Got Goals? Let the Elephant Live.

We’ve heard the saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” People use this expression to refer to tackling goals, a buzz topic this time of year. The idea is that you can’t possibly accomplish them all at once but rather through a series of small, manageable steps.

I’m not saying I disagree. I’ve personally practiced the SMART method, and the whole Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound practice does work.

But eating an elephant can be painful and unpleasant for both us and the elephant. And although the SMART approach gets results, it leaves out the important element of priorities. Someone could argue that prioritization is implied, because after all, we wouldn’t spend time plotting out our approach to a goal if the goal weren’t important. Or would we?

I’m 100% for goals, but not at the expense of people. Perhaps you saw my theme for 2020, and this idea of letting the elephant live is an expansion of being people-focused over goal-focused. For example, I’m on a self-scheduled writing deadline and have a revised blogging schedule and some other writing commitments. I also work a full-time job, set aside intentional quality time with my husband, help manage our home, prioritize church community, practice a consistent fitness approach, and want to build into my existing and new relationships with others.

Let’s suppose I reach the week’s writing word count but must choose between a date night with my husband or writing a blog post for next week. You better believe I’m going on the date night. I’m not going to stuff the daily elephant bite into my mouth at the expense of relationship.

This is why I say, “Let the elephant live.” We can still conquer important goals but in their priority of importance. If today’s daily elephant bite doesn’t happen, there is tomorrow. Everything is not equal in importance.

A Resource for Prioritizing

Stephen R. Covey, author of the best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, discussed what he called “The Urgent Important Matrix.” I’ve created a simplified model here to illustrate the point, but you can review a more detailed version on Franklin Covey’s website.

Important/Urgent

(Necessity or Crisis)
Important/Not Urgent

(Effectiveness or Goals)
Urgent/Not Important

(Distractions or Interruptions)
Not Urgent/Not Important

(Time-Wasters)

In other words, we can categorize everything on our to-do list into one of these categories. Getting dinner is a necessity. Writing a blog is a goal. If while I’m writing the blog after dinner, my phone rings, I then have to decide if I take that interruption or remain focused on my own plans.

That’s where the prioritizing comes in. Do I care more about people (the phone call) or my own agenda (the goal)? Each of us has to make her own decision there, but the answer boils down to personal choice. Maybe if I’m on a tight deadline, I let the call go to voicemail. But maybe I’m just working on a “me” project that can wait. Shouldn’t I answer the phone (and let the elephant live)?

What God Asks of Us

When I think about the goals I’d like to accomplish this year, I go back to Micah 6:8. This verse so simply and clearly summarizes God’s expectations of us:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? (NKJV)

The verse doesn’t say that the Lord requires we achieve all our goals, be a success, and earn a pat on the back. No, it says to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. Maybe we do or we don’t get those elephant-sized goals all accomplished, but may we make wise daily choices in how we prioritize the time that God’s given to us.

~ Kristen

May we make wise daily choices in how we prioritize the time that God’s given to us. #priorities #wisdom

Theme for 2020: Love One Another

I remember when I was a little girl, there was a television show called 20/20. Of all the shows I watched, the one episode I remember is the one predicting we’d have flying cars by this year. To my young mind, the year 2020 seemed so far away that I wondered if they were right.

Turns out, they were wrong about the flying cars but right about how technology would revolutionize the way we communicate, work, and play. Coming out of a social media break over the holidays, I can better appreciate that and also realize the need for healthy limits.

Focus for the New Year

So many words came to mind as I was praying about a theme for 2020. I could have chosen the words intentional or priorities, because I genuinely want to keep “the main thing the main thing” this year.

However, more than being focused on goals, I want to focus on loving people. I know that sounds incredibly cliche.

But this verse from I John has been on my heart lately, and it seems so well to capture the desire James and I have for our lives.

“And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (I John 3:23 NKJV)

I’m so thankful God doesn’t make our salvation and purpose complicated. (Truth be told, we’re the ones who complicate it.) Believe first. Then get busy loving people.

I confess that I’ve often tied my purpose to specific ministries and goals. But God didn’t say, “Get busy being involved,” although being plugged into a church community is a good thing. Instead, He said, “Love people.” I can love people wherever I am or whatever I’m doing.

God knows my desires. He knows better than I do the gifts and unique ways He’s equipped me to serve Him. More than anything, I want the Lord to show me how He wants to use me this year and how I can best love the people who cross my path.

