How long do you spend online?

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I’m realising as I get older that I place a huge value in growth, productivity and the pursuit to embetter oneself. I love everything related to productivity, how to really get good at it, to the psychology behind it and the simple small tweaks that can yield huge results.

I like measuring stuff. I’m known as the stats and data girl at church. I’m one of the few that cares about the numbers and the figures. I love to track and document different areas of my life. Here’s a list of things that I am currently tracking:

  • How fast I run and how often I’m running (currently really slow and not very much)
  • Where our finances are going (mostly into our bathroom at the mo attempting to turn the 64 year old taps off)
  • How many steps I walk each day
  • Which books I’m reading
  • How many days till I go on holiday (36 days!)
  • How many people read this blog (Basically my Mum & Ben)
  • How much sleep I’m getting
  • How many buds the orchid that I killed but resurrected had on it (8 and going strong!)
  • How many buds the orchid that I killed & resurrected has on it since I snapped the stem since I knocked it off the windowsill (umm…zero.)

We measure a load of different aspects of church life: attendance on Sunday, how many people are getting baptised, how many people are engaging in small groups, how many of our visitors returned to church and got stuck into our community…

You can better control an area, manage and promote growth in it if you begin to measure and track its progress – I’m sure you’ve heard the old management saying “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”.

On this stream of thought, I’m sure you’ve noticed the recent conversations about people spending too much time online and connected to their smart devices and the Internet. My husband took this to extreme and did a Blackout of devices during lent – you can read about it here. I discovered 2 tools that help me track how much time I’m spending on my devices and on the computer each day. They are:

Rescue Time – Rescue Time is an Add On that runs securely in the background on your computer and mobile devices. It tracks time spent on applications and websites, and gives you an accurate picture of your day. I love the reports that you get at the end of the day which gives you a percentage for how much of your time was spent on productive applications (Excel/Word etc) and less productive sites (Facebook/ BBC News). It gives you detailed reports and data based on your activity and also shows you your most productive hours and time slots. You can set alerts to let you know when you spend a certain amount of time on an activity and also block distracting websites. It’s given me a different perspective on my workday – I’ve learnt what hours of the day I’m most and least productive and can see which websites are my time drains.

Moment – Moment is an iOS app that automatically tracks how much you use your iPhone and iPad each day. The idea is that encourages you to live in the moment rather than attached to your devices. If you’re using your phone too much, you can set daily limits on yourself and be notified when you go over. You can even force yourself off your device when you’re over your limit. When I’m on for 15 minutes, I get an alert to tell me to get off my phone – this happens basically 5 times a day at the moment, but you can personalised it to fit your lifestyle. Apparently after installing the app, Moment users spend 25 minutes less on their phone per day than before. The average moment users use their phone for 71 minutes overall and mostly in the evening after 6.

I’ve been using these both for 3 or so months now and am finding I’m more conscious of the time I’m spending digitally.

Don’t spend so much time scrolling through other people’s moments that you miss out on creating your own.

How to Live an Epic

epic“you can do anything you want, you’re going places”

“you’re special and unusually wonderful”

“you’re going to change the world”

“you’re better than everyone else”

This is the steady diet of messages that my generation has been bought up on. We’ll have a fulfilling career, rewarding relationships and healthy bank accounts. It will be wild and adventurous and filled with passion. Life will be a breeze, and people will be in awe of the impact we have in the world…

Sadly, our reality doesn’t quite live up to our expectations. There’s only space at the top for a small handful of people which leaves a lot of us disappointed. Day to day moments feel mundane and plain. Our colossal expectations have usually exceeded our reality.

We can quickly become dissatisfied with the lot in life that we’ve been given: we scroll through the moments of others’ lives on Instagram and Facebook and compare our behind the scenes to the highlights that they post. We become restless and unsettled, convinced that life isn’t quite as it should be. In the words of Bethany Schaeffer, “our greatest trial isn’t even that anything awful has happened, but that nothing epic has. We’re convinced our lives are not what they’re supposed to be if they’re just going along uneventfully.”

So how can we combat this dissatisfaction?

