Thoughts from Ligonier Ministries’ Defending the Faith Conference

Over the weekend, my husband Mike and I were privileged to attend Ligonier Ministries‘ west coast “Defending the Faith” apologetics conference in Redmond, WA. It was the first conference of that type we had ever attended. Mike often listens to audio from Christian conferences after they occur; a habit I have picked up as well.

I thought it appropriate to attempt to put down a few thoughts about what I learned. I often find that writing is how I process things. Without taking the time to write, it is just a series of jumbled information that I cannot fully articulate.

Granted, I should admit upfront that culling two packed full days of lectures into one brief blog post is not possible. I have eight full pages of notes. Even the most dedicated reader probably wouldn’t want to power through the unabridged version of my notes. So I will attempt to make a few brief points.

To start, I will cite the most common biblical call to apologetics (defending our faith), found in 1 Peter 3:15:

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

The command for Christ-followers is stated plainly. If you didn’t read the verse above, do yourself a favor and read it. If you did read it, read it again.

“Sanctify” is the only potentially unclear word in that verse. Put differently, sanctify could mean, set apart, honor, or revere. Read one of those words into it if that helps.

As Christians, we are expected to live out this verse just like the rest of the commands in Scripture that apply to the new covenant. So as a means of breaking this down as the heart of apologetics, I’ll use the standard analytical tool of identifying the five Ws. Or in this case, four Ws and one H. When, who, what, how, and why.

The Case for Apologetics

When: At what time should we defend the faith? Always. Not just when you are fresh from a retreat or time in the word when your faith is resilient and strong. Not just when you feel like it. Always.

Ouch. I’m guilty of failing the always test. What does it take to always be ready? For one, it takes knowing what you believe. For another, it means studying the word, day in and day out, being “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Who: To whom should we defend the faith? Everyone. “Everyone who asks you to give an account…” That means people who ask sincerely, as well as people that ask with sneering, sarcasm, and disbelief. Even those who are in a position to do us harm (loss of job, friends, etc.) if they don’t like our answer.

What: Hope. The idea of the gospel as hope is simple, yet profoundly powerful. As those who have escaped the wrath of God through the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23), our hope is unquenchable. We should be able to succinctly, confidently explain it to others who are curious.

How: With gentleness and respect. Most of us may be able to point to a time or two when we’ve seen the gospel shared with harshness or disrespect. Maybe we’ve even been guilty of being the ones doing the verbal (or written, or online) bludgeoning. Thankfully, the Lord is merciful to forgive us (1 John 1:9) when we fail and misrepresent Him. But we need to do better. That is where the constant reading of the word comes in and helps shape our character, as we learn more about God through His word.

Why: This is a big one. Why does all this matter? Well, as we covered above, God commands it. He commands it because the gospel itself is at stake.

Just as Jesus’ disciples, after being eyewitnesses of His resurrection, received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and went on to spread the hope of the gospel throughout the known world, we too, as benefactors of His amazing grace, and the continuance of God’s redemptive work in the world, are obligated to share the hope we have that has so transformed our lives.

Conclusion

Obviously, there is much more that could be and had been said about the topic of defending the faith. I only summarized one session of many from the conference here.  This lays a groundwork for the method and motive of the wonderful work which God has entrusted us through Jesus Christ.

It is my prayer that this will encourage you to examine where you stand and honestly evaluate if you are being faithful to honor God in this way. I pray the Lord would increase my opportunities and yours, to share of the glorious hope we have in Him.

Thank you for reading! I always welcome comments and questions.

 

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Facebook Addiction: A Pushback Experiment

I will be the first to admit that I spend too much time on Facebook. It sucks me in, and I find myself spending more time browsing it than I ever intended. Often many times throughout the day. I haven’t accessed any stats to see how much time I spend on the beloved social media site, but I suspect I would be mortified if I saw them.

This problem has been on my mind for quite some time, but I didn’t know what to do about it. If you’ve found yourself dealing with a similar struggle, you’re far from alone. Read on for some things I tried, with varying success, and a few conclusions I came to on the issue.

A couple caveats:

I justify some of my social media consumption time in the fact that a decent percentage (estimated 40%) of my time is spent reading articles that I clicked through from sources & people I follow.

It has been cited that Facebook actively engineers their site to increase time users spend there. Though that is a common tactic for any site, or any media outlet for that matter, it is something to keep in mind. They prey on our often unconscious willingness to expand our browsing time far beyond what is necessary or useful.

A few things I tried that didn’t work out:

* I looked into apps that track social media usage but didn’t find anything satisfactory that I was willing to pay for.

* I tried setting a timer for myself at which point I would peel myself away, but that is only as good as my self-discipline at that moment.

The experiment that helped the most

I found that I was using the Facebook app on my phone for 80-90% of my browsing. As I do increasingly more day-to-day activities on mobile apps, I find many days that go by when I don’t even turn on my personal laptop in the evening after work.

The result is that, with my phone on or near my person 95% of my waking hours, I was “jumping on Facebook real quick” dozens of times per day. The “real quick” part is where things got murky.

I was frustrated at how much time I perceived being wasted, so I took a drastic step: I deleted the app from my phone. Without access to the time drain at my fingertips around the clock, I was able to log in just on my laptop, and I only did so for brief periods in the evening.

Helping matters was the fact that shortly after I deleted the app, we went on a mini-vacation to the coast with my in-laws, where the focus is on family time anyway, and the temptation to mindlessly browse diminished.

