I Learned the Secret to Time Management

It was late afternoon. I was still at my computer, supposedly editing an article our website needed soon. My son was noisily racing his toy cars across the living room floor—an audible reminder that I hadn’t had time to play with him that afternoon. I also still needed to plan and cook dinner at some point before my husband and sister came home from work.

But instead of carefully weighing words and punctuation, or attending to any of the other items on my growing “to-do” list, I was checking out what my friends had recently read on a book-centered social media platform.

That’s when a notification lit up, informing me that I had read a total of 19 books in the last year.

As a self-identified major bookworm, I stared at the number in disbelief. Even during slow years, I could easily read twice that number of books. Why so few books in 2019?

For the next week or two, I turned this question over in my mind. I also started paying attention to how I was spending my time. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my work was taking far longer than it should, mostly because I was constantly taking “breaks” to scroll social media or news sites instead of focusing on the work at hand. These breaks often took much longer than planned, and tended to zap my motivation rather than build it up.

In response to this newfound realization, I decided to free up a morning, splurge on some overpriced coffee at a local shop, and brainstorm how best to salvage my time in the future. I felt pretty pleased with the actionable steps I came up with. To remind myself of these actionable steps, I summarized them onto a post-it note that I stuck on my computer.

Though it worked well for the first day, within a week I found myself battling old habits again. I would forget to set timers for myself or spend my breaks away from the computer. I got distracted and followed Internet rabbit trails when I was supposed to be doing research for work. A few days went better than the rest, but even on the better days, I could not say that my time had been well accounted for.

No matter how hard I tried, it seemed like I was still a slave to distractions. And all my reflection and practical steps made only the slightest difference.

This continued until I came across Psalm 51 one day while reading the Bible. This was David’s psalm of repentance after committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11-12). One line particularly stood out to me:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

What struck me was that David didn’t focus on fixing the problem of his sin himself. He didn’t make promises to do better in the future. He turned to God and God’s mercy, and asked God to change his heart.

In battling my lack of time management, I had written out realistic goals and actions—trusting my own willpower to make the change and get things done. But none of it worked! I had forgotten what David knew so well—not only is God able to forgive, but He is able to create in us a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within us.

That afternoon, I placed a new post-it on my computer. Instead of practical steps I thought up myself, I simply copied out Psalm 51:10, and made it my own personal prayer. When I sat down to work, when I took breaks, and even when I caught myself following rabbit trails on the Internet, I found myself looking down at the post-it and praying, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

You know what? That afternoon of work was phenomenal. I was able to focus like I had rarely done in the past year. And not only did I do my work quickly, but I did it well. I even had time to do an extra load of laundry, tidy-up better than usual, and bring my son to the playground downstairs—all before cooking a lovely dinner for my family.

It has been two weeks since then. There are occasional days where I focus less than I should, and work takes longer than ideal. Sometimes dinner is a little later than planned. But overall, I have more time and the work that I do is of better quality.

The thing is, I had tried to manage my time better by my own strength, and I failed. When I realized I could not do this on my own, I asked God to intervene. I prayed that He would change my heart so that I would not be so easily distracted, and could focus well on my work. I asked God to enable me to do what had been impossible for me to achieve by myself.

And God graciously answered my prayer. By His grace alone, I have been enabled to work well and give a good account for my time.

This experience was a fresh reminder that God is able to change hearts. He created a pure heart for David. He has renewed my heart in the past, and did so again in a miraculous way these past two weeks. And I know God will continuing renewing my heart in the future, helping me overcome my sins and my faults when I cannot, so that one day, I will be presented before Him without fault and with great joy (Jude 24).

Is there anything you struggle with in your life? Anything that even the best intentions have not been able to overcome? Ask God to give you a new heart.

Change might not come overnight. Some of my own prayers have taken years for God to begin answering. But even in the waiting, we can ask God to help us trust Him and lean on His strength. Even when we stumble and fall again, we know that God is continually molding and sanctifying us. And we continue praying, continue trusting that He will renew us day by day. God is in the business of changing hearts. He desires to give us a new heart and renew our spirit; all we have to do is ask.

