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Monday, March 13, 2017

Living Intentionally

intentional (adj.)
an action performed with awareness; done deliberately, consciously and on purpose.

The concept of living intentionally is something that has become very important to me in recent years, as I suppose it is for many of us as we grow older. Not that being intentional with our choices is something that is acquired with age, but life does have a way of pushing us along in our twenties and thirties that often overshadows the things that are truly important. Being intentional touches every part of my life, from the activities I engage in, to who I spend my time with, right down to what I eat and wear. And while I wish I had realized the need to be more considerate with my choices earlier in life, I'm happy to have discovered my error and to be able to begin to make the changes that are right for me.

For most of my life I was a bit of a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of girl, awakening each day to embrace whatever life held for me.  As a stay at home wife and mother, I was blessed for many years to not be burdened with much more than than doing laundry and cooking meals. When Kate started school and we decided to homeschool, that did require planning and took up a large amount of my time. But while I devoted myself to being disciplined with her education, I continued to let the rest of my life unfold at will. 

Over the years I played with various ideas and formats for planners from time to time, the latest pictured, right. But in the end I really saw no need for one, or even for planning for that matter. I kept a printed calendar on the refrigerator for keeping up with appointments and outings, but most of my days held no specific agenda.  In fact, the very idea of a planner and strict routines did not appeal to me.  The  thought of doing the same thing at the same time day in and day out bored me. I found it constrictive and refining. I was too much of a free spirit for that, I wanted to be open to spontaneous outings and unexpected adventures, even if they seldom occurred. I made it my goal to be ready at any moment for life to whisk me away, and planning for life felt like tying myself down.  I am not really sure when I developed my aversion to planning, but I do recall suggesting an outing to a former boyfriend once, who immediately checked his planner and "penciled me in".  Perhaps if he had not done so right in front of me it would have been less affective, but it left me feeling like just another "to do" on his list that day, and I vowed that I would never cause anyone to feel the same. And yet in spite of my complaints I did find that without a plan, things were often overlooked. While I was good with planning for school and appointments, very often I found myself looking up at the clock at 4:00 p.m. and realizing I had no idea what I was making for dinner. Or walking into the laundry room to discover that the load I had put into the washer earlier in the day had never been moved to the dryer.  I would come across something fun to do on the internet or in a magazine and then forget to put it on the calendar or lose the article because I had no dedicated system for organizing such things. As open as I longed to be for adventure, it frequently passed us by for lack of planning.

Part of my problem with the idea of planning and lack of organization was perfection.  It's a battle I have fought all of my life.  There was always something about every format I tried that I didn't like, whether it was the layout or the color, all the things I desired just never seemed to come together.  As a result, I spent hours making my own forms and calendars only to grow tired of them shortly after.  I even abandoned a few because I thought my handwriting was sloppy. It's hard being me! :) Perfectionism also created an "all or nothing" mentality that played against me. There were so many neat things to do, but since we couldn't do it all then I often opted for nothing.  It's a crazy scenario, I know, but hopefully I'm not the only one who has ever struggled with this, so maybe some of you understand? 

Since moving back to Texas and adjusting to a major life change my perspective on a lot of things has obviously changed as well, including my views on planning.  For one, though I don't live in regret, I wish I had planned for being left on my own one day, and had gone to college after high school and got a degree that I could now be falling back on.  I don't regret the choices I made regarding marriage and having children and being a stay at home mom at all, I just wish now that I had delayed that a little more and made sure that I could take care of myself.  I've always been a bit reactive rather than proactive, and this is one area where that has been tested.  And yet, I've learned so much about myself because of it, and I am smart enough to realize that in spite of my lack of planning, God still has one! ;)  But of all the lessons I've learned or rather, I'm still learning, one of the most important is to let go of perfection and my "all or nothing" mentality. Just because I'm not able to have some of the things I want right now, like my own place, doesn't mean that living here with my mom is bad, either.  She needs me, and I am happy to help.  It's not always easy and it isn't perfect, but it's good.  Realizing all of this is what set me to thinking about living more intentionally, which essentially means planning.  But it's about so much more than planning for the things you want, it's also about knowing what you don't want, as well. Now that I'm on my own and will be for most likely the rest of my life, one of my current "intentional" choices :); I've had to make new goals and begin to plan for a future that with God's help and the Holy Spirit's direction, will depend upon me.  I've had to ask myself what is important, what do I feel called to do with my life, where do I want to live?  All questions that I wasn't prepared to be facing this late in life, but that need answers none the less.  And when I dare to think big and ask myself what my dreams are, sometimes I get discouraged. Because right now I'd love to just be able to fully support myself, so the thought of ever being able to travel to Europe seems impossible.  But I will never give up on the hope, while holding it loosely at the same time.  Because even if I am never able to make that trip, that doesn't mean that life here in Texas is not a good life.  As Gus once said to his Lori-Darlin', "Life in San Francisco is still just life."

