from a reading challenge and oddly this book popped up.  I'm oh so glad I did!  This book is haunting, hard-to-put-down goodness that is probably best read in the winter, in a cabin, wrapped up in a blanket with endless amounts of coffee.  I'll definitely re-read this one again.

Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf -  I had to pick one non-fiction in the bunch and this one is it.  Katherine Wolf suffered a stroke in her 20s and this is the story of her life when that happened, her journey through recovery and rehab, and her life now.  Told in exchanging voice between her and her husband, Jay, you hear events from both of their perspectives and their transparency is refreshing.  I love a book that increases my faith in God and this one is a definite read if you are facing insurmountable struggles in your life.

There are many other books I could mention, but these are the five that stick out the most.  For 2017, I'll have to increase my reading goal!  And I may kick off the year re-reading a classic from my childhood that is what I think of when I think about reading, life and the gift I was given in a Mom who fostered that in me - Charlotte's Web.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Good vs. Faithful

The last few weeks have been challenging to say the least.  With the election results and a 25% layoff of my company, it's been a horrible blur and fog in my world.  Thankfully I was spared and still have my job, though many, many others do not.  And they lost that job the day after the election.

My woes of life aren't comparable to others who are dealing with life-threatening illnesses or other struggles of life in a broken world.  Yet to each of us, our world can seem hopeless no matter the gradation of our problems.

I've been thinking a lot about how Christians will say "God has been so faithful" when they get word I've kept my job, or someone's illness is cured, or whatever problem previously happening vanishes.  Somehow, though I know that is true, I don't feel it completely accurate.  Yes, God is faithful.  He was, is, and will be.  No matter the outcome.  God would have still been faithful if I lost my job.  I prefer to say God is so good to protect me from losing my job.

One of my pet peeves is how many single women praise the Lord from the mountaintop as long as they have a significant other in their life.  Then, the moment that status changes, "Woe is me" is the lamentation.  It's as if God fell off His Throne.  Yet, God remains faithful even when we - heaven forbid! - are single.  God is good to us to give us the blessings we have far beyond what we deserve.

A few years ago, I had a women's ministry college intern, Jessica.  I loved her heart for the Lord and she shared a story with me from her home church that has stuck with me all these years.  A sweet lady at her church was celebrating her husband's soon-to-come retirement and how they planned to have a cabin in Gatlinburg where they could minister to others.  Three months after his retirement, he died suddenly of a heart attack.  When Jessica talked with this sweet, godly lady about how she could go on, knowing that her husband's life was ended just as they were about to start a new chapter serving the Lord, she said, "You know what, Jessica.  God is always right."  I love that.  No matter what happens, God is always right.  

In this season of Thanksgiving, we focus on that which we are grateful.  I want my gratitude to be overflowing for the One that is good, faithful...and right.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Chipotle vs. Qdoba

From the moment Qdoba made its debut in my town, I've been a believer.  It was my go-to place and I would crave it periodically.  This past summer, their arch rival, Chipotle, did a summer promotion that one of my employees participated in to earn us free catering at the office.  In an effort to help him achieve the bazillion burritos he needed to eat over the course of three months, some of us helped by using his rewards card and visiting Chipotle.

Although I felt like a traitor walking into the restaurant, I have to say I really liked their food.  This caused me to ponder about my newfound love of Chipotle and my obvious betrayal of Qdoba.  Why did I like one more than the other?  And if I could do a pros and cons, who would win?

Chipotle's pros are fresh ingredients.  I honestly "feel" better after eating Chipotle and not so blech as I do often with Qdoba.  The food is cheaper at Chipotle (at least what I get) than for the same thing at Qdoba.  And Chipotle has Coke Zero, so that's a win.

On the con side, Chipotle's chips are stored in a bag pre-scooped.  Ick.  They just don't maintain that same freshness as the chips freshly scooped at Qdoba.  The atmosphere at Chipotle leaves something to be desired.  I definitely don't find dining in there pleasing at all.  It's like a warehouse break room or a take off on a steam punk casual dining establishment.  To go orders are my preference at Chipotle.

Qdoba, being my first love, has a lot more variety on their menu...plus queso, which is sorely missing at Chipotle.  They have Coke Zero and 100 other options with their Coke Freestyle machine, which is a positive.  Qdoba's chips are fresh and often even warm making everything yummier when scooped up with a warm tortilla chip.  And dining in there is a much more pleasant experience than at Chipotle.  

The cons for Qdoba are their prices - slightly higher - and the food - not counting the chips - isn't as fresh.  Overall, though they are reinventing themselves regularly with new offerings so they do move further away from a direct competitor - or a mirrored competitor with Chipotle.

The jury is still out.  I like them both for different reasons.  I suppose I need to create a Qupotle restaurant and everyone is happy.