Yesterday Once More

shutterstock_1255117942Although I might be dating myself with that song-cue of a title, I want to share something very important with you about an issue that is affecting more and more of us, an issue that is leaving families hurt, lost and confused about what to do or where to turn.  This issue is the condition called Dementia, and it not only affects older people but people of all ages.  They are even finding new strains appearing in young children.  I know this is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, but it is one to which many of you can relate.

Dementia, in any form it manifests, is devastating.  I know first-hand, because my dad, who is the most brilliant man I ever knew, has now been walking this journey for a number of years.  As a result, so have the rest of us.  This disease doesn’t just affect the patient; it sinks its teeth into every relationship surrounding them and wreaks havoc in the lives of everyone who loves them.  If you had told me it was possible for my dad to struggle like I’ve seen him do in recent years, I would have told you that you were out of your mind.  Yet, here we are.  Some days it’s yesterday all over again, and other days it’s a brand new world.

Anyone who has been affected in one way or another by the devastating aspects of any form of dementia – either as patient or care partner- can relate to the myriad of challenges, frustrations and griefs that become a part of every day life.  I heard others talk about having a loved one with dementia, and my heart always went out to them, but the truth is that I had no clue about the depth of what they were walking through.  That all changed when this disease hit my own family.

golf non dadDementia is an umbrella term, under which fall a large number of different types of the disease.  Alzheimer’s, for example, is simply the most common type of dementia, but there is Lewy Body, Frontotemporal, Vascular Dementia, and a host of others.  Dementia is not a memory problem; it is brain failure.  Just like any other organ can fail, the brain can experience failure.  Where that failure first manifests itself will determine the functions that are the first to begin diminishing.  My dad did not start out with memory problems.  You could ask him about things and talk with him, never knowing there was a problem at all.  We did however start to notice he was starting to struggle with problem solving, or things involving processes or sequencing.   We saw the signs but never recognized them.  We just blamed it on not knowing technology or being tired and stressed.  Because he didn’t have any trouble with remembering people, events, stories or anything else, it never occurred to us in the beginning that he might have an actual issue going on.  We were wrong.

It wasn’t until things really got noticeable with Dad that I began researching dementia and what to do.  By God’s grace, I stumbled upon a 3-minute video of a woman named Teepa Snow, and I was captivated.  (Here is the video that started it all: Teepa – Communicating with a person with Dementia  ) Immediately I knew I was in over my head, but I also felt a huge relief that someone could make aspects of this disease so easy to understand, (and with a great sense of humor to boot).  I immersed myself in her videos and website (www.teepasnow.com).  I took webinars and attended a wonderful Care Partner Series that was a cross between a class and a support group…twice!  Teepa, and the way she imparts coping mechanisms and techniques in how to walk this journey, absolutely changed the trajectory of ours.  Did it stop the disease? Nope.  Did it change the grief and constant changes that come with brain failure?  Nope.  What it DID change, was greatly reducing the feeling of isolation that comes when your world shrinks as you care for a loved one with this disease.  What it changed was how we viewed this disease.  It provided ways for those of us who love Dad, to offer support for him, and each other, in ways we wouldn’t have known otherwise.

shutterstock_316304594As of right now, there has not been a single survivor of this disease.  Let that sink in for a moment.  We have found ways to mitigate some of the effects of it, but it still remains a 100% fatal condition.  That may sound harsh, but it is the reality.  There is no currently no cure.  We have done a great job in this country highlighting all kinds of diseases and raising money for research, but this disease falls through the cracks sometimes.  Maybe it’s because it is often a private battle that still contains a stigma that causes people to be afraid to discuss it openly.  Maybe it’s because people who would normally be out there raising money for the cause are far too busy just trying to survive from day to day as they care for their loved ones.  Whatever the reason, we need to get busy doing all we can to raise money for research, while raising awareness and educating others, so that we can reduce the stigma associated with this disease.

My Dad is still the most brilliant man I know, and every so often I get a glimpse of that same man during a visit or conversation with him.  Underneath the looping conversations or behavior is still an amazing, loving, funny, demanding, professional and successful man; it just takes a little more to see past the surface now.  Most people who encounter those with brain failure seem to focus so much on what the person has lost in functionality, but I agree with Teepa that we need to be focusing on what someone can still do!  When we focus on the skills and abilities that remain in a dementia patient, we are able to bring out the person they’ve always been.  Unfortunately, that also means letting go of what we expected or how we think things should be, and embrace what is right in front of us.  Now that I think about it, that’s not a bad way to live our lives anyway.

Blessings!

