Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Books I Read in January

Most of my January reading I did in the first half of the month, when I finished up Christmas break at my in-laws and traveled back home, and then when Ben worked a week of serious overtime and I read in the evenings while I waited for him to finish up in the office.

This is the box of books we took with us to my in-laws.  Think I should try the Kindle again?!

The last half of January I’ve been slowly working through For the Love by Jen Hatmaker and Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman—one book by the rocking chair and the other by the couch, and which I read depends on where I’m parked!  Though I really like both books so far (and they’re incredibly different in style and personality, but both spot on), I’m going to have to wait to review them until February because my progress has been incredibly slow and I’m not done with either yet.

I haven’t been reading as much these last couple weeks because ironically, injuring my foot has meant less time to read and more time hobbling slowly around the house and then sitting down to try to give the kids instruction and entertainment.  And after bedtime when I would usually read, Ben and I have been watching Season 1 of Arrow together (which so far, I would recommend).

So … a little less reading done this month.  But that’s okay because I don’t do reading goals and challenges.  That is too stressful for an over-achiever like me who is all too ready to latch onto lists and check boxes.  I read whimsically and eclectically, for personal enrichment and relaxation and fun.  This month I finished two fiction and two nonfiction books, all very different:

This is the fourth novel I’ve read by JoJo Moyes, and they are basically the chick flicks of my reading—fun and light, great for a vacation or when life is stressful and you just need to kick back and do less deep thinking.

With this book I thought, “Okay, I am onto you and your formula …”  It works and JoJo Moyes has mastered it, and so far each of the books I’ve read by her is a variation on its basic themes.  A wealthy businessman finds himself in a moral dilemma, so you immediately have a sympathetic male protagonist in a gray area.  Meanwhile, he finds himself falling in love with the female protagonist, who is struggling both emotionally and financially because of difficult situations in her past, but who brings to the story a resilience and a fresh perspective that the male protagonist finds unusual and attractive.

Okay, those of you who have read JoJo Moyes, would you agree this is her basic storyline, albeit with many variations and nuances?  Me Before You?  The Girl You Left Behind?  One Plus One?  And now Silver Bay?

What I like about her stories is that even though they are romance novels, they are not sappy or erotic.  They are character driven, and there is always more to the story than the romance itself.  The male and female protagonists always end up in a place where they have grown and made significant decisions.

I almost gave up on Kristin Hannah’s books because I wasn’t impressed with Firefly Lane, but I’m really glad I read this one.  It’s a historical novel shedding light on the French resistance and home front during WWII.  I still feel that Kristin Hannah isn’t the best author I’ve ever read—sometimes her form is pretty obvious, almost like: “The purpose of this paragraph is to describe the idyllic pre-war setting, so here goes.”  (Okay, look at me, such a critic, I can sit on the sidelines and throw tomatoes and know that if I ever wrote a novel myself, it would probably be pathetic.)

I loved how this book focused on women’s experience of the war and the unique challenges and dilemmas they faced.  And speaking of formulas, I’m seeing one in Kristin Hannah’s books, too—her two main characters are both women, either sisters or close friends, who are committed to each other, yet experience conflict because of their different personalities and circumstances.  The story shifts from one viewpoint to the other, contrasting their different experiences and responses, and ultimately the tension in the relationship resolves, often with a bittersweet ending.

This was my favorite novel by Kristin Hannah—very nuanced and enlightening.  I would recommend.

Now for the nonfiction books I read:

My sister saw this on my coffee table and asked, “Planning ahead for David?”  It is true that dating/courtship has absolutely no place in my life right now—praise the Lord that I am past that season and my kids aren’t there yet!  I did want to read this book, though, because of how courtship philosophy impacted my growing up and because I’m not exactly sure how I want to advise my kids in this area.

What I liked about this book—Umstattd did not need to persuade me that courtship (at least understood in its strict definitions) is a failed experiment, because I’ve already seen that as true.  I thought he made a powerful argument for traditional dating.  I appreciated his Christian perspective and his value of marriage.  So there were a lot of great things about the book, and it’s one I would want my kids to read in their teens.  (And it means I wouldn’t flip out if they wanted to go on a date as a teen.  At least I don’t think I would.  I may need to read this again in ten years when I’m hyperventilating about them growing up.)