A Hands-Open Approach to Goals

So yes, I still have my goals, but I desire to walk humbly as I approach them. James 4 provides such a wise perspective:

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15 NKJV)

In other words, I want an open-hands approach to goals, not a clenched fist. I want God to shape and change them as He sees best. That’s going to be a challenge for this over-achiever to remember!

This year, I want to be people-focused over goals-focused, with God directing each step.

Will you join me in seeking to love others well in 2020? What desires has God placed on your heart for the new year?

~ Kristen

Remember November’s Other Holiday

When you think of November and holidays, what’s the first one that comes to mind? Right, Thanksgiving. You might think of everything that comes with this celebration like family time, delicious food, funky traditions, parades, or football games. While there’s nothing wrong with these things, let’s not forget November’s other special day: Veterans Day.

Veterans Day serves to honor and appreciate all veterans. While Memorial Day honors the fallen, Veterans Day offers gratitude not only to those who are parted from us, but also to the men and women who gave so much and are still here for us to thank.

Are we too busy thinking of ourselves to say thank you?

If you’re like me, you probably get absorbed in the day-to-day. Our tasks and to-do-lists may be full of wonderful things for our family and friends, but we need to take time to pause and look outside our comfortable circles.

More than likely, we wait in line with veterans at the grocery store, pump gas next to them at the gas station, and jog by them in our neighborhoods. We probably don’t know who they are, and they certainly don’t go around wearing a stamp on their forehead that says, “Thank me, I’m a veteran.”

No, they go about their business, just like you and me.

But on Veterans Day, their patriotism and pride come out. Many dust off their uniforms and share with us who they are and how they have served.

Will we notice our veterans today?

Now is our chance, people. Now is our chance to notice them, to appreciate them, to thank them. If you see them at the grocery store, thank them. If you stand in line behind them at the coffee shop, buy their coffee. Be creative. If you personally know a veteran, take the time to call or text. A simple thank-you can go a long way.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, he addressed the topic of authority and respect for government in the first part of chapter thirteen. His takeaway is for us to give each proper authority the dues and respect his position commands. Paul put this idea so eloquently:

Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:7 NKJV)

Give honor to whom honor is due, Paul said. Our veterans certainly deserve our honor and thanks.

Let’s be grateful people who count our veterans among our blessings this day and every day.

How will you thank a veteran today?

Kristen

Trust the Clouds Will Part

During our latest trip to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, my husband James, our friends, and I enjoyed several hikes. The first two days were clear and perfect. No matter where we went, we had good visibility and conditions (even though they were a bit chilly for this Florida girl).

The last two days were a complete reversal. We woke to cloudy, drizzly skies. The forecast kept changing, and we weren’t sure if the sun would come out or not. Regardless, we took two slippery waterfall hikes. (When in doubt, hike anyway.) The views were absolutely worth the effort!

By late afternoon, though, the clouds still hung heavy and low. We had one planned hike left, but Roan Mountain required the longest drive yet and had the highest elevation.

Since it was our last day, we took the chance. As we neared the parking area, we caught glimpses of blue sky through the clouds. For a few minutes, the misty clouds cleared, revealing breathtaking mountains and deep blue afternoon skies. Moments later, the clouds rolled back in, but we swung on our hiking backpacks and started the climb anyway, hopeful the clouds would continue to give way.

When we reached the first outlook, they did. Waiting there were several photographers, and one practically bounced out of his skin for joy. “I’ve been waiting here all afternoon,” he said. “It’s been nothing but clouds. But now, would you look at that view!”

We agreed. It was stunning and totally worth the risk.

When Clouds Don’t Part

Sometimes in life, we take a chance, and the clouds still stubbornly hug the sky. Okay, you know I’m not talking about weather anymore, right?

We put ourselves “out there,” only to be disappointed. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve submitted a book proposal or made a pitch, only to receive a rejection or silence that speaks louder than words. All the effort that went into crafting the proposal to specific submission requirements feels like a waste of time and energy.

Maybe you’ve trained months to make the team, only to miss the cut. Maybe you’ve studied hard for entrance exams or standardized testing, only to miss the mark by one point. Maybe you’ve carefully groomed yourself for a promotion or new position, only to have someone else pass you by.

Seriously, we’ve all been there and felt our hopes deflate like a hot air balloon. But does that mean we should stop pressing on, taking risks, and giving opportunity every chance we can?

