* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

How can I live out LOVE? An analytical introvert’s quest

LOVE (verb): To want what is best for another. Willingness to serve another’s wellbeing without reciprocation.

Indeed, the pitch we were meant to live at is love. Life never feels quite right unless love is the best and greatest part of it. … Once we are awakened to love as the lifelong purpose of our hearts, then feeling love for all the world becomes the meaning – and greatest joy – of living.

David Richo, The Sacred Heart of the World

This year, as I came to the 40 year mark in my life, I felt compelled to investigate Love. Specifically:

What does it mean for me (an intorvert, INTJ, Enneagram 5) to live out God’s Love in this world?

I believe we are all called to love. It’s the greatest commandment. It encompasses loving God, loving oneself, and loving others.

As different members of Christ’s body, living out his purpose on Earth, we’re each given unique gifts, serving various functions.

I have been blessed with many examples of warm, generous givers in my life. These people clearly embody Love to others, and I often wish I had their ability to encourage, uplift, share, and support in the same way and to the same extent.

It’s not necessarily that I am incapable of these traits or behaviors. But I do know I was born into this world with different energies, different inclinations, different interests, different talents, different personality resources, and different gifts than many of my role models.

This gap, between their gifts and mine, caused me (at best) to wonder and (at worst) to doubt.

I realized that I could expend a lot of effort (and self-criticism) on what doesn’t come naturally, striving to model my own acts of Love in ways that may not be sustainable or achievable.

I’m not implying I should abandon “traditional” acts of Love completely. But maybe I could focus on living out Love in ways that are the best fit for me, for my unique gifts.

There is a place for me in the world as I have been created.

May you never compare yourself to those who grow in more lively environments. May you trust that your contribution matters, even if it seems subtle.

~ Morgan Harper Nichols

So what exactly does it look like to Love, being uniquely me?

I started by reading and researching. One of the best resources for me came from the book, Forty Days on Being a Five (Enneagram Daily Reflections):

When we think of the life of Jesus, our minds may be drawn to the many portrayals of his constant and consistent connection with others. This is also true: he often withdrew. He often went away to pray. When it comes to fast-paced patterns of community and social life, we are free to take this time too.

I have been uniquely gifted in being mindful of time and energy and thinking things through. … I can share what I’ve learned with others.

~ Morgan Harper Nichols – Artist, Poet & Enneagram 5

I still have much to explore in this vein, but I’ve started a list to remind myself of what “living out Love” can mean for me.

If you’re reading this and you have suggestions to add, or an example of a different role model who might exemplify an unconventional version of living out Love, please share in the comments.

Love can also be…

  • acting thoughtfully and intentionally
  • listening
  • helping solve problems
  • being open and willing to grow
  • using knowledge or research to help others
  • giving grace even when it’s not deserved
  • advocating for the marginalized
  • standing up for the rights of the vulnerable
  • speaking the language of the foreigner so they feel seen
  • creating new possibilities for others
  • speaking the truth even when it’s not popular
  • allowing room for difference
  • gathering people together
  • remembering names and faces

To be continued…

* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

30+ Life Lessons From 40 Years of Life

Life lessons, reflections, and observations from my 40 years on Earth

I’ve always appreciated learning what wisdom others have gleaned from their experiences, and I hope perhaps something here might be helpful to someone else’s journey.

40 is a lot of things so I’ve started with what I have and may continue to add more as this year progresses…

  1. Perfect is the enemy of good. The sooner we realize that perfection isn’t attainable – for ourselves or to expect it of others – the better. Yes, we should all strive for excellence when it matters, but more often than not, just getting something out there in the world (like this blog post) is more important than anguishing over whether or not it’s just right.
  2. Surround yourself with good influences. I’ve heard “You are the sum of the people around you” in different ways throughout my life but I credit this lesson to a much-revered choir teacher who shared it in high school.