Full disclosure: this was a temporary experiment that I have since concluded. What happened, and what I learned, follows.

Here was a big surprise: I didn’t miss Facebook as much as I anticipated I would.

I can’t explain the psychology behind it, but I know that my brain had somehow trained me to constantly flip open various social media apps throughout the day; during lulls between activities, when I was taking a break at work, before I got in the shower, and so on… Being aware of my nervous tendency to check Facebook, I was surprised that when it was no longer an option, it didn’t bother me … much.

Discarding my most used app made me even more painfully aware how often I had been using it. At those times when I would typically open it, I suddenly had unscheduled time with which I could do other things. During that time, I started:

* taking a few moments to pause and reflect on all manner of things
* saying spontaneous prayers
* getting a jump on chores — you’d be surprised what you can get done in 5-10 focused minutes!

Those things alone provided a noticeable increase in peace and order in my life, which proved more valuable than learning who had checked in at which restaurant during that time. (Not knocking restaurant check-ins. I do it too; it’s just a handy punching bag as an example. :))

I was thrilled with this new found free time, and began to feel a little self-righteous about it (just being honest). I even discovered that when I did log in for a short while in the evenings, it didn’t seem that I had missed out on much over my constant checking. That may also be a tad self-righteous.

The end result

In giving it more thought, and talking it over with my husband, I chose to re-evaluate my priorities and reasons for checking Facebook in the first place. Here is what I concluded:

* It does have a tendency to take up too much time, especially if I am not mindful
* A good portion of what I see on there is of questionable value – HOWEVER:
* I take pleasure in staying in touch with a great many people that I don’t get a chance to talk to or see regularly
* Keeping up with the happenings of those I care about is of inherent value (I know it means a lot to me when someone I haven’t seen for a while mentions something in conversation that I posted on Facebook)
* I desire to not only be a present, observant friend but to also provide content that may be of interest or value to others

The final analysis is that even considering its drawbacks, it is worthwhile to be on and engaging with what people post on Facebook. My time without the app on my phone was about two weeks. I enjoyed the found time, but most of all, I enjoyed pushing back on my “addiction,” and realizing that I had the power to overcome it.

I have since reinstalled the app, but going cold turkey helped me to moderate my idle time spent browsing. I’m not suggesting I’ll never get sucked back in, but so far I am exercising a bit more self-control and trying to be more purposeful about how long I spend, and how I engage with others while using it.

 

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Question for fellow bloggers: Best word count range for engagement?

Hey there fellow bloggers! I hope you are having a wonderful weekend!

A question for you. In your experience, what length of post has the most engagement for you?

In today’s information-overload culture, with ever-shortening attention spans, it seems prudent to keep posts as short as possible. But to cover a topic with any depth requires a minimum of 1000 words or more, at least that is what I have found.

Do you get more engagement with short posts? Do your longer posts get less or any? Curious to know specific stats, as well as general informed opinions about the matter.

It is not possible to make all posts brief, but I could certainly redouble my efforts at brevity if it is recommended to do so.

Looking forward to getting your feedback!

Cheers,

Summer

Posted in Blogging | 3 Comments

Pros vs. Cons of Christianity

I’ve been a Christian since I was seven years old, and I can see undeniably how that has changed me and shaped me as I’ve grown, both physically and spiritually. I’ve thought a lot over the years about the many ways in which Christianity both enriches life and makes it more challenging.

As such, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to write a list of pros and cons of being a Christian. So, here goes!

Pros:

1. Assurance of salvation and eternal destination

This is probably the most common, yet significant reason. Everyone is plagued with the question, “What happens after I die?” The Bible lays out the answer plainly. There is either eternal reward with God in heaven, or eternal punishment with Satan, in hell, for all who reject God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

For as much as Satan hates us (1 Peter 5:8), he does seem to embody the phrase “Misery loves company,” because he has used and continues to use countless deceptions, excuses and false, manmade religions to trick people away from the simple message of salvation.

… if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.'”
– Romans 10:9-11

For the Christian, knowing that our future is secure through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the best feeling in the world.

2. A life that is astoundingly wonderful in the here and now

“Life is hard, then you die.” This realistic, depressing phrase illuminates the grim truth for those who are unsure of their eternal destination. Yet, as stated above, the reality is very different for the Christian. Getting the soul secured is just the beginning. Then comes the lifelong adventure of living out the Christian life.

Any seasoned, authentic Christian will tell you that it is a difficult life; not for the faint of heart. The real work begins once you accept Christ. But with that work comes help from the very presence of God through the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). It also includes benefits that continually unfold as you walk with God. Such as:

  • Peace
    God promises to give His children peace in the midst of a turbulent life. Those who trust in that promise receive peace that cannot be explained or duplicated apart from a right relationship with God.

    “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

    “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
    – John 14:27 (The words of Jesus, as denoted in red)

  • Joy
    Apart from Christ, it makes no sense to have joy even in the thick of life’s struggles and heartbreaks. But as a defining characteristic of the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22), it flows naturally. Christ Himself promised it also:

    “These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” – John 15:11

  • Wisdom
    Living life as God designed brings clarity to things (Psalm 111:10) that can’t be gained elsewhere. Furthermore, God gives it as His kids ask for it.

