January: a month to rearrange

The brightness of the sun shining through the window on snowy, cold winter days is brief, rare, and short-lived. New Year resolutions like the winter sun in January often seem to be brief, rarely followed through, and short-lived.   

We see January 1 as a day to begin all the things and then give up exhausted a week or two later because sprinting towards those goals wasn’t sustainable. Eating healthy, working out, and purging your house like Marie Kondo quickly fall to the wayside. As we enter the third week of January you may be beginning to feel your pace slowing and your motivation waning.

Perhaps reframing the entire month of January to become a runway for the next year is a better approach. If we are able to reframe this beginning month as a warm-up, a slow jog that begins forward momentum, will slowly build, and actually last throughout the whole year, we will find ourselves reflecting on our year in December with less regret and a more hope.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” (Thoreau)

A few years ago I decided to come up with a word to frame the year — my hopes, dreams, and focus for the next 12 months. Since then the value of this practice has grown more in my heart and mind. The winter months immediately following Christmas have become a season of rearrangement.

It’s a time to move the furniture in our lives around to find a better place for them in this next season, and as we rearrange we often discover certain things are no longer needed and necessary for what’s ahead. It is a time to move everything around to see what stays and what goes — in our hearts, minds, schedules, habits, rhythms, relationships, and priorities.

“A time to keep and a time to throw away.” (Ecclesiastes 3:6)

Here are a few prompts you can ask yourself if you want to use January as a month of rearrangement rather than a quick burst of resolution that fades like a firework. I suggest writing them down in a notebook or agenda so you can go back to adjust, edit, and reflect in the months ahead.

  1. Pray about/think about/land on a word or phrase for the year (or simply the next season ahead) that you feel will cause you to flourish and focus your attention on the values and priorities you hold closest to your heart this year/season.
  2. Write down the definition of this word and the implications of what you think it will look like in your life; this doesn’t need to be long. Simply jot down two or three sentences that express the heart of what you feel this word will mean for your focus in the year or season ahead.
  3. Think about the different areas in your life that you want to prioritize and write them down in a list. For example my list of priorities includes: financial, marriage, parent, spiritual, health, rest, and social.
  4. Write down a specific and stretching, yet achievable intention/goal/aim (whatever language that empowers you to bring fresh focus to that area of your life) that falls within the framework of your word of the year or season.

For example, my word for 2019 is engage, so for each of the categories on my list I am thinking about ways to engage in them in a more active way that grows me but isn’t so overwhelming I will want to give up.

Here is what that looks like for the health category: spend 10 minutes exercising six out of seven days a week.

This is a very active reach for me because I haven’t been engaged in any regular exercise in years, but the time of 10 minutes is something that seems possible to me.

Write all of this down somewhere you can go back and look at throughout the year, and write them down in pencil. When it’s written in pencil you can erase and adjust as needed — sometimes we throw everything out when what we really need to do is edit.

If you need a reminder to go back and look, put it as an event in your phone. Honor your time by giving yourself 10-20 minutes a month to refocus your heart on what really matters in the season you’re in.

Take that small bit of time to edit and adjust anything and then write one sentence reflecting on how you feel your word really surfaced and worked in your life that past month. Last year my word was rooted and in December it felt like God was really speaking to me about being rooted in contentment, fresh focus, and right action. So I wrote it down and was done.

“But if we roof and wall time into chambers of expectation, plan and commitment, our days become memorable. Time takes on significance when we frame it on a human scale.” (Robert Grudin, Time and the Art of Living)

I pray as you spend the rest of this month rearranging and moving things around in your life you are able to see the significance of the time we’ve been given, this wild and wonderful gift.

Love and blessings,

April

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Reasons and ways to make meal planning happen

“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” (Julia Child)

Growing up we ate the same two week rotation of meals until I graduated high school. I can still recite the 14 dinners my mom made for us throughout my childhood. Because of this, I avoided meal planning for years. It felt like returning to the predictable meatloaf Mondays and taco Tuesdays.

All this changed when Josh and I graduated college and both began working full-time. Cooking, health, and budget suddenly became vital aspects of our lives. We each took two nights in the kitchen and spent the other three nights eating leftovers or going out. Spending time chopping, sautéeing, baking was a welcome break from teaching — it became meditative and restorative.

During this season, I began looking to cookbooks and specific cooking websites for inspiration rather than Pinterest, which I found overwhelming because of the infinite amount of available content.

Reasons why meal planning helps your budget, health, and daily rhythm:

  • Going to the grocery store with a list of specific items keeps you from impulse purchases and overspending. Taking stock of what’s left in the fridge and cupboards before heading helps too.
  • Having a list of meals planned for the week prevents those 5 p.m. munchies from happening. When you have a dinner on the docket, you aren’t scrambling and eating the easiest, least healthy thing in sight. Whenever I’m cooking, I pull the trail mix out and munch on some nuts and dried fruit to hold me over. Not having unhealthy foods in the house to begin with leaves the snacking options limited.
  • When you meal plan, pay attention to what else you have going on during that day leading up to dinner. If you’re aware ahead of time how much energy and time you’ll have for preparing dinner that day, you won’t overload yourself with an intense meal on busy days and you can enjoy a longer more involved cooking session on days with more space.

