Category: Personal

Do you know what it feels like to rely on your own strength?

Yep. It’s fleeting.
Frustrating.
Exhausting even.

I stood on this beach last week and my thoughts felt tangled as I tried to fix everything on my own. Worries. Fears. A mess of various thoughts.

Then Ari asked the kids, “Do you know who made this ocean?”

It was simple and it was powerful.

If God made this vast beautiful teeming-with-life body of water, surely my small challenges were easy. Light. A delight for Him to help me with, just as I delight in helping these three.

Something I’ve been chewing on lately: how these three fully rely on Ari and me. For direction, for food, for comfort, for safety, for love. And how often I fail to rely on my Father who gives me 1000x as much.

Taking care of my tangled thoughts and fears and worries was already done before I even asked.

Before my kids ask, I know they need food. Before they rub their eyes, I know they need rest. And before I put my feet in this sand, He knew I would need the simple reminder that God is big and I can LET GO.

These three had fun together on vacation last week!

Lord, in this new month of April, help me to rely on Your voice over the world. Your strength over mine. Your power over my total inability to calm my inner storms on my own. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you for loving us right where we are. And thank you for never giving up on us, even when we are a teeny weeny bit stubborn!

A look back at my March goal progress (read March’s goal post here!):

Monthy Goals:
— Pray + Praise! These two things keep me on track for the rest of life! I marked this as my top priority for March with one of my favorite Goal Setting Sticker Book stickers. — Yes! There was a lot of both that happened.
— Gardening 101 series + garden prep. I am waiting till the recommended time (after April 15th here in Chapel Hill) to plant the garden, but there’s a lot to prep in March—clearing out old plants, cleaning pots, and it’s time to replace the garden beds themselves. I discovered several critter colonies and most of them are falling apart now after the winter. I resisted replacing them before (as you know if you’ve read Cultivate), but they are not functional in places now. So, new cedar beds are in our future. — Yes! The garden has been cleared out, the Gardening 101 series has been a huge success (the giveaway ends Monday!), and new cedar garden beds from Gardener’s are waiting for me on my front steps. I can’t wait to dig in!
— Prayer journal date. — Yes!

Photo above by Gina!

— Celebrate 12 years of marriage! Our anniversary always falls on the weekend that the Making Things Happen Conference kicks off, so we’ll be celebrating with lots of friends at dinner that night.  — Well, the best friends in the world surprised us big time! Cards, balloons, a gorgeous bouquet from Rhi (!), and best of all, prayers for our next twelve years together. I love you all so much! What a blessing this was!

If you need encouragement in your marriage, download my free marriage guide that includes links to read our story. We’re two imperfect people who know for sure that grace is a real thing and that the impossible is possible.

— Lead our best-ever MTH conference. — We’re nine years into making Making Things Happen happen and it just keeps getting better! It was our best conference yet, and we have so many ideas for the fall conference to make it even more impactful. So grateful for this time and all the women who joined us!

Photo from MTH above of me and my friend Shunta by Rachel Coffey.

— Have a meaningful Purim and Passover. — Purim was great and Passover was not what I planned, but it was good in the end! We had come home from an exhausting travel marathon the night before and the kids were tired. Really tired. We showed up to a beautiful Passover meal that Ari was leading and I couldn’t keep the two little one’s quiet or still, so I took them home and put them in a bubble bath. It was needed quiet time for all three of us! Ari and Grace got a ride home and everyone was happy. : )
— 2019 project finalization. — Here’s where my April priority comes in. We got a lot of new products off to print in March, and now it’s time to cut some projects ahead. More in April…
— Onboard new team members. — Yes, we have welcomed two new team members and they got thrown right into the good stuff: MTH, a team summit, a big shoot, and more! Why do we wait 90 days to announce them? We want to fully equip each new team member and give them time to settle in before they do forward-facing tasks. This has been so helpful and much-appreciated on their end so they feel confident in their roles when they are announced. We can’t wait to introduce them in a few weeks!
— Spring Team Summit prep. — Yes! The Cultivate Team Summit this week was all about digging into our vision, our heartbeat, and cultivating what matters in our own lives so we can give the same to you.
— April Cultivated Calendar prep. — I missed a lot of this but I don’t feel bad about it. I did what mattered most!

Weekly goals:
— Strength training 2x/week — I did this twice and definitely got my strength workout in other ways the last two weeks (carrying kiddos while traveling, paddling a boat, biking a LOT!).
— Write + study He + Waw (Psalm 119) — Now that the weather is getting warmer, I’ve been outside after church instead of inside trying to stay warm. So, I’m scrapping this for this season to make room for garden time.
— Undistracted + cultivated homeschool — We missed a lot of school this month with travelling and spring break, but when we did school, it was great.
— Re-creation — Yes. Biking a lot in Watercolor was really helpful time to sort though my thoughts.
— Pray the Word — Yes, I prayed the Word several times.
— Finish implementing Traction — praising the Lord for this book and all we’ve learned over the last year! — Almost there! So close!
— 2 days “on” + vacation — I ended up having to work on my days “on” but we did complete our vacation.

Daily Goals:
— Chronological Bible reading — Yes!
— Soul care at night — A little. There were a lot of busy nights this month with MTH, our Summit, and shoot!
— Kiss Ari — Yes.
— Pray over the kids — Yes.
— Family worship — We realized that we would love for this to be the focus of future family trips. We’d love to take a trip with another believing family and make it more of a retreat to be with God together! It really doesn’t matter where we go as long as that’s the focus.

On to April! 