    “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” – James 1:5

  • Freedom from sin
    The power of God at work in the Christian does innumerable miraculous things, not the least of which is giving him or her the power to say no to sinful behavior (Romans 6), which, before conversion was impossible, as we are all born in sin and slaves to sin by birth (Romans 3:23).
  • Friendship with God
    It is no small matter that the Creator of the universe and all it contains extends mercy and grace to those who call on Him through Jesus Christ. No less significant is His offer of friendship extended to the same. (John 15:15)
    To complete the trifecta of amazing potential intimacy with the Almighty, He welcomes us into His presence (Hebrews 4:16) and invites us to share our burdens that He may take care of them (1 Peter 5:6-7). Simply astounding.
  • Royalty
    While we won’t see the full of expression of this in this life, the reality is amazing to ponder. God, our heavenly Father, is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). And we, His kids, have been adopted into His family. That makes us heirs to the kingdom (Romans 8:15-17). Royalty. Mind. Blown. As they say…

3. A worldview that makes all the pieces fit

In addition to the benefits listed above, following after the God of the Bible just makes sense. An honest, thorough examination of the Bible reveals its historical & archaeological authenticity, right diagnosis of the human condition, clear instructions on how to live as well as the consequences of wrong living, and shows us who God is, what He has done, and how all of human history was written by Him long before it came into being.

The worldview that flows from the Bible provides answers where others only uncover more questions that cannot be satisfactorily answered.

4. Our playbook was written by God Himself

The Bible has been under attack since not long after the resurrected Christ ascended back into heaven. Skeptics and non-believers consistently ridicule and undermine it, and make many claims against its status of the Word of God. Many, many books have been written on the subject. As such, there is no way to summarize such a big topic in one blog post. I will briefly touch on a few points.

  • It claims to be the Word of God. All throughout its pages, it boldly declares that it is God-breathed. God inspired men through the Holy Spirit, to write what He wanted to communicate. If it were so easy to prove that it is a scam, as some people claim, the Christian church would have long evaporated. Yet we see the opposite is the case. The church is continually growing, especially outside the Western Hemisphere.
  • It contains a cohesive message. Despite being written by dozens of different authors, encompassing multiple types of literature, over thousands of years, the whole of its words present a message that flows logically and tells the story from the Creation of the universe to its future destruction cohesively. The only way to explain that is its supernatural origin.
  • It passes scholarly tests in flying colors. In recent years I’ve begun studying the authenticity of the Bible. One thing I’ve learned is that to determine the authenticity of an ancient text, scholars rely on the number manuscripts that can be found containing its material. The more manuscripts exist, the more likely the work is authentic. As it turns out, the Bible has more manuscripts than any other ancient work. Many, many more times than any other ancient work. It easily meets scholarly standards for authenticity.

These points don’t begin to scratch the surface on what could be said about the Bible as the Word of God. This is just a starter, to hopefully pique your interest in the subject.

Now that we’ve looked at four significant pros to living the Christian life let’s look at a few cons.

Cons

1. Haters gonna hate

Just as the Bible has been ridiculed for centuries, so have its adherents. Christians have received hate and persecution since the first century A.D. Jesus predicted that, however, and warned His disciples and future followers.

“You will be hated by all because of My name.” – Luke 21:17

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” – John 15:18-19

While this fact is inconvenient, we know to expect it. We also know that the outcome is worth it:

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
– Matthew 5:11-12

2. A life of self-denial and sacrifice is the expectation

The Christian life, for all the pros listed above, is anything but easy. The point of it is to fold our lives into God’s mission to redeem humanity while bringing glory to God and living a life of service to Him, as Christ modeled for us in His time on earth. This necessarily means dying to ourselves.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. – Mark 8:34-35

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

“For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” – John 13:15

As we identify with the life of Christ, we follow His example in living lives devoted to God and to others. Everything we do, we seek God and His ways first, putting aside our own selfish desires in favor of that which is of eternal value. This is a process God works in us throughout our whole lives as we follow Christ (Philippians 1:6, 2:13).

Conclusion

I realize this post very quickly blasts through several hotly contested issues. Issues over which hundreds of books have been written through the years. You’ve likely gathered that my aim in writing this post is to give an overview, not to give a thorough analysis of any particular topic.

I also realize that there are multitudes of people (many of whom I know) who would vehemently disagree with some or all of the contents of this post. I don’t doubt that, nor do I shy away from it. I am always pleased to get comments from those who disagree with me.

This is a partial list, based on my experience walking with God through Jesus Christ, and reading His words in the Holy Bible. If you’re curious about Christianity, I can tell you with sincerity that what God says about Himself and His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ is true. I would also love to answer any questions raised here.

It is my prayer that you would trust the God of the Bible. Thank you for reading, and have a wonderful day.

Posted in apologetics, Bible / Christian Living, Theology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Delicious Kale You’ll Ever Eat

First of all, I’ll admit that is an outrageous title. (I’m only a little bit sorry about that.)

Why is it outrageous? Of the several reasons that come to mind, the first is that kale is not delicious. If someone tells me, “I love kale!” they will not only get the sideways eye from me, I will also instantly know that I can’t trust them.

Why? Because no one actually likes kale. It’s the food equivalent of saying you enjoy getting root canals. In its natural state, it embodies tough, hard to chew, untasty disappointment.

