One Powerful Step to Increase Your Happiness Quotient

How would you describe your life?

For decades, I would say I was mostly happy. During a 5-year period, however, God led me through a process to take one step that shot my happiness quotient through the roof.

My problems didn’t all go away, and every circumstance wasn’t smooth. We all know the perfect life is only a myth, right? The change that amped up my happiness wasn’t external at all. It was purely internal.

When I let go of a thousand small expectations, my happiness increased in ways I never imagined.

Letting go of my unrealistic expectations, the “pictures of perfect” in my head, was a step that changed my thought patterns and my attitude. It was a step that overflowed positively into every relationship in my life. If you’d like to take this step and increase your happiness, click here to learn more by listening to my interview on Focus on the Family.

Back in January, I had one of the most fun opportunities of my ministry life. I got to do an interview with Focus on the Family, and I’ve been dying to share it with you ever since! Here’s a little sneak peak at my time in Colorado Springs:

I have to brag on how kind the whole staff is at Focus. These producers made me feel cared for and right at home from the first email. It was great to get to meet them in person!

And these guys… I know I look like a deer in the headlights in that last picture, but it’s just post-stress exhaustion. (This interview was bigger than this small town girl.) 🙂 They were so warm and made the interview like a conversation between friends.

Have you taken the step to banish the “pictures of perfect” in your head? How did it change your life?

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A Celebration of Flops

In my devotion today, I talked about plans that flop, and I know that might be a trigger for you. It sure is for me! I’ve had plenty of plans that flopped… or at least went awry.

A pregnancy that didn’t happen on my time schedule.

A job I wanted but didn’t get.

A dream fulfilled that I thought would be glorious ended in pain.

But here’s what I’ve learned. For every flop and failure, there’s still joy and learning in the journey. I want to flip our flops today and insert a little fun in celebration of the joy along the way.

I’m really visual, so I thought I’d share some of the happiness of the day I described in the devo. Here are some pics of Cheri and I on the day that I didn’t make it to the place where the seals hung out. We still had a great time and burned a bunch of calories to boot!

Cheri and I resting after our battle with the tide. Tired but happy. How can you not smile in the CA sunshine?

The quiet waters in the marina were my jam!

See our cute little otter friends? I was in love.

You can probably see how much Cheri and I enjoy time together, and we’d love for you to join us for serious conversation laced with giggles! After you enter to win a prize package by leaving your comment, click here to listen to the latest episode of our Grit ‘n’ Grace podcast.

As an author, one of the most fun times of my day is to go to the mailbox and find a sample book from a publisher. These have built up at my house beyond my bookshelf capacity, so I’d love for you to give them a good home! There are four chances to win, and each gift pack includes three books, a gift item and piece of jewelry. What girl doesn’t find a little joy in new jewelry? 😉

To enter to win one of these FOUR FABULOUS PACKAGES, tell about a time when you found a moment of joy in a flop OR simply leave a comment saying “Joy in the journey.” 

 

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Can Prayer Be Simple?

When I was in college, my church went through a teaching on prayer that taught us to pray for an hour a day. My rule-follower self dove into the method, and I enthusiastically used the formula to work toward “tithing my time” in prayer.

There are so many good memories of that time, but can I be honest with you? I don’t remember the prayer formula at all. I’ve tried lots of “how tos” and formulas since that have also been long-forgotten.

What I DO remember of that regular prayer in college is the sweetness of time with God. That’s what I long to recapture.

Don’t get me wrong. Daily (or almost daily) time with God has been a pattern in my life since I received a 30-day challenge when I was sixteen. In a dorm-room discussion with my suite mates, we compared notes on how we spent our time with Him. At that point, prayer came easiest to me while Bible study was harder and seemed more like homework. Since then, those preferences have shifted, and that’s ok.

What’s not ok is how lack-luster my prayer life had become. I believe that’s why my God-assigned word for 2018 is “pray.”

There was a big part of me that wanted to dive in the way my college self did by figuring out the rules and following them. Finding a formula and working it. Ferreting out the book on perfect prayer and doing exactly what the author did. Do you hear my issues embedded in those plans. Sigh. I’m definitely still a reforming perfectionist!

