The One Resolution that Changes Everything

I’m not the type of person who is usually motivated by goals, and New Year’s resolutions tend to fall under this category for me. But there is one type of resolution I made a decade a ago that has utterly transformed my life. 

I aim to spend time with Jesus every single day.

Of course, there are days when life gets a little too wild and I don’t manage to set time aside for the Lord, but by and large, I spend time with him every day of the week, every week of the year. I don’t say this because I’m fantastic; I say this because I’m a broken and sinful person, desperately in need of the healing and love of Christ every single day. It’s spiritual life and death for me; spending time with Jesus is the only thing that keeps me hopeful, kind, and loving—because he is hopeful, kind, and loving. When I spend time with him, I become more like him, and that is what I need most of all.

The One Resolution That Changes Everything at www.annswindell.com

When it comes to getting time reading the Word, praying, and journaling, I’m committed to spending daily time with Jesus because I’ve discovered that more than time and money, more than romance and entertainment, more than fame and Facebook, Jesus is worth everything. Absolutely everything. He holds time in his hands and he, himself, is everything of value. He is the deepest love and the richest reward. He is the only famous one and the friend of all. He is the prize. He is the treasure. He is the King.

When I spend time with him, I become more like him, and that is what I need most of all. Click To Tweet

And I have been given the gift of not only being saved from my sin but also of being healed from the inside out by his love and mercy and grace. Spending time with him is a deep privilege. Knowing him is an opportunity greater than any offered on this earth.

It’s worth it, to me, to spend daily time with Jesus, because at the end of all days, Jesus is all that I will have. I want to live my time here on earth knowing him, learning his heart, staying captivated by his goodness and his truth. I don’t want to be surprised when I finally meet him face-to-face. I want to know this Savior I follow as much as I can here on earth.

Spending time with the Lord doesn’t have to look any particular way; for me, it involves reading the Bible, journaling my prayers, and often, singing songs of praise to him. But there are many ways to spend time with Jesus, and you may need to mix up your normal routine if you find your attention waning or your heart growing hard. Consider going on prayer walks to keep your mind and body focused, or think about pulling out your notepad and writing poetry to the Lord as a form of worship. Listen to the Bible on audio as a new way to engage with Scripture. You can paint for the Lord, dance for him, even bake—pray as you measure and pour! The aim is to keep our hearts centered on the goodness and nearness of Christ, and to immerse our minds in his Truth.

It’s worth it to spend daily time with Jesus, because at the end of all days, Jesus is all we will… Click To Tweet

So as 2018 whispers in like a song yet to be sung, let’s turn our time and our hearts, again, to Jesus. He is so worthy, friends. And completely available to meet with us every day of the year.

This piece was originally published at Deeply Rooted.

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

Five Ways to Keep Jesus Central this Holiday Season

Life doesn’t stop in any season, especially during the busy Christmas season full of t0-do lists, parties, shopping, and, (hopefully!) worship opportunities. So how can we still try to focus our hearts in a deeper way on the presence of God in our lives, especially during Advent? How can we attend to how he is moving and how we are (or are not) responding to his love?

5 Ways to Stay Close to Jesus in the Holiday Season. www.annswindell.com

Here are some simple steps that I’ve found are helpful to stay close to Jesus in the busy days of Advent:

1. Start with Scripture. It sounds simple, but it can also be very hard to read the Word regularly. I have found, for me, that when I start my day in the Bible, my heart and mind are better prepared to respond to God’s presence throughout the rest of the day. Aligning my mind and heart with his Word in the morning is like tying up my shoelaces before going out the door—it’s much easier to keep from slipping as I walk through the day.  If this isn’t a normal part of your life, that’s ok! Start by reading just a few verses at a time, and ask God to speak to your heart with his truth.

2. Pray as you go. It is important to have regular time set aside to pray, but as in any relationship, ongoing communication is important. I often pray in shorter bursts while I’m driving, or while I’m walking across campus to my classroom, or while I’m picking up toys in the house. I had a professor in college who prayed for a particular person each time he turned on a light switch, and I love that idea of partnering normal, daily actions with intentional prayer. Prayer doesn’t need to be fancy or long—just honest communication with God. 