Since it is so healthy, we just keep finding ways to squeeze it down. The good news is, I discovered a way to make it that elevates it to the status of dessert. Not joking. Read the following, try it, and prepare to dish up seconds. Food & recipe posts are far from a focus for me, but I felt this needed to be shared.

I’ve got to give some credit to my cousin and chef extraordinaire, Jake. This idea began as a creation he brought to a family dinner. I just added to it for extra flare.

Put quite simply, this recipe involves adding bacon, garlic, and onion and sauteeing all of it in bacon grease. Here are the specifics.

Serving for 2:

  • 4-5 kale leaves, stripped and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped (fresh garlic adds more flavor than the pre-minced jarred stuff)
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1/2 red onion

Directions:

  1. Cook bacon to taste in frying pan
    Bacon! I love bacon

2. Chop other ingredients while bacon cooks

3. Remove bacon to paper towels; leave grease in the pan

4. Add chopped garlic to skillet; allow to cook for about a minute

Garlic. Fresh garlic adds delicious flavor to just about any dish.

5. Add chopped onion and stir; cook until onion and garlic mixture becomes deliciously fragrant

Garlic and onions

6. Add chopped kale to pan, stir well to coat leaves with bacon grease. Cook until kale is heated through and begins to shrink (2-3 minutes).

Kale

7. Remove from heat into a serving dish

8. Consume immediately while vowing to never eat raw kale again

The finished product.

Here is the finished product, served with grilled short ribs (the Mr. handled those)

That’s it!

Often when I make sauteed veggies as a side dish, there are a few left over. In this case, my husband and I cleaned out the bowl and wished there was more. It is that good.

For a bacon-free alternative (I hear there are people out there who don’t eat it – strange!), try subbing the bacon grease for olive oil. I haven’t tried it that way, but I imagine it would still be reasonably good.

If you try this dish, let me know what you think of it. If you have other suggestions on how to make kale tasty, drop a comment!

 

 

 

 

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Mythbusters: You Can Do It All

I am starting a new, occasional series on my blog about “Mythbusters.” My purpose is to dispel common myths that permeate our thinking. Especially those which can affect the quality of life. Hopefully, the TV show doesn’t get too persnickety about people using their name. 😉

As an eternal optimist, I’ve always believed that I am capable of achieving whatever I put my mind to accomplish. While I still think that is true in principle, I’ve realized that there are limitations to it. That being said, here is the first myth I aim to tackle in this series:

Myth: You Can Do It All

My unquenchable optimism leads me to believe that, if I try hard enough, I can get it all done. I can cross everything off my to-do list. The fact that my reality wasn’t near that ideal just meant that I had to work harder, be more efficient and more focused. Or perhaps the right productivity tool/app was the missing piece.

I lived with this tension between my ideals and my reality for years. Yet, I never lost hope, because there was always a new book to read or software program to try that might make all the difference. (Side note, I recently wrote a post about Todoist, an app that certainly helps boost productivity, but it doesn’t solve the inherent problem.)

A Moment of Truth

One day at work, I was talking with a co-worker who I regard as one of the most efficient, effective professionals out there. She casually mentioned that she never gets her list even close to completed each day, because other things always come up.

That brought from my long-term memory a statement made years earlier by the pastor at my childhood home church, another imposing individual. He stated that if he started his day with a to-do list containing five items, and got two of them done, he was extremely pleased with his accomplishments.

A thought struck me – what if getting everything done every day is not realistic?

If these two people, who were the pinnacle of accomplishment in my mind, admitted that they couldn’t get it all done, why would I think I could? I realized then that my expectations for myself were out of line.

To realize that I was trying to accomplish a standard that was nearly impossible was incredibly freeing. It is not that I was underachieving, it is that I was setting a standard no one could reach.

Further Application

In the time since my original epiphany, I’ve concluded that the sentiment stated above applies to more than daily to-do lists. As priorities change and things get added, abandoned or deleted on the daily scale, so it is with the overall state of life goals.

There are so many, too many, things I want to do, accomplish, be, learn, read. There is not enough time in the day to do a fraction of what I would l like. Author Jon Acuff said it well in his recent book, “Finish,” in a section entitled, Choose What to Bomb. He opined that if you have your mind set on a particular goal, you have to decide what areas of your life you are going to let slide while you pursue it.

If you’re training for a marathon, it is going to take a commitment to run increasing miles over the weeks to get ready for it. That takes the time that you would have otherwise devoted to something else. Something has to give.

For me, I’ve been working hard to re-establish the per-mile running pace I hit when I was at my peak training ten years ago. It is tough, and it takes the time that I would otherwise spend elsewhere. Turns out, I can’t sleep in until the latest possible moment before getting ready for work and also go for a run. I have to decide each and every day what is more important to me.

This choosing of priorities is true for every element of life. If I am going to give 100% to something, I have to realize that something else (likely multiple things) will get less than that. I can’t do it all. As much as I would love to excel at my job, make amazing healthy meals regularly, keep my house spotless, work out every day, write a blog post three times per week, keep up with my volunteer activities and still stay in regular contact with all my friends, I have come to realize that a give and take is required.

It is not an admission of failure. Quite the opposite. It is realizing that my interests, passions, and responsibilities far exceed the capacity in my waking hours. And since maintaining my health through a proper amount of sleep is also essential to me, prioritizing becomes necessary.

