girltalk Blog

Apr 8

When Your Life Feels Like a Waiting Room

2015 at 8:39 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Good Works | Time Management

“What do you live for?”

“In a recent survey…ninety-four percent responded that they were waiting for something to take place. There were a variety of things that people were waiting for—waiting to get married, waiting to get a good job, waiting for a new job, waiting to have kids, waiting for the kids to grow up, etc. But the predominant answer was that people live their lives waiting for something else.” ~William Barcley

Our “something else” is whatever we are thinking of right now. Waiting for it to happen feels like captivity. We try our hardest to break out. We bang on the walls, hoping for a hidden opening, a secret doorway. Finally, we sit down and look to heaven and ask: Why? How long? Why does the life I’m waiting for never seem to come?

By now, we know we’re probably not going to get the answers we’re looking for. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be an answer. JI Packer explains:

“If you ask, ‘Why is this or that happening?’ no light may come, for ‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God’ (Deuteronomy 29:29); but if you ask, ‘How am I to serve and glorify God here and now, where I am?’ there will always be an answer.”

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21

As one man said, the Christian may walk in darkness, but he need never wander. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes is the voice of the Lord behind us saying: “this is the way, walk in it: be joyful, do good” (3:12). Don’t live your life like the ninety-four percent, waiting for something else. Do good now.

“While there is much we can’t know” admits Zach Eswine, “the Preacher says that the way forward in our seasons is not found in rehearsing what we do not know, but in remaining faithful to what we do.”

It’s unexpected, but the way to quiet the questions, to find contentment and purpose in waiting, is to “do good”:

“[C]ontentment comes by performing the work of our circumstances…The question the contented Christian asks is, what is the duty of my present circumstances? And carrying out that duty is vital both to Christian faithfulness and to Christian contentment. Maybe we are not where we want to be. There is nothing sinful about desiring and praying for difficult circumstances to change. But we need to seek how we can serve Christ where we are.” ~William Barcley

Serving Christ “where we are” isn’t a consolation prize; it is the secret of contentment in waiting. It is the key that unlocks the cell of unhappiness, our flashlight in the fog of confusing circumstances. When we do good, right here, right now, while we are waiting, we will wake up one day to discover that we aren’t so much waiting anymore as living.

Be a Do-Gooder

Doing good has fallen on hard times. In fact, a “do-gooder” in the English language is a pejorative term: “someone whose desire and effort to help people is regarded as wrong, annoying, useless, etc.” Ouch.

Even in reformed, Christian circles, we sometimes talk about grace as the cure for an unhealthy pressure to do good. Sadly, for many women today, this unbiblical perspective hollows out the Christian life and diminishes the full and beautiful influence of grace.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes wants to change all that. Doing good? There is “nothing better.” As we learned last week, this is part two of our job description for life:

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (3:12-13)

Notice the happy words. Doing good is “God’s gift to man.” We are to “take pleasure in all [our] toil.” There is “nothing better” than to “do good as long as [we] live.” Catch the drift? Doing good is a good thing. It is a gift of grace.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:11, 14).

The grace that comes to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ does not deliver us from doing good, it frees and empowers us to do good. God’s “gift to man” is the strength, desire, and determination to do good as long as we live—not in order to earn our salvation but in response to the grace of God.

“The gospel creates an affection for God that drives us to do good works that serve others and please God” explains Matt Perman. “Embracing the truth that God accepts us apart from good works is the precise thing that causes us to excel in good works.”

“Realizing that we are wholly and completely accepted by God apart from our works through faith in Christ results in massive and radical action for good because it results in great love and joy for God. As Jesus said, ‘He who is forgiven little loves little’ (Luke 7:47), whereas those who are forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:41-43).” ~Matt Perman

There is no tug of war between grace and good works: grace motivates good works. “The more a person counts as loss his own righteousness and lays hold by faith of the righteousness of Christ, the more he will be motivated to live and work for Christ” writes Jerry Bridges.

No matter what “the time” or season in our lives, doing good is the Christ-empowered response to grace.

The Good We Are to Do

The good we are to do is the good God has given us to do. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

The Creator of galaxies and ocean depths has designed and fashioned each of us individually, called us by name, redeemed us from our sins, and then personally prepared good works for each of us to do.

