Time-Outs: Adult-Style

The Problem

It seems that every time I sit down in a quiet moment to get some things done — homework, catching up on emails, planning a vacation, meal planning, whatever — I immediately remember all of the other things I meant to have done at different times:

Hey, I never responded to that text! Oh wait, before I dive into my work I should just add this one thing to my Amazon list. That reminds me, I needed to buy so-and-so a birthday gift and RSVP for so-and-so’s wedding. Oh! and I wanted to look at that other friend’s wedding pictures and watch that cute puppy video and that reminds me to renew my dog’s license and find out when that city compost is available and find out how to keep the fungus off of my tomatoes and look up summer recipes that use tomatoes on Pinterest, and oh wow, those are cute shoes, I wonder if I can find some like that on the DSW website and…

I don’t know about you, but that scenario usually takes place within about five minutes of sitting down with my work — even if it’s a hard copy book in my lap. Between the nearly constant needs (or just plain ol’ cuteness) of my toddler and the technology-saturated culture, my ability to pay attention to any one thing for more than five or ten minutes has been severely handicapped. This is bad for me for a lot of reasons, but particularly in this season of life where I need to do a lot of reading for my graduate program. From what I hear, I’m not alone in this.

The Solution

Taking cues from the world of toddlers and time-outs, I’ve begun forcing myself to adhere to a timer. I set the timer on my phone, so that every time I reach for my phone I’m greeted not just with the time of day but with the length of time remaining before I’ll allow myself to unlock my phone. It’s simple, but don’t underestimate how helpful it can be! I usually set the timer for at least half an hour at a time, and refuse to take breaks (unless interrupted by a living breathing person) until the timer goes off.

It’s not always a smooth transition — it’s hard to train yourself to not reach for your phone every time you think of a question that can easily be answered by a glance at your calendar or google. I usually find myself looking at my phone several times in short succession near the beginning of my timed “work” session, but the amazing thing is that as the minutes go by it gets easier and easier to ignore the technology at hand. If I can just push through those first minutes I am inevitably rewarded by a more fruitful time of work or study.

Maybe even more helpfully, I also time my breaks. I’ll work for 30min–1hr, and then set my timer for a 5min break. When the timer goes off, it breaks my concentration on whatever meaningless entertainment has sucked me in and I’m able to refocus on whatever goal I was working toward.

It sounds silly, maybe. After all, we should all have enough self control to concentrate for more than five minutes, shouldn’t we? Well, yes. But how many of us actually do? I’m working actively to combat the temptations to constant distractions. For me, the timer method is really helping. Let me know if you give it a try!

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Obvious Things

Yesterday, after I put my daughter down for her nap I sat down in my recliner to read my Bible. It’s not often, anymore, that I feel the sharp wrenching pain from my more recent losses, but just because the wounds aren’t bleeding anymore doesn’t mean that they don’t ache sometimes. I had been listening to a podcast about miscarriage earlier in the day, and while was good for me to continue pressing into my lingering pain, it left me in a melancholy state.

And then I read Proverbs 23:18:

“Surely there is a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.”

It was so obvious that it startled me. I needed the reminder.

First: There is a future. Today is not the only day. Yesterday was yesterday, and tomorrow will be tomorrow. Today might be sad, but tomorrow is coming. This is not a maybe. It is sure. It will come.

Second: Your hope will not be cut off. I hope in Christ, and that hope is not going anywhere. He is steadfast, and faithful. He will not stop giving you good things — the best things. He was there yesterday, he is there today, he will be there tomorrow and the next day, and the next, into infinity.

I really needed to hear these simple truths. Maybe you need this reminder too. Sometimes, you just need to hear the obvious.

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On Being Useful

Yesterday was the first class of my summer semester. My professor was telling us about the paper due at the end of the course, and said something that I think was profound. I can’t quote him, but he essentially said: “Write about something that you’re pretty sure you know. Write the obvious. What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to everyone, and if you write what you don’t know, what use is that? What you write will only be useful to anyone if you write what you know.” He added, jokingly serious, “and if you’re brilliant, what’s obvious may just change all of academia.”

I remember turning in my senior seminar paper in undergrad with such pride. I felt like I had grown so much as I wrote it, and for the first time I felt like grad school was attainable: I knew big words, and I knew how to use them. Surely, if you know big words and how to use them, you know what you’re talking about when you use them. Right?

Ha. No.

It’s been years since I’ve written a paper of the same quality that I wrote in undergrad. Even here in grad school I have yet to find the opportunity to put the time and effort into a paper that my senior seminar paper received. In some ways, that paper is still the pinnacle of my academic “career.” But eight years out of college and half-way through a master’s program, I find myself not wanting to use big words that will gain the respect of people who know less about the few things that I know. And I don’t care about learning the lingo that makes people think that I’m a funny and smart blogger. Instead, I find myself worrying more about being useful. I don’t want to write things that make me popular, I want to write things that last — that are good, true, and beautiful. After a living in Ecclesiastes for the last year, seeing how utterly meaningless things can be, I want what I write to be rooted and grounded in what is good for building up. Not just vapor that is gone with the wind.

Yesterday was the first class of my summer semester. My professor was telling us about the paper due at the end of the course, and said something that I think was profound. I can’t quote him, but he essentially said: “Write about something that you’re pretty sure you know. Write the obvious. What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to everyone, and if you write what you don’t know, what use is that? What you write will only be useful to anyone if you write what you know.” He added, jokingly serious, “and if you’re brilliant, what’s obvious may just change all of academia.

