Author Archives: lizabeth.hannah@gmail.com

Long Days of Small Things, Book Review {Tool 18}

Anxiety as a mom is no joke. I used to be in this camp of people who thought, as long as you pray and trust God more, you shouldn’t have a problem with worry. But then I struggled with hormonal imbalance while simultaneously some deep-seated issues rose to the surface and I found that belief challenged.

Through treating my physical health with rest, breathing exercises and supplements, emotional health with counseling, and spiritual health through God’s word and some other resources, I finally began to feel at peace again. Life is complex. Trusting God with it is a crucial part of healing, but not the only piece to the puzzle.

Two of the roots of my anxiety were found in the belief that all the physical need-meeting I was doing as a mom didn’t matter spiritually, and that I by careful parenting could ultimately control my children’s destinies.

God used the book Long Days of Small Things by Catherine McNiel to radically change my view on both those beliefs and to help me let go of the gnawing anxiety that kept me from enjoying my children.

She writes,

The beckoning my heart heard is not to run off into seclusion, shrouding myself in prayers and candles until I find him – as much as I would enjoy that, and as true a calling as it is for some women. No, for mother and householders everywhere, the beckoning is to go back into the flesh-and-blood world of crumbs in the car seat and missed-nap tantrums – and find him there.

Right where he met us in the first place.

Catherine explores Christ’s humanity and how he came down into this messy world and lived fully human to show us who God is, right in the middle of our seemingly mundane lives. This practical life we lead is consecrated by his presence within it. I felt seen and heard as a mother in the most touching way. Jesus loves my messy life, where I’m covered in snot and applesauce and spend the afternoon folding yet more laundry. He’s not waiting for me to move on into another season before he can show up in my life. No, he’s in the now.

Day 18From her chapter on sacrifice and surrender:

We kick and scream against those things we hate and fear but cannot change – but God invites us to let go and find his presence in this moment.

Surrender is not a promise that our hands will always be open – it simply means granting God eternal permission to pry open our clenched fists.

This summer I soaked in this book during our family vacation – a week I hovered on the cliff of anxiety and fear over my children falling off the pontoon boat, bugging my in-laws while they tried to sleep, or slipping into the deep end of the pool. God spoke to me so clearly: If it’s my will that one of your children drowns in the swimming pool, there’s nothing you could do to stop that.

As crazy as that statement sounds, it’s what jolted me to the reality that I can’t control my children or their choices. I need to surrender to him.

Catherine lists 9 spiritual themes such as redemption, creation, service, perseverance, celebration, etc, and within those themes gives the reader practical disciplines to help her refocus on God in the middle of the long days and small things. Those disciplines include things like changing diapers, cooking for your family, breathing, disciplining, practicing routine, and noticing life around you.

This book blends the poetic, the spiritual and the practical in an incredibly beautiful way. It made me cry and underline and reread and journal all the way through it.

And PS, I bought it the moment I saw its cover. I’m pretty sure God is the one who organized my “Suggested Books” section on Amazon that day. Sensing a theme with my books of the year?

God is so kind and so wise. He knows just what we need.

Throw Out 50 Things, Book Review {Tool 17}

Just a short book review today of a tool that helped me with my mindset toward clutter. Gail Blanke is a life coach who helps people clear out their lives of all sorts of stuff. She wrote this book, Throw Out 50 Things, as a guide to help readers walk through many areas of life and remove things that weigh them down.

From the Acknowledgements:

It takes courage to let go of the past. It takes courage to make a decision to throw something -anything – out. As you’ll see, for many of the men and women who have been generous enough to share their stories, actually throwing out fifty things wasn’t always (frequently, but not always) a laugh a minute. But they found the courage to do it anyway. And in some cases, it changed their lives. It’ll change yours, too.

This is Gail’s underlying encouragement. You will feel better when you let go of the past.

She prompts readers to start a list and to comb through each area of life, file cabinets, junk drawers, your mental space, your professional space, and so much more. By the time you’re done, you’ll have thrown out items or memories or beliefs in fifty categories. The running total will be much higher.

Day 16The principle I found to be most helpful in this book was realizing how much guilt we hold inside that keeps us from truly decluttering. Gail lists that guilt as one of the items to throw away.