I Didn’t Dare to Let Myself Feel Beautiful

Written By Cassandra Yeo, Singapore

All women desire to feel beautiful. Every day, we see hundreds of advertisements for skincare, make-up, clothes and slimming treatments. Even the Bible seems to celebrate a woman’s beauty in passages such as the ones in Songs of Solomon, or when describing female characters such as Rachel (Genesis 29:17).

However, I have never dared to let myself feel beautiful.

I told myself that I didn’t want to go through the trouble of keeping up appearances. Though I kept myself neat and prim, I wore baggy clothes and dark colors. Similarly, shopping trips were only made to oblige friends, or for specific occasions like Chinese New Year where buying clothes was inevitable. It was only recently that I realized the reasons for my reluctance.

In my early teens, I was taunted and verbally bullied for my appearance by several male classmates. They laughed at my overbite, tousled brown hair, and “oversized” ears. Though they called me many different names, what hurt most was being treated as if I were less than other more attractive girls.

There was one time when my male classmates nominated and voted on the ugliest girls in class. They then took a class photograph and used a coin to scratch off the “ugly” girls’ faces in the photo. It came as no surprise to me that I was one of them. I have never felt less than a human than I did in that moment, as I was judged by nothing but my outward appearance.

Ever since then, my self-esteem has suffered, and this manifested in the way I dressed and carried myself. For many years I wore long sleeves, for fear my arms would be called fat. Likewise, I wore dark colors, so that I would not stand out in the crowd. I found a strange and perverse safety in staying invisible.

However, recently God led me to step into the industry of image consulting. My work involves equipping clients with the relevant tools and skill sets to present a stellar corporate image. At first I thought that the change was merely focused on their outward appearance, but I have since learned that the most successful changes occur when there is an inward shift in the individuals’ perception of themselves. Discovering their worth and potential is ultimately what motivates our clients to change their outward appearance.

During my first few weeks at work, my heart was constantly tugged between my personal beliefs and the appearance I was meant to keep up as a professional in the industry. While the world of image consulting celebrated beautiful patterns, shades and colors, my own wardrobe was a sea of black, grey, and blue. It felt ironic to plan courses and programs for clients when I struggled with the same issues myself.

But as I continued to grapple with these conflicting feelings, I realized being put in this industry at this time was an essential part of God’s plan in my life. He brought me into the field of image consulting, not just to provide me with a job, but rather, to heal a part of me that had been dead all these years. God was working to bless and restore the areas where I have experienced hurt. He was working for my personal growth, and opening my eyes to see beauty in a different light.

My daily work has given me opportunities to speak with industry leaders and experience my very own “image coaching” sessions, where colleagues give tips and one-on-one sessions to advise me on my dressing and posture. These experiences have allowed me to see beauty as a form of care and self-respect. The way I dress and carry myself should not be for the sake of vanity, but should reflect a deeper and more profound understanding that I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14).

Whatever other people may say about me, I have confidence that comes from knowing God Himself made me. The Apostle Paul urges us to do all things for the glory of God, and surely that involves how we dress (1 Corinthians 10:31). In seeking to honor God’s love for me, my wardrobe collection has begun to change.

Greys and blacks are replaced or supplemented with shades of yellow, green, and orange. Sleeveless clothes become more frequent in appearance. Beauty products and accessories are starting to fill the gaps in my bathroom cupboard.

Initially, any time I tried wearing something different, I was afraid to look in the mirror. Yet positive affirmations from family, friends, and colleagues have helped me move from embarrassment to empowerment. This process has served to remind me that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and thus I should honor it, in appreciation of whom God has made me to be.

As I myself change from the inside out, my work has allowed me to help transform others both inwardly and outwardly as well. My hope is that God will continue to use me in this field to focus on identity building, and in so doing, provide emotional healing to others.

This transformation in the way I view myself and my appearance has reminded me that our God is a God of restoration, and He desires to restore and heal the deadened and hurting parts of our lives. If you’ve also experienced hurts from the past like me, will you allow God to work in your life?

