Why Taking the Time to Listen May be the Most Fruitful Way to Begin a New Year

beach-solitude

It’s the beginning of January, the season for all things self-improvement.

I spent the first Monday of the New Year not going to my exercise class and staying in my pajamas to bask in the quiet and solitude of an empty house. I set aside my work tasks, lit a candle at my desk, spent a bit of time with the words of Jesus, grabbed my journal, pen, and book and settled into the leather recliner beside my desk.

Enveloped by the quiet of my home and the stillness of January, I tried to remember the last time I’d afforded myself such luxury. I couldn’t remember.

Sometimes we don’t realize how hungry we are until we actually sit down at the table to eat. That’s how I felt, like a starving girl who’s waited too long for nourishment.

The demands of the fall semester depleted me more than I realized. When the holidays rolled around, a glad spirit was nowhere to be found. My soul, battered by the waves of stress, emotional turmoil, family busy-ness, and mind-numbing distraction, washed up on the shore of December and lay there in an exhausted, burned-out heap.

We didn’t travel over Christmas so it should have felt easier. I kept waiting for a grand infusion of holiday spirit.

Nothing.

It’s so easy to forget who we truly are at our core and therefore what we really need. In recent months I’ve chosen distraction over reflection. I’ve numbed so that I wouldn’t have to feel. I’ve used busy-ness and legitimate responsibility as excuses for not pursuing the life-giving disciplines of solitude and writing.

When we sit in stillness, we’re forced to reckon with that which comes to the surface. I had pain I didn’t want to stare in the face. So I’d stop by Goodwill. Or scroll through Instagram. I’d become increasingly impulsive and less intentional. And while that feels good and sometimes even momentarily life-giving, I suffered from low-grade frustration, shame, and resentment.

This is not how I want my life to look. 

We can say that about all sorts of things over which we have no control — illness, tragedy, job loss. But mine was a self-induced disappointment. It’s easier to have compassion toward ourselves when we’re victims of external forces; it’s harder to climb out of a pit that we’ve made for ourselves and settled into.

/////

tiny-coffee-cup

In the past, I’d have bootstrapped my way into short-term self-improvement. Books! Lists! Goals!

But I’m tired. And I’ve tried all of that. I know the answers and there’s nothing trendy or sexy about any of it.

Today means forgoing the gym and wearing yesterday’s mascara. It means acknowledging my weariness and my lack. It means looking at my mistakes across the recent months, feeling the pain I’ve tried to numb, taking inventory of my real self and my real life and just listening for a bit.

Honestly, I prefer actionable steps and instant success, obvious answers and best practices.

But those are not the ways of the soul.

I’m rereading Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer and I love what he says about how our soul responds to force:

The soul is like a wild animal — tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.

 

I spent the first weekday of January “sitting at the base of a tree,” so to speak. And the truth of who I am began to emerge with more clarity and familiarity than I expected, especially since we’ve been a bit estranged for a while.

With Parker’s language, I spent some time asking myself honest questions about the “truths I embody” and the “values I represent.” I reflected on what my right-now life is telling me {the good, the bad, the ugly} and how that may intersect with the gifts I too often compartmentalize.

I took the time to listen to my life — repenting of the ways I’d misspent my time and effort and acknowledging the life-giving practices I’d neglected.

And for the first time in many, many weeks, the spark of hope began to warm me from within, shining its light into my rhythms, my roles, my work, and my creativity.

I look forward to sharing some hope-filled ideas with you in the coming year. Too often we believe that our right-now roles and routines crowd out the life-giving pursuits that make our hearts sing. But I believe there’s always space for our gifts to walk around in unlikely seasons of life instead of sitting in a box until life issues a more timely invitation.

playmobil-cop

If this sounds like the encouragement you need, I invite you to join the conversation so you won’t miss a thing. Simply enter your e-mail address in the box at the end of this post and you’re all set.

In the meantime, give your weary mind and soul the gift of solitude. Schedule it if you have to. Hide in your closet while your kids watch a show or give yourself some space during nap time. Spend your lunch break in a quiet place without your phone. Resist the urge to immediately make lists and default to actionable responses.

Listen to your life.

God speaks to us through his Word and through creation, in prayer and in silence. But He also directs us through the unique ways He’s wired us to think, work, create, lead, and serve in the world. When we don’t acknowledge the nuances of who we are, we can overlook what we might offer to those around us.