So on my list, I threw away some old keepsakes, and with those, I threw away some guilt I had over keeping them because of the person who gave the items to me.

Some other stuff I’m glad to be rid of?

  • Annoying musical toys
  • Worn out baby items taking up attic space
  • Leftover Easter candy
  • My need to be the type who always has everything together
  • The regret of the one B I got in college
  • Decor I don’t need to keep just because it served a purpose once or someone gave it to us as a wedding gift

This book is one I found at the library and am so glad I picked it up. It really helped me practice letting go of mental and emotional baggage associated with the junk in my life.

Eliminating Excuses (aka Buy a Water Bottle) {Tool 16}

I’m so good at making excuses to keep from disciplining myself. I’m so good that I don’t even realize I’m making excuses until I stop and evaluate what’s keeping me from getting started. As we’ve been healing this year, one thing that has helped me so much is recognizing that habits are created both by committing to action every day but also by actively eliminating our excuses.

Day 15Take drinking water, for example. Everyone knows they need to drink more water. We can’t heal physically if we don’t hydrate our bodies. It’s one of the most basic tools God has given us to keep ourselves strong and healthy. Yet we often struggle to drink it.

So I’ve been actively working to eliminate my excuses for drinking water. Here are some of the solutions I’ve found.

First, notice how you enjoy drinking your water best. Do you like using a specific cup? Do you like it with or without ice? I prefer ice water in a plastic cup and non-iced in a glass. Do you like a little lemon or lime flavoring it? Just observe what makes you happiest. Recognizing that little bit of enjoyment can inspire you to practice it again.

Secondly, buy yourself a water bottle that you can easily bring with you wherever you go. I love finding ones with a little infuser in them that I can fill with herbs or fruit to flavor my water. There are many benefits to doing that as well. But maybe you’d like one that looks a certain way. Again, ensuring you always have a specific tool to use helps you keep practicing health.

Day 17Finally, maybe you’re the type that does well with motivation. Find a water tracking app (I use My Water) that can remind you to drink at certain intervals throughout the day. Print yourself a chart you can check off when you drink a glass.

The point of all this is more than just drinking water. It’s creating habits. Habits start one action at a time, repeated over and over until the excuses no longer have power over you.

Maybe you don’t struggle drinking enough water. But what healthy habits do you need motivation for to get started pushing through today?

Evaluate your feelings and frustrations, admit your struggles, find a way to eliminate the excuse, and start small.

Habits can be changed.

Truth Memos {Tool 15}

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

When God gave his people his Word, as he gave them his greatest command, to love him with everything they had, more than anything else, he also told them how to practically make that happen: Keep God’s words in front of their eyes and ready on their lips all day long.

God knows we are prone to forget. He knows it’s easy to gradually let other things take his place in our hearts.

Don’t get me wrong. We can memorize Bible verses till we are blue in the face, and fill up the walls of our houses with all the cute Scripture paintings we want, and simply doing that will not change us.

But when we commit to replacing the lies in our heads with God’s truth, we have to practically do something. Admitting that we have a weight problem isn’t enough – we have to change our diet and start moving our bodies in order to see change. We are physical beings and we need to interact with the truth physically. Reading it. Speaking it. Seeing it. Acting on it.

Day 15Is God’s Word where we can see it daily? Some of the places I’ve found it helpful for me include the lock screen of my phone, the door of the microwave, the bathroom mirror, even the dashboard of my car.

Do we speak his words into the situations we face? When we hear the accusations in our minds, “You’re failing again. You always let people down” – do we speak truth to those lies? “No. God accepts me as I am. He is the one I’m living to please, not people.”

Do we listen to his word spoken in song, in conversation, in messages or podcasts we listen to?

Do we use Scripture to teach our children the “why” behind what we instruct them?

God calls us to walk in the truth. What does that look like in your life?

I Used to Be So Organized, Book Review {Tool 14}

Book lover confession here. 99.5% of the time I judge a book by its cover. And I have been known to buy a book JUST FOR ITS TITLE. This book makes that list. Actually, several of those books make this series. So…maybe the principle of that saying isn’t so accurate after all.

I picked this book off of a conference table about a year ago. The cover, the title, the concept just cried out, “Read me!” I barely skimmed it before handing over my credit card. And I Used to Be So Organized proved to be worth it.