Scripture tells us we are to be devoted to good works (1 Tim. 5:10), zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14), have a reputation for good works (1 Tim. 5:10), adorn ourselves with good works (Tit. 2:9-10), and stir up one another for good works (Heb. 10:24). The Bible gets pretty enthusiastic about good works, wouldn’t you say?

Life in Christ is like a long, happy, workday—with God handing out the assignments. He’s distributed our tasks throughout the New Testament letters. Here’s just a few:

· Bring up children.

· Show hospitality.

· Contribute to the needs of the saints.

· Be constant in prayer.

· Teach what is good.

· Love your husband.

· Love your children.

· Work at home.

· Be kind.

· Show honor.

· Love one another.

· Serve the saints.

· Care for the afflicted.

(Rom. 12:10-13, 1 Tim. 5:10, Tit. 2:3-5)

Carpooling kids, hosting a new family for spaghetti after church, driving a friend to the doctor, washing the sheets, pulling the weeds, praying for church members, greeting our husband with a kiss and a smile—these and many more are the do-gooding God has given us to do.

But how can I possibly do all these things?” we ask, panicky at the sight of a to-do list in Scripture more than two or three items long. Before anyone begins to feel faint, allow me to pass the smelling salts: grace-motivated good works aren’t overwhelming.

God has not called all of us to do all of the good works. He has prepared certain good works for each of us to do. Good works are not a decathlon (four runs, three jumps and three throws); they are a walking event. They are the super-simple, nothing better, gifted by God, path to contentment.

The Glamour of Doing Good

Like workday tasks, our do-good list is full of menial, manual labor. But we carry it out in the joyful company of other Christians, for the sake of Jesus Christ. What makes good works glamorous is the God we do them for.

We were created in Christ Jesus for good works”! We are “his workmanship” so we might work for him. Half-filled cereal-bowls, inboxes full of emails, and lists of works cited take on a glow of glory when we receive them as a gift from God.

If doing good feels below our pay grade, we’ve failed to grasp that it is—in actuality—far above what we deserve. By grace rebellious sinners have been forgiven and called to work for the Savior of the world. We get our assignments directly from Jesus himself. We are in his service. How can we not, “take pleasure in [our] toil” when we consider who we are working for?

“Does God ask us to do what is beneath us?” wonders Elisabeth Ellliot. “This question will never trouble us again if we consider the Lord of heaven taking a towel and washing feet.”

“Every one of us has a line of duty marked out for us by God. For most human beings, for most of history, there has been little choice available. We tend to forget this in a time when the options seem limitless and when ‘what one does’ usually means specifically his money-earning capacities. Duty, however, includes whatever we ought to do for others—make a bed, give someone a ride to church, mow a lawn, clean a garage, paint a house. It is often possible to ‘get out of’ work like that. Nobody is paying us. It simply needs to be done, and if we don’t do it, nobody will. But the nature of the work changes when we see that it is God who marks out this line of duty for us. It is service to Him. When we see Him, we may say, ‘Lord, when did I ever mow Your lawn? When did I iron Your clothes?’ He will answer, ‘When you did it for one of the least of my children, you did it for me.’” ~Elisabeth Elliot

The point of good works is to point back to the Savior: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Funny thing is, life doesn’t feel so much like waiting when you are doing good for Christ.

What To Do Right Now

When we ask: “What should I do with my life?” there will always be an answer. And it’s usually right in front of us. Do the next good work. Then do the next one. And so on, and you will find the answer to your question.

“When the unknown taunts your mind within the season you find yourself,” suggests Zach Eswine, “give yourself to the next thing in the place you are. Our way forward more often than not is found where we are.”

“Some of us are wondering what God’s will is for our lives. Among all the things we do not know, we start with what we do know…. When it comes to our tending our lot with our spouse and family, our work, our food, and our place, God has already told us that he approves of this use of time.” ~Zach Eswine

“Do good” is a Christian’s true north. No matter where we are, how confusing the landscape, how unsure of what we are to do next or where we are to go, we can point our compass needle toward “do good” and move confidently in that direction. God approves.

“Students often ask me how to find out what God’s will is. I tell them the will of God today for them is to study! That’s not what they want to hear, but that is surely an important part of God’s will for students. They must not cut classes, plagiarize on their papers, cheat on exams, treat the professor disrespectfully, or shirk their duty to their roommate.” ~Elisabeth Elliot

Students should study. Moms should mother. Employees should be employed.

