A “180” Of Faith

543899230565I realize we are quickly approaching Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but this year I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Palm Sunday.  Believe me, I love the reminder of the resurrection and what Jesus did so that I can be saved, but I’ve not paid a whole lot of attention to Palm Sunday until this year.  Maybe it’s because I’m in a strange season of life, trying to determine where or what God is tugging me toward, or maybe it’s because I just needed to see something to shift my perspective a little bit.

Less than a week before Jesus was betrayed, brutally beaten and crucified, he had come into Jerusalem to a grand reception!  It isn’t called the “Triumphal Entry” for nothing!  He was riding on a borrowed donkey’s colt.  The disciples laid their cloaks on the donkey for Him to sit on and the multitudes came out to greet Him.  They laid their cloaks and palm branches before Him, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” as He rode to the temple.  Just think of that sight!  Crowds hailing Him as King and publicly acknowledging Him as Messiah.  So what in the world happened that caused them to turn on Him so quickly and strongly?  How do you go from one extreme to the other in a matter of a few days?  The answer really lies in one word: Expectations.

Expectations are interesting things.  The dictionary defines “expectation” as a strong belief something will happen or to be the case.  Our expectations in life depend on the information we have been given and the way in which we interpret that information.  For example, I expect that my husband is going to do the yard work because he said he would do it.  I believe he will do it, but I also have my expectations of when it will happen and what it will include.  When he does finally go out to do the yard work, he decides not to weed the flowerbeds or sweep off the sidewalk, and I get upset.  Why?  Because he didn’t do things the way I believed they would be done.  543900368135There may be a good reason why he did things differently, but all I see is my unmet expectations. In my original conversation, all he said was that he was going to take care of the yard.  He did not reveal other details of what he planned to do, and I created additional expectations based on the way I would do things.  My expectation that the yard work would be done rests on believing what he told me.  My expectation of HOW it would be done rests in everything else I assumed from his statement.   Our expectations are colored by our past experiences, and they deeply affect our emotions.  When we expect something bad to happen and it doesn’t, we get excited and happy.  When we expect something good to happen and it doesn’t, we become upset, sad, depressed or even angry.  We’ve all been there and have experienced the reality of that roller coaster.  We interpreted something differently and suddenly our world is turned upside-down because something unexpected took place.

So back to Palm Sunday, it was a day filled with people who definitely had expectations!  Some lived in Jerusalem and some were traveling there for the Passover celebration.  They had read the prophesies of old and knew that God was coming to deliver them.  They were being oppressed by Roman rule, so when Jesus, their “King,” showed up, they were excited.  Deliverance was on the way!  They expected Him to ride in and destroy their enemies, deliver them and set up HIS kingdom.  They expected fire and fight in Him.  They expected a political leader.  They thought their day had finally come, so they exclaimed his praises as he rode through town.  This was a GREAT day for them, but then things started to change quickly.  They listened to things he was saying and when His message didn’t fit their expectations, they turned on Him.  He said His Kingdom wasn’t of this world (John 18:36).  He didn’t argue or even defend Himself when He faced His accusers (Matt 27:12-14).  He didn’t answer the charges or even respond to them.  By all standards, He appeared weak.  He certainly did NOT look like a King about to take over!  As a result, it must have confirmed (in the minds of many) that He was not the Messiah, and if He wasn’t the Messiah, then He was definitely a blasphemer as charged.  So in a matter of days, the shouts of the crowd went from “Hosanna” to “Crucify!”  When given a choice of who to release, they chose to put a convicted thief and murderer back into their community rather than someone who had only done good to others.  They were THAT convinced it was impossible He was who He claimed to be, because a King would not come as He came.  A King would not just lie down to be slaughtered.

The crowds that shouted Hosanna on Palm Sunday found themselves with serious unmet expectations.  The Messiah they longed for and believed in did not show up like they expected Him to, but He DID show up, and He DID deliver them, and also all of us.  They just couldn’t accept that God had a plan far greater than their temporary political situation.  He had a plan far greater that was hard to understand after years, or generations, of expecting something different.  But God was at work on His master plan to change everything for humankind.  He was working things out for their good, even when they couldn’t see it or refused to see it.