Conclusion

My purpose in writing this post is not to be a Debbie Downer and tell you your dreams are unreachable. On the contrary, it is to share what I learned the hard way:

  1. Our own human limitations force us to be honest about what is realistic to get done.
  2. We might be disappointing ourselves unnecessarily by believing it is possible to “get it all done.” That is OK.

It might be time to re-evaluate your goals, figure out your highest priorities, and place them where they belong — at the top of your list. Then give yourself permission to let the other things slide a bit.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Ever met anyone who appears to be able to do it all? I am willing to bet they are letting some things slide that are undetectable to others.

 

 

 

Posted in Advice, Lifehacks, Mythbusters, priorities, Productivity, Self-Improvement | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Todoist: A Task Management App that Helps Boost My Productivity

I live by to to-do lists. Without them, I flounder helplessly and end up using my time ineffectively. With them, I am more likely to stay focused and task-oriented.

In recent years, I had started to become discontent with pen and paper lists for a few reasons. One, they got long and overwhelming in a hurry. I didn’t have a system in place to organize or prioritize them. Two, they quickly became outdated or sloppy as things got added or changed.

In an attempt to remember undone items, I would scribble new ones before, after, and in the margins. It didn’t take long before my already overwhelming list became unbearable and disheveled, which served to hamper my productivity mindset. It helped to rewrite the list, but for whatever reason, I loathed having to do that. I was stuck in this stage for quite some time.

An In-Between Solution

To ease the struggle, I started writing my lists on a spreadsheet, with a column for each day of the week, and tasks for that day underneath. This tactic helped not only in visualizing the week at a glance, but I also was relieved to be able to copy and paste items from one day to the next when needed. Pretty sure I am not alone in having undone tasks at the end of the day.

This solution was an improvement over paper lists, but after awhile it started to feel clunky because I still had to do a lot of updating and it was a challenge to implement a sense of task hierarchy.

Introducing a game changer

Discovering Todoist rocked my little old-fashioned world. It is an app/website that allows you to create project lists according to your needs, create tasks within each and schedule them by the due date. For whatever reason, the idea of a task management app had never even occurred to me. Don’t hold that against me, you ultra-techie types.

Once you’ve set up a task under its appropriate category, you can set a reminder for whatever time in advance you choose.

Project list view:

Todoist projects

Set up projects by areas of responsibility

List/calendar view:

Todoist

This is an overview of the next few days’ tasks

Since it has a calendar tool built in for scheduling, you can set up reminders as far in advance as you like. For instance, I set up an item that reminds me of a yearly charge to my debit card every January. It pops up a reminder a few days before the charge goes through, so I plan accordingly with my finances.

Or it works wonders when a project at work gets postponed to a date in the future. If I fear I might forget about a deadline six months out, a simple reminder with the proper amount of lead time beforehand eliminates any cause for concern.

This app has indeed helped me feel in control of the tasks I have, both at home and at work. A few more things I find nifty about it:

  • The web version and app sync up, so if I am doing more extensive updates on my computer, they automatically carry over to my smartphone.
  • If a task comes due that I am not ready for, I can reschedule it for a future date with just a few clicks. Much slicker than rewriting a paper to-do list constantly, IMO.
  • Setting specific due times triggers alerts when they are due, with advance notice as I direct. Helps me master my timeline and schedule.
  • For items that occur regularly, I can set up recurring tasks that reappear at intervals I set up, such as every Monday, or every other Sunday.

The ability to set up tasks at the beginning of the week, by day and time, is quite liberating. It takes my planning to a higher level, but still allows the flexibility that is often needed when things change. If you struggle with taming your to do list, as I did, I heartily recommend Todoist.

If you are already a task management beast, what is your secret?

Posted in Lifehacks, priorities, Productivity | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Australia: A Major Bucket List Item

Ever since I was in my early teens, I wanted to visit Australia so badly. I’ve just always been fascinated by it. Kangeroos, the Outback, Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, all captivated my interest.

My junior year, I applied to be a foreign exchange student there. But fortunately, I didn’t get chosen, because the idea of being away from my family for a year scared me to death. The interviewer for the process probably picked up on that.

Later, I made plans with a friend to take a trip there, but it didn’t end up working out. I was disappointed but moved on with life. I never lost the burning desire to visit, however.

Fast forward many years, to 2015. A fortuitous, more likely, providential, series of events lead to my husband Mike and I having the opportunity to fulfill the long-held dream to go there! (Mike had always wanted to go as well.) The occasion, not that we needed one, was for our fifth wedding anniversary.

Our jobs had never given us the luxury of planning vacations in advance, and this trip too came out with startling suddenness that prevented us from planning out a detailed itinerary before we left. While this tactic can often lead to a vacation that leaves much to be desired, it worked very well for us, with God’s grace.

We knew we could take a few weeks off work, we had some money saved for a vacation, and we were armed with buddy passes from my dear brother, a Delta airlines employee. All we knew was we wanted to go as far away as we could with the money and time available to us. We settled on Australia no more than five days before our scheduled departure.

Before our departure, life was crazy for us at home and work, leaving little time to plan like I would have preferred. We each spent a handful of hours doing online research the week before and poured through a tourism book I had purchased. Since Australia is such an enormous country, the hardest part was figuring out which section we should focus on, knowing that our time would allow us a fraction of a fraction of what we wanted to see.

The day came for our trip, and off we went.