If you are a mom with young children at home, your duties are in front of you. Sure, they are arduous but they are not confusing. Love. Serve. Sacrifice. Discipline. Clean. Instruct. Smile. Hug. Or if your job is to go to a job, then go. Drive courteously, work diligently, speak graciously. Love your neighbor. Give thanks in all circumstances. Do good. Be joyful. It’s that simple.

Here is the cure for restlessness, for the discontent of our age and of our hearts. Good works aren’t far flung, they are right in front of you. “Every assignment is measured,” writes Elisabeth Elliot. “As I accept the given portion other options are cancelled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter.” And, might I add, happier.

In fact “be joyful and do good” works backwards, in a way. Doing good makes us joyful. Not happy in our own goodness, but joyful in serving our good God. And when we are joyful we aren’t really waiting anymore, we’re living.


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Apr 1

Yo-Yo Quilts, Hidden Pictures, and Fleas: Finding Beauty in Our Time

2015 at 7:55 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Time Management

When I was a child, my parents used to take me to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for long afternoon visits. My Mennonite grandma would usually be sitting in her chair by the window, a small stack of brightly colored fabric circles on the table beside her. She would sew the edges of each small circle and gather it into a purse, called a “yo-yo,” and my aunt would stitch the yo-yos together into beautiful quilts and sell them at local craft fairs.

My grandma had a job to do: she worked with beautiful material; but she could not piece together the whole quilt. Even though we can’t see how the yo-yo’s of our life fit together into a beautiful quilt, we too have a job to do. What are we to “do in time with God”? We are to fear him (v. 14). But there is more. The Preacher tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13:

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”

We are to be joyful and do good. What simple, delightful tasks!

“One good way to understand and apply this verse is to put it in the first person and use it as a job description,” suggests Phil Ryken: “There is nothing better than to be joyful and to do good as long as I live, and to eat and drink and take pleasure in all my work—this is God’s gift to me.”

We’ll take the second part of this job description up next week, but first, how do we “be joyful” in this disillusioning, difficult life? We look for beauty. No matter what time we find ourselves in, there is beauty to be found. That beauty is God—his presence, his purpose, and his presents. “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecc. 3:11).

The Beauty of His Presence

First, we can “be joyful” when we find the beauty of God’s presence in every nook and cranny of our lives. “God intends to be found amid our toast and coffee, while we swing a hammer or change a diaper,” writes Zach Eswine. “This is why he is called ‘Immanuel.’ It means ‘God is with us.’”

The truth we celebrate at Christmastime is truth to celebrate at every time: God is with us. Our Savior is present in every moment of every day. And he wants us to find him there.

“What you need” Elisabeth Elliot tells mothers (and all of us) “is a habitual sense of the presence of God. Think that Almighty God, who created the stars and keeps the seasons revolving in perfect rhythm, is there in your kitchen, in your bathroom, in the laundry room, in the grocery store.”

Think, and find the beauty of God’s presence. Think until it fills your heart with wonder and joy. God is with you. Right now. Every carpool driving, expense report checking, diaper wiping, bed making, bite chewing, sunrise watching minute, the Almighty God is with you. Ponder the beauty of his presence, and you’ll find that there is joy to be squeezed out of every moment of every day.

He is still with us in the awful, stomach-churning moments of our lives. “God has not left the mess,” insists Eswine, “but remains here in it and with us. In that light, we start with what we have and we do this little bit each day with God.”

This is how we travel through unbearable times. By doing a little bit each day with God. Even when we don’t feel his presence, we know that he is with us. “[W]here shall I flee from your presence? asks the Psalmist, ready with the answer: If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there…” (Ps. 139:7-8).

“Wherever Jesus may lead us, He goes before us. If we know not where we go, we know with whom we go. With such a companion, who will dread the perils of the road? The journey may be long, but His everlasting arms will carry us to the end. The presence of Jesus is the assurance of eternal salvation, because He lives, we shall live also.” ~Charles Spurgeon

When we find the beauty of his presence—in the ordinary and the painful moments of our lives—every moment will be infused with joy.

The Beauty of His Purpose

God may not have shown us the whole quilt, we may only see “the outskirts of his ways” (Job 26:14), but we know he has a purpose for our yo-yo making, and this should fill us with joy.

