woman holding clock with hair blowing and gray behind herDo you constantly feel pressed for time? How easy is it for you to relax? When you lie down at night, does the next day’s to-do list run through your mind? My guest today, Edie Melson, author of Soul Care, is perhaps the most productive and efficient woman I know. She writes, directs conferences, speaks … and yet, she does it all with joy, and reading her insightful thoughts today, I understand how.

Playing with God

By Edie Melson

Everywhere I turn I see people dealing with stress. As the world has become more technologically advanced, life has gotten busier. Along with that busyness comes a level of burn-out like never before. There are numerous reasons for the whirlpool of chaos, and while I don’t have all the answers, I’ve stumbled on something that helps me.

Playtime with God.

No, not hide and seek—we all know how that turned out with Adam and Eve. I’ve found the healing power of joy paint brushes with quote pulled from postwhen I reconnect with the creativity God instilled inside me.

God is the ultimate Creator. He’s an artist, writer, composer, and story-crafter with infinite ideas. But He doesn’t just invite us to view His artwork. His invitation is to join Him.

We’ve ignored His prompting for far too long. And that. We’ve labeled play as wasted time, forgetting that God Himself ordained one day every week for rest and refreshing. If God sees the need, how can we be so bold as to disagree?

Playing with God looks different for each of us—because we’re each unique. For me it may mean grabbing my camera and taking a hike in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. Or pulling out my colored pens and pencils, along with a journal to doodle words and Bible verses.

I resisted the artistic side of play for a long time because I am not an artist. Even my stick figures are laughable. But I love color and found writing out a word or Bible verse in different colored ink frees my soul. And I’ve discovered that I adore doodling.

These times of creativity feed my soul and have become an intimate and precious time with God. Often I’ve heard Him whisper new truths how to apply them as I carve out space in my busy life to play.

But it wasn’t easy to develop this habit.

The erroneous belief that play time is wasted time was deeply ingrained. I love crossing things off my to-do list and somehow, 1pm: Doodling, with a check beside it didn’t seem the least bit productive.

But God didn’t give up on me. His Spirit called to mine as the busyness threatened to overwhelm my already over-full life. Once I began practicing fun-time with God, it grew into a habit that I now keep high on my priority list.

You can play too.

Start exploring your creativity as you experience the priceless joy of hanging out with God. Below is an exercise to help you get started.

colored pencilsHere is a list of possible supplies you might need:

  • Crayons
  • Colored pencils
  • Stickers
  • Journals or sketch book
  • Cell phone camera (or regular camera)
  • Bible or devotional book

An Exercise to Encourage Creativity

  • Begin by removing expectations. It’s the process of play, not the end result that matters. Give yourself to be messy and imperfect.
  • Invite God to join you and ask Him to bring to mind a word or phrase or Bible verse.
  • Write what comes to mind on a blank sheet of paper.
  • Add some color and doodles.
  • As other, related thoughts come to mind, write those down.

Just like any new endeavor, even learning to have fun takes practice. I encourage you to keep playing. If doodling or coloring isn’t for you, find something else. Take a walk, grab a camera, sing a song—follow the path to your creative inheritance as you see where playtime with God can take you.

Get to know Edie!

Find your voice, live your story…is the foundation of Edie Melson’s message, and as an author, blogger, and Edie's author photospeaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives.

In addition to being a writer, Edie has this to say, “I’m creative out of self-defense. As the daughter of an artist-mother and musician-turned-photographer-father, I’d have been a disgrace if I hadn’t been true my own creativity.” Connect with her on her website, www.EdieMelson.com and through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Check out her latest release:

Soul Care When You’re Weary

cover image for Soul Care by Edie MelsonOur lives are busier each day, and the margin we have available for recovery and peace is shrinking.

Edie Melson helps you find Soul Care solutions using devotions and prayers and opportunities for creative expression. She has learned that sensory involvement deepens our relationship with the Father and gives rest to our weary souls. She will teach you to tap into your creativity.