If you feel like it, take some time to journal the thoughts and emotions that come to the surface. It may feel awkward at first. And you may be surprised by what shows up.

Here are some simple questions that may help to guide your listening:

  • What has caused undue weariness?
  • How have you numbed, avoided, and distracted?
  • How have you tried to live a life that’s not yours?
  • What parts of yourself have you kept hidden? Why?
  • What truths, values, and longings are at the heart of your identity?
  • In what ways do you want to live more authentically in the new year?

 

It takes courage to sit with who you really are. And it takes trust to receive your own life. In this new year, I pray that God will give you both.

May your brave listening give way to hope and renewal in 2017. I’m so glad to have you here.

 

/////

Resources you may find helpful:

bird journal

In a way this feels counterintuitive. After a post in which I’ve encouraged listening instead of action, I’m now giving you a list of sorts.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes certain books and practices become a helpful guide, giving me language and tools to excavate that which I often cover up with busy-ness, distraction, and the chaos of my own overthinking brain.

I’m picky about how a certain book or post makes me feel at the end. Do I feel guilty or inspired? Condemned or encouraged? All of these spoke truth and served as a helpful guide in ways that set me free and never felt preachy. Amen.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here you go:

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work by Kathleen Norris

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

“What’s on Your DON’T List?” {Free Hope*Writers Podcast}

This podcast is so freeing and helpful, even if you’re not a writer. I believe it’s fruitful for everyone to make a list of what you’re not going to do.

3 Gentle Ways to Review Your Life in the New Year, a blog post by Emily P. Freeman

The Book of John

This just happens to be what I’m studying this year. The beauty of God’s Word is that it’s alive and active. It speaks to my current questions and hardships. If often influences what I write. I’ve been amazed at the ways in which the words of John have helped me to live in the tension between my hopes and my reality, revitalizing the unseen, sacred work of my right-now life.

How to Pursue Your Hoped-For Work in the Midst of You

r Right-Now Life, a series

About a year ago, I began a post that turned into an 8-part series that explores how we can live responsibly in the right-now while not letting go of the hoped-for.


*Some affiliate links used. Thanks for your kind support of this little corner of the internet!

2016 Favorite Everything List

favorite-everything

Raise your hand if you love a good favorites list.

That’s what I thought. I love them too! In the spirit of fun, reflection, and simplicity {just the top 3 faves in each category}, I bring you my 2016 Favorite Everything List.  

Here we go.

BOOKS

Sadly, I don’t read as many books in a year as I want to. {I start way more than I finish.} And this was one of those years where I loved almost everything I read. But in the end, these three very different books jumped out at me:

All the Pretty Things: The Story of a Southern Girl Who Went Through Fire to Find Her Way Home by Edie Wadsworth

51nhmjqm9vl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

I read Edie’s memoir in one day and it stunned me. Writing about hard things and difficult people with grace and compassion is a complicated task but Edie does it beautifully and the world is better for it. This book made my heart swell with love for Edie and for her family. It also gave me hope for my own relationships and complicated story.

 

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

flat-cover

This is the third book I’ve read on the Enneagram over the years. If you’ve never heard of the Enneagram but you’d like to, this is the book to begin with. I’m a bit of an Enneagram junkie {my friends call me the Ennea-vangelist}, but I fully admit that it can feel tricky and overwhelming at first. Numbers! Arrows! Wings!

This book is a primer for real people and we needed it. I love it so much and feel like I’ve already sold a thousand copies through my word-of-mouth endorsement of it.

 

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

41cqe00zzsl-_sx322_bo1204203200_

I know. This one may not appeal to those of you who aren’t writers but I loved it so, so much and have gone back to it since my first reading. {Always a good sign.}

Because I’m not a fan of horror or Sci-Fi, this is the only Stephen King book I’ve ever actually read. And even though he’s a fiction writer and I’m not, so much of what he teaches — through his life story and witty, direct instruction — applied to my own writing in a powerful way.

This is a book about his personal life — as a son, a creative soul, a husband, a father, an alcoholic. But it’s told through the lens of his writing life. It’s really a beautiful story and I came away with boatloads of respect for him as a writer and a human being.

FYI: Since 2009, I’ve kept a running list of most of the books I’ve read. Click here to check it out.