What I didn’t like—I sometimes found his tone kind of snarky.  He’s a typical recovering home school debater, you might say (not to offend anyone, just saying!).  I also found myself a little skeptical of all his how-to-get-married relationship advice since he’s not married himself.  And though I agreed with a lot of his thesis that traditional dating (as he defines it) makes a lot of sense, I wonder how practical it is.  You can’t change the entire culture around you, and for a single woman to say for instance, “Okay, I’m now totally fine with going on casual dates with good men” does not necessarily mean that a lot of good men are going to start asking her.

For traditional dating to work means that you need to have a community of quality men and women who all embrace it together.  I would like my kids to grow up in a community like that.

I think Umstattd’s best point was this, in a nutshell: don’t let a relationship get too serious too quickly.  Become friends with a lot of people of the opposite gender so that you figure out in a casual setting which type works best for you.

I loved this book and would recommend it to all Christians, and especially to all Christian counselors.  It is written by a pastor and a counselor, and together they tackle the topic of spiritual abuse with a lot of clarity, courage, and grace.  Their definitions and examples are helpful and enlightening as they answer questions like: What is spiritual abuse?  How does it affect people?  Why do people become spiritually abusive?  How do both the abuser and the abused heal?

I felt like this book was so helpful—I felt so understood reading it, like the authors totally got me and completely sympathized with how the Bible can be used to wound and enslave instead of to heal and free as it is intended.  This is definitely a book I am keeping on my shelf as a reference and will return to.

I guess I’ll add one more book while I’m at it:

This is a children’s book I read aloud primarily to David, but Elanor listened in to almost all of it, and we all loved it.  The author gives a strong Christian message of the need for salvation and forgiveness, without being preachy and moralistic.  The setting is beautiful—a Swiss village in the Alps, the characters are realistic, and there is plenty of humor and action.  This is also an excellent story for teaching empathy, as it tracks sympathetically with two major characters both angry at each other.  David and Elanor both stayed engaged, and the story prompted some great discussion.  Our next up read-aloud is Pippi Longstocking, which to say is different would be an understatement!

So that is my very weird combination of books read in January.  How about you?  Pass along any recommendations!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Whole 30 Week 4: finishing up, losing three more pounds, and getting back to chocolate!

I could not have anticipated when I began the Whole 30 that when I reached Week 4, I would somehow injure my foot (still not sure what I did) so that I could hardly walk, and it would be a challenge even to step on the scale to see if I was still losing weight.  (But I did.  Because I’m really motivated to do important things like that.)

Needless to say, I have not been exercising this week.  I was doing some exercise before this week, but not a whole lot, and now I am almost completely sedentary.

But, I lost three more pounds this week despite all the sitting around, bringing the total weight loss for this month’s Whole 30 to thirteen pounds—woohoo!  I am so excited about this, it is almost ironic that I am basically crippled right now.  Aside from that little problem in my foot that is affecting my whole life, I am the healthiest I have been in a long time—I feel great; my anxiety is down; I have energy and clarity of mind.  I am so happy with the success of this month, and hope to do the Whole 30 again to shed those last few postpartum pounds maybe in the summer when so many fresh fruits and vegetables are available.

Here was my meal plan for this week.  My foot became such a crisis that if it would have been easier, I would have abandoned the diet partway through.  But since this was the meal plan I already had, and those were the ingredients we had in our fridge, it was just easier all around to finish strong.  These were easy dishes, and on many of them I had help from my husband or my mom.  So here goes:

  • Breakfasts
    • fried eggs
    • sautéed sausage, mushrooms, and other vegetables
    • raw fruit
  • Lunch ideas
    • salad with grilled chicken, hard boiled egg, avocado, and tomato (olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper as dressing)
    • salmon burgers (from Costco)—we had more of these than usual because they require no prep
    • leftovers from yesterday night’s dinner
  • Snacks
    • carrots/apples and almond butter
    • hard boiled eggs
    • tuna salad with this homemade mayonnaise
      • I never thought I would make homemade mayonnaise because it sounded so complicated.  But really it is so easy (and so much healthier) that I wonder if I will ever buy mayonnaise from the store again.  It does use raw egg—we get eggs from a local farm we trust, and wash the shell well with soap before cracking.
  • Dinners

Today I hit Week 4, so I’m officially done with the Whole 30 (for me it was exactly four weeks, so more like the Whole 28, but hey, thirteen pounds and less anxiety later, I’m not complaining!).  My hope is actually to go off the diet gradually, still tilting our food in the paleo direction, trying to avoid a lot of wheat, sugar, or processed foods.