Life doesn’t always feel purposeful. You spend the morning at the DMV only to discover you left your birth certificate at home. You get in a fender bender and miss an appointment. You burn dinner. Or maybe you work hard on a paper and get a “D.” You devote your life to your children and they still rebel.

What’s the point? Or, as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes puts it: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” (3:9).

His answer, in one sense, is nothing. “Vanity,” is the end of all the efforts of men (1:2). But not so the purposes of God: “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it” (3:14).

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” David chimes in, as does Job, “No purpose of [his] can be thwarted” (Ps. 138:8, Job 42:2).

“No matter what time it is, we learn to adjust to it on the basis of the hope and purpose that God is in it, that everything has a beauty to it by which the Preacher declares that every disquieting and delightful moment under the sun has been fitted by God for his purposes. With God, everything fits, nothing is wasted or lost. God does not abandon one second of a life under the sun. No disquiet is God forsaken. No true delight is God neglected. Joseph pointed us to this beauty, these purpose-drenched seconds, when he looked at all the pain, the reoccurring tears and the long years of wreckage that his brothers had perpetrated, and he interpreted it all by saying, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).” ~Zach Eswine

The beauty of God’s purposes gives us joy. Everything fits. He does not lose or drop a single minute of our lives. None of our happy moments, none of our painful moments, and none of our waiting moments, are wasted by God. Every second of our lives is purpose-drenched.

What are God’s purposes? We do not know them all. Our efforts to piece together the yo-yo’s of our lives are often futile, and frankly arrogant, for we “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecc. 3:11).

But this we know: everything has a good purpose, and one of God’s main purposes is to teach us to be content with his purpose.

What is God doing here?! Why did I lose my job? Why am I not getting married? Why did I get cancer? Why is there conflict in my family? We don’t know everything he is doing in these difficult situations, but we do know something: he is teaching us to be content. He is showing us how to “be joyful.”

“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows’. Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. Down busy self, and proud impatience, it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of Love! Trials must and will befall-but with humble faith to see-Love inscribed upon them all-this is happiness to me.” ~Charles Spurgeon

So often we chafe against the purposes of God; or as Rick Holland puts it, we “spend a lot of time trying to get out of what God has put us into.” But if any situation would have been better for us, God would have put us there. God wants us to see that his purpose for these unwanted circumstances is the joy in Christ he purposes for us to have. The very thing we want to get out of is the way to get to joy.

Find the beauty of God’s purpose—our contentment—in every moment of every day, and you can be joyful.

The Beauty of His Presents

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” James tells us, “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17 ).

No matter how diminished our circumstances or how difficult our road, God has given us gifts to enjoy in this season. Sometimes finding these gifts feels like doing a child’s “hidden pictures” page. But God’s gifts are always there to be found for our joy.

“At some point, we all have to come to terms with the spiritual truth that true joy is found in God and God is found right where His gifts are. God’s gifts are our lot. This means that right here where we are is where God will be found…” writes Zach Eswine.

What are these gifts? “There is nothing better,” says Eswine, quoting the Preacher, “than to have a place to inhabit, a thing to do in that place, and some people in that place to share it with. With God, such small things are happy and gainful.” In other words, we must stop trying to turn a grapefruit into a baseball and enjoy it for breakfast.

These gifts are the very ones we often overlook as we long after other gifts. We often pine for gifts we used to have or pant after gifts we never had, and we pass over the gifts we have right now. This is how not to be joyful.

But look around you. Has God given you a “place to inhabit”? Has he blessed you with a roof over your head, a place where you belong? Your home, and the small expressions of beauty there hold a myriad of gifts.

Do you have some people to share your life with—a family, a church community? They may be a quirky, raggedy bunch, but each one is a gift from God. And so is your work, whatever “the next thing” is that God has given you to do. It may be a small work, a praying work, a difficult work, but it is a gifted work, designed to give you joy.

“The Preacher reorients us. To taste the sweetness of ordinary joys, we learn to enter each day with a conviction about the givenness of all things…. Pay attention to what God is giving and what he is not, receive with humility what he gives as enough, thankfully pursue this enjoy this”. ~Zach Eswine

Joy is right under our noses in the form of God’s gifts to us today. We only need to find them out.