Understand that epic stories can appear quite ordinary

Not all epics are filled with adventure and thrill. What about story of Rosa Parks. She simply said no to giving up her seat on a bus, an ordinary moment that changed history forever. Look at the lives of the disciples – if they knew that they would be a student of the Messiah, they might have expected a grandiose king on a flaming horse overthrowing roman soldiers. Instead that got an ordinary man who washed people’s dirty feet and hung out with sick people. Maybe it felt quite plain and underwhelming.

Realise that epic stories involve acting for the greater good

Romeo and Juliet wasn’t about them, it’s about love’s power in reconciling their families. The Hunger Games isn’t about Katniss winning, it’s about justice for the different districts. Epic stories aren’t about the “main character”, they’re about the greater good. God invites us into the colossal story He is writing. The life you’re living really isn’t about you. We each have unique gifts and contributions to make to the world and when we choose to accept the invitation to take a role in what God is doing, we catch the vision of a Kingdom significantly weightier than our own.

Know that God cares more about doing something epic in you than doing something epic through you.

We can have an overly inflated opinion of ourselves and believe we’re way ahead of where we are. We can prioritise attaining grandiose achievements and believe that a change of circumstance will solve our discontentment. But God knows that changing our circumstances won’t make any difference if we’re unwilling to change ourselves. He may send us to far off countries to do this, but often he’ll call us to stick at doing the hard thing, to keep going in the job that’s so frustrating and to persevere in that tricky relationship. He will grow you through the ordinary moments. It’s in the repetition of the day-to-day, in the very places we most easily brush off, that growth so often happens, making packed lunches for the children, that conversation with your colleague, that small decision you have to make at school.

We need to see our lives from God’s perspective – to see the role that we’re playing. I love how Cara Joyner words it:

“When we wake up daily with a full awareness of how powerful God is and how deeply He loves us, the ordinary becomes saturated with life. And it is wild. It’s wild because not only do we breathe in and out under this perspective of God’s sovereignty, but we also remember that this incredible God invites us into the enormous story He is writing.”

So stay wildly ambitious and enthusiastic. Aim big and believe that if God wants to use you for great things, He will. But stay attentive to what he’s doing in you. Live a life bigger than simply building your own empire and don’t neglect the ordinary.

Our DIY Refurbished Farmhouse Table

1000610_10201385378229319_1450289511_nAbout this time of year, I get itchy feet and want to get my sander and paintbrushes out to revamp some furniture in our house.

A few Springs ago, I decided to refurbish our dining room table. When we got married, we got given a high gloss, dark wood table from someone who was getting rid of theirs. It was a really lovely table, except it didn’t match any of our furniture (and also Ben accidentally melted the gloss varnish one time when ironing a table cloth on top of the table…!)

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So I decided to refurbish it to fit in with the rest of our furniture. Firstly I wiped the whole table down and dismantled it. Then I stripped the table and chairs of varnish using varnish stripper. If you don’t want to see the grain and are happy with an opaque finish, I’ve heard you can skip this step and go straight to using the chalk paint. If you do strip the table of varnish, You definitely need to do this outside – this is the messiest job as it’s so gloopy. First paint on the varnish remover and then scrape off the varnish layer with a paint scraper. The table top is really fun as it’s lovely and flat to scrape (be careful you don’t scratch it) but the rest with all the corners and edges is unbelievably boring to remove the varnish from and seems to take forever. I liked the end effect immediately and was tempted to stop at this point (just in case I mucked the rest of it up), but it still didn’t match the rest of the room.

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Once all the varnish was removed, I decided to do a two tone effect table with the table top a natural wood, with the bottom and chairs a blue grey colour. I wanted to age and grey the wood on the table top to make it feel a little more “drift wood” looking so do this, I’d heard about using vinegar and steel wool. All I did was put a glass jam jar of white vinegar (from tesco) with a ball of steel wool in it. I let it sit for 24 hours and gave it a shake ever now and then. The liquid was grey with bits of steel wool at the bottom. Then the following day, I painted on the stain in line with the grain of the wood. Here’s the difference before and after.

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I then bought some Annie Sloan chalk paint in Paris Grey and painted 2 coats on top of the chairs and table. You don’t need to prime or sand down before but I did both (as I didn’t believe the paint can). I just used basic paint primer and briefly sanded the chairs with sandpaper. If I were to do it again, I probably wouldn’t bother. Chalk Paint leaves a slightly aged, scuffed, textured look. I wanted a smoother finish so added a tiny bit of water to make the application smoother, then I gently sanded it to soften it. I also used some really watered down chalk paint to lighten the grey table top. I just applied this on top of the vinegar stain, waited for it to dry and used some sandpaper to distress it. I finished the whole table and chair set using a lint free cloth and soft wax just to buff and protect both them both.

