Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

Everybody just calm down…

I’ve been trying something new lately. In the morning, before I get out of bed, I put on a 6-10 minute mediation and spend some time getting mentally and spiritually prepared for the day (it doesn’t hurt that I also get to lay there for an extra few minutes…I’m a mixed bag of motives). This morning, about a minute into this practice, my time was hijacked by a persistent cat trying to claw its way into my daughter’s bedroom. It was the equivalent to a person knocking and knocking without pause. My cat, Sunny Day, is adorable and cuddly and extremely old and this morning, very annoying. I tried to continue to focus on the words of the meditation and the music and allowing God’s spirit to enlighten me, but all I kept thinking was that I wanted to strangle my cat and scream at my daughter to just let her in already! Eventually I had to quit and go open the door. It felt useless to lay there and fight it. I gave up.

Instead, I went to my spot on the couch, in an upright position (curse you, Sunny Day!) to do some reading. Per usual, as I was reading Brene’ Brown, she just happened to be addressing the importance of cultivating calm and stillness of mind and heart; meditation. I think most of us can agree that there are great benefits of doing so. Having just written a bit about just such a topic a few days ago, I was especially intrigued by something the she pointed out about one of our biggest obstacles to actually following through with this practice: fear. She points at that “if we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us. We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up”.

The truth is, that even though I know the importance of quieting myself and being still before my God, the very idea of “creating an emotional clearing” for Him to speak or soothe gives me much anxiety. In trying to incorporate a practice to help me less anxious, I end up feeling restless and jumpy because I so do not like to be still. Why? Because I am afraid. Afraid of what He might say if we get alone together. Afraid he might tell me to “go” do something or “stop” doing something or worse, do “nothing”. Just let Him take care of it and just chill out for a half-second.

I have a friend (and it’s probably not you, but it might sound like you) who says that when she is home alone, she turns all the TVs on because she hates it when it’s quiet. She can’t handle it. She’s terrified of silence. So as she cleans or works from room to room, her mind is consistently distracted and occupied with other people’s problems, drama, or scandal. She can focus on someone else’s junk and intentionally leave no “clearing” or space for silent reflection on her own life. I can be guilty of that in my own ways. Endlessly searching for a decent song on the radio while driving to my next appointment, 3 minutes away. Laying in bed, scrolling through Netflix to find my next new series to occupy my mind until sleep comes. Scouring websites to find an essential oil that will help me lose post-cancer weight (there isn’t one, btw…). You might be able to throw in a couple examples I haven’t even thought of!

My point is this: do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to slow down. To get un-busy. To be alone. To be quiet in your own home, in your own head. In order to do this, it is imperative that you choose to believe that God loves you, knows you and longs to just “be” there with you. God isn’t waiting to get you alone so He can shame you or lecture you. Most of us do that to ourselves pretty effectively when we slow down enough to reflect on our behavior or attitudes. But God is not like that. He is kind and gentle of heart. And though he may bring to mind a stronghold (some character defect that “holds you strong”) he wants to relieve you of, He is always gracious, generous, and forgiving. We don’t have to be nervous about being alone with Him. You may very well hear a tender whisper telling you you are OK just as you are. That who you are today is enough. That where you are today is exactly where He intends for you to be. Take it one moment at a time and He will be with you.

It occurs to me that most of my attempts at quiet reflection are similar to my time in bed this morning, with Sunny Day relentlessly pawing at my daughter’s door. Life is distracting. As they say, “the struggle is real.” We can’t control whether random thoughts, unwelcomed emotions, or self-accusations come pounding on the door of our mind when we try to shut them out. All we can do is keep getting back to the business of ignoring them and putting our energy into focusing on what we love, what we are grateful for, and that God hears and sees us. He cherishes us. In doing that, we let go of fear and embrace the “peace that passes understanding”.

In Isaiah 30:15 God says to His people, “When you come to me, you will find rest and safety. When you are quiet and trust Me, you will find strength.” Remember that we are His people too.

Faith/Spirituality, Trust

Napa Strong (or “A Walk in the Clouds”)

I have been home from sunny Napa Valley for 4 days now. Since I got home to Illinois we have had spells of sunshine, thunderstorms and on Easter, it snowed. I just need you to feel sorry for me for a minute or two…

I had beautiful trip last week. My mom and 2 college friends and I spent a week “playing”. We toured wineries, ate exquisite food and stayed up way past a responsible bedtime watching movies and eating a variety of salty and sweet snacks. Every night for five nights. It was heavenly.