I’m reminded of the hymn we used to sing in church as a child:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Count your blessings. Once you start finding the beauty of God’s gifts in every day, you will be, as CS Lewis put it, surprised by joy. “Find him, not in what you do not have, but amid the smallest things that remain, he will find you!” (Eswine).

In every season, no matter how reduced or unpleasant, we can find the beauty of God’s gifts. Corrie and Betsie ten Boom found beauty even in the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie recounts how her sister Betsie resolved to “give thanks in all circumstances,” including the fleas which infested their barracks. “Fleas are part of this place where God has put us,” Betsie told her sister.

Some time later, the ten Boom sisters discovered that the guards would not step foot in their barracks, thus leaving them free to share the Scriptures with the other women, all because of the fleas. Corrie remembered her sister’s “thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

If Betsie ten Boom can find the beauty of God’s gifts in a flea-infested concentration camp, how much more can we find beauty in God’s gifts to us today? No matter what time we find ourselves in, there is beauty to be found.

Even in our lowest state, we have The Gift of Gifts in the person of Jesus Christ. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). As we ponder his sacrifice for us this Easter week, may we be full of sorrow for our ingratitude and filled with joy for his gift of salvation.

Find beauty in God’s seasonal gifts, and God will find you and give you joy.

Here is part one of our job description, our quilt circles: find beauty. Find beauty in God’s presence, in God’s purpose and in God’s presents and you will “be joyful.”

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Are Hobbies the Secret to Happiness?

2015 at 6:07 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Joy | Time Management

Recently, at the end of a conference session where CJ and I fielded questions, a woman approached me with a query of her own: “So what do you do on the side?” she inquired.

“On the side?” I echoed, not fully comprehending her question.

“What do you do for personal fulfillment?” she sought to clarify. “You see I’m happy my husband has his ministry because that provides him with personal fulfillment. But I pursue my own hobbies because they provide personal fulfillment for me. So,” she repeated again, “What do you do?”

I was unprepared for her question. And I’m sure my answer was insufficient. (How often I have an eloquent answer after the conversation is over!) If I had it to do over again, I’d tell her about Dorothy.

Dorothy was a woman who knew the secret of true “personal fulfillment.” A single mom whose husband left her with a son to raise, Dorothy didn’t spend time worrying about herself. Instead, she was always serving and caring for others. I knew her because she was my Sunday School teacher. And Dorothy was one of the most joyful women I knew.

At my bridal shower everyone wrote down a piece of advice on a slip of paper. I only remember one, and it was Dorothy’s. Her secret to a fulfilled life? “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Our culture is constantly telling us to find our life; that we’re the center of our world, and as such, we need to take care of “me” first.

But when I’m the center of my world, my world becomes very small—because I’m the only person in it. When I try to find fulfillment in anything besides loving Christ and serving Him, I will only end up more frustrated and completely unfulfilled.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I think we as women should express our creativity, and even more importantly get sufficient rest. But the purpose of creativity should be to glorify God with our gifts, not to find “personal fulfillment,” and the goal of rest should be to strengthen us for service.

If we want “personal fulfillment” as women, we must not follow our culture’s prescription. Rather, we must lose our life for Christ’s sake. Then, amazingly, we’ll find that our world expands. We’ll know the thrill of seeing the fruit of our sacrificial service in the lives of those around us. So for true “personal fulfillment,” let’s follow Dorothy’s example as she followed Christ.

—from the archives

Jan 8

Making Plans

2015 at 8:49 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Time Management

We’re planning again this week and it reminded me of this post from last year. Excited to make new plans and reflect on God’s faithfulness. Hope this helps you as much as it does me.

Change is in the Oatmeal

Last week, the girltalkers met at Janelle’s house. We brought Chick-fil-a, sent the kids to play with Christmas toys, and set our laptops, notepads, and colored pens on the kitchen table. It was time to plan.

Mom started planning with us when we were teenagers. Twice a year she would help us evaluate our life and priorities and consider ways we could grow. After we got married, we asked her to come back and help us, and so the tradition has continued to this day.

I got to thinking about what I find most helpful about Mom’s approach to planning for the New Year and here are my top three. Even though you can’t join us for Chick-fil-a, I hope these ideas inspire your planning, too.

1. Principle leads to practice. In a recent sermon (which you really should listen to, by the way), my Dad shared a line from JI Packer about the Puritans:

“Their knowledge was no mere theoretical orthodoxy. They sought to ‘reduce to practice’ (their own phrase) all that God had taught them.”

