One thing at a time

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I can’t remember where I read this advice, and I really wish I could. It was in a book about calming your days, feeling more at peace, dealing with technology better. The advice was do one thing at a time.

I have been watching myself lately and I haven’t been following this advice.

I have been playing solitaire on my phone while watching TV.

Scrolling through Facebook while eating breakfast.

Listening to a podcast and playing solitaire while eating lunch.

I realised this was really a problem for me when I caught myself trying to play solitaire on my phone while I was reading a book. It doesn’t work.

On Sunday night I decided that I wanted to relax and just watch the program I was watching on TV. The program was Grand Designs (I’m a bit of a tragic) and you’re not going to get much out of that if you aren’t looking at the screen. You don’t see the houses.

I sat back on the couch and I watched.

It was difficult. I wanted to distract myself with my computer or my phone. But I kept at it. And it was refreshing, it really was, just to let my brain do one thing at once.

I think I need to push myself on this one.

I need to eat when I’m eating – not watch TV, not read, not scroll through Facebook. Just enjoy the food, taste it, smell it, really appreciate what I’m eating.

I need to watch TV when I’m watching, and read when I’m reading.

I need to remember to turn the wifi off when I’m writing and allow myself to sink deeply into the writing process (I am a bit better with this one).

Sometimes it’s good to do two things at once – some tasks work well together. I like listening to podcasts while walking because the story keeps me going when I would otherwise get bored and head for home. But at the same time, sometimes on my walks I need to turn the noise off and just let myself think.

I’ve been doing some data-entry work lately and listening to audio books has been great to keep me on-task. But it can’t be a book I care deeply about because if I have to think about the work at all then I miss what the narrator is saying. However, I think that the multi-tasking in that situation has worked well.

This world is so full of distractions that it is difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. But I think that’s a muscle worth developing so I’m going to work harder to simplify.

Some good books on this subject are Single Tasking by Devora Zack, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Also, at the end of Women Food and God by Geneen Roth there is a list of rules for eating which includes:

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

How about you? Do you love to multi-task? Are you addicted to distractions? What do you think about doing only one thing at once?

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Reasons to Journal

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(This is not a Moleskine journal, it’s an old picture, but it is a Bic pen)

One of my very favourite books is Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. One of the reasons I think I enjoy it so much is that most of the book is written in the form of letters that Judy Abbott writes to her mysterious benefactor. Now yes, I want a mysterious benefactor myself, but it’s the slightly naughty delight of reading someone else’s mail, of seeing right into Judy’s mind, that’s the thing I love.

Another such book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Welcome to the Working Week by Paul Vitos (written in email rather than letters, with a fair bit more cynicism and swearing). And then there’s always The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

All of them have this fun feeling of reading over someone’s shoulder, of seeing a new insight through their eyes.

I’ve been getting the same feeling lately through reading back my journal from last year.

I’m not being totally self-indulgent – I’m writing a book about 2017 using my blogs and I thought it would add some interest if you all (dear readers) had some insight into how I was feeling as the year went on. Ok, maybe I am being self-indulgent but I’m getting a lot out of it anyway.

Journalling is important to me. I don’t remember why, but I do remember that in grade 10 I decided to write a journal entry every day. I remember very clearly sitting in bed in the dark at 1am (I shared a room with my sister and couldn’t turn the light on) writing a few lines on a new page knowing that I would not be following the lines, I couldn’t see the lines, but I had to complete my journal entry for that day before I went to sleep.

I tend to follow rules like that. If I’m journalling every day, then I’m journalling every single day. No excuses.

I’m easier on myself now, I don’t make myself write every day, but I write most days because it’s so helpful.

Sheridan Voysey has some tips for journalling. He says that you don’t have to write every day. That you must not let anyone else see what you’re writing – it is just for you (write in code if necessary). That you date each entry (he records the time as well and I’ve started doing that too). That you write freely and honestly. That you keep it simple and that you write anywhere. His podcast on reasons to journal is worth listening to.

Why do I journal?

I mistrust my memory and love to have a record of my life. I think that part of me feels like I’d lose my life if I didn’t write it down.