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I bought some fabric from a John Lewis sale and my mum kindly covered the cushions for me.

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And here’s the finished table. (I don’t think we reconstructed it very well as it collapsed on our dear friend Avril when she came round for Sunday lunch one time!). 2 years on, it’s still standing the test of time. I probably should re-wax it and restain the table top, but the scuffs kind of match the salvage/shabby chic/antique/aged look.

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Breathing Room

IMG_4581Excuse the gap in posting, I have recently come back from a week off where I spent time grazing on treats from local deli’s, meandering the beach in the late winter sun, playing and pottering, doing a few lengths of the pool, and frittering away the hours. I’ve come back refreshed and alert. I feel awake and on form.

The strange thing was, I wasn’t exhausted before I went on holiday. I realised that for the first time in a while, I am in that lovely moment in time when I have capacity in my life. I have some margin. Some space and scope and surplus. The really strange thing is that I feel quite ashamed and reluctant to admit that. We glorify and glamorise the idea of being rushed off our feet, working at 110%, proudly brandishing the title of busy. But I am none of these things at the moment.

I am, however, a little restless. My big temptation is to fill the gap. To eradicate the breathing room. To load and stuff and cram and jam more things into the space that I have. But I’m leaving it there quite intentionally. I know that I’ll have to fight to protect the margin. I’ve recently read Lysa Terkeurst’s The Best Yes, and she shares “A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul.” Margin is healthy. Margin is the difference between what you could handle and what you take on. When we say yes to something, there’s less of us for something else. We need to make sure that our yes is worth the less.

I was reading through Genesis the other day and noticed time and time again that “there was evening, and there was morning”. Evening comes first. We begin with rest and sleep and replenishment. Sleep goes before work, not the other way round. We were created to function out of a place of rest. God intended for there to be Sabbath and rhythm in our schedules.

Of course as soon as I press publish, I know something will come along that will fill my time. God will show me a project or open an opportunity and I will look back and laugh at this post. And there will be seasons. Seasons where the days are longer and night resting is shorter. But I’m writing it as a reminder to make breathing room. In the old testament, they made altars as a reminder of lessons that they’d learned and things God did through them. And this post is an altar of kinds. It’s a reminder of the healthy place. It’s a way of living where when God invites me to something, I have the surplus of space to say yes. In every season, I want there to be space.

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Delightfully Chaotic, a Beautiful Mess

I liked maths at school. I liked the concreteness of it. The answer was either right or wrong. There were no grey areas. You either got the answer right, or you didn’t. I grew up enjoying the security of the correct answer, knowing that if I picked appropriately, I then would meet the standard and be satisfactory. But then always getting the answer right became hard work. When I got the answer wrong, feelings of shame and blame and judgement erupted. I saw those who around me striving to meet particular unattainable standards and melt down under the belief “If I do everything perfectly and get all straight A’s, I’ll avoid shame and be OK”. Being correct and right and looking perfect and flawless all the time became this unattainable goal. I see it now in other areas too, wanting the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect relationship, the perfect life – we want perfection and to have it all together. And when we know that we’re not meeting these levels of perfection, we say to ourselves “I’m not good enough”.

Gretchin Rubin talks about perfection this way:

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. A twenty minute walk that I do is better than the run that I don’t do. The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer. The dinner party of takeout Chinese food is better than the elegant dinner that I never host.”

As a self-confessed achiever, I need to tape this to my mirror. Good enough is still very good. Romans 3:23, it says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Perfection is a hoax. It’s unattainable, all of us fall short. As long as we strive for it, we’ll be stressed and discontent and ashamed and frustrated. We need to learn to be kind to ourselves.

In my teams work in the creative office, I have a saying “done is better than perfect”. Yes, we aim for high standards and excellence but that’s not the same as perfection. Aiming for excellence is about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a weight that we lug around with the belief that if we do anything other than reach this burdensome standard, we’ll be deficient.