When we plan, Mom helps us to “reduce to practice” all that God has taught us. Here is where our theology gets worked out in methodology. It is where our goals for godliness get translated into detailed steps. Here is where we come up with specific, concrete, plans for living out biblical truth in every day life.

For this reason our relationship with God is always the first thing we talk about. Then we consider how we can be better wives and mothers. We discuss ways we can be more skilled homemakers. We ask: How are we to be serving in our local church? Who has God called us to share the gospel with?

What an awesome privilege we as Christians have, to be taught by God. By his grace, we must seek to put into practice all we have learned from his Holy Word.

2. Change is in the really small details.

What really keeps me coming back to these planning times is the immediate and dramatic difference they make in my life. Mom helps us make our big picture goals a reality by targeting small areas for change.

This year, it came down to a new oatmeal recipe.

Lately my mornings have been very hectic, cutting short my writing time. Breakfast was the culprit. It was a big production with four kinds of toast and five versions of cereal or oatmeal (with lots of toppings). Mom googled “slow cooker oatmeal recipes” and suggested I prepare the toppings ahead of time. These small changes have transformed my morning routine. I am not running around my small kitchen like a crazy woman, and I’m able to finish writing before the kids need my full attention.

A new oatmeal recipe might not seem like a big New Year’s plan, but it is the little things that make the big goals possible.

3. Planning helps me focus.

Janelle has been wanting to learn to crochet for a while now. It’s a good skill to have, and she has good reasons for wanting to learn. But as we talked through her priorities, starting with the most important, she realized that she doesn’t have time to take a crocheting class right now. It would mean giving up other, more important goals.

In an age of unlimited opportunities and countless distractions, planning helps me to focus. Otherwise I would run here and there doing a lot of good things but neglecting the best things. Realistically, we can only give ourselves to a few things this year. Let’s make sure those few things are the most important ones.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” ~Ephesians 5:15-16

Sep 18

From Surviving to Thriving

2014 at 5:09 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Time Management | Devotional Life

“Few things frighten me more than the beginnings of barrenness that come from frenzied activity with little spiritual food and meditation.” John Piper

Fall and the start of school means frenzied activity. So why do I forget this every year?

In those final, lazy days of summer break, when my kids get bored and restless, I start to long for the structure and schedule of school. Then I get what I wished for and wonder, “What was I thinking?!”

I’m running on cold coffee and stale brownies, struggling to keep up. The laundry is turning sour in the washing machine, we’re already a week behind our homeschool schedule, and yesterday I discovered that my son went into science class unprepared because I forgot to give him his homework. Let the mistakes begin!

Mornings are the frenziest (and the time that I’m most likely to make up words). Getting a family of six prepared for takeoff and launched into the day is a challenge. Doing it without sinning against anyone and everyone? Extreme challenge.

And so my Bible reading and prayer have been pushed off to later and later in the day—so late that it isn’t happening. I’m not being lazy and I really want to spend time with the Lord. It’s just that I can’t send my son to school without a lunch, or give up teaching my kindergartner how to read, can I?

But I’m starting to feel it. The beginnings of barrenness. I need God’s Word. I need His presence. More than anything. (John 15:5)

So where do we find the time? Finding the time to spend with God each morning often begins the night before. We have to get practical in order to prioritize the spiritual.

Here are some practical ideas that are helping me right now, along with some suggestions the other girltalkers threw in as well:

  • I’ve started making lunches before I go to bed at night. No matter how tired I am, or how late it is, I don’t go to sleep until my husband’s and son’s lunches are ready in the fridge.
  • Mom used to empty her dishwasher before she went to bed, that way it was ready for dirty dishes each morning.
  • Make your coffee the night before. Set out your Bible, reading material, and supplies (pen, blanket, tissues etc.).
  • Train your children to stay in bed each morning until you come and get them.
  • Set the breakfast table and prep breakfast the night before (see Change is in the Oatmeal).
  • Lay out school clothes and iron work clothes the night before.
  • Go to bed half an hour earlier. Have a friend call to wake you up.

Making one or two of these practical changes will easily give you an extra half an hour or more each morning to spend in God’s Word and in prayer.

Fall will still be frenzied, but our souls won’t be. As we abide in God’s Word (John 15:5), we will thrive and bear fruit, even in this busy season.

