Episode 010 of the Cultivate Your Life Podcast was released on March 13th, 2019. Listen here!
Lara: You wake up and you brush your teeth, you do your normal morning thing and you stop for minute before the day really gets away from you and you think, well, here we go again. Everything feels the same, feels in a way mundane. Now, you feel like you’re missing something. Just, there has to be more to life than this, this sameness. You want a life of purpose and meaning. You want to add meaning to your life. You just don’t know how.
Well, this episode is for you. You’re going to learn how to use a very overlooked tool in your life, your calendar to plan a year of meaning and ease and joy and purpose, no perfection required. Welcome to episode 10 of the Cultivate Your Life podcast. Hi. It’s so good to have you here. Wow. Episode eight of the podcast, How To Number Your Days, has definitely created a ripple effect not just in your lives, but in mine too. I can’t stop thinking about it. It seems that you can’t either. I have gotten so many emails, messages, even letters in the mail about how impactful that episode was, and I just want to say, thank you for spreading the word about that episode. So if you haven’t listened to it yet, go on back to cultivateyourlife.com or wherever you’re listening right now and listen to episode eight because it dovetails with what we’re going to talk about today. In episode eight we learned about numbering our days, learning how to use this life like it’s the only one we’ve got and that leaves us with a question, how? What does that really look like in practice? How do you live that out over say the course of a year? We’re going to talk about that today.
Instead of going through the emotions every day, waking up and feeling like everything is the same, you’re going to learn how to plan a cultivated year. Now, let me just stop here and encourage you, maybe you’re thinking that’s right now, planning a cultivated year does not mean that you’re going to have to turn into super organized super woman. It’s not what this is about. Wherever you fall on the organizing, planning, I don’t even use a day planner spectrum, this is so for you. This is about the heart from which you live your days, and I am going to give you some very practical, simple, surprising tips for how to use your number days well. Let’s do it.
You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do? You should go do them. The things that lasts longer than you. The things that run deeper and are more thrilling than skydiving. The things that make you come alive. Welcome to the Cultivate Your Life podcast where each week we talk about how to uncover what matters to you in the big picture and start acting like it today. Whether you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed or in need of some refreshing truth today I’m Lara and you are in the right place. Let’s Cultivate What Matters together.
Let me tell you a story. A few years ago I wanted to quit my business. I had two newborns at the time. I was running a very growing company, two growing companies actually, Southern Weddings and Cultivate What Matters and I was doing all of this under one roof and I just felt completely unprepared for most of life in that season, which you may think to yourself, well, of course you had to newborns and you had a lot going on in your business, where in the world did you find margin for the meaningful?
And the answer is I wasn’t finding it, and there are these seasons of life that necessitate all of the nutrients in our hearts to be directed to one thing, in my case, two little adorable beings and this growing company and my marriage and nurturing Grace. And it can be really easy to feel spread thin. Have you felt that? Maybe you often feel unprepared. You throw meals or birthdays or most of life together forgetting important Milestones until the 11th hour, maybe literally 11:00 PM. I might be talking about myself here. You know that you’re not using each day to the fullest and it makes you sad and you want change. That’s how I felt. I felt like, you know, I know that there are logical reasons why I feel like so many things are falling through the cracks, but does it have to be this way? Do I have to constantly feel guilty and unprepared and like I’m missing something? Does it have to be that way in these seasons of hardship or transition or whatever it is that you’re in right now, is there a way to live out what matters in the thick of it? And I set out to create what I call a cultivated calendar based on the idea that a little intentional forethought goes a whole long way, because it’s one thing to talk about planning a perfect year, if that even is a thing. It’s one thing to talk about planning a perfect year in a time where you feel like everything is calm, everything is good, but it’s a whole nother thing to look at the reality that our lives aren’t going to be like that all the time. We’re going to have seasons of challenge, but how can we still move forward on the things that matter without burning ourselves out, without feeling like we have to have everything perfectly planned or keep it all together, without striving to do more. Is this even possible? And I found out that it is. A cultivated calendar is flexible, it’s simple, it’s life-giving and it helps me to number my days and to use them well. Does that sound like something that you need? Here we go. This year I’ve been reading the book Essentialism, great book. And there’s one passage of text that stood out to me that I think is going to resonate with you too. The author writes, “There are two personal learnings that have come to me on the long journey of writing this book. The first is the exquisitely important role of my family in my life. At the very, very end everything else will fade into insignificance by comparison. The second is the pathetically tiny amount of time we have left of our lives. For me this is not a depressing thought, but a thrilling one. It removes fear of choosing the wrong thing. It infuses courage into my bones. It challenges me to be even more unreasonably selective about how to use this precious, and precious is perhaps too insipid a word, time.” Woo. I know, right? Doesn’t that just hit you? That’s what we talked about in episode eight, numbering our days, seeing that life is finite, life is a gift and we want to use it well and because of that we are compelled to use our time well. You’re going to use your time well, not perfectly because that’s not the goal. The goal is purpose, not perfect. And I think what’s going to surprise you about the three steps that we’re going to go through together in a moment is that it’s not about adding things to your life. And all the angels sang Amen, Hallelujah. It’s not about adding more to your life. It’s not about doing more. It’s about doing the right things and doing them well. You’re about to cultivate your year using these three impactful steps. Number one, you’ll define what matters to you and inherent in that is defining what doesn’t matter to you, what you don’t want to spend your time this year. Number two, you’re going to prepare for it and put your yearly calendar on autopilot. Yes, you could see me right now, my fist is in the air in triumphant victory for you and me together. And number three, you’re gonna live it out. You’re going to follow through with ease day by day, little by little, it’s going to add up, no perfection required. I have been living this over the last two years and I’m so excited to share with you some of the practical things I’ve learned. So you’re going to number one, define what matters, number two, prepare for it and put that calendar on autopilot and number three, live it out.
Now, this is not the only way to live out a cultivated year, but this works. So let this be a springboard for you. As we go through these three steps together think to yourself, how could I make this my own or how can I add my own spin on this? I’m excited to see what you come up with. Step number one, define what matters. If you’re not clear about where you’re going, you’re probably not going to get there. It’s like if we were to put into Google Maps, “I kind of, sort of, maybe, possibly, maybe, sort of want to go to this general area I think, I’m not sure, but I think.” You’re probably not going to get anywhere, right? No, We have to put in a specific address, number, zip code, the whole nine yards to get to a specific place. It makes it clear path for us. It’s the same with our lives.