So if you're still reading after all that, I want to highlight a few of the most important things I've learned over the past year.

- Being intentional with your choices on a daily basis creates the life you intended.

- Being intentional takes courage, because it often goes against the status quo.  You have to decide what is right for you and then be committed to sticking to your decision.

- Start with small intentional choices, such as looking at your daily routine and at the things you are spending your time engaged in and ask yourself a few questions:

- Are you spending time alone in God's word and in prayer?  
I'm not preaching here, but God is not about religion, He's about a relationship, and if you think about it from that perspective it makes sense. No other relationship in your life developed without intentionally spending time together.  It's the same thing in your relationship with God. 

- Are you spending quality time with the people who matter the most to you, or, are you more  engaged with your "friends" on social media?
Again, good relationships develop by spending quality time together, face to face.  

- Aside from what is necessary, are the activities you are engaging in productively moving you toward your goals or serving others, or, are you just wasting your time?
In my life that means going back to college, I'm currently in my second semester. But I also spend a lot of time reading inspirational books, listening to motivational podcasts, my latest craze, as well as volunteering in my community

- Are your choices authentic, or are you conforming to society or even to your friends and family?  
This is where courage comes in, because society and even your friends and family may not always agree with or support your decisions.  In the end you have to do what you believe is right for you and follow the direction that you believe the Holy Spirit is moving you in.  Live for an audience of One.

 - Are you setting aside a few minutes or even a few hours each week for self care, actively engaging in activities that you enjoy? 
I know that in caring for my aging mother, her needs could easily surpass my own on a daily basis, and they have at times.  Some weeks are better than others and when we have a week when she has several doctor's appointments and other needs, I have to remind myself that this is "just this week".  But I've also learned to set boundaries at times because my mother likes to get out a lot and I'm more of a homebody.  It's ok to say no, or to let others know when you are taking some time off.  But unless it's an emergency you need to stick to that as well, otherwise they won't respect your down time.  With that, I take time every day to visit favorite blogs, cross stitch, crochet, or watch an old movie, and I LOVE British television! You should schedule time for fun into your week, even every day if you can. Even what I refer to as "mindless activity" is OK if you keep things balanced.  Getting lost for a couple of hours watching Netflix can be a good way to unwind.  But unless you're sick, getting lost for a couple of days is probably not the best idea.

And finally, don't let perfect stand in the way of good.  I've started listening to a few pod-casts recently and I heard this while listening to Episode 1 of Happier With Gretchen Rubin, and it really hit home for me.  I may never make that trip to Europe, but since I don't know that for sure, what's to stop me from dreaming, or even planning my trip? Maybe I'll even visit a travel agency and get some brochures?  And in the mean time there are lots of day trips I can take and places I haven't seen right here in the USA that I can plan for as well.  And just because I don't have my own place right now doesn't mean that I can't plan for it by looking at ideas on Pinterest or in magazines. I could even begin purchasing a few things here and there so when the time comes I'll already have a lot of the things I need.  It helps me so much to think that I can do things today that will help me to eventually reach my goals and dreams.  While I'm dreaming about my own place I'm making things that I can use right here where I am and then take with me when I move.  And while I may not be sipping coffee in a quaint little sidewalk cafe in Rome, I can name five coffee shops right here in my own home town that I've been dying to try!  It's all about perspective!

So I hope that you will be encouraged as I share my journey with you.  It's so easy at times to be discouraged and begin to think we will never reach our goals or see our dreams fulfilled. But it serves us well to remember that our future is based upon the choices we make today, which is why being intentional with those choices is so important!

Until then, take joy, my friends!

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