Reconnect with God using your tactile creativity.

Warning! This book may become dog-eared and stained. Draw in it. Experiment with your creative passions. Learn the healing power of play. Allow God’s power to flow through creativity. Soul Care When You’re Weary will become your heart treasure.

Messages encouraging us to slow down this Christmas  abound, but without a game plan and the courage to follow through, those inspiring posts and articles lead to little more than guilt. We know we need to focus on what’s truly important and most fills our heart and soul … but how? It’s one thing to desire–and even choose–simplicity; it’s another matter entirely to put our plans to action.

Change, especially when it comes to long held traditions and family expectations, requires courage.

(Insert background melody: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year)

It’s the most stressful time of the year
With kids fighting and yelling
And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It’s the most stressful time of the year

It’s the bus-busyest season of all
With the holiday shopping and mass-event hopping
And you must do it all
It’s the bus-busyest season of all

~ ~ ~

Did that song resonate with you? Do you feel so squeezed by all the expectations and obligations surrounding Christmas that you’ve lost the ability to think straight?

It’s hard to say no.

You may have heard the Mary and Martha story. Martha was a stressed out matron of the home who liked to throw perfect dinner parties, and Mary was the spiritual one—the girl who sat at the feet of Jesus—in the middle of said dinner party.

woman setting table
Photo by Simple from Unsplash

How many of you have hosted an important dinner? I have a few times. Now my husband begs me to order pizza.

Picture chaos, burned (or undercooked) food, and a massive mess. Always. Had I been serving Jesus, the Savior of the world, I probably would’ve had a major meltdown. He’s the last Person I’d want to serve hard potatoes and undercooked roast to!

Martha and I could’ve been twinsies, except we’d probably give each other a migraine. Too often, I allow my desire for perfection (eh, hem. pride) to overshadow what’s truly important. And everything turns ugly.

This certainly seems to be the case for Martha. I picture her as being quite passive aggressive—stomping about, clanking dishes, sighing every couple minutes while shooting Mary the stink eye.

Only Mary wasn’t paying any attention. She was too busy enjoying the special gift God had given her—His presence.

Although, she, and all their guests, must’ve heard Martha’s fuming. But Mary chose to ignore it.

Think about that for a minute. Mary chose to ignore the drama and do what she knew she needed to do.

Make no mistake, this took courage. You’ve probably been there—stuck in a situation where you knew what you wanted and needed to do, but were surrounded by others who acted as if you’re efforts or choice was lazy, irresponsible, or manipulative.

If we’re not careful, we can easily turn into Martyr Marthas, feeding our negative thinking and fueling our frustrations until we verbally explode.

This is precisely how I envision Martha acting–trudging about her kitchen, glaring at her sister, growing all the more irritable, until she’d had enough. Couldn’t anyone see how hard she was working, and how hard her sister wasn’t? Wanting to make sure they—Jesus especially—were fully aware of Mary’s poor behavior, she confronted the issue head-on, in front of all the guests.

“She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to You that my sister just sits there while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me,’” (Luke 10:40, NLT).

Imagine Mary’s humiliation—to be called out in front of all their guests. So how’d she respond? Did she hurry to do what Martha wanted? Argue with her? Nope. She let Jesus take care of the situation, and He did. He said, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42, NLT).

Image of candle and background lights with text: there's only one gift that will leave us fulfilledIt’s easy to get caught up in all the details, especially during the holidays. Unless we take control of our schedules, we can become “worried and upset,” otherwise known as totally stressed out, and rob ourselves of the gift of God’s presence. But we are in control of us, and we get to decide what our Christmas looks like.

This holiday, we can approach it one of two ways. We can get so worked up over all the details, or we can create the kind of Christmas we and our families need, the kind that’s centered around Christ.