So we’re going to start with one thing, which is to define what brings your life purpose and meaning. I know, just your average question for a Wednesday or whatever day you’re listening to this, but as it comes to the top of your mind, what are some of the things that bring your life purpose and meaning and how are you living that out? For me, any time I get to speak truth and life into someone else’s life, whether it is here with you or helping one of my children work through difficult emotions or encouraging my husband through something he’s challenged with at work or talking to my sisters from church about the challenges in their lives.
Any time I get to step in and serve I know I’m living on purpose. I’m using the gifts God gave me and I’m moving in that direction of where I want to be in the big picture when I’m 80, 90, 100 years old. And it’s not just these seemingly big things in our life like getting to pray over a friend or sitting on the couch and hearing someone for their heart out. It is these seemingly small things, being out in my garden with my hands in the dirt, planting seeds with my kids, watching … We just did this the other day. There was a woodpecker, a bright red topped woodpecker out on our front tree and we watched that thing for a good 45 minutes, getting to witness these little miracles.
Spending the currency of my time in these ways matters. It points all of us in the direction of home. Now
Okay, so next, I want you to imagine if someone were to look at your calendar, would they know that? Would they know what matters to you? Take a look at your calendar right now. Just open up your calendar, whether it’s digital, physical, whatever it is. Just take a quick look even at today’s schedule if someone that didn’t know anything about you came in and looked at the things that are on your schedule, would they know what matters to you? Now we’re going to mesh those two things together. If you were to hold up what matters to you and also what doesn’t, hold up that picture of the things that really bring your life meaning, they point you in the direction of where you want to be in the big picture. Hold those things up next to your calendar. Do they match? What we plan time for becomes our priority and what we spend time on grows. Let’s just talk for a minute about that word priority. So I was doing a little research and it turns out that the word priorities, plural, did not come into existence until about 1940. Priority means the one thing, the one thing that’s essential, the one thing to focus on and for some reason we decided it needed to be plural.
You see where I’m going with this? There really is no such thing as priorities. It is a misnomer to say that we can have more than one, one thing that’s important. We can’t do it all and do it well. It’s just a fact. Repeat it with me my friend because if you’re like me, it’s hard to remember this fact sometimes. We can’t do it all and do it well, but we can choose to Cultivate What Matters. And let us remember what that word cultivate means. It means to dig up the soil right where you are, to till up that soil to prepare it for growth a little intentional forethought towards the thing that matters most to you, toward your priority, goes a whole long way and it helps you to make decisions. Because when you have a very clear picture, like we talked about, you have a clear view of where you’re going, you have a clear view of what does matter to you in the big picture, helps you to make decisions and say no to all the things that don’t align with that. It helps you to be confident in being able to say no because you’re saying yes to something better. Know this, not everything is going to feel meaningful in your life.
We’re not after a calendar that is infused with mountain top moments at every turn. There will always be things in your life that you have to do and then may not feel so fun. Work, a task, whatever it is, but here’s the key, you can reframe those things even if they don’t feel like mountaintop experiences. For instance, when I take out the trash at our office, I often think to myself, this is me serving and loving my team so that we can have an environment to do our very best work. When you think about the big picture and what truly matters. And matter itself means something that takes up space. What truly matters to you and you know that thing, it helps to infuse meaning into things that do feel mundane. Suddenly taking out the trash is an act of love. So step number one is define what matters. What, when you look at your calendar, what things in the past perhaps took time away from the meaningful? What things were distractions for you? And what things did bring meaning to your life? What things helped you to feel like you are living on purpose? Name those things. Write them down, what matters to you and what doesn’t.
And then examine your calendar. When you hold your calendar up to the things that matter to you the things that don’t, when you hold up this picture of how you’re spending your time. How is that looking? Our time is … It’s like having a budget. So when I look at I just started using the, I think all the cool kids say YNAB, right? You Need a Budget, the YNAB software. I sound like such an old person. I just said software. I digress. I just started using youneedabudget.com. And when I look at my budget the way it’s set up is every dollar essentially gets a place, a job. I have to use every one of those dollars on purpose or else it just kind of folds around. It’s the same thing with our time. Our time is like having a budget. We have days to choose to invest in what matters or here’s the alternative, which like you know now, happened to me, happens. It’s a continual process of checking in with that time budget and making sure those time dollars, the currency is going to where it needs to go.
The alternative is feeling like life is happening to you. You think oops, all that time is gone like we talked about in episode eight you wake up and you feel like, where is the time going? Cultivating an intentional year is about taking the gift of this currency of time right where we are, with what we have in the season we’re in, whether that’s right in the thick of it or you’re flying great, just feeling really good. No matter where you are it’s about using what you have right where you are on purpose and using the gift of forethought. Step two, prepare and put your yearly planning on autopilot. Even just saying that, it just feels so good. You’re gonna learn how to put what matters to you in many ways on autopilot. So something that really frustrated me in the early years of our family and maybe you felt this way too, is we didn’t have consistent traditions in our family. And I really wanted them because I knew that they would build a legacy of love and closeness and that is something that I desperately wanted. I wanted to have these memories, these traditions, these narrative in our family of things that we do.
