Treading

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My devotional this morning pointed me, as always it seems, with a right lens for my day.  Maybe you, like me, feel that the storms just keep coming.  I remember once, when I lived in Florida as a child, going to the beach and having a contest with my sister to see how long we could tread the water in the beautiful Atlantic Ocean.  We both stubbornly kept the contest going for quite awhile, and I remember my legs beginning to ache.

My heart feels that way sometimes.

I keep treading and treading with that little word. . . hope.  My head is bobbing up and down, legs aching, staying afloat. . . But, can this be over?  Can my contest end?

My devotion this morning reminded me that there’s a difference between despair and desperation.

Despair = not so good.  There’s no point in it all.  I quit. 

Desperation = Jesus, you are my only hope. I look to you for my help, where else would I go?

Just when my strength runs out, is the same place where I give it to Him.  And, that is where my heart belongs. . . safe in His loving hands.

A Clear Lens to Look Through

First thing this morning, leaving my driveway to take my son to school, I realized my visibility through my windshield was quite poor.  My windshield had a dewy blanket left on it, and the problem was that my car is, let’s say, less than perfectly clean.  I turned on my windshield wipers, they swiped back and forth only to smear more and more filth across my windshield, causing less visibility, defeating my need and purpose.  Then I pressed the button to spray the washer fluid, only to smear even more and cause even less visibility.  Have you experienced this before?  Or, just me?  🙂

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I’m in a class currently that is challenging me to think about the mindsets that I view my relationships, my ethics, my purpose, and my daily tasks through.  What is my lens?  How is my visibility?  How often do we trudge through our day only viewing the moments we live in with an entitled, selfish, inward focus?  To be honest, I believe that we do more than we realize.  I do, sometimes automatically, and my emotions signal me.. feeling irritable, short fused, or even sorry for myself. Let’s look at a simple, little heart checklist:

  • Am I defensive and immediately annoyed anytime someone disagrees with me, questions my viewpoint, or has criticism for me?
  • Do I gossip?  We all know when we do, and we justify as we do it.
  • Do I dismiss my own weaknesses or sins with little justifications inside, only to look at others with more condemnation?  (I was tired, lonely, sad, had a bad day, not treated right, etc.)
  • Do I have a woe-is-me attitude?  No one else understands me, and no one else tries as hard as me, and no one else appreciates me…
  • Do I expect other people to be interested and enthralled with my pursuits, but don’t show similar interests for theirs?

It’s a start to cleaning our windshield!

There are many more reflective questions that we could add to this list, but intentional heart prodding helps us find a starting point.  Selfishness and an entitled lens leads to losing our clear visibility directing our needs and purpose.  We don’t see others, or ourselves in the light of who God created us to be when we allow only our self-gain to direct our pathways.

So, how did God create us to be?

Quite simply. . . To Love and Glorify Him. To Love Others.

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”

Matthew 22:37-38, ESV. 

Changing our visibility doesn’t just happen with only acknowledgment, it happens when we work on it; accepting responsibility and making changes.

What are some ways we can do this?

Give God each moment of our day.  We are His creation, His children, and the display of His image on this earth.  Choose to reflect His Character.

We must know His character; What He says about us, others. We must continually sink deeper and deeper in the knowledge of His love.  How do we know?  We begin by studying God’s word, and processing it out with others who seek and follow Him.

Be grateful. Notice the mass amounts of blessings and surprises of grace in each day.  The sunrises, smiles, good meals, friendships, and so much more. Not only should we count them, but we should act.  Say thank-you.  Tell God and others about our appreciation.  Cultivate a culture of gratitude in your soul.

Practice otherness.  Tip your waiter or waitress. Be kind and attentive. Fill out the survey form for the store employee who asks you (literally takes 5 minutes, and you know you *have time* to spend that on Facebook) it may give them a raise eventually or needed kudos from their place of employment.  Let someone into your lane.  Volunteer.  Spend time with others.

Be Wholehearted.

Our Creator said that it’s better to give than receive.. He also said that what we do for the least of these, we do for Him.  He knows us! He made us.  When we function this way, it not only benefits others, but it gives our soul true peace.

Check out this article that really is insightful for us! 7 Scientific Benefits of Helping Others

If we don’t check and change our lens for the way we view things, trying to fix things on the surface level will be difficult, tiring, and frustrating.  This can lead to, “Look at all I do for everyone else!”  And, that is not true gratefulness and loving others, right?  That’s just more about ME.  Just smearing the dirt more on my windshield.  Checking the very motives and conditions of my heart and then acting on it, gives it all a good cleaning… giving me the visibility I need.