Glynnis Whitwer is a recovering perfectionist who admits to being a Type A administrative woman whose life got sucked under in the midst of motherhood. She chronicles her journey of learning to walk in grace while also practically handling the messes life threw at her. What I love about this book is that Glynnis addresses the heart of the problems behind our disorganization. She calls us to look deeper than the clutter to see why we are struggling.

“Knowing the cause of disorganization should remove undue pressure. It happens to all of us. It’s normal, and at times, it’s even healthy. If you have poured yourself into helping someone or finishing a big project, those were your priorities. You’ll have time to recover.”

Glynnis approaches disorganization with a matter-of-fact mindset. It’s here. It happened. Now let’s figure out why and what we can do about it.

Day 14

I walked away from this book with a couple of very specific tools. One was the idea that not finishing tasks was one thing cluttering my mind. I put that into practice and now I feel a lot more focus and freedom because I’m multitasking less and getting more things finished. When my kids try to interrupt a task, instead of acquiescing and suddenly finding myself in the middle of emptying the dishwasher, changing a diaper, and answering questions about how hot air balloons work, all at the same time, I give myself permission to make things wait. The stinky diaper can wait till the dishwasher is empty. Hot air balloons can come after the diaper is thrown away. And then I’ve fully completed three tasks instead of having three incomplete ones on my hands, making me crazy.

And additionally I started feeling more kind toward myself and accepting that when I say yes to some things, I may be saying no to a perfectly tidy house or clean kitchen.

“As you think and pray, you will know how to progress with getting organized. In this chapter, I’ve presented approaches which might help you. The bottom line is to approach organization in a manner that best suits you at this time in your life. There is no right or wrong way.”

Next year I plan to focus on creating better systems for our family and this book is a manual I plan to use as I tackle multiple areas in our family life that need organizing.

I am Type A and I used to be so organized, too. This book gave me hope that I can get that way again, but next time without the perfectionism.

Systems that Work for YOU {Tool 13}

One day while perusing the library, I discovered the organization section and the geek in me freaked out a little inside and I nearly checked out the whole row of books. I’ll write about one that I found and loved in a different post, but today I wanted to share the overall principle I’ve learned about organization from this season of growth.

You can’t do every method and do it well because you are a unique individual. 

It’s absolutely essential that when you try things, you let them go if they don’t work. And then you try something else. You keep going until you find what works.

I always (literally always, from the time I was about 8 years old) have had stacks of books and papers and letters and pens and all the office supplies lying around. I have a home office currently but it’s being used as a bedroom for a baby and the desk is stacked with papers to file. All my office work gets done at the kitchen table.

I’ve tried methods that haven’t worked. And I used to feel guilty about them when they didn’t work for me.

But finally something clicked. A couple years ago I found a bedside table with big drawers at a yard sale and last summer painted it with leftover brown paint and voila! Having a place where I can tuck all the things is the perfect solution.

For me.

Day 13

Letting go of guilt over what doesn’t work for you is a crucial part of growing through difficult seasons. When we feel overwhelmed, starting something can bring a lot of fear. Thoughts of “I can’t do this perfectly, so why should I start?” or “Where do I begin? It’s too overwhelming.”

The key is to start small. Minuscule tasks at a time. Not a whole program but one simple action. Make it a habit before building on top of it. You can’t start a whole system when life is overwhelming, but you can start one single habit that can multiple into a system that works.

So read the books and blogs if you like. Watch the videos. Pin the ideas on Pinterest. But don’t get overwhelmed. Choose one thing and try it. Let it go if it doesn’t work. But celebrate if it does.

Christy Nockels, Ellie Holcomb, Music Review {Tool 12}

Christy Nockels
Last Christmas, I discovered a podcast that I loved by the singer/songwriter Christy Nockels. She’s been making music for a long time but I had never heard of her. She was releasing a Christmas album for which she wrote mostly new songs and every song had a sweet story. For one song, she altered the lyrics of “Silent Night” and included this chorus:

On a starlit wonder of the night
You came so all would be made right
And the baby that all beheld, the same baby Mary held
Is the same God who is holding us now

It’s this blending of traditional music sung with fresh words that I love about Christy Nockels. She sticks to her roots and writes and sings from a deep place of worship. She creates beautiful melodies. I find her music encouraging. Reminding me that even as we move forward, there is still such value in remembering where we’ve been.