I read a lot of books and articles about family narratives and what does it mean to have a close family bond? What are the things that precede that happening? And it just kind of left me feeling depressed. I felt like we don’t have anything that is true to us, our unique family. For many reasons, I thought. Ari I grew up with two very different backgrounds, you can listen to our whole marriage story in the first episode, episode one of the podcast. He grew up Jewish. I grew up what I consider pseudo Christian. I would have called myself a Christian, but I did not know anything really about following God with my whole heart. And so how do you blend those two backgrounds plus this newfound shared faith together? How do you blend this together, honor both of us as individuals, honor both of our families, the heritages that we came from, how do you do this? And it wasn’t just the big things like holidays. I just also felt like day-to-day there weren’t things that we were doing, creating memories, simple things, like do we make pancakes on Saturday morning sometimes or what do we do on a birthday morning or the first day of school? I mean simple things. And really here’s the hard part. I felt like it was too late. Here we were a few years into our young family and I felt like it was too late. I felt like well, we don’t have anything at this point so how in the world is that going to happen. And I got stuck in a perfection mindset of we don’t have it all together so we’re never going to have it all together. Have you felt that? Do you feel like it’s too late too? Maybe you’re looking at your calendar and you’re thinking my calendar is already filled up. I feel like I didn’t even get a word in you feel that way about your calendar and your life or at the Traditions or lack of things that you have in your family that point you towards living a purpose filled life. You feel like it’s too late. I’m here to tell you it’s not. Tiny seeds can grow into mighty oaks. In the season of trying to figure all this out I felt so lost. I thought man, it would be really cool if I had a mentor or someone who had done this really well. Not someone who was like a super type-A planner person that made me feel really overwhelmed, but someone who just in the tiny things in life knew that those things would add up and did meaningful things that created legacy in their family. So I picked up one of Sally Clarkson’s books. I think at the time I had picked up The Lifegiving Home, and I opened it and I thought, this is it, this is it. She’s talking about things as small as lighting a candle or having a cup of tea or playing music that really do add up into the legacy of a family that starts to bridge connections. So, so excited.
My dear friend Sally Clarkson is about to join us. I’m so grateful. She has graciously gifted us a conversation together. I can’t wait for you guys to get to know each other too and just get ready. Get ready. Sally Clarkson. Friends, I am so grateful to have my dear friend Sally Clarkson here on the podcast today. Hi Sally. Sally: Hi Lara. I’m just so happy to be with you. If only we could be face to face having a cup of tea. Lara: I feel the exact same way. Now Sally, you have to tell us where are you right now? Sally: I am sitting in my little home in Oxford in the United Kingdom and I’m getting ready to go to a French restaurant for dinner just down the street with my daughter. Lara: I love that.
Sally: I’m having a wonderful time working here for a few more months.
Lara: Oh my goodness, and I just love the picture of you being there because it points to what I know about you from your books and from our friendship, and that is that wherever you are, you use small things that really add up to the big things, whether it’s a meal or a cup of tea or lighting candle for a conversation. So we’re going to dig right in. How in the world do we as busy people, people who many times still spread thin, how do we plan a meaningful year? I know that something that you do each year is you begin your year with kind of a planning party. So tell us about that. What are some of the things that go through your mind as you dream about the year ahead knowing that all may not go as planned. How do we plan a year of meaning?
Sally: Well, I think each of us has a personality and with that personality comes desires and things that we love and I think sometimes we feel guilty when we take care of ourselves for doing things [inaudible] ourselves, but I think that wise women really do have to use their agency to plan and make decisions that will help them flourish. If a plant requires certain kind of soil and a certain kind of moisture and sunshine in order to grow well, I think we have to look at our own lives, even in the planning because, I as you do know Lara, I have a very extremely, busy life. I’m always writing, blogging, traveling, discipling, speaking, helping my family and my kids and working with publishers and people and really I think that like many people, we can all feel like most of the people who are in our lives use us in some way or use a little bit of who we are. So when I come to my year, I have to realize that in order for me not to be empty I have to say what kinds of things are going to fill me up on a daily basis, on a weekly basis and over a period of time so that when someone comes to me, they will have something to draw from because I’ve been investing in my own life.
So I don’t know if those are the kinds of things you mean, but I’ve really been thinking about that lately, that if we don’t grab hold of our year and say, “I’m going to intentionally make this a beautiful year.” Then we will be dried out at the end of it.
Lara: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, and I think you’re speaking into so much of the pain that we often feel, which is like you mentioned, it feels selfish to think ahead or what if our plans don’t go as planned, should we even try? I just love so much what you shared about taking this year by the horns no matter where you are in your year right now, but tell us a little bit about how do you decide on the things you will spend time on? How do you look ahead on your year and decide on say the traditions or experiences that will infuse meaning into your life? How do we choose?
Sally: Well, I’m going to talk a little bit about being an introvert. I’m either an introvert or a very used up extrovert I guess. I just really realized that I require a little bit of time, civilized time alone every day. And so I made it a habit years ago it’s more important for me to get up early, even if it’s 10 minutes early or 15 minutes early, than it is to get that 10 or 15 minutes more sleep if I can sit by myself with no one talking to me, no one touching me and I have a what I call my quiet time chair. I always light candles. I have favorite music list from sometimes it’s Pandora and sometimes it’s a list my friends have shared with me or Spotify.
But I put on music I light a candle somehow the candle says I will be in control of this thing. And then I have books. I have a Bible. I have books on tape. Just something that I can immediately while I’m drinking either a strong cup of coffee or tea, I can kind of sit and really have focused time to start my day and to put my heart in center with what I have to do that day. So I’ve tried to build routines like that into my life. I do that every day. I have a 3 o’clock in the afternoon-ish what I call a one-woman tea time because if I can just stop and have a little bit of time. I take Sundays as a day of really putting away everything else and just I’ll go to church, I’ll … We always as a family and have done this for 35 years, we have a Sunday afternoon tea time where we have something sweet. We get together. We have a lot of fun. We watch movies, we whatever, but I know that all of my work and duties will be there when I get there in Monday’s.
But I’ve realized that over a period of time just planning in time for me to have rhythms in such a way that I have anchors in my day so I don’t burn out. So those are some of the things that I do. Lara: I love that and I love that it’s not about some grand plan, Many times, it, like you’re sharing, it is about these small, seemingly small things that help us to be anchored and what matters and help us to know where we’re going. I’d love to hear more about if you can recall at the beginning of those 35 years ago when you guys started your Sunday afternoon tradition, I imagine you didn’t really have a hunch that that would grow into a 35-year legacy of Sunday tea time, but you started it anyway. I think many of our listeners are probably feeling like it’s too late for me to start traditions. It’s too late to do something that’s going to point to our family narrative. So speak into that for us little bit.
