Tag Archive | 7 life lessons

Lesson #6: God Wants the Whole Pie

God Wants the Whole PieWhat follows is the sixth (and next-to-last) installment in the series “7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from my Husband.” This concept is key to understanding the Christian walk.

I grew up believing I should put God first in everything:

  • He wants the first part of my week, so I should attend church every Sunday.
  • He wants the first part of my day, so I should read my Bible each morning.
  • He wants the first part of my produce, so I should tithe on every penny I earn.

As with so many other matters, when I got married, my husband really challenged my thinking in this area.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with attending church or reading the Bible or supporting missions.

Quite the contrary.

But worship services and quiet times and charitable giving cannot be where it ends.

God should be more than the top item on my to-do list.

When we think in terms of putting God first, then by definition, something else comes next. It implies that once God’s been given His fair share, the rest of my resources are mine to do with as I please, to pour into family, job, hobbies, or whatever else might be on my list.

But that’s not entirely accurate. This whole hierarchical way of thinking is fundamentally flawed.

God will never be satisfied with a trifling token of our time and talents. Our service to Him should not be ranked alongside dental appointments and PTA meetings and Little League games — just one more thing packed into an already overcrowded schedule.

God transcends our to-do list, and our devotion to Him must be all-encompassing.

If life is a pie, God doesn’t just want the first piece. He doesn’t even want the biggest piece. He wants the whole thing.

But what does this sold-out sort of living look like? And how do we get from here to there?

We do it by following these five simple principles:

  • Love God with all your heart:

    The Bible states our goal plainly: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

    Loving God with our whole heart does not mean we have less love left over for our fellow man, as if our love supply could be diminished or depleted. Rather, the opposite is true. Loving God wholeheartedly compels and enables us to love others as Christ loves them, which is why Jesus follows that first command with a second like unto it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)

    As with the loaves and the fishes, when we give our love wholly to God, He multiplies and increases it many fold, so that there is an abundance of love left over to share with those around us in soul-satisfying ways.

  • Serve God with all your strength:

    The Bible commands us to serve the Lord with gladness (Psalm 100:2) and with the strength that He provides.(1 Peter 4:11).

    Unfortunately, Satan has duped us into believing that only certain activities “count” as “service” and that everything else is just stuff we need to rush through so that we can have more time for “real ministry.”

    We live burdened down with guilt over all the things we are NOT doing, instead of viewing all the things we ARE doing as opportunities to joyfully serve, knowing that even washing dishes and folding laundry and changing diapers and chauffeuring children can be a spiritual service of worship and a sacrifice of praise when done “as unto the LORD” with a renewed heart and mind. (Romans 12:1)

  • Honor God in all you do:

    As Christians, we have taken the name of Christ; let’s make certain we don’t do so in vain. We must live lives of integrity and sincerity, praying that the words of our mouths and the the meditations of our hearts would be acceptable to God. (Psalm 19:14) Our faith should not be superficial, but should sink deep into our beings, transforming and molding us into the image of Christ. If we belong to God, then everything we do should be done for His glory. (Romans 14:8, 1 Corinthians 10:31)

  • Acknowledge God in all your ways:

    Our lives should point others to Jesus. In all our ways, we should make Christ known, and He will direct our paths. (Proverbs 3:6)

    I do not know who wrote this little rhyme that I memorized in my youth, but it is just as convicting today as it was the first day I heard it:

    You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day,
    By the things that you do and the words that you say,
    Men read what you write, distorted or true,
    What is the Gospel according to you?

  • Trust God with all the details:

    God has promised to “work all things together for the good of those who love Him,” (Romans 8:28) and He can be trusted to keep that promise. Time and again throughout scripture, we are urged to put our full trust in God, to depend fully on Him instead of leaning on our own limited understanding or putting our faith in human reasoning:

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

    “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8)

So, there it is. These are the areas that come to my mind when I think of handing all of my life over to God. What does sold-out living look like to you? I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Lesson #5: Always Tip Your Waiter Well

Alway tip your waiter well.What follows is the fifth (and long overdue) installment in a series I started late last summer called “7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from my Husband.” It’s an important one, so take notes!

My husband and I entered marriage with very disparate attitudes toward tipping.

I had always calculated my tips according to exact (minimum recommended) percentages, with a little extra thrown in if the service exceeded my expectations (which were admittedly high, so it rarely did). My goal was to spend as little as possible, which explains why I also ordered only water to drink and steered clear of exotic (read “expensive”) menu offerings.