Let’s talk about this. Whenever I feel the need to make changes, especially if those changes impact others, I’m hesitant. It can take courage to change a tradition, or cut back on family commitments, perhaps to turn down invitations. But God calls us to please Him first. How can focusing on Him give us courage to put Him first? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you enjoyed today’s post, I encourage you to sign up for my free quarterly newsletter to receive free, inspirational content (and recipes and craft how-tos) sent directly to your inbox. Subscribers also receive a free 36-lesson study based on 1 Timothy (sent separately). You can sign up HERE. And, for added fun, you can snatch Breaking Free and When Dawn Breaks for half off–with free shipping! Grab a copy for yourself or the book lovers on your list!

I also invite you to pop on over to my blog on Crosswalk to read about the unlikely Christmas cast and what it revealed regarding the heart of God. You can read it HERE.

*Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright (c) 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Pubilishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

It’s the phrase that makes nearly every mom cringe, and with summer approaching, it’s one most of us will hear a lot of soon:

Photo by Stoonn taken from freedigitalphotos.net

“I’m bored.”

In our fast-paced, action-packed, activity-centered world where kids as young as seven are given cell phones and spend hours a day watching television, we can easily keep our children entertained from the moment they wake to when they go to bed.

But is that healthy? Could all this entertainment cause their stress levels to rise, their creativity to wane, and their self-confidence to falter? 

Could boredom, in fact, benefit our children, and if so, why do we, the parents, often feel the need to become our children’s entertainer?

I think maybe we’ve been conditioned to believe we, and therefore our children, must always be doing something, achieving something, progressing toward something. Sometimes it seems as if boredom has become synonymous with torture.

But what if this mindset is actually hurting our children? That’s not to say we shouldn’t encourage hard work, goal setting, and social involvement, within reason.

Because sometimes, the best thing we can do for our children is to slow things down to allow them time to experience boredom.

Boredom allows our children to decompress.

child-1146743_1920A few weeks ago, an article circulated Facebook about how even a few minutes of silence benefits our brains and helps to reduce stress. More than that, studies have found constant noise actually harms our children and delays their development (2011, Novotney). Is it any wonder, then, that today’s children show  such increased levels of anxiety (2000, Dr. Twenge)?

I find this interesting, especially considering many of us use the television to help “calm” our children  when they appear rambunctious or agitated when, according to research, our efforts could in fact be exacerbating the issue.

Boredom encourages creativity. 

photo by igrown taken from pixabay.com

When our daughter was young, I intentionally limited television and electronics to not more than a few hours a week. I’d read a study that showed how a child’s brain is more active staring at a blank wall than watching television and I decided I wanted more for her. So, I turned the tv off, sat her in a room with access to toys, books, and art supplies and watched her creative side blossom. The result? She created elaborate, three-dimensional, multi-story structures using nothing but paper, scissors, and tape.

I find it interesting that she is now pursuing an engineering degree.

Not only did her boredom spark her creativity, it allowed her time to develop her problem solving skills, skills she leaned on heavily to get through tough classes in high school and now in college.

The thing is, if given the opportunity, children will entertain themselves, and in the process, will learn how to care for themselves.

Boredom increases self-confidence.

Everything we do sends a message to our children. When we’re quick to rescue them when things get difficult rather than encouraging them to persevere toward a solution, we’re in essence saying, “I don’t think you can manage this one.” When we rush to entertain them upon first sign of boredom, we risk conveying the message, “Your incomplete on your own. You can’t entertain yourself, and solitude is bad.”

Fast forward ten years, how do you think such a child will handle sitting by themselves in the lunch room, or walking away from a group of friends venturing into trouble?

Boredom encourages self-discovery.

Our children are vastly different than us, and they’ve been created to embrace and fulfill a unique kingdom role. Childhood is meant to be the time when they begin to discover who they are, what they enjoy, and what they’re passionate about. And they will, if we allow them to do so. But when pack their day with activities and distractions, we hinder their ability to get to know themselves. Boredom gives our children time to think, which in turn allows them to be introspective.