Hope you find this encouraging, it’s definitely all been working overtime on this old heart, and I wanted to share with you.

(By the way, I plan to wash my car tomorrow for those concerned!)

Motivation, Application, Wisdom & Joy

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”   ~Galatians 1:10

Why do we do what we do? 

Simple question….lengthy answers? Or could it be a simple answer? 

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During one of my life’s most difficult seasons, my Pastor Reg’s response to my gauntlet of a whirlwind of questions was, “Ask yourself with each decision… What is the wise thing? What is the right thing… what is the wise thing, what is the right thing?” 

What is the wise thing? 

What is the right thing? 

Since then, I cannot tell you the countless times I whisper this question over and over as I face the next thing.

So, why do we do what we do? 

Pride? Ego? People pleasing? Fear of failure? 

Serving myself?  Serving other’s whims and pressures?

Two things that I have pondered ever since that conversation with my Pastor… 

  1. I won’t know what the wise thing is unless I actively seek the giver of wisdom. 

That Bible that sits on my nightstand…  It contains the words from my Father. Why is it so much easier to seek every other source in the world when I face decisions, than to go immediately to the source in prayer?  Am I daily learning more about God, and His ways?  Are my roots growing deeper?  Do I intentionally seek?

You don’t gain knowledge about math without listening to instruction, studying, applying and working it out.  You don’t increase in ability at your sport, or musical instrument, or workplace without listening to instruction, studying, applying, and working it out… See where I’m going with this?  🙂

2.   I often know the wise thing, or the right thing… but I choose otherwise. 

Entertain my silliness for a moment, but when I ask myself, “What is the wise thing..?”  before I decide to eat that huge piece of cheesecake for lunch… well, I do kinda know the answer.  However, I eat it anyway.. and an hour later I feel sluggish, heavy, and I haven’t fed my body the proper fuel for my day to be the best in productivity.  Now, I may make that decision again because that cheesecake is so yummy!  Lol.  But, at least I need to own the consequences.

There are some decisions that carry much more severe weight, and consequences.. and owning our unwise choices is not silly, or trite, but vital for our life and those we love around us.  We grow when we face our wrong decisions square in the face, and work it out with God’s ways accordingly.  One wrong decision doesn’t have to turn into a snowball of more, and more and more wrong decisions.  I did you wrong?  I need to face it, apologize and change my behavior.. But, when my ugly pride and me sits on that throne… I ignore the question of what is right (or talk myself into a solution that isn’t godly) and instead of making it right, I cling to the wrong one, justify it, and continue to walk serving someone other than God.

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I don’t know about you, but when I’m carrying my load wrong, I get tired. The absence of God in my decisions and thought processes makes me feel burdened, confused at times, and alone. But, the presence of God is my fullness of joy. And joy is my strength. See how that works out? “He will make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11, ESV). He’s a good Father – He’s not going to keep the wise thing or the right thing a secret from you… seek Him today with your every question. 

And may our motivation for what we do be all about Him, through Him, and because of Him. 

New Year’s Resolutions – Finale

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Perspective.  It’s such a gift that we take for granted, and sometimes even reject.  Fresh eyes to see.. new angles to look at something…stimulation that promotes growth..

So, in 2017 I wanted to resolve to:

Read More.

Read Diverse.

Read Consistently.

Read Slowly.

Many of you actually made some great book recommendations for me!  I took notes on what you told me, filled up my Amazon shopping cart, and was set for the year.. With my classes, and the hurry-scurry of my life, it was a bit of a struggle.. especially the READ SLOWLY part.  Ha.  So, sometimes I would literally read one paragraph to *chew* on for a few days.

So, why did I resolve to do this? (And, will be doing so again in 2018!)

Reading has so many benefits.  My Dr. told me that it greatly aids in focus – disciplining our mind. (Annnd, my mind needs all the help it can get!)  😀  In this age of fast-paced, give-it-to-me now world.. slowing down to read and turn the pages in a book, digesting written words, contemplating new things, and creatively visualizing and connecting to the author’s meaning is a precious resource (that we often neglect cos we are too busy!). Who doesn’t want better focus, the gift of more creative genius, further knowledge, and the ability to better understand others?  I do, but like most good-for-me stuff in life, I have to be intentional to make it happen.  (For some reason eating healthy doesn’t magically happen for me, but chocolate seems to appear just when I want it!)

Diversity is the gift of all the variety that surrounds us, but sometimes we don’t (or can’t) connect to it.  We tend to only watch/read/study those things that all fit in the same little mindset we feel comfortable and at home with. We see through our own set of eyes, with our own personal lens or perception that have filters that don’t see things in all the same ways.  Yet, quite frequently we judge, dismiss, criticize with limited resources mentally to make those assessments.

