Reflections on 2009

Each year at this time I spend some time reflecting on the accomplishments and lessons learned from the outgoing year.  It helps me set the stage for the New Year and provide clarity and context for my primary goals for the incoming year.

In many ways, 2009 was my best year yet.  Of course there were disappointments and setbacks, but this year was the first year that I was consistently able to see the lessons - and the blessings - in the midst of the trial, instead of months or years later.  My spiritual maturity is not where I want it to be, but it is so much deeper than ever before, and I saw the fruits of that this year.

Lessons Learned:
  1. Before asking for God's direction, I must first genuinely commit to being obedient, even if I don't understand the reason behind His leading.  In four specific instances this year, I waited to pray for God's direction on a challenging situation until I was certain that I was committed to doing what He said.  In each case, I suspected that His answer would be the most difficult, and least "PC", solution and that I needed to be prepared to move in spite of the reactions of those around me who probably wouldn't understand.  In three of the four situations, I was rewarded beyond my greatest expectations and, perhaps more importantly, God used my circumstances to witness to others about the blessings of obedience.  I don't yet know how the fourth situation will turn out, but I can rest in the knowledge that I did what I felt God asked me to do.  What happens now is on Him.
  2. When in doubt, ask God for confirmation.  God knows our hearts better than we do.  While it may irritate me when people constantly ask for clarification on something I thought I'd made clear, God isn't like that.  I believe that it pleases Him that we ask for confirmation when we're unsure.  Every time I ask for confirmation, I get it, and sometimes in the most delightful and startling ways.
  3. God brings people and situations to us for a reason.  No relationship or encounter is an accident.  However, it's important to realize that everything isn't always about me.  Many times people come into my life to teach me things, but just as often, and usually without my awareness, God uses me to teach or to touch others.  It's hard to believe, and very humbling, but I know it's true.  My challenge is to do my best to be the best student and teacher that I can possibly be, even when I'm not consciously aware of the lesson.
  4. More is not necessarily better.  I grew up believing the hype that productive people had lots of balls in the air, using every waking moment to accomplish as much as possible during the course of the day. Success was to be measured by the number of tangible accomplishments visible at the end of the day. The old saying that "a Jack of all trades is a master of none" is true.  This year I've learned a beautiful lesson - that less truly is more.  Whether it's material possessions, "friends", or items checked off a to do list, doing or owning a lot of "stuff" rarely reflects success of any sort.  By purging my material possessions, learning to happily live on less, letting go of relationships that were no longer working for my best good, and focusing on one thing at a time, my life is calmer, less stressful, and more peaceful.  And, surprisingly, by focusing on what's important and letting the rest of the stuff go, I've gotten more done and the fruits have been so much sweeter.
  5. Emotional integrity is key.  Learning to set emotional boundaries in a world in which they are sorely lacking has been a challenge for me.  Through trial and error (mostly error), I've learned that not all problems are my problems, I can only do what I can do.  I need to continue to do the emotional work of being honest and authentic, even if it isolates me from others.  But at the same time, I have to realize that others have their own work to do, and they must choose their own journey and the pace at which they travel it.  At the end of the day, what God thinks of me, and what I think of myself, are much more important, and more lasting, than what anyone else thinks.
  6. I need to write more and talk less.  Those that know me personally know that I love to talk.  Words are important to me and I work hard to be emotionally honest and articulate when sharing my thoughts with others.  However, this year I've become painfully aware that my words are often wasted on people who either cannot or will not hear them.  Much of it goes back to #5.  I know that many times people don't "hear" me because they don't like or agree with what I have to say.  It's not that I'm looking for validation. I love a good, honest debate as much as the next person.  What pains me is not being heard at all... being ignored as if I'd never spoken at all.  The emotional energy that I lose in these exchanges is taxing, and I've come to understand that this is energy that can be better expended elsewhere.  Ironically, the responses (often from strangers) to my writing seem to be much more rewarding.  Perhaps it's because the only people who read my book, blogs or other writings are those that are at least peripherally interested in what I have to say.  They don't always agree, and that's fine. The feedback isn't always immediate, or direct, but putting my written words out there fulfills my intense need to express myself.  And, the knowledge that someone somewhere someday may be moved by my words in some small way is enough for me.
I thank God for a wonderful old year and I thank Him in advance for making 2010 my best year ever!

