Goal Setting for the Non-Goal Setter

I’m married to a man who LOVES to set goals–he has entire systems for goal-setting that help him live intentionally and thoughtfully throughout each year, month, and day. I deeply appreciate this about Michael; it makes him focused and purposeful in how he lives and in how he loves our little family.

But I happen to be on the “loose” end of goal setting; I have ideas in my head but I rarely write them down, and although I’m a very driven, productive person, I’ve never been excited to get my goals down on paper or really think through entire years or months at a time. The typical lists and formats that I’d seen for goal-setting really didn’t seem to help me–or inspire me.

Then, last year, I purchased my first ever set of PowerSheets through Lara Casey’s Cultivate What Matters shop, and my paradigm shifted; now I want to invest in making time to set goals! Ha! This happened, in large part, because PowerSheets is way of approaching goals that has been created by a woman who deeply loves the Lord. PowerSheets are not just about checking items off of a to-do list; they help you shape your life around what matters most and take steps toward living whole-heartedly, whether you’re a working professional, a stay-at-home mom, or a college student.

I LOVE PowerSheets and use them for both the personal side of my life and the professional side of my life, because this is a tool that helps me stay focused on not just getting things done, but on becoming who I want to become by the grace of God.

PowerSheets by Lara Casey

In short: PowerSheets have been a delightful game-changer for me. If you are looking for a way to intentionally approach this coming year with hope and peace and a heart that’s wide-awake and ready for what’s ahead, I highly recommend getting a set for yourself. They just launched today, and they often sell out, so click over and look into them for yourself!

Full disclosure: I’m a store affiliate for PowerSheets, but I requested the opportunity to do so because I believe in this product so much. I use them myself and encourage my Writing with Grace students to use them, too!

 

 

Three Ways Counseling is a Gift You Give Yourself

As someone who has benefited immensely from Christian counseling, I was thankful to get to write a piece about the gifts counseling offers us for
Darling Magazine

3 Ways Counselingis a GiftYou Gift Yourself (1)

We’re still settling into the rhythms of life in our new city, and last week we had dinner with a family that we’re trying to build a relationship with; we go to church with them and our kids are about the same age, so it’s an easy connect.

As our kids ran around one another, I talked with Lesley about life in the last year and a half — all of the transitions that have taken place as we’ve moved cities, changed jobs, and essentially started over in our adult lives. I mentioned that professional counseling has been a game-changer for me in the last season of life, and Lesley paused to ask me more. She had recently been considering counseling but wasn’t sure if she should pursue it, or if it would be a good fit for her. Here’s what I shared with Lesley that night — the three ways that counseling was one of the best gifts I’ve ever given myself:

1. Counseling helps us to walk the journey of health and wholeness intentionally.

Most of us long to live in healthy, empowering ways in our daily lives; we want to respond to ourselves and others with kindness, and we want to live from a place of love rather than fear. But there are very few practical ways to determine if we are actually growing in wholeness and personal wellbeing. There’s not a to-do list that we can check off at the end of every day. Rather, the journey to healing and health is one that will take a lifetime of intentionality. Committing to counseling sets at least one clear step before us on the path to wholeness, and it offers us tools for not only coping with, but thriving in our daily lives.

The journey to healing and health is one that will take a lifetime of intentionality. Click To Tweet

2. Counseling helps us to own our brokenness and our glory.

A good counselor — one who is seeking to help us rather than trying to appease us — is a person who will speak truth. And when that truth is about our brokenness and the ways we have failed, it can be hard to hear. But it is necessary for us to come to terms with the brokenness that we carry so that we can better understand how we respond when confronted with pain and anger and fear. We need to hear the hard truth so that we can forgive and change and grow. And the good news is that as we better understand our brokenness, we can better understand our glory, too. For we are not solely broken; we are those who are choosing to try again, to ask for forgiveness again, to show up again. We have more strength than we know, and more resilience than we might have imagined. These are gifts that a good counselor helps us to see in ourselves.

We have more strength than we know, and more resilience than we might have imagined. Click To Tweet

Read the rest of the article here, at Darling Magazine!

The Unhappiest Year of My Life: The High and Holy Calling of Motherhood

This is one of my articles for Today’s Christian Woman.

Everything about having a baby is touted as happy: the rounding belly, the cute maternity clothes, the baby showers, the adorable tiny clothes.

Yes, pregnancy can be difficult for some women (for me it was very hard), but the overarching sentiment is that having a baby is an amazing, wonderful thing. And it truly is. The miracle of life, the gift of a child, the hope of a growing family—these are all amazing, wonderful things. Beautiful things. Happy things, even. But for me, the first year of my daughter’s life wasn’t very happy.

Actually, it was the unhappiest year of my life.

I knew that having a child would change things; many of my friends had already become parents, and I had watched them go from women with time for coffee dates and professional lives to moms who were worn out and frazzled. I didn’t expect the transition to parenthood to be easy. I didn’t expect that I would sleep much or that I would have a lot of extra time.