We celebrated our completion today by making these Fluffy Chocolate Cupcakes for my husband’s birthday tomorrow.  Biting into one was a like a taste of heaven.  I have missed chocolate so much, people!  Who knew something with the primary ingredients of coconut flour and maple syrup could be so good!

I hope this Whole 30 series has helped any of you take healthy steps—it’s definitely helped me to keep accountable and to post my meal plans for future reference!  But for now, I’ll stop talking about it, and as I have time, blog about some other topics.  Because I have talked enough about food for awhile.  Until then …

Monday, January 25, 2016

Whole 30 Week 3: surviving three feet of snow, making homemade mayonnaise, and losing two more pounds

This weekend, after a so far almost snowless winter, we got three feet of snow.  Our kids were excited.  Ben bravely shoveled us out.  This is the second day after the blizzard, but there are still a lot of roads unplowed, and almost everything is closed.  With three feet of snow, it’s like—where do we put this stuff?  I think it might be awhile before things return to normal around here!

Before the blizzard struck, I hit the grocery store because it seemed like the thing to do, but truth be told, I only shop once a week anyway, and our pantry and freezer are well stocked, so I wasn’t worried about running out of food.  I went to the grocery store specifically because I needed olive oil—and I waited in a long line of other people buying necessities like bread and milk.

How do you stock up for a blizzard when you’re on the Whole 30?  All the meat and eggs we eat requires the power being on to cook them.  Fortunately, our power stayed on and we went right on cooking, but my menu plan B involved a lot of canned tuna, raw fruits and vegetables, and Whole 30 muffins.

I also realized that when I’m snowbound, I get an itch to bake and eat a lot.  If I hadn’t been on the Whole 30, I would have made a batch of cookies and a chocolate cheesecake; I would have indulged right alongside my children on multiple cups of hot chocolate, as well as snow ice cream and snow candy; and I probably would have gained a few pounds.

The view from my lap on our snow day--it seemed like a good day to read Katy and the Big Snow.
As it is, I’m down two more pounds this week, which makes ten pounds in all since the beginning of the month.  Here was this last week’s menu plan:

  • Breakfasts
  • Lunches
    • salad with grilled chicken, hard boiled egg, tomato, and avocado
    • leftovers from previous night’s dinner
    • tuna salad over spinach
      • Using this homemade mayonnaise!
      • This recipe is a success.  Since I made all of it into tuna salad (using two cans of tuna), I used a small egg, cut the olive oil down a bit, and added mustard and dill.  I think I might stop buying mayonnaise in the future since this recipe is so quick and easy.
  • Snacks
    • carrots/apples and almond butter
    • hard boiled eggs
    • more Whole 30 muffins (trying not to eat too many of these—they have definitely helped rescue my craving for baked goods, and our kids love them)
  • Dinners
    • Dinner: spaghetti squash with spaghetti sauce and ground beef
    • Dinner: whole chicken in crockpot with potatoes, carrots, onions (then I turned the leftover meat and vegetables and chicken broth into a delicious soup for lunch the next day).
    • Dinner: flounder with Romesco sauce over spaghetti squash—absolutely love this sauce.  It would have been better over zucchini, though.
    • Dinner: tuna cakes—these were okay, not my favorite, but a nice change of pace.
    • Dinner: sweet potato casserole and mini frittata muffins
      • The egg muffins were delicious!  I have never baked with prosciutto before, but I loved it.  The sweet potato casserole is easy—I blend up baked sweet potato, coconut milk, eggs, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and then bake it.
    • Dinner: beef cabbage soup in the crockpot--this was our blizzard day meal!
    • Dinner: roast beef with broccoli and homemade French fries

I’m at the point in the Whole 30 when these habits are beginning to feel established.  It feels normal to eat this way, I’m not hungry, and except for unusual moments like when three feet of snow is falling outside and I have an itch to bake, I don’t struggle with many cravings.

I’m going into the final week now!  Come February, I’m looking forward to getting back to chocolate just in time for Valentine’s Day, but I am hoping to continue to bend my diet in the paleo direction.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cozy: A Plan for Enjoying Winter

I love when the peonies in our backyard bloom and the trees burst into green leaves.

I love playdates and picnics at the park.

I love inflating our little pool in our backyard and watching the kids splash each other and eat popsicles.