Happy New Year!

A painful lesson

God is so awesome.  Even in the midst of painful situations that we've brought upon ourselves, He has a way of teaching us beautiful lessons.  I just wrote about what I've learned from my recent fall here.

A great read on voluntary simplicity

I'm not sure that my core motivations are the same, but here's a great summary of the concept of voluntary simplicity that I'm trying to embrace in my life.  Looks like an interesting blog.

The power of feeling empowered

Today I took a class in laying tile at Home Depot. After I close on my new house next week, my first project is to renovate the kitchen. Yes, I'm doing most of the work myself. No, I've never done it before. But just because I've never done something before doesn't mean that I can't. I've successfully accomplished countless firsts in my life. And I've committed equally as many blunders, none of which were life-ending for me or anyone else. In fact, I'm better because of them. So, I'm educating myself, talking to professionals, reading how-to articles and watching how-to videos, and I'm ready to get started.

When I hit my first glitch, which I almost certainly will, I'm going to remember a story I heard in my class today. A woman attended the same class a while ago, and informed the instructor that she was going to redo her kitchen herself and she wanted to learn all she could so that she'd do a good job. She said that she'd never done anything like this before, but didn't see why she couldn't do it. Several weeks later, the woman returned to the store with pictures of her new kitchen. The instructor, having over 30 years of experience in tiling, said that she had done a wonderful job and her kitchen looked as if she'd hired a professional or done many kitchens before.

What's so amazing about this story is that the woman was 90 years old! My first thought was "Wow, I'd really like to meet this woman and have her show me her kitchen." I was so inspired by her courage, her tenacity and her energy to take on a project of this magnitude. But perhaps more importantly, I was struck by the fact that she could have easily decided that she'd lived all her life without the kitchen of her dreams, and she wasn't going to live much longer anyway, so it would be senseless to "waste" the money, time and effort on creating a new kitchen. That's exactly what I think most people would have concluded under the circumstances. This woman, bless her heart, gives new meaning to living a full life and following your dreams, wherever they may lead.

I've been thinking about that woman all afternoon and God's mandate to me is clear. If that 90-year-old woman can not only redo her own kitchen, but do a beautiful job at it, what excuse could you possibly come up with for not doing yours? I'm starting on Saturday.

Home is where God is

Were the truth to be told, I think many of my family and friends thought I was crazy when I told them 6 weeks ago that I'd decided to buy a house. And, that may have been their truth. But it wasn't mine. And it wasn't God's.

On August 10th, I sent an e-mail to 10 people asking if any could recommend a good realtor. I told them that I was looking for a pre-foreclosure, in a decent neighborhood, that wasn't expensive. I don't make a lot of money and I didn't have a lot of cash on hand. But what I did have was the belief that the undeniably strong pull towards making "the move" now, was not coming from me. I believed that God was ready to move not only my living space, but my spiritual space as well to a new season... now. The only question was whether or not I was ready.

Within two hours I received an email response from a woman I know from church, who's opinion I trust. She said knew of the "perfect" realtor for me. And she was right. Bernard and I spoke for the first time on the evening of Wednesday, August 12. By noon the next day I had been pre-qualified for a lender! We looked at five houses on our first outing on Saturday. I was very disappointed. But I didn't give up, and neither did Bernard. We looked at two houses on Sunday. The minute I set foot inside House #6, I knew it would be my home. On Tuesday evening I made an offer to buy the house. After one round of counter-offers, the sellers and I agreed on a price and ratified the contract on Friday, just over one week from the day I first spoke to my realtor.

So what's the big deal, you ask? Simply that on August 2nd, I was unhappily contemplating renewing post-divorce apartment lease to enter my fourth year of paying rent that was about to exceed $1000 per month. On October 2nd, less than two months from beginning the process, I'll be moving into a home of my own with about 1,800 square feet on nearly 2/3 of an acre, and my out-of-pocket mortgage payments will be significantly less than I was paying for rent. In fact, I'm pretty sure that my mortgage and utility expenses combined will be about the same, or a little less, than my rental payment alone. And that doesn't even take into account the tax benefits of owning the house and operating a home business there.