Often when I’m struggling to have a good perspective in the morning, I’ll turn her music on to refocus me. I so appreciate her heart of worship.

Everything is mine in You
Even when my heart is breaking
Everything is mine in You
Even when my hands are empty
Everything is mine in You
Oh, in You
Everything is mine in You
I can trust You with my longing
Everything is mine in You
Even though the road is lonely
Everything is mine in You

Ellie Holcomb
Have you ever heard a song that made you think the songwriter was reading your mail? Ellie Holcomb writes songs that touches my heart like no other music can. I believe it’s because her songs are genuine prayers full of honest questions for God and truth for the raw moments of life.

It’s easy to listen to her folksy style. It’s simple and rich and full of meaning. She released her newest album, Red Sea Road, this year, and it was born out of a time of personal suffering. There is so much power in stories, and without speaking the details, Ellie’s songs tell the story of her emotions and ultimately, trust in God.

We’ve buried dreams
Laid them deep into the earth behind us
Said, our goodbyes
At the grave but everything reminds us
God knows, we ache
When He asks us to go on
How do we go on?

We will sing, to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a red sea road
When we can’t, see the way
He will part, the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a red sea road

In Ephesians 5:18-19, Paul encouraged believers, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.” Throughout Scripture God’s people sing. They sing when God wins their battles, when he delivers them and provides for them. They sing when they are broken and afraid. They sing when they’re staring at the enemy in the face and can’t see a way out.

God does something beautiful with music in our hearts. When we struggle, fighting our way out of the dark places, we can be using music as a tool to help carry us toward growth.

Cultivate, Book Review {Tool 11}

“Life doesn’t begin when our imperfections end.” Lara Casey

I am a reluctant gardener. Growing up gardening was an everlasting chore that kept me away from my books and out in the hot Kansas wind. (Oh, don’t worry, I figured out how to snap beans and read at the same time!)

I tried to grow houseplants in college and as a new housewife, but quickly joined the “I always kill my plants!” club. A few herbs in pots on my apartment porches kept me happy.

Yet as I started looking for ways to start growing and becoming more of the person I wanted to be versus the person who barely scraped along, my heart stirred to grow things.
Day 11

And when I read Lara Casey’s testimony of being an unlikely gardener herself, I was intrigued. Cultivate is a newly released book that compares life to growing a garden. It is beautifully written and truth jumps off of every page. Lara explores ten lies we believe about growth and fruit-bearing and the truth we can believe instead.

Some of the lies/truth cover topics of perfection, comparison, getting started, celebrating progress, contentment, and how little by little steps add up.

IMG_9466.JPGWhen you are stuck in survival mode, or maybe just floundering in a hard place, it can feel impossible to start fresh or move forward. Cultivate taught me to embrace the hard seasons as the place where we dig into the soil and watch God redeem it.

“Hand over your boulders of stress, worry, and fear, and God will crush them to fine sand with His love and forgiveness. Give Him the thorny remnants and roots of your past, and He will till them up and make them into nutrient-rich growing ground. Lay down your fruitless striving and dry soil, and God will pour out His transforming grace to make you new.

Like rich compost, the best soil is filled with transformed remnants of the past. In the same way, your past challenges and mistakes can be transformed by God’s grace.”

This spring I was physically weak and in an emotionally fog, but I got out into my yard and dug out a garden space. I threw out all my excuses and planted seeds. My plans weren’t perfect, but plants grew. They grew through the dirt, just like Lara states over and over.

We don’t have to wait for the perfect time to start to change in life. The best time is now. One little step followed by another. We plow and plant and water, and God makes fruit grow. It’s a beautiful process.

This book has “Cultivate It” questions sprinkled throughout, making it an excellent book to journal through. I read it once and am going back through slowly, picking and choosing different chapters to work through based on what I’m wrestling with. There is also a study guide in the back made just for working through the book in a group.

Motherhood Podcasts Review {Tool 10}

Podcasts. The not new, new thing. They’ve been on the scene for around 15 years but the general public are just now really getting into them, and new podcasts pop up left and right. I have a dozen I listen to, and a dozen more I’m interested in. Days are long and full of time I could be mindlessly rambling in my head or focused and entertained. Especially as a stay at home mom, I enjoy hearing other adults talk while I’m folding laundry or doing dishes, or making the minivan runs. Even my kids quiet down and listen when I put one on in the car.