I love late evenings when the sun sets after the kids go to bed, and I can sit on the deck and watch the moon appear.

I love watching the leaves turn colors in the fall and visiting the apple orchards and pumpkin farms.

I love the blur of Christmastime.

But then there is January and February, the dead of winter, when the branches are bare and the ground frozen and it stays cold and sometimes gray and gets dark around five p.m.  Winter is my least favorite season.

A few months ago I read an interesting article about northern Norway, where the residents are noteworthy for how little seasonal depression they experience and how they make the most of their winter months.  A phrase in that article struck me, describing how we in America by contrast, sometimes “bond by complaining about the winter.”

Yes, that would be me.  I complain about the dark, complain about the cold, complain about the gray, complain in a winter like this one when there is little snow, but also complained last year when snow cancelled my plans.  Complaint about the weather can be my status quo and my way of making small talk and connecting with people: “It is so cold today!  How are you?”

This winter I’m wanting to change that, and if you’re laughing at me right now because you know me and you’ve heard me complain about the weather in the last week—okay, I’m definitely a work in progress here.  But this winter I’m brainstorming for ideas of what I can love about the winter, centering around the key word:


Because I love being cozy, and winter is definitely the coziest season of all.  So here’s a beginning of what I love about winter:

The Quiet Rhythm

Other seasons are busy with vacations, yardwork, outdoor projects.  The kids swim and play outside and need showers almost every day.  The mess and activity and hours of sunshine is fun, but a bit tiring.

January and February settle into a quiet rhythm of school routines and indoor projects.  I love being home, staying inside, keeping clean, getting things done together.  The long nights encourage more sleep (though we don’t always do that!).

Winter is a time to hunker down and enjoy what we have.  It’s a working rest, the exhalation of the year.

Cooking and Baking

Our kitchen is on a cold edge of our house where I feel the chill in the mornings—until the stove, oven, and crockpot are all going, and then it’s nice and toasty.  In the summer I’m often casting about for menu options, but in the winter time I love cooking hot soups, baking pizzas or muffins, and preparing dinners in the crockpot.

Hot Chocolate

Making homemade hot chocolate is one of the ways our kids especially celebrate wintertime.  (Well, to clarify, I make it, they drink it.)  I use an immersion blender to quickly blend milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, and maple syrup over the stove.  Sometimes I add other ingredients like a drop of peppermint oil, a drop of orange oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, or salt.  It’s delicious and ready in a minute.

Hot Tea

I’ve already blogged about how much I love my new teapot.  Drinking hot tea throughout the day is so healthy and relaxing.

Books, Movies, and Blankets

I’m an introvert, and some of my favorite moments of life are when I’m curled up under a blanket enjoying a good book—or reading one aloud to our kids.  I also love cozying up under a blanket with my family to watch a good show or movie.  A blanket (or two or three) on every couch is a must.

Right now I’m enjoying For the Love by Jen Hatmaker.  I’m reading aloud Treasures of the Snow by Patricia M. St. John to my kids.  And in the evenings Ben and I are discovering the show Arrow.


My sister Anna gave me a beautiful fir-scented candle for my birthday, and when I burned it out in a week or two, I decided that purchasing a few more was a good investment.  Everything looks beautiful in candlelight.  And the scent is … well, in a word, cozy.

I realize the main reason I can enjoy winter is that I am privileged.  I have a warm house, warm food, and warm clothes. If I’m uncomfortable, I change the thermostat and set a kettle of water on to boil.  I don’t worry my kids will catch hypothermia in the night or wonder if hot water will flow from the faucet in the morning.  I know not everyone enjoys my privilege, and I want to help those who don’t.

And I also realize that no matter what the season, the true reason I experience joy is because of spiritual blessings like the ones listed in Ephesians 1: God took great pleasure in adopting me, redeeming me from sin, and letting me in on His plans.  These spiritual blessings far outweigh anything material I am enjoying in the moment. 

Every season, like I tell my kids, has things we love, and other things … not so much.  I’m grateful for the differences we can enjoy, and also for the truth that stays the same all year.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Whole 30 Week 2: surviving a stomach bug, finding help for my anxiety, and learning more about myself

This little guy giving me so much joy this week!

I just finished Week 2 of the Whole 30 diet.  (Recap from last week: the Whole 30 diet allows meat, eggs, nuts, vegetables, and fruits, and that’s it.  But it’s actually surprising how many delicious, healthy meals you can make with just those food groups.  The Whole 30 diet is a great way to lose weight if you need to, but beyond that, it can help to reset your eating habits and to mitigate any health issues you’re facing.)

