Tag Archive | priorities

Are You Saying Yes to Things that Really Matter?

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the release of the film version of OKLAHOMA by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and I’ve uploaded a new music video to YouTube in honor of the occasion.

It’s a recording of “I Can’t Say No” (the way Ado Annie would have sung it were she a 2015 soccer mom instead of a 1907 pioneer girl).

Of course, I’m singing this song with my tongue slightly in cheek. As my children will attest, I actually can say NO and do so fairly often.

Whether consciously or not, we all say NO to a variety of things every day. The trick is not so much knowing how to say NO as knowing when and to what we should say it.

We need to make sure that we are answering all of life’s many opportunities and distractions in a way that accurately reflects our goals and priorities. The challenge is saying NO to things that don’t matter so we can say YES to the things that do.

For me, a lot of NOs have become second nature:

  • To be more productive, I say NO to watching television.
  • To prevent unwanted weight gain, I say NO to excess sugar.
  • To preserve family time in the evenings, I say NO to most of the extracurricular activities that would split us apart.

But even more importantly, I try to consistently say YES to the things that matter most to me and my family:

  • To nurture my children, I say YES to spending time with them, listening when they need to talk, homeschooling them, and heeding when my little ones say, “Hey, Mom, watch this!”
  • To nurture my faith, I say YES to Bible study, prayer, regular church attendance, and Scripture memorization.
  • To nurture my marriage, I say YES to communicating respect to my husband, praying with him daily, and sharing intimacy with unfailing regularity.

How are you doing in this important area? Your NOs and YESses may look different than mine. And that’s okay.

The important question is: Are you making choices that will carry you where you really want to go in life? Or are you stuck singing the “I Can’t Say No” refrain, exhausted from frantically trying to do it all — and weighed down by guilt because you can’t?

I’m Just a Mom Who Can’t Say No

It’s not so much a question of not knowin’ what to do;
It’s just that I’m so busy, I can’t think.
I’m barely treadin’ water, and my family’s drownin’, too.
But if I don’t keep paddlin’, I’ll sink.
My schedule’s overloaded to the max,
And I don’t have a moment to relax.

I’m just a mom who can’t say no,
I’m in a terrible fix.
I usually say, “Alright, we’ll go,”
Just when I oughta say “Nix.”
When a kid pitches a temper fit,
Some say his little bottom needs a smack,
But when my child throws a fit for me,
I sometimes sorta wanta throw one back!
My list of projects seems to grow
Faster than I can keep track.
I’m feelin’ ready to crack.
How will I ever turn back?
I can’t say no!

What you gonna do when your life gets so busy,
You start to feel dizzy?
What you gonna do?
S’pose your sense of balance gets a little off kilter
From running full tilter?
From having tons to do?
S’pose you want to mind all the things that matter most,
But you know you will be toast if you try?
Your life’s already swamped by so many other things —
Adding any more would make you cry!

I’m just a mom who can’t say no,
Something has gotta change quick,
Before I completely lose control —
The chaos is making me sick.
Though I know I can’t do everything,
Sometimes it’s really hard to pick and choose.
Now I’m wound up tighter than a spring —
You better duck for cover when I’m loose!
Lately, I sense an undertow,
Exhaustion has made me feel faint.
My husband has lodged a complaint:
It’s high time I show some restraint!
I must say no!


Balance: The Art of Minding What Matters MostIncidentally, If you watch the video, you’ll notice I have a new book coming out in December. It’s called Balance: The Art of Minding What Matters Most, and I’m so excited about it!

It’s taken me several years to finish it (primarily because when I “mind what matters most,” my writing inevitably gets pushed into the margins), but little by little, it’s taken shape — and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share my heart on these matters and offer strategies for keeping a balanced perspective in every area of life.

I’ll be sharing more details about the book and its contents in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Maintaining Balance

Cultivating Contentment

Cultivating Contentment in the Season you're InMy husband used to have a medical colleague with a bad habit of complaining: When work was slow, he’d complain that he couldn’t make any money. When work was busy, he’d complain that he never saw his family.

Doug suggested that all he really needed was an attitude adjustment.

“When you’re working hard, be happy for the opportunity to make money. When your schedule’s light, be happy for the opportunity to spend more time with your family. Just flip-flop your reactions and you’ll have nothing to complain about.”

It occurs to me that a lot of wives and mothers might profit from a similar shift in thinking.

When our children are little, it’s easy to focus on the sleepless nights, the endless messes, the never-having-a-free-minute-to-call-our-own. As they grow, those earlier trials give way to hectic schedules and constant chauffeuring, then attitudes and hormones, then college tuition and car repairs, and then suddenly — in the blink of an eye — they’re grown and gone and you find yourself sitting in an empty house wishing for a do-over.

That’s why it is so important to focus not on the trials of each stage, but on the joys. Savor them, for they are fleeting. Tomorrow that chubby cheeked toddler who wakes you up three times a night will be married with children of his own.

I am so grateful that, when I was just a little girl, my mother warned me of the dangers of wishing one’s life away.

Instead of thinking, I’ll be glad when I’m old enough to wear make up or drive or date or attend college or get married or (fill in the blank), Mom advised me to just enjoy whatever stage of life I was in to the fullest.

The next stage would arrive soon enough, she assured me, but I’d miss the pleasures of the present stage if I spent my time pining for the privileges of the next.

It’s a lesson I carried with me into marriage and motherhood, and my life has been so much richer as a result.