When Love Didn’t Come at First Sight

“What about Dakotah? Are you sure you two aren’t a thing?”

For months I had been fielding this same question from my family and other friends from campus ministry. They had noticed how much time I spent with Dakotah, and naturally wanted to know if it was a budding romantic relationship.

To this day, I can’t remember the first time I met Dakotah. We attended the same Bible study our first year of university, and we ended up running in the same social circle. He was a really friendly person, flexible, and always available to hang out. From the beginning, he was a solid friend.

But he was just a friend. So, when my best friend asked me the question I was so used to hearing, I shut the idea down pretty hard. I explained to her that I couldn’t picture Dakotah in a romantic way.

“He’s too short . . . ” I remember confessing with honesty and an equal amount of shame for being so superficial.

I always pictured myself marrying a tall guy—or at least someone who was taller than me. And, even with the silly height issue aside, at the time, I was not interested in having more than a friendship with Dakotah. He was solid “friend material”, but he wasn’t as outgoing, athletic, or charismatic as I imagined my future spouse might be.

Fast forward seven years, and I am so thankful that first-year-of-college me was mistaken. As it turns out, Dakotah is very much my type. And we are deeply in love, praising God daily for the blessing of being married and sharing this life with one another.

I think as our friendship grew deeper, my misguided expectations for my future husband faded. Even though I had a lot of good, healthy expectations for my future spouse—being a dedicated Christian, a strong leader, a loving partner, etc.—I got caught up in my own specific ideas of exactly how these characteristics were supposed to look like.

Ending up with the husband I did once again proves that God’s plans are always better than mine.

The truth is, I am rarely correct when I think I know what’s best for me. While I had a picture of the person I wanted to marry, I forgot that my heavenly Father knows me intimately, and would bless me with someone who balances me and counters my weaknesses in a way I couldn’t have planned for.

God has a way of giving us exactly what we don’t realize we need. Many of us experience this in a variety of ways. Whether it is related to finding a spouse, or thinking we know which house, job or church is best for us at any given point in our lives, God has a way of proving us completely wrong—while pouring out unexpected blessings at the same time.

As a first year university student, I was concerned with finding someone who shared hobbies and interests with me. I neglected to consider how irrelevant this would become when my own interests and hobbies shifted as I got older. Instead, I needed someone who was patient and calm, someone who would help balance my own stress and anxiety as I encountered different people and circumstances.

Often times, we do not expect or understand God’s provision. But when we look back, we get occasional glimpses that help us understand why what we wanted wasn’t actually best, or maybe even good, at all.

These little glimpses of understanding God’s unexpected provision are rare for me, but I hold to them closely. When God allows certain circumstances, or when He leads me in a direction that doesn’t seem to make sense, I reflect on these little glimpses in the past, and they give me confidence in God’s provision.

So after a few years of dismissing any suggestion that Dakotah and I could be more than just friends, my perspective started to shift. During our third year of friendship, it dawned on me that Dakotah had gradually become my best friend. As I considered why, I recognized that he cared for me deeply and gently. He encouraged me with kindness. Even while we were “just friends,” the patient love he had for me was evidenced in simple and daily interactions.

It took me several years, but I came to the realization that I wanted Dakotah to continue being my best friend for the rest of my life. Thankfully, the feeling was mutual, and, to no surprise of our family and friends, Dakotah and I did start dating the fall after I graduated.

The story of my husband and I is a sweet reminder to me that God’s plan is the only plan I want for my life. Two years into marriage, it’s laughable that I once used height as an excuse for not being interested in Dakotah. But the sheer ridiculousness of that helps remind me to trust God’s perfect provision in all areas of my life, even when it doesn’t match what I have envisioned for my own life.

Why I’m Choosing to Stay Single This Season

Written By Shelley Pearl, New Zealand

The standard answer I have on hand whenever people inquire about my single status is that I have not met Mr Right.

Which is partly true, because at the moment, I have no idea where Mr Right might be. But the truth is, I promised myself I did not want to be involved with someone who would draw me further away from God. So, the season of singleness I am in right now is by choice.