I find that journalling slows me down enough to know how I’m feeling. I can be running around (either literally, or inside my own head) and stop to journal and write: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m feeling. Oh boy do I feel tired.’ And then I go nap. Journalling gets me in touch with myself. It helps me to see if the problem I’m experiencing is physical tiredness, or just my own narkiness, or whether I have an issue I need to sort out with someone else. In other words, it stops me snapping at Moz when the issue I need to deal with is my own tiredness.

Journalling stops the hamster wheel of thoughts inside my head. Once it’s written down, it’s written and I can move on. If I leave the thought in my head then it can swirl around and never get dealt with.

And finally, I can look back on my journal and see where I’ve been.

I tell many newlyweds, especially those I know who marry young like Moz and I did, about how comforting it was to read my journal from our first year of marriage. You see, no matter how bad things were in the next few years, it never got as bad as the first year. (Our first year was hard work, but worth it).

And looking back at last year I can see objective evidence that the days were hard and busy but I can also see the record of cosy nights in front of the fire, peaceful walks along the beach, little pockets of peace and joy through the hard times. It gives me strength and encouragement for what I’m walking through now. Which, by the way, is nowhere near as bad as last August.

It doesn’t take much to journal, you don’t need a fancy book or a fancy pen. I have a very fancy Moleskine journal at the moment – a Christmas present from my parents – but I have a motley arrangement of journals on the bookshelf to my left, all colours and sizes that I’ve used through the years.

The pen I use is a Bic biro. Nothing fancy there! But I like the way it writes. But you know, you can use anything. Some people like to use a really fancy pen, a fancy journal, do drawings and so on and make it a special part of their ‘me time’ and others like me just like to get the words down on the page. Whenever and wherever I find myself.

Some people like me keep all their journals. I hope to go through my boxes soon and find the one I wrote in in grade 10. I think it will be interesting to read. Others like my mother-in-law destroy them. That can be really cathartic. A nice journal fire when you’re saying goodbye to some particularly dreadful part of your life could be an excellent symbolic gesture.

Words are my thing, obviously. But I think a lot of us can find joy in journalling.

Do you keep a journal? What have you found best or worst about it? Or have I tempted you to try? Let me know in the comments.

Introvert weekend

This weekend just gone I had an excellent adventure.

My adventure I had came about because of the adventures my husband and son are having. Moz (the husband) has taken off to Fiji with a group of 11 students and 3 teachers (himself included) for a two-week adventure. They have taken medical and school supplies and are travelling all over Fiji by plane, boat, and truck, to deliver said supplies. They are also doing presentations at schools and churches and Moz may be even giving a sermon.

Both our kids have taken this trip in previous years and I’m very excited that Moz could go. It’s really a fantastic thing to do, and the kids got such a lot out of it. It was life-changing for both of them, I think. And I’m sure it will be rejuvenating for Moz.

Moz left on Thursday morning at stupid o’clock and I had to take him to the airport. We had to be there at 430 am. We made it by 445am but no harm was done. After waiting for them to check in their baggage and waving the team through the security I turned my head for home and tried to convince my body that it was still night time and I could sleep some more. I managed a bit of a nap and then got up and started the day again, heading off to work. At the end of the work day I drove home, gulped down some take-away, swapped my beautiful mini for a civic that was full of computer gear, and headed off again. This was because of my son’s adventure.

Caleb (the son) was leading on a camp. It’s a computer camp run by Scripture Union. The kids that come along are all gamers and the camp involves a lot of sitting around the tables racing each other or doing other computer game type things. I don’t know – I’m not a gamer! But I do know that they also pull the kids away from the computers (“Come outside! The graphics are awesome!”) and much fun is had with engineering challenges, deep conversations, and other camp stuff.

Usually Moz would go with Caleb and would take a car-load of computers and gear down to the campsite. But Moz was in Fiji by the time the camp started so I took the gear down instead. It made for a long day on Thursday – both ends of the day taken up with drives and not much sleep. I travelled the same highway in the dark both times. But I made it through and back home without any misadventure.

So both boys were gone, and with Jess (the daughter) on her four-year-long adventure in Canberra getting a teaching degree, that left me at home alone for the weekend.

It was wonderful to be alone for that stretch of time. I went for walks, long lonely walks along beaches and cliffs. I baked a rhubarb and apple crumble (but I didn’t eat it all). I headed to a cafe and had a yummy cake and coffee (that was after one of the long walks so I didn’t feel too guilty). I made myself a fire each night. I watched the Swiss murder mystery show on Netflix that I seem to have got addicted to. I listened to classical music and to pop music and to no music at all. I did some housework and washing. I read a whole book from start to finish and finished off another couple of books that I was part-way through. I did not look at social media at all.