Sally: I really think that nothing is too late. When I was 45 actually, I had gone to … I had really burned myself out and I was exhausted and I just couldn’t get on top of my physical exhaustion. So I went to a doctor and he said, “Well, you can die early if you want to.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” And he said, “Well, you’re burning the candle at both ends. You’re working too much. You’re giving in to every possible demand.” And he said, “That will predispose you to having a terrible illness.” And probably a lot of your listeners are younger than 45. So that was one of the ages in which I did kind of look at my life and say, “Okay, what do I need to add to my life? And what are the drainers? “What drainers do I get rid of?” And putting my finger on realizing that we can only have so many drainers in our life at once made me realize that I was saying yes to everything and no to nothing. So I started writing down the things I could eliminate that really drained my personality and the things that I couldn’t eliminate that drained my personality and I got help with some of those things. How can I organize better? How can I maybe get someone to help me with tasks? How can I find other people to engage in that? That was when I really seriously started doing more this for me personally. Now, the reason we had started the tea times years ago is we used to live in Vienna, Austria. That’s where we started out in marriage and in Austria, they call it the yowza, but that’s where I would realize that no matter what my friends would ask me to meet them in the afternoon and I realized how refreshing it was for me to talk to a real live human being for 15 or 20 minutes, and the whole country did it.
Lara: Yes, I love that.
Sally: That’s really why I started the tea time, not because I was proper in it. A tee time doesn’t have to be fancy. It means you have a mug or a cup of some sort in some hot water and you sit down together and say, “We will have 10 minutes of civilized time.” By civilized I mean you brush away all the toys or all the good things and you just say, “Our relationship matters.” Whoever you’re related to. And so it really helped me so much to have friends that did that with me on a regular basis. So that’s why we started that years ago. And I think sometimes we try to make things too hard when all it requires is a commitment and regularity to make something that really helps and encourages you in your life.
Lara: I think this is such a bomb to our weary souls because I think we look at our calendars and we think, this whole thing needs an overhaul. Maybe it does, but perhaps it starts with just like you said, those 10 minutes of this relationship matters. We’re just going to stop with a cup of hot water and tea and we’re gonna cultivate this relationship in these moments and see where that adds up in the big picture. I love that. My last question for you is what are when you think back on the last few decades, I know you have such great relationships with your children. You’ve written many books on the trials and triumphs in motherhood, so many great books that have helped me personally. And something I love hearing in those and from your children is reflections of little things that you’ve done over time, practical things that really meant a lot to them, whether it was a walk out in the woods or like you said, a cup of tea or sitting down at the bedside to chat about the day. What are some practical things that you’ve done that helped you to use the gift of intentional forethought and live a year of meaning? What are some of those tiny practical things that you do?
Sally: Well, my girls and I actually just wrote a book called Girls Club together because we realized that we had a very special relationship from the tiny things that we did. For one thing, I knew or I had heard from somebody years ago that I would bless my children before they went to bed every day. And we still do it here at [Joy] and I live in a little house. She’s very independent. But either I will go and say, “How was your day? I love you. Hope you sleep well.” Or she’ll come to my room. She treats me …. She’s my mother now. Lara: I love that. Sally: Opening and closing every day with, “I’m so glad that you’re mine.” And the girls and I and we talked about in our book, but we made a time every week, it was usually on a Tuesday night where we put aside everything and I did it with my boys actually in another day, I did it for breakfast with them, but every single week we made a time where we just had fun. We watched a girly movie. We ate chocolate. We ate French food. And it was kind of like no matter what you have to put some things in your life that delights you.
And a lot of times I would go into that thinking I don’t have time, I haven’t done anything. So I would just go back by a fast food place, but the point is that when you do something over and over and over again, it really speaks to your children of I remember many times, even if it’s just 10 minutes every week or 15 minutes where we did the special thing together and I knew that my mom loved me because I have memories of us being intentional about this tiny little meeting that we did. So I think that just finding what works for you but something that happens on a regular basis that your children will look back and say, “My mom always did this and it spoke love to me.”
Lara: I love that. It really speaks to the truth that these rhythms, they create a richness. It’s not that something extravagant is the seed that’s planted to grow into something meaningful. I mean, I think of things like you said, my own mom taking my brother and I when we were little to Waffle House of all places.
Sally: Yes, it was probably a really big deal.
Lara: And I remember just that routine of at least once a week before school we go to Waffle House and we’d put a coin in the Jukebox and play some country music and it was just a really fun time. We’d hear the scattered covered smothered, you know that whole rigmarole of Waffle House, but here I am with a big smile on my face thinking about not what I ordered, not the particulars of that experience, but how much I loved that time with my mom.
Sally: It’s so true. So true. I want to go to The Waffle House. Lara: I know. I don’t know they have Waffle Houses there. Sally: They do not, but they have other great things.
Lara: When you’ve come back to this side of the world, I’ll have to take you out for a Waffle House. Well Sally, thank you so much. You are a gift to this world. Your books have been a huge gift to me, to live a meaningful year in many ways, in motherhood, in friendship, and tell us a little bit more about your latest book, Girls Club and where we can find it.
ally: Oh, you’re so sweet. Any place books are sold from Amazon and on down Barnes & Noble or sallyclarkson.com is where people can find a lot of what I do, but we just really believe that women who have accountability with other like-minded women, friendship, women who take the time to call each other to our better selves is so profoundly important and we had built a whole lifetime of relationship on those principles and it changed us so much. That’s why I’m here, while they’re studying and finishing their graduate degrees here in Oxford, because we made commitments that have borne us through many years and have helped us to be able to get through all seasons of life. So we wrote a book together because we wanted to encourage other women also to join together and to build that community.
Lara: I love that.
Sally, thank you so much.
Sally: Thanks for having me, Lara. You have a great week.
Lara: Thank you. You too.
Lara: I hope that encouraged you, as it did me, to know that it’s not about getting your whole life, even though maybe you are looking at your time right now, your time budget and you’re realizing that a lot of it is getting wasted or there’s some big change you want to make. Maybe there are larger things that you want to change, but Sally so beautifully illustrated this truth that it really is the small things that add up to the big things over time, these rhythms, they help to infuse our life with richness and meaning and purpose. And they don’t have to be big flashy things. I love how she described even the act of having tea, doesn’t mean you have to have perfect finger sandwiches on a three tiered tray with lovely napkins and white gloves. It’s a cup of hot water. Boil up some hot water, stick a tea bag in it and call it a day. It’s just about connecting with your people. So where do we start? Let’s rewind a little bit. Look back at when you were growing up perhaps and what were those things that stood out to you as meaningful? What were the small rhythms in your life or traditions or moments that you remember? I’m just gonna call it this, your Waffle House moments.