Still, I did expect to be happy. I thought that having a baby—a baby that we’d hoped and prayed for—would bring happiness in the midst of sleep deprivation and the transition into life as parents.

How to Make it When Motherhood is Hard. www.annswindell.com

But I wasn’t happy; at least not for a good while. Don’t get me wrong—I was thankful. Ella and I were both healthy, I loved her immensely, and seeing my husband as a father was incredible. But the combination of exhaustion, the lack of time for myself, the shift in my identity to becoming a mother, the change in our marriage relationship, and the depth of responsibility I felt for my daughter, all combined with those powerful postpartum hormones, left me feeling very, very unhappy.

As a new mom, I missed my old life. Would I ever be happy again? #motherhood Click To Tweet

I missed my old life. It’s not that I didn’t want to be Ella’s mom; I loved her more than I thought was possible. But I missed the freedom and rest that I realized I would never get back. I missed being able to put myself first, something that felt increasingly impossible. I missed who I was, and I had the realization that I was never going to be that woman again.

A Shared Experience

Women don’t always talk about it, but many are unhappy—to some degree—during that first year of motherhood. The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, recently reported that the “drop in happiness experienced by parents after the birth of first child was larger than the experience of unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner” (Source). Similarly, an earlier study published in Great Britain noted that “parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction, marital satisfaction and mental well-being compared with non-parents” (Source).

Here’s what some other moms told me about their first year of motherhood:

“I wanted adult conversation. Because I was doing same routine everyday, I felt my intelligence and self esteem diminishing.”

“Having no time to myself and being utterly sleep deprived brought out bitter anger that I’d never dealt with before and was without tools to deal with.”

“I was terribly caught off guard by how my relationship with my husband changed. I suddenly had experiences and a life he couldn’t relate to.”

“I lost any desire for sex because of the fatigue and the physical and hormonal changes.”

Additionally, for many new moms, the shift in their spiritual life—on top of and because of all of the other changes—can cause a great deal of unhappiness, too. One mom remembers that she “found it completely impossible to pray because my mind simply would not stop buzzing with so many things.” Time for a devotional life dwindles down to nothing, or emotional and hormonal changes send us into a dark spiral of depression.

So: the drop in happiness, the loss of identity and adult interaction, the lack of sleep and energy, the change in our marriages and even our relationship with God—these are high costs that most mothers pay time and time again in the early years of child-rearing. So why have children? Are mothers giving themselves over to a life of exhaustion and self-loss?

The Cost of Motherhood

In some ways, the answer is yes. Yes, every intentional mother (and father, albeit in different ways), is giving herself over to a life of exhaustion and self-loss. The cost is very real, and, at times, very painful. And still, we have a model who taught us about the surprising gift we can receive through exhaustion and self-loss: Jesus.

Jesus was, undoubtedly, exhausted at times by his ministry on earth (Mark 4:37-39), and all of his life was aimed at the supreme act of self-loss for the sake of those he loved through his death on the cross. Does that mean that as mothers, we are called to give up everything, too?

No, not in the same way Jesus did. We are not the savior of our children—Christ is. We are not supposed to find our identity or value in our children—that is found only in Christ. We are not asked to find our value in our role as moms—our value is in who Jesus says we are, not in what we do. But the way of Christ is the call to pick up our cross and lay down our life (Matt. 16-24-26), and for many of us, mothering will reveal the depths of that call like nothing else. We will be asked to lay aside our immediate desires for the sake of our children’s wellbeing and growth. We will be asked to consider one little life—or many little lives—as more important than our own (Phil. 2:3-4). And we will feel the loss of self in new and, often, painful ways—sometimes in ways that make us very unhappy.

We are not the savior of our children—Christ is. #motherhood Click To Tweet

The Gift in the Struggle

Yet, there is a deeper joy that goes beyond the cost of our unhappiness—the gift of sufficiency in Christ. For Christ himself tells us that “…whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). In our weakness and our pain and our sorrow, we are offered the gift of Christ’s strength: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In the places where, as mothers, it often feels most like we are losing our own lives—losing our freedom, our time, our sleep, our energy—we have the opportunity to find our lives through the sufficiency of Christ as we rely on him for everything. One mom puts it this way: “Being a mom drove me to my knees in helplessness before God, which in the long run did a great deal of good in me.”

So while having a child may make us “unhappier,” perhaps that is not a bad thing.[1] Perhaps the gift of getting to experience Christ’s strength in our weakness, perhaps letting the struggle of motherhood reveal our reliance upon Him—perhaps these are the very things that will lead us into joy that runs deeper than fleeting happiness. I know it has for me. I don’t always feel thrilled about the responsibilities that I carry as a mother, and I don’t usually feel happy about being exhausted. Still, I’ve never felt more joyful than when I’m holding my daughter in my arms, aware that my loving Heavenly Father—who sees me, cares for me, and knows my needs—is holding me, too.

 

[1] If you are struggling with deep sadness that persists or anxiety that won’t go away, you may have post-partum depression. Please seek professional help and start the journey to healing—in Christ, healing is possible.