Let’s talk about this! Did any of these points resonate with you? What are some ways you help encourage your children to entertain themselves? How have you incorporated times of silence into your children’s day, and how do you believe that helps them emotionally and cognitively? Can you see evidence of increased stress when your children become busier, and if so, how have you handled this?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other!

Novotney, Amy. “Silence Please.” American Psychological Association, 2011, Vol 42, No 7

Dr. Twenge, Jean M. “Studies Show Normal Children Today Report More Anxiety Than Child Psychiatric Patients in the 1950s.” American Psychological Association, December 14, 2000.

Photo by LoganArt taken from freedigitalphotos.net

This is almost ironic–the day after I make a vlog sharing my tendency to worry, stress and fret (when I should be still!) my article on Internet Cafe’ Devotions on embracing risk goes live. The two might seem contradictory… or maybe not. Because surrender is a constant, daily battle. As is learning to trust, and I say learning intentionally, because I believe we should be active participants in the processes that deepen our trust in Christ.

But that’s a blog (or maybe vlog) for another day.

If you have a tendency to worry, to work every what-if situation in your mind until your stomach knots and your temperature rises, if you’re like me and would rather avoid those uncomfortable stretching moments, you may be able to relate to the below. (And um… 4:00 yesterday quickly turned to 8 am today… Sorry about that!)

(After you watch my vlog, join me on Internet Cafe’ to take this trust thing one step further, figuratively and literally. Read more HERE.)

Oh, and it’s that time again–another book launch is upon me! Which means, in the next couple months, I’ll be visiting numerous websites, answering interview questions, sharing stories behind my stories, testimonial devotions and more. I’ll try to keep you updated of all my happenings and visits.

Today I’m on the Internet Cafe’ (linked to above). I visited Robin Mason’s blog to talk about self-protecting (or not) when we’re under attack. You can read more HERE.

Photo by Unsplash taken from Pixabay.com

I’m also on Preslaysa Williams blog talking about one of my favorite subjects–love! 🙂 You can read more HERE! God has done such amazing things in my marriage, and thanks to Him, my honey and I will be leaving soon to head back to Seattle–where it all began–for a special anniversary week. To add fun to fun, I’m editing, now, a novel set in Seattle (which will release in March), so I hope to take lots of pictures for Pinterest!

Wow, it’s been a loooooong time since I’ve updated this blog. I apologize. We’ve been moving–yes, again. Only a short distance this time–down the street. (Long, boring story that has nothing to do with today’s post. 😉 ) But with moving comes packing, fence and deck painting, unpacking, cleaning, and more cleaning. Did I mention cleaning? 😉 And amidst it all, I’ve had my share of crabby days … this morning being one of them … when the garage door repairman tracked black oil across our tan carpet. Oy! Now if ever I needed to pause and pray that my head didn’t instantly explode (creating yet another mess to clean), that was it.

Funny God arranged for this post today, well before my need arose. 😉

Invoice or Love Letter by Cheri Swalwell

“Dear Heavenly Father, Your Word tells me that I am a letter being read by everyone. I pray that I won’t be junk mail today. I pray that I won’t be like a bill making people feel like they owe me. I pray that I will be a love letter, a thank you note, and an invitation to celebrate life.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” (www.girlfriendsingod.com)

Wow – After the day I had earlier this week, the prayer above really convicts me. I could blame it on the Heatwave, excessive stress, change in routine, any number of things. Honestly, though, it all boils down to me making the choice to let my emotions have the best of me. I wasn’t only miserable myself, but I managed to spread my bad mood to those I love the most too.

MH900178785I think God showed me that prayer on purpose today. You see, I realized yesterday, even as I was saying the words in a not-so-nice tone, how I sounded and how unfair I was being. So, last night, I first asked forgiveness from my Heavenly Father for being such a poor example to those He entrusted to me as well as those unfortunate souls who happened to cross my path. Then I apologized to my kids themselves for being “the wicked witch of the mid-West.”