This week has been a turning point for me. A new season of letting go. Letting go of control to make room for life! What generally precedes a turning point for me isn’t hard work on my part or big events or great achievements or perfect timing or circumstances; it’s surrender. Weakness. Being broken down so God can build me back up again—new and different.

It was a perfect month for a goal refresh! Every three months in the PowerSheets, we refresh our goals, and I LOVE what I uncovered. Here’s a peek:

And here are my refreshed goals for the next three months. A certain little kindergartener helped me add the stickers!

These goals make me so excited and grateful! Next, I filled out my April Tending List to start bringing these goals to life…

April Monthly Goals:

— Choose less. A radical move to less so there’s room for life. As I wrote about last week, there are inevitable times of overload that will creep up in our lives. These times are not cause for guilt or worry; they are opportunities. I’ve found myself in one of those little-margin seasons and my top priority in April is pruning. Choosing less to make room for life!
— On that note, I’m reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality this month.
— Plant the garden.
— Decide on office space.
— Lead a prayerful summit and shoot. — I can already update you on this and tell you it was the best week! Lots of prayer, digging into our vision, and helping each other cultivate what matters so we can give the same to you.
— Lead a prayerful summer launch (coming April 24th!).

We loved our time together at the Carolina Inn this week!

April Weekly Goals—keeping it simple here!:

— Praise + rejoice!
— Prayer journal dates

April Daily Goals:

— Bible
— Pray over the kids
— Exercise hard

I already love this month of making room!

Seeing these kiddos using one of our new products at the shoot yesterday with Gina made me cry. You see, I don’t see these as just products, they are seeds. We are seed planters, sowing hope and joy and what lasts longer than us. So very grateful for this work we do and for this week of cultivated change.

Mark your planners: the new products release April 24th at 10 am ET!

Your turn! Do you have goals for April? What are you cultivating in this new month? I’ll pick one of you to send a special surprise box of goodies to from the Cultivate What Matters shop. I love sending real mail, and I love hearing your thoughts! Congrats to March’s winner, Tara Verrico!

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I’m going to take a wild guess that you and I have a few things in common.

We think differently.
We want to make the most of this life.
We’re cultivators.

A cultivator uncovers her own unique goal and path. Instead of looking to other people’s goals or social media feeds to define her own, she puts in the hard work of uncovering a path that fires her up.

A cultivator embraces little by little progress. She doesn’t believe in quick fixes or overnight results, and she knows it’s okay to grow slow.

A cultivator gets her hands dirty and takes action. Waiting can be good and a time of ripening, but she knows that sometimes it’s worth it to dig in right where she is with what she has.

A cultivator examines where she is in order to leap to what’s next. Instead of ignoring what isn’t working, she takes the time to intentionally evaluate and uncover the path forward.

A cultivator creates a long-term vision and gets after it. She refuses to keep going through the motions, doing the same things she’s always done. Instead, she steps forward into a new path.

A cultivator sets out on a purposeful path by uncovering cultivated goals. She’s tired of wandering aimlessly.

A cultivator finds joy in the journey instead of placing all her value in the finish line.

A cultivator doesn’t just embrace imperfect progress; she celebrates it. She’s tired of abandoning ship at the first bump in the road, and she knows that the best things in life grow slowly.

Whether you realize it or not, we just described YOU.

Ready to dig into March, fellow cultivator? Let’s do it!

February was a month of learning to trust—trusting in times of unknown, trusting in taking little steps forward without a finish line in sight, and trusting God’s crazy plans over mine!

Here’s a recap of my February progress and what I learned:

February Monthly Goals:
— First things first. My top priority for February was to spend more time with God than with the world. — This is a perpetual goal, but I did a lot of praying in February as I faced many unknowns. Some of those things are still unknown, but I have a peace and trust now in place of the worry that was there before I started praying and seeking His wisdom. Prayer changes things.
— Prayer journal date. — Done! I have a recurring task on my Things app that reminds me to prepare my prayer journal a few days before the new month.
— Prayerfully hire new team members. — I’m so grateful to share we’ve hired two new team members who start on Monday (we’ll be introducing them in the weeks to come!). We’re still hunting for two more though, including this one.
— Start seeds indoors + garden planning. — Yes! Seeds have been started and my Gardening 101 post and giveaway goes live soon! More to come here!


— Write the 2019 PowerSheets. — DONE! Eeeeee! So excited about this! We have some big changes coming, which always amazes me. Every year I can’t imagine making it better, but there’s a big process shift I wrote in this year that I hope you love as much as I do! 2019 PowerSheets will be on sale in October.
— 2017 corporate taxes completed. — Progress was made, but not done yet.
— Pray over the plan for books. — Done! I’m so so so grateful to have clarity and next steps in motion for all of the long-form projects we have had in mind. The other book may be developed for 2020, but the Gracie’s Garden book is hopefully coming your way next spring. Up next for me is writing the draft text and finding an illustrator by April!
— Set strength training plan + start. — I got this over-the-door contraption and I love it. More about this goal coming in my March goals below…
— Identify budget steps and goals. — I finally got unstuck here, and all it took was one intentional step forward that led to the next. Our budget is set and I added the Mint app to my phone. This month we’re focusing on praying together regularly about finding giving needs and meeting them. We started praying about this last week and it has already been fruitful.
— Cultivated Calendar prep. — I have been so grateful for this shift in how I prepare for meaningful celebrations and events. Get the free download at the Cultivated Calendar replay link and go through the process—so helpful!

Someone turned two this week! We now officially have two to-year-olds!