    I was fortunate to find a small group of girls in high school who enjoyed good, clean fun and accepted my reserved, goofy, and sometimes overly-blunt ways. Those friends had such a positive impact on my life choices, and most of us are still friends today.
  3. Small things with big love. I used to think I needed to do something big with my life for it to matter. None of us are so important that we can sway the cosmos. Still, the impact we make within our own small spheres of influence do matter. How you treat the person right in front of you can change their world. Even if one person is better off for having known you, it matters to that one person.
  4. Go love. That’s the plan. The meaning or purpose of life doesn’t have to look a certain way. I used to think I needed to start a non-profit or save the world somehow to fulfill my purpose. Over time, I’ve shed this rigidity and accepted the more general principle, inspired by Bob Goff, that the meaning of life is to love.
  5. The world is utterly broken. It may sound pessimistic, yet I find it important to mourn how profoundly our world is “not as it should be”. It is beyond any of our human abilities to save, and at the same time, I believe we’re each called by an innate sense of what “should be,” that comes from beyond our world, to do our own small part in its restoration.
  6. Life is picking up broken pieces and trying to make something beautiful. Because we’ll never be done encountering the world’s brokenness, we each learn our own ways to take pain, hardship, or injustice and create something good. Not that “everything happens for a reason” but every broken thing can be made into something new.
  7. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. … We are workers, not master builders. Ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

    I find this poem, attributed to Oscar Romero, to be an important revelation about our place in the big picture. And a similar quote I love is: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.”
  8. Marriage, in the best way, is a refiner’s fire. No one has helped me grow more than my life partner, Jedd. It takes a trusting, intense, ongoing relationship like marriage to expose our flaws and give them a chance to “burn” off.
  9. Adults aren’t so intimidating. I remember in college, I was intimidated to be invited to a “grown up party.” When I told my Mom, she sort of laughed and shared that adults may look older on the outside, but inside they’re the same people they’ve always been. The gulf between age groups was not as wide as I imagined.
  10. 28 and 38 feel nearly identical. I was surprised to age ten years and feel practically the same. This might be different for those with children, but apart from some additional life experience, I found I really didn’t feel much older even a decade later.
  11. Save the best for last. This is my motto when it comes to meals as well as life in general. In whatever way is in my control, saving the best for last keeps me always looking forward instead of feeling let down by what’s to come.
  12. Love people. Use things. Mixing up these two is trouble.
  13. Less than 20% of people are actually self-aware of how they come off to others. A researcher shared this stat on the Hidden Brain podcast.

    In my college years especially, there were several instances where someone I trusted shared how my behavior was coming across as stand-offish or uncaring to others. I was shocked, but they were valuable lessons. Without outside feedback, I had little opportunity to realize these shortcomings and try to improve.

    Knowing that it’s not easy to be truly self-aware or to invite criticism, we can give each other a little more grace.
  14. Introverts have an underutilized, quiet power. Our modern world is biased toward extroverts. Charisma and entertainment captures our attention. But we have so much to gain by rewarding and pursuing the qualities of introverts: thoughtfulness, perceptiveness, calmness under pressure, reliability…

    For more on this, I highly recommend the book Quiet by Susan Cain.
  15. Only work with friends if you’re willing to treat the partnership as any other business. Spell things out in writing, anticipate disagreements, don’t take it personally, and don’t expect leniency because you also have a personal relationship. If you’re not willing to do that, best to stay friends and avoid working together.
  16. The Perseid meteor shower comes around annually and the skies are often clear in August – don’t miss it!
  17. Parenting and teaching are two jobs I have exceeding respect for. Both deserve all the support society can muster. Neither should be taken lightly, which is part of the reason why I have thoughtfully deemed myself: not the best fit.
  18. I only recently unlocked the two secrets to drinking enough water every day: 1) Always having a nice water bottle (for me, this includes a straw) next to me. 2) Intermittent fasting helps me start the day with natural reminders to hydrate before I’m satiated with food.
  19. Understanding personality/psychology is immensely helpful in relationships. We all have a default assumption that others see and experience the world the way we do, a misconception which is the source of many conflicts. When I learned I was an INTJ and then a Questioner and then an Enneagram 5, I had so much better awareness and vocabulary to help share parts of myself that had caused misunderstandings before.