Instead, God has taken me back to Prayer Kindergarten by giving me simple (and even playful!) tools to give me air and space to breathe… beside Him. Prayer is becoming a joyful journey instead of a tedious one. Because I’m a resource junkie and share all my favs with those I love, I want to share a couple of these simple tools with you.

A Pre-Prayer Tool

One of the hardest parts about prayer for me is clearing my mind. My to-do lists start swirling around in my head the moment I open my eyes in the morning, and even a cup of coffee in my quiet time chair doesn’t settle my popping thoughts.

I needed a way to quiet and focus my brain before prayer. My friend Carol shared her version of a method that she learned from Amy Hale on Instagram, and I created my own quick-and-easy document for my prayer notebook. You can click on the graphic below to download it, and you should really follow Amy Hale on Instagram by clicking here so that you can get more genius prayer ideas from the creator of this one!

A Prayer Calendar

Ever since the release of Praying Upside DownI’ve been receiving Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s prayer calendar and using it sporadically. This year, I’m printing it out,  putting it in my prayer notebook, and using her prayer prompts every day.

This is where “delightful” comes in! Kelly is an artist who’s creativity flows into her calendars. This month the theme is superheroes, and it looks like this:

She gives directions each day like: “Pray for a trusty sidekick”, “Pray for someone who flies a lot” and “Pray for a man who is stronger than he knows.”

Don’t you love this? You can receive her monthly prayer calendar too by clicking on the graphic above and following Kelly’s directions. This month’s is still available and too adorable to miss!

These are two tools that God is using to simply prayer for me so that He can make His presence known in my time with Him. How about you? Do share your simple tools for prayer!

This page contains affiliate links. Your clicks and purchases help defray Amy’s website costs at no extra charge to you. Thank you!

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Adventure is All Around Us

How’s 2018 going for you so far? I hope you’re chugging along with your goals and/or one word for the year. Do share!

At the end of 2017, Cheri, my Grit ‘n’ Grace partner, brainstormed a series called “Retrospect” to help us evaluate 2017 and move into 2018 with a fresh perspective on what’s important. (Click here if you’d like to start listening to the first episode in this series.)

In order to prepare for the podcasts, I created a Personal Manifesto, a concept from Cheri’s book Overwhelmed. I had nine values in my manifesto, but this is one of my favorites:

Now friends, that’s a really fine sounding goal, isn’t it? Living it out in everyday life is a challenge! When you have limited time, work to do, duties to fulfill and a finite budget, adventure and fun seems a little hard to come by some days.

But I’m learning that adventure and fun will often catch me unawares. It’s always around the corner if I’ll just watch for it!

Just last week, Hubs and I were at Costco buying a new chair to replace one that had expired under the love of big boys and a tiny but stinky dog. We had driven my small car a town away to shop there, but we convinced ourselves in the store that we could open the box, unload the unassembled pieces one by one into said little car and drive our lovely new chair home. No problem.

When we got out to the parking lot, it had started the rain, and beside my car, the boxed chair looked a lot bigger than in the huge warehouse store. Barry laughingly tossed a comment over his shoulder to the mini-van driver beside us, “I may need to trade cars with you to get this home!”

Without hesitation, the man answered in a lovely, lilting Indian accent, “I’d be happy to help you get that home! I don’t have anything to do the rest of the night, so please let me help you.”

Startled, Barry and I protested that we had a plan and were sure we could get it in my car. The mini-van driver waited and watched, insisting that it would be no problem to help us.

I’m sure you’ve already guessed what’s coming, so I’ll skip to the fun and adventurous part. 🙂 We could NOT fit the largest piece into my car.

When it was finally obvious that we were stuck, Barry told the man that we’d take him up on his offer. They loaded the big piece into the van, and as I got into the car, I heard Barry starting a friendship based on mutual connection in both Ohio and India (as you know, 1/2 my heart lives there). Crazy!

By the time Barry and our new friend arrived at our house almost 20 minutes later, they were talking and laughing easily. I invited him in for dinner, but he demurred and headed home. Barry told me that he worked in NC on alternate weeks in between being at home with his family in OH.