My husband tips generously regardless.

I’ve even seen him leave a 25% tip at a self-service buffet for a waitress who was blatantly rude to us, took our receipt and never returned it, and didn’t refill our drink glasses a single time throughout our meal.

If you were to question him about it, he’d explain the rationale behind this practice:

  1. Servers Depend on Good Tips –
  2. People don’t just wait tables because they enjoy getting chewed out when the steak’s overcooked. More often than not, they are waiting tables to make ends meet. What’s more, they only get paid $2.13 an hour to do it — the rest is (theoretically) made up in tips.

    Servers depend on the generosity of their customers to make a living wage. They need tips to pay the rent, to put food in their children’s mouths, or to cover their college tuition. Additionally, many waiters are required to share a fixed percentage of their tips with bussers, runners, and hosts. When a customer stiffs them, they must pay the difference out of their own pocket.

  3. Good Service Deserves Good Tips –
  4. Waiting tables is grueling work. Servers are on their feet all day. They must multitask continually. And they have to bust tail to keep up with all the demands, especially during busy times, like the lunch hour rush, Friday nights, and Sunday mornings. And they do it all with a smile on their face.

    There are orders to be taken (while patiently waiting as 4-year-olds deliberate indecisively between chicken strips and grilled cheese), drink glasses to fill (and refill and refill), piping hot plates to serve up promptly, bread baskets (or chips and salsa bowls) to replenish, desserts to proffer, tickets to tally, to-go boxes to fetch, and change to be made.

    Most servers work hard to earn their tips, so leave them a nice one.

  5. Bad Service is Improved by Good Tips –
  6. Servers are only human. Your waiter has bad days, just like everybody else: His car breaks down. His girlfriend dumps him. His bills come due. His last customer sends her order back to the kitchen three times before she is satisfied.

    The discouragement, distraction, and/or despair that accompanies such stressers can adversely affect his job performance. Of course, you are in no way obligated to reward lousy service with a large tip, but if you choose to do so anyway — to extend grace where it is so obviously and desperately needed – you might just turn a server’s crummy day (and attitude) into a great one.

    Your tip will be appreciated and remembered, guaranteeing you better service next time, should the same server be assigned to you again. But it will also give him hope, which in turn will lead him to render better service to all the customers who come after you.

  7. It Reflects Well on You to Leave Good Tips –
  8. Successful CEO’s know something obnoxious restaurant patrons don’t: The way you treat (or mistreat) your waitress says a lot more about you than it does about her.

    This fact, commonly known as “The Waiter Rule,” is what leads savvy business owners to conduct luncheon interviews of potential hires in a restaurant setting. That a prospective employee is courteous to the person conducting the interview — the one who will determine whether or not he gets the job — says very little. That he is patient with a waitress who gets his order wrong or spills ice water in his lap speaks volumes.

    More revealing still is how a person treats his server when he thinks no one is watching — including (and perhaps especially) when it comes time to sign the check.

  9. You Share God’s Blessings When You Leave Good Tips –
  10. It is common knowledge in the service industry that Sunday morning shifts are the absolute worst. The Sunday lunch hour is insanely busy as restaurants fill to bursting with church-going folks fresh from worship, and tips are minimal or non-existent.

    This may be, as one sweet waitress conjectured, because those customers gave all their money to the church and have nothing left for leaving a nice tip, but such reasoning fails to account for why they’d be eating out in the first place, and it certainly doesn’t explain why so many of them treat the waitstaff with frequent and unjustifiable rudeness while they’re there.

    “Out of the same mouth come both blessings and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not be so.” (James 3:9-10)

    We who name the name of Christ should demonstrate His character in how we treat others, including our waiters and waitresses. The fruit of His Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control — should be evident in our every interaction (Galatians 5:22).

    Surely those of us who have been forgiven so much should be willing to overlook the offenses of others (Matthew 6:14), especially such minor mistakes as a server’s filling our glass with sweet tea rather than unsweet or forgetting that we ordered our salad dressing on the side.

    And we who know personally the Creator of the universe should be able to look past a waitress’s tattoos (or body piercings or unconventional hairstyle or the fact that she is working on Sunday), and see a person created in the image of God — one who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, especially by those of us who call ourselves Christians, and especially if we are to have any hope of sharing the love of Jesus with her in a way that rings true.