One afternoon we headed up Mt. Veeder to one of my favorite wineries: Hess. It is a rustic winery located up a windy, narrow road, nestled in the side of the mountain, making you feel like you’re in Tuscany. I love this winery because it also boasts a 3 story art museum, making it worth the trip to it’s isolated location, away from most other wineries in the valley (perhaps to give tourists something to do between tasting lots of wine and driving down a curvy road?).  On the drive up, there were several vineyards along the hillside. I mentioned to my crew that I thought I remembered the movie “A Walk in the Clouds” (with Keanu Reeves) was filmed there. Anyone else remember that one? If you never saw it, or don’t want to admit that you did, there is a scene where a vineyard catches on fire. The fire roars through the vines and ends with the vineyard being destroyed completely. Everyone is devastated.

When I brought this up, my mom said that my when my dad saw that movie, he was a bit put off because “vineyards don’t burn like that.” Not realistic, in other words. And lest you think my dad’s wisdom may not carry enough weight for those of you who don’t know him, this exact fact was confirmed when we were doing our tasting at the winery. We asked if this is where “A Walk in the Clouds” was filmed and he didn’t miss a beat. Before he even answered our question he went on a rant about how inauthentic it was because “vineyards don’t catch on fire like that!” I was confused about that because everyone (who didn’t live in Napa) had been panicking about the Napa fires that ravaged the Valley in October, worrying about the future of the hundreds of wineries in the area. But now that I think about it, there wasn’t much coverage about the vineyards themselves being threatened (maybe from the smoke and ash, but not the fire). Those of us who don’t live there worried about that, but locals knew better.

So why is that? And how did I grow up in Napa and miss that vital bit of information??? I was perplexed about this and started to ask more questions and read a bit about it. From what I gathered, there are two important characteristics of a well-maintained vineyard that protect it and keep it from going up in flames; it is irrigated and free of debris.

Naturally, my blog brain went to town. If we are like this vineyard, often threatened by flames of tragedy and trials and trouble, we too need to be irrigated and free of debris.

Irrigation is different from just being watered. It is a slow, steady releasing of moisture so that a perfect balance of wet and dry is maintained at all times. It’s not like how I water my yard in the summer: Green grass. Hot weather. Forget to water. Forget to water. Water. Water. Water. Green grass. Forget to water. Brown grass. Forget to water. Water. Water. Water. Too late. Dead grass. Irrigation prevents those extremes and keeps a nice steady flow going, protecting it from the flames that surround it. I have mentioned before that our best defense against outside stressors is to keep in daily (meaning, all-day-every-day) communication with God. He needs to be our supernatural drip system. Sure we can come to him after period of dryness and get ourselves greened up, but the roller coaster of drought and panic-watering is exhausting and doesn’t give us that general sense of peace and poise that marks the life of one who is continually looking to God as their sustenance and protection. This means we can be connected to him throughout our day-trusting him, seeing others through his eyes, and interpreting circumstances with his perspective. It is much more effective than doing life on our own until the fire starts to threaten us and then trying to keep it at bay with “buckets of water”. If we stay irrigated, communing with God day in and day out, we don’t need to fear the fires that otherwise threaten us when we get dried up.

Free of debris. I love that. Keeping our lives free from the debris and clutter that distracts us from keeping our vineyard safe. This could include so many parts of living in our world, it’s hard to put my finger on anything particular. Maybe it’s different for everyone. Do you have character defects (selfishness, self-righteousness, greed, envy, self-pity, dishonesty, etc.) that are attracting the flames? Or maybe it’s all good stuff, just in the wrong order. Instead of God, Heather, Blake, my kids and then everyone else, I sometimes live like it’s Heather, everyone else, Blake, my kids, and then God. Keeping God as my top priority keeps the debris away. Or maybe it’s just outright sin. Is your life cluttered and ready to go up in flames due to an affair, a shady business deal, an arrogant, divisive attitude at your church, an abusive tongue that is devastating your wife/husband/kids? Whatever your debris is, rid yourself of it. Clear it out quickly and finally. It is dangerous and invites the fires that God longs to protect you from.

During the fires that threatened everyone in the Napa Valley, one of my family members, who is an amazing artist, created a logo for t-shirts, stickers and hats that were sold to raise funds to help the families who lost their homes. It said “Napa Strong”. So that’s my charge to you and to me. A Mantra, if you will. Be “Napa Strong”. Use that phrase to remind yourself that you (the vineyard) will maintain a natural fire-wall if you keep your self “irrigated and free of debris”.