I was awed by how one kind man changed our night. Instead of ending up mad and wet with a disassembled, un-transportable chair in the Costo parking lot, we were snug at home, cuddled up in the new chair. Also, we had made a new friend. Here’s what I learned:

  • I don’t have to pay for adventure. It doesn’t require a ticket or travel plans. It can happen on a weeknight in a parking lot.
  • Adventure can come from the most unexpected places. A kind but lonely man gave us the treat of meeting him!
  • I can be the source of adventure for others. By reaching out with an extravagantly generous offer of help, our driver gave us a dose of fun and adventure. I can do the same for others as I look for ways to help strangers.

Here’s to living an adventure! Have you had any unexpected adventures lately? I’d love to hear yours!

 

Note: The winner of Wendy Blight’s book I Am Loved is Bobbi Laten (1.4.18 11:09 am). Congratulations, Bobbi!

For the rest of you, don’t forget that Proverbs 31’s Online Bible Study of Wendy’s book is starting next week. Click here for all the details.

(This page contains affiliate links. Your clicks and purchases help defray Amy’s website costs at no extra charge to you. Thank you!)

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How to Prioritize Your People in the Most Engaging Way

(This page contains affiliate links. Your clicks and purchases help defray Amy’s website costs at no extra charge to you.)

When it comes to prioritizing my people at Christmas, I have one main draw. I know some of you summon your people with the wafts of yummy smells coming from your kitchen.

But that’s not me. (Although I’d clean up at your house if you invited me over to eat!)

And I know that others have lure your people in with a pile of beautifully wrapped gifts under your tree.

That’s not me.

I can imagine the gorgeous decorations that lots of you use for the eye-candy that gets your people to stop and enjoy.

That’s sort of me. 🙂

I have always had one main passion that I share to reel in my people and that’s my love for books and reading. I’m an unabashed bibliophile, and books are what I love to use to spend time with my people. I share books with friends, read books to children, and read aloud to my hubby in bed. Ok. He doesn’t love that, but I can’t help myself!

Last week I posted a photo of my Christmas book bucket, and it created quite a wonderful conversation online.

I know many of you love books the way I do, so I wanted to give you a gift idea for those of you who still need a few last minute items. There’s still time to give a book! (Or collect a few for next year.) Here’s the list of some of the favorites in my book bucket:

Sacred Stories:

The Tale of Three Trees retold by Angela Elwell Hunt

Jacob’s Gift by Max Lucado

Just for Fun:

The Nutcracker: A Pop-Up Book illustrated by Phillida Gili

Hillbilly Night Afore Christmas by Thomas Noel Turner

Cajun Night Before Christmas by Trosclair

Note: The last two must be read with the appropriate accents!

Childhood Classics:

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston

Santa’s Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

My Friends’ Pick:

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado

I just ordered The Crippled Lamb today for a sweet young one in my life! Do you have any favorites that I missed? I’ll add yours to my list for next year. Once I add yours, I’ll need a bigger bucket– a dream-come-true for me. One day in the future, I won’t necessarily be the grandma with a plate of homemade cookies (although cookies can be bought!), but I will be the one who will sit and read to the little person on my lap until they either fall asleep or jump down.

Merry Christmas, friends!

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Giving Up on the Perfect Christmas

The further I read into the editorial the shorter my breath grew, and I felt the heat of stress radiating from my constricted heart. “At my house, the bustle stops when we gather with our daughters to trim the tree,” the editor of Better Homes and Gardens, gushed.

Then she went on to describe her family’s lovely evening complete with traditional music, story-telling, and eggnog. She ended by saying, “By the time our quiet evening concludes, we’re energized and ready to try something new.”

Wow. That sounds just like my family. (Insert sarcastic tone here.)

My case of hives from the article came from memories of the previous year’s tree trimming at my house.

We all started well–hubs, the boys and me–matching up with the perfect pictures of Christmas preparations in my mind. It was just like BH & G. Amy Grant crooned Christmas carols in the background. Egg nog was poured into the vintage, red glasses I inherited from my grandmother, and boxes of decorations from the attic lined the walls.

However, it all started downhill over the lights for the tree.

Squabbles erupted over tangled strings of bulbs. Somebody turned on the football game, and the sound of the TV clashed with the music from the stereo. Instead of telling lovely stories of the ornaments’ histories as we hung each one, my boys began to make fun of the 70s-style bobbles from my childhood. It all fell apart faster than you can say, “Mama’s in a snit.”