    Yes, Christ’s redeeming love is the best gift anybody will ever receive, and yes, those of us who have experienced that love firsthand should share it with others at every opportunity, but if you want your server to actually read that gospel tract you’re leaving behind on the table, you should first slip between its pages the most generous tip you can muster.

So there they are in a nutshell: The reasons my husband insists that we always tip our waiter well. It’s a philosophy forged while he was waiting tables himself through high school and college.

He has always maintained that his experience waiting tables during that season of life makes him a better physician during this one. Doctors, like waiters, must be willing to get their hands dirty; they need to know how to multitask, how to interact with a variety of cultures, personalities and backgrounds, and how to deal with an oftentimes demanding and unreasonable public (whether they’re sick or they’re hungry, people want to be taken care of fast and can be downright difficult until their physical needs have been addressed and their pain or hunger alleviated).

Also in medicine, as in the food industry, one’s success or failure depends on a combination of both skill and personality. One must be both competent and courteous to do well. These lessons are best learned early in one’s career, which is why our son Samuel, who’ll be starting medical school this fall, is spending his last semester at home waiting tables (parttime, at least, when he’s not teaching biology labs at the junior college). He hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Tip WellAnd, just in case you’re wondering about my own current tipping practices, my husband has completely won me over to his way of thinking. Now, on the rare occasion that I dine out without him, I never scrimp on the tip or try to see how little I can leave without feeling guilty. Neither do I calculate a fixed 20% and leave it at that.

Instead, I think to myself, “How much would my husband tip on this tab?” Then I leave that amount, plus a little bit more — just to be safe.

Lesson #4: Perfectionism is a Trap

Perfectionism is a TrapMy father was a general contractor. He was also a perfectionist — not a perfectionist about everything, mind you, but certainly a perfectionist about his work.

When Daddy did a job, he did it right. When he built something, he built it to last. If you hired my father to do a project, he’d deliver beautiful results… but it would take him forever and a day to finish it.

That’s because perfectionism is often at odds with productivity. In fact, sometimes perfectionism can be downright paralyzing.

I didn’t understand that fact when I first married. Back then, perfectionism seemed to me a good thing. Why, I wanted to do everything perfectly.

And that included ironing.

My goal: to keep my husband’s closet stocked with painstakingly-pressed, wrinkle-free clothes, so that anything he needed would always be clean and ready to wear.

My reality: I’d spend a full hour at the ironing board and have only two shirts to show for it. Doug would wear the first, the second would hang in an otherwise empty closet, and the rest of his wardrobe would languish in the bottom of a laundry basket awaiting my next regularly scheduled ironing day.

This frustratingly inefficient pattern continued until my husband convinced me to change my technique.

“You can’t spend thirty minutes ironing a single shirt,” he insisted. “Spend three minutes max. I’d rather have ten shirts with the biggest wrinkles ironed out than one that’s pressed to perfection and nine more that look like I’ve slept in them.”

That sounded reasonable enough. So I tried it his way, and — guess what? — it worked.

But old habits die hard, and I’ve needed (and received) more than a few reminders over the years — and not only as the principle pertains to ironing.

I am grateful for my husband’s balancing influence. He has a no-nonsense approach to most chores, and his tactics have forced me to rethink a lot of the myths I had carried into marriage with me.

Maybe it’s time for you to rethink them, too:

  • Myth #1: “Any job worth doing is worth doing right.”

    Au contraire. Some jobs are important enough (and time is short enough) that we must settle for doing them half-way. When my toddler eats a chocolate donut on the way to church and smears icing in her hair and on her dress, she might benefit from a full bath and a change of clothes, but circumstances dictate that I clean her up with a wet wipe instead.

    Of course, the donut itself was a compromise. “Doing the job right” would mean serving my family a well-balanced, home-cooked breakfast every day, wouldn’t it? But when we’re pressed for time, grabbing a donut on the go is better than letting them starve (though some of you hard-core nutritionists might disagree with me on that).

    This same principle applies to spiritual food as well as physical. Beginning each day with an uninterrupted hour of Bible study and prayer is a great goal, but on mornings when that plan doesn’t pan out, meditating on memory verses and praying while you work sure beats skipping your quiet time altogether.

  • Myth #2: “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”

    There’s a big difference between procrastinating and prioritizing. Sometimes putting something off for another day (or even another season of life) is the most prudent course of action we can take.

    There are only so many hours in a day and only so much one person can (or should) accomplish in that time period. We must invest that time and energy in the things that matter most.

