Three Words for a New Year

Do you make new year's resolutions? Or set ambitious goals at the beginning of the year?

I'm one who finds myself drawn to milestone days–the first of the year, the first of a month, a birthday, an anniversary. I use those milestone days as reminders to look back, and look forward, to take stock, re-evaluate the path I'm on, and make adjustments. In past years I've used the last week or so of the year to make lists of resolutions, some of which I've kept and others of which have faded before the calendar turned to February. The past couple of years I've found meaning in the “One Word” trend, with my words being grace one year, gratitude another.

This year I've modified that approach a bit. Inspired by some articles written by writer/thinker/business coach Chris Brogan, I've instead settled on three words that will serve as guides and touchstones for 2015. I encourage you to click on Chris's name (or here) for his post explaining the concept behind this approach. The gist of it is that the three words create focus for the goals I set, the choices I make, and the projects I undertake for this year.

Fog on the Alps

I spent much of December 2014 thinking and praying about this new year, and seeking guidance for what my three words should be.

The three words that I chose are: Connect. Build. Simplify.

Each of these words has many meanings and applications for me. Some are deeply personal and won't be shared with anybody. But as examples of how they are shaping my thinking, here are some of the ways I see these words being applied in my life in 2015:

Connect

  1. Connect with Mike – communicate better, travel together, be more intentional about making time for each other
  2. Connect with God – more time reading the Bible, praying, listening
  3. Connect with clients – better and more focused service, more thoughtfully targeted business development activities
  4. Connect with the TPW (The Productive Woman) community (listeners, prospective guests, other podcasters)
  5. Connect with friends – travel to visit? more intentional and consistent communications
  6. Connect with myself – my passions (what do I really want?), my fears (what am I really afraid of and trying to avoid facing?)
  7. Connect with the present – be in the moment more, celebrating and enjoying my life and experiences as I'm in the middle of them, instead of always looking for something different or looking to the future)
  8. Connect with family

Build

  1. Build my faith
  2. Build my character – do the right things more consistently, exercise self-control
  3. Build my relationships
  4. Build my health
  5. Build a sustainable life (by being more realistic and disciplined in spending time and money)
  6. Build a business
  7. Build a writing career

Simplify

  1. Possessions
  2. Needs
  3. Workflows
  4. Start weeding out stuff
  5. Focus on the people and things that really matter
  6. Identify what matters, and pursue that, letting everything else drop away
  7. By connecting with my true passions and fears (see above), I can quit filling up my life and mind and time with things that (inadequately) compensate for not pursuing my passions and that (ineffectively) distract from the things I'm afraid of

The lists above are not my goals. They are my thoughts on how each of the words can be applied in my life. These are the source–as I said above, the touchstones–to which I will return regularly as I formulate and evaluate my goals for this year.

I've written these words on sticky notes and put them in various places to remind me of my focus. I've written them at the top of the big year-at-a-glance calendar posted on the wall near my computer. I will be thinking about them often, journaling about them as I draw out exactly what each means for me, this year.

What about you?

Do you make new year's resolutions? Choose a word? Some other approach to starting the new year off right? If you want to, share in the comments so we can encourage each other. Or send me an email.

I look forward to hearing from you, and to sharing the adventure of life with you in 2015.

Happy new year!

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Dallas, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
Podcast: The Productive Woman
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
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The Productive Woman 014 – Conquering Clutter [podcast]

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How do you feel about the stuff you own? Is every possession in your life something meaningful to you, or is your space overwhelmed with too much stuff? If you're like most people, it's likely the latter. In this episode we begin looking at the clutter of possessions in our lives, what it does to us, and what we can do about it.

Tip of the Week:

Make sure to protect the precious photos you've taken with your smart phone by backing them up and/or downloading them to a safer location.

Topic of the Week: Why do we have so much stuff?!

 

Costs of Having So Much Stuff
  • Financial
  • Time
  • Energy
  • Health & safety
  • Focus and serenity

When your house is full of things from your past, things that only remind you of who you were, you very literally have no room for who you are now and who you are becoming.”

Why Do We Have All This Stuff?
  • Want to be prepared. (End up over-prepared?)
  • Need for abundance/fear of scarcity
  • Sentimental attachment
  • Guilt
  • The “for now” disease
  • Need for distraction
What Can We Gain By Decluttering?
  • Save money
  • Save time
  • Recover energy
  • Better focus and more serene life
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Satisfaction of helping others

Find more motivation at Simple Life Together with Dan & Vanessa Hayes (podcast, website, and many other resources)

Some Tips to Get You Started
  1. Create a vision for the space you want, and work toward that.
  2. Start small.
  3. Sort into three boxes/bags: things to keep, things to trash, things to donate.
  4. Set parameters before you start.
  5. Make a pact: for every new thing you bring into your space, discard or donate one (or two!).
  6. Make items earn their space in your life.
  7. Digitize photos and other mementos.

Tool of the Week:

Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living – a great book by Tsh Oxenreider.

I reviewed it on my blog. You can get more info and insight on Tsh's website.