This week I lost four more pounds, with the help of a stomach bug that took away my appetite and all my energy for a couple days.  All I wanted was toast and crackers, but I made do with unsweetened applesauce, and when I was feeling a little better, fried eggs.

I also realized this week that I’ve been feeling much calmer.  Last year I struggled with postpartum anxiety and some insomnia.  Over the last two weeks, I’ve been sleeping well, and have felt more of a sense of well-being and calm.

There was one particular moment this week when I was washing dishes and suddenly all three kids needed urgent help immediately.  Normally in these melt-down situations I tense up, my heart starts pounding, I feel overheated, and it’s hard for my brain to focus on what I need to do first.  This time, I felt so calm and focused I surprised myself.  Something is definitely different in me physically.

I’m not sure what’s helping more—the Whole 30 diet, or that I recently started taking St. John’s Wort, Ginkgo Biloba, and Tryptophan.  I also cut back my caffeine intake to one cup of coffee in the morning.  I realized I was stuck in a cycle when I felt tired, so I would get caffeinated, so I would feel hungry and eat a lot to counter the effects of the caffeine, and round I would go again.  So much as I love coffee, having that one cup only in the morning is helping with both my anxiety and my weight loss.

I also learned something not so great about myself this week—though I reject most forms of the “buy now, pay later” mindset—“have your fun now, don’t worry about the consequences”—I was basically caving to that in my eating.  I crave sugar and chocolate and coffee, and in the moment (usually a moment of stress), I would indulge, not connecting my habits with how I was feeling.  I’ve felt so much better changing my habits these last two weeks, in addition to losing eight pounds.  It is totally worth the foods I’m not eating.

After all, here are all the delicious things I am eating.  Menu plan for this past week:

  • Breakfast
    • fried eggs
    • sautéed sausage and vegetables
    • fresh fruit
  • Lunch
    • leftovers from yesterday’s dinner
    • sweet potato casserole (with eggs and coconut milk)
    • salad with grilled chicken
      • I buy frozen grilled chicken pieces at Costco, so all the prep I need to do is put a few pieces in the oven.  I put a bed of spinach on a plate, chicken over that, then sliced hard boiled egg, avocado, tomato, and any other veggies.  I sprinkle on salt and pepper, then drizzle lemon juice and olive oil.  So delicious and fresh, and a meal in itself.

  •   Snacks

  • Dinners
    • Shrimp over “zoodles”—delicious!  Love this Romesco Sauce.
    • Chicken curry with coconut milk and vegetables (Ben makes this for me and makes lots of extra for leftovers).
    • Roast beef, roast broccoli, homemade French Fried potatoes.
    • Spaghetti squash with spaghetti sauce and ground beef.
    • Those are actually the only dinners we made this week because we were sick for a few days and just snacking and eating leftovers as we felt like it.

I had dinner with friends twice this week—once I brought my own food, and once I ate beforehand.  Ben and I went on a date, too, and rather than navigate the restaurant scene, we ate at home and did an activity date of touring the shops in the Old Town near us and then going out for tea at a coffee shop.  It was so fun (and cheap!) that I want to do more activity and fewer restaurant dates this year, even when I’m not on this diet.

Our date.  We brought along our own Whole 30 muffins.
What is keeping me on target this week?
  • Telling people what I’m doing so I can be accountable (and because messing up would mean losing face—you can’t really tell someone you’re doing the Whole 30 and then bite into a doughnut).
  • Having lots of great Whole 30 approved foods around the house so I can eat whenever I’m hungry.
  • Packing Whole 30 snacks with me when I leave the house (grapes, hard boiled eggs, Whole 30 muffins).
  • Keeping any tempting foods far away from me!

Here’s looking forward to Week 3!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Whole 30 Week 1

As of January 1st, I had not dropped a pound since coming home from the hospital with Brennan over six months ago.  I eat healthy, I exercise moderately, I breastfeed, and especially with this third child, weight sticks to me like it never leave. 