And I think that’s why I love art. With artwork, perfection is subjective. There is no wrong or right and so creating can be an antidote to perfectionism. I like the experimental nature of it. The different colours that someone could paint a daffodil and it still is beautiful and right. The different words that people used to illustrate a scenario and capture the details in different ways. There’s safety and freedom in art.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We ourselves are living works of art with weaknesses and cracks and imperfections. My husband often laughs at my chaotic, disordered way of living. He once came home and thought the house had been burgled. It hadn’t, I’d just got changed and couldn’t decide what to wear. I’m currently wearing jogging bottoms, 2 woolly jumpers, hair tied in a top knot – I look a scruff. But there is beauty in imperfection. My slippers are comfy, my glasses give my eyes a rest and my oversized jumper reminds me of my family as it was a gift from my brother.

There is beauty in imperfection so be kind to yourself. Embrace your imperfections and free yourself to create.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” Don Millar

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How to make a REAL Conference Backdrop Giant Paper Rose

What a wonderful conference we had last week! I was so proud of our REAL team, big thank you to all who helped out with the decorations.

Lots of people asked me 2 things, 1) where we got the idea from for the flowers on the stage and 2) how do you make them? So here’s the answers. Firstly, I saw the backdrop for Chanel’s Spring Fashion Shows in Paris a while back. Their staging above looked fresh and feminine so I thought I’d give it a try to make our own for our women’s conference.We made all sorts of flowers but the roses were my favourite as they looked great under the lights and gave the backdrop some real depth – we just used white photocopier paper but they looked really blue in natural light.

Here’s a tutorial for the REAL roses. Get your sellotape and scissors at the ready!

First of all you’ll need to decide what size rose you’d like to make.

If you’d like a large rose, you’ll need A3 and A4 sheets of paper, a medium one uses A4 and A5 sheets and a small uses A5 and A6.

You will need:

paper (12 sheets of a larger size, 12 sheets of a smaller size) (NB. If you’d like a fuller rose, you can use more petals – the more petals, the fuller the rose! If you use less, you end up with a more bud shaped rose).

sellotape

scissors

a pencil

1. Cut out 12 smaller petals and 12 larger petals.

2. Take a smaller petal and wrap it your pencil. Then wrap it into a cone shape and secure with sellotape. This is the centre of your rose.

3. Tape another petal to the cone, and secure either side of the petal leaving a space between layers where the rose petals are blooming.

4. Keep adding the smaller petals in this manner until all the small petals are used up. You should end up with something like this:

5. Now you begin with the larger petals. Take your larger petals and make a slit down the centre of the bottom. Overlap the slit and secure with tape. Do this for all the large petals. This creates a more curved petal shape.

6. Next, you want to curl your leaves. Get your pencil and wrap the top 2 corners of your petal to curl either edge into a slight point.

7. Once you have your curled petals, tape the first one onto the rose. It should look slightly larger than the centre of the rose as these are the petals that are more in bloom.

8. Repeat with all your petals, overlapping the layers until you have a full rose and you’re happy with the shape. You can add extra petals as you think looks pretty!




Here are some snapshots from the stage with the final roses from my phone, once we get the official photos back, I’ll show you some better pictures! :

Time to make a plan…

Like loads of other people, Ben and I have a budget. We have a budget and plan our spending, allocating amounts to food, rent, bills, giving, saving, socialising, treats, etc etc. We have a plan for our money. But why is it that most of us have a budget for money but not for our time? We have a plan for what we spend but we can always get more money. It’s unlimited. The country print more of it, we can earn more, work for more, bring in more. But time? Time is finite. It’s limited. We each only get 24hrs a day. We sleep for 8 of them and then decide what to do with the other 16hours that we’re awake.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
 Matthew 6:33

We need to budget our time to stay close to God. Do we budget parts of the day to spend on prayer? Bible study? Going to church? Are there tasks in my life that I spend more time on than they’re really worth? How much time do I spend cleaning? Most of my Saturday? Is dusting really worth that much of my time? How much time are things like TV, internet shopping, household chores and emailing really worth? How much time do I want to dedicate to them?

Often I’ll complain that I don’t have enough time to do half the stuff that I want to. But I spend way too much time on the internet, on my phone or watching repeats of TV shows on E4, maybe I just need to go offline, put my phone down and turn off the TV!