Anxiety/Worry, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Recovery, Trust

“Act as if”

“Easier said than done”, or in my case, “easier blogged than believed”. It’s ever so much easier for me to write about wise ways to live than it is to actually live them out in my daily life. The other day my son came in the room while I was working and asked what I was doing. I told him I was editing my book to get it ready for publication. His response? “You’re writing a book?” I told him that indeed I was and that maybe he should read a few of my blogs sometime. His next response? “I don’t need to read it. I live it.” I suggested that he go ahead and read it because my blogging self is much wiser and more put-together than the mom sitting before him.

In any case, I am embarrassed to admit how different my written responses and my natural life responses can be. Today I am choosing to do it differently. I caught myself early in the day, so thankfully, I just might be able to have a day that I don’t end up regretting by bedtime. I found myself anxious and worried about a variety of things that are not going my way (translation: things are not going the way I think they should go for those around me). I don’t understand decisions or actions that have effected or been made my people I love. And to be honest, I am sort of honked-off about it. Well, at first I was sad. I cried a little and did a lot of whimpering and whining in God’s direction (I’ll get to the part about how I am doing it different in a minute).

I’d been planning to write this morning, so this was really throwing a wrench in my plan for a lighter subject. But as usual, God uses my poor reactions and bratty behavior to help other people either avoid it for themselves or help them realize “they’re not the only one.”

So, to get to the point of how I am choosing to do it differently…
I choose to “act as if.” I will “act as if” I actually trust God and His plan. His plan for me and for those I love, and even for those I don’t like very much. I used to think that meant I was being inauthentic or fake. But I have come to understand it as a gesture of gratitude and trust.  An acknowledgement of the track record that God and I have developed. One in which he actually does take care of me. Every. Single. Time.

I can write/say that I trust that God knows the big picture and has a plan that is bigger than the details of my life. I can write/say that sometimes difficult circumstances and disappointments can lead me to maturity and growth that can be experienced in no other way. I can write/say that I can live with a sense of joy and serenity, even when my life doesn’t look like what I wish it looked like. I can write/say that I don’t have to be in control of everything and everyone in order to feel secure. But…when push comes to shove, I have to confess to you that I have spent many a day tangled up in knots of fear, worry, anxiety and despair. I forget to “act as if” all my words, whether written or spoken, are actually true.

As I said, today I choose to try a different route. One that might lead me to the peace that passes understanding. And if I practice “acting as if”  often enough, it will bridge the gap between how I want to live and how actually live. And maybe I won’t have to “act” anymore.

Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Cancer, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Relationships, Trust

Your own weird anniversary

I have admitted to you in the past, that I tend to put an abnormally high value on significant dates. Birthdays for sure, but anniversaries of any kind also fit nicely into my mild disorder. And I’m not talking about the kind of anniversaries they make hallmark cards for. Unfortunately, most of the anniversaries are not ones that anyone would want to celebrate, because they, as a general rule, mark a day (or hour) in time that a traumatic event changed the course of my unsuspecting life. February 6th, 2015 was one such day. It was the day I sat in my kitchen while a doctor informed me, over the phone, that I had Leukemia.

For the past 3 years I have been acutely aware of the coming and going of this particular date. Each year, I feel the need to do something on that exact day that helps me recognize it. I know it sounds weird that I want to remember that day at all. My family sure doesn’t. On the first anniversary of my diagnosis, I made my kids and husband go eat at the hospital with me. I spent so much time there that it felt like a good way to celebrate not being there anymore. They were less than enthusiastic about this. Apparently they would prefer to forget any of it happened at all. It was horrific and hard for them and they have no interest in “celebrating” anything to do with it. But for me, as the person who was fully “invested” in it non-stop for 7 months and sat in a hospital bed for 70 days, it was necessary to go back. To relive, in a sense. To even honor and revere the events of that daunting day. Because today, though Leukemia changed my life forever, it holds no power over me.

This year, on my 3 year anniversary of being diagnosed, I decided not to involve my family in my weird little commemoration. I went to lunch by myself at the hospital cafeteria, like I had done dozens of times during my treatments. Then I went up to 2E, the floor where I had stayed in 10 different rooms over 7 months. Now, at the risk of implying that the world revolves around me, I find it interesting that it is being remodeled and on that exact day, actually about that hour, they officially closed and locked the doors. Everyone had been moved to a different floor. No more walking, again, the floors that I had paced a thousand times, trying to keep my strength up. Nothing would ever look the same and I had no more visual to bring me back to that point in time that feels frozen, sealed off, set apart.