That and I crave sugar, especially when I’m stressed.  I realized over the holidays that my sugar craving was getting a little out of hand.  When we got back from visiting Ben’s family in South Carolina, after three hours night’s sleep and many more hours of driving, when Brennan refused to nurse in the van during any of our stops and the older children were fitful, and we walked in the door to discover something leaking in our basement, so Ben went downstairs to handle that while I attempted to manage the three children and the unpacking (I know this is a run-on sentence), I accomplished amazing things in a very short time period.  And I inadvertently ate an entire bag of chocolates while doing so.  And I didn’t realize I’d eaten them all until afterwards.

I struggle with postpartum anxiety, and with too much sugar, too much coffee, too much scarfing something down and hurrying on to the next activity, too much weight, I know I needed a change.  I did the Whole 30 diet successfully three years ago, that time to lose my baby weight from Elanor, so I was ready to try again.  January 4th we began.

The Whole 30 diet is simple to understand: all you are allowed to eat is meats, eggs, nuts, vegetables, and fruits.  Everything else (dairy, grains, processed foods, etc.) is out.  If something is allowed, you can eat as much as you like, so this is not a starvation diet, and it’s completely healthy for both pregnancy and breastfeeding, and for children.  It’s not even a specifically weight loss diet, though it helps me lose weight—it’s a “get healthy” diet, and is great for helping you get to the root of health issues or simply helping you establish better eating habits.

So, to drop the baby weight, to help my anxiety, and to get all around healthier, January was Whole-30-here-we-come.  The first week was a success.  I say that now looking back.  There was that moment Friday night when I tried to use the beef organs in the freezer in a Whole 30 approved soup.  It turned out absolutely hideous—gag-worthy horrible.  It was a gray, cold night.  Ben needed to work late.  Dinner was terrible.  I was grouchy.  And I was craving hot bubbly pizza, macaroni with a thick creamy cheese sauce, hot chocolate—no, make that peppermint hot chocolate … I could go on.

So I had my moments.  But I made it through Week 1 with no slips.  The key for me is to make sure I have a lot of approved foods on hand for when I get hungry, and to try my best to have no banned foods available to tempt me.  I asked Ben to hide the chocolates.  He has more self-control than I do when it comes to chocolate.

Here was my Week 1 menu plan:
  • Breakfasts
    • fried eggs
    • fried sausage, mushrooms, and vegetables
    • fresh fruit
  • Lunches
    • leftovers from yesterday night’s dinner
    • sweet potato casserole (with eggs and coconut milk)
    • salad with grilled chicken (I get the frozen ready-prepared bag at Costco), sliced hard boiled eggs, and other veggies, with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  So delicious.
  • Snacks
  • Dinners
    • whole chicken with vegetables in crockpot
    • Ben makes chicken curry with coconut milk and vegetables
      • This is so delicious—he learned how to make it at an Indian cooking class.  It’s one of those delicious dishes that is comforting and filling and isn’t missing a thing.
    • sausage, potatoes, and other vegetables roasted together in oven
    • salmon burgers (from Costco)
    • beef cabbage soup
    • sliced beef with broccoli and potatoes
    • the beef organ soup … I will spare you the recipe … don’t try it.

I’m technically not supposed to step on the scale until the end of the Whole 30, but yesterday I decided to find out if I was making progress, and—four pounds off!  In one week!  There are plenty of Whole 30 recipes online, and I’m excited about my menu plan for the upcoming week.  Here’s my beautiful daughter and our shopping cart from Costco (ignore the mac’n’cheese in the background):

 Other things I’m prioritizing:
  • Cut back to one cup of coffee a day.  The Whole 30 diet allows coffee, but without cream and sugar.  I use my immersion blender to add coconut milk, which is actually pretty good—at least much better than black.  But I know caffeine is affecting my anxiety, so I’m down to one cup in the morning.
  • Drink more tea!  Ben’s brother gave us this beautiful teapot for Christmas and we are using it every day.

  • Eat slowly and mindfully.  No more inhaling food when I’m stressed and I don’t even know what it tastes like.
  • Put a slice of lemon in my water.

This month instead of posting “Five Things I’m Loving This Week,” I’ll hopefully be posting weekly Whole 30 updates to keep myself accountable, and to give anyone who is interested ideas for healthy eating.  Have a great week!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Why I’m Not Setting Goals This Year

This New Year’s Day I have no resolutions and I’m setting no goals.

I certainly admire those of you who are.  For some of you, goal-setting on New Year’s Day is an acknowledgement that you’re not finished yet, that you’re not done with life, that you’re committed to personal growth.

For some of you, goal-setting is your way of fighting against laziness and committing to do something.