Weekly goals:
Write + study Gimel + Daleth (Psalms 119). — I only did this once this month because our Sunday afternoon times got taken up by other things.
2 Days “on.” – Yes!
Undistracted + cultivated homeschool. – Yes! This is us below doing some notebooking.
Re-creation. – Yes, we had some dance parties in the kitchen, spent lots of time outside, and we took several outings (trail walks and exploring Jordan Lake) that were a treat for everyone.
Read Traction with Emily. – Yes, we are on the last chapter and our whole team has worked hard implementing the Traction model in our company. I can’t recommend it enough!
Pray the Word. – Yes, there were several times I prayed for guidance and cried out to God using Bible verses as my prayers.

Daily Goals:
Chronological Bible reading. – I continue to love this daily reading time!
Soul care at night. This means spending time with my prayer journal, in the Word, preparing for the next day, or doing anything that doesn’t involve my phone. — This is an area I want to continue to improve.
Kiss Ari. — Yes! We went to our church’s marriage retreat in February and had several date nights as well.
SLEEP. — Another area I need to improve in (mainly going to bed earlier and turning my brain off.) Ari and I started reading Tim Keller’s Prayer which has been helpful to get my brain to unwind. Random fun fact: I used to live in the same apartment building as Tim Keller about 14 years ago and would often say hi him when we were both getting our mail. 🙂
Pray over kiddos + family worship. Family worship is new and something that I’m excited about. I watched a video series by Donald Whitney that inspired me to give it a try. So far so great! While the kids eat breakfast in the morning, I read them a super short Bible story, we say a prayer, and then we sing a song. That’s it! It takes 10 minutes and they are loving it. — Yes, morning Bible story reading has become a habit after a month and the kids love it. This is the book we’ve been reading from.

On to March!

March Monthly Goals:
Pray + Praise! These two things keep me on track for the rest of life! I marked this as my top priority for March with one of my favorite Goal Setting Sticker Book stickers.
Gardening 101 series + garden prep. I am waiting till the recommended time (after April 15th here in Chapel Hill) to plant the garden, but there’s a lot to prep in March—clearing out old plants, cleaning pots, and it’s time to replace the garden beds themselves. I discovered several critter colonies and most of them are falling apart now after the winter. I resisted replacing them before (as you know if you’ve read Cultivate), but they are not functional in places now. So, new cedar beds are in our future.
— Prayer journal date.
Celebrate 12 years of marriage! Our anniversary always falls on the weekend that the Making Things Happen conference kicks off, so we’ll be celebrating with lots of friends at dinner that night. Our vacation to Watercolor this month will be our time to celebrate with just the two of us while my mom babysits the kiddos one evening.
Lead our best-ever MTH conference. Friends, I cannot wait for this! We’re nine years into making Making Things Happen happen and it just keeps getting better! (I can’t wait to see many of you there!)
Have a meaningful Purim and Passover. I. Love. Passover! I love most of the Jewish holidays, but Passover is my favorite. The story of God delivering the Israelites from slavery and all the mess Moses and Aaron had to go through with Pharoah and the plagues… is it cheesy to say I just love the Bible!? I do! We’re having a Passover seder with our Bible study group on Easter Sunday, which is really special. There is so much meaning and symbolism in the seder that illuminates the power of the resurrection and God’s big picture plan for Jesus to be our Passover lamb. Ooooh it’s just so good!

Ari and the kids making traditional hamentaschen cookies for Purim yesterday (cookies in the shape of Haman’s hat). Grace is super into Purim and I’m so glad! The story of Esther is true “girl power”—God-led bravery!

2019 project finalization. This is exciting. As I mentioned in my updates above, I got clarity on future projects recently and we are working on many new things right now. Getting them all of to print in March is happening, Lord willing!
— Onboard new team members. 
— Spring Team Summit prep. Really looking forward to this in the first week of April! We meet about once a quarter, and I’m excited to have new team members joining us for a time of planting roots with our big picture vision.
— April Cultivated Calendar prep.

Weekly goals:
— Strength training 2x/week (using my new over-the-door contraption I mentioned earlier).
— Write + study He + Waw (Psalm 119)
— Undistracted + cultivated homeschool
— Re-creation
— Pray the Word
— Finish implementing Traction — praising the Lord for this book and all we’ve learned over the last year!
— 2 Days “on” + vacation

Daily Goals:
— Chronological Bible reading.
— Soul care at night.
— Kiss Ari.
— Pray over the kids
— Family worship.

Your turn! Do you have goals for March? What are you cultivating in this new month? I’ll pick one of you to send a special surprise box of goodies to from the Cultivate What Matters shop. I love sending real mail, and I love hearing your thoughts! Congrats to February’s winner, Vanessa Milner Eberbach!

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We don’t like imperfect starts, do we?
We want perfect right out of the gate.
But all plants grow through the dirt, and so do we.
Making a mess doesn’t mean you become one. – Cultivate

Feeling guilty about not making progress on your goals or not starting them at all?

February 1 can be your January 1!

Some guilt is good—it can spur us on to make good choices. But, there’s another kind of guilt that doesn’t help you or anyone else: imperfection guilt.

You know the feeling. You mess up and immediately go into I’m-the-worst-person-in-the-world mode thinking, Why can’t I just keep it all together? Why do I have to be so flawed? Why can’t I just do it ALL and do it all well? Why can’t I just be like so-and-so? 

Here’s the thing. We are imperfect. Me, you, all of us! And the truth is that all progress is imperfect progress. Good things grow through challenges and missteps and slow growth.

My peonies literally cannot bloom in the spring unless they go through many weeks of bitter cold in the winter. They grow little-by-little, and they grow through the dirt.