Often, we fear what we don’t understand.. Our fear causes us to mistrust and to become defensive.  But, do we really have to defend who we are?  Isn’t it a gift for me to be able to communicate to you who I am, and then in return understand who you are and what makes your world tick?

Obviously, we are all going to have our own beliefs, convictions, goals and desires.. That’s what makes the you and the me!  We can be passionate, convicted and dig our roots deep into the beliefs that we have for our own lives.  I’m not talking about being wishy-washy or everyone’s ways always being right.. But, to “climb into another man’s skin and walk around” for a bit is a gift of new eyes to see life from a new angle.  Books are a perfect way to visit new cultures, hear another’s pain, understand why other’s believe and act the way they do, and grow in the knowledge of a skill-set that will help us in life.. and much, much more!

I think the greatest benefit to me through my little resolution this year was having my own biases, pride and prejudices triggered. Reading slowly gave me time to prayerfully and reflectively challenge my pride, my small mentalities and my perceptive limitations and say “Hey now, Joani.  Your little world isn’t the only one out there.. ”

Truly listening with ears to hear, and eyes to see another is life-shaping and life-changing.  

Find you a book, find you a quiet place, and dive in!

Here we go 2018!  

(Quote from Atticus in “To Kill A Mockingbird” – one of the many wonderful books we can read!)

 

New Year’s Resolutions – Part Deux

Ok, this one is tough to share.  Lol. What will you think of me?!  😉  Ironically, I am practicing my resolution today by sharing with you!

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“This is your life.. are you who you want to be?”

This little phrase developed into an anthem for my life a few years ago taken from a 2003 Switchfoot song.  I began daily listening to it first thing in the morning as I brushed my teeth, combed my hair and stared at the getting-close-to-forty face looking back at me.

Am I who I want to be?  Or am I who I think everyone else thinks I should be?  Or am I stuck being someone I don’t want to be?  Or am I someone I don’t like, but seem to keep on being that person anyway?

You see sometimes in our life we grow up thinking that everything around us defines us.  People in our life, community, leaders, culture.. And, when we think that, guess what?  Our actions follow.  So, we allow those definitions to take root, and limit our actions to fit in the little box afforded us.

Oh, their family is just that way.  Oh, people with that color of skin are just that way.  Oh, women are just that way.  Oh, he’s always done things that way.  Oh, that temper just runs in her family. Oh, people that age just always think that way.  Oh, he won’t ever be anything else, he’s just not capable.

Oh, she just IS……

But, all that stuff doesn’t define me.  Nope.  It contributes to my life.  Like a recipe with a dash of this, and a tablespoon of that.. It all becomes part of who I am.  But, it doesn’t define ME.

Define:  To explain the meaning of : to show or describe something clearly and completely.  (Merriam-Webster).

There are things that we are so grateful for in life!  We are happy for their contribution, and glad it’s part of who we are!

But, here’s the thing.. there are things in our lives that we really don’t want to define us.  But, we feel restricted like they do. Trapped.  One of my very favorite songs right now is John Mayer’s “In The Blood.”  I cried the first time I heard it, because it reached deep into my soul, and straight to the lies that whisper to me that I am limited by my past to deter becoming who I want to be.  Maybe you can relate?  Mistakes we’ve made, failures, abuse from others, family struggles.. the list goes on and on.  “Could I change it if I wanted, can I rise above the flood?  Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?” (Mayer, 2017, In the Blood).

So, my resolution I’ll share with you is this!

Practice the courage to be myself.

Who do I want to be?

I guess the first step is us being intentional to think about it.  And, to realize we aren’t limited by that other stuff.  I’m not stuck… my Father made me free!

You aren’t stuck either.

I know these things:

1)      I am made in the image of God!  (WHOA!)

2)     I am a sinner that tries to find other things to fix my cravings.  I desire stuff that’s not for me, and sometimes I over-desire stuff that might be good in my life, but it still isn’t Him!  And, over-desiring that stuff still gets me off-balance because it’s temporary!  He is eternal!

3)     God’s grace is sufficient for yesterday, today and forever!  When I am one with Him, I am balanced and complete.  Seeking Him reveals more and more of my definition!

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Some ways for me that help me practice….

-Being vulnerable, always truthful and sincere with my thoughts, but also kind and sensitive to the needs of others.

-Listening to others, and sharing with others in safety.  Staying away from gossip.

-Enjoying the moments of bliss I find!  For me often with music, (or other awe-inspiring gifts from God) that completely jive with who He made me.  You know the moments that you sing along with to the top of your lungs in the car.  Or, you listen to with tears. The moments were you have to just sit spellbound at scenery that doesn’t seem real.  And, then, for me that Beethoven symphony that leaves me with chill bumps and a sense of awe EVERY TIME?!