Absolutely not.

What We Can’t See Behind the Clouds

Maybe the skies of your current situation seem extra gray, but just because we can’t see the sun shining doesn’t mean it isn’t. God’s Word makes clear He has a plan for His children, a plan designed to give us “hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

On that hike up Roan Mountain, we went through a thick forest, which felt spooky in the late afternoon. Only the faintest hints of light sprinkled through the woods, and I found myself walking extra fast to get through the forest.

Waiting for me on the other side was a clearing, and just beyond, a view that stole my breath. The clouds had parted again, revealing a spectacular mountain vista. Even more stunning was the sunset we savored on the return hike.

We would have missed the majesty of clouds parting for a sunset if we hadn’t taken the risk to hike the mountain. That said, my encouragement to you (and myself) today is simple:

Take the risk. Hike whatever mountain you’re facing. And trust that soon, the clouds will part.

No matter what, the adventure is worthwhile.

~ Kristen

Too Many Turkeys Will Spoil Your Shot

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Both my brothers are avid hunters, and although I am 110% for sportsmanship, I’ve never been hunting (unless you count shopping for good deals). As a result, I enjoy hearing my brothers’ stories.

Recently, one of them was telling me about a time he went turkey hunting, and there were so many turkeys he couldn’t focus on one to take the shot. Turkeys are ADHD creatures by nature, and they can’t stand still. Dozens of them together are like the blurry results of an overdue vision appointment.

I couldn’t help but think that we Christians can have the same problem in our spiritual lives.

Too many turkeys, too much calling for our attention, keep us from being effective in our calling.

How can we get anything done when we’re not focused on purpose-driven work?

Calling Out the Turkeys in Our Lives

First, I think we have to identify what our turkeys are. Each of us has unique challenges based on our work and responsibility, but my guess is that we also have a few in common.

  1. Social media: Access to our social networks is literally a hand’s reach away. The notifications and lit-up screens snatch our attention from where it needs to be.
  2. Comparison: Nothing wrecks our focus so instantly as the comparison game. When we start comparing ourselves to someone else, we derail our progress and lose a productive mindset.
  3. Over-commitment: When we say “yes” to more things than our schedules can handle, we become ineffective and exhausted.
  4. What other turkey-time-stealers would you add to this list?

Re-Focusing Our Sights on What Matters

Calling out the turkeys that steal our time and focus is step one. Step two is much harder, because it requires acting on the information. We have to renew our minds daily, or even several times a day, if we’re going to fix our aim where it needs to be.

Scripture gives us a guide for evaluating the claims on our attention. Let’s put those turkeys to this test:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Philippians 4:8 NKJV

True, Noble, Just, Pure, Lovely, Praiseworthy. That list is a pretty good litmus test to see if our focus is purpose-driven or simply distracted.

What turkeys are wrecking your focus, and what steps can you take to get your attention back where it needs to be?

~ Kristen

Big or Tiny House? The Heart is What Matters.

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Have you seen the Amazon Prime series called Tiny House World? James and I started watching recently and are basically hooked.

The episodes are short and follow a script: A couple, family, or single person is looking to downsize or diminish their footprint by going tiny. The episodes cover international settings from Ireland to the UK to Australia, and the featured individuals have three options from which to choose.

Most of the time, they don’t pick the one we would, which is both aggravating but also not the point. The point is that they discover they can do more with less.

Even “Tiny” Can Miss What Matters

The tiny house movement certainly has its appeal. The incentive for these people is to be more environmentally friendly, rekindle family time in a smaller space, or enable themselves to travel more. While those are all great reasons to try an alternate lifestyle, the tiny movement can easily become as self-absorbed as the materialism that is its opposite.

Although there is no tiny-house movement in Scripture, Jesus clearly teaches several principles about what we should do with our “stuff” in the parable of the rich fool. It’s so short, I’m including it here:

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:16-21 NKJV

Regardless of where we live or what lifestyles we choose, are we “rich toward God”? Do we remember that everything we have comes from Him and act accordingly? That’s the bottom line.

Takeaways for Any-Size Situations

At some point, you’ve probably heard that even middle-class Americans are “rich” in the global arena. That news may not make you feel great if your credit card bill is higher than you’d like or your car is threatening to go on a permanent holiday, but essentially, this reality means we are all able to give something.

Whether our proverbial barns are threatening to overflow or we’re simply meeting the month’s budget, Jesus’ words are a one-size-fits-all challenge.