 

TV Shows

tv

I just rigged up a tiny TV in my newly-painted office and I never want to leave.

Per usual, I’m late to the party on each of these shows. I was too busy having babies and surviving the toddler years when these came out on actual television and watching TV was HARD back then! There was no instant streaming and binge-watching. There was setting the VCR or the TiVo {if you had one} or renting entire seasons from the library and then paying a fortune when you forget to return them on time.

My kids don’t know how we ever survived.

But sometimes it’s nice to do things later. I waited to read Harry Potter until I read them to my kids and it was so fun to experience the story together for the first time. The same has been true for all three of these shows. I’ve watched them with my daughter and it’s the stuff dreams are made of. {The Ministry of Netflix has been one of my favorite gifts / discoveries of 2016.}

Lost

The characters! The edge of your seats storyline! The moving back and forth between present, past, and future! The best.

Friday Night Lights

Again with the characters. They are so human and approachable. They make the worst decisions and you’re rooting for them anyway. It goes without saying that Eric and Tami Taylor are one of my favorite TV marriages ever. I’m crazy for this show.

Gilmore Girls

I mean, could I be any later to this one? We started watching it in October of 2015 and I’m not gonna lie, it took me a while to get into it. Lorelei and Rory use SO MANY WORDS and the plot moved painfully slow. But then the magic begin to fall from the sky like snow in Stars Hollow and we were All In. We’ve put all other shows on hold and are watching this one like it’s our job because we’re dying to get to the newly released season.

 

MOVIES

{I saw none of these in the theater. Shocker.}

the-imitation-game

Spotlight

“A team of reporters and editors at the Boston Globe relentlessly investigate a shocking child molestation cover-up by the Catholic Church.” {from Netflix}

This movie made me want to quit my life, move to a big city, and become an investigative journalist. It was such a well-done film and covered a difficult topic without being gratuitous or sensationalist. And the acting was superb!

The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch + Keira Knightley + WW2 + code-breaking + drama. Yes please!  This one will both inspire you and break your heart.

Jane Eyre

I never actually read Jane Eyre though I do plan on it one day. And I usually don’t watch movies if I haven’t read the book. But I broke the rules for this one and I’m glad I did. It’s worth it for the cinematography alone.

 

FAVORITE DISCOVERIES

ae0454a350924afab93078bc7d78855a

source: voxer.com

Voxer

Again, nothing new about this. But I had to get the app because my Artists Bench friends {a group that began last spring} used it to communicate.

And then I wondered why I’d waited it so long! It’s a combination of text + voicemail + voice memo + ability to send pictures. When I try to explain it to people, they don’t see why it’s a big deal.

You just have to use it. I feel like it’s talking on the phone for introverts. It’s convenient, you respond when the timing is right for you, and you can adjust the speed in which the person is talking. {Perfect for when you’re listening to me because I tend to ramble and talk too slow.}

 

If you swipe left on texts and hold, it shows the time.

I mentioned this in November on “What I Learned” but it bears repeating because I use it all the time.

My teenage daughter showed this tip to my husband and me. He and I were all “minds blown” and she was all “Um, everyone knows this.” Because of course.

Here’s a little tutorial that explains it better than I can.

text-time

 

Bullet Journaling

unknown-1

source

I take a super slack approach to bullet-journaling because if something isn’t easy, I won’t do it. {A lesson I’ve learned 15 million times and always the hard way.}

I started mid-year with a $4 notebook from Walmart to try it out. It’s totally for me but only if I keep it as mind-numbingly simple as possible. I just ordered a legit bullet journal from bulletjournal.com and I’m so excited to begin a new year with it! If you haven’t heard of bullet journaling, I won’t try to explain. Instead I’ll point you to my favorite resources.

bulletjournal.com

How to Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide {The Lazy Genius Collective} 

Bullet Journaling Made Easy {Edie Wadsworth}

When I watched Edie’s video, I realized that I’d sort of been bullet journaling for years, minus the index approach. She gave me permission to be way more laid back about the whole thing and that’s what makes it work for me.

 

FAVORITE THINGS I USE {ALMOST} EVERY DAY

Mamuye Tote from Fashionable 

I talked about this purse in November but she deserves a place here too.