 

Still Waiting is available now! www.stillwaitingbook.com

10 Ways to Grow Spiritually with Your Spouse

This is the start of my newest article from Today’s Christian Woman.

When it comes to strengthening our marriages and growing together, some types of growth are more clear-cut than others. When we wanted to grow in our dancing skills, Michael and I took a dance class. When we wanted to grow in our parenting skills, we read books and talked with veteran parents. When we wanted to grow in our communication skills, we went to marriage counseling together. But how we grow together spiritually is a little less obvious.

Ultimately, as we both aim to know and love Jesus more, our marriage will benefit from the pursuit of Christ, and including one another in our spiritual lives can bring more unity and joy into our home. But other than attending church together, how can we grow spiritually together?

Here are ten ways we’ve been able to grow together spiritually that might enrich your marriage too. Some of these might just surprise you.

10 Ways to Grow Spiritually With Your Spouse at www.annswindell.com

1. Go on a wild adventure together. Take a trip to a new city, or do something out of your comfort zone, like jet skiing or scuba diving. New experiences create new chances for conversation about what you value, along with occasions for reflection on your lives together. Are you both satisfied or hungering for something more? Deviating from the rhythms of regular life helps people articulate what they need more clearly. New adventures open up windows for meaningful connection—practically and spiritually—as you get out of the patterns that you rely on during the week.

10 Ways to Grow Spiritually with Your Spouse Click To Tweet

2. Join a small group that makes you think. If your church has a small group ministry, choose a group that you can attend together. The weekly—or monthly—chance to talk with others about God, read the Bible together, and chat about spiritual matters can open up important questions and conversations that spill into your home. Michael and I have had many, many conversations about God and our spiritual journeys that were piqued by discussion during a small group. A small group provides a consistent time set aside for spiritual growth, and when you go together you will grow together.

3. Have sex! Marital intimacy is a powerful spiritual bonding agent, and consistent, healthy sex connects you to your spouse in a way that nothing else can. Sex is spiritually powerful because it is meant to point you toward deeper intimacy, not only with your spouse but also with God. Intimacy in the bedroom can help foster spiritual intimacy and vice versa.

Read the other seven ways to grow together as a couple spiritually here, at Today’s Christian Woman!

Waiting with Hope Devotional by Ann Swindell www.annswindell.com

Marriage Shouldn’t End Your Dating Life: An Article for RELEVANT Magazine

Dating Each Other for a Healthy Marriage www.annswindell.com

This is my newest article for RELEVANT. Read the entirety of the article here!

Dating—in person, online or blind—is prized in our culture, and most of us think of dating to be an important part of any meaningful, romantic relationship. Whether casual or glamorous, expensive or on a budget, we intuitively know that dating is a central way to get to know someone, win his or her heart and build a romance.

So why wouldn’t dating continue to be important after marriage?

Marriage is meant to be an earthly picture of Christ and the Church, a relationship that points to the love and affection between Jesus and His people. But if a husband and wife hardly spend time together, it’s difficult for that love and affection to grow.

Dating your spouse doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult, but to maintain—and grow—a healthy marriage, consistently dating your partner is important to do.

Dating your spouse doesn’t have to be expensive, but to grow a healthy marriage, dating your… Click To Tweet

Here are some of the reasons we all need to continue to date our spouses after we say our vows at the altar:

Time Is a Valuable Gift

Making time to date one another in a season of life that is very busy (and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon) is a powerful gift you can offer your spouse. Time is a precious commodity to any of us, and when we willingly spend that time with one another, we are saying “You are worth my time.” And because our lives are made up of just that—time—we are saying, in essence, “You are worth my life.”

We Invest in What We Value

If you’re like me and you’re not rolling in money, the components of getting a date with your spouse can seem too costly sometimes—paying for a date (and a sitter, if you have kids) can start to add up.

Yet, we invest in what we value: we do this all of the time with our food choices, our clothing purchases, our donations. It doesn’t mean we have to spend loads of money to date, but we do have to invest in growing our marriages as a couple—and it will cost us money, as many things of value often do.

When We Short-Change Our Spouses, We Short-Change the Family

Even if the family is just the two of you right now, if you ignore the need that your spouse has for intentional, invested time together, you’re hurting the family dynamics. The cracks may not start to show for a while, but the foundation of intimacy and friendship will weaken if you’re not building in to your relationship as husband and wife.

Once we have kids, I think it’s just as important—if not more so—to keep dating one another. As a mom, I want my daughter to have everything she needs (and more). But more than many other things, children want to know that their parents are in love and that they enjoy one another. this brings peace and stability to a home.

Children want to know that their parents are in love and that they enjoy one another. #marriage Click To Tweet

Having a consistent date night won’t guarantee a healthy marriage, but it provides intentional space to grow together as a couple.

 

Read the rest of the article here, at RELEVANT Magazine!

Related: Dating Your Husband: The Hows and Whys