543902470228How many times in our lives have we lived out our own personal “Holy Week?”  I have often been in difficult situations and was banking on the many promises of God.  I was believing that He knows and cares about what I’m going through, has the power to deliver me and is working things out for my good.  I have shouted “Hosanna” in my expectations and perceptions of what He has said, but then He starts working things out differently than what I expected.  He starts doing or allowing things that I just don’t understand.  I watch what’s happening and start to think that maybe He isn’t who I thought He was.  I look around and start getting angry that He isn’t doing more “smiting” of my enemies or my circumstances and is instead leaving me alone to fight for myself.  It doesn’t take too long thinking these things that I end up angry because He doesn’t care enough to take care of me.  In my own way, I go from shouting “Hosanna,” to shouting, “Crucify!”  I start letting my doubts or anger from unmet expectations drive my perspective and end up choosing to set free the worst of myself rather than to trust God knows what He is doing.

Life is hard.  We were never promised that it would be easy.  As a matter of fact, we are told repeatedly in the Bible that we will have trials and struggles, but that God is always working for our good.  It’s just so incredibly hard to accept that’s the truth when our reality feels so much like the opposite.  Yes, God has the ability to come riding into our circumstances, proclaim Himself as King and destroy whatever or whoever is oppressing us, but we can’t see the big picture.  Sometimes He is working on a much grander and better plan for our deliverance than we can see.  Just because it doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean God isn’t who He says He is.

There are many beautiful pictures in the Easter story – pictures of grace and mercy, of sacrifice and redemption – but this year my prayer is that we remember the crowds.  I pray we remember how their unmet expectations of HOW God was going to deliver them caused such a drastic change in a matter of days. shutterstock_257497339 Unmet expectations can cause us to doubt what we know to be true.  When we hold so tightly to our version of what our deliverance should look like, or how it should come, we end up spending our lives looking for the next best solution.  We waste our energy trying to resolve it ourselves and end up sacrificing our peace and joy in the process.  Sometimes our deliverance comes through waiting.  Sometimes it comes through struggles.  And sometimes we are yelling “Crucify” at the very One who is delivering us – all because He isn’t doing it as we expected.

So look up, my friends, and I will look with you.  I will look to the cross and see not only love and redemption, but also a reminder that God is working a master plan for my good.  And when it seems like God is doing nothing, He is doing something exceedingly abundantly above all I could ask or think.  I just need to stop shouting my plans and trust in the fulfillment of His.

Blessings and a very happy Easter to you all!

Hope For The New Year

shutterstock_731389564Well, we’ve just come through the first week of 2018 and have heard the words “Happy New Year” over and over.  We rang in the New Year in all different kinds of ways, and now we are back to the day to day grind.  Some of us made promises to do something different this year, while others are just trying to not rock the boat and keep things the same.  So now what?  And why do so many of us focus on making changes at this time of year?  Is it because we are unhappy with the current state of our life or is it because we are discontent with decisions we’ve made in the past.  Change at the turn of the New Year is enticing because, after all, who doesn’t want a clean slate (or even a “do-over”)?

The New Year brings exciting, and often motivating, potential for change.  We are energized for new things, but what do we do with the changes that happen to us?  It’s easy to jump in to try and make ourselves or our lives better, but how often do we actually keep the promises we make on January 1st?  A study by the University of Scranton revealed that only 8% of people achieve their New Year goals.  That means a whopping 92% do not succeed, but why?  It’s my opinion the main reason we fail in keeping on track with our goals for changing is because we don’t change US!   We don’t change our perspective, so we instead look at our goals as nothing more than a task.  Tasks are something you do; resolutions are something you become.   We talk about “New Year’s resolutions,” but a resolution is not just an intent, or even commitment, to do something better.  It is defined by Webster as “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.”  A true resolution is not the intent to get a result; it IS the result. It is change that brings the resolution, not the other way around.

shutterstock_627074813Change is a constant part of our lives.  It happens to us all the time, often against our wishes.  When things are going well, we don’t want change.  When things are going poorly, we want change, but only on our timetable and on our terms.  Real change often interrupts our intent to change.  We make promises to ourselves (or others) to do something different but then something outside out control happens, and we are derailed.  How many of you are dealing with unexpected changes right now?  Some of us are dealing with difficult changes in our jobs, families, health, etc.  Some of us suddenly find ourselves as patients while others have been thrust into the role of a caregiver.   It is difficult when the New Year brings change to you instead of you bringing change to the New Year.   There are also positive changes for some of us.  Some have become parents, homeowners, financially stable, and many other things.  It isn’t about whether or not change will happen, but how we deal with it.