Some great resources to look at:

 

Your turn: What's your biggest clutter challenge, or your best tip for conquering clutter? What will you do this week to start conquering the clutter in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Subscribe to The Productive Woman in iTunes or subscribe in Stitcher, and join the conversation at The Productive Woman on Facebook. And don't forget to check out the other podcasts that make you think, laugh, and succeed at Noodle.mx!

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me

What Does It Mean to Forgive?

Forgiveness: the action or process of forgiving or being forgiven.

When someone you care about hurts you, or you hurt them, the wounded person has a choice:

  1. forgive,
  2. stay and punish the offender, or
  3. walk away.

If the relationship is worth keeping, then forgiveness is the only choice.

But what does it mean to forgive?

forgiveness_2The dictionary tells us that to forgive means to “stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake” or to “cancel a debt.”

Wikipedia says that “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”

Both of these definitions refer to a change in feelings–the giving up of anger and resentment. Not easy at all. Human emotions are powerful things.

It's a process.

It's a choice. Intentional and voluntary.

And once the heat of initial hurt and anger are past, the choice to forgive–which is the choice to preserve the relationship–is relatively easy. (That is, the choice to begin the process of forgiving is easy. Certainly it takes time, intention, and effort.)

The harder question, though, is whether the memory of the “forgiven” offense will change the nature of the relationship going forward.

How often have you heard someone say, “I've forgiven, but I haven't forgotten”? How often have you said it yourself? I know I have. Usually what we mean is we “forgive” the person who's hurt us, but we won't let ourselves forget, because we must protect ourselves against future hurt. We're not going to demand justice and we're going to stay in the relationship, but we'll make darned sure that person doesn't hurt us again. By definition, we are putting up walls intended to protect ourself against this person we care about enough to keep him or her in our life.

But what does that act of self-preservation do to the relationship? Is the relationship forever changed? Are we keeping that person at a distance in order to protect ourselves against pain?

When we say “I forgive, but I don’t forget,” are we really forgiving?

Does truly forgiving an offense really mean we don’t take it into account at all in our interactions with the “forgiven” person?

That’s how God forgives—when his holy nature is offended by my sin, he chooses to forgive and to forget.

Heb. 8:12: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

 

Psalm 103:11-12: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

When God forgives, the offense no longer has any effect on the relationship between the forgiver (God) and the forgiven (us).

In Isaiah 43:25, God tells his people this: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sin no more.” He says he does this for his own sake (maybe because he values the relationship and wants to sustain it?)–he chooses to not just forgive, but to blot out the offenses and remember them no more.

Is there a difference between forgetting and “remembering no more”? Is it that forgetting is something that happens to you, an almost involuntary event that occurs as time passes, but to “remember no more” is a voluntary act, just like the act of forgiving? God chooses to remember no more. He chooses to put the memory of the offense away and never look at it again. That's so different from the way we act–we allow the memory to return, and we rehearse it, turn it over in our minds, actually relive it.

If our standard of behavior is God (rather than each other), it's reasonable to assume that his approach is how we should respond when someone wrongs us: forgive and forget. But are we humans even capable of this? Certainly we can make the choice to forgive, to do the hard, hard work of purposely surrendering our anger and resentment, to welcome the offender into our lives and to actually stop thinking of him/her as an offender. These things are an act of the will, and we can control our will. We can choose. It's a process, certainly. Because we are human, the wounds continue to hurt, and we must choose, over and over again, to forgive, to let the feelings of hurt go.

But even if we've done that, can we follow God's example and forgive to the extent that we no longer take the (forgiven) offense into account in our interactions with that person, that it no longer colors our perceptions of who this person is and where this person fits in our life and in our heart?

I don't know.

But what’s the alternative? If we can’t truly forgive, can the relationship survive? Or does it become something else, something less than it was before the offense occurred?

And if so, are we okay with that?

What do you think? How do you deal with the process of forgiving (and forgetting?) the offenses of the people you love? What happens to a relationship if we choose to forgive but not forget?

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom

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Losing a Loved One

Although the calendar now reads the second week of September, in north Texas the daytime temps are still in the 90s. Summer is rolling over into fall and school has resumed, but in this part of the country the air conditioning is still running and it’s not yet time to put away the shorts and sleeveless dresses. That makes it hard to remember that one season has ended and a new season is beginning.

A new season has just begun in my family’s life as well. Late last week, my husband’s mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. My husband, his brother and sister, and their father are still processing her abrupt departure, and our grown children are grieving the loss of their beloved grandmother and trying to explain to their own young children why their great grandmother is no longer with us.

IMG_0237I have nothing profound to say about any of this, but thought I’d share a few random things I’ve pondered as we’re working out way through this experience.