I made my way up to the 4th floor, where they had re-stationed all the nurses. I knew I needed to connect with them. Thank them, on this anniversary, for their compassion and kindness. I got to see three of the nurses who were there for me during my entire 7 month battle. One of the nurses I saw that day was also on shift the night we came in 3 years before; fully in shock and shook to our core. She just kept telling us that it was going to be ok. This is just a bump in the road and we were all going to get past it. Just a little detour. I don’t know why, but I believed her. How else could I move forward?

Today we are indeed past it. But make no mistake, it will never be something I will chose to forget. It’s impossible. The reason I feel compelled to look back and remember, is because I am aware (on some days, more than others) that God used the disease of cancer to root out a cancer in me that has nothing to do with cancer. If you have read any of my blogs, by now, you know exactly what I mean by that. To date, I have written (the ability to write is a gift I was given by God only upon my diagnosis) over 400 blogs addressing the common diseases of the heart and the various remedies I have found to combat them. So, even though my battle with Leukemia is over, my battle against fear, worry, anger, and control is chronic. It takes daily doses of prayer, meditation and vulnerability with God and you all, to have any kind of success in combatting such plagues.

Looking back reminds me that God and I have a track record. When I trust Him, He shows up. When I ask him to help me learn from the hard stuff, He accommodates. When I beg him for peace in the midst of painful experiences, He comforts me. When I allow Him, He uses my dark and embarrassing past to encourage friends, family and strangers who thought they were unique in their depravity.

Don’t be afraid to look back, but don’t live there. Do it with a sense of awe and reverence and gratitude for where you are now. You are exactly who and where you are supposed to be. If you don’t have one already, God wants to develop a track record of trust with you, starting today. Let this date (write down: February 22nd, 2018) mark the day you chose to let Him use your whole life, the good the bad and the ugly, to bring His light and love and hope to desperate and hurting people.

…Now you have your own weird little anniversary to celebrate 🤗

Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

FOCUS!

I have a lot to do today. A lot of odds and ends; phone calls and appointments to make, follow ups on work and school activities, straightening after a weekend of ignoring household duties. All these duties are causing me to feel a bit flustered in my head and frozen on the couch, unable to sort everything out and make a go of any of it. From past experience (read: from doing it the wrong way over and over until I learned a bit of a lesson) I know that my day would continue on like this unless I pause and pray and “get God in there.” So I forced myself to pick up some books and start reading, getting out of my head and listening to what God might have to say to me.

I read a couple entries in my usual books and then one in a book I started reading again after a 14 year respite. It’s called “Jesus Life coach” by Laura Beth Jones. Every chapter starts off with the phrase, “With Jesus as your Life Coach you will…”. On this particular day’s reading it said that I would “Keep My Focus.” Well, that would certainly be helpful on this fine, snowy, scatter-brained Monday morning. Jones is a motivational writer and speaker, so she her main point is about finding that one thing that keeps you going and eliminating all distractions that prevent you from staying on task and being successful.  She uses Jesus’ laser-like focus on his mission, ya know, to save the planet, as motivation for us to also stay focused on what we are called to do or be in this life.

I am not arguing with her, since most organizations sink or swim based on knowing what there one thing is. But as a woman who is, at best, average at most endeavors, I have always struggled to identify my one thing. I am the quintessential “Jackof-all-trades, master of none.”

But then…

I moved on to my next reading by author Sarah Young, who writes using God’s words to us from scripture. And I kid you not-this was her opening sentence for January 29th: KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON ME (caps all hers)…let the goal of this day be to bring every thought captive to me…I will guard you and keep you in constant peace as you focus your mind on me.”

Bless God’s heart. He knows I don’t have it in me to read between the lines today. He had to repeat himself and capitalize it. Lucky for me, and maybe you, I didn’t miss the point. At least this was the point I believe he was making for me: His will for me and for my life IS the “one thing.” It overrides every other venture, goal or practice.

Think back on your life thus far. You have had gone down multiple paths that took large amounts of your time and energy and passion. Most of them were probably very good things. But we are, by nature, continuously changing and morphing. What used to light your fire just doesn’t do it for you anymore. That’s ok. It’s meant to be that way. So to hang your sign on any one door is unreasonable. There’s an ebb and flow to life that needs to be leaned in to.

There is only one constant. One over-arching awareness that must influence our every thought: God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. It must infiltrate every nook and cranny of our lives. Sometimes we have to discern His will for us in some pretty serious ways. But what I have found is that most days I just have to live out his will for me in all the tiny, seemingly insignificant encounters of my day. How did I react to the snippy sales clerk? Did I let that rude driver steal my serenity? Did my car breaking down cause me to question God’s love for me? And what about in our relationships?  Did I respond with compassion toward my discouraged teenager? Did I reach out to the friend who lost her job? Her husband? Her identity? Did I make a phone call to someone I know who is depressed or discouraged?