  1. What do we value most? Are we sharing those things or keeping them to ourselves? That one thing could even be our time. Do we use it to bless others?
  2. Are we content with what we have, or are we always looking for more?
  3. Are we giving of our gifts and resources, or are we self-absorbed with our own pursuits and pleasures?

We have to be careful not to point fingers at those “richer” than ourselves and expect them to carry the heavy load. For the record, I know some people who are very blessed financially and are also incredibly generous. The key to remember is that we’re not responsible for how others handle their “stuff.” We’re responsible for how we steward what God has given us.

Ultimately, God cares about our hearts, not the size of our houses.

There’s another story in the Bible that reveals that the condition of our heart, not the size of what we own or have to give, is what the Lord prizes. In the parable of the widow’s mite (Luke 21), Jesus tells the story of a woman who gave to the temple all she had, which was next to nothing. Her gift demonstrated great faith that God would provide for her needs. Again, the issue is not how much we have or how much we give, but rather the attitude with which we view our possessions.

At the end of the day, the size of our home doesn’t matter. How we live does. Let’s live abundantly, give cheerfully, and love others generously.

~ Kristen

When Is Choosing the Easy Path Okay?

The last few Saturdays have brought the faintest hint of fall in Florida, just enough to encourage my husband James and me to get back on our bikes and explore new off-road trails. Several months have passed since the last time I went mountain-biking, but I was feeling pretty confident I could handle easy “green” trails. (I use the term “mountain-biking” loosely, because there are no mountains in Florida.)

Croom Wildlife Management Area offers over sixty miles of trails and a few more advanced “blue” ones James wanted to try. We geared up, checked the air in our tires, and started out.

Only a few minutes in, I was starting to feel on edge. Compared to the trails we bike in the Tampa area, the elevation gain here was much more noticeable, and the trails seemed even more narrow. I struggled to get the speed I needed while still feeling in control of my bike.

James took the lead, and although he kept shouting tips at me, his skill level is light years more advanced than mine. What seemed like a gradual downhill to him felt like speeding off the side of a mountain to me.

However, I held things together until I rounded a tight downhill bend in a section of the blue, more difficult, trail.

“Peddle hard!” James shouted ahead of me. “Hill!”

I gave it my best, but my best wasn’t enough. I didn’t have enough momentum to get to the top and watched in terror as my bike started sliding backwards.

James jumped off his bike and grabbed my handlebars to slow my fall, but I landed in a heap of bushes with my bike on top of me, more scared than hurt.

After that shake-up, we came to a sign with two arrows. Next to one was the word “easy,” and next to the other was the word “hard.” I waited at the junction while James tackled the hard section and felt rather bummed that all I could clearly handle was “easy.”

That’s when I remembered there is a time for everything. A baby doesn’t go straight to walking. He crawls first. A girl doesn’t go from biking the smooth Suncoast Trail to off-road biking without a few falls.

Sometimes, we have to be content with easy tasks before we can dare to achieve harder things.

For an over-achiever and recovering perfectionist, that reality isn’t an easy pill to swallow. I like being challenged. I like cresting the hill toward success. I have to remind myself that some situations require me to choose the easy path, and that’s not a bad thing. It just prepares me for one day advancing where I want to be.

Be content with small beginnings

There’s a phrase in the book of Zechariah that offers encouragement on this topic. The context is the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and the people are feeling discouraged. The rebuilding efforts appear as “nothing” compared to its “former glory” (Haggai 2:3 NKJV).

However, the prophet Zechariah poses a rhetorical question to the people: “For who has despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10a NKJV). In order to rebuild, they had to start somewhere. They had to start small.

I like what the Pulpit Commentary says: “Small as the present work was, it was a pledge of the full completion, and was therefore not to be despised. “

Whether we’re rebuilding or simply starting from scratch, we have to take baby steps. The first few steps might seem embarrassingly easy, yet we have to climb them first before we can get where we want to be.

Embrace the easy tasks and build from there

Despising “easy” tasks will only keep us from reaching our goals. We should never quit because we’re not ready for the advanced levels we want to achieve but welcome the practice needed to reach them.

The bottom line is that it’s okay–it’s necessary– to choose the easy trail until we’re ready for the harder one. The practice might seem unglamorous, but it’s the training we need to grow.

What “easy” tasks do you need to welcome today?

~ Kristen