We each decide what we are going to focus on when things change around us.  Sometimes all we can see is the loss or what seems to be the destruction of our hopes and dreams, but we do have a choice in our perspective.  We need to remember that ALL change brings loss.   It’s part of the natural process.  In order to have something different, whether good or bad, we have to let go of something else.  Sometimes that loss makes us say “good riddance,” but other times it makes us scratch and claw while screaming, “NOOOOO!”  But what if we started looking at change differently?  What if we could become better at rolling with it?

As a person of faith, I know God is working all things for my good (Romans 8:28).  We all know it, but we constantly scramble when things aren’t going the way we would like.  We seem to lose sight of the fact that life is full of seasons, ups and downs.  Solomon said it beautifully in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

  • There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
  • a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
  • a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 
  • a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  • a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
  • a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
  • a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
  • a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

shutterstock_568487266There is truly a time for everything, and our definitions of good and bad are usually based on limited information.  The question is: do we trust the One who actually knows everything or not?  Are we going to live through the changes in life like a wind-up toy, going along until it hits a wall and then bounces off and goes another direction until it hits another wall?   The reality is that we really do have a choice and the result of our choice will either bring peace or anxiety.  If we approach unexpected change as though it is totally up to us to figure out the problem and fix it, then we are going to live a life full of constant stress, because there will always be circumstances we cannot control.  On the other hand, if we could realize that what we see as “unexpected” is never a surprise to our Heavenly Father, and that He has promised He is working all things for our ultimate good, then we can live a life of confidence and peace in the midst of every storm.  It doesn’t mean it will always feel good, but we can trust that it will eventually all work out.

So back to the fact we have just started a brand new year, if you think this year will be different, you are correct.  If you think there will be changes this year, you are also correct.  If you think you will have total control over those changes, think again.  It is a beautiful thing to take the time to reflect on your life and make plans for positive changes or better decisions.  It is good to hope, but we need to make sure our hope is not inappropriately placed in ourselves or others.  As the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.”  He knows everything we are going through and what is to come.  He cares intimately about every aspect of our lives as His children.  He has the power to handle any and everything in our lives, and He will always work things out when it is for our ultimate good.

shutterstock_484456384So I wish you all an amazing 2018!  It is my prayer that all of us can learn to lean on what we know in our hearts instead of going it alone.  We can become better parents, children, employees, bosses, church members, pastors or whatever other role we may fill.  The best way to do that is to fall back into our Father’s arms and let Him show us the paths to walk.  And when the next January 1st rolls around, we will be able to share not only our hopes for another year, but our resolutions – our results – from the journey we are embarking on right now.  That, my friends, is what a resolution is all about.

Blessings!

Resolutions…Or Not

shutterstock_191672999As we turn the page on the calendar to a new year, it is almost impossible to not stop and think about where we have been and where we are going.  A new calendar year is often a chance for new beginnings and a time of recommitting ourselves to the things we believe are important in life.  It’s easy to get lost during the course of a year and January 1st brings with it a chance to wipe the slate clean and start again.  Of course, the reality is that EVERY day is a new beginning and a new year.  We have the ability to start with a clean slate at any moment we choose; it’s just that we are usually too busy to even remember we have that choice.

Reflection is a GREAT thing in which we should engage.  Taking even a few moments a day to get still and quiet can do wonders for our spirit (and our sanity) and we ought to do it more often.  I realize we are all extremely busy.  It is the nature of our society.  It doesn’t matter if you work at a job, home, in ministry or in some other volunteer capacity.  No matter what it is, the pace is almost impossible to maintain and is something I believe God never intended for us.  There is a reason He gave us a day for rest, and He even gave us an example of it in the creation of the universe.  He rested on the seventh day not because He was tired, but for an example to us that rest is important!  Rest allows us to contemplate, and we cannot contemplate very long before our spirits begin to consider God and His creation.  That’s a good thing!  When we consider these things, it puts everything else in life in perspective.  When we remember that there are things bigger than ourselves, it helps our troubles fade into the background for a while and brings new perspective.

shutterstock_224938534Reflection is really a two-pronged activity: 1)  We remember the blessings we’ve experienced.  2) We remember the mistakes we have made and the consequences those mistakes brought to our world.  There isn’t much danger in an over-consideration of how much we have been blessed in the past, but there is definitely a danger of over-considering all of our mistakes.  Reflecting on the things we need to do differently or areas in which we need to change can spur us to become better people.  It can also remind us of how far short we have fallen in what we wanted to accomplish in the past year (or in our lives).  How we react to these realizations and reflections will determine whether or not our next year is an amazing one or one that we will gladly be saying goodbye to next December 31st.