Okay, side story. My brother worked at Waffle House when he was in high school. He’s gonna be so mad at me for telling this story. I love you Steven. He got really frustrated one day about his job. He was the grill chef at Waffle House. And if you’ve ever been to Waffle House, you know, like they shout out the orders scattered, smothered, blah, blah, blah. That’s how fast they shout out the orders. He just got really frustrated one day. He just walked out the back door, left hamburger cooking on the grill, and we could never go back to Waffle House again. Boom. So there’s my Waffle House story for you. All right, I digress. Back on track here when you think back in your life whether maybe you had a very difficult childhood and it is hard for you to recall any moments that were filled with meaning or purpose. So maybe it’s more so in the recent past, what are things that you just think, “Oh, that was so meaningful.” “Or, “That made me feel a connection to someone.” Or, “That infused purpose into my life and made me remember where I’m going.” What were those things for you? Write those things down. I imagine many of the things that come to mind for you were not about perfect plans. It’s not about how perfectly you plan things in your life. It’s about the heart from which you are doing them. Because it can be really easy to get this all twisted and think, if I’m going to live a meaningful year that means that I better get on Pinterest. I better figure out how my holiday decorations are going to look. And let me say, there’s nothing wrong with Pinterest. There’s nothing wrong with wonderful elaborate holiday decorations. You do you, my friend.
Knowing those things, knowing a little bit more about what matters to you and what doesn’t, you’re going to make another list. You’re going to make a list of the celebrations, traditions or holidays that are important to you now. Maybe like I felt several years ago you’re kind of starting fresh. Maybe you’re where you want to start from the ground up and you’re not really sure what is important to you and your year or where you should spend your time. This is going to be so freeing. Get out your calendar or even get online and look at a list of the general holidays during a year. So there’s this great card that comes with our Celebrations Binder. And a Celebrations Binder is a product that we have in the Cultivate What Matters shop you can go to cultivatewhatmatters.com. Celebrations Binder helps you create your cultivated calendar and it comes with this great card of 2019 holidays. And this is again, just a springboard, a starting point. There may be many other holidays or traditions that you want to infuse into your life. But this was a great starting point for me because it lists everything from Martin Luther King Jr. Day to Super Bowl Sunday, Passover, Easter, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, everything. It was just a really good list for me to look at and mark down or circle the ones that were specifically and uniquely important to our family. So for instance Passover. Passover is one of my favorite holidays, maybe my most favorite holiday. It is one that we have as a family decided is important to us. We bring in Ari’s history, his heritage and being Jewish and he typically leads a Messianic Passover Seder. So Messianic means Messiah. And he leads a Passover Seder at her church every year and it’s just such a cool experience not just for us, but for our kids. So we’re pretty pumped about Passover in our house. We really like it. We love reading the story in Exodus and we make much of it. We make much of it. And looking at this list there are a few holidays that just for whatever reason are just not that important to us, like Super Bowl Sunday. Sorry, football friends. It’s just not a big day in our house. Yes, my husband likes to watch the Super Bowl, but he probably watches like a few minutes of it and that’s it. It’s just not something that’s super important to us as opposed to dear friends of mine that I know that love to go all out for that that’s a tradition in their family. They love getting creative with these giant snack displays. It means something to them. It’s part of who they are. When I look at this list, the things that are most important to me are my family, my team and my close friends’ birthdays. Holidays that mean something to us, like I mentioned about Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, Independence Day, and there are meaningful milestones too like our wedding anniversary, the day that Ari became a believer, the day that Ari baptized my dad. These things matter to us because like we know this you and I know this true that we can’t do it all and do it well. There are some months in the past where it feels like there are 1 million holidays and birthdays and kids’ birthday parties and like so many things and I in those months, not feeling like I celebrated a whole lot. I feel like I’m exhausted after that. We can only give nutrients to so many things. And so this is a chance for you to be selective. This is a chance for you to look ahead at your year, at the months ahead and choose the milestones, holidays, celebrations that are most important to you, that align most with your priority in life priority, singular. And then to intentionally decide you know, what I’m probably not going to spend that much time on Halloween. I have nothing against Halloween. I just we don’t really spend a lot of time preparing for Halloween in my house, it’s just not a thing and I have friends who that’s their thing. Halloween is there jam. But for my family I know that I’m probably going to shift more of that energy to Yom Kippur during that month instead of Halloween also so I don’t burn myself out. I’m going to put the currency of my time, I’m going to put my budget in those categories where I know that investment is going to have the best long-term payoff.
oshua: La, la, la, la.
Lara: As you can tell, I have a cute little buddy in my lap right now. I just went downstairs.
Joshua: La, la, la, la.
Lara: What did we have for snack just now?
Joshua: Popcorn, pasta and milk.
Lara: Yum. And we were talking about the holidays and traditions that you love. Which one’s your favorite one?
Lara: Hanukkah. You told me another one too. What was that?
Joshua: Oh, no.
Lara: What’s the one that we do every week that you love so much?
Joshua: Take a nap together.
Lara: Yes, also known as Shabbat. He loves our Shabbat nap time and this is something new that you and I just started doing about less than eight weeks ago, is every Shabbat I crawl in bed with him and I take a nap too and it’s the greatest thing ever. Right, buddy? Does it make you feel loved when we do that?
Lara: Yeah, I think about this simple act of surrendering all my to-do list items on a Saturday to focus on just being with my family, being present for whatever God needs me to do. I think about laying that down in favor of literally laying my body down to take a nap with my son. And if you could just see the twinkle in his eye when he talks about this every week, he reminds me somewhere around Thursday, Friday it’s probably gonna start happening. I’m talking to you right now, it’s a Wednesday. So probably tomorrow at some point. He’s probably going to come up to me in his sweet little three-year-old voice and say, “Mommy, are we going to do Shabbat naps together? Are we going to do that together?” I see it. I see a family narrative, a bond, a story being woven into the fabric of our lives and just through this tiny little thing I can see him one day saying, “Remember that time when you used to crawl in bed with me on Saturday afternoons and take a nap with me. That was so cool.”