Most of the weekend was reading, actually. I decided not to do much book writing but just to read and write in my journal what I was thinking about. I had such long stretches to think. It was luxurious.

I feel so refreshed now that I’m back at work. It was a glorious weekend. An adventure at home in comfort and warmth in the arms of a book. My kind of adventure.

Does my weekend sound at all adventurous to you?

Or is adventure the wrong word?

What kind of adventures do you enjoy?

Brownie points

On Thursday nights there is a prayer meeting at church that I want to want to go to. There is no typo there. I find it hard to get there – it’s the end of the day, I’ve usually used up all my emotional energy, I don’t want to leave my warm and comfortable house and have to talk to anyone anymore. This is no reflection on the people who are there – they are some really close friends of mine, or on the quality of the meeting – it’s an awesome time (in the true sense of the word). I just often find it hard to lever myself out of the house and go.

I went last night though. I put on my jacket and walked down to the chapel in the dark. Past the supermarket with the final remnants of Easter shoppers stocking up for the public holiday, past the small group of people waiting in the council carpark for the Vinnie’s van to come and give them free bread, and down to the chapel with it’s beautiful windows all lit up from the inside.

The door was locked.

Well, that was ok, the leaders usually walk in through the big church and up into the chapel, I’ll keep walking around the courtyard and to the other door and…

That door’s locked too.

At that point I smiled, and turned for home, grateful for the walk and grateful for the night off.

When I got home I told the boys that it was cancelled and said, ‘I get all the brownie points for going without having had to stay’. Then we all laughed. It doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t.

Sometimes we think that all our good works are like a bridge to heaven. But if they are like a bridge across a chasm, they are like a rope bridge that is slightly too short. No matter what we do, we will not be good enough to reach the other side. And a rope bridge that is only attached to one side of a chasm is more like a ladder down into a pit.

That’s the good news. That is the news I celebrate each Good Friday. My works are not good enough and God did something about it. Something that cost him everything, that caused him intense pain such as I will never experience, and something that is enough.

Because of Jesus’ death on the cross I have a way to cross that chasm. I can talk to God now. I can know his love for me.

I no longer have to ‘scrabble, scrape and scrooge’ my way through. I don’t have to be in control. I don’t have to beat myself up for every little error I make. I don’t.

It’s not a licence to be evil, not at all. But now, when I do good, when I try to be good, I am coming from a position of gratefulness and wanting to return to God just a smidgeon of what he has wonderfully done for me.

Sometimes I forget and I start to try to work my way into God’s good books. But folks, that is really not how it works. The bible talks about our names being written in the book of life and that’s the only good book that matters. The only thing I had to do to get there was repent and believe.

I don’t know where you stand today. But if you’re not in that book of life, I want to encourage you that it’s wonderful to know that you’re safe. And if you know your name is written in the book, let’s rejoice in what our wonderful Saviour has done for us and forget about boasting in our good works.

No brownie points needed here.

Take the time

I know that much has been said on this subject before, but to be honest, I have a gripe and I want to let it out.

I went to the supermarket the other day and the check-out chick (sorry, the register operator?) was a nice enough girl, she was trying to do the right thing I’m sure, but she wasn’t. She was asking all the right questions, but she wasn’t listening to my answers.

‘How has your day been?’ she asked. And I started to tell her. I had quite a funny story to tell, that would have made her day, brightened her afternoon. I wanted to tell her that I’d gone into work, despite it being a public holiday, and I’d given an online tutorial. And all the way through the tutorial I’d said things like ‘for those watching the recording…’ or ‘I’ll go through this quickly, it will be on the recording’ and right at the end of the hour, I realised as I said goodbye to the students, that I hadn’t pressed record. There was no recording.

As I started to tell my highly amusing (ok, mildly amusing) anecdote, I looked at the girl, her eyes had glazed over. She was no longer listening. I think I stopped talking after telling her I’d gone into work.

So we were quiet, and she tried again.

‘Doing anything special for Australia Day?’