What's amazing to me is that God doesn't limit our possibilities, we do that on our own. I believed that God wanted me to look beyond what my limited imagination thought was possible and to boldly ask for what I wanted in my home. After all, where is the testimony in buying a run-down fixer-upper in a neighborhood where I'd be scared to sleep at night because I believed it was the only thing I could afford? Where's the evidence of my faith or God's goodness in that? So, here's my "wish list" and how God responded (in parenthesis):

  1. Deal only with good, decent, honest and fair people (I couldn't have asked for nicer, more trusthworthy people consistently throughout every step of the process - my realtor, my mortgage banker, the home inspector, the title rep, even the sellers have been amazing).
  2. Move before my lease expires on November 30th (I close on October 2, which was my choice, I could have closed sooner than that).
  3. Decent neighborhood (Better than decent, the neighborhood is very nice, quiet and I feel quite safe there).
  4. "Enough" living space, but not too much - I didn't want to spend all my time doing housework (Nearly doubled the size of my living space).
  5. Move-in ready (Other than a good cleaning in the kitchen, and buying a refrigerator the house is move-in ready, including having been freshly re-painted).
  6. Enough yard space for a garden (More than enough space for all the gardening I could ever manage, and to be honest, much more yard than I need).
  7. Plenty of off-street parking (A circular driveway that goes around the back of the house).
  8. At least 2 bedrooms and space for a home office (2 large bedrooms and a 19x12 office/craft room).
  9. Hardwood floors (The entire first floor, except for the kitchen and bathroom, of course).
  10. A screened porch (2 screened porches!).
  11. Closer to my church (Now less than 5 miles/10 minutes).
  12. Fireplace (Got it).
  13. Storage space (walk-up attic space with windows).
  14. Pantry (Walk-in off the kitchen next to the "mud room").
  15. Older, well-loved home (Without a doubt).
  16. Sellers pay all closing costs (Done).
  17. New windows and roof (Already done).
  18. Lots of windows/natural light (Yup).
And, as if all that wasn't enough, there have been some extra added bonuses too. For example, I had no idea that I qualified for the $8000 tax credit, I discovered that the weekend after I move in is the one weekend of the year that my state has a sales-tax holiday on the purchase of major appliances (and I need to buy some), after hours of research online and hours spent in my local Home Depot, I have the confidence (and the cash) to completely update my kitchen, doing most of the work myself which, believe it or not, I'm really looking forward to, AND a rebate at closing from my realty company of about $700, as their way of saying "thank you" for my business, which will pay for a new washer/dryer! From the home security consultant, to the customer service reps at all of the utility companies I'll have to work with, to the locksmith and the handyman I'll have on standby for my "honey do" list, I am truly blessed to have such great people to work with.

If you know me personally, or if you've been following any of my blogs for a while, you'll know that life hasn't been easy for me. I've experienced tragedies and challenges, some totally beyond my control and quite honestly, some of my own making. The reason that I'm sharing what God is doing in my life is not to brag or boast. My reasons are twofold: First and foremost, to give God all of the honor and praise for how he is moving in my life, not because of what I am, or what I've done, but simply because of whose I am. And secondly, in sharing my testimony, both the tragedies and the triumphs, I hope my life will be an example that demonstrates that no matter where we've been, what we've done, or how hopeless our circumstances may appear, God can and does work miracles every day. Despite others telling us, or more importantly, us telling ourselves, that we are defined by our pasts and that we must drag our "mistakes" around with us forever as a constant reminder of all of our "stuff", God doesn't see us as the sum of our mistakes. He uses every circumstances in our lives as an opportunity to help us mature, both spiritually and emotionally. He is ready and able to come live in our hearts and our homes. We just have to open the door and invite Him in.

The gift of time

Short on cash? Short on gift ideas for the friend who has everything? My friend Irene shared with me a wonderful gift idea that just about anyone would love. The gift of time. Irene has a friend who uses every gift-giving opportunity to give Irene the one thing that she never has enough of - time. Sometimes it's only a few hours. Sometimes it's a weekend. The important thing is that once they agree on a mutually convenient time, this friend allows Irene to decide what she needs help with most, and that's exactly what she gets.