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. Mark 9:43

By setting a time budget for certain activities, I can always make sure that my time is being spent on what is most important to me; time with God, time with family, time with friends, mentors/mentees, creating things, exercise, having fun, reading etc etc.

I recently saw this planner by Crystal Wilkerson which is all about budgeting your time. I like making my own with this kind of thing but it has some fun ideas in it too!

3 Word Prayer Challenge

The last few weeks I’ve been reading an excellent book by Margaret Feinberg called Wanderlust. It is a beautifully written book and I would highly recommend it. In the book, Margaret talks about a project to freshen up your prayer life, challenging us to keep myprayers short and sweet – no more than 3 words long.
When I first decided to do it, I was like “Can I fiteverything into 3 words?”, “Does this make me less holy, only saying 3 words toGod?” “
Do you know something: I LOVE praying like this. Firstly, itfeels efficient and productive – not babbling but getting straight to thepoint. (My Myers Briggs is ENTJ and apparently prayers of an ENTJ are “God, help me to slowdownandnotrushthroughwhatIdoAmen.” I hate faffing about andwasting time so short, punchy, specific prayers are genius for me –  My prayers have never been fresher, clearer,simpler and more eloquent. But more importantly, I haven’t prayed this much in a long time. Quicksentences to God scattered through the day. It’s great!
God, you’re amazing.
Thanks for that.
I love you.
Heal her.
Bless them financially.
Which way’s best?
Provide for me.
Give me clarity.
Wow!
Use me today.
Thanks for bed.
Refresh him.
Reveal your love.
I love exercises like this, they help keep my prayers freshand vibrant. What kind of things do you like to do to keep your prayer lifefresh?

Wonderstruck

Over the course of this year, I have discovered a truly wonderful writer and bible teacher called Margaret Feinberg. If you like Shauna Niequist or Ann Voskamp, you’ll love Margaret. Margaret’s books are full of freshness and vitality, she writes in a very understated but authentic way, poetically expressing circumstances and emotions that we all face, but challenges us to live the way that God intends us to. I’m currently very blessed to be previewing her new book and 7-session Bible Study called Wonderstruck. Wonderstruck (in her words) is a personal invitation for you to toss back the covers, climb out of bed, and drink in the fullness of life and (in my words) it honestly does just that!

The book aims to help us:

* Recognise the presence of God in the midst of your routine
* Unearth extraordinary moments on ordinary days
* Develop a renewed passion for God
* Identify what’s holding you back in prayer
* Discover joy in knowing you’re wildly loved

I’ve found since reading the first few chapters, I’ve been spotting God more regularly in my “same old” routine; seeing God answer prayers that I’d forgotten I’d prayed; marveling at God in creation and sensing Him in the mundane (anyone for washing up??), in my relationships and in the extraordinary.

You can see more info about Wonderstruck here, I think the book releases on Christmas Day so I’d thoroughly recommend it for any Christmas Money you get!

Scripture Memory

I’ve always loved the idea of scripture memory and am convinced that it’s a life changing and hugely valuable thing to do. But did I do it? Sometimes. Sporadically. Every now and then. That was until I started a bible study on James. We were challenged to memorise the entire book of James. Not just the odd verse, not our favourite “treasure” from the text, the ENTIRE BOOK.

So along with some friends, we took up the challenge. We each used different ways (some went for the age old “spelling test” method – look, cover, write, check). I’d been thinking about how I wanted to do it and that was when I found a great online scripture memory tool called Memverse.

Memverse keeps track of all your Bible memory verses, gives you prompts to memorise them and will show you how you are progressing. It’s so clever; you start with a few verses in whichever translation you like and then it recommends that you add new memory verses at the appropriate time. It’s all online so there is no software to download, there are no flash cards to carry around, and, best of all, it’s free!

Some of the girls in my group are amazing – they are such inspirations when it comes to discipline, one particular friend even memorised the entire book of James in ONE week…(She’s a machine!) I’ve not quite memorised the whole of the book yet but I’ve memorised the first 2 chapters and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to do it without a system like Memverse.
The great thing is that ever since I’ve been memorising these verses, the Holy Spirit has been bringing them to mind the moment I need them.

When I’ve not been sure what to do, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” has come into my mind. (James 1:5)
When I’ve been feeling judgemental towards people, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13)

When I’ve been tempted to watch things that aren’t helpful, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)