And it’s just like me talking about my Waffle House moments with my mom, putting quarters in the Jukebox, playing country songs, learning about Willie Nelson and Alabama. And I mean, those songs come on the radio now and it just takes me right back and it makes me feel loved and makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger. It’s not about taking a nap and doing a single act of love for someone. It’s about how those little things add up to the big things, how this is planting seeds of legacy. So make a list of all of the holidays, milestones or experiences that are important to you, maybe things that you have done in the past, things that you did in the past with your own family growing up or things that you just think, oh, this would be potentially so neat if we started doing this. Just start somewhere. It doesn’t mean that that list you make is going to be the perfect plan for all of your life, but it’s a starting point. Make your list of all possible holidays, celebrations, milestones that you want to consider in your life. This is kind of like gathering up all the categories in your budget, gathering up all of the information so that you can decide where to put the currency of your time. Now looking at your list of all of the possibilities, here’s where you have to be ruthless, put them in order because you have to decide what’s going to be most important on your list. There are things that you probably want to sink your teeth into that are super important to you in your year. Maybe it is a specific family trip that you take each year, or maybe it’s a holiday that means a whole lot to you or someone’s birthday that means a lot or an anniversary anything, or maybe it’s just a normal routine during the week like Saturday afternoon naps that’s really important to you. Put those things in order. There might be things that are kind of middle on the list that you know you want to touch on, you want to celebrate those things, but perhaps you won’t put as much of your time budget into those.
And then inevitably there are things that are going to fall a bit lower on the list. Be ruthless. Choose what matters. Do those things at the top of your list well and you will be so glad that you did. And you know what? Your people will too. How do you live what matters, especially in the thick of it? It’s all about knowing, knowing what’s most important to you and what’s not, knowing where you want to spend your time and where you don’t. And when those seasons hit you, which they will, then you get to feel no guilt about putting zero effort into holidays or experiences that don’t mean anything to you. And this is the best part, it gives you the freedom to invest what you do have even if it’s tiny into the things that do matter. This is where intentional forethought comes in. Let me tell you about the magical secret sauce of cultivating an intentional year. Are you ready? Boxes. Yes, you heard me. This is something that has revolutionized the way our rhythms play out in our year.
It’s so simple. I did this really out of necessity one year. I thought okay, we have things that are important to us to bring out for Hanukkah. We have our Menorah or Hanukkah and candles and the dreidels to play with and so many neat little things. And those happen to all be mixed in with all the Christmas stuff and all the Thanksgiving stuff and I don’t even know where the Halloween stuff is. I just felt like all of our holiday milestone things were spread everywhere. I couldn’t even find them in the attic. So I thought, it would be so much easier and it would feel like I could sort of put this on autopilot if I had a box, even just a cardboard shipping box for each holiday or milestone that’s important to us, and I could have picture books for the kids to bring out just for that particular season. I could have our decorations, if there are any for that, little mementos that we bring out that help us to remember where we were on that holiday the year before, cards, things like that. So I created holiday boxes. And I know it’s like not rocket science. And it took me about two hours to do this one day. I just, I spread all the holiday stuff that we had out in our room and I went through it. I got ruthless. I said, “If each thing in here doesn’t point us to something that really matters, if it doesn’t really act as an Ebenezer or something fun that’s gonna bond our family together, I just gotta donate it.” So we went through and it has been so magical for us to be able to even just recently, we had Valentine’s Day recently, we have decided intentionally ahead of time using the gift of intentional forethought that Valentine’s Day is about remembering God’s love for us.
And so we have picture books in that box that reflect that. We have little activities for the kids. We have notes in there that we have written in prior years to remember where we were on that day because don’t you do that? You can sometimes come up to a holiday and you think, where were we last Christmas? What did we do? What has happened since then? These are such simple things and in seasons of hardship, in seasons of transition, in Seasons where we just don’t feel like we can do very much, I can however go to the closet go into the attic and pull out a holiday box for the kids to read picture books and just simply put that box away when we’re done. There’s no decorating, no other planning required. That is what it means to put holiday on autopilot. That means that you know, again, through the gift of a little intentional forethought that you’re prepared, you’re ready when it comes and anything else is extra cake. So, so far you have identified what matters to you and what doesn’t. You have identified some things that have sucked your time away that you don’t want to choose to spend the currency of your time on. You know now from our wonderful friend Sally that even little things done over time, these rhythms that we create in our lives add a richness to our days. You’ve looked back at the experiences you’ve had in your own life to say, “What matter to me when I was younger? “What things built memories and created a narrative in my family or my life?”
And it’s helped you to create a list now of all of the possibilities, all of these holidays, milestones and traditions that you might want to try for the first time or continue or change and also, the ones that you don’t. You have gotten ruthless with that list and put those things in order of what matters. And I will say that this list, it’s not a list for all of time. I was just thinking that as my children have grown over the years some things have become more important over time and then some aren’t. This can grow and change and flex with you. And now you know about the magic of holiday boxes. We have a Passover box. We have a Rosh Hashanah box and there are simple things inside of these. Don’t feel like you have to go out the Hobby Lobby and buy a whole rack of holiday supplies, but Grace and I for instance for Rosh Hashanah, something that you do in Rosh Hashanah is you eat apples and honey to signify sweet new year. So we just took construction paper and cut out apples and leaves and we wrote things we’re grateful for on them and we eliminated that and just made a banner out of it one year. And so that stays in the box every Christmas. We sit down as a family on Christmas day or even the day after and we write down where we were, what we ate that day, what the weather was like, what we’re grateful for and the kids love this, they love looking back on those memories and it helps me to grow my faith, helps me to remember God’s faithfulness.
When I think back to that particular season when I wanted to quit, the reason why that season was a turning point for me was because I couldn’t do big things. I couldn’t. I couldn’t plan elaborate celebrations for things. I had no time for that. And I was forced to do small things by necessity, by necessity. I had to choose to do small things because that’s all the time I had, but I feel like there are fireworks going off in my heart right now. That’s where the Lord taught me to cultivate. That’s what cultivating is. It’s a little by little over time tending to the things that matter to us.