In the midst of all my muddled striving to make a big difference in this world, my consistent focus on God and seeking his will for me must be crystal clear.  What I accomplish in this world is significant, but also temporary and fleeting. My primary purpose, my one thing,  is to let God’s Will for me totally dominate (rule, govern, direct, be in the driver’s seat, be at the helm of, rule the roost, wear the pants 😉).<<
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Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

The secret

Almost 2,000 years ago, a guy named Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether in plenty or in want.” One might ask, how hard could his life have been in 62AD? The guy wasn’t married and didn’t have kids (need I say more?). He wasn’t slandered on social media or demeaned in the tabloids. However, a bit of history tells us he did endure a few minor inconveniences. During his short time of ministry, after God intervened and transformed him from a murderer to a missionary, he was flogged, imprisoned, beaten with rods, stoned and shipwrecked (most of them on more than one occasion). He was in danger from “rivers, bandits, his own countrymen and religious leaders.” He often went without food, sleep, water and clothing. Oh, and then there’s the anxiety from trying to spread the good news of God’s love to a people who he used to persecute and kill for believing that very thing. OK-I guess his trials and stressors might “win” over mine.

But somehow, Paul was able to find the secret to being content in all these circumstances. He credits two beliefs; 1) that he can do all things through Him, God, who give him strength and 2) he trusts that God will meet all his needs according to his glorious riches in Jesus. What amazing faith and assurance he had!

Still, I have to be honest with you about something. Even though I say I believe what Paul believes, those two “secrets” I mentioned above, I don’t alway live like I do. I don’t act as if I really believe those words for myself. In fact, here’s the reality of what I think much of the time:

I don’t want God to take care of me so I can be OK no matter what my circumstances,
I want him to make my circumstances OK so I can easily take care of myself.

That’s pretty embarrassing to say out loud. I really wish I was better than that. But my humanness and desire to be comfortable and happy and for everyone around me to behave and flourish, really gets in the way of trusting God no matter what. Being content no matter what. It’s scary when I realize that mostly I just want God to orchestrate my life so I don’t need Him so much. I mean, wouldn’t that be easier for Him anyway? He has a lot of people to help, after all. Would it be so hard to just set me on a comfortable cruising speed and let me manage things myself?

Trying to wrap this up seems a little redundant. It’s not like we haven’t figured out what must be done. There is no new information. Life is good. And sometimes it’s not. End of story. I can either complain about the times times that are “not” or turn to God for strength to get through them, trusting that He will meet all my needs according to his glorious riches. I can forget about Him when circumstances are good or I can acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from God. I can choose to live with a grateful heart.

Whether my circumstances are pleasant or pressing, depending on God and staying in tight communication with Him are the only solutions that help me tap in to Paul’s “secret” to contentment.

 

 

Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

Surefire weight-loss plan

Let’s get straight to the point. Today, I feel heavy. But not nearly as heavy as I did yesterday. I am referring to excess weight, but not the fat kind; the heart kind. I was feeling overwhelmed with obsessive thoughts about everything and everyone in my life that I can’t control. Worry and fear and a healthy dose of self-pity were paralyzing me. I couldn’t muster one positive thought or tap into even a tiny a nugget of hope. I read and prayed furiously, looking for something, anything, that might give me some relief from the despair that was consuming me.

Like I said, I am a bit lighter today. After a morning of asking God for help, he showed me, or reminded me, of a song. This memory was triggered by an entry by Sarah Young in my daily reading:

God says to us “Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression and self- pity. Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to heaven. The more you cling to this cord, the more I bear the weight of your burdens; thus, you are lightened. Heaviness is not of my kingdom. Cling to hope, and My rays of Light will reach you through the darkness.”

This message was sorely needed for me, but it’s a message I know in my head already. It wasn’t enough just to know the truth. I had to practice something different. And that “different” was revealed to me when I brought up the words to a song from my past: Garments of Praise.

The chorus begins:  Put on the garment of praise, for the spirit of heaviness.