Goal-setting is awesome if it gives you the kick in the rear you need to get up and do something with your life and make this new year work for you.

But for someone like me, with my natural anxiety about performance, and my drive to earn value through accomplishment, goal-setting can be a subtle trap.

Goal-setting can be my attempt to control the story God is writing in my life.

Goal-setting can be my way of saying, “I’m not enough—I must do more.”

Goal-setting can be my submission to the pressure of, “Everybody else is doing it and I’m a productive person, too!”

So this New Year, I set no goals.  I know God is calling me to faithfulness to walk the road set before me. 

As I follow, I expect to be once again surprised at the goals God has for me, His plans for this year that I can never anticipate.

Setting my own goals can distract me from the different direction God has in mind.  And there’s a high possibility that my goals will be forgotten by February anyway, and only remembered as an opportunity for self-condemnation.

So instead of setting goals for this New Year, I’m looking back for a moment at the surprising goals God had for me this past year, many of which I would never have envisioned on January 1st a year ago today.  That day I was not goal-setting but doing a sixteen-hour road trip to Florida.  I think my only goal for my pregnant self then was to get there without stopping to pee too often and before the kids in the back went crazy!

In the twelve months since then, here are how God’s goals for me unfolded:

  • Spiritually this year, God gave me a renewed passion for Bible study.  Thanks to Jen Wilkin’s book Women of the Word that I studied with my small group this summer, I got a vision of what it means to really study the context, meaning, and purpose of a Bible passage.  Instead of this process being dry and academic, I woke up to the idea that this is how I experience freedom in my life.  In the past I’ve experienced bondage directly related to the misunderstanding and misapplication of Bible passages.  When Bible verses become chains that bind, it’s tempting to ignore the Bible altogether, instead of realizing this: rightly understanding truth is what unlocks those chains and sets me free.  I’m genuinely excited about Bible study right now because I’m seeing how it’s connected to the truth and healing I need in my life.  I’m not sure what God has next for me spiritually this year, but I’m excited for whatever it is.

  • In my marriage this year, I recognized that my desire to control is rooted in fear, that I’m not responsible for my husband but for myself, and that before voicing worry to him (usually in the form of argument) I need to turn it into prayer.  Ben and I are committed to our marriage for the long haul, so it just makes practical sense that I should be trying every day to do things that build into my marriage instead of things that tear it down.  What kind of marriage am I going to have in ten, twenty, thirty years if my tools of choice for today are argument, control, and silent treatment?  Really?  So I’ve started to examine my daily practice in marriage a little more—where am I going with this decision I’m making today?  Is this the kind of habit I want to build?

  • In my parenting this year, I kept learning that it’s not about being picture-perfect but about having the genuine reality of love and kindness underneath all the mess.  I kept learning that it’s not about going through the motions of mothering, but making sure I’m daily establishing a real heart connection with each of my kids.  Motherhood this year has meant literally a lot of sweat, blood, and tears—add to that list vomit and stretch-marks and other things I won’t mention—but through it all I can see beauty unfolding.

  • Physically this year, I made some headway with exercise and then lost all the headway I made.  I’m about the same weight as I was at the beginning of the year, but now I don’t have the second trimester of pregnancy as an excuse, so I’m about to do a Whole 30.  I am grateful that I’ve made definite progress coping with my hormone-induced anxiety and have some new ideas to try this year in my commitment to care for myself well.

  • Intellectually, I am so glad about the reading I’ve done this year.  I’m grateful that reading is my primary way to relax, instead of scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed or watching television, which really isn’t that relaxing anyway.

  • In my community this year, I’m thankful for the development of friendships, for Bible studies that I’ve been a part of, for times when I’ve met people over coffee, and for the discipleship I’m doing right now.  I definitely want more of that this upcoming year.

  • In foster care this year, I have no regrets that we took the opportunity to make a forever difference in the life of a little boy, even though it was only for a couple months and even though it looked a little crazy to be caring for a preemie when I was pregnant myself.  I’m glad that we stepped back from foster care to have our own birth baby Brennan.  I’m not sure about the future of foster care in our lives, but I know it’s in God’s hands.

So what about you this year?  If you’re setting goals, that’s awesome.  But I would encourage you, more than looking ahead and saying, “Here is what I must do,” to look back and say, “Here is what God has done.”  Tsh Oxenreider’s "20 Questions for a New Year's Eve Reflection" may help.  Happy New Year!