Crossing the international date line eats up a day of travel on the way, so our Monday night departure put us in Sydney on Wednesday morning. We stumbled out of the airport at 7 am with no Australian cash, no lodging booked, and only a loose idea how we were going to spend the next week and a half.

I should add, that for the first couple days, nay, the whole trip, we repeatedly looked at each other in sheer delight and astonishment – “We are in AUSTRALIA!!! I can’t believe it!!!” It was a dream come true, and we were determined to make every minute count.

After figuring out the public train system, we ended up in the Kings Cross neighborhood of Sydney, where we found a reasonably priced shared hostel room with two sets of bunk beds. I was hoping we’d have it to ourselves, but we ended up getting bunkmates in the form of a couple from Sweden who has just spent the last few months traveling through the area we were planning to go. They ended up being fun to talk to and a wealth of knowledge about what to do.

We set out on foot through the stunning Royal Botanical Gardens, making our way to the spectacular Sydney Opera House. We giggled at the solid wall of tourists snapping pictures and selfies left and right, and we giggled at ourselves as we proceeded to do the same thing.

Sydney Opera House from Sydney Harbor

Sydney Opera House from Sydney Harbor

Settling in with refreshments at the outdoor Opera Bar and taking in the view of the Sydney Harbor, our jet-lag began to settle in like a thick fog. We trekked back to our hostel, found some pizza from a street vendor and made our way to an internet cafe to do some research for our next few moves. This is where the decision about where to go loomed largely. So many options, so little time and money.

Other than seeing the Opera House, my only “must” for the trip was snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, a subset of the bucket list item of going to Australia. It was late October when we went, and it was spring in Sydney, with pleasant temperatures and rain.

The loose itinerary I had devised before we left involved flying up to Cairns (a popular reef jump off point), and then making our way down the east coast via rental car, seeing as much as we could with the time available. Though the reef can be accessed from much of the east coast, the warm tropical climates of the northeast corner of the country won out, so we booked tickets to Cairns departing the following evening.

More sightseeing around Sydney filled up the rest of the next day, including a visit to the Taronga Zoo. I also “needed” to see some kangaroos, since we’d come all that way.

An evening flight from Sydney to Cairns put us in late at night, and we eventually found the motel we’d booked for a few winks of sleep before our AM excursion out to the reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is about a two-hour boat trip from shore, making tourist snorkeling boats big business in Cairns and surrounding towns. I’d booked us spots on a vessel, and I was beside myself with sheer joy and anticipation. We’d been rained on in Sydney, had left buckets of rain back home, and were now in a warm tropical paradise to fulfill a dream of 20 years.

It did not disappoint. Words won’t do it justice; these photos might only begin:

Underwater at the Great Barrier Reef; Cairns, Australia.

Underwater at the Great Barrier Reef. Photos by Michael David Sorensen.

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I mentioned that we were in disbelief that this trip was a reality. I should also add that I was unspeakably grateful for the opportunity, and could not stop thanking God for His kindness in allowing us to experience it. Throughout the trip, I would frequently mutter both to myself and aloud to Mike, “I think my head might explode from how amazing this is!!!”

We’d now been in Australia for three days and had six days before returning to Sydney to catch a flight home. As per the plan, we rented a car and headed south for our grand, unknown adventure. We had a loose idea of places we wanted to see, and 1000 miles to drive. It was go time!

Mike developed a great habit of chatting up locals to find out the best places to go in each region we visited. Only a few hours into our road trip (right-hand driver on the left side of the road, for the first time ever), we saw signs for Mission Beach, a place a guy in a coffee shop had recommended to Mike that morning. Though we knew nothing about it, we thought, “what the hey, we should at least stop and check it out; maybe grab some lunch and sit on the beach.”

When I saw that beach, the sensation of my head wanting to explode from delight got amped up considerably. It was unbelievably beautiful, like a Corona commercial come to life.

Mission Beach - Queensland, Australia

Mission Beach – Queensland, Australia

We found a cafe a few blocks from the beach and munched some fish tacos, then headed to the majestic light blue water for some swimming. Confession: we didn’t wait 30 minutes after eating.

The water was buoyant and peaceful. Note: the coastline along the reef expanse doesn’t have huge waves, since they get broken over the reef, miles out from the shore. The result is gentle, swimmable waves. I floated on my back and again, wondered if my head would explode.

Mission Beach - Queensland, Australia

Mission Beach – Queensland, Australia

The only thing that minimized the perfection was a persistent itchy feeling. Mike noticed it too. We later found out that it was a thing called “sea lice.” Somewhat unsettling to learn in retrospect that you were being nibbled on by invisible lice, but it just added some character to the experience.

Since we didn’t have any lodging lined up, we stopped at a local tourism center to get some ideas on places to see and stay nearby. That turned out to be a good move, because not only were we hesitant to leave such a magical beach town, we learned that the coastal highway veered inland just out of town, and headed into some less exotic landscape for the next few hundred miles.

As if we hadn’t already hit the awesomeness jackpot, it continued as the lady found us the last room available in a resort on the beach, that was within our budget. Our private cabin was only 100 yards from the water, so we decided to brave the sea lice once again for another magical dip in the sea.

That night we ventured back into the village and found an open-air restaurant playing good music and serving fabulous food and drinks. I repeatedly shook my head in disbelief at how God had kindly allowed our trip to go flawlessly thus far, and basked in the wonder, knowing that the most perfect beach from earlier that day was only a few hundred feet away. It felt like being in a movie about paradise.