3. Pause when you feel overwhelmed. This is an important one for me. There are often multiple times every day where I can feel overwhelmed, anxious, or concerned—usually about things that are outside of my control. If I take time to pause and turn to God when these moments come, rather than letting fear or anxiety overtake me, I find that he has never left my side, and He is always offering me his peace, which is bigger than any fear (Phil. 4:6-7). The time it takes me to pause and pray is always shorter than the time it takes me to be worried about something for another five minutes—or five days!

4. Listen to Truth. In our home and in our cars, Michael and I play music that reminds us of God’s presence in our lives. Music seeps into my mind more easily (and mindlessly) than most things, so if I find myself humming a tune unintentionally, it helps my soul if it’s a song that reminds me of who God is and how he loves me. If you don’t love listening to music, find a radio station or audio book that declares the truth of who God is and listen to it in your car or while you’re working out.

5. Place reminders of God’s love and presence in your home. I am a visual learner, and it helps my heart when I have visual reminders of God’s heart in my house, my office, and even in my car! You can go the fancy route and buy (or paint) a representation of a Scripture and hang it up in your kitchen or bedroom, or you can write a favorite verse on a sticky note and put it by the radio dial in your car. Choose a Scripture verse that is meaningful to you and let it remind you of God’s particular love for you and attention to your life.

How do you keep your heart close to Christ during Advent? I’d love for you to share your insights!

This post is a holiday version of a previously published blog post on my site.

Similar post: What Does It Mean to Have a Close Relationship With God

The Greatness of Smallness

True greatness comes from smallness before God and people

Most of my life, I’ve felt a tug toward greatness. You know–that feeling that burns deep and can push us wide? Deep because we know that we were created to do important, meaningful, gorgeous things in the world. Wide because we look around us at all that we aren’t doing and see people who seem great in our eyes–people who carry great influence, great ideas, great power.

And that feeling in me, that yearning for greatness–that ache can make me feel very small.

Small because I don’t have great influence.

Small because I don’t often think my ideas are great.

Small because what power I do have doesn’t come out on great, big stages.

And sometimes that smallness feels very shameful to me, as if I should be doing something bigger and greater and more important with my life. I look around and I see a messy house and words typed on pages and I see papers to grade and I think: what if I’ve missed it? What if I’m never great in the way I long to be?

And then what rises up in me is the desire to do it on my own: to try to push my way into greatness. If I can work harder, think deeper, be better—then, perhaps, greatness will fall upon me like a cape. If I just keep driving my way forward, maybe I can make this happen. Perhaps I can be the key that unlocks that elusive door into the greatness that I desire.

And this is why, friends, I can often feel so tired. And discouraged. Because it doesn’t matter how hard I push, that door to my perceived vision of greatness won’t budge. I can’t fling that door open. I can’t even crack it open. All of my efforts are failures.

And as I was praying yesterday, asking God to crack open something in my heart and not just my circumstances, I heard Him speak: Live small to be great. And I was reminded of those unexpected words from Jesus in Matthew 23, words that slay me and humble me.

Live small to be great. Click To Tweet

But first, some background: Here, in Matthew 23, Jesus is talking with his disciples and with the crowds, and he is cautioning them–cautioning them from living the way their religious leaders live. These leaders, the Pharisees, they’re walking shams. They love to get noticed in a crowd, Jesus says–they love the best seats in the house and the honor that comes with being a leader. They look spiritual and they soak up attention like sponges.

They wield great influence. 

They say they have great ideas.

They love having great power. 

But they’re liars. They refuse to practice what they preach, and their influence and ideas actually tie up the souls of their listeners with heavy burdens. They have power, yes. But rather than setting people free, they’re making spiritual slaves through their hypocrisy.

They do all their deeds to be seen by others,” Jesus cautions. There is nothing in them that really wants to serve others. They just want attention. 

And now they’ve gotten it. The King of the Universe is paying attention, that King padding around in calloused flesh, and the attention they draw is damning. Their lives are all about themselves, when they should be pointing people to God.