  1. We really never know how long the people we love will be with us. In the busyness of life, it’s easy to let that truth fade from our thinking. Mike's first comment to me after telling me of his mother's death was that it was surreal. The woman who gave him life, a constant in his life literally from his birth, was there and then . . . she wasn't.
  2. Perhaps the hardest thing about the way Mike’s mother died is the fact that no one got to say goodbye. She collapsed almost without warning after supper and was gone long before morning, without ever recovering consciousness. There was no farewell moment at her bedside, no chance to say “I love you” or “thank you” one last time–not for her grown children, and not for her husband. More than fifty years of their life together ended all too abruptly. I can’t even imagine the loss and pain he must be feeling. Every one of us left behind has to deal with the regret of unspoken words.
  3. There is some small comfort in knowing that, as difficult as it is for those left behind, her sudden departure means that she did not suffer a prolonged and pain-filled decline. As I’m approaching my mid–50s, I find myself pondering how my own life will end, and whether there is such a thing as a “better” way to go.193599_1984773097795_658772_o
  4. Like most families these days, our extended family is spread out across the country, so we seldom get to see each other in person. As it happens, though, over the course of this past spring and summer, each of my boys separately had the opportunity to make a trip to western Washington and spend a day or two with Mike’s parents. Our oldest son took his two little boys for their first, and now only, visit to their paternal great grandparents. Those visits now are cherished memories for which we are all grateful.
  5. This past weekend, when I watched Mike playing his fiddle with the band he joined recently, I felt sad as I realized how much Mike’s mom would have loved to see him play. Like any mother, she was his biggest fan. When he was a kid, she drove him from one bluegrass festival to another in support of his talent, and I think she always regretted that he had “abandoned” the instrument for thirty years in favor of other musical (and non-musical) pursuits. I am thankful that in what turned out to be her last days, through the miracle of technology, she got to see him play his fiddle again after all those years, via videos posted on Facebook.

Like I said, I have nothing profound to say about all this, and certainly nothing new. But pondering the things that have happened over the past week, and the conversations we’ve had about it, I am reminded of the same cliches that often are spoken in the wake of death: Treasure the people you love while you have them with you. Don’t take them for granted, and don’t assume there’ll be time later to speak your heart to them. Celebrate every moment you have together, and take every opportunity to create memories to sustain you when they are gone.

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . . 
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
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The Limits of Patriotism

Last week my husband and I made a quick trip to Fort Jackson in South Carolina to attend our middle son’s graduation from Army boot camp. (Benjamin served six years in the US Navy, with two deployments on two different ships. He left the Navy in December 2012, married his best friend–whom he had met while they both served on the same ship–on February 27, 2013, and then they both enlisted in the Army Reserves. He left in May to start the ten-week basic training cycle; she followed him in late June. They won’t see each other again until she graduates in September.)

Family Day formationAbout a thousand young men and women officially became soldiers during the ceremony last week. As I sat in the stands, watching these young people march in formation onto the field and stand at attention in front of the assembled crowd, I realized that each person on that field was somebody’s little boy or little girl. Soldiers, yes. Trained in combat skills, yes. But still, somebody’s baby. Every one of them has someone who feels about him or her the way I feel about Benjamin.

At one point all one-thousand-plus of them recited, loud and proud, the Soldier’s Creed:

I am an American Soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself. I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life. I am an American Soldier.

I’m proud of Benjamin, of course.Benjamin at boot camp

But I have mixed feelings about his choice to serve in the Army reserves. As I watched the graduation ceremony, my fears were particularly stirred by the line I’ve bolded above: “I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.” This mission is, in my mind at least, what distinguishes the Army from the Navy, where my son and his new wife both have served. Close combat.

While he was in the Navy, I of course realized that he could be in harm’s way. But I consoled myself with the belief that it was unlikely that he’d ever be on the ground with a gun in his hand. I no longer have that consolation, because the Army’s job is precisely that: to be on the ground, with guns, ready to engage the enemy in close combat.

During the ceremony their commander addressed the troops, expressing his pride in their accomplishments and exhorting them to maintain their preparedness going forward. He reminded them that, as we all learned on 9/11, there is no longer a front line. Our enemies, he said, are everywhere, and the US soldier must always stand ready to “deploy, engage, and destroy” them wherever they may be found.

IMG_0656As I watched the ceremony, as I listened to the Army band play, as I observed the ranks of new soldiers, what I kept thinking, over and over, was, “Please, God. Please, please, please don’t send my little boy into battle.”

And I felt ashamed.

I am an ardent patriot, a student of our history, proud to be an American, proud of the way our country was founded and the values that gave it birth. I am deeply grateful for every man and woman who has served our country in the armed forces, whether during war or in peacetime. And I’m proud of Benjamin–and his wife and his older brother, who currently serves in the Navy–for choosing to enlist in the US armed forces.

But it appears that my patriotism reaches its outer limits at the prospect of my son going into battle. And that shames me a little. Yet I suspect every soldier’s mother has prayed the same prayer I did. Perhaps that’s just the natural tension between patriotism and motherhood. A mother's protective instincts, it seems, don't fade just because her baby is grown and on his own and taller than her.

I wish I could keep Benjamin (and Jennifer and Matthew and all my children and their spouses) safe under my wing, but of course that's not my job anymore. Now that they're grown, my job is to support and encourage them–and pray for them.

But that doesn't mean I can't sometimes long for the days when they were tiny and safe in my arms.

What do you think? Do you have (or have you had) loved ones serving in the military? How do you think we can best support our young soldiers and sailors and airmen–and their families? 
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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . . 
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me