This morning, I was determined to have a different sort of day. I asked questions instead of accused, found things to compliment my kids about instead of criticizing, and even though it’s my job to keep my children focused on “completing tasks to their best ability,” I chose the better way to go about that goal.

When I opened the cupboard to grab a container and everything fell out on top of me, my response was much different this morning than it would have been yesterday. Did I let my kids off the hook for their laziness? No, but I was very clear in my expectations, delivered with love this time. Does that mean that they were thrilled to hear the message today because it was told in a different tone of voice? No, but that isn’t the point.

I am realizing, and the prayer above just reemphasizes, that it is my responsibility to show this world an accurate example of Christ’s love. I am God’s letter. If I am going to proclaim that I am a Christ follower, then I need to show Christ in my life always, not just when my hair looks good, the scale shows numbers I like, and the temperature is in the low 80s with a breeze. I will even take my convictions one step further. I think it’s more important to show Christ when in the middle of a Heatwave, my stress level is through the roof, or Murphy’s Law has decided to set up camp in my front yard.

People who are looking to see if Christ is the answer to their life are going to look, probably doubly hard, at how a Christ follower handles life on a day-by-day basis, during good and bad days. And, even though I won’t get it right all the time, I pray that I’m learning from my mistakes (like yesterday) and will do better the next time. After all, I don’t want to be accused of false advertising.


Cheri_portrait-2Cheri Swalwell is a wife, mother, and avid reader, but first and foremost she is a Christ follower. She has a degree in Psychology and has been blessed to be a guest on a variety of blogs including Christiandevotions.us, Circle of Friends, and Crosswalk.com/family. She is a regular contributor to book fun magazine. If you want to hear more about the heart she has for marriage, parenting, and relationships from a Christian perspective, feel free to visit her blog: http://journeysfromtheheartofawifeandmother.wordpress.com or “like” her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/cheri-Swalwell. She loves to interact with her readers, so feel free to connect with her at clSwalwell99@gmail.com.

Let’s talk about this. If you’re like me, you often fail to pray when you need it most. Most often because I get so wrapped up in the moment–in myself–God’s kingdom is far from my mind. But like Cheri said, it can be during our most difficult times that others will see Christ shine through–if we would but let Him. What are some ways we can align our hearts and actions more with Christ? And what gets in our way?

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments before or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

Between VBS, taxiing teens, getting our daughter set up for the new school year, writing, and starting a new job, this summer’s turned crazy. Listening to other friends, it appears I’m not the only one with a rapidly mounting to-do list. For me, a lot of jobs and little time equals a dull mind. Yesterday is a perfect example. First, I missed our daughter’s orthodontist appointment, then I showed up to our doctor’s appointment without the physical forms and had to return home, wasting time I didn’t have.

By the time evening rolled around, I felt squeezed and ready to pop. My first inclination was to put things in overdrive, although I’d already seen how ineffective frantic scurrying was. Instead, I chose to slow things down and reconnect with my Maker.

Taking an hour to pray and listen to praise didn’t magically erase or accomplish my to-do list, but it did bring things back to perspective. It reminded me of God’s sovereignty and His promise to perfect that which concerns me. (Psalm 138:8)

Ephesians 2:10, Jeremiah 29:11, and Psalm 139:16 remind me that God’s still on the throne, even when my to-do list fights for dominance. No failure or missed appointment can impede His plans. Knowing that gave me peace to finish my day strong.

What about you? How do you regain perspective when your stress level rises? What about today? Feel like you need to xerox yourself in order to accomplish everything on your agenda? Meditate on the following verses, then focus on doing the best you can with the time you’ve got. God will take care of the rest.

Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. Not only has he enabled us to have peace with God, but He also gives us a daily peace that surpasses our circumstances–when we abide. If we abide in Him, remain in Him, draw near to Him throughout our day, He’ll come to us, soothing our anxieties and filling us with peace and strength. It might feel like we don’t have time for prayer, but honestly, if we’re feeling frazzled and pushed to the max, we don’t have time not to pray.

Let Jesus be your all in all today.