As I began to explore what that might mean for me, what promise I could cling to so I could lighten up, I began the process of shedding the weight. I thought about writing it down as soon as it occurred to me what I needed to do. But then, I decided to actually do it so I could give some evidence of success (clearly, I still had my doubts about whether this simple plan would help at all). So what did I do? I stopped. I stopped praying for God to help or fix all the things/people that I wanted him to change/improve/empower, and I intentionally fixed my gaze on Him. I began by putting on the Garment of Praise song (Robin Marks) and sang with all my heart (the end of it has sort of an Irish jig feel, so you can even do a bit of River-dancing/clogging if you’re in decent shape!). The song has words that helped me express my desire to be comforted and refreshed and healed:

Make these broken weary bones
Rise to dance again
Wet this dry and thirsty land
With a river
Lord our eyes are fixed on you
We are waiting
For your garland of grace
As we praise your name

But it’s very hard to praise someone, namely God, when you are consumed with yourself. Throughout the Bible, praise is often is associated with sacrifice. If that seems weird to you, let me explain. Psalm 116:17 says “I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord” and Hebrews 13:15 says “…let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Many times, I don’t feel like praising God because the pain or sorrow or hurt is so intense. These feelings require me to make a sacrifice. Sacrifice means, as author Terry Law puts it, “doing something you don’t want to do or don’t feel like doing. It’s giving up your own desires for the benefit of someone else.” And in this case, when I give God my sacrifice of praise, I choose to focus on 2 things: 1) His attributes. His power, love, compassion, grace, guidance, etc. 2) His track record. His history of how he has been good and faithful and shown up for you in countless, priceless ways. I believe that even if you are still skeptical of or even angry with God, you will have some stories to recount if you think hard enough.

I sacrificed what I felt like doing (worrying, fretting, trying to fix manage and control) and instead, fixed my mind, and voice, on who He is and what he has already done for me. It’s the difference between listening to a sad breakup song about lost love vs a song expressing the power of love and the excitement and energy that comes from being in that relationship.

There are several ways to praise/worship God. I like to sing, so that’s the main way that I engage in it. God doesn’t really care if you can hold a pitch though, so even if you can’t, don’t let that stop you! I also like to read various Psalms and adopt those words to help direct my thoughts. If you aren’t much for reading or singing, try writing down a gratitude list about who he is: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, kind, gracious, radical, extravagant. He is our rescuer, our provider, our savior, our voice of truth. Or maybe make a list of all the ways he has shown up for you in the past. Review the successes and times where you chose to trust and turn things over to him. Note how much better they turned out than when you tried to depend on your own self-sufficiency.

I have been practicing a variety of all these since yesterday. Today is not perfect, but my heart is in better shape than it was yesterday. And for the record, nothing has changed in my circumstances. The adjustment has been where I am choosing to put my energy. Instead of wasting it on trying to control the uncontrollable (i.e. Trying to do God’s job for Him), I am making the sacrifice of praise in the ways laid out above.

In a society of chronic dieting, I think this might prove to be the best rapid “weight-loss” plan on the market. Care to trade a garment of praise for that spirit of heaviness? Could you stand to shed a few?

Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, grace, Trust

“…Yet”

So. It’s been 5 days since January 1st. Is it fair to say that many of us have fallen off the Resolution Wagon? Have you already failed, if not miserably, to keep your New Year’s goals? I think it’s a strong possibility. You can thank me later for bringing it up, since you were already beating yourself up for your lack of will-power and discipline. 😜 I am actually here to help you deal, with a bit of grace and truth, with the fact that you might be struggling.

If you have already cheated on your diet, skipped your workout, spent outside your budget, smoked, drank, binged or watched inappropriate stuff on-line, don’t give up. If you had determined to hold your temper, not gossip, not judge others, cut back on the nagging, correct your “tone” or be mindful of your go-to negative attitude, but have already been engaging in those unattractive behaviors, relax. I read a great post from a friend the other day that said, “I will not try to the boil the ocean (or have all my goals met by Friday).” Awareness that you need to change is the first step towards success. Everything after that is a stepping stone, even if it’s an ugly one. The only way to truly fail is to stop stepping.

I have been reading bits and pieces of a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol S. Deck, Ph.D.). It categorizes people into two groups: people with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. In a nutshell, the difference between the two types can be summarized by one word: yet (my word, not the authors). Someone with a fixed mindset forgets to integrate that word in their life. The believe they are defined by their failures and accomplishments and often live believing that the world is out to get them, they will never amount to anything, they never get a break, and they can never learn that skill, subject or life lesson. They get stuck where they are at and see little use in contining to implement change or growth or learn from their mistakes in order to become their better self. A person with a growth mindset keeps stepping, even when they fall short or fall off the wagon. They believe that even though they have made mistakes or failed or life has dealt them some terrible cirucmstances, that there is still hope. They believe that they aren’t smart yet or patient yet or more disciplined yet. When they don’t know the answers they figure them out. They invest in learning.  A person with a fixed mindset says things to themselves like; “I am stupid.” “What’s the use in trying?” “Everyone’s better than me.” “I’m a total failure.”