The next day was a long one of driving along the coastal highway to get our next destination of Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands.

Something Australia does well is, it includes pictures on roadside signs pointing to tourist stops, giving you a visual that makes you want to take a side trip on many of them. There were multiple things we wanted to see, but we had to keep going to make Airlie Beach by nightfall. We did make time for one — Wallaman Falls, an 879 foot single drop waterfall. It was well worth it. (For comparison for my Pacific Northwest friends: Multnomah Falls is 620 feet and contains two drops.)

Back on the highway, we stopped at a McDonalds for wifi while Mike looked for lodging in Airlie Beach, and I booked us a day cruise out to one of the islands in the Whitsundays. Mike found us a room at a house with multiple bedrooms that had been converted to an inn for travelers. It was after dark when we hit town, and the place was high atop a steep hill and proved to be very difficult to find in the dark.

When we finally found it, it turned out to be quite a bit nicer than we were expecting, especially for the price. Though it was disappointing to not be able to see the beach due to darkness, my research on the town before we left had me pretty hyped for the views the morning would reveal. I stood on the street high above, heard music spilling out from nightclubs on the main drag below and once again could scarcely contain my gratitude and excitement.

The next morning, the trek up the steep hill, pushing our rented Toyota Corolla to the limits proved to be well worth it as we drank in a breathtaking view of the Coral Sea from one of the balconies at our host’s home. We could have stayed there all day it was so lovely, but we had a boat to catch!

We made our way to the docks, climbed aboard our Cruise Whitsundays vessel and were met with yet another jaw-dropping vista as we cruised through the most unspeakably beautiful turquoise water. I couldn’t stop staring at it.

Port at Hamilton Island - Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia

Pulling into port at Hamilton Island – Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia

The boat made its way through a few different tropical island ports to pick up and drop off passengers, including Hamilton Island, which is among the most famous of them. Fun fact: we later learned that Taylor Swift had taken her entire crew on a vacation there just days after we had been there! Mike and I made a pact we’d make it back to that island sometime.

Our destination was Whitehaven Beach, a stunning, remote, seven-mile stretch of white sand on Whitsunday Island, one of the few islands in the chain where no commerce was allowed. Our scheduled stop there was a mere 90 minutes; not nearly long enough.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia

Unbeknownst to us, we happened to be cruising through the country only 1-2 weeks before “jellyfish season” which begins the first of November as the weather turns warmer. Terrifying, deadly creatures like the box jellyfish can issue a sting that will do anything from ruin your vacation with a hospital stay to perhaps end your life. Though we were just ahead of jellyfish season, the announcer on the boat warned that sting proof suits were available (they look like full-length wetsuits) and were recommended just in case.

I declined to wear one, preferring to enjoy the majestic tropical turquoise water without it. The warning from the announcer did leave me paranoid enough to continually scan the water as I was swimming, thus taking away the relaxing sensation I had felt a few days earlier at Mission Beach. Apart from that, however, Whitehaven Beach proved to be even more magical, if that is possible.

After our stay in Airlie Beach, it was time to really put some miles in to make it down the coast on schedule. We’d figured we’d only make it as far as Brisbane, then catch a plane to Sydney where our buddy passes would take us back to Portland.

The next few days were a straight road trip. The tropics of Queensland were behind us, the scenery before us just average, with occasional views of the ocean. But it was still fascinating to be driving through AUSTRALIA!

One of two final notable stops on our trip involved the beautiful, meticulously landscaped Australia Zoo, founded by the late Steve Irwin & family. Khaki-clad Aussies with fabulous accents showed us all the wonders of kangeroos, koalas, crocodiles and much more. This was the Disneyland of zoos, and it was far better than the one we’d visited in Sydney.

Entrance to Australia Zoo, and a HUGE memorial to the late, great Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin

Entrance to Australia Zoo, and a HUGE memorial to the late, great Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin

As a last tourist stop, we visited Noosa Beach, which was heralded by several Aussies we’d met as the place to go to see Australian celebrities. Several of the local cafes had all their chairs positioned facing the main drag for celebrity watching. The town reminded me of an Australian Beverly Hills, with expensive boutiques, elegant restaurants and a general air of fanciness.

After Noosa, it was time to head to the Brisbane Airport to catch our Sydney flight. It was sad to see our fabulous vacation coming to an end, but we’d had more fun than we could have ever imagined and made memories we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives.

Excellent Australian Adventure

Mike & Summer’s Excellent Australian Adventure

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You Can Do More Than You Think You Can

“There is no man living that can not do more than he thinks he can.” – Henry Ford

I’ll agree with ol’ Henry on that.

When it comes to getting things accomplished, I’ve found that sometimes, through a variety of means, I sell myself short and convince myself of a level of achievement that is safe but is beneath what I am actually capable of doing. As I observe others, I find that I am not alone in this.

Why is it that we so often allow ourselves to underachieve? I’ve identified three common reasons. I’ll briefly share those, then go into three scenarios through which we can realize greater potential in ourselves.

Three reasons we underachieve:

1. Fear

This one is pretty straightforward. Doing more than what we’ve always done can be terrifying because we don’t know what will happen when we try something new.

When I was fresh out of college, stepping into my career field (at the time was radio broadcasting) was absolutely terrifying. I was afraid of failing, of being a terrible DJ, of getting laughed at, getting fired, etc.