I’m not big on resolutions.  I don’t make them because I know they usually end up being more like wishes than commitments.  It’s easy to look at a new year and think about all the things I’d like to accomplish this year.  It may be a wish, a goal, or a dream but that doesn’t make me committed to it.  I can say, “I’m going to lose weight this year” (or anything else) and make that my “resolution,” but unless I actually commit to it long-term, it isn’t a resolution at all!

Commitment is an interesting thing.  It isn’t an activity that is loud or visible; it is something that is quiet, strong and steady when no one else is looking. It doesn’t need accolades or applause.  It simply needs a humble heart whose desire for sincere change runs deeper than a need for the approval of others.  Commitment is staying true to the path or changes to which you have been called rather than just “trying” it for a while before going back to your comfort  zone.

shutterstock_221511418So let us begin 2015 not with resolutions, but with resolve.  Let us not begin with promises, but with promise.  If we will look within and commit to simply living our beliefs rather than trying to conform to what we think others want us to be or do, we will find this year to be one of our greatest…no matter what circumstances it may hold.

Blessings!

Holiday Hangover

shutterstock_235558714Here we are smack-dab in the middle of the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  For most of us, we are tired from all the holiday running and stress of expectations that come with this time of year.  I mean, think about it for a few moments.  The DAY of Thanksgiving, millions of people start rushing to get deals on items for Christmas.  Why?  Why don’t we actually just spend the time sitting back and relaxing?  Why is it that we don’t even have the turkey digested before we are filling ourselves with Starbucks and shopping like mad through the night?  I suppose there are many reasons, but I keep coming back to the same one over and over:  Expectations!  The holiday season brings with it huge expectations for most people.  We have to meet expectations in buying gifts, getting together with family and friends (even if we love them).  We often get caught up in the frenzy of December and start stressing about every detail.  It’s even worse if you are still having to go to work (or are working as a stay-at-home mom) and don’t have the luxury to attend to the details of the season whenever you’d like.  The expectations are outrageous, and yet we find ourselves on the same treadmill year after year.

shutterstock_215935333Last Thursday was Christmas and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is thankful to have gotten through another year of festivities.  I love the time with family and friends, but (like most of you) we have several family get-togethers, and it seems we spend the 48 hours of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day doing nothing but running from one place to another…and eating FAR more than is comfortable for any one body to digest!  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the festivities.  I just wish they were spread out over more than just two days!  And of course, there is always the purchase of last minute gifts (or the equaling of money spent on gifts), and everywhere you look, people do NOT look joyful.  Right up until the moment of celebration, people are irritated, stressed, and trying to just get through the day.  One of the things I do find it funny though is that so many people lament about the over-commercialization of Christmas, but they do the same thing with over-committing themselves to activities – even those that are filled with the true spirit of giving.  It’s easy to point your finger at someone who is caught up in the monetary aspect of the season but not bother to look at the fact you are caught up in the activities of the season (no matter how noble) and wear yourself down until you can’t enjoy or appreciate the reason for the season either.  It’s no different, so get off your high-horse and take a look in the mirror.
And then it’s over.  We go to bed Christmas night and wake up on December 26th.  For some, it’s back to the daily grind of their jobs.  For others, there is the realization that all the money and energy spent over the previous month didn’t accomplish much more than putting them in debt (financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually).  shutterstock_150212927We wake up with a little bit of buyer’s remorse with the way we “spent” the holiday, and whatever temporary joy we experienced on Christmas suddenly fades into the reality that the time and energy we sacrificed is often a very high price to pay.  So begins what could be called the “Recovery Week:” seven days to go through a sort of “after-Christmas grief process.”  Seven days that give us a chance to not just reflect on the year, but to stop and look at how the year culminated into a chaotic frenzy that is nothing more than an indulgent binge.  You can break it down into the five stages of holiday grief.  Instead of DABDA we have SANTA:

  1. S  pending – This starts at Thanksgiving and is fueled by a “have to” approach to buying gifts just because it’s what we do…and after all, there are SO many great deals! We spend like we are in denial of what it costs us (not just financially).
  2. A  nxiety – As the season progresses, we begin to realize how much money and time we are spending trying to live up to the expectations of those around us and society as a whole.
  3. N  egotiation – Eventually we start feeling out of control and vulnerable so we make deals with others (or ourselves) hoping to regain the equilibrium we’ve lost. We wonder things like “if only I hadn’t committed to so many events…” or “if only I had been strong enough to resist the urge to spend so much money.”  We look for ways to soften the inevitable “crash” that is coming by promising ourselves (or God) that we will stop and settle down and refocus.
  4. T  rouble – As we go through the actual holiday, we find that we are already depleted before we begin. We try to enjoy the day and the people we are with, but find our tolerance level has been reduced.  The day ends and we start to feel depressed about what we’ve “lost” in the holiday.  We long for the times we enjoyed as a kid when everything was still magical and exciting instead of stressful and tiring.  We grieve the loss of the true spirit of Christmas and wonder how in the world we got so lost.
  5. A  cceptance – After the troubled spirit we experience on Christmas day, we are faced with a new reality. No longer are we clouded by expectations of others.  We see more clearly and start to consider how we could have done things differently.  We are faced with the bills associated with our spending, and the recovery we need physically to heal from the indulgence and lack of true rest.  It doesn’t mean it FEELS good; it simply means we have reached a point where we reflect and accept the place in which we find ourselves.  We no longer make excuses for our holiday behavior, but instead decide to move forward. This is the place we reach during the week between Dec 25th and Jan 1st , and it drives us to make changes as we begin the new year.

Christmas should be a celebration of the greatest gift this world ever received in the birth of our Lord and Savior.  But maybe the second greatest gift of Christmas is actually found in its over-the-top nature that we often complain about.  Maybe the over-commercialization and over-indulgence has gotten SO bad that it actually brings us back to what is important.  We may lose sight during the season, but somehow that is often what brings us back to a place where we realize just how far left of center we have gotten.  It’s like anything else in life – we over-indulge and wake up the next morning regretting it.  It can be drinking, eating, spending, working or anything else.  Most of our best decisions are made in the moments after we have lost our way.  It is often in our weakest or most troubling times that we can hear the clearest.  Much like the prodigal son, eventually we “come to ourselves” and make the decision to turn around.

shutterstock_228944191So as we go through these next few days and approach 2015, let us all step back and be thankful.  Be thankful for all the good that comes from the holidays.  Be thankful for friends and family.  Be thankful for a God who loves you so much that He sent His son to die so you could live!  But be thankful also for the renewal of perspective.  Be thankful for the credit card bills that will be coming or the exercising you are going to have to do because of how you indulged during the holidays.  Be thankful for it, because the most difficult realizations often create the most beautiful changes.

Blessings!

When You Don’t Feel Thankful…

shutterstock_159498437It’s that time of year again when everyone is supposed to stop and count their blessings and be thankful for all the things in their lives.  But what if things feel so bad in your life that you’ve lost the ability to see the good things, or to even believe they exist anymore?  What if you are depressed by current events or financial problems?  What if you are in the middle of a difficult or challenging situation that is overwhelming your mind?  Or what if you are experiencing sadness, hurt or disappointment that is overwhelming your heart?  What if you don’t FEEL thankful?  I ask because I need the answer myself.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time for us to gather together to count our blessings and remember all God has done for us.  Most of us have time off at some point for the holiday weekend where we have the opportunity to stop and reflect, but often that reflection never happens or it is clouded by all the distractions going on around us.  Thanksgiving, for many, has become nothing more than a long weekend filled with family arguments, frantic shopping, and stress of other obligations. For some, it has turned from an opportunity to relax and reflect, into four days of elevated heart rates, packed schedules and frustrated hearts and minds.  For others, it is nothing more than a reminder of what they have lost or never had in life – whether it is family, love or material possessions.