And these are the words that slay and humble me, the words that upend me. It’s Jesus himself speaking to his followers, to the Pharisees, to me:

“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

I am slain, my heart cut open by the knife of scripture, and I see, again, that I have not been seeing at all. That the greatness I am scrolling through on social media and envying and wanting is not greatness, but a sham. It is not that these people I follow are shams, but that my perception of true greatness if skewed. I look at my fellow humans and I see their influence, their ideas, and their power, and I want what they have.

And that is what cuts; what I really need–what my soul actually wants–is God. For ultimately, there is no power apart from him, no influence apart from him, no idea apart from him. Standing in front of the God of the Heavens, the Maker and Creator of all, we are, each one of us, minutely small. There is only one who is great, and He–Christ Jesus–became the servant of all. Unlike the Pharisees, he did practice what he preached. He took the lowest road, the humblest form, the surest pain–all because He is truly great, and that greatness led him to the deepest humility. It led Jesus to becoming the smallest of all things: human. One of us.

The swirling power of the ages, bound up in a baby’s fist. The influence greater than all kings of the earth, unfolded in the cry of a child. The ideas of time and space and all wisdom and knowledge, solidified into the flesh of a human. A small, humble, needy child. The Christ child. Jesus.

It’s backwards.

And it’s perfectly right.

Greatness is smallness, servanthood, humility.

It is not power, ideas, and influence. 

Greatness is smallness, servanthood, humility. Click To Tweet

I can serve the ones who live in the messy house in front of me. I can humble myself on the page with my words. I can make myself small in front of my students so that Christ can be big in their eyes. And with God’s grace, I will.

And then, worked out over the course of a small life, I can be great before the only One who truly matters. Lord, help me. I want to be truly great.

The Power of Mini Marriage Retreats

Mini Marriage Retreats--how to make them happen even if you don't have much time or money!

Michael and I had a great rhythm of consistent date nights and quarterly marriage retreats (read: weekends away) prior to having our daughter. Now (ahem), while the date nights still happen every week, the quarterly marriage retreats have kind of fallen off the map. And we’ve realized, afresh, why they are so important to our relationship. Time away together gets us out of the normal rhythms of our lives, which, while helpful, can also lead to ruts of communication and connection. When we are in a new city, eating new food, seeing new sights–that’s when we find out new things about one another and, often, new conversations and dreams bubble up between us.

Getting away together doesn’t need to be fancy, expensive, or exotic. It just needs to happen. Here are the hows and whys for getting away with your spouse–in a meaningful way.

Getting away together doesn't need to be fancy, expensive, or exotic. It just needs to happen. Click To Tweet

1. Aim for easy, not exotic. Now, don’t get me wrong–I would looooove to head to Hawaii for a weekend away. But we live in the Chicago area, and we have neither the time nor the money to go to Hawaii regularly (or, actually, ever). So we explore the surrounding suburbs–the towns 20 minutes away–and walk through their shops and try new restaurants. When we haven’t had the money, we drive back to stay in our own home overnight.

2. Make time for intentional connection. Time away together is wonderful–but it won’t accomplish much if we’re still focused on work or tied to our phones. Make sure that you engage in meaningful conversation–buy a book that opens up new conversations, or start reading a marriage book together (this one is our favorite!). And make sure to spend time meaningfully connecting back at the hotel, too! :)

3. Try something new. New experiences spark new connections–and are part of the reason why getting away really matters. So, along with trying a new restaurant, do something fun–and new–together. A chocolate tasting night, a boat tour, go-karting, an opera–with an open mind and some creativity, even small towns offer opportunities for newness together!

If we are willing to invest our time and money in our spouse, our marriages will only be strengthened. It doesn’t have to be expensive or long, but time away to refresh an renew as a couple is important for any marriage. And of course, if you can afford to get away to Hawaii, please–go for it!

Was this blog post encouraging to you? I would be honored if you would consider partnering with me as a writer! Click here!

Related post: Three Ways to Make Your Marriage Better

When You’re Too Busy to Connect With God

My newest article is up over at RELEVANT Magazine, and I’d love for you to check it out!