    Likewise, learning about others helps me interact more compassionately and effectively. Like this year, learning the definition and traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder brought clarity and helped get us unstuck from a toxic situation.
  20. Love has the power of a tiny sprout breaking through a concrete sidewalk. I love this unlikely but factual image, reminiscent of Wall-E or Planet of the Apes, and how the idea it brings to mind was spelled out by Maggie of the Pantsuit Politics podcast: “In every dark, lonely corner of this world today, there is no place so dark, so persecuted, so attacked, so racist, so terrible that love cannot get in.”

    I believe it. Because as much as I’ve seen horrible things in our world, I’ve also seen how love and light can always reach in.
  21. “The pitch we were meant to live at is love [devotion to the wellbeing of others]. Life never feels quite right unless love is the best and greatest part of it… Once we are awakened to love as the lifelong purpose of our hearts, then feeling love for all the world become the meaning – and greatest joy – of living.” – David Richo
  22. Everyone has their own gift of intelligence. While I happened to have the temperament and intelligence that allowed me to get good grades in school, I see now that our academic system only affirms a very narrow definition of success, which doesn’t serve individuals or the flourishing of our communities.

    Someone’s giftings, talents, and types of intelligence may not fit society’s mold, but that doesn’t mean they’re less important or less worthy. Communities need diversity in types of intelligence: emotional, scientific, auditory, artistic, healing, verbal, athletic, analytical, strategic… We need to find more ways to let each of our unique gifts develop, to be the best versions of our unique selves.
  23. Your body intuits things before your brain does. As someone who processes most of life internally in my head, this has taken me a very long time to figure out.

    I’m still learning to recognize and trust my own instincts by noticing when I feel at peace or when I feel a subtle but sickening dread about a choice I’m making. I’m learning to notice physical signs of emotion that help me identify when something is bothering me and why, rather than obliviously feeling agitated.
  24. Don’t be surprised when standing up for yourself can be an uphill battle. When I was young, I remember my Dad imparting this fact of life: no matter what you do, not everyone is always going to like you. And that you need to “be your own cheerleader.”

    Self-love, self-respect, and self-trust are important foundations to carry us through a world that wants us to follow a certain blueprint or bend to aspirations we may not necessarily believe in. Standing up for ourselves is not easy, but it’s worth it.
  25. Fear is a friend and an enemy. It’s important to understand the difference between fear that comes from the stories we tell ourselves vs. real fear that is our body’s way of telling us about legitimate dangers. Sometimes things are scary specifically because there’s a tug on our heart to move forward and overcome it, to reach somewhere better than where we’ve been.
  26. Take screen sabbaths. Even if you don’t work at a computer, most of us have mini personal computers (smartphones) constantly in our hands or pockets, feeding an increasing frenzy of dopamine hits and never letting our brain just relax or… heaven forbid… get bored.

    It takes deliberate planning to avoid screens for a whole day, but it is well worth the try. I’ve found that when I actually do this, I am more likely to have something near an epiphany … or at least get some real rest.
  27. Look for work that fits how you want to live your days. This is admittedly a privileged perspective, but if you have some modicum of choice around the work you can do, I suggest prioritizing the activities and the people you want to spend your precious waking hours on.

    Too often we’re sold a career path that takes over our lives. When Jedd and I started prioritizing flexibility, travel, health, and family, we found work that allows us to fit those values into our daily lives. I have no regrets.
  28. The older I get, the more I want to know about my ancestors. I’m fortunate to have research from family historians who came before me, which I started reviewing during the pandemic. It’s fascinating to think about all the people whose countless, diverse experiences led up to my birth. The sheer number of great-great-great-great and great-great-great-great-great grandparents each of us has is sort of mind boggling in itself!
  29. Be where your feet are. A new friend shared this mantra with me, and it’s the perfect reminder for a forward-thinker like me. I’m constantly planning ahead, which I enjoy. But I have a feeling that the moments we truly pause to be present are our best chance of transcendence, grasping eternity, in this life.

