Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Finding the Perfect Morning Routine (Out of a Sea of Less-Than-Ideal Ones)

Coffee Break by Kenny Louie (Flickr)
Establishing some sort of morning routine is not new to me. Keeping it for more than a week is. Whatever I set up – whether it involves daily Bible reading, exercise, or chores – it all seems to fall apart pretty quickly. That can be attributed partly to laziness and partly to having an irregular schedule when it comes to sleep, meals, work, school, etc. pretty much all my life.

I suspect that the real problem is that I tend to be way too ambitious with my to-do lists. Or maybe I’m just not choosing things that really do energize and motivate me, but things I felt I “have to” do. As a participant in the “Create a Perfect Morning Routine” class with Skillshare, my goal is to create a plan that is not only manageable, even on a fully packed day, but is also filled with enjoyable activities that won’t leave me searching for an excuse not to do them. I need a routine that’s not about chores and things I need to get done, but one that prepares me for the stressful day ahead.

My Primary Focus
My primary focus is destressing my life. I want to begin my day feeling refreshed and optimistic about what lies ahead.

Positive Habits
Devotional Bible Reading, Exercise, Listening to Music, Journaling, Meditation, Prayer, Self Improvement, Staying Informed, To-Do List

Daily Focus
Option 1: Journaling
Option 2: Listening to Music (Pandora channels, Amazon Prime Music, or Classical KUSC FM 91.5 radio)
Option 3: Prayer
Option 4: Devotional Reading (Bible)
Option 6: Self Improvement (reading self help books)
Option 7: Staying Informed (BBC News, NYTimes, NPR, theSkimm)
Option 6: Creating a To-Do List

Ideal Morning Routine
7:00 a.m. – Wake Up
7:05 a.m. – Check Email and Text Messages (in case of anything important)
7:10 a.m. – Daily Focus (preferably with hot chocolate or a vanilla latte)
7:35 a.m. – Exercise (Daily Yoga app on Android phone)
7:50 a.m. – Meditation (Calm app on Android phone)
8:00 a.m. – Begin day

Note: This morning routine was created as the project for the “Create a Perfect Morning Routine” class on Skillshare, taught by freelance designer and illustrator Jeff Finley, author of Wake Up: The Morning Routine That Will Change Your Life. My review of the course: Sure, it needs some editing, and some slides with bullet-points would help. At times I even found the content a little dull. However, I was finally motivated to establish a workable morning routine, and for that reason I'm grateful for this course. Therefore, I recommend it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Studying Genesis, Part 1: Mankind’s Need for Redemption

Agry (Ararat) view from plane under naxcivan sharur by Самый древний (Wikimedia Commons)

“In the beginning…” This is the opening of the first book of our Bible, hence its title in Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית (Bereshit, “In the beginning”). Two stories are shared: The first tells of an all-powerful God who speaks the world and everything in it into existence out of a watery chaos. He creates people in His image and charges them with reproducing and ruling over the rest of creation. The second story is about God’s intimate relationship with these people, shown by how He provides for their needs and sets rules for them to follow, including those concerning what to eat. The relationship intact, man works in a fertile garden paradise, naked and unashamed. However, this relationship is damaged when man violates God’s law.

Next comes a series of accounts of ancient men, their families, and their deeds, each account introduced as “the book of [the] generation of [X],” hence the collection’s Greek title: Γένεσις (Genesis, “generation”/“birth”/“descent”/“lineage”). Across all of these accounts is an apparent theme: mankind’s perpetual sinfulness. There are two ways God addresses the problem: divine punishment and divine plan.

The use of punishment is illustrated through the first cycle of stories from Adam to Noah. Adam and Eve disobey God by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As a result, they are exiled from the Garden of Eden and prevented from accessing the Tree of Life. The ground is also cursed. Cain kills his brother and is also exiled, doomed to become a fugitive and wanderer, who ironically builds the first city. Sin continues as Cain’s descendant Lamech also murders. Sin also continues as other descendants of Adam engage in wickedness, which may have included cult prostitution. Because of this sinfulness, God decides to destroy mankind.

Yet out of this evil rises one righteous man named Noah, a descendent of Adam’s son Seth, a man who walks with God rather than hiding from Him. Noah’s father, the other Lamech, prophesizes that he will be the one who will put an end to God’s curse upon the ground. God recognizes Noah’s righteousness and chooses his family to be saved from destruction. The world returns to a water chaos, and a new world emerges. The second cycle begins: Noah is a sort of a second Adam, and the ground is no longer cursed. When Noah builds a sacrifice to God, He is appeased and promises never again to curse the ground because of man’s sin. Then God charges Noah with reproducing, settling across the land, and ruling the rest of creation. New laws are set concerning what to eat and the killing of one’s fellow men. God also makes a covenant (i.e., agreement, contract, promise) with Noah to never send the flood waters again to destroy mankind.