So, my friend, I propose we let go of the imperfection guilt and embrace the perfectly imperfect ground we’re standing on, right where we are. This is our GROWING ground.

Goodbye goal guilt.

Goodbye, quick fixes.

Goodbye, expecting overnight change.

Goodbye doing too much at once.

Hello little-by-little steps.

Hello trying new things (and redirecting when something isn’t working!).

Hello progress not perfection.

Hello slow rooted growth.

Hello bravery. Because it takes a lot of guts to live intentionally.

Hello knowing that our worth is not based on our performance. Who made up the rule that you had to make perfect progress on everything in January?

Hello doing this differently.

Hello what actually works.

One way to give the imperfection guilt the boot is to embrace the truth and tension of “and.”

Ready?

You can be a goal getter and embrace imperfection.

You can grow slowly and make significant progress.

You can make imperfect progress on a goal and still achieve your goal.

You can grow tomatoes in your garden and have weeds.

Are you with me here? What “and” do you need to embrace to move forward?

For me: I can do less and be more effective. More giving. More productive in the things that are important to me. More at peace.

January was a month of embracing these truths, digging into new habits, and setting out with a clearer direction. Anc clarity breeds action! I shared my Top 10 Tips for Getting Started on Your Goals, How to Get Unstuck, and in taking my own advice, I made some significant changes to how I use my time.

Here’s a recap of my January progress and what I learned:

Monthly Goals:

Seek God first. Before seeking answers or wisdom or comfort anywhere else, I tried my hardest to go to God first this month (instead of to my phone or snacks or to complaining) and I pray that continues.
— Add 2018 goal steps to the calendar. I took 30 minutes in January and added all of my goal starting steps from my PowerSheets to my iCal and my Things app. For example, doing my Cultivated Calendar prep each month (preparing for birthdays, holidays, milestones) is important to me this year to help me grow several of my 2018 goals. I created a one-hour time block on my calendar each month to do it. I also created a yearly recurring task on Things that pops up a few days before the new month to remind me what birthdays or milestones to prepare for. A little intentional forethought has already gone a long way for me!
— Memorize Study Aleph + Bet. This is one place I redirected! I realized I bit off more than I could chew with memorizing Psalm 119 and reading the Bible this year, so I’m studying it instead. This is do-able and also challenging, which keeps me motivated! More here.
— Prayer journal date. I’m trying something new with my prayer journal this year. I’m having a longer prayer date to write out my prayers for the month and pray them right then instead of waiting for times later in the month. It’s one big prayer session to kick the month off, and the two times I’ve done it so far have been fantastic! I bring my prayer journal to church every Sunday and to our Sunday afternoon Bible study, so I check in on my prayers and add new ones (and notes about answered prayers) then as well.
— Have a day “on.” So, this is new. And this was not an easy one for me at first, but I knew it was necessary. This is something that came out of feeling spread thin in December and wanting to prevent any burnout on my part for my family and my team. In helping to write new employment contracts this year, it dawned on me that I’ve never taken all of my own allotted vacation days. I’ve certainly worked hard to not grow too much at once and to have strong boundaries, which has been wonderful, but I’ve come to a place in my life where I need more (to use my word of the year) light space. So, two Friday’s a month, I’m taking a day “on”—not a traditional day off, but a day to spend intentional time with God, the kiddos, and to step away from regular work so I can be refreshed and refueled for Ari, the kids, homeschooling, and work. I’ve done it twice so far and it has been helpful. It’s certainly tricky for me though. I am trying my best not to use these days to get one more thing done or clean or organize, but to really make it about soul care and being my best for others. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes throughout the year.
— Pray over new hires. Yes, many prayers have been offered up and I’m excited to see where God leads us.
— Pray over 2019 product development. I’m writing the 2019 PowerSheets this week and have been praying over our production process. By the way, we just sold out of all of our 2018 PowerSheets this week, but more 6-month sets will be back in May to help you finish out the year.
— Finish clearing out the attic. I made progress here, but I haven’t finished. There are two more bins of old college books that I need to go through!
— Take 1 step forward on 2018 budget. My one step was identifying my “block” on this goal. What’s been causing my inaction: I haven’t had clarity on the end goal or exactly what steps need to be taken in general! More below in my February goals.
— Cultivate Calendar prep for February. Yes! You can catch the replay of my live class about this with Emily Ley here.

Weekly Goals:
— Re-creation. Yes, progress was definitely made here. More about this goal here.
— Pray over each of our children. Yes, I’ve been praying over them out loud most mornings and evenings.
— Read Traction with Emily. Yes, we have implemented most of the book so far and are about to dig into the Process chapter to start tieing it all together. If you have employees, I can’t recommend this book enough! It has changed the way we do just about everything in our company.

Daily Goals:
— Chronological Bible reading. I am LOVING this! I decided to do this differently this year and do what’s called a “Plan with Friends” on the YouVersion Bible app. There are about a dozen of us and it has been awesome to share our thoughts with each other as we read each day. Doing this with a small intimate group has been wonderful!
— Kiss Ari. I shared a little about this here, but yes, this goal is going well and I’m so grateful for how it’s affecting not only us but our kiddos who smile so big when we kiss! Joshua has started giving me kisses too. 🙂
— #RunLiftPraise. I have exercised every day, but no weights. You’ll see an update on this one in my February goals.
— Eat clean. Yes! Every January Ari does a fast of sorts where he doesn’t eat meat or sweets as a simple way to remind him to think about God more and rely on Him for comfort. I love this fresh start in our house every January.
— Cultivate better sleep. I’ve made progress here mostly through not looking at my phone after work.