Over a year ago, I purchased this bag from Fashionable. For ages I’d been looking for a fabulous leather tote but I also loved the idea of purchasing with purpose. I’ve waited a full year before I talked about it because I wanted to see how it held up.

mamuye-tote

I’m happy to report that this Mamuye tote is going strong and gets better with age. It serves as my everyday purse {and I keep a clutch inside of it that I can grab in case I just want to run into the grocery store, sans tote bag.} It holds all my regular purse stuff + my bullet journal + work notebook + laptop + wadded up cardigan. Basically, it has the capacity of a piece of luggage but the lightweight-ness of a knapsack. It can rest flat on the floor without falling over but doesn’t have so much structure that it’s stiff.

It’s the best, is what I’m saying. But what’s really the best is that when I buy a bag, I’m creating jobs for heroic women in Ethiopia who are working their way toward opportunity, one stitch at a time.

Click here to learn more about my favorite bag and to scoop up something FashionABLE for yourself!

 

Non-stick slow cooker

bbb51eff-ebe9-4e52-85bc-13c19caa3ef1_1-3034b04b3aa2921a628f63bb4ae08b43

A while back my mom and I were at the flea market and a woman was selling a brand-new, in-the-box slow cooker. My old crock pot was so old that it had started cooking things fast instead of slow, resulting in disappointing pot roast and dinner that was ready by noon instead of 5:00.

So my mom treated me to a $20 slow cooker and it happened to be non-stick.

I will never, ever return to a regular slow cooker again. Because crock pots are awesome and make life easier…until you have to clean them. A non-stick pot is the best friend you didn’t know you needed.

The one pictured is the one I have but it looks like they don’t make it anymore! Womp womp. But I did some research and came up with this one.

unknown

I’m sorry, it’s expensive but it does get fantastic reviews. Apparently non-stick slow cookers are super hard to find. Let me know if you find one and I’ll add the link!

 

L’oreal Colour Riche Balm

71jwob-zbul-_sx522_

It’s color that you can’t really mess up + balmy goodness. {I’ve purchased three of them because a certain 15-year-old in my house likes them too.}

Here’s an amazon link in case you’d like a tube and don’t want to leave your house, but you can also find them at your local drug store.

 

FAVORITE POSTS

How a 92-Year-Old Woman Taught Me the Real Value of My Right-Now Work

This post is a story, a confession, a wake-up call, and an invitation to trust. It’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever written and apparently it was one of yours too. {This is something I need to read on the regular.}

graveside-flowers

 

For the Overwhelmed Mom of Little Kids: 8 Things I Wish I’d Known

Inspired by a night of home movies from when my kids were little. If you have little ones or even big ones, there are 8 takeaways here for all of us.

for the overwhelmed mom

 

How I Almost Let a Horrible Light Fixture Ruin My Life

That time an Evil Light Fixture conspired to ruin everything. And by everything I mean a surprise weekend makeover of my daughter’s room.

Did Evil triumph? Or did my hot glue gun and yarn get the last word? You’ll have to read on to find out. : )

light fixture header pic

FAVORITE SERIES

Okay, so it was my only series, but it’s a series that includes some of my favorite posts {that are some of your favorite posts too.} Of all the creative work I did this year, these posts were my favorite. Living in the tension between our right-now lives and our hoped-for work is a topic I long to explore more in the coming year. I invite you to join me.

How to Pursue Your Hoped-For Work in the Midst of Your Right-Now Life

Click here or on the picture for a list of all 8 posts in the series. The new year is a great time to Begin Again. Again. {And I am 100% talking to myself here.}

right now work header

/////

At the end of another year, I want to say I’m grateful for each of you. Thank you for making space in your day and room in your inbox. At some point I’d love to do an official reader’s survey but that doesn’t mean I can’t do an informal ask now.

What would you love to see more of? Less of?

Favorite topics?

New topics?

Questions I can answer? 

I’m all ears. You can reply in the comments or hit reply to this e-mail {if you’e reading as an e-mail.} Or e-mail me directly: marianvischer @ gmail dot com.

We can also connect on Facebook, Twitter, or {my FAVORITE} Instagram.

insta collage

Happy New Year, friends. I’d love to know some of your favorite things from 2016!

/////

New here? I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

And I have a gift for subscribers:

school made simple freebie header

If you’re overwhelmed by the many educational options for your kids, if you’re curious about the most important questions to ask, I have a FREE resource created just for you!

 

*Some affiliate links are used in this post. Thanks for kindly supporting this little corner of the internet!