Whether it's planting flowers, pulling weeds or de-cluttering the spare bedroom, this simple, yet extraordinary gift has many benefits. In addition to the obvious benefit of an extra set of hands to tackle a project, there's also the gift of quality time spent among friends. Sometimes all we need is an extra set of eyes to provide a different perspective on how to solve a problem or complete a task. Sometimes the encouragement of a friend is just what we need to get the job done.

Instead of buying a gift for a friend or loved one, next time consider giving them some of your time. More than likely, it's a gift that will bless you both.

A different perspective on art


This YouTube video is simply amazing.

Special prayer

I've often commented on how amazed I am about the generosity of some people, and how blessed we are to have the Internet, when it's used properly, of course. Today I discovered the most amazing website. Called, anyone in the world can send a prayer via Twitter to this site and they will print your prayer, along with many others, and hand-deliver them to the prayer wall in Jerusalem, for free!

My first instinct was to jump on my Twitter account and send a prayer. Now would be an especially good time to do that since I put an offer on a home today. But, I haven't been able to send a prayer yet. Even though it's free, and presumably I could send as many prayers as I want to, there's something incredibly sacred about this ministry. I refuse to just send any prayer to be placed on that holy wall. I'm going to have to think long and hard about what my prayer will be. The fact that I feel that way reminds me how blessed I truly am.

A clean plate

I'm big on to do lists. Unfortunately, I'm much better at adding things to my many lists than I am at crossing them off. Yes, I have completion issues.

One thing that helps is to remember to "clean my plate". At least once each week I identify at least three things that I can do that week that when finished, will be completely removed from my list, at least for the time being. In other words, I know that there are recurring tasks, like vacuuming or doing laundry that are crossed off my list one week, only to be added back again the following week. And then there are finite tasks, like taking that big bag of clothing to Goodwill or purging my home office files that I don't have to do often. Getting at least a few items "off my plate" each week gives me a much-needed sense of accomplishment. Now I just need to learn how NOT to fill those newly empty spaces with new tasks.

Waste those time wasters

When I think of procrastinating, I think of being lazy - not doing what needs to be done. However, I'm beginning to realize that excessive busy-ness can also be a hallmark of procrastination. It's a subversive form of self-denial that enables us to trick ourselves into not doing what needs to be done because we're "too busy". Hence, we can avoid "the work" and the guilt we would otherwise feel for not doing it.

Have you ever had days where you've been busy all day long, but at the end of the day, felt like you haven't accomplished a thing? I think what matters most is figuring out what's important, and spending the bulk of our time and energy focused on those things, and letting the other stuff go. Not only will we feel a great sense of accomplishment, but I for one will probably feel a much greater sense of satisfaction knowing that I've spent the day with my goals and my efforts in alignment. For some great tips on letting go of the need for busywork, visit Zen Habits.

10 tips for staying focused at work

It's been a struggle, but I'm learning to "go with the flow." It's become relatively easy to do at home, especially since I live alone and I work hard to manage my life with conscious intent. My home environment is like a slow-moving river. I control the direction and the pace of the flow.

However, it's much more difficult to follow the tide in the workplace, especially when it's moving in multiple directions and changing constantly. It's difficult for me to stay focused at work when phones and fax machines are ringing, other people are talking, several people are asking me to do things (often at the same time), client requests are coming in, priorities are changing, the boss is overflowing with ideas... you get the picture.

There is a price associated with losing focus at work, and it's more than reduced productivity. Losing focus also leads to unnecessary stress, anxiety, pressure and feeling lost, overwhelmed, unproductive and more. Like a sailboat that's lost it's compass, losing focus can often leave us feeling uncentered, ungrounded, and aimlessly going in whichever direction the wind blows - whether that's where we need to be headed or not.