The snow melting on the pansies. These little guys are tough!

On to February! This month is a bit packed, so I spent some extra time making sure my goals were clear and do-able. I’m so grateful for my PowerSheets or I would be going into this month feeling overwhelmed already. So often what leads to overwhelm is simply the unknown, right? We have so many thoughts and to-do’s swirling around in our heads. But, when we give them a place and sort through them, the overwhelm melts as we solve problems and see what needs to be done and what doesn’t. While there’s a lot to accomplish in February, I’m feeling ready because I have a clear picture of what needs to happen. And I’m excited for lots of fun things we have planned this month, too!

Monthly Goals:
First things first. Similar to my goal to seek God first in January, my top priority for February is to spend more time with God than I do with the world.
Prayer journal date. Already done (last night)! I have a recurring task on my Things app that reminds me to prepare my prayer journal a few days before the new month.
Prayerfully hire new team members.
Start seeds indoors + garden planning. More to come here!
Write the 2019 PowerSheets. Eeeeee! So excited about this!
2017 corporate taxes completed. Okay, not so excited about this, but I am staying focused on how I will feel when this is done. That motivates me to dig in and get it off my plate. Anyone have a fun way they celebrate getting taxes done?
Pray over the plan for books. I’ve been talking about the Gracie’s Garden book for a while and there’s another book we have in mind as well. I need God’s wisdom on when to start and what direction to take with both, so my goal for February is to pray about these two projects. Prayer is an action step—one of the very best you can take. 🙂
— Set strength training plan + start. If you’ve followed for a while, you know I used to be a personal trainer. I now work out at home with the kiddos in the morning. And I made some great progress on at-home strength training in 2017 using some simple free weights. I’d like to switch it up and am considering getting one of those over-the-door exercise band things. More to come here as I uncover the plan and start!
— Identify budget steps and goals. As I mentioned in my January update above, I have been stuck on this one. I realized that I have been stuck because the vision/goal and steps haven’t been clear to me. My goal this month is to identify clear goals with Ari and steps we need to take.
— March Cultivated Calendar prep.

Weekly goals:
— Write + study Gimel + Daleth (Psalms 119).
— 2 Days “on.”
— Undistracted + cultivated homeschool.
— Re-creation.
— Read Traction with Emily.
— Pray the Word.

Daily Goals:
— Chronological Bible reading.
— Soul care at night. This means spending time with my prayer journal, in the Word, preparing for the next day, or doing anything that doesn’t involve my phone. This may sound silly, but something that has helped me is turning on the digital fireplace on our Amazon firestick! Even a digital fireplace relaxes me for some reason. 🙂
— Kiss Ari.
— SLEEP.
— Pray over kiddos + family worship. Family worship is new and something that I’m excited about. I watched a video series by Donald Whitney that inspired me to give it a try. So far so great! While the kids eat breakfast in the morning, I read them a super short Bible story, we say a prayer, and then we sing a song. That’s it! It takes 10 minutes and they are loving it.

I’m getting so excited about garden planning!

Your turn! Do you have goals for February? What are you cultivating in this new month? I’ll pick one of you to send a special surprise box of goodies to from the Cultivate What Matters shop. I love sending real mail, and I love hearing your thoughts!

P.S. Did you know that 80% of the people give up on their goals by mid-February? Not us, my friends! To help us all make little-by-little progress forward, and not jump ship when we mess up along the way, we’re excited to announce that the 2nd-Annual Cultivate What Matters week starts Feb 12th! Mark your planners for a week of grace-filled goal-encouraging goodness. It was a hit last year and we can’t wait to dig in with you! Details to come.

 

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Have you seen the extra tag on all those items you are considering purchasing this year?

You may not have seen or noticed this tag before, but it’s there:

The Time Tag.

Everything we buy costs not only dollars but time.

The Time Tag illuminates how much time it will take to care for, manage, or get the most out of that item. And, with what I call cultivated purchases, how much time you will potentially get back!

Everything has a time tag.

Think about it.

That new sweater you have your eye on today?

It will cost you time in caring for it, giving it a place to live, and washing it to make it last.

The inspirational book you’ve been wanting to dig into?

It will take a few hours to read, but potentially another hour to implement what you learned to really get the most out of it.

People often talk about “investing” dollars into new purchases that they hope will have a return. But, what you may not have considered before is the investment of our time in those things to get the very most out of them.

I’ve kept a running list Of the things I have invested my money and my time into this year (both personally and in business) that paid off. Here’s my list with some notes on how I invested my time!

10 things I invested in personally that paid off:

1. Date nights. Ari and I wanted to have more date nights in 2017 than we had in 2016. (Our odds of succeeding were good with only 1 date night in 2016!) I mentioned this in a blog post last year and my friend Joselyn texted me immediately after seeing the post. Knowing all we had experienced in 2016, she insisted she babysit as her gift to us. This was a gift of time, and that first date night helped us see how important it is for our family for us to have Time to talk without multitasking for three kids. It spurred us on to invest our dollars and schedules into getting more of that time together. We now have a handful of babysitters we call for date nights that have helped us make this a priority. The double blessing is being able to bless friends and college students in our church with babysitting money too. And our dates are never fancy! We go somewhere inexpensive, and we usually end up going grocery shopping together that same night. It’s a joy to hold hands through the produce section and just be together.