 

When You’re Carrying Something That No One Can See: Christmas Hope for Weary Souls

candles

…because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.     ~ Matthew 1:20b

 

It was the second Sunday of Advent and these words leapt from the passage and lodged in my spirit.

I could not shake them.

As my children squirmed in their church seats and rifled through my bag for gum and pens, God whispered his attribute to my walled-off heart:

I am a God who conceives unthinkable things. 

Within the virgin womb of an ordinary Jewish girl, the most divine alchemy swirled with light and life infused by the Holy Spirit.

It’s December 5th. I am worn out and wrung out. God whispers truth about himself and about me:

Marian, I am a God who conceives things. This is not simply who I was at a single point in history. It is who I am and will always be. It is what I do within those who I have called for divine purposes. But you must yield to it. 

I thought more closely about the order of things in Mary’s life, scribbling notes and arrows on my worship folder.

The Holy Spirit — > conception — > surrender — > carrying that which no one can see — > labor  /  pain — > new life — > death — > redemption

I whisper back:

God, what have you conceived in me that I have not yet surrendered to? In what ways must I yield?

And I know what it is. I know what I carry that no one can see.

I long to carry something different and God says no.

This is what I have conceived in you. Will you carry it? Will you labor under this burden and choose to receive it as a blessing? Will you trust that there is life and death and redemption on the other side?

baby

As I write this post, my lip quivers. I do not want to say yes.

In his book, Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning says this about people, pain, and purpose:

Anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded…On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.

 

My view of humanity is limited; I can’t possibly match up each person that God has significantly used with a corresponding deep woundedness. But I know there is truth to what Manning says.

I know that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. I know that pain humbles us and that wounds make us real.

I’m not looking to be a person of great significance in the kingdom of God. The older I get, the more uncomfortable I am with attention. But I long to be a meaningful part of God’s work here on earth. I don’t want my story, my labor, or my scars to be wasted.

/////

Mary didn’t have to say yes.

We’re not robots. God entrusts us with choices even within the mystery of sovereign will. He invited her to be part of his work and she said yes.

And aren’t we glad that she, like Jesus, yielded to her Father’s will instead of surrendering to her own rightful agenda?

Her yes gave birth to the light and life of the world. This is why we sing songs of rejoicing at Christmas.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

We don’t rejoice because all is right with the world —

We don’t rejoice because life has gone as we’d hoped —

We don’t rejoice because we have a robust college fund for our kids —

We don’t rejoice because we have a marriage that’s easy —

We don’t rejoice because we have jobs that are well-paying and secure —

We rejoice because we are a weary and wounded people but we are not abandoned in this state.

girl-on-a-hill

Perhaps you’re carrying a hard and heavy thing you never asked to conceive, much less labor under.

But what if we see our heavy thing as a privilege instead of a weight?

What if we choose trusting instead of fighting?

What if we choose the mindset of freedom instead of bondage — freedom to die to our expectations and even our desires because we trust in a greater purpose?

Mary died to reputation, to convention, to logic, to self, to a comfortable path. She was forced to flee while pregnant and birthed her baby in a crude and humble dwelling. Her newborn child slept in a feeding trough for animals. Who would choose that?

No one.

But with a posture of humility and trust, she yielded to a divine purpose she couldn’t actually see. As she received the unthinkable realities of her own life, she simultaneously received the glorious hope that waited on the other side.

I am the Lord’s servant…may your word to me be fulfilled.

Death always precedes redemption.

Right now I’m wrestling with a sort of death, clenching tightly to fear, to desire, to doubt, and to my own logical solutions instead of placing my big self aside and submitting to the will of the Father.

If you’re in the same place, may the story of Christ comfort us and lead us as we wait for a miracle. May we receive our own lives with trust and hope this Christmas.

That which is conceived in you, though it feels unwelcome, may actually be destined for fullness of life. 

 

You may also enjoy:

Why Compassion is the Answer to a Messy Christmas

Why You Really Are Prepared for Christmas, Even if You’re Not

/////

New here? I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

And I have a gift for subscribers:

school made simple freebie header

If you’re overwhelmed by the many educational options for your kids, if you’re curious about the most important questions to ask, I have a FREE resource created just for you!

*Some affiliate links are used. Thanks for kindly supporting this little corner of the internet!

Header image source: Pixabay