My daughter often jokes that her father and I will have “permagrins” when we are old. She follows this with an explanation of how weird we both are, adding, “But weird is never boring.” She’s at that age of analysis–where everything is explored, digested and discussed. Yesterday after a particularly giggly drive on our way home from the orthodontist, she said, “Have you noticed how all Christian moms are a bit goofy?” She then went on to talk about some of the Christian women she knew, comparing and contrasting them to some of the moms of her non-Christian friends. She wanted to know if being a Christian made you goofy. I had to laugh at her simple, tell-it-like-it-is, teenage logic. Then, once we were done sharing a giggle and a few, “Remember when,” stories, I asked her why she thought that was. Why were the Christians she knew so much happier than those who didn’t know Christ? She said, “Jesus must be really funny!” Ah, from the mouth of babes! Although I do think God must have a sense of humor (ever seen an angler fish?), you and I know there’s much more to it than that.

Knowing Jesus means knowing peace. Our family has faced numerous ups and downs, but even in the depths of trial, we can rejoice because we know-know-know God is in control. Because of God’s ever protective hand on our lives, the stress is not so stressful, the difficulty not so difficult and the pain not nearly as intense. And what happens when stress, angst and fear are removed? Joy is allowed to bubble freely.

Today’s post reminds us that we are not alone. God is ever-present, in the good times and the bad. He goes before us and levels the mountains and breaks through bars of iron. He walks beside us, holding us up when we are tired. He goes behind us, ready to catch us should we fall. And He goes with us, filling us with the love that penetrates so deeply, it overflows in love, joy, peace, goodness and self-control.

Today’s devo first appeared on Jodie Bailey’s personal blog on September 1st. As you read it, take time to really digest the truth presented. No matter where you go, God is with you. His love will never fail and His mercies are new every morning. He knows the answer to every problem you’ll ever face and He has the power to see you through.

*                          *                               *

Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV)–The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

I love this verse (and the dozens like it in the Bible), because I still struggle to remember that God goes with me… everywhere… always.  It’s so easy to get bogged down in my plans and worries and concerns that I miss the fact He is right there beside me.

But the cool part of this verse is in the very first six words:  The Lord Himself goes before you…

Not only does He go with us, He goes before us.  Everywhere we go, He has already been.  He’s already prepared the way.  No detour in our lives surprises Him.  No “out of the blue” happening catches Him off guard.  By the time we get there, He’s seen it all.  Oh, if that’s not comforting, I don’t know what is.  Why worry about tomorrow?  God’s already seen it.

So, as you peruse Deuteronomy, what verse leaps out at you?  Share it in the comments of this blog or blog about it yourself and leave us a link. Just be sure to link back to us.  Looking forward to hearing what you find!

*                            *                            *

Jodie Bailey was Playwright of the Year in Methodist University’s annual Hail! Dionysus competition and has written plays performed by the Monarch Playmakers. She has been published in Teen magazine and collaborated on PWOC International’s latest Bible study. She has a B.A. double major in English literature and writing, and an M.Ed. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, the Christian Writers Guild, and Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and daughter.

She is an avid reader, a life-long writer, and an aspiring beach bum.  She is a stubborn child who resisted God’s calling for two decades until He hit her over the head with a Beth Moore Bible Study book, and she finally figured out He wanted her to be a writer.  When not tapping away at the keyboard, she watches NCIS reruns, eats too many chocolate chip cookies, wishes she were at the beach, roughhouses with her daughter, and follows her Army husband around the country.

We are nearing the end of our top twenty of 2010. In January, God willing, we’ll focus on intentional living, albeit with a few less posts per week.

If you loved today’s devo and think it should make my top three of 2010, leave a comment, fb share it, “like” it or tweet it. (And, I highly recommend you hop on over to Jodie’s blog for her Word Wednesday! She’s always got a nugget to share.)