It was a good reminder. Skills are wonderful. Academic rigor is wonderful. Making a living is wonderful. But if the skills, the rigor are not in the service of real useful work, then what’s the point?

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5 Favorites

Some people are great at favorites. You ask them what their favorite book or season or food is and they can rattle off their top five like they keep a running list in their back pocket. I am not one of those people. I do have things I like, but I have a really hard time picking favorites because there are just so many ways to evaluate things. For example, when judging movies I may have a favorite of a certain genre, but how on earth can I compare it to my favorite of a different genre? Or I may have a certain favorite movie from the 90s, but how can I compare it to a movie made in 2015? It feels impossible.

So if you’re looking for ordered and ranked lists, you’re in the wrong place.

But today I thought I would share with you a list of some podcasts that I listen to fairly regularly:

  • Cultivated: A podcast about faith and work. This one is probably my actual favorite, but they haven’t had new episodes since February. I’m not sure why, but I hope they come back soon!
  • This American Life. I don’t listen to this one as much as I used to, but it remains a favorite. The hosts take about an hour to tell stories, or one story. The stories have some common theme that holds them together (a favorite of this type: Ep. 510 Fiasco!), or sometimes they’ll take a topic and take the full hour to explain it (a favorite of this type: The Giant Pool of Money).
  • Mortification of Spin. Carl Trueman (professor), Aimee Byrd (author), and Todd Pruitt (pastor), all Presbyterians I think, host this short podcast. They talk about various things related to faith and the church.
  • Pass the Mic and Truth’s Table. Podcasts created and hosted by black Christian men and women. It’s helpful to hear things from people who are different than I am. Being mostly aligned theologically while having some big cultural and experiential differences means that I can learn and benefit a lot from hearing their perspective.
  • Signposts with Russel Moore. Russel Moore is a wise man.
  • Science Friday. I almost never listen to this one, actually. But every time I do I wonder why I don’t listen more often. No matter how uninteresting the topic sounds, it’s always fascinating in real life. When I was commuting, it was always on during my drive home. I would always think about changing the station, only to end up sitting in my drive-way at home to finish listening.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

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It’s Been A Month Already??

Well, I’m sorry. That month just flew by! I knew I had been slacking, but a whole month?

I guess The Unhurried Chase is due for an update! Here’s what I’ve been up to:

I finished my semester! Phew. I wrote my final paper on Pacifism, particularly the thoughts of Thomas Merton — a Catholic monk who lived in Kentucky. He believed that the Just War, while in line with biblical teaching and Catholic tradition, was out-dated and impossible with the advent of nuclear weapons. It was an interesting paper, and I found myself leaning closer to pacifism than I expected.

We are working on potty training! Yikes. It’s been about two weeks, and there have been moments of great triumph and days of discouragement. Let’s just say we’ve done loads of laundry every day for these weeks. She was doing wonderfully before the long weekend, but long days of graduation, wedding, visiting grandparents, strange sleep schedules, etc. just really threw us off the groove! But back at it this week.

Summer is here! We got a wading pool for our sweet girl, and she loves it. And just being outside in general. I planted a garden! I’ve been raising little baby tomatoes and peppers in our window for weeks, and it feels so good to plop them in the ground. I have my fingers crossed for them — we’ve typically had really bad luck with a garden because we have a very shady yard and a black walnut tree. But this year I’m determined. Maybe I’ll show you some pictures — gardening has been quite the creative process this year.

I’ve been reading — so much! Two weeks ago I finished Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (audio). Last week I finished No Little Women by Aimee Byrd. This week I finished Out of a Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (audio). I’ve also started the graphic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, by Sydney Padua, and I’m also listening to The Light Between Oceans. I’m nearly half-way finished with my Challies challenge (woohoo!), and I think I may be over half-way on my Goodreads goal. I really needed to get ahead during break — who knows what these few months will hold!

I called the exterminator. I think we have mice (but not in our food, thankfully!).

I found a new favorite bread recipe: Cranberry Pecan Rye Bread. I skip the caraway, and it is amazing. My daughter doesn’t like it, but we aren’t complaining!

What’s Next?

My summer class begins in two weeks, as I mentioned before. I’m eager to dive in because it’s an entire class devoted to Augustine’s City of God, but to be honest, I’m a bit nervous because the summer semester is pretty intense. Also, I really love break.

As far as extra-curricular reading, next up after my current books is Understood Betsy. I’ve heard it’s excellent.

So there’s the update. I hope that I’ll be able to get back into a regular rhythm here soon. Thanks for your patience!

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Extra-Curricular Learning

As some may know, I’m currently working on an MA in Catholic Studies. Yes, I’m a Protestant. Not Roman Catholic. I was the only non-Catholic in the program for more than a year. It has been really good, and difficult at points. And it has made me profoundly grateful for the Reformation.

In undergrad, I took a class entitled Renaissance & Reformation that was really helpful. But now, quite a number of years later, I’ve been really feeling an itch to learn about the Reformation in more depth.

I’ve talked before about my love for podcasts (I think), but something I haven’t mentioned before is iTunes U. Have you heard of it? I’ve used it several times, for a class on Irish history before my trip to Ireland, and for a medieval church history when I was struggling with some of the Catholic portrayals of history I encountered during my first semester in grad school.

I’ve particularly enjoyed these two classes that I’ve listened in on from Carl Trueman, faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary.

[Sidenote: My one complaint is the sound quality is not always top notch (and is sometimes really bad). I struggled more with it in The Medieval Church, but it has not been an issue so far in the four lectures on The Reformation that i’ve listened to.]

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