Next year, I’m gonna try to remember this.

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Jul 28

Are We Too Busy?

2014 at 10:43 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Time Management

One reason we are so harried and hurried is that we make yesterday and tomorrow our business, when all that legitimately concerns us is today. If we really have too much to do, there are some items on the agenda which God did not put there. Let us submit the list to Him and ask Him to indicate which items we must delete. There is always time to do the will of God. If we are too busy to do that, we are too busy. ~Elisabeth Elliot

Jan 14

Sinful Comparison: A Pain in the Neck

2014 at 9:20 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Time Management

It’s January again, and Facebook and Twitter are clogged with New Year wishes and resolutions, reminiscences of the year past and predictions of the year ahead.

But the New Year can come with an unexpected side effect: the crick in our neck that we can get from looking around at everyone else and worrying that maybe they’ve got it better than we do. With every flipagram in our feed, the strain gets worse, the knots tighten.

Maybe 2013 wasn’t such a great year for you. It was full of set backs and frustrations, disappointments and challenges. And yet it seems (if Facebook is to be believed) as if everyone else had an exciting and successful year. Everyone else got married and had babies. Everyone else’s home business took off. They made new friends, had great vacations, and their kids excelled in school. Everyone else lost weight.

They have and we have not. And the more we think about it, the more restless, anxious, and dissatisfied we feel.

In search of a cure, we may pour out our sorrows on social media, and watch the sympathy likes pile up; but somehow they never fill our empty love cup to its tippy top.

Or we protest (too much, methinks) that we don’t care a wit what people think; we’re proud of our messy house and messed up life. We call it “being real.” We may try to release the tension by taking jabs and digs at others. If we can’t feel better about ourselves, at least we can create some company for our misery.

It’s not that we resolve to bigger complaining and better envy in 2014, but when we start to sinfully compare, we’re well on our way. If we sow seeds of “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” at the start of 2014, they are sure to sprout up as weeds that choke our growth in godliness the whole year through (James 3:14).

Our Savior graciously confronts our sinful comparison in John chapter 21. The scene is following his resurrection. He has just restored his disciple, Peter, and then he gives him the news: you will die a horrible death. We have a lot of sympathy for Peter, who strains his neck to look around at his buddy John and asks, “What about this man?” “What is that to you?” Jesus says to Peter. “You follow me.”

Our Savior’s loving rebuke echoes in our ears. He meant for it to. He meant for his words to protect us from sinful comparison that would distract us from our calling, stifle our growth in godliness, injure our relationships, dishonor his holiness, and make us miserable. And he invites us, or rather, commands us to “follow me.”

We follow him by meditating on his Word instead of longing for what others have, by taking whatever steps of obedience he requires from us today, and by rejoicing with others when they receive blessings from God. At the beginning of the New Year, let’s receive our Savior’s loving, rebuke and invitation.

Yes, everyone else may seem poised to be faster, better, prettier, smarter, and more successful in 2014, but “What is that to you? You follow me.”

{If you find yourself tempted to sinful comparison at the start of the New Year let me encourage you to watch this workshop.}

Jan 13

“The Greed of Doing”

2014 at 8:12 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Time Management

“I have been thinking of something that stifles thanksgiving. It is the spirit of greed—the greed of doing, being, having. When Satan came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, his bait was intended to inspire the lust to do more than the Father meant for Him to do—to go farther, demonstrate more power, act more dramatically. So the enemy comes to us in these days of frantic doing. We are ceaselessly summoned to activities: social, political, educational, athletic, and yes—spiritual. Our ‘self image’ [deplorable word!] is dependent not on the quiet and hidden ‘Do this for My sake,’ but on the list the world hands us of what is ‘important.’ It is a long list, and it is both foolish and impossible. If we fall for it, we neglect the short list. Only a few things are really important, and for those we have the promise of divine help: sitting in silence with the Master in order to hear His word and obey it in the ordinary line of duty—for example, in being a good husband, wife, mother, son, daughter, or spiritual father or mother to those nearby who need protection and care—humble work which is never on the world’s list because it leads to nothing impressive on one’s resume. As Washington Gladden wrote in 1879, ‘O Master, let me walk with Thee/In lowly paths of service free…’”

~Elisabeth Elliot

Jan 9

Planning: A Mini-Session

2014 at 8:32 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Time Management

After last week’s post on planning, a few of you asked what exactly we do in our Chick-fil-A planning sessions and how we revisit these goals throughout the year.