Last night our church talked about the parable of the Good Samaritan and somehow this led to a conversation on social mores and customs. (I’m not sure if it was a way to excuse our Americanized, “It’s all about me” mentality, or if we just happened to hop down a rabbit trail or two.) The jest of it was that Americans do things so differently than the majority of other nations. Many of our neighboring countries place a high priority on relationships. According to our small group leader, in Africa, relationships are valued to such an extent, one stays until a conversation is done–until the conversing party excuses them. There’s no, “Hey, I hate to cut you off, but I’ve got to go.” If you miss work, you miss work. I suppose you’d learn to schedule your fellowship time on Saturdays. lol.

In America, it’s all about productivity and achievements. People think nothing of fathers who can’t make it home for dinner or mothers who have their nannies on speed dial. It doesn’t take long to figure out where our priorities lie. Relationships? Not high on the list.

And before I get too far, I have to admit, I am very guilty of putting my schedule before relationships. Partially because I’m an introvert–a gregarious introvert, I suppose you could say. It’s not that I can’t handle social events–in fact, I’ll probably be the most talkative of the bunch. It’s just that I’d prefer to stay at home. With my computer, my books, and maybe some softly playing music. But if I’m not careful, my tasks can dominate my day, leaving others feeling a bit unappreciated.

This is a balance I’m not sure I’ll ever master, but it’s one I can never neglect. For me, scheduling works best. (That sounds a bit odd, I know.) With my family, there are certain days and times that I set aside to be available. With my friends, I’ve had to schedule days in. That way I can’t “get too busy” or conveniently decline. And with my daughter, it can be even harder because as a teen, she’s convinced she doesn’t need parental time. Only I know she does. It’s the time spent in leisurely walks or nestled on the couch that will glue our hearts together when the threat of rebellion seeps in.

Elizabeth George, author of A Woman After God’s Own Heart, has an effective way of keeping first things first. Each day she grabs a slip of paper and folds it into individual sections. Each section is given a category: God, husband, children, and so forth. She begins with prayer, “Lord, show me how I can demonstrate that you are first in my life today.” Then, “Show me how I can love my husband today.”

She comes up with one tangible way to bless each of the individuals on her list. For her God category, perhaps that means spending time in prayer. For her husband, it might mean cooking a special meal. Or maybe she’ll call and ask, “What can I do for you today?” (Gotta tell you, the first time I tried that one, I was pretty worried. Visions of my husband unloading a mammoth to-do list filled my mind. But most of the time, his requests have been very minimal.) It doesn’t really matter what the action is. What’s important is that she took the time to be intentional with her love.

It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. I’ve known so many couples standing on the other side of divorce that highly regret the lack of time they spent investing in their marriage. I’ve also seen countless parents watch their children spiral into destruction, wishing they’d been more consistent with family time and Bible discussions.

But on the flip side? I’ve also witnessed many couples married for decades still light up when their spouse enters the room and I’ve watched numerous adult children look upon their parents with deep respect and admiration.

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, but all you’ve really got is  today.

So here’s the challenge: the holidays can be stressful or enriching. You can have the best decorated house on the block, attend all the right functions and buy that perfect gift for the tenth office party you’ll attend. Or, you can scale it back and determine to put first things first, even if that means saying no to that time-sapping function. Or perhaps forego cooking that ten course meal in order to spend a few extra moments with your family. Better yet, find ways to include your children or grandchildren in the preparations, focusing more on the event than the outcome. Meaning, if your ten year old’s iced cookies look a little less than perfect, let it go.

What about you? Are the holidays a time of stress or a time of celebration and connection? If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, perhaps that’s a sign to scale something back. What “Americanized’ traditions and expectations have seeped into your holidays, detracting from its true purpose? What steps can you take to refocus? What events and activities do you need to say no to? And what could you do simpler?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the ever-invasive threat of materialism. Yeah, I know, this topic is way overdone, but if you’re anything like me, the constant reminder to put first things first with a counter-culture mentality is a constant battle. One worth contemplating periodically.

1 John 3:18 “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”