Yes, we are supposed to take giant leaps of faith at moments, but most of our lives are made up of small things done over time. So once you have your list of the celebrations that are most important to you, here’s what I want you to throw some spaghetti at the wall. And remember, this is flexible, this can change over time, but it’s better to have a plan than none at all. Just like we talked about in the beginning, if you’re going to get somewhere, you need to put an exact destination. And if you need to take a detour to get gas along the way or take a different route or change your destination halfway through you can do that, you can do that, but everyone ends up somewhere, few people end up somewhere on purpose and you want to go somewhere on purpose. So once you have your list, take a look at your calendar and start to plan some things, plot some things out far in advance. If you know that for instance Thanksgiving is really important to you, start to think to yourself, “Okay? What’s going to go in my Thanksgiving box? What am I going to prepare ahead of time for that? Am I going to be here in town for Thanksgiving? Are we going to have to have a discussion at some point about where we’re going to go?” These logistical things are things that are and I have now learned to do in the very beginning of the year. The month of January is essentially our month to plot out our course. And we do this by sitting down not just in one session. It’s not like a giant planning party we have, but we sit down together and we say, “Okay, what’s important to us this year? What relationships do we feel like the Lord really wants us to grow?” And this helps us to just start somewhere. And yes, it grows. It changes. Here we are in March and it has already changed so much, but just knowing that there are some things we’ve put in place helps me to know I’m going to be able to celebrate my people well and not feel like I am not prepared.
It just goes back to having a budget. If you don’t tell your money where to go, you know where it’s going to go? All over the place. Target, that’s where it’s gonna go. Look at year ahead and plan how ahead of time before your schedule fills up and you don’t get a word in, you need to look ahead and plan time for rest. If there’s a particular season that you know is going to be really heavy for you like for me. It’s actually this month the month of March I lead our Making Things Happen Conference, and I know that that requires a lot of me mentally physically emotionally to pour into other women. So I also know that I’m probably going to need a little bit more rest after that. I shouldn’t be planning some big project immediately following that. I also know that there are a lot of holidays in December. My birthday’s in December, Ari’s birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, like all the things. So I look ahead knowing that and I intentionally plan for rest in places where I’m able to. Plan if you have a bank of vacation days at your job, plan those vacation days ahead of time so that you don’t end the year and say, “Oh, I guess I didn’t use any of those.” And you wonder why you’re tired. Plan a single day off and what you know will be a busy season. Do it now. And again, you can always shift, but having a plan is better than having no plan at all. Plan for what matters or your schedule will plan you. And number three. So we’ve gone through two of our steps so far. We have talked about the sighting and defining what matters. Number two, we have prepared and put our yearly planning on autopilot using some really simple thoughts. And number three, now you’re going to live it out. Here’s some more magic for you. Do a preparation day or what I call a preparation power hour. Oh, yeah. So how do you live this out? What does this really look like on a day-to-day, month-to-month, week-to-week basis? Choose an hour, one hour a month, whenever that is. Maybe it’s after the kids go to sleep. Maybe it’s a Sunday afternoon. Maybe it’s during nap time. Whatever it is. Just go ahead and choose one. You can always shift this day or do it little 15-minute increments instead, but I found it most effective and seen through lots of people that have done this
So here’s what I’ve done. This is not rocket science. All I’ve done is set up a recurring reminder on my to-do list app. I use an app called Things. You can also just use reminders or you could also just stick a sticky note in your day planner or on your calendar, on your wall, whatever works for you. I have a perpetual list things that I know are going to pop up every year now, things I want to invest in. So here’s what’s on my March list. I have our next door neighbor’s birthday. I have daylight savings because it’s trying to solve world peace to try to figure out nap time changes. Does anybody else feel like that? I feel like I’ve done this for so many years now and I still scratch my head trying to figure out how to adjust things. So that’s important so that I don’t stress myself out as I think about it ahead of time have. I have Patrick’s Day because we celebrate my Irish heritage and my wedding anniversary with Ari, probably the most important thing on this list. And then we have Purim, we have Sarah’s birth mom’s birthday and Making Things Happen is typically during this month, it’s my pray over a lot. So that’s what’s on my list for March to prepare for.
So this little recurring reminder pops up on my to-do list app somewhere in February and I take my little preparation power hour and I look and I think, okay, things that need preparation are what am I going to do to help our next door neighbor Linda feel loved? And it could be something as simple as sending a text message. It could be bringing flowers over from the garden. Whatever it is, this preparation time, this moment of allowing myself the blessing of intentional forethought instead of scrambling allows me to love people better. That’s what this is about. It’s not about having a perfectly planned year just for the sake of having a perfectly planned year. It’s about loving people better and that is worth sacrificing for. That’s worth taking this 10 minutes to an hour to look ahead and say, “All right, how can I do this well? How can I plant seeds of faith in people’s hearts? How can I help them to grow a narrative in their hearts of knowing that they are loved and they are good and they are God’s? How can I do that?”
So that’s question number one is what is on my calendar for the month or the few months ahead that needs preparation. Next, what would help others feel loved? Just like we just spoke about together, it’s not about perfect party decorations. It’s about how you make them feel. As I say that, I think of some really dear friends of mine that their spiritual gift is party decorations. So I don’t want to deter you from that, that if that’s your thing and that’s the way you make people feel loved is setting up these beautiful party … My mom, she’s one of those people. Do that thing. Do that thing. So what would help others feel loved? How would you be able to make them feel with whatever gesture you decide on? Most of the time the things that make people feel most loved cost us time, not money. Most of the time the things that make people feel most loved cost time, not money, so don’t get ideas in your head if you’ve gone there of, “Oh man, I’m going to have to like set a budget for this.”
No, there’s so many things that I’ve been able to do that causes zero dollars because I’ve had more time to do them, whether it’s making a card or finding like I said, flowers in my garden that really makes someone feel more loved than sending an expensive bouquet of flowers in the mail, you get time to decide that. So you know what’s on your calendar for the month or few months ahead that needs some preparation. You have some ideas now of how you would help those people feel most loved. It also gives me time to think about their particular love languages or even cry about that and ask them. Next, what is needed to prepare for that particular event or milestone? What would it take to get you from start to finish to make that happen? What materials or supplies would you need to bring that thing to life? So there was a year that we were hosting a lot of events here at our house and we were also leading our small group at church and doing all kinds of like last-minute church potluck things and that requires dishes. We just … I always felt like I was asking Ari to run to the store super last minute to get some tin dishes like takeaway containers to go to these events and bring these potluck things.