I’ll give you a brief version here, but you can find a more detailed description of our planning methods, including a biblical foundation for our plans and goals in our book, Shopping for Time.

Look, we’re not time management experts. You won’t find anything new or revolutionary in our methods, but they have worked well for us for a couple of decades now. Mom developed this simple system years ago, and even though we do it in Evernote instead of on a legal pad these days, the process is still pretty much the same.

First we take time to consider our various roles/priorities, which usually come under these headings:

Grow in Godliness

Love my Family

Serve in the Church

Fellowship with Christians

Evangelize non-Christians

Attend to My Work

Care for My Physical Body

In our book we explain the biblical principles that underlie these priorities, and also how they look different for every woman, depending on her season of life. Because my sisters and I are parenting young kids, we end up spending most of our time on the first two. But for someone who doesn’t have children, you may focus more on other priorities like church and work.

Next, we set goals for each priority. We consider (and discuss—I highly recommend doing this with a friend so you can share ideas and encourage each other) ways we want to grow or improve, and focus on problem areas.Are we getting consistent time with the Lord? What are our biggest concerns for our kids? What ways can we serve in the church this year?

Third, we come up with next steps to make those goals a reality. So I may need to research and decide on a new Bible reading plan, buy a new commentary, or make a list of verses to use in my prayer time. My husband and I always set goals for our kids which require specific actions—often changes to the routine so we can read to them each day, schedule times for Bible study and training, and of course, family fun.

Finally, I put the next steps on my to do list and make the necessary changes to my daily and weekly routine. These are nothing fancy, just lists I keep in Evernote. Each morning I review my list of to dos for the day and each weekend I take a few minutes to plan for the week ahead. Once I’ve translated my goals into next steps and put them on my calendar and to do list, I only need to glance at them from time to time.

By the time we plan again—usually every six months or so—I’m thrilled if I’ve accomplished even half of the goals I set at the beginning of the year. But as my dad likes to remind us, that’s more than if we’d never planned at all.

So that’s the thirty-second version. If it leaves you with more questions than answers, maybe try the book. Shopping for Time may not be the best book on time management you’ll ever read, but at least it is short. Oh, and it pairs well with a Chick-fil-A sandwich and a large sweet tea.

Jan 7

Q&A: “How do you get up early when your kids are up all night?”

2014 at 11:13 am   |   by Janelle Bradshaw Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Time Management | Motherhood | Q&A

The girltalk inbox has been a bit crowded these days with e-mails from exhausted moms asking how it is possible to rise early and get time with the Lord when they are up half the night with small children. It always encourages me to hear from you! I just finished a long stretch with Summer (11 months) and Hudson (3 years) waking up multiple times a night. Mike and I would laugh (more like a half-hearted chuckle from me) that they seemed to coordinate with one another, working in shifts to make sure that I got as little sleep as possible.

So how do I wake up early when my kids want to party all night? I don’t. I can’t.

A couple months ago, I sat across from Mom, Nicole and Kristin exhausted and crying (not for the first time in the last eight years) over my lack of sleep and inability to get up early. I missed my early morning times with the Lord, and my days felt more disorganized and hectic because I wasn’t able to get up before my children. They sympathized and encouraged me to remember that this was a season—yes, a long and tiring season, but not one that would last forever.

In the meantime, I needed to get creative and develop an alternative plan. If waking up early before my kids wasn’t possible right now, then how else could I feed my soul throughout the day? I downloaded the ESV Bible app, which has an audio feature. (FYI: Over at christianaudio.com, you can get the ESV audio for FREE during the month of January!) I loaded my phone with sermons, which I could listen to a few minutes at a time. I took time to pray while I was in the shower or emptying the dishwasher.

I also sought to be intentional about my children’s schedule. I trained Hudson to have “room time” (an hour alone in his room with a few toys) at the same time that Summer took her morning nap. This guaranteed (and I use that word loosely) me a slot of time where I could read my Bible or finish a project.

These ideas may not work for you, but the point is to get creative. What are small ways you can seek the Lord throughout your day? How can you free up twenty minutes in your daily schedule to sit and read your Bible and pray?

And take heart. You are not alone. And this season won’t last forever…right???