Maybe they just got distracted, or maybe it was the maternal growls and snarls that drove them away, but suddenly I found myself sitting alone on the floor in front of the tree. The rest of my family had abandoned the traditional decorating of the tree.

I furiously gave the tree a yank to position it for another ornament, and…   TIMBER! It fell on me, driving the metal rod of one of the artificial branches into my arm.

That’s when it happened. Out of my mouth popped some of the overflow of a disgruntled perfectionist’s heart—a big, fat, four-letter word.

That brought the family back into the room.

“Mom! Did you just say #*[email protected]?!”

To this day, there is one favorite Christmas story at my house. It’s not The Gift of the Magi or The Polar Express. Not even How the Grinch Stole Christmas makes the cut. Our family’s favorite story is The Day Mom Cussed When the Christmas Tree Fell on Her.

Sigh.

So much for the perfect family Christmas. Ours might be rated R….

I had to chuckle reading this story again that I originally posted a couple of years ago. In some ways, nothing has changed, but in the most important ways everything has changed.

Last year, I decorated the tree alone. Barry was traveling, and our sons were off at college until mid-December, so I thought no one would mind. I was surprised to find out that I was wrong.

“How could you decorate the tree without us, Mom?!” Anson exclaimed as he walked into our fully decorated living room.

Goodness. I didn’t know that they cared, but it turned out that both boys were incensed to have been left out of the yearly chaos… ahem, tradition… that is our family tree decorating time.

So this year, I worked hard to include them again. We were out of town for Thanksgiving, but Barry helped me haul the trees down from the attic and set them up before we left. On the one day that both Anson and Nolan were home before going back to college, we turned on Amy Grant and poured the egg nog.

We’ve learned a valuable lesson and now have pre-lit trees, and Nolan, our family tech support, showed his dad how to activate the double screen on the tv so that he could watch the game and stream the music simultaneously. Ok. Not quite what I had in mind but a compromise and win for everyone, right? My “vintage”/childhood ornaments were still mocked, but this time I laughed with the rest of the crew.

Finally, Anson, who is also a recovering perfectionist, must have felt a little tension on my part and asked the crucial question, “Mom, did you enjoy decorating the tree by yourself last year more than this? Is this stressing you out?”

I paused and assessed before I answered. “In the worst days of my perfectionism, someone would have been hurt by now! But no. I’m enjoying this!”

And I meant it. Finally. FINALLY, I’ve let go of the perfect Christmas. The joy of having my family around me was greater than my need to control and have things done my way.

It’s a Christmas MIRACLE! No joke.

How are you doing keeping your expectations in check this Christmas season? If you’ve had some bad days already, I understand. (I might have done a little rearranging on the tree once everybody left.)There’s always time for a fresh start, though. Start by purposefully prioritizing your people, and watch the joy increase.

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Congratulations to Linda Gray (11.30.17 at 4:57 am)! You’re the winner of Make Your Move by Lynn Cowell. I’ve sent you an email, and we’ll get the book on it’s way once we have your mailing address. 🙂

(This page contains affiliate links. Your clicks and purchases help defray Amy’s website costs at no extra charge to you.)

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Happy Thanksgiving to You!

It’s been a week, friends. I did a wonderful round-trip to CA for a conference and then spent the rest of the week on the couch with a virus. Ugh!

I couldn’t miss out on telling you how I feel about you, though. I’m thankful for you. Truly. Even though I’ve only met a handful of our community in person, I love knowing that we’re journeying together.

I’m praying that today is a day filled with love for you, knowing that our Jesus loved us most, but also full of the love of friends and family. I’m proud to count you as both!

Much Love,

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The Secret Reason for Your Insecurity

Have you ever met someone and experienced an instant connection? I felt that way as I sat across from Sharon Miller at a meeting recently. When she introduced herself, I found out that she has a book releasing this month, and when I read this post, I realized I had to share with you. Y’all she’s our sister from another mister! Another woman on the journey to break up with perfect.