It’s hard going into the holiday season when there are things in your life that are weighing you down.  I think we’ve all experienced that sensation one year or another.  For me, there is a lot on my heart and mind.  Much of it I cannot share with anyone because it is something that needs to stay between me and God for right now, but it weighs heavily on me.  Then you add the loss of holiday traditions that I used to love, and stresses of work and home, and I find myself overwhelmed by it all.  shutterstock_213079855Then I look around, and all I see is a coming weekend of frenetic activity that revolves around everything BUT something positive.  It doesn’t make me feel very thankful at all.  It makes me feel depressed, which then causes me to start thinking about everything that’s wrong or all the stuff I need to do.  It sucks the gratitude right out of me, because the majority of the negative things I’m thinking about are valid.  There ARE things that need to be resolved, things that ARE frustrating, things that DO hurt me.  It’s all true, so how am I supposed to stop and be thankful?  We must find ways to stop the madness, both externally and internally, so that we are able to find peace in the midst of the storms and thankfulness in the midst of our chaos.  Here are some practical things to consider…

  1. Learn to say “No.” – I know it sounds selfish, but we all need to learn the word “no,” especially around the holidays. Do not commit to so many events, cooking, volunteering or family get-togethers that you are running continually from one thing to another.  It’s okay to want to do all these things, but there are only 24 hours in a day and if you do not learn to say no, you will drain yourself to a point where you cannot do any more.  Trust me, you will eventually break down in some way.  Instead, decide what is most important to you and let the rest go.  Besides, when you take it upon yourself to do everything someone asks you to do (or you think you need to do), you may be robbing someone else of the blessing of being able to step in and help or participate.  You aren’t a martyr, so stop acting like one and set some boundaries.
  2. Create your own personal tradition – Traditions can be wonderful but life happens and sometimes those traditions end up changing or even disappearing completely because they involve others. Consider creating some traditions for yourself that do not depend on anyone else.  For example, decide you are going to spend a certain amount of time doing something you enjoy.  It might be taking a walk, listening to music, getting coffee, painting, or whatever floats your boat.  Make it something you can do whether someone else joins you or not.  If you are a person of faith, you can decide to set aside an amount of time – whether it is days, hours or even just a few minutes – where you get by yourself, turn off all the technology that is constantly pinging at you, and spend that time with your heavenly Father.  It can be talking to Him or reading His word, but make it time just for you and Him.  It is GREAT to have traditions with family and friends, but make sure you have some traditions just for you that are totally in your control.  That way you won’t feel so sad or resentful when someone else fails to uphold traditions you used to treasure.
  3. Rest – I suppose this could go hand-in-hand with learning to say no, but you NEED to find time to rest. The holidays are filled with frenetic activity and even if you aren’t actively participating in all of it, the pace swirling around you will inevitably affect you.  It’s like standing in the middle of a crowd that is fighting with each other even if you aren’t fighting.  The stress of it all will still affect you even if you just stand there.  Not participating in the holiday madness, doesn’t automatically mean you are resting!  Resting is something we have devalued in our society and we need to get back to taking time to stop now and then.  Go to bed at a decent hour and rest so that you are able to truly enjoy the things you choose to do each day.  If you choose to participate in something that has you out late (or all night) then prepare and plan to take time the next day to rest, instead of engaging in all kinds of activities.  If you don’t take time to truly rest, you will find yourself much more susceptible to the natural stresses that occur during this time of the year.  Your fuse will be shorter and it will be almost impossible to not feel drained on all fronts.
  4. Pray – You can pray anywhere, any time. I’m not talking about the prayers you hear in church or on TV where it is filled with the “right” things to say and a bunch of “Lords,” “Fathers”, “thees” and “thous” but the kind of prayer that God actually takes delight in!  TALK to God.  Talk to Him like you would your best friend.  If you’re angry, then tell Him.  He already knows it anyway so you might as well be honest.  If you’re sad or confused, then tell Him.  Ask Him to help you because He has promised that He will!  You don’t have to spend a certain amount of time praying or get on your knees.  I pray all the time in my car, just talking to Him and telling Him what I’m afraid of, worried about, or need help with.  I tell Him things that I thought were funny or things that made my day.  Sometimes it is as simple as me saying, “Hey God, I was just thinking about how much I don’t want to go to work this morning, so would you please help me get through the day?  ”  That’s it.  No fanfare and no righteous verbiage.   I think He would much rather have us, as His children, just call Him like we do anyone else we have a relationship with.  He already knows everything, but when you talk to Him like you would anyone else, it makes your relationship much more real and prayer no longer feels like an obligation.  He enjoys hearing from us just like we enjoy it when our kids (or others) talk to us and want to keep us in the loop of their lives – even if we already know what they are about to tell us.  And when God becomes real to us, then everything else changes.