Contentment is not something you should postpone for a more convenient time. If you are ever going to experience it, you must actively cultivate it.

Right now.

Right where you are.

This involves shifting your focus off the things you can’t do in your current season of life, and instead attending with gratitude to those things you can do.

Instead of complaining about the cold all winter and the heat all summer, relish the opportunity to wear sweaters and build fires and drink hot cocoa when temperatures drop, then take joy in wearing flip-flops and eating watermelon and going swimming when the mercury peaks.

This simple solution, consistently applied, has a profound effect on overall happiness and contentment.

One practical thing I do to help keep things in proper perspective is make lists. I’ve written before about the fact I keep a running Empty Nest List and a Do It Now List in my notebook.

These serve as a reminder to do more of what I’ll miss (like cuddling with my little ones, reading them stories, and baking cookies together) and to chill out about stuff that’s relatively inconsequential (there will be time to alphabetize my home library and organize my small parts cabinets when the kids are grown and gone, if those things are even still important to me then).

Of course, your children aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit when you focus on the things you love instead of the things that irritate you — your spouse will appreciate such a shift in thinking, too.

As much as you might like to grow old together, you have no guarantee that will happen, so show him all the love and respect and appreciation you can muster while you still have him with you.

Live in a way that will leave no lingering regrets when he’s gone.

What kinds of things would/should be on your “Do It Now List?” What things might be better postponed for another season, perhaps when your nest is empty?

Revitalize your relationship

Never Enough Time?

"If you don't have the time to do the things that you ought to do, it means that you've tried to do something God hasn't called you to." - Jennifer Flanders

My husband and I are both list makers by nature, but we approach our lists differently.

I’m all about the details, which is why I’ve been known to start the New Year with as many as seven type-written pages of goals and resolutions.

My husband, on the other hand, tries to boil down his goals into as few words as possible. During his first year of residency, the goal was SURVIVE. Another year, his mantra was READ, WRITE, & RUN.

He informed me a few days ago that his goals for our family this year are going to be DISCIPLINE and JOY — as in, the more disciplined we are about doing what ought to be done, the more joy we’ll experience as a result.

I think he’s onto something.

Left to myself, I tend to set wildly unrealistic goals. I guess I’ve bought into the it’s-better-to-shoot-for-the-stars-and-get-off-the-ground-than-aim-for-a-lamppost-and-stay-where-you-are way of thinking.

The problem is, I sometimes let what should be secondary or tertiary goals take precedence over far more important priorities. Typically, the lesser goals are more easily quantifiable and don’t depend on anybody but myself, so I’m often tempted to work on those even when I know I should be working on something else.

This is especially true when my accomplishing something else depends on someone else who is being uncooperative or resistant or is in some other way thwarting my progress.

But that’s where the discipline and joy come in, which is why Scripture tells us:

  • “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)
  • “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

And that sums up my New Year’s resolution this year: I want to tend to the things that matter most, doing my work joyfully and whole-heartedly, and not growing weary, even if I don’t get the results I’m hoping for right away.

I still have a huge list of stuff I’d like to accomplish this year — certainly more than I could ever get done in my own strength. But God has promised to supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19), and that includes giving me the time I need to do the things that matter most to Him.

Of course, when I’m disciplined about doing the things I ought to do, I have less time for doing the things I’d like to do. That much should be obvious.

What isn’t so obvious is the fact that, when I’ve tended to first things first, I’m usually far more productive with the time that’s left over.

Like loaves and fishes, when I give each day to God, when I’m intentional about stewarding it wisely, when I faithfully do what He’s called me to do, there are enough fragments of time left over that I can make a serious dint in my dream-big list of goals, as well.

So that’s my plan for 2015. What’s yours?

25 Ways to Communicate Respect

The #1 Rule for Building a Happy Marriage

number-one-rule

Jesus spelled out our standard in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31)

Confucius taught a similar principle: “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”

As did Buddha: “What is hateful to you, don’t do to others; what is delightful to you, do for others, too.”

And Muhammad: “Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself.”

In fact, every major religion promotes some version of The Golden Rule.

In marriage it boils down to this:

“Treat your spouse the way you wish to be treated.”

  • Would you like for your husband to be patient and understanding? Then extend an extra measure of patience and understanding towards him. (Ephesians 4:2)
  • Do you want him to honor you as a respected colleague? Then be faithful and deliberate in the way you communicate respect to him. (1 Peter 2:17)
  • Do you hope he’ll be quick to forgive and forget when you’ve done something to offend him? Then don’t harbor grudges against him. Give no place to bitterness or resentment in your heart. (Ephesians 4:32)
  • Would you like for him to show appreciation for the many things you do to make his life more pleasant? Then always make a point to say thank you to him. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and don’t take your man for granted. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Do you prefer kind, encouraging words over angry tirades? Then remain positive and upbeat yourself and resist the urge to nag or quarrel. (Proverbs 15:1)
  • Do you want him to prioritize things that are important to you? Then don’t make excuses to avoid what’s important to him. (Philippians 2:3-4)
  • Would you like for him to take notice of you and compliment your appearance? Then show him the same courtesy. Admire him and praise his manliness. Your husband wants to know that you still find him attractive. (Song of Solomon 1:16)

So that’s the key: Treat your spouse as you wish to be treated if you want a built-to-last, happily-ever-after sort of marriage.

The Golden Rule is a great principle to live by. How will you put it into practice, starting today?


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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 >>