    The trick is in discerning what truly matters. “Important” doesn’t always mean “big.” In God’s economy — and especially for those of us with young children still at home — the things that matter most are often quite small.

  • Myth #3: “If you want a job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

    Just because you are capable of doing a job and doing it right does not make you the person to do it. Our time, again, is limited. There is no shame in acquiring help, expert or otherwise (which is why we now send my husband’s dress shirts out to be laundered).

    Moreover, it is of vital importance that our children develop a strong work ethic. A competent mother who insists on doing every job herself to make sure it’s done right is effectively robbing her children of the opportunity to develop life skills that will serve them well in the future.

    Our children’s work may not meet up to our standards initially, but it is important that we recognize and appreciate their efforts, nonetheless, and provide them with ample opportunity for improvement.

  • Myth #4: “The important thing is to always do your best.”

    Doing our best in one area will often mean neglecting another. That can cause problems, especially when the thing we are presently doing is not as important as the thing we should be doing or need to do next.

    This (partly) explains why I am such a slow and sporadic blogger. As much as I enjoy writing and feel compelled to do so, my responsibilities as a wife and mother trump my aspirations as a writer. And so, during this season of training little ones and homeschooling our eight children still at home, I try to keep book projects and blog posts on the back burner during their wakeful hours.

    That’s the sentiment behind the poem, “Rocking My Baby.” We could clean house all day and still find corners that need attention (or post and pin and share and tweet every spare minute, but still find more to say). Dust and cobwebs (and social media) we’ll always have with us, but our babies will eventually grow up and leave home. We must redeem the time we’ve been given with them wisely.

So what does all this mean? Rather than always striving to do our best, or to do everything ourselves, or to do it all now, perhaps we should focus instead on maintaining balance. Diligently do the things that matter most with excellence, then tend to less significant duties with due (but not undue) care and consistency.

That’s my goal. Won’t you join me?

And if you’ve debunked any other myths in your search for balance, be sure to share those, as well.

Go To >>Life Lesson #5

Lesson #3: You’ll Learn a Lot Reading Fiction

Life Lesson #3: You Can Learn a Lot by Reading FictionFor as long as I can remember, I have preferred reading non-fiction to fiction.

When frequenting libraries and bookstores in bygone years, I’d push my way past anything with a plot and head straight for the how-to section. There, I was certain to find a book on some topic that piqued my interest: art or apologetics; bread baking or bricklaying; cross-stitch or computer programing; music or manners or mathematics.

Why would anybody want to read something pretend, I wondered, when they could read something practical, instead?

Non-fiction, to my youthful mind, meant education: exercising your brain and learning something new.

Fiction meant entertainment: vegging out and being amused.

Non-fiction was worthwhile. Fiction was a waste of time.

Or so I thought.

It was not until I met and married my husband that I began to realize what a wealth of knowledge this mindset was causing me to miss, for much wisdom can be gleaned in the pages of those novels, short stories, and literary classics I had hitherto been avoiding.

There simply are some lessons in life that can be communicated more effectively through storytelling than by any other means.

Perhaps that is why Jesus taught in parables — so that his tales and the truths hidden therein would be remembered and pondered for generations to come. He understood that a well-told narrative has the power to influence others in a way simple admonition or instruction could never accomplish.

This potential — this ability to impact a reader’s life and change it for the better — is something all good fiction shares in common.

And so, thanks to my husband’s encouragement and his hearty endorsements, our entire family has chosen to incorporate a little fiction into our daily reading diet for many, many years now. And the benefits we reap from this practice are myriad:

  1. We Gain Positive Role Models

    Who can read about the unfailing loyalty of Samwise Gamgee, the steadfast integrity of Atticus Finch, or the selfless compassion of Peeta Mellark, and not be moved? Fiction allows noble character qualities to be showcased in a way that inspires readers to cultivate the same virtues.

  2. We Are Exposed to Negative Examples

    Conversely, fiction can exaggerate loathsome qualities in a manner that makes us want to distance ourselves from even the slightest hint of such behavior. Think of the treacherous duplicity of Fernand Mondego, the all-consuming avarice of Ebenezer Scrooge, the savage brutality of Jack Merridew. Within the pages of literary classics like The Count of Monte Cristo, A Christmas Carol, and Lord of the Flies, we can learn from characters’ shortcomings and witness the far-reaching effects of their vices, without compromising our personal safety or morals in the process.