Listen, no one ever said life was easy.  We all have things that hit us and knock us down and steal our joy or gratitude, but making changes so that it can be restored can sometimes be just as hard.  When you start setting boundaries and taking care of yourself, there are others around you who will not be happy.  Don’t expect otherwise because it often requires them to adjust also, and change isn’t easy for most people.  There are others who will have strong opinions and be more than happy to share them with you.  They may try to make you see how “selfish you are being,” or get upset because you won’t join in everything they think you should be doing.  But you see, they aren’t the ones who have to live with those choices or who have to answer to God for them.  We are told to be thankful and to give thanks in ALL things, not just the good stuff or what we think is the good stuff.  That being said, in order to clear the clutter out of your head and heart so that you are able to be thankful, you have to sometimes make difficult choices or change the way you approach things. Taking some of those steps listed above may initially cause stress for others but the bottom line is you are not responsible for everyone else.  You are responsible for doing whatever is necessary so that you can prepare your own heart to be reminded of everything that you truly do have.  That is often easier said than done.

shutterstock_223186420There is much for which to be grateful.  If you’re reading this, it means you woke up this morning.  It means you took another breath.  It means your heart beat another time.  That means anything is possible today, tomorrow, or any time to come.  What’s in the past is past, and the possibilities are endless for the future, but you will never be able to step back and appreciate that truth without a conscious effort.  You can’t wait until you FEEL thankful, because the cares of this world will absolutely choke you until you can’t see anything else.   You will never begin to feel thankful until you actually become thankful, and becoming thankful is something we should all strive for. When we take care of ourselves (in all areas), our hearts become softened to the whispers of our Father.  When we rest, we are able to contemplate.  When we reflect and contemplate on things, we begin to see the true meaning of life and nature of God.  And when we see the true nature of God, we cannot help but become thankful.  Becoming thankful is a choice based on what we know to be true.  Once we become thankful, we begin to feel thankful, and it is then we are able to deepen our roots so that we are able to reach out in greater ways to the world around us and share a true spirit of gratitude and love.  And that, my friends is what thanksgiving is all about.

Blessings!

I Still Believe…

Every year I get out my Christmas decorations and put them up the weekend after Thanksgiving.  In the midst of my decorations each year sits a framed letter I wrote to Santa when I was only nine years old.  I don’t always stop to re-read it but this year I took a few extra moments to do so and decided to share it with all of you.

photo 2As cute as I find that letter, it strikes me how much I can see my adult self in that little girl’s note.   I loved Christmas…and still do.  Even though I was starting to get older, I still chose to hold to the truth there was a Santa Claus out there who spread love and joy around the world.  I had a wonderful childhood and it wasn’t that I was trying to live in some fantasy world, but I just loved Santa and what he represented. I’ve often said I was not a normal kid and it’s so true!  I remember writing that letter and truly believing everything I said.  First of all, I knew that I could always be a better person.  I didn’t care about material gifts but gifts of the heart.  To me, love was the greatest gift you could give or receive.  Love also meant you were honest, which is why I couldn’t even get through my letter to Santa without correcting my opening statement that I had been “good.”   I felt like I didn’t deserve anything not because I was so terrible, but because I felt like I hadn’t done enough to help others.  I wanted “stuff” for other people (or animals)! Yeah…I was a sappy child.  All I wanted was for Santa to know that he was important to me and that I loved him.  And if there was something he could bring me, I didn’t want stuff because it didn’t matter to me at all.  More than anything, I just wanted him to know that I was grateful and that I cared about him and loved him with all my heart.  It’s interesting to me that what I said or asked for in my letter is still reflective of the way I think today.   Material things still don’t matter to me.  Sure, they are nice to have, but what really matters is the connections and relationships we have with the people around us.  What matters is love.  THAT is the true magic of Christmas.

So in this season of overspending and over-committing to activities, let us remember to stop and show our love to the people in our lives…not with gifts we can buy but with the gift of ourselves and our time.  In a season where the world tries to distract us from the true reason why there IS a Christmas, let us be thankful to our Father who IS love.

And may my grown up Christmas letter always be filled with the same sentiment it had when I was nine. Blessings!