    Being fully aware of the people and the place right in front of us, where are feet currently are, is an act of gratitude and centering. This is something I want to practice much more.
  30. There’s little better (for me) than being an Aunty. I’m forever grateful to my brothers and sisters-in-law who gave me the gift of this role. My (now 4!) nieces and (one) nephew light up my life. I hope to be a part of their lives as much as I can, with a strong devotion to their growth and wellbeing.
  31. Busyness is bad news. Time is one of our most precious resources in life. Feeling that our time is limited makes us less likely to look outside ourselves. Though being busy has become a status symbol, or makes us feel important, I think our goal should be the opposite.
  32. Productivity does not make us more worthy. I learned a hard lesson in college when I tried to do all. the. things. Classes, planning campus events, assisting the French teacher, joining clubs, exercising, hanging out with friends, taking on leadership roles. I finally realized how exhausted I was and how I couldn’t do anything well if I tried to do everything.

    In Peace Corps Jamaica, I was forced to slow down. If it rained, no one went out. Even the laundry couldn’t dry on a rainy day. Running an errand at the cell phone store would take a whole afternoon, if you were lucky not to have to come back a second time. I learned to be ok accomplishing just one or two tiny little things in a given day.
  33. My capacity each day is limited. Being able to slow down served me well during pandemic lock downs, but I became even more accustomed to minimal activity/socializing/achievement in a given day. I learned through the Enneagram that my personality feels capacity limits more than most and needs to conserve energy in order to face the external world as my best self. I’m learning to embrace that and not apologize for it.
  34. Do something active every day. Exercising is good for our brains and our bodies, and the habit of being active each day is one of the best commitments I’ve ever made to myself. Over the decades, this has included a little less running and more walking, plus more regular yoga or stretching. To me, making this a sustainable, daily habit that I can continue into old age is more important than what activity I actually do or how many calories I burn.

    More to come (maybe)…
* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

My Favorite Quotes Collection

Hat tip to author and blogger, Tsh Oxenreider, for the Commonplace Notebook idea. This is my own digital collection of inspiring and meaningful quotations about intentional living, faith, achievement, work, life, and more.

Please check back as I’ll continue to update this page…

Comparison is the thief of joy.

T. Roosevelt

If you really want something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.

Jim Rohn

There are no great acts, only small acts done with great love.

Mother Theresa
Continue reading “My Favorite Quotes Collection”
* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

Reflective Journal Prompts for Intentional Living

I’ve kept a personal journal fairly regularly since grade school. Being a practical person, most of my journal entries have simply been records of what happened.

In high school, I tried a different approach. I bought a big, textbook-sized journal and began processing concepts, trying to grasp new ideas by wrestling them onto a page in my own words. It was something I referred back to often and enjoyed immensely.

Recently, I’ve kept up a personal journal to record significant happenings and check in with my own well-being. I average making an entry once or twice a week, but I try not to worry about the timing. I’ve also used a combination of real notebooks and Evernote on my laptop to take notes on the various things I’m learning from books, workshops, etc.

Then, once a year, Jedd and I take time to do some intentional reflection during our Annual Review. This takes place every December. We look back on the previous year to analyze what went well, what we could do better. From there, we plot out our goals for the year to come.

The Annual Review has become such a useful and impactful practice. I realized I was craving more of that deep reflection throughout the year. 

Even though I continue to journal fairly regularly, I haven’t actually been using the journal for deeper reflection. It’s been more of a quick record-keeping practice. As an introvert who processes thoughts internally, journaling is an under-utilized tool for better self-awareness and personal growth.

So I decided to be more intentional about journaling. I thought I’d share my new plan, in case it’s helpful to anyone else. Continue reading “Reflective Journal Prompts for Intentional Living”

* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

All is calm. All is bright: Advent 2018

“All is calm, all is bright.” It’s a delightful sentiment, though not typically how I’m experiencing the world these days.

That’s why I’m making it my motto for Advent.

Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, tends to hold a lot more anticipation and magic in childhood. These days, I struggle to find ways to make it special.