Make sure to read to the end and leave a comment for the giveaway. Her publisher is generously donating three copies of her new book, so your chances of winning are terrific! Please welcome Shannon!

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Several years ago I found myself in a surprising situation. I was a lifelong Christian, growing in my faith, and following God’s call into ministry. I was writing and speaking and teaching women about the Bible, and from the outside everything looked easy and great.

Except that it wasn’t.

On the inside, I had become increasingly fragile and insecure. I wasted loads of mental energy on comparing, striving, and clamoring for affirmation. I needed to be seen, I needed to succeed, and I needed to be the best. And as a result, it sucked the joy right out of my life, even the joy of my calling.

Once I diagnosed the problem, I set about the work of fixing it. Like many Christian women, I devoured books on insecurity. I read blog posts and articles, listened to sermons and podcasts, and I meditated on my identity in Christ. I did all the “right Christian things,” but at the end of it all, I realized something:

None of it helped.

All of those messages, and all of that truth, had barely even scratched the surface. It’s not that I struggled to believe God’s promises—that I am loved, rescued, and delighted in—because I believed them whole-heartedly. Instead, something else was going on underneath my insecurity, and it took me several years to figure it out.

The Two Causes of Insecurity

Over time, through a lot of prayer and discernment, I discovered there are two root causes of insecurity. The first is one we talk about all the time: low self-esteem. We can define low self-esteem as an inability to see ourselves as God sees us, and it is real and painful, and God has an answer for it: His truth.

When we struggle with degrading lies about who we are, we can run to biblical truth about God and about ourselves. We can also surround ourselves with truth speakers who can declare God’s love into our hearts, especially on those days when we are unable to believe it ourselves. This is, in fact, how Christians usually attend to insecurity, and it’s important.

However, there is a second cause of insecurity that we almost never talk about, which is self-preoccupation. Self-preoccupation places you at the center of everything, which means everything hinges on you, and everything is ABOUT you. Your parenting, your job, that woman who looked at you funny in the lobby—it’s all a referendum on your value and your worth. And as a result, the stakes become impossibly high.

When everything is somehow about you, then your security constantly hangs in the balance.

But here is the trick about self-preoccupation: the solution to it is different than low self-esteem. If you respond to self-focus with heaps of affirmation—even biblical affirmation—it only reinforces the problem. Even when your self-focus is positive and godly, your vision is still locked on something inherently insecure—yourself—instead of fixing your gaze on the rock of Christ.

That was my problem. My self-esteem wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t really the problem.

My problem was my focus.

I wasn’t enjoying the freedom and confidence of living for Christ, because I wasn’t living for Christ. I was living for me. My eyes were fixed on me. My marriage, my parenting, my appearance—even my faith—had slowly turned inward, and I had become the center of it all.

I think it’s time to name this brokenness in our culture and in ourselves. For many of us, the cause of our insecurity isn’t simply low self-esteem, but a misplaced focus on self. We have forgotten the center of the gospel, which has taken all the power out of it. Our faith has grown small and weak, because it isn’t about God, but us.

The answer, then, is not simply remembering who we are in Christ, but also remembering that we are not the center of the story. Everything in our lives—everything that we have, that we are, and that we are called to—is all meant to point away from us and toward the glory of God. And once we get this, and live it, it’s freedom.

Adapted from Sharon’s newly released book, Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You.

The Giveaway

To enter to win a copy of Free of Me, leave a comment sharing your response to Sharon’s powerful insight. If you’re living life on the fly, simply say, “I’m focused on Christ!” (US and Canada addresses only please. Sorry about that to my peeps who live on another continent! I love you dearly!!)

About Sharon

Sharon Hodde Miller is an author, speaker, pastor’s wife, PhD, and mom. She is a regular contributor to She Reads Truth and Propel, she blogs at SheWorships.com, and she is the author of Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You.

 

 

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You Are Loved

This is the last in the series, but don’t miss this one. It’s what I need to hear every day! Watch the video below or click here to watch it on the website.


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I’m taking a blogging break in August, but I want to leave you with some encouragement to get you through on days you need it. If you’ll click here and scroll down a bit, there are recordings of interviews I’ve done. I’m obsessed with things I can listen to while I’m cleaning the kitchen, so I hope you’ll enjoy these too!

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