WHEN YOU'RE TOO BUSY.Swindell

Here’s the start of the article:

Busy. It’s a word many of us use most of the time—we’re too busy, so busy, very busy, or just plain busy. We’ve got work to do, children to raise, meetings to get to, appointments to keep, friends to connect with, spouses to love.

So how do we stay connected to God even when our lives swirl around us at a rapid pace? How do we keep Him central in our hearts and minds while we live our very busy lives? Here are a few ideas for staying close to Jesus even when life gets crazy:

Start with Scripture.

My goal is to read the Bible every day—early in the day—so that everything else I do is seen through the Biblical lens of reality. Reading the Bible is one thing that keeps me grounded in truth and connected to God. I have found, for me, that when I start my day in the Bible, my heart and mind are better prepared to respond to God’s presence throughout the rest of the day—and I usually find that I am kinder in my responses to other people and more gracious with myself.

When I start my day in the Bible, my heart and mind are better prepared to respond to God's… Click To Tweet

And yet, even though I know how important it is for me to read the Word in order to stay close to God, it is surprising to me that something so simple can be so difficult to do on a consistent basis. So get creative if you need to. Do you commute to work? If you’re driving, listen to the Bible on audio. If you’re sitting on a train or on a subway, read the Bible on your phone or carry a pocket version of the Bible with you.

Listen to Truth.

There are a lot of voices swirling around us every day—voices that tell us we aren’t good enough, that we have to find love for ourselves, and that we need to be more attractive and make more money. If I listen to those voices too long, I get sucked into those lies. So I seek to fill my head with music and words that keep me focused on God throughout the day.

If you’re reading this, there’s a high chance that you have access to an incredible amount of Christ-centered media options. Podcasts that point me back to Jesus in the midst of a crazy world, music that focuses my attention on Him and sermons that keep my mind grounded in truth—these are the types of things I try to fill gaps of free time with. They help me remember that in Christ, I am loved and that I have all that I need—things I constantly need to hear.

Read about praying throughout the day, pausing when you’re overwhelmed, and Christ-centered friendships over at RELEVANT!

Sending Love

Michael has told me, many times over the course of our marriage, that I have helped him learn how to celebrate. It’s not something I think about as an abstract concept very often–this idea of being a celebrator, this way that I look for any opportunity to have a party or gather others together. But it’s in me; it’s how I’m wired. Celebrating–and taking the time to acknowledge accomplishments or milestones–it’s something I deeply love.

In my mind, however, events or milestones don’t need to hit some sort of threshold in order to merit a celebration. Birthday? To the nines! Long weekend? Celebrate! Acceptance to grad school? Party central! Half-anniversary? Why not! I don’t discriminate when it comes to celebration. In my humble opinion, we don’t celebrate one another–and God’s presence in our lives–nearly enough.

Which is why, in the midst of preparing our home to sell and the busy start of a new semester, I still wanted to have some Valentine’s Day cards for Ella to give to friends and family. I’m not in a season of life where I’m gluing glitter and hand-lettering envelopes, but I sure can whip up a cute card over at Minted. I’ve used them before for our Christmas cards and even bought my parent’s Christmas present–a photo art-print–from Minted this year. Their quality is lovely, and their website is user-friendly (a must for this mama).

Even though Ella has no idea what Valentine’s Day is, and even though it’s not particularly one of my favorite holidays, I think the concept of giving and receiving notes of friendship and love is a tradition that would do well to continue throughout the year! Love comes in hundreds of forms, and I’m hoping that Ella will learn, early, that the love found through good friendship is one of God’s greatest gifts–and is something worth celebrating any day of the year!

So, I (quickly) found this card that I knew Ella would like–she is very into coloring these days–and added her name and a cute photo of her on the back. Grandparents? Check. Little toddler friends? Check. Memory book? Check.

Image-1 (1)

There’s still time to order a set of valentines from Minted–even foil-pressed ones!–if you’re looking for something adorable and easy.

And if you’re not feeling particularly celebrated this time of year, remember: God himself is singing over you, rejoicing in you.

You are loved more than you could ever imagine.

Affiliate links are included in this post, as I am an affiliate for Minted!