2. Fitbit Charge 2. This is one of the best things we invested in as a family. It took a big commitment to change how we use our time throughout each day: either sedentarily or active. Both Ari and I have been significantly more active because of the FitBit’s hourly reminders to move. We have more than doubled our activity during the day (!!), and we feel more energetic. This has helped me take action on one of my PowerSheets goals: Worship the Lord as I strengthen the body He gave me so I can love others with joy and enthusiasm. The benefits I received from using my FitBits also helped start the fitness initiative for our team (see my standing desks and desk stepper here). I gifted everyone on the team a fitness tracker and together we studied how our activity relates to our productivity and overall job satisfaction. This has been huge for all of us! (Fitbits are on sale today for Black Friday!)

3.  Kids dental flossers. You might giggle at this, but stay with me here! Every time I went to the dentist, I felt the guilt creep up. No, I haven’t been flossing. Again. I know I know, Doc. I’ll try harder! This was such a simple change, but getting these flossers for the kids (no mess with wrapping the regular floss around my fingers and the kids pulling it allllll out of the container) ended up motivating me to make this a daily habit. And you get LOT of flossers (300!) for just $12. Why was this important to me and how did this make the list?? Because everyone in my family has had dental woes. Root canals. Gum grafting. You name it. I’m hoping to avoid all of that with a $12 yearly investment of money and a couple minutes a day! And the first time I went into the dentist after starting my new flossing habit, I felt so good confidently saying, “Yes! I floss and I love it!” 🙂

4.  PowerSheets – Without clarity on where to use my time well, I would surely waste it away in distractions! More than any other year, investing time in my PowerSheets (a mere 20 minutes to an hour a month!) was the number one thing that gave me my time back and helped me invest it in the right things. My PowerSheets have helped me prioritize, stay focused and not waste my time and life on distractions. We’re all so grateful for how the PowerSheets have helped us and you that we couldn’t help but DANCE! My friends, it is with great joy and many laughs that I officially unveil our very first music video!

The Cultivate Team Just Wants to Dance from Lara Casey on Vimeo.

5.  Yearly prayer journal. Filled with my monthly prayers, church notes, and things I’m grateful for, investing time in this journal has helped me cultivate more focused prayer. I bring it to church every Sunday and love looking back at all God has done this year! Studies have proven the power of writing things down in our own messy handwriting: it helps them sink into your brain and you start to change your behavior based on what you wrote. Much like writing down my goals each month in my PowerSheets, I have felt the effect of pen-to-paper heart and head change in using this prayer journal.

6.  The Echo, also known as “Alexa” in our house. This was a larger purchase for us (we bought it a year ago for $179 and they are significantly less today for Black Friday), but it has paid off in surprising ways. Ari’s dad is a composer and I spent most of my life in music and theatre. We use our Echo literally every day, specifically in the mornings, mostly to listen to music.

And we see it shaping our kids.

Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue. – Plato

Sarah, in particular, has been changed by the presence of music in our home. She is sensory-seeking and comes alive when there’s a beat or a melody. Her eyes light up and her body can’t help but move with joy!

This is most certainly a luxury and not a necessity, but having the ability to use this device hands-free has been one of the biggest benefits. I don’t have to have a phone in my hand. And I usually have one or two kids in my hands, so before this playing music didn’t happen as often!

We have family dance parties to worship music, play Italian favorites for pizza night, turn on composers we are studying in homeschool while the kids play, and, aside from music, I make full use of the shopping list and other features like listening to the Bible and Audible books while I cook or clean the kitchen. Grace loves asking Alexa to tell us jokes, too! There’s more time investment I hope to make here in the new year as I teach the kids different music styles and about music and culture. This excites me!

7.  The garden and my plants. We spend a lot of time out in the garden as a family, tending to the tomatoes, picking flowers, and getting our hands dirty. It’s not just a refreshing place for me to be tech-free and get some fresh air, but it has become the place where our kids’ imaginations grow and flourish. We added some fairy garden items to the garden this year and Grace’s imagination ran wild! Josh has loved picking tomatoes to snack on and Sarah can’t get enough of watching the butterflies and bees. The lessons we learn in the garden are endless and our time there is never wasted! Follow @GraciesGarden and get a copy of my new book, Cultivate, for more from the garden.

8. Amber-colored lightbulbs for better sleep. When my hormones started ch-ch-ch-changing this year (I’ll be 38 on December 27th!), my sleep quality began to suffer. I set out to do whatever I could naturally to help my body rest: lavender oil, no screen exposure at night, etc. But the thing that helped the most was changing our bedside lightbulbs to amber-colored bulbs. Fluorescent lights, laptops, and cellphone screens contain a high level of blue light that disrupts melatonin production and throws off our natural circadian rhythms—keeping us awake when we should be sleeping. Many sleep specialists suggest that this widespread exposure to blue light, long after the sun has set, is a major contributor to the modern epidemic of insomnia. However, the amber-spectrum light emitted by firelight and candlelight demonstrates no negative effect on melatonin production.SomniLight. I am sleeping much more soundly now, and noticed a marked difference on the few nights I had to be on my phone later than usual or look at a blue screen!

9. Changing how I dress and the way I think about it. I have been thinking about how to write about this for an entire year! I have wrestled with the tension of how clothes are an earthly thing, and how God certainly doesn’t need us to dress well to live intentionally. But, something happened this year with me and clothing that did help me live more intentionally. For my birthday last December, Ari gifted me a consultation with our close friend, Joslyn (yes, the same friend who gifted is a night of babysitting early this year!), who is a personal stylist. Let me tell you that nothing about this would have excited me (I have never been into clothes or fashion!) if it weren’t for the fact that this was with Joslyn and I know her heart. She has been a gift in our lives in many ways, specifically through our adoption process and after we brought Sarah home. She is one of the most faithful, selfless, God-led women I know. Before I did this consultation with her, I feared that personal styling was all about external looks… until she came over to my house.