Need help remembering to stay focused during the day? Here are some tips that help me (when I remember to use them):
  1. Uni-task. I used to think that the ability to multi-task was a virtue. During my many years as a single, working mother, it undoubtedly was a necessity. But things have changed and so have it. As I learned from my life coach, I'm more productive, and things go much smoother, when I "complete the circle" (finish one thing before starting another). This isn't always possible, but my compromise is to break the task into smaller pieces that can be completed in the time alloted.
  2. Keep a single to-do/action item list. One of the most useful, and most wasteful, inventions of all time has got to be Post-It Notes. They're great when they're used for their intended purpose - to leave a quick note without writing on a document or labeling a stack of papers. They are NOT helpful when dozens of them clutter your workspace, each with a different to do item or thought to remember. It's much more effective to keep a single to-do or action item list and if needed, another list (I use a small notebook) to record ideas as they come to mind.
  3. Break tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. There's an old saying that the longest journey begins with a single step. That's true when it comes to projects at work too. No matter how huge the task at hand may appear, there's surely a way to break it up into smaller tasks. Doing so helps you be more organized, better prepared and less overwhelmed.
  4. Combine like tasks. It's counter-productive, and a total waste of time, to jump up to walk down the hall to the copier to make a single copy. Unless you need it right away, wait until you need to make several copies.
  5. Limit the number of times you stop to read and respond to e-mail. E-mail is great, but it's a huge time-waster. If you have one of those annoying little pop-up windows that alert you each time a new e-mail comes it, turn it off! If you're like me, it's nearly impossible to resist the urge to peek. When you do check your e-mail, remember that not every email is worth reading or responding to and it's not necessary to subscribe to (or continue to receive) every newsletter ever written. It's hard, but try to delete, respond and/or archive each e-mail as you read it to avoid a junky e-mail box and more time spent re-reading later.
  6. Take frequent breaks. Your brain, your eyes and your back deserve a break, regularly. Plan to take at least one short break each hour that you're working. Although it may seem as if that many breaks are wasting time, they're not. Believe me, you will feel much more refreshed, and productive, if you take care of yourself.
  7. Clear off your desk at the end of each day. Another hard one, but it makes a huge difference. There's nothing that provides a greater sense of accomplishment than ending the day with a clear desk and then starting the next day with the same.
  8. Keep mindful of what's truly important. A lot of things are "urgent", particularly to other people. But it's important to realize that not everything that's urgent is "important. " What IS important is knowing the difference and trying to stay focused on those things that are truly important.
  9. Become a creative problem-solver. Not all work processes are set in stone. Just because something's always been done a certain way doesn't mean that that's the most efficient or productive way to do it. Be on the look-out for ways to cut costs, to reduce energy consumption (electricity and human energy) and to save time.
  10. Pray throughout the day. Nothing helps maintain (or regain) focus like praying. And the best thing about prayer is that you can do it any time, any where.

The answer is there... you just have to listen

For the past week or so, I've been totally re-energized and itching to start writing again. Last week, I made the commitment to re-launch my book and start planning for the next one. At the moment I said "Yes", despite my fears and anxieties, confirmations have been coming faster than I can keep pace.

Today I found an e-mail message that's been sitting in my inbox unread for the past month. After following the link, I ended up at this post on the Art of Sensitive Living blog. The following sentences felt as if they'd been written just for me:

Do you ever feel a surge of positive energy about something, but then your mind quickly jumps in and says “That’s not for you,” or “Who do you think you are?”

We have glorious visions for ourselves and our lives. These visions come from our intuition. Our inner guidance KNOWS what it is we are here to do, share, and create, and who we are here to be.

Think about that book you’ve longing to write. That project you’ve been dreaming about. Or that business you’ve been wanting to start FOR-EV-ER. Your intuition is saying YES!

But your mind keeps saying No. Uh-uh.

This is the surest path to life dissatisfaction I have ever seen.

If you are called to write, you MUST write.

Well, I guess that settles it!

Free software for peace of mind

Why waste precious brain cells trying to remember all those pesky passwords? And worse, trying to create and remember different passwords for different sites? KeePass is an open source FREE software that incredibly simple to use. Download a copy, create a master password, then save all of your passwords in a secure file. You can even cut and paste your passwords from your database to the URL.

Imagine how much more brainpower you'll have for fun stuff once you let go of all those passwords! Enjoy.

The way we spend our days

Have you noticed that there never seems to be enough time to do everything on your to do list? I have, and it frustrates me. However, yesterday I had an "ah-ha" moment. I realized that the answer is not to figure out how to cram more activities into my days. Instead, the answer lies in removing things from my to do list that don't really need to be there. The operative word here is "really", and it's up to me to decide what that's going to mean moving forward.