NOTE: I will be participating in the “Walk To End Alzheimer’s” on October 12, 2019 in our local community.  I have never been one to ask for financial support for a cause, but this one is near and dear to my heart, as it is may of yours as well.  If you can make a donation to join the fight for Alzheimer’s first survivor, it would be so appreciated.  It doesn’t matter if it is one dollar, it absolutely makes a difference!     Thank you! 

Deanna OLeary’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s Page

Peace In Letting Go

It seems like so long since I have been in touch with you all, but hopefully this will bring us all back together because, quite frankly, I’ve missed you.

shutterstock_213079855We all have reasons and circumstances in life that cause us to retreat.  It doesn’t matter the source, because the reactions are much the same.  For me, it has been several years (especially the past year) of dealing with a loved one who has Dementia and struggling to leave a church I’d been part of for over 20 years.  Then my husband’s parents died just four days apart.  Within a matter of weeks, things substantially declined with my dad and he ended up moving into a memory care facility which resulted in my mom (whom I love beyond words) moving in with my husband and me.  To say it has made my heart wander and wonder would be an understatement, yet here I am doing it more than I could have ever dreamed.

Life is hard, and sometimes it seems we get beat up every time we turn around.  On top of that, people can also be mean, unkind, selfish and even narcissistic, including ourselves at times, which is why it’s so important to be able to reflect and take a look inward to see how we are contributing to the situations in which we find ourselves.  I am learning (more slowly than I’d like) there are times when you just have to step away.  When reality slaps us in the face, sometimes we have to be willing to let go of expectation.  That’s something I’ve never been able to do very well because I am not a good “leaver” no matter the situation.  When I was younger, I couldn’t have anticipated how much pain that trait would cause me over the course of my life.  There is a fine line between believing or hoping for the best in someone and subjecting yourself to continual heartache, bullying or abuse.

When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel as though you are on the outside of something, whether it is a job, relationships, church or anything else, there are always things you can do to try and regain your footing.  The struggle that comes with finding your footing is that sometimes it may require you to step somewhere else.  shutterstock_1492027019THAT is something with which many of us are not comfortable.  Stepping out of what we want into the reality that exists means we have to let go, give up, and be willing to experience the loss and grief that comes with doing so.  Peace doesn’t come easy in these kinds of seasons in life.  When you are between a rock and a hard place, even if only by perception, it is painful no matter which way you turn.  But it’s also in that terribly lonely place that you are forced to look at what you are willing to do to be free.

As a person of faith, I have struggled with what to do or where to be.  I believe God has a plan for each of our lives, for my life, and yet I get discouraged or feel like giving up just like many of you.  Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t experience times of discouragement, rejection or even utter despair at times.  It doesn’t mean we won’t get tired or feel lonely.  Jesus himself experienced these same things when He was walking on this earth.  Our emotions aren’t sinful; they are human, but it’s what we do with our emotions that’s important.

They say confession is good for the soul, so I have to tell you that as I was writing this post, I was interrupted by a song I’d never heard before.  It was validating, comforting, and convicting all at the same time.  The song is called “Ordinary Love” by the Jim Brady Trio, and the words of the chorus have been echoing in my mind over and over.  “Ordinary love, a love that winds its way through common conversations and simple acts of grace, ‘cause no one needs a superstar and no one need a saint.  We need someone to just show up with ordinary love.”  As I sat here listening to the song over and over, I first nodded in validation we all need that kind of love, yet I’ve been fighting the oppressive sadness of feeling left out, unimportant, and insignificant.  My world has been feeling increasingly small and lonely until it finally takes too much effort to even say anything anymore.  Then as I continued to listen, I felt the tears streaming down my face at the comfort those lyrics were bringing, because no matter how I am struggling or how silent it feels, I am so grateful for the few people who show up every single day in my life with “ordinary love.”  They put legs on their intentions without prodding or having to ask for it. Then as I continued to hear those lyrics over and over, my heart began to be convicted about how important it is for me to just keep on walking where God has called me and to love people the way I always have…with all my heart…in the little ways that matter.

shutterstock_229454029When life gets so overwhelming and you can’t breathe, sometimes it is the smallest acts of grace and kindness that get you from one day to another or from one breath to the next.  Yes, there are things we must let go of to move on, and sometimes those things are deeply painful and even wounding to our hearts and spirits.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let go of things, people or even our expectations; it just means it’s going to take some time to heal as a result of doing so.  We simply need to step back and listen to that still, small voice inside, and then walk on as peaceably as possible down the path ahead, even if the ground is stained with our tears as we move along.

If you are in a season of your life filled with feelings of isolation, insignificance discouragement or despair, you’re not alone.  Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it may be time for big changes within your heart that lead to changes elsewhere.  Just remember, that even as you are trudging through each step right now, be kind in your silence.  Be strong in your fatigue.  Be gentle in your frustration and disappointment, and choose to still fill the world around you with ordinary love.