God used Josyln to teach me how to live my everyday life with a new integrity–matching my outside to my inside. My outside before was like a protective covering, clinging to the past and to who I falsely believed I was. I was afraid to be myself. Afraid to show my curls. Afraid to move forward and step into the new person God had molded me to be after all of the change we went through in 2016. It was a year of heart change, as I wrote about in Cultivate.

Through the process of letting go of clothes that I didn’t need and kept me hiding in that protective shell, I experienced a shift.

There’s really so much more to write here, but I’ll keep it simple and tell you the practical stuff. We took everything out of my closet and Kondo’d it–examining how each item made me feel, how it practically helped me serve others, and why I was holding onto it. I had spent the previous few years not buying much new clothing at all thanks to the Contentment Challenge, but I still ended up giving away 2/3 of my clothes that day with Joslyn. It felt so good. Fewer choices. All things I felt content in. I felt free.

Joslyn helped me choose a few new staples from budget-friendly stores like Old Navy (50% off today), J Crew Factory (50-60% off today) and Target (most of which we got 40% off when the early spring sales started). She also showed me how to mix and match clothes for work, and she encouraged me to step it up–take some risks and wear things that make me feel like I’m ready for anything.

At our Fall Team Summit, in reflecting on the year so far, Emily said to me, “Your outside matches your inside and it’s really inspiring.” I’m so grateful. I feel like I am more respectful of my team and I’ve been able to step into more corporate settings with confidence. And it didn’t cost an arm and a leg–just a perspective shift, a lot of things given away to clear the clutter that was holding me back.

There you have it. I blogged about clothes! (And it will likely never happen again! Ha!) I still don’t love fashion, but I do love feeling content right where I am and having less choices to make each morning.

10. The YouVersion Bible app. This is where I invested the most consistent time this year as part of my number one goal (much in part to the PowerSheets motivating me to keep going!). The app is free, and it cost me 10-20 minutes each day. Every bit of that time has been fruitful! I often quote Karen Lamb in saying, “A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.” I am grateful I started this goal almost a year ago–and I can’t wait to do it again in 2018!

Okay, let’s talk business! Here are the 10 things I invested in for our business that paid off:

1.  Joining C12. Will Ray (husband of my friend Nancy Ray) has been our business financial coach for several years now, helping me gain business financial literacy, and most of all, helping me do business with God’s wisdom. A year and half ago, he took a leap of faith out of business coaching and into leading a C12 group here in our local area. C12 is a group of Christian CEO’s (12 members per group) that meet together once a month to help grow each other’s businesses and faith. When Will invited me to come to a meeting to give it a try, I was honored to be asked and also intimidated! Most of the group has been in business far longer than me, and their businesses are large. And spending all day away from the kiddos once a month didn’t seem like it would work for my life season. How could I step away for an entire day? But, with the blessing of my team and Ari, I went once and never looked back. I come back refreshed and excited about not just work, but motherhood and homeschool and marriage, every time. It has been a powerful thing in my life to spend all day with a group of gentlemen who humbly love the Lord and lead their businesses from that same humility. I have often pinched myself in being at the table with them. I still feel like the smallest fish in the pond, but this group has blessed me deeply, and I’m grateful to have helped their businesses grow as well. The financial and time investment, including all the time I have spent implementing the many things I have learned through C12, has been exponentially valuable in our business and in the maturing of my faith.

2. Business coaching. I’m an Enneagram type 1 and, at heart, an emotional decision-maker and a sensitive soul! Having a sounding-board each week in making decisions has been so valuable for me (and in turn my team and husband and kiddos!). Diana helped me push through finishing Cultivate, take the leap into homeschool, implement what I’ve been learning this year through C12, and most of all she has always directed me to God’s wisdom. We talk on that level each week, we pray, and God is the one who does the heavy lifting!

3. Grammarly. You guys! Grammarly is the BEST. This yearly subscription (I paid $139.95 which comes to 11.66/month) has saved me and my team countless hours in copyediting! Using this tool in blog writing, email correspondence, product creation, and long-form writing has led me to invest time in learning to be a better writer. Becoming a more skilled writer has led me to become a better communicator, and that is a benefit that has no price tag! Well-written words can shape relationships, hearts, and entire cultures.

4. EOS principles. The thing that has had the most tactical impact on our business is implementing EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) principles this year. Encouraged by Will Ray, we began with changing our meeting structures in May and everything else followed… and I mean EVERYTHING! For a solid EOS primer, read Traction. You will be so glad you did!

5. PowerSheets – I know I have listed this twice, but for good reason. We have used PowerSheets as a team for the last three years and they have delivered. They have helped us uncover good goals, make action plans, and celebrate progress.

6. Asana is the project management system we use, and it’s safe to say it has more than doubled our productivity. We used to do everything in email and on paper lists. Projects would get forgotten about, tasks would fall through the cracks, and our inboxes were craycray. Asana brings it all in one hub, allowing our team to work together without the use of our inboxes for the most part. It does take an investment of time to learn to use it effectively, which we are constantly improving, but it’s worth the time invested. Simply put, we get more of the right things done. (Bonus: be sure to hunt for the Tab-B feature. You will thank me! Meow! ; ) )

7. The Making Things Happen Conference. I’ve led this conference for the last 9 years and I’ve also done the work right alongside the attendees every time. The tactical experience and clarity uncovered in this conference have been a fast-forward button on my personal and professional goals. Experiencing MTH is like doing PowerSheets in-person with a room full of passionate women who make what matters happen. It’s my favorite event of the year! Over half of the seats are gone for our spring conference. Get yours before our early-bird rate ends!