  3. We Learn Valuable Life Lessons

    Mothers the world over warn their children against running with scissors or other sharp objects, but reading what happens when Rubin Pritchard tries to hightail it to the river with an axe in hand will drive the lesson home like no amount of scolding could ever do. Good fiction provides a wonderful opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others and to see the laws of sowing and reaping in action.

  4. We Enjoy Shared Experiences

    As Katherine Mansfield has observed, “The pleasure of reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books.” Our family has certainly found this to be true, which is why my husband and I both continue to read aloud to our children long after they grow too big for our laps. Sharing such stories in the quiet of an evening with a fire in the hearth is a bonding experience unrivaled by television or movies. We usually spend 30-45 minutes listening to Dad read each evening, but when the book is particularly riveting or suspenseful, the kids will beg for “just one more chapter” — then another and another. Our read-aloud record is five solid hours, from 7PM until midnight, with the children bringing water to their father between chapters so that he wouldn’t lose his voice.

  5. We Expand our Vocabulary

    Reading has always been an effective way to augment an impoverished vocabulary, and fiction reading — with its rich language and varied descriptions — is particularly well-suited for this. With the advent of electronic readers, smart phones, and online dictionaries, it is easier than ever to look up unknown words. When reading aloud to children, it is a simple matter of pausing long enough to clarify words or phrases which may be unfamiliar. Our receptive vocabulary (the words we understand when listening or reading) is normally much larger than our productive vocabulary (the words we use in speaking and writing), but with repeated exposure, we are able to grow both lists. Reading good fiction makes the process almost effortless.

  6. We Brush Up on our History

    I got my first taste of historical fiction reading Bodie Thoene. I (vaguely) remember studying World War II in junior high and high school, but those classes couldn’t begin to cement in my mind the names and dates and events involved like Thoene’s Zion Covenant series did. Similarly, GA Henty has really helped history come alive for our kids. Well-written historical fiction provides a wonderful way to view past events from a fresh perspective.

  7. We Improve Reading Comprehension

    The skill required to follow the plot of a novel from beginning to end is exactly the skill needed to perform well on the verbal portion of the SAT, ACT, GRE, etc. With rare exception, the more fiction a person reads, the easier comprehension becomes, and the better he’ll do on standardized tests. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. One of our children shared my penchant for reading non-fiction, but when at age 15, he missed passing an English Composition CLEP test by two points, his father suggested he read two chapters a day of fiction (any fiction) for six months, then retake the exam. He did, and without any other study or preparation, he passed it easily, increasing his score by a whopping 25%. His dad knew that what he needed was to get so drawn into a story that he couldn’t put it down — something not likely to happen with the technical books he’d been reading.

  8. We Expand our Horizons

    Stories from or about other parts of the world can do much to broaden our outlook on life. The multi-cultural literature offered by Sonlight Curriculum has been great for helping our family see beyond our own backyard. We highly recommend the titles they carry, many of which I am convinced we would never have found on our own.

  9. We are Spurred to Action

    I remember first reading Charlotte’s Web in second grade, then swearing off bacon for years afterward. Fiction has the power to not only influence public thought and opinion, but to challenge and change our practices, as well. Consider, for instance, the public’s response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Legend has it that when Abraham Lincoln first met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he greeted her by saying, “So you’re the little woman who started this big war!”

As you can see, time spent reading good, engaging fiction is far from wasted. Have you experienced any of these benefits from your own reading — or discovered other blessings not mentioned? Please leave a comment below and let me know. And if you know of a novel that is particularly worthwhile, I’d love to hear about that, as well!

Go To >>Life Lesson #4

Lesson #2: Laughter is Good Medicine

If you had asked me before I married what I wanted in a husband, “a good sense of humor” would not have been the first thing that sprang to mind. No, I was looking for a smart, solid Christian who loved kids, wanted a bunch of them, and was open to homeschooling. Being “tall, dark, and handsome” was not essential, but would be a much-appreciated bonus (especially the “tall” part, as I’m 5’11” myself). That I should try to find “an animated storyteller with an infectious laugh” never even occurred to me.

Fortunately, God ignored that oversight and gave me a man who was not only everything I dreamed of, but was witty, playful, and spontaneous, too. My husband knows how to make me laugh! A slight tilt of his head or a knowing wink can instantly bring an amused smile to my face. A cleverly turned phrase or droll observation will get me to giggling. But when Doug tells a story, he uses his whole body to act it out, sending our entire family into hysterics with deep, uproarious laughter that leaves our sides aching afterwards. How dull and dreary my life might have been without all that!

