Kick Off Fall with September Self-Improvement Month
by Gail Goolsby
Goodbye to lazy days of summer and vacation leisure. Hello to set schedules for kids and adults. Time for school and daily routines. Fall is here.
Freshly sharpened pencils. New clothes and unscuffed shoes. Sports teams with unblemished records. Blank report cards ready to register best grades ever.
Fall presents new opportunities. Make the most of Self-Improvement September by focusing on areas of your life left unattended over the summer or needing a reboot. Here is a brief checklist to get you started.
- Take inventory. Identify dissatisfaction with your current life patterns and habits. Ask God what could be working better in your relationships. Physical and emotional health? Career activity? Home tasks? Spiritual growth?
- Recognize feelings but focus on actions. Feelings are important and you need to read the signals they send. But, in truth your actions impact your feelings and so behaviors should be assessed with sound reasoning. Feelings change easily and can form a trap and hindrance to life satisfaction. What actions need to be ramped up or altered to feel better about your life?
- Check self-talk. Do you constantly criticize or speak negatively to yourself? Do you cheer yourself through hard tasks or easily give up and then berate your poor performance? Taking on new challenges requires a positive attitude and ongoing encouragement. Remember past accomplishments more than recent failures.
- Set steps for reaching goals. Once a plan of action is formulated toward self-improvement, smaller, measurable steps are needed at regular intervals. This requires commitment and work, but gives motivation as advancement is documented and you inch closer to your goals.
- Utilize resources. Prayer and God’s Word offer powerful inspiration and reminders of Who is always working for your good (and His glory!). Friends, co-workers, life coaches, and family members can be earthly gifts of accountability and encouragement. Let them celebrate with you as they support your efforts (and maybe join you in their own self-improvement goals).
- Embrace hope. As you develop new activities, relationships, and daily disciplines, keep your head up and recognize each day signals possibility and hope for better. Look for God helping you in small and big ways. Tell yourself this truth, you can improve.
Kick yourself into gear and make September a trophy month of self-improvement!
About the Author:
Gail Goolsby, MA, MEd is a lifelong educator, including past leadership at an international school in Afghanistan. Gail and her pastor husband of 39 years live where the wind blows over the prairie in south Kansas. She counsels and coaches using God’s Word to help others learn to live well. Read more at www.gailgoolsby.com.
One Proposal for An Improved Marriage
by Lori Lipsky
For the first time in our marriage, we decided to read a book at the same time so we could discuss it together. Credit for the idea goes to my husband, but I was excited about the plan and in total agreement with our book choice.
My husband had once asked a well-read acquaintance we both respect to recommend several books that had been most influential in his life. One of the authors this man mentioned was Dostoevsky. We decided to choose Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I’m a bit ashamed to admit what happened next.
I could make excuses, but the quick truth is my husband read the book right away and then patiently waited for years for me to complete it. I started in several times but got bogged down in the early pages by the long Russian names. Prior to this I had read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and some Chekhov stories so I’m not sure why I struggled. I guess I allowed myself to be distracted by life and by other books, and I put off the Dostoevsky. As I look back, I regret not making The Brothers Karamazov more of a priority. I eventually purchased an audio copy of the book and completed the novel.
After I finished listening to the book, we shared our impressions with one another. Remarkably, my husband remembered details of the book quite well. Since then, we’ve read or listened to dozens of books and discussed them. We have different tastes, but our interests intersect with authors like David McCullough, Louise Penny, and David Baldacci. When it’s time to order another Audible book, we’ll sometimes collaborate to choose a selection we agree on so we can both listen on our own, but then have the book in our shared reading history.
Our book talk is informal and brief, but it’s a treat to talk books with my husband. We’ve found discussing books often sparks interesting conversation. Good books teach me more about who I am, but each new book we share helps me learn more about my spouse, too. We’re learning together as a couple. We discuss dreams and ideas. Books get us talking, and in marriage, communication is a good thing.
About the Author:
Lori Lipsky is a writer and teacher. Her poetry and short fiction pieces have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines. She lives in Waunakee, Wisconsin with her husband, where she teaches piano at a private music school. You can find her at lorilipsky.com and on Twitter @LoriSLipsky
Stuck in the Sweet in the Middle
by Robin Steinweg
Do you ever feel you’re in that awkward, in-between stage? I sure do!
I recently spent years stuck in a crushing middle. Round and round I turned from the growing needs of aging parents to those of growing sons to those of work. I’d carve hours from sleepless nights to write, compose, or read. More often to pray. My husband accepted leftovers with grace and gratitude. Not just food, but time and energy. He was stuck in his own middle, caring for his dad and doing more for my parents than can be recorded.
Now our parents are gone. I’m living in the middle of grief, rediscovering who I am if no longer a caregiver. Looking to experience—and to pass on—the rich life Jesus came to give us (John 10:10). Know what? God shows me things I can do so He can help me move forward. I’m not stuck here. I get to be here, where it can be sweet in the middle!
If you’re in the midst of circumstances or even past them, it’s never too late to rediscover who you are. Try some of the following:
- Develop friendships with people who will build you up.