-Stopping to enjoy the sunset, or savor the coffee.  Giving myself the OK to rest, play, and create!

-Not stressing about what people want, need or try get from me… But give freely of the right things at the right time.  What’s on my plate?  Take care of those things step by step… and practice the word, “no” when it’s needed.  😊 Every time I say yes to something, I am also saying no to something else.  So, make sure my yes’s are the ones I want, and the no’s are the right ones for me.

-“Where ever I am, being all there.” ~Elisabeth Elliot.  Wholehearted living!

And, when I mess up (because I surely do and surely will…) getting back on the path and taking a step at a time back in the right direction!

Hey, remember as Dr Seuss says… “There’s no one you’er than you!” And that’s not a mistake… God shaped and fashioned you!

The practice of being ourselves takes courage, insight, and honesty.  Not just simply, well folks – this is me and this is what you get kinda courage… ‘cos honestly that can leaving us feeling very dissatisfied at the end of many days. Rather, the courage to be who we truly are. Who we are created to be!  And all with the flair of the individual ways He made you and me!  To practice shedding ourselves from lies of our image that weigh us down – hate, fear, insecurity, pain… and then practice putting on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and strong love for ourselves and others!

Bearers of the image of God

Here’s what is fascinating.. our God is a God of ubiquitous diversity!  Just take a look around, and then in the mirror!  I’ll leave you with this quote that I heard once in a lecture…

“Every man is in certain respects like all other men, like some other men,  like no other man.”

The same Switchfoot song also has this line.. “Don’t close your eyes.”  Ahhh.  That’s what I’d like to do some days.. lol.. but, courage isn’t always some big, bold hero with a cape and a big S on the chest… courage is taking the right steps today.  It’s opening our eyes to look at reality.  Steps.  One by one by one… Not always an easy road, but the one that brings harmony inside, no matter what we are walking through on the outside.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

To ring in the new year of 2017, late in the month of January, my mom, my four sisters, myself and some of my nieces met together for a brunch.  This was a first for us, and it was a very meaningful time.  It was a needed time.

So, why am I writing on this now?  Ha.  We are half-way through the year!  Let me explain.

One of the activities we did that day was writing our “New Year’s Resolutions” on 3×5 notecards, and then if we wanted, sharing with the group.  It was such a great idea, it truly helped me to slow down and be intentional about what my priorities really were for the year.  Afterwards, I placed my little cards in my Bible as bookmarks and needed reminders for my daily life.  Here we are in July, and halfway through the year and I smiled this morning as this particular resolution marked my Psalm this morning.  Rest.  True Rest.  Did I even know what that meant when I wrote it?  I certainly didn’t know what all my year would hold… that’s certain.  But, I smiled because I thought the definition of rest has taken on a new shape, and new meaning for me in so many ways the past few years.

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Rest.  True rest.

That’s what she said in January – beginning 2017.  Here we are in July.

I like to visualize rest thinking about our cat Thomas.  Now that fellow knows how to rest!  He has a little routine every day.  And it all revolves around rest, I’m pretty sure (well, that and eating..).  He has his morning stretches, his breakfast, his nap on Paul’s top bunk, snacktime, naptime on Wesley’s bed, snacktime, naptime on couch, snacktime, aggravate our other cat Romo time, snacktime, and then relax-time on back of couch or in our laps to complete his evening before bed time.

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The only time he doesn’t rest is when his food bowl is empty.  Not only does he not rest,  WE can’t rest.  Because he paces, stares, and even gives a little bite (if it comes to that!) to remind us “MY BOWL IS EMPTY.”

Kinda like me.  I can rest when things are all nice and tidy… all my ducks swimming pretty in a row (and for the record, I can’t even remember when it was that way for me.  I am thinking they are not even ducks at this point… maybe chinchillas?).

But, oh God where is the rest when things aren’t the way I want them?

Not when things are hard and confusing.

Or, when I have needs that I feel aren’t met.

Not when I feel I’m wronged or shorted from what I deserve.  (Ouch).

Or, how can I rest when the storms are big and unexpected… and the lights seem to flicker on and off.

Where are you?

And, He reminds me.  The wind and waves know my name.  You can rest.

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Throughout the years, lack of sleep has become my nemesis.  I’ve learned some practical ways that help.  Sleep association patterns:  Reading before bed, journaling my “to-do” list for the next day, calming playlist, lavender scents, relaxing a wee bit on my caffeine intake :), less screen time, good hydration, etc.  All great aids!  Definitely have proven to help me greatly!