The ground now free from a curse, proves bountiful for Noah. He enjoys the fruit of his labor, naked and unashamed, in a new paradise. However, one of his sons, Ham, sins. In response, Noah curses Ham's son Canaan. Then the descendants of Noah’s sons refuse to settle across the land, preferring to congregate in one place. God forces them to scatter by confusing their languages. Generations later, God calls Abraham, a descendant of Noah’s son Shem. Abraham becomes sort of a second Noah. God makes a covenant with him, promising to make his descendants a great nation and bless all of the nations of the world through him. What then follows in the rest of the book are the accounts of the generations of Abraham’s descendants, called the patriarchs, telling their stories leading up to the creation of this promised nation.

What does this story mean for those of us reading it today? In these first chapters of Genesis, we are given an idea of what God is like and how He’s chosen to deal with humanity. Like the ancient Israelites, we can see the book as sharing their “origin story,” explaining how and why they came to be. As Christians, we can see how mankind has sinned and continued to sin through the ages, but also God’s plan for mankind’s ultimate redemption beginning to unfold.

Note: This Bible study lesson was written for and presented at the July 3, 2015 meeting of a young women’s Bible study, for which I am currently facilitator.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

‘Smart Girl’s Guide to God, Guys, and the Galaxy’ (Book Review)

Growing up, I read a lot of neat little books – both Christian and secular, both good and bad – advising how to dress, act, and survive the teenage years. That might have been ages ago, but I confess that genre can still pique my interest. So it’s no wonder that I picked up a copy of Smart Girl’s Guide to God, Guys, and the Galaxy: Save the Drama! and 100 Other Practical Tips for Teens (Shiloh Run Press, 2014) after stumbling across it online. Authored by Susie Shellenberger, editor of the now defunct BRIO and Sisterhood Magazine, and stand-up comedienne Kristin Weber, Smart Girl’s Guide promises helpful advice with a dash of humor.

To be honest, I expected a lot more from Smart Girl’s Guide. While there are a few unexpected gems, like “Take an apologetics course,” much of the advice – and the reasoning behind it – is cliché: Respect your parents. Study your Bible. Dress modestly. Trust God rather than peers. In a huge market like young adult nonfiction, something unique is needed to make one book stand out from all the competitors, either in the topics covered or in how the advice is offered. Smart Girl’s Guide appears to have neither. It’s just another fish in the sea.

That’s not to say that the authors didn’t put a lot of effort into it. It just doesn’t really show. The content is generally boring, and the jokes tend to fall flat. It would’ve been easily improved by organizing the hodgepodge of tips around particular themes and eliminating some of the vagueness and repetition. There’s also room for expansion. I would’ve also liked to see lists of suggested books and classic movies that aren’t limited to a few of the authors’ favorites. And some of the tips require more research to actually carry them out. That might not seem like a big deal, but guides like this should aim to be comprehensive, requiring little additional work so that the kids will actually complete the tasks.

I also thought that the perspective offered was often too adult. Kids should be learning how to protect their personal information online and manage online account settings, not relying on a crutch like a junk email account to handle spam. They shouldn’t be signing up for online contests anyway considering the legal age requirements. And while window shopping at a mall might be a waste of time for the authors, it’s a convenient and relatively safe activity for teens. The authors’ alternative – hiking in the wilderness, with no mention of getting a chaperone – might sound like a great idea to many non-parents, but it’s probably one of the most unsafe things teen girls could do.

Another part that needed work was the titled advice about dealing with the opposite sex. “Have guy ‘friends,’ not boyfriends” sounds like a brochure headline for a one-way trip to the “friend zone.” And trust me, don’t ever go there. It’s lonely. I’m not saying girls can’t have male friends, but they often want more than that. They want attention, love, and sex. Those are biological realities, and God’s responsible for them. We need to quit pretending that these desires don’t exist or that they are somehow abnormal or bad. Instead, show teens how to be more selective in whom they date. Promote group and chaperoned dates to avoid being put in compromising positions. And encourage more honest parent-teen talks about things like sexual temptation and pornography. Since dating is probably the main topic of interest to most teen girls, I think that the authors missed a huge opportunity to make a real impact on their readers’ lives.

Perhaps my expectations were a little high, but nevertheless I was left disappointed. And that’s rather unfortunate because, of all the books in the series, Smart Girl’s Guide has the most potential. Teen girls eat up this kind of stuff, and their parents will often buy it for them. A book marketed to teen boys (The Guy's Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket), their mothers (The Savvy Mom's Guide to Sons), or teen girls’ fathers (The Smart Dad's Guide to Daughters) are more likely to sit on the shelf.