It is with good reason the Bible tells us to “rejoice always.” (1 Thess. 5:16, Phil. 4:4). Science has demonstrated time and again that our attitudes and dispositions have a profound effect upon our immune function. Joyous, mirthful laughter really is good medicine. (see Prov. 17:22) Here are just a few of the many great things a good belly-laugh does for you:

  • Improves Health – laughter boosts your immunity and wards off disease by increasing killer cell activity
  • Brightens Mood – laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in our brains
  • Relieves Tension – laughter reduces stress, fear, and anxiety while relaxing muscles throughout the body
  • Increases Energy – laughter helps us to recharge and refocus, to work harder and accomplish more
  • Defuses Conflict – laughter keeps disagreements and disputes from becoming dirty or divisive
  • Provides Perspective – laughter makes both minor inconveniences and major adversities more bearable
  • Promotes Humility – the ability and willingness to laugh at oneself is an invaluable character trait

I’m convinced that all the laughing my husband and I have done over the past 25 years has not only helped our bodies stay healthy, but has kept our marriage healthy, as well. We laugh at silly songs and corny poems we’ve been making up since we first met. We laugh at funny movies, like Princess Bride and Dan in Real Life. We laugh about our children’s antics, like the toddler who decided just before party guests arrived to completely re-paper our bathroom in maxi-pads. We laugh over embarrassing mistakes, like the time my husband used his cell phone to video our baby toddling around the bathroom, then showed it to a couple dozen coworkers before realizing he’d inadvertently captured me in the background, sitting on the toilet with my pants around my knees. (At least he hadn’t posted it on YouTube!)

What has gotten the biggest laugh out of you recently? We’d love for you to share it, so the rest of us can laugh along 🙂

Go to LIFE LESSON #3 >>

If you’d like to read further on this fascinating topic, check out the following articles and resources:

Health Benefits of
Humor and Laughter

The Healing Power
of Laughter

Feeling Good
is Good for You

How Laughter

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Lesson #1: Keep Your Eyes on the Ball

Life Lesson #1: Keep Your Eyes on the BallWhen I first got married, I possessed an utter lack of coordination in the area of gross motor skills. I couldn’t catch (or hit) anything to save my life. No matter what was tossed to me — baseballs, car keys, ballpoint pens — I’d fumble and let it fall to the floor.

My father had given up years earlier trying to instill in me any sense of athleticism, but my new husband was not so easily deterred. “Just keep your eyes on the ball, Jennifer. Glue your eyes to the ball!”

It’s a simple concept, I know, but one I’d always managed to struggle with it. Even when I started out with my full attention on the object hurtling toward me, at some crucial point, I’d shift my focus from the thing I was supposed to catch to the hand doing the catching. (Is that a broken nail?) Or to my general appearance. (My shirt’s untucked. Better fix it.) Or to the ground beneath me. (What did I just trip over?) Or to my personal safety. (That thing could hit me in the head!)

Still, my husband was certain that I could master this task in time, provided I received plenty of practice and positive encouragement along the way, which he most willingly and happily gave.

His confidence was not ill-founded. These days, unless the pitch is too fast for my eyes to follow, I can catch almost anything that is thrown to me — even those bits of shrimp the hibachi chef flicks at us whenever we eat Japanese.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

The secret is staying focused. This is true in sports, but even truer in life — as my husband has been so faithful to remind me.

A Christian’s primary goal should be to serve God and share His love with others, but how that purpose gets translated into day-to-day living will look different from one person to the next and from one season to the next, depending on individual giftings, circumstances, and responsibilities.

For me, a devoted wife and homeschooling mama with lots of little ones still in the nest, that day-to-day focus must of necessity be fixed on nurturing my marriage and educating my children. These are tasks that deserve my best effort and demand my full attention.

I cannot afford to fumble things here, when so many futures lay on the line. Giving way to distraction can have devastating consequences. I must sustain my focus. I must take heed. I must prioritize.

But saying that something is a priority and really making it a priority are two vastly different things. Have you ever noticed that? I can say that I want to lose weight, but if I eat like a pig and refuse to exercise, onlookers may accurately deduce that I’m not really serious about doing so. My actions reveal my true priorities.

Prioritizing time with family must be more than a platitude. It is too easy to become distracted, to shift our focus at what may later prove to have been a critical juncture. What we need is a game plan.