But, maybe you will agree with me… there seems sometimes to be no cure for an anxious heart.  When you toss and turn on your bed, and sleep seems so far away.  Your pillow may be the only one you trust with your tears, but God sees.

What was the Psalm that my resolution from January had randomly marked?

“When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
 When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.”

Psalm 94:18-19

What’s the true rest I want to practice?  Trusting Him.  Allowing His words to console the deepest corners of my soul.  Letting go of what others think, giving Him all the heavy things I carry, fully embracing His forgiveness and grace, trusting that He is at work in all areas… even the ones that may be difficult to understand.  Entrusting each step to His wisdom and ways.  Reaching for His word when I want to ruminate on issues.  Committing myself to pray, even when there aren’t words, or when all I want to do is complain or worry. Looking for faithful friends who can listen, pray for me, and share needed perspective and truth to my ears. Settling my mind to know I am not the “fixer” of anything, I’m just a girl who has the opportunity to love others, as I have been loved. Loving is easy, when you spend time with the One who loves you.

Sleepless nights will still find us.  Anxious moments will come.  That’s for sure.  But even in those moments, we can have the gift of true rest.

2017 –  A year of rest.  The gift of rest that we can all embrace.

 

 

let’s communicate for love’s sake

My tongue often reflects my heart.  The Bible tells me that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).  My heart often is self-serving, and my tongue reflects that!  I often write it off, even to myself, with disguises and masks.  Recently, I’ve thought much about difficult conversations that are loving, and why they seem soo difficult to have. We seem to find it way easier with conflicting views to sit far off and throw lashes with our tongues to others who think like us on the topic, or whine and complain to our friends — rather than speaking face to face to HEAR their thoughts and SHARE our thoughts with true love to the one with whom we don’t see eye to eye.  Promoting unity involves honest, real conversations and authentically listening.  Putting my heart out there.  Caring more about true love for all than just “love” of my self.  Selfish-love that worries how I look to others, or critical that the other won’t care about my side of things (and certainly me not caring about their point of view), or worried about how I’ll be perceived…. which actually can’t be love…. cos all that’s fear based. There’s no fear in perfect love.

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Whispering behind backs, blanket statements thrown out there targeted to make someone “hear” me without actually reaching out to them personally, indirect communication and using God to justify “me” and “my” agenda is manipulative… again there’s my fear clinging to a silly control that is really just an illusion, right?

We can’t control others.  And even if we could, would that be love?  I can’t make you hear me, and you can’t make me hear you.  But, true love is the bridge that is only capable of connecting us.  Unifying our hearts.

True love gives a patient ear.  A kind response.  Even if we disagree… love can be kind.

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True love doesn’t brag, protect its ego, or become jealous.  It doesn’t have to win the argument.. it wants to win the trust of the other person.

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True love doesn’t dishonor others.  (Ouch!)  It never shames or disgraces another.

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True love isn’t angered, and it doesn’t make a list of all the wrongs to shake in the face of the other.

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True loves gets excited to share truth!  It doesn’t let things go by that are “not” ok… True love reaches out to restore that which needs a new perspective and breathe new light and hope.  True love confronts when needed, with a beautiful aim to build up.

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True love protects, hopes, keeps going, and trusts God – cos He’s the one actually in control.

True love never fails.  God’s love will never, ever fail us. 

So, you may be like me sometimes, and say… “This is impossible.  You don’t know my situations.  You don’t know how impossible this really is.”

And, you are right.  I don’t know your story, as you don’t know mine.  But, what I do know is that with God… this is possible.  I believe that with all my heart for you and for me.  And, how He shows you will be a miracle designed for you, and it will bring peace to situations that you right now feel like can never be resolved.  The first step is to trust Him.  Trust and obey.  As we know His love, and as we sink deeper and deeper in the vast, overwhelming love of our Father – We know love.  And, as we love others, the love becomes more and more real and known to us.  What a beautiful cycle to be in, right?

Divisiveness destroys, but love restores.  Last time I checked, my God was in the business of restoration.  It’s what He does.  Give it up to Him.  Be brave and kind when you speak up.  Be quiet and still to hear Him.  Reach out and talk to others about conflict and various perspectives.  I can’t know your story, unless you share it. Please be brave, it’s yours, and it’s meant to share. Let’s give each other the opportunity to put one another’s shoes on and walk around a bit.  Unity comes as God fuses us together as one.  One body that represents Him.  His way is vulnerable, honest love and connection… So let’s seek His ways.  Mine don’t always work the best.  😉

Bible References:  I Corinthians 13:4-8; 1 John 4