What kind of mindset do you currently have? If you are pretty certain you have a fixed mindset, take it from a growth mindset person that believing in the yet is possible. Instead of living in your failures and letting them define or immobilize you, use them to identify where you need to learn or grow in order to get where it is you want to go. Remember that you just aren’t there yet.

Let’s face it, we are never going to be anything more than human. Failure and mistakes are inevitable. We are fallible. And even though some of us seem to pull of some extradonriary things, we are mostly ordinary. I had a friend that balked at the statement often heard from the pulpit, “God wants to do extraordinary things through ordinary people.” This really seemed to bother her. She said, “who in the world wants to be ordinary?” I get it. But here’s the harsh reality; most of us aren’t even ordinary. We are down right weird and crazy and broken and generally messed up. It would feel pretty nice to be ordinary, but alas, I have too many character defects, hangups and selfish habits to pretend to be in that category. But, because I adopt a growth mindset, I am pretty ok with that. I know that this life is a long journey and progress is slow and steady at some times, fast a furious at others and a slippery landslide backwards at still others. But I never just set up camp, pitch my tent and make s’mores. You have to keep moving.

I love how Sarah Young summarizes what Jesus says to us through his Word:

I may infuse you with a dream that seems far beyond your reach. You know that in yourself you cannot achieve such a goal. Thus begins your journey of profound reliance on Me. It is a faith-walk, taken one step at a time, leaning on me as much as you need. This is not a path of continual success but of multiple failures. However, each failure is followed by a growth spurt, nourished by increased reliance on Me.

God is not finished with you yet. Your job is to trust Him and continue to be open to new ways to grow and learn. Just because your Resolutions haven’t been followed perfectly doesn’t mean you should throw them out and try again next year. Try again now. Try again tomorrow. Some days you will fail and some days you will flourish. But it all counts if you are willing to learn and do it different next time. Let God set your pace. His timing is always perfect. Chances are that “by next year at this time” you will not have achieved exactly what you set out to do. Don’t sweat it. Just do the work and don’t give up before the miracle happens. Whether it’s next week or month or 5 years from now.

Your new word for this year: yet.<<
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Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Cancer, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

“Goals”

At first glance, how I spent my day yesterday (bleeding over into today) might might appear like laziness or procrastination. And trust me, my skills are stellar in those two areas. In the past, I would have been all over this opportunity to get things in order and get back to regular life. Kill off the Christmas tree once and for all and vacuum up the tiny pine needles strewn about the house, after falling off of family member’s socks. Christmas is over and tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. We have had extra visitors in our house (and at this point, my very own 21 college-student-home-on-break, qualifies as a visitor) since before December 25th. And as much as I do love it, no routine, lots of people and opinions and plans can make me a little ticky after awhile. Yesterday was a prime opportunity to get the house cleaned up and back to normal. All the kids were sleeping, relatives were gone and husband was reading in another room of the house. I had the perfect window.

But then I read something that caused me to do it differently this year. I chose to squelch my urge to organize and engage in what the author called a holy “afterglow”, this space between the crazy of Christmas and the celebration of the New Year. It reminds me of the Recovery saying that has benefited me often (when I slow down long enough to do it): Pause. Pray. Proceed. The idea is that when you are tempted to act, usually rashly or emotionally, you play it different. Instead of barreling ahead with that angry phone call, posting a passive aggressive snippet on Facebook, or letting your words fly out your mouth without caution or control or compassion, you Pause. You Pray and invite God into it. And then you proceed (hopefully on to something more productive or healing for everyone).

This is a practice that is not only useful for the biggies, but for every attitude or thought or word that crosses our consciousness, all day, everyday. Today, I am using it as a guide as I reflect on last year and prepare for the year to come. In dozens of ways, i failed to accomplish my physical, emotional and spiritual goals. I truly wish I could say I ended this year a little more advanced in these areas. My standards for myself tend to be a bit high. But regardless of the little progress I did make, I am left wanting more. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. God has designed us to move forward. But, In the past, I would make very specific goals that were based on the hype and energy of the promise of a new year, only to abandon most of them and feel like a loser for doing so by February.