- Find ways to build others up.
- Journal what you’re going through as a way to release feelings.
- Photo journal or doodle journal.
- Admit if you need help.
- Get more color in your surroundings/clothing.
- List your blessings.
- Express more gratitude.
- Find ways to expand or share your hobbies.
- Join a book club.
- Volunteer to help others.
- If you have grieving to do, do it whole-heartedly. But don’t stay there.
- Live fully. Enjoy what God gives you to enjoy.
- Dream again. Don’t hold back—dream big. What does God have for you next?
These ideas have helped. Yes, I still pick up the phone to call my mom or find jigsaw puzzles for my dad. I still if wonder I could have, should have done more for them. Guilt and remorse creep in.
But I realize that’s the voice of our enemy, the accuser. So I intentionally turn to words of life in God’s Word. I leave my broken heart at Jesus’ feet. I embrace the blessings He sends my way.
I affirm this truth: It is Sweet in the Middle!
About the Author:
Robin Steinweg says life is like a sandwich-cookie. Whatever circumstances close in on us, it can be Sweet in the Middle. Her writings can be found in Today’s Christian Woman, Upper Room, Secret Place and The Christian Pulse. She also writes monthly for Music Teachers Helper blog.
Savoring the Not-So-Perfect Life
by Michelle Rayburn
(For September 10 – National TV Dinner Day)
When I was young, my mother cooked most meals from scratch, baked six loaves of bread every week and canned enough vegetables to feed the neighborhood if we ever had to retreat to a bomb shelter. But on occasion, we had TV dinners when she worked the evening shift at the hospital and my dad had to feed us three kids.
September 10 is National TV Dinner Day, and it has me reminiscing about those foil-covered aluminum trays with frozen mystery meat and gravy, blobs of mashed potatoes, corn and chocolate pudding—because who doesn’t cook their pudding in the oven, right?
In those pre-microwave days, we peeled back the foil to reveal the ready-to-eat meal when the oven timer buzzed. The actual contents were always somewhat of a surprise compared with the images on the box. For one thing, the portions were more appropriately toddler-sized, and looking back, this explains why my dad chased his meal with a giant bowl of fudge ripple ice cream.
Nothing looked as appetizing as the box, either. The gravy sort of oozed from the mystery meat over to the corn, and pooled in the pudding.
Isn’t life a little like that sometimes? Before it becomes our reality, the idea of growing up, getting married, establishing a career or becoming parents looks magazine-worthy in the images we build in our minds. And after all the anticipation, we peel back the foil and suddenly it looks a lot messier than expected.
As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve learned some lessons to get me through my TV dinner life:
- Savor every bite of happiness. There is goodness there when we look for it. Turns out, even mystery meat can be delicious!
- Toss out unrealistic expectations and embrace the imperfection of real life. Accepting what I have instead of longing for a picture on a box has brought me such contentment.
- Enjoy the fun of the experience. For me, TV dinners weren’t really about the contents of the box. They were about the fun of doing something different with my dad—maybe even actually eating in front of the TV. Too often, I can miss life’s fun if I let complaining take over.
What’s in your TV dinner life? It’s a great day for a perspective change—and maybe a trip to the frozen food aisle, just for fun.
About the Author:
Michelle Rayburn is a writer and speaker who enjoys repurposing thrift sale finds into creative decorations for home and garden. She also loves finding gems in the trashy stuff of life. She is the author of The Repurposed and Upcycled Life: When God Turns Trash to Treasure. www.michellerayburn.com
Where Does that Grin Come From?
by Kathy Carlton Willis
I’m often asked, “How can you keep grinning despite the challenges in your life? It has nothing to do with me. It has to do with the God in whom I put my trust. Knowing “He’s got this” helps me carry on (in hope) rather than to carry on (complain)!
Grinning instead of grimacing comes from the discipline of thinking on glorious victorious thoughts outside the current stinky situation.
First I get my imaginary lariat out and wrangle those negative thoughts that attempt to defeat me.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV)
Once I evict those destructive thoughts, I fill the void with healthful and helpful thoughts. Thoughts that line up with the mind of Christ.
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. …Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8b-9 NLT)
If I practice this passage in Philippians, it might look something like this. I’m going to fix my thoughts on what is:
- True: I remember the extreme way God answered my prayer to provide for our family.
- Honorable: I’m blown away by the way that writer stays humble when others try to put her on a pedestal.
- Right: I respect the decision this politician made to choose an unpopular but godly path.
- Pure: How precious the gift of life is when I see photos of the much prayed for Lyla.
- Lovely: How beautiful are the wildflowers dressing up that field.
- Admirable: I see integrity in the choice Russ made to not malign a wrongdoer.
- Excellent: I respect how she endures through her weight-training routine.
- Worthy of praise: God’s faithfulness is something I can count on.
Are you having a hard time grinning this week? What will your fix list look like?
About the Author:
God’s Grin Gal, Kathy Carlton Willis, shines the light on what holds you back so you can grow. She’s a popular speaker and writer’s coach. Read her book, Grin with Grace, or find more information at: http://www.kathycarltonwillis.com/.