When my ex-boyfriend broke up with me several years ago, I decided it was best to consciously spend the next few years of my life being single so I could mentally and emotionally heal before embarking on another relationship.

He was not a Christian, and while he respected my religion enough for me to attend and volunteer in church, he always showed a bit of resistance whenever I asked if he would go to church with me.

In a way, I was leading a double life when I went out with my ex. On one hand, I was worshipping God and reading the Bible, but on the other hand, I was unequally yoked with a non-believer (2 Corinthians 6:14).

At that time, I justified it by telling friends and acquaintances that I was not a religious fanatic, and besides, I have met Christians whose behaviour were a lot more deplorable than non-Christians. I concluded with much gusto that there was nothing wrong with dating a non-Christian.

When the inevitable happened between me and my ex-boyfriend, I was angry, but I also figured it was God’s way of saying He had enough with my double life.

Now, I am going to admit that staying single in this season has not been easy, and there are times when I have a little grizzle with God about why He would put suitable men before me, only for me to find out that they’re not Christians or even if they were, they were only Christian in name.

“It does seem a bit mean of you,” I told God, but I would soldier on as I did not want to go back to my old double life.

However, there was a period of time when I faltered and signed up on various online dating sites, thinking Mr Right was just one click away.

Because deep down, I do want to get married one day. I do want to have someone I can spend the rest of my life with—and the idea of still being single when I turn 50, surrounded by cats, is rather terrifying.

Eventually, I did find someone online, and things went rather well in the beginning. I thought he was smart and funny, and for a minute I thought, “Right, this is it! I have found someone!” He was not a Christian, and had told me he did not think the church should have any say in our personal lives.

But in my weak, flesh-centred moment, I thought, “Oh well, no one’s perfect.” Luckily for me, my dad saw signs that the guy was more than met the eye, and advised me against continuing with the relationship. So, to my dismay, I ended it.

By now you might be wondering, “Gee, why is she so fixated on not straying away from God? Surely God is able to call her back if she’s gone too far.”

But it is more than just having God call me back once I have strayed. For me, my relationship with God is a sacred one. I want to have an intimate relationship with God, which I felt was really hard to do when I was going out with someone who did not share the same faith.

For me, a person who says they “respect my religion” is nothing more than a spectator. They are happy for me to do my churchly activities, but their stance changes when it comes to my stand on pre-marital sex or co-habitation before marriage.

And can I honestly say I love God and seek His word if I am doing the direct opposite? I do not want to walk away from a God who loves with an everlasting love (Isaiah 54:8) and who has promised to meet my every need (Phillipians 4:19) for a man whose love for me might be superficial and fleeting.

Yes, God loves us even though we fall away, but I personally feel the damage done and the work needed to mend ourselves can be long and painful. It is a pain I would rather avoid on the outset.

I also believe God has my best interest at heart, and if His will for me is to get married, I trust He will provide me with the right person in due time.

And I imagine the spouse that He has for me will be a guy who truly loves God, someone who shows the fruit of the Spirit, such as love, kindness, forgiveness (Galatians 5:22-23).

He will also be someone who knows love is not the warm, fuzzy feelings we all feel at the beginning of a new, exciting relationship. Rather, he will be someone who perseveres in love, is not self-seeking or keeps no records of wrong (1 Corinthians 13:4-8), and he will love me as Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25)

Having said that, I have also learned to accept that if God’s better plan for my life is to remain single, and to carry out His works like Paul did, preaching the Gospel to every part of the world, then I am also happy to be that vessel. Even if it means sacrificing the dream of walking down the aisle and spending my life with the person I love.

If you’re still single like me, maybe society and family pressures have you wanting to get hitched as soon as possible so you can start filling your social media feed with your engagement news, followed by wedding photos and snaps of your first child’s sonogram. But can I just encourage you in your season of singleness to really press in on God, to draw in closer to Him, and not trade this season for just any guy to fill an empty void. I want you to know that God’s best plan for you will be just that—simply the best, not a cheap substitute.