8. CAI. As a small business, I have been our finance, HR, and get-more-printer-paper departments! Until four weeks ago. CAI is a non-profit here in North Carolina that offers on-demand HR and legal services to its members at a fraction of the cost of a full-time HR expert. Our membership for a team of 9 is $900 for the year as compared to the $6K starting rate I was quoted for an individual HR consultant. Our membership has already paid for itself after one month! As part of our membership, we get access to 24/7 HR advising by phone or email (which we have already used four times!), legal support, employee handbook creation, and so much more. Thank you, CAI!

9. Zoom.We have four team members who work here in NC with me and five that work remotely from various other states. To stay connected each day, we had been using Google hangouts for video calls. But, the constant connection issues and dropped calls led us to seek a more reliable solution. Enter, Zoom! The old saying goes, “There are no deals.” Sometimes when you don’t pay for something (Google hangouts), you get what you pay for! Making the decision to pay a small monthly fee for Zoom has been a game-changer for our team. We connect more often and with zero tech troubles!

10. Steadfast bookkeeping. One of the biggest business woes I’ve experienced over the years is unreliable bookkeepers. My team knows. This is been the bane. of. my. business. existence. I like accuracy and dependability, and I finally found both plus a great client experience in Steadfast bookkeeping. Praise the Lord! Working with Stephanie and Sarah has been delightful! I can’t recommend them enough.

I’d love to hear! What did you invest your time or money in this year that paid off?

P.S. Our Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale is ON (our biggest sale of the year!), and so many intentional gifts are on sale!

Affiliate links are used in this post. All proceeds are donated!

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Writing this post makes me feel happy and sad all at the same time. As I was writing this, Jess gave me some encouragement: “So often we feel like we have to be one or the other–happy or sad, not in between. But “and”–the middle ground–is often more true.”

Yes! That’s where I am. This is sad and happy. Exciting and bittersweet.

We’re so happy that Sarah and Chris are expecting a baby this fall, and yet sad that our time with Sarah will be coming to an end soon. She has blessed our family immensely. The last year has been a dream (I rarely use that phrase but it fits here!) as we’ve welcomed Sarah into our family–and into the mess and fun of every day life here at the Isaacson house/Cultivate and Southern Weddings office.

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver10These two love Sarah so much!

I’m so happy for what’s ahead of Sarah (we got to hear the audio recording of the baby’s heartbeat this morning! Ah!!!) and I’m really grateful she’s not moving to another city. : ) Sarah has blessed our children, us, the ladies in this office, our neighbors, our friends–I could go on. What happens in this house is pretty unique, and Sarah has been a ray of light for all of us!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver3Celebrating Sarah’s birthday this year.

As you can see in these photographs, she’s pretty amazing. She works hard and loves God passionately. We trust that God will bring us another great fit for our family!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver7Please note Sarah’s tank top. ; )

We are looking for someone special, and perhaps that person is you! We are seeking a full-time caregiver and House/Office Manager, starting August 1st. Please apply if you meet ALL of these requirements. Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver8Oh sweet Sarah’s!

Who you’ll care for:

Almost-two-year-old boy (Joshua)
One-year old girl (Sarah)
Kindergartener girl (Grace)
A handful of fishies and a bevy of houseplants : )

We’re looking for:

Joyful Caregiver
Hard Worker and Self Starter
Health-Oriented(non-smoker, etc.) because this job takes a ton of energy!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver4Gracie loved decorating for Sarah’s birthday.

We need someone who can commit to two years with us. Must be able to start training August 1st. If you are applying from out-of-state (our previous three caregivers did this!), you must be able to relocate to the Chapel Hill, NC, area by August 1. The ladies in my office and I will gladly help you hunt for great living arrangements. We love this area!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver6Taking all the kids to the doc together!

Must be extremely organized, energetic (three kids will keep you on your toes!), joyful (we love to be silly), and experienced in childcare. A background in early childhood education is a plus. College graduates preferred, but we are open. Must have own transportation (although you’ll use our minivan to cart the kiddos around!), and a clean driving record. In addition to caring for our three children while I work, you will also be responsible for managing this unique building we call our home and our office. There are not only three kiddos who look forward to meeting you, but lots of ladies too!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver1Another reason I love Sarah: she loves being silly with Grace and igniting her imagination!

I run a business with multiple employees from home, so I am here all day as well, and I’ll be transitioning to homeschooling Grace a couple days a week in the season ahead. (Please let me know in your application if you have experience with homeschool.) We will spend a lot of time together, caring for these children alongside each other.

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver2And now I’m getting teary-eyed. We love you, Sarah. 

Our faith is a cornerstone in our home. We are seeking a caregiver who can teach and reinforce Christian principles and lead by example. We are looking for someone who has a very strong faith, is calm under pressure, confident in their faith, and is willing to develop a passion for shaping our children’s hearts alongside us.

Please pray about this position and only reply if you meet ALL of these requirements. We’ve had four wonderful nannies over the last five years, and know the qualifications fit our family well. We will be doing several Skype interviews with potential candidates.

Please APPLY HERE. This is a full-time salaried position – Monday to Friday, 8-6pm. We will begin Skype interviews ASAP. Please read through this post and the application thoroughly. Your attention to detail is part of the interview. : ) We are praying for you as you apply!

P.S. If you know someone else who this would be a great fit for, please pass this post along. Thank you!

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