In honor of motherhood, I’m reviewing some of my favorite Mom podcasts today. I’ll share other genres later in the month.

1. The God-Centered Mom podcast with Heather MacFayden was the first podcast I started listening to and 177 episodes later, I still check in every week. Heather keeps her focus on Jesus and always keeps her guests talking about real life. “How does the mom struggling with x, y, or z apply this in her life? What would you say to the mom who is feeling like this right now?” I always step away remembering that God sees me and that he gives me everything I need to be the mother he’s called me to be. Heather stays on track and loves to laugh at herself, which both win me over, for sure.

Day 10

She shares her story, along with her husband, in episode 145. Some of my favorites are the ones she does with parenting experts Sissy Goff (Raising Girls, episode 141), Jim and Lynne Jackson (Connecting with Your Kids in Any Circumstance, episode 98), and Emerson Eggerichs (The Respect Effect, episode 122). Go scroll through her feed to find one that seems pertinent to your situation and listen in to be encouraged and challenged.

2. Inspired to Action with Kat Lee is one I love to put on when I’m running errands. Kat interviews lots of great guests and always weaves her own testimony in so well with what the guests share. I love how Kat keeps everything succinct and to the point and gets to the heart of the matter. Kat reminds moms what a big deal we are that God is going to give us the strength we need to face the day.

Day 10

3. My newest favorite mom podcast is called The Real Life Mom Show Podcast with Jordan Watts and Jennifer Johnson. Jordan is a mom in the thick of it with three elementary aged children, and Jennifer is a seasoned mom, who speaks at retreats and counsels parents and couples. I love this show because, while they do host guests at times, often they do more teaching. They talk with each other about various topics, like loneliness in motherhood, or faith versus fear. They both have so much wisdom and teach God’s Word so well. I’m encouraged and blessed as I listen. And they make me laugh. Jordan has a a whole closet full of hilarious parenting stories and does a great job telling them.

Day 10

Motherhood is challenging, and it’s hard to find space to be filled up spiritually and emotionally in the long days. Podcasts have been one way I’ve found to refresh myself when I’m running on empty. It takes a little time and creativity to figure out how to fit them into your day, but it’s so worth it once you can.

Bethel Music, Hillsong Young and Free, All Sons and Daughters, Music Review {Tool 9}

Writing about our journey to fruitful living wouldn’t be complete without bringing up some of the music that’s been such a part of our family life lately. My husband, worship pastor at our church, educates me on all the great music in the world, so I can hardly take credit, but I wanted to highlight some of my favorites.

Bethel Music, a band from Redding, California, write their music like they are creating art. It is soulful and rich. They weave the beauty of God’s creation into their videos and sing with passion and deep truth. We love the relatability of their work. Many of their songs we use for collective worship at church and I listen to it in my kitchen and in the van when I need to refocus on the Lord.

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I will stand and sing
I am a child of God.

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

Hillsong Young and Free helps me get pumped up when I’m needing something more jazzed. Their song, Energy, is a favorite of mine, but I especially love all the songs on their This is Living album. When I went to She Speaks in 2016, a couple of the songs were on their worship list for the weekend and God used them to speak freedom into my heart. I put this album on when I need something to wake me up out of a bad mood, or when I need to shout out truth with my kids.

When you speak dreams and reality collide
Your word rewrites my destiny
My life finds a new beginning
Cause you are, you are my energy
Jesus your presence is what ignites
Your truth is electric the source of light
A moment with you makes me come alive, alive

The third band I’m highlighting today is All Sons and Daughters, with a still different feel from the other two. I like this folksy band because their songs are like prayers and I often include various songs on my worship playlists I make. They get right to the heart of the matter. Sometimes they include prayers from the early church fathers, like Augustine; a great way to bring those old words into our current cultural context.

Almighty God
To You all hearts are open
Search and know
Our thoughts and anxious fears
Wash us in the fountain
Of Your mercy
Come with Your light
We cannot hide from You

Almighty God
To You all hearts are open
With gratitude
We raise our song to You
Come and fill
The praises of Your people
In grace and truth
You make us new again