Today I am different. Maybe it’s from the battle with disease of Leukemia. Or the family disease of addiction seeking to steal, kill and destroy our family. Or leaving a church family after 20 years. Or losing many many relationships with people I thought were my forever friends. Or my son going off to college and my two teenagers getting their driver’s license. Not maybe. Probably. But those are just a handful of hard times that changed me. There are also countless blessings that have contributed to this “different” in me. Maybe it’s the new friends God has brought me as a result of Leukemia and addiction and having to find a new church family. Or maybe it’s from the snuffing out of old habits and thought patterns that don’t serve me anymore. Or maybe it’s because I am finally convinced that God, in His infinite wisdom about what I need verses what I want, can be trusted with my future.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe there’s a thing wrong with setting goals for yourself. Or with reflecting on ways we could have done it better in the past. But don’t hang your hat there. I can learn from my past and be prepared for the future. But ultimately I need to live a little bit longer in the Pause. Look back, look ahead, but don’t forget to Pray and invite God in before you Proceed. What I have found, and why my goals are a little more in flex than they used to be, is that what God has planned for my future will most likely look drastically different than my personal, calculated plans. I can remind myself of His faithfulness when I reflect on all the ways He took care of me even when life didn’t seem to cooperate last year. If am open, I can learn and grow and flourish this coming year, especially when I let God lead me, as opposed to the other way around.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, grace, Trust

“Though the doors were locked…”

By now, some of you have read enough of my blogs to understand my unique daily reading plan. I could market said plan as “Rabbit Trail Reading Plan” or “ADD Reading Plan”, both catering to busy, scattered, impatient and focus-challenged individuals who are doing the best they can to grow up mentally, spiritually and emotionally. At any rate, here’s how it looks for me. I read approximately 4 different books each morning. Each one has a daily entry that is shorter than most of my blog posts I write. While I am reading I underline like crazy. I look up words I don’t understand or intrigue me. And I look up any references to bible verses that are highlighted. When I look those verses up, I truly love it if I have already underlined them in my bible (as if I were going to receive a prize or somthing).  I also read what comes before and after those verses  and occasionally end up reading a few chapters or other verses I have underlined around it. All that to segway into telling you about what I read the other day. And I couldn’t stop crying.

Just a brief description of what’s going on in John 20:26; You have probably heard the descriptor of someone who is skeptical or leary about something as being a “doubting Thomas”. This passage is where that phrase comes from. After Jesus was killed and came back from the dead, he appeared to a few of his disciples. Poor Thomas. He wasn’t there. So they told him about it and a paraphrase of what he said went something like “What-ever dudes. I’ll tell you what; I have heard these rumors already and seen the posts on Instagram. You know they can make anything look real with photoshop, right? But until I see him with my own eyes and touch the holes where they nailed him to that cross, I’m not buying it.” A week goes by and the disciples, including Thomas this time, are chillin’ in someone’s living room.

“And though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.”

And though the doors were locked…”. That’s the part that made me stop. Made me sob, actually. Because that is the God I believe in. Too often we picture Jesus as standing at the door of our hearts and knocking patiently. Wondering if we are home, hating to bother us with his measly gift of, um, forgiveness of sin and eternal life. This image probably comes from frequently abused verse about “behold, I stand at the door and knock” that is often used to entice someone to turn their life over to the care of God. Spoiler alert, that verse was writtent to a church full of Christians that needed to get it’s act together. It wasn’t about the heart of an individual who hadn’t met up with the wonder of God yet.

The God I believe in and am abandoned to, is not like a door to door salesman or a person who walks and knocks on neighborhood doors getting signatures to support his political agenda. He isn’t politely tapping while I hide behind the curtain, peaking out the window, hoping he gives up soon and moves on.

He’s a God who pursues. He knows we are home and He isn’t leaving until we open the door. He knows what He offers is not only free (to us, not at all to Him) but the best gift we could ever receive. His grace and love and mercy are indeed priceless. Too often we are resistant to letting Him in. Sometimes it’s because we are afraid. Sometimes it’s because we are selfish and want to live by our own Will. Sometimes, I think much of the time, it’s because we think we are not worthy of the gift. That we have screwed up too often and in ways that seem irreparable.

The God I believe in, not to frighten you, is one who will find a way in even though the doors are locked. He will go through a window or jimmy the dead-bolt or come down the chimney. He is what the English poet Francis Thompson called “The Hound of Heaven”. “As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so God follows the fleeing soul by His Divine grace.” And even though, for a plethora of reasons, we try to hide and run and lose this Hound, He follows after, “unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.” (J.F.X. O’Conor)

You see, like a lover who knows without a doubt that you are destined to be together, God will passionately and fervently pursue you. You can run and hide and curse and reject, but those are hurdles He can handle. He is not hunting you down to punish or shame you. He is coming to bring the love, acceptance, peace and joy your have been looking for in other things or other people.

Dear friend-I hope you can feel my two hands on your cheeks as I hold your face close to mine and tell you with a tender and emphatic whisper-“though your doors are locked, He will find a way in. And that’s not a threat, it’s a beautiful promise.”