To me, Christmas has a “true meaning” indeed. It has nothing to do with Santa, giving or receiving presents, and it’s definitely not about shopping.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. A real live baby boy who changed the world. God walking on Earth. The man who was persecuted, whose body couldn’t be found in his tomb three days later, and who appeared to hundreds of people – people who became martyrs in dedication to his kingship.

It’s world-shattering stuff.

Worthy of pause. Reflection. Introspection. Action.

Every year I struggle with how to do this.

I don’t particularly enjoy tradition and ceremony for its own sake. It’s too easy to go through the motions.

I want to be intentional about Advent. But how?

I heard of the idea of Continue reading “All is calm. All is bright: Advent 2018”

* Jedd Thoughts, Intentional Living

7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years of Marriage (updated)

Ten years ago today Michelle and I stood before family and friends and committed to being life partners. It’s hard to believe how much time has passed and yet, there’s always a newness in our relationship as we keep working on being better individuals, and working through challenges to grow closer and stronger as a couple.

3 years ago I wrote this post and upon revisiting it, a lot of the things I wrote still hold true. But to mark this anniversary I also wanted to add 3 new things I’ve learned from our 10 years of marriage. Here’s the original post with some new thoughts: Continue reading “7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years of Marriage (updated)”

* Life Updates, * Michelle Thoughts, challenges, Intentional Living

Will 2018 Be Your Year of Simple?

Seven years ago we made a life-changing decision to serve in the Peace Corps. We put in our notices at work, ended the lease on our apartment, and sold all of our furniture. We kept our winter clothes and yearbooks in storage with family and headed off to volunteer in Jamaica with the required maximum of two suitcases each.

Living with less was completely liberating. Not only did we have less stuff to keep track of, our weekly schedules in that rural Jamaican community were simplified, too. When we came home from work, we had time to read, journal, practice new recipes… In Jamaica, it was nearly impossible to get more than two real tasks done per day, so we became accustomed to a slower pace of life.

That simpler life was so much less stressful – it was something we vowed to keep in our lives moving forward. And we’re passionate about helping others do the same. Continue reading “Will 2018 Be Your Year of Simple?”

* Michelle Thoughts, challenges, Intentional Living

Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List

I promised myself that I wouldn’t actually be old until age 75. But turning 35 means I’ve left my “early thirties” behind, which makes me feel that I no longer fit in the “young adult” category. I’m doing my best to accept this shift in identity without dragging my feet.

I confess that one of my biggest fears about aging is that life will somehow go downhill. I realize that the physical obstacles will increase – I’ve had chronic pain and headaches since my mid-twenties, so I don’t have much hope of anything getting better in that regard. But my real concern doesn’t involve bodily functions.

I remember as a Continue reading “Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List”

* Jedd Thoughts, * Life Updates, Intentional Living

What Matters Most

Every year I write a birthday post reflecting on something I’ve learned in the past year about myself (and thoughts about getting older). It’s a great way to see where I’ve been, who I am today, and hopefully reflects the person I am working on becoming.  

I want to ask you a question: what core values drive the major decisions you make for your life?

In other words, what are the things you value the most? Do you know? Have you ever asked yourself this question? If you do know what matters the most to you, do you live your life in such a way that reflects these values?

This is the foundation to Continue reading “What Matters Most”

* Jedd Thoughts, * Life Updates, challenges, Intentional Living

2016 Annual Review Part 1: How Well Did The Year of Productivity Go?

For the last three years, Michelle and I have done a practice called an Annual Review. It’s an opportunity to intentionally reflect on the past year and think of the things that went well, things that didn’t go so well, and to take all that information and start planning for the upcoming year and beyond. We highly recommend this activity as an individual, as a couple, and even as a family. Don’t know how to start one? Check out this awesome free workbook from our friends at Live Your Legend and example posts from the Art of Non-Conformity

At the beginning of this year I made a pronouncement to make this the “year of productivity”. I even wrote a post explaining my plan here.

I was going to:

  • Learn Spanish (mind)
  • Get ripped and in-shape (body)
  • Grow in my faith (spirit)

How did I do? Well… Continue reading “2016 Annual Review Part 1: How Well Did The Year of Productivity Go?”