Now I had all sorts of interesting things to say about that. I could have discussed the conversation that was happening among my Facebook friends about whether there was a reason to celebrate Australia Day or not. I could have talked about the fact that we’d just come back from Adelaide a couple of days before and how the public holiday meant that I only had a two-day work week. But once again, she wasn’t listening. I gave up. I am not that much a fan of my own voice.

I don’t mind quiet at the register. I think I would have preferred quietness over this almost conversation.

She brightened up a bit when the supervisor told her she could close the register. I asked ‘is that it for you?’ ‘No,’ she said ‘I’m going until 530pm’ it was the most conversation we’d had. We were almost connecting there for a minute.

I had the same thing happen at a conference once. The professor had asked a question at the end of a presentation, and it pertained to my field of research. Stupidly, I thought he’d asked the question because he wanted to know the answer, so I sought him out in the break to further elucidate the quick answer that had been given by the student giving the presentation. But he didn’t want to know. He shared in-jokes with the man standing with us, rather than listen to what I had to say.

I must admit, I like being heard, and like most people, I hate being overlooked. And so I am as guilty of not listening as the next person. I usually want to be listened to, not to take the time to listen to others.

I think that listening, truly listening, is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another. Listening to understand – not listening to build our own argument, or rehearsing our own story while waiting for a chance to get a word in, or making conversation on automatic. Everybody has a story to tell, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find when you take the time to listen.

That locked in feeling

I’m having a little problem with my car. She’s a lovely car, very reliable, totally fun to drive and I don’t want to say anything against her really but I think maybe she loves me too much and is being over protective.

You see, although I have very politely asked many times for her to stop, she will still lock the doors whenever I start the car, locking me in. I think she is concerned that someone will car-jack me at a traffic light or something but I feel that’s unlikely to happen.

Also, once the doors are locked, they are very reluctant to open again. I click the button and I hear the mechanism unlock but then the door immediately locks itself once more. At the moment, when I wish to get out of the car, I must wind down the window (that’s manual by the way, no electric windows in this car – which may be a good thing the way things are going) and find the lock with the key and turn it to unlock the door. The lock catches inside the doors broke years ago. They just flap uselessly.

And I have a fear that the driver’s door will start to act like the passenger door. That one sometimes can’t even be opened with the key. It immediately locks again as soon as you release pressure on the key. If that happens on the driver’s side then I will be reduced to climbing out the window Dukes of Hazard style. That will not be graceful!

So I can tell you what DH will be working on this weekend!

Now unlocking through the window is a reasonable work around and most of the time it’s ok. But I have to admit that this morning when I turned up to work and parked and found myself locked into the car again, I almost decided that it would be easier to spend the day in the car. Almost.

I think that like most people, my ability to handle small frustrations like this is totally dependent on how I am feeling about everything else in my life. If life is going smoothly and I am not feeling overwhelmed then I can handle the little things, I can laugh at the little things, they are small pebbles in the road of life and I am glad to have them happening because they give me something to write about. But  when I am having an off day, when I have not slept well and my head hurts and I have a busy day ahead, then these little issues become pot holes at the very least, jarring me, shaking me up. And sometimes they are pebbles in the shoe, constant small irritations. Or they are mountains in the road. Enough to stop me from moving forward.

The car locking mechanism has been playing up for a few weeks now. No-one has had the time to work on it and I haven’t worried about it. It’s been an intermittent problem and I’ve been fairly intermittent in how I’ve responded to it. Some days it’s been amusing, some days irritating, and mornings like today it’s been almost enough to send me back home and back to bed. (The day got much better, BTW).

Many of the letters in the bible start with the words ‘Grace and peace to you’. If you know you’re forgiven and loved, if you are surrounded by that grace, then you can extend peace to those around you. You are able, from your place of forgiven-ness and unconditional loved-ness to respond peacefully to these irritations that come your way. If you know the supernatural peace that comes from knowing that there is a plan, that you don’t have to be in control of every circumstance, then you can extend grace to those around you and allow others to be irritating within the cushioning that comes from the grace.

I think it’s like breathing in grace and breathing out peace. Then breathing in peace and breathing out grace. And laughing at the little things, the imperfections in life. Because this side of eternity there will always be imperfections, even if it’s something as small as an overprotective car.

So for you my readers I pray ‘Grace and peace to you’ and I hope you pray the same for me. And I hope that after tomorrow I will be able to jump out of my car easily again and will never take it for granted!