Here’s mine:

  • Write down your goals.

    It is impossible to focus on something that is not clearly defined. By taking time to commit your goals, dreams, and aspirations to paper, you can narrow your focus and give attention to the things that are most important to you.

  • Review them regularly.

    Such routine reminders will help you stay on target. Try to break your general goals into smaller, stepwise tasks, then put them on daily, weekly, and/or monthly checklists. This practice will keep your goals in the forefront of your mind.

  • Examine your routines.

    How do you spend your time? Do these activities help or hinder you from achieving your goals? Every six months or so, reevaluate your current schedule and try to minimize your involvement in anything that is not moving you toward your primary focus.

  • Stay fully engaged.

    When you are with your loved ones, be with them. Remain mentally present as well as physically. Power down the laptop, pocket the iPhone and reconnect with real, live people.

  • Don’t rush.

    It takes time to build solid relationships. If you are always in a hurry, it’s never going to happen. Slow down and savor each moment. You have a relatively small window of time in which to impact the lives of those around you or impart to them your blessings, love, knowledge, and values. Don’t squander it.

  • Do things together.

    Rather than pushing your children aside to pursue personal interests, get them involved, too. Cooking, gardening, scrapbooking, exercising — learn to view everything you do in terms of its potential for fellowship and/or discipleship. Get excited about what excites them, as well. As much as possible, when your kids are awake and around, do things that can be shared, and save the other stuff until after they’ve been tucked in for the night. (For me, “other stuff” would include blogging, which explains why my posts are so sporadic.)

These are the things I have made a conscious commitment to do. Sometimes I fall short, but I’m steadily making progress. Little by little. Day by day. I’m becoming less project-oriented and more people-oriented. I’m trying to ignore the many inconsequential things that vy for my attention in order to fix my thoughts on the vitally important.

Because it isn’t enough to suit up to play. It’s not enough to make it onto the field. If I don’t keep my head in the game, it will all be for naught. If I want to win, I must stay focused. I have to pay attention. I’ve got to glue my eyes to the ball.

Won’t you join me? What are your goals? What steps are you taking to reach them?

Go to LIFE LESSON #2 >>

7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From My Husband

I’m telling my age to admit it, but my first computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100. Back in the early 80’s, all incoming freshmen at Dallas Baptist University were required to buy one and to take a class that would teach us to use it.

Nevertheless, it was not until I met my future husband (three years and countless computer-printed assignments later) that I learned anything about the machine’s text-wrapping capabilities. For six long semesters, I’d kept a furtive watch on the LCD display and hit “return” every time the curser got close to the right-hand side of the screen, a holdover habit from years spent using a manual typewriter.

Within days of our first meeting, however, Doug observed my unusual approach to word processing and gently informed me that, if I would just keep typing, the text would automatically bump down to the next line without my doing anything to make it happen.

That one little pointer saved me massive amounts of time, completely revolutionized the way I did homework, and contributed even further to my rapidly growing affection for the guy I’d eventually marry.

What’s more, this was but the first of innumerable things he would teach me. Subsequent lessons have ranged from the practical (how to change the oil in my car, how to serve a volleyball, how to fend off an armed attacker) to the profound (how should our faith influence our actions? what does it mean to serve God with our whole heart? how can we most effectively communicate His love to others?).

Some of these concepts are just too good to keep to myself, so I’ve decided to publish seven of my favorites in a series of posts devoted to the “Life Lessons I’ve Learned from My Husband.” You’ll find a brief synopsis of each listed below:

  1. Keep Your Eyes on the Ball
    You must stay focused on your goals if you ever hope to reach them.
  2. Laughter is Good Medicine
    A sense of humor makes good times more pleasant and bad times more bearable.
  3. You Can Learn a Lot by Reading Fiction
    I used to think that reading fiction was a waste of time; now I know otherwise.
  4. Perfectionism Is a Trap
    There are lots of areas in life where “good enough” should be good enough.
  5. Always Tip Your Waiter Well
    Good service deserves it; poor service will be improved by it.
  6. God Wants the Whole Pie
    He’ll never be satisfied with a single piece, no matter how big or promptly offered.
  7. It’s Only Money
    Our security rests in God, not in the numbers on our bank statement.

I hope you’ll come back to read the full post for each point (which I’ll be publishing weekly), and that you will be as richly blessed as I have by these life-changing lessons.

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Go to LIFE LESSON #1 >>