How to make meal planning a part of your life:

  • Set aside time every week to go through the fridge and cupboards to see what’s available and to sit down and create your weekly menu.
  • Write it down. Write down the meals you will make and write down the items needed to make those meals. I use pen and paper for the meals and keep it on the fridge. I use my phone for the grocery list.

Things to consider when creating your menu and grocery list:

  • The current season. Using ingredients that are seasonal prevents getting stuck in food ruts. It also promotes sustainable farming practices and supports local and regional economies.
  • Your season of life. Working full-time? New baby in the house? Give yourself grace to find a pace for meals that works for you.

Some caveats and resources:

  • Be flexible. Sometimes you need a break, so take a night off and make some grilled cheese or pancakes.
  • It takes time — start small and slowly change habits and practices incrementally. If you start small and go slow, change is sustainable and long-lasting.
  • Include some easy days and leftover/clean out the fridge days each week.
  • Maybe you’re in a season when a meal planning service makes more sense than anything (Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Daily Harvest are all great options)
  • Try to mix up the protein throughout the week and have at least one vegetarian night (this is good for your health and the environment!) This provides a loose structure and helps to narrow the choices. For example:
    • Monday: beef
    • Tuesday: chicken
    • Wednesday: vegetarian
    • Thursday: leftovers
    • Friday: breakfast for dinner (could be as simple as eggs and toast)
    • Saturday: fish
    • Sunday: take-out or restaurant
  • Cookbooks are inspiring and informative. They don’t just include recipes, but provide valuable insights from experienced cooks and chefs. Here are some of the most helpful ones (budget friendly tip – check them out from your library for free to see if they work for you before purchasing):
    • Simply in Season – this is helpful for a crash course in seasonal cooking
    • The Art of Simple Food – one of the most foundational cookbooks full of cooking wisdom and knowledge
    • Salt Fat Acid Heat –  the cookbook that completely transformed my approach to cooking (FULL of amazing information and beautiful illustrations that will elevate your skills)
    • An Eater’s Manifesto – not a cookbook, but an essential resource that will change your mindset surrounding food and eating habits
  • Those four are foundational resources. Here are a few more if you want to dive deeper:

“Every repast can have soul and can be enchanting; it asks for only a small degree of mindfulness and a habit of doing things with care and imagination.” (Thomas Moore)

Spring: a time to plant and a time to uproot

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With robins bouncing around the yard and the ground softening with spring rain, you can feel the earth preparing herself for a new season.

Spring is all about preparation and transition. It’s laying out plans for growth. It’s putting away the winter gear and pulling out the rainboots and lightweight jackets. It’s an awkward season that’s mucky and transformative.

There are moments and times in our lives that feel a lot like this: those spaces between and those pauses in rhythm. We can feel change just around the corner, and yet it hasn’t happened yet. It’s like the gap between the last step on a swinging bridge and land or the intentional silence between one note of music and the next.

The difficulty comes in letting go of, or more intentionally the uprooting of, things that may have beautiful in a past season but have since become stale or no longer producing life or things that are weedy preventing growth. In our garden bed, the kale from last fall remains. It looks half alive with its yellow and green leaves, but it’s not good to eat. There are weeds popping up in the mostly empty soil.

The temptation to hold onto emotions and mindsets that once served a purpose can leave us stuck in winter when spring comes. We are created to live fruitful lives, and being fruitful requires a little effort.

Sometimes facing those garden beds in our hearts and minds is overwhelming. We think about that disappointment, resentment, insecurity, fear, anxiety and turn away focusing on something else. Doing the work of digging up the roots of these things takes courage and honesty. It requires a vulnerability that’s uncomfortable; it’s a little messy and dirty.

“Those who plant in tears

   will harvest with shouts of joy.

They weep as they go to plant their seed,

   but they sing as they return with the harvest.”

(Psalm 126:5-6)

Once the soil is rid of its weeds and half dead plants there’s a certain amount of surrender and hope involved in planting seeds. Every seed disappears into the dark ground before it springs to life. For a little while you wonder whether the seed is actually going to produce any life and then one day a tiny sprout appears, both delicate and strong.

Take that root of resentment out and plant a seed of forgiveness in its place. Remove the disappointment and sow some hope. Pull out the insecurity and replace it with love. It’s something that sounds so simple yet requires the soft and steady rain of grace and the bright and warm sunshine of honesty. Grace for others and with yourself as the tiny seedling grows. Honesty with others and yourself as different things come to light. Here are some things to ask yourself that may tug at some of those roots and create space to plant something fresh:

What do I want to see grow or how do I want to grow in this next season?

Socially in relationships

Emotionally in your soul

Mentally in your intellect

Spiritually in your spirit

Physically in your body

What things need to be uprooted in my life in order for growth to happen?

How do I plant the seeds for this growth and then tend them to maturity?

Take this season of uprooting and planting and embrace the mud and sweat because the harvest will be beautiful and the fruit will be nourishing. Marilynne Robinson describes “grace as gratuitous” and that’s the measure you have to use – a bottomless, free, unsubstantiated amount of grace. So make sure to pour that grace out as well as receive that grace in.

After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.

It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.

I walked slowly, and listened

to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.

(Mary Oliver, “Sometimes”)