The writer Annie Dillard is quoted to have said that "the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives." Wow. When I think about it that way, it really changes my perspective on what's important. I don't want to spend the second half of my life doing things that aren't important or that don't bring joy to me or to someone else. So, it's time to take a long, hard look at what's truly important to me, and the to re-evaluate the way I'm spending my days. Making the conscious choice to align the way I spend my time with my core values (key roles) will not only remove a lot of busywork or OPW (Other People's Work), but will also give me much more time and energy to focus on my ultimate goals.

(t0 be continued)

Pennies from Heaven

It's time for me to get serious about replenishing my savings account and preparing for retirement. I took the first major step in 2008 - eliminating all of my debt. What a relief! And now I'm always looking for creative ways to reduce costs and save money.

One of my first steps was to sign up for Bank of America's Keep the Change program. I'm sure there are other banks that provide this service, and it's also possible to do it on your own. But, since I'm already a BoA customer and it's a mindless way to save, I decided to do it. In a nutshell, whenever I make a purchase with a debit card (which represents 100% of my expenses other than rent and utilities), the purchase amount is rounded up to the next dollar, and the additional amount is transferred into my savings account. In additiona, BoA matches 10% of my Keep the Change deposits each year (up to an annual total of $250).

Welcome to my blog

Living a life of "soulful abundance" has become a major life goal for me. In fact, after my decision to become a Christian, it's probably the next most important lifestyle choice I've ever made. I've been on this journey for about two years and the results have been profound. I've been thinking about sharing the strategies and insights I'm learning for quite some time, and finally decided to take the plunge and start this blog. I hope you find it useful and meaningful and I invite you to share the journey with me.

What exactly is "soulful abundance?" defines these two words as follows:

soulful: full of or expressing deep feelings; profoundly emotional.

abundance: an extremely plentiful or oversufficient quantity or supply; an overflowing fullness; wealth.

The concept of abundance is not new. It's mentioned often in the Bible and it's been gaining popularity lately in its current incarnation, known as The Law of Attraction. The concept first began to take hold for me when I read Simple Abundance. In it, Sarah Ban Breathnacht, defines simple abundance as "an inner journey, a spiritual and practical course in creative living, a tapestry of contentment."

That simple definition contains so much insight. It's an inner journey, meaning that it is ours and ours alone, a journey of our choosing, it comes from within us and is not predicated on external events. We can embark on this inner journey regardless of our external circumstances. We don't need to wait until the bills are paid, the kids are grown, we get married (or divorced), we buy that new house, or we get that new job. We can embark on this journey NOW.

It's both spiritual and practical. It's interesting that both words are included here. So often people focus on spirituality, but they forget that it's faith and love in action that matters. We're talking about a lifestyle, not an abstract theory here.

I love the word creative. As a self-proclained artist (in the very broadest sense of the word), anything that involves creativity definitely has my attention. But what's great about that word in this context is that not only does it inspire me to live my dream of filling my life and home with "art", made by me and by others, but it also reminds me that God and I together are the artists of my life as well. God has given me the opportunity, the resources and the desire to create a life that is pleasing both to Him and to me.

Here's what Sarah has to say about Simple Abundance:

At the heart of Simple Abundance is an authentic awakening, one that resonates within your soul; you already possess all you need to be genuinely happy. The way you reach that awareness is through an inner journey that brings about an emotional, psychological, and spiritual transformation. A deep inner shift in your reality occurs, aligning you with the creative energy of the Universe. Such change is possible when you invite Spirit to open up the eyes of your awareness to the abundance that is already yours.

With all due respect to Ms. Ban Breathnacht, while simplicity is goal and ultimately a by-product, the process is not "simple". It requires a conscious commitment to changing the way we think about our lives, our relationships and our environment. It is a paradigm shift that challenges the choices we make and the motivations behind them. For me, it's been a central theme in my spiritual development, and has also been profoundly emotional - hence my personal preference for the term "soulful abundance."

In upcoming posts, I'll expand more on my thoughts about soulful abundance. I'll also be sharing practical suggestions on how to create more soulful abundance in your life. I'm also planning to develop a set of links in the far right-hand sidebar of online resources and books in print that you may find helpful.

Thanks for visiting and please come back. I invite you to share this exciting journey with me.