And so instead of scrambling I looked ahead of the calendar and I kind of summarized what I thought was the amount of events we would be sending food to and I bought a batch of containers ahead of time on Amazon and saved myself a whole lot of money and a whole lot of hassle. And lastly, what things can you batch together to help you do this efficiently? So for instance, buying several gifts for friends in one swoop helps you get it done quicker and many times it can help save you on shipping. Now, make your own list. Maybe there are additional questions that would help you each month to prepare for what matters in your unique life and season. Make your monthly prep list. You can just scratch it on a piece of paper right now. Go ahead and don’t feel like it has to be perfect, you have to have some typed out list that looks beautiful on your wall. Just right now, get out a piece of scrap paper and write down your own prep steps and then you’re going to add those to your calendar, add those prep days, your preparation power hours to your calendar for the next 12 or so months ahead. You just find a system that works for you.
Whether you do that in a calendar app, or like I said, I use a recurring to-do list app. Whatever works for you. Just make sure it works for you. And you can always adjust and change it up if it doesn’t work. And if you’re looking for a way to keep all of this together, that is why we created our Celebrations Binder. It is an A5 size six ring binder that you can use year after year, has pockets for cards, helps you to keep everything together in one simple place, your perpetual calendar and it walks you through several of these steps, on deciding what matters to you in the big picture, defining the holidays and celebrations that you really want to sink your teeth into and the ones that you don’t, the ones you can let go of and then living that out month-by-month, day-by-day. Now, I told you this was not going to be color coding rocket science. And now you know the simplicity of just taking a moment to know where you want to invest the currency of your time and where you don’t. And again, you can change this over time taking just a moment to set preparation days, these preparation power hours on your schedule so that you can plan for what matters and your schedule doesn’t plan you, but how do you avoid failure in all this? Here are some ways that I avoid failure. Number one is I prepare for the unexpected. So look back at your year, at this last year. What supplies would have been really handy for you to serve and love others well at a moment’s notice?
Like I mentioned, we have extra 10 serving containers on hand for church food needs and potlucks. I also have extra frozen bake-off cookies for when someone comes over unexpectedly. We have water bottles in the car to give to our homeless friends when we greet them at stoplights, a stack of thank you cards with stamps on them because sometimes missing stamp is what keeps you from sending that card. And with young kids we have a stash of birthday gifts ready to go. I told you, I am not a planning superhero and that’s why I have to take time to do these things. And what you really have to think about is how is it going to make you feel? How’s it going to make your family feel? How’s it going to help give you your time back when you use the gift of a little intentional forethought to plan a year of meaning? So number two is to employ, this is a big term, are you ready? Agile development principles. This is a term from computer development here. So number two is to employ Agile development principles. This helps me avoid failure. If something doesn’t work in late stage development, be willing to change course. I’m just going to leave it at that.
If you get sick. If you feel like you don’t have enough time. If your perfect party plans get literally rained out, just remember the heart, remember why you chose that thing in the first place on your list and when you remember why doesn’t matter so much how perfectly you execute that plan. What matters is why you’re executing that plan and it allows your creativity to surface. So be willing to change course and sometimes, and I feel like this actually happens most of the time, things always pan out better than I had planned them. Number three, third way to avoid failure is how do you’re going to follow through on this? You’re going to think about the results? What effect will your cultivated calendar have on your life and others? My guess is that it’s going to give you hours of time back, hours lost in indecision, in guilt for not having been prepared and in money too because like you know, last-minute gifts are expensive. So think about the results. And I remember feeling so excited when I first did this several years ago. I thought, wow this is so simple and I really do believe it’s going to change everything and I’m here on the other side of it never having lived a perfect year, never having perfectly walked out every plan that I made, but having the knowledge, knowing what’s important has helped me to make the right decisions even in the thick of it, even in the seasons where I felt like I just couldn’t see the cloud through the trees, light, something, I couldn’t see in those seasons, it’s still helped me to be able to celebrate people well.
You want a life of purpose and meaning, but you know what? You don’t have to make it meaningful. It already is. You don’t have to manufacture it. These tips, they will help you cultivate what you’ve already been given, what’s already there. They help you to recognize, to notice and to celebrate, to really amplify the meaning that’s already in your life. If you don’t do this, you could just continue to live an unexamined life, not taking time to know what experiences in your past shaped who you are today for better or for worse and feeling this sameness in life, feeling like your life is just lived on one note. No day feels set apart or different than another.
And when I open up my Bible, you know what I see? I see God being so clear about wanting us to have days that are set apart, that feel different than others. And he wove into the fabric of the lives of the Israelites, these festivals, these times to stop and remember who they were and whose they were so that they would know where they’re going. And it’s the same with us. I choose to invest the currency of my time on experiences that remind me who I am, who’s I am and where we’re going together as a family.
A little intentional forethought it goes a whole long way towards sowing seeds of love and closeness and building your legacy. So, where do you start? You start where all good things begin, with one small step, go do this. What brings purpose and meaning to your life? What things in your past or right now help you to feel like you’re really living you’re serving and loving and cultivating the things right in front of you? Write that thing down. And now you know, making a cultivated calendar is so simple. It’s simple. It’s flexible. It is a life-giving plan for your year to intentionally know what matters to you and what doesn’t and to choose ahead of time to prepare well for that. It doesn’t take much time. In fact, it’s going to give you all a whole lot of time back. Now you know that a little intentional forethought goes a whole long way and if it matters to you plan for it. You can use your time well, not perfectly because that’s not the point, but you can use it with purpose. You can feel prepared for what matters most, building a legacy that will last longer than you. And here’s the best part, you don’t have to make it meaningful, it already is, but you can intentionally make room and space to notice it and in noticing it, you can’t help but celebrate it. I love my time with you. That was so refreshing and so fun to be with you and how about our chat with Sally Clarkson, isn’t she just awesome? How refreshing to be reminded that the little things add up to the big things, even something like sitting down to a cup of hot water with a tea bag in it can create a decades-long tradition that adds into your family legacy. So encouraging.
And I have to say thank you. You have been so generous in sharing this podcast with friends all over the world. And it’s just really neat to see light bulb moments going off for so many people who are thinking differently about life, knowing that you don’t have to be perfect to live an intentional life. One