You know what happened? I was a terrible DJ at first. People did laugh at me. I survived and got better. Then I went on to a different job in the radio industry, and the terror resumed, this time with more intensity because the stakes were higher at this job in a larger market.

The trend continued at each subsequent job, even after I started working in marketing following my stint as a radio personality. Which each new career move, more responsibility and higher expectations, and more acute fear. I didn’t stay in the fear zone, however. More on that shortly.

2. Laziness

Sometimes we don’t achieve much because we like doing less even better. It’s comfortable to do what we know. Laziness will stunt growth every time. Often we recognize it, but are unwilling to change, even when we see that our lazy ways are holding us back.

3. Ignorance

This is more difficult to pinpoint, but it is just as real as the first two. “You don’t know what you don’t know.” We may survive for years, perhaps even a whole lifetime, doing less than our full capability.  It takes the trials of life to stretch the boundaries and make us aware of our higher potential.

Those are the three most common traps for performing at less than our most capable levels.

Now let’s look at three ways in which we are most likely to learn our potential.

Through fire – the trials of life

In my experience, this is the most common method. Whether it is the pressure of finishing those college term papers that are due in the morning, navigating the demands of a boss that works 24/7 and expects employees to do the same, training for a race, getting in shape for your wedding or dealing with family drama, they all come at us fast and take more than we are prepared to give.

Those scenarios are “where the rubber meets the road” as the saying goes. This is where we see what we are made of.

Looking back on some of the fires I’ve walked through, I recall a whole lot of sleepless nights, crying out to God for help, tearful phone conversations with my folks, hyperventilating, wrestling soul-shaking doubts that I feared would do me in.

It was in these times that I found my grit. I determined that I refused to quit, to fail, or to do less than my best at any of the challenges – no matter what it took. Looking back, I am amazed what I was able to accomplish. By the grace of God, and with the help of trusted confidantes, to be sure.

Through mentorship

I would dare say most of us have goals we long to achieve that seem out of reach. We know what we want, we just don’t know how to get there. That is where mentors and coaches come in. Mentors can show us the way; often they have already done that what we want to master and have invaluable guidance they can offer.

A more direct but often more costly route is to hire a coach. Stats indicate that life coaching a $2 billion industry annually. If you don’t have someone who can mentor you but are willing to spend some cash on a professional, you can have a path to success customized for you. I’ve seen several friends make dramatic life improvements in areas of business and health through the effect of working with a coach.

Through self-discipline

The truly rare among us become high-achieving, goal-smashing geniuses through sheer will and self-disciple. Note: I am not 100% sure such a person actually exists, but I am throwing it out there just in case. The “self-made man” feels like a fallacy to me, because everyone had help from someone along the way.

Nevertheless, I suppose it is possible for someone to be so motivated to improve that they take the steps necessary to get where they are going without much outside help.

By way of a summary, we can be stunted from accomplishing our maximum potential through fear, laziness or not knowing our limits. We most often improve ourselves when life gets hectic, when we call upon others for help, or when we buckle down and determine to create better habits for ourselves.

As for me, I’ve walked through plenty of stressful situations thus far in life. I suspect most of us have. Though they were ultra miserable to wade through, they made me aware of where I was falling short and pushed my limits so I could see what I was capable of.

Have you been holding back on rocking some goals? What is causing you to do so? What will it take to push you out of your comfort zone into high achieving mode?

Whatever it is, I am confident that you can do it.

 

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The 3 Stages of Emotional Connection to Costco

Going to Costco for the first time as a youngster was startling to my young mind. The experience changed as I got older. Here is what I have identified as the three phases of connection to Costco.

Shock and Awe (the teenage years)

Shopping in a warehouse? I can get a sweater, a blender, a new couch and a pallet of eggs, all while eating a giant polish dog with refillable soda for pocket change? Somehow this doesn’t compute. Hey…a mega box of candy bars?? OK, this place will do.

Disdain (the young adult years)

After getting used to the idea of buying in bulk, it gets old and, in my case, laughable. As a single girl with roommates, the idea of buying a box of cereal almost as large as my allotted space in the cupboard seemed a bit foolish. I scarcely set foot in Costco in my 20s or early 30s.

Acceptance (full on adulting)

Now that I’m married and the primary shopper for our household of two, Costco came back into my life. My husband got us a membership several years back primarily so we could save money on gas. For the first few years, my young adult disinterest reigned, and I wasn’t particularly interested in going inside to shop.

One day a few years back, a friend shared with me a delicious snack he had gotten at Costco and raved about what a bargain it was versus grocery store prices. Naturally, it came in a family-sized two-pack. I liked it so much, I decided to go get some for myself.

That is when it all began.

I started wandering the aisles and allowing myself to be tempted by the Amazon-sized portions of things we consume in ordinary quantities. The one snack became a regular purchase. Which turned into two when I discovered another tasty treat in bulk.

“Maybe I do need a pallet of toilet paper, five years worth of anti-bacterial wipes and 20 cans of black beans,” I thought to myself as I continued wandering. “I could always find a spot to stash some of it in the basement.”

With that thought, I realized I had finally become a responsible, possibly boring, adult. While part of me gets a little sad on the inside at such a thought, mostly I just laugh and embrace it. And console myself with a five-pound bag of sweet potato crackers.

Have you found similar phases in your emotional connection to Costco? Please share what your thoughts are!

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