Blessings!

A C(h)ain Reaction

Most of us are very familiar with the term “chain reaction,” where one thing leads to another and then on to another.  Well, this past week I experienced something I am now calling “the Cain reaction.”  No that is not a typo, and yes I will explain!  I didn’t see it coming, but it totally changed my perspective, and I just had to share it with you!

Most people of faith (and some who are not) have heard the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4, and if you ask them about it, you’ll probably hear a synopsis that goes something like this:  Well, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel.  They both offered sacrifices to God, and God accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s.  So, Cain got angry and took his brother out to a field to murder him.  When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain asked that famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  It’s not a story we often talk about, but this past week, there was a chain reaction that led me ultimately back to this story, and everything about it changed for me.

 Lately, it feels like life has been knocking me down and then kicking me while I’m down there. I keep getting back up, but it’s exhausting doing it over and over. I am positive some of you can relate!  As person of faith, you’d think that I’d be stronger when the rough seasons of life hit, but being a believer does not prevent me from sometimes crumbling under the weight of this world.  Just because we are children of God, doesn’t mean we are immune to anger, depression, sadness or frustration.  Just because we know we CAN have peace and strength in the midst of difficult times, doesn’t mean we actually lean on it.  Just because the Bible tells us “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we cave and say, “I just can’t handle anymore!”  That’s what happened to me last week.  Then a series of events took place that I need to share with you.

shutterstock_566571199It all started when someone, who knows what I’ve been going through in recent months, unexpectedly came to me and said she had been reading a devotional and a verse jumped out at her that she felt needed to be shared with me.  The verse was John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  As a result, this friend made me a pendant on which she stamped “John 16:33.”  Because I was so touched by the gesture, I read that verse over and over.  It is a familiar verse, but all my life, I’ve focused on the last part of it, the part where Jesus says we will have trouble but that He has overcome it.  THIS time, I couldn’t get past the first comment, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” I just kept thinking about the fact that Jesus thought it was so important to remind His followers of why He had continually shared all He did with them.  It’s like He was saying to ME, “Look, there’s a reason I’ve told you all I have about life, it’s troubles and how to navigate it.”   That thought pushed the chain reaction into full swing, because it prompted me to pick up my Bible so I could remember the things He had “told me” in His word.  This time though, instead of turning to the many familiar passages of encouragement and promises, I returned to something I hadn’t finished reading almost three months ago – Genesis chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel.

I don’t think anything happens by accident; I never have, but sometimes I am totally amazed to look back on my path and see all the things that had to come together in order for me to experience something or have a change in my perspective.  I think we have become so cynical and/or oblivious that we no longer take the time to pause and see the interconnectedness of events in our lives.  I’m not talking about major steps, though sometimes it can be, but rather the little things that go unnoticed that end up leading us to a conclusion or decision that has an impact on us.

shutterstock_152320880So what was this epiphany I had when I read the verses telling the story of Cain and Abel?  Well, I used to think of Cain as just a terrible person, an evil man who got jealous of his brother and killed him in cold blood.  Not only that, but then he had the audacity to make a smart-a** comment to God Himself (Gen 4:9)!  I’m not excusing anything Cain did, but I want to share a different perspective.   Here were two brothers, one was a shepherd and the other was a farmer.  When it came time to give an offering to God, it was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb.  So, Abel provided an offering according to what God had requested, but Cain decided he would give something different.  Cain decided it would be better if he sacrificed the best that HE had to God.  It’s most likely that his intent was honorable, and that he thought surely it would touch God more if he sacrificed the best of his crops instead of asking his brother for a lamb to sacrifice, while giving up nothing himself.  It wasn’t that he was being a disobedient jerk, but rather that he felt like God would be more pleased if he gave Him the absolute best of all he had.  He was trying to honor God his way instead of simply doing what God asked.  Unfortunately, he was wrong, and when God accepted Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s, it made him angry, depressed and dejected.  Wouldn’t YOU be?

How many times have I done exactly what Cain did, and tried to serve God my way instead of His?  How many times have I given up things that He never asked of me?  It’s great when our heart is in the right place, and our motives are good, but we’ve all had situations in life where the end result still went sideways!  At times, the same thing happens when it comes to our service to our Heavenly Father.  We offer up what we think will make Him happy, instead of doing what He has already told us will make Him rejoice.  Modern religion and churches are filled with people with good intentions, trying to serve God in ways they have reasoned will be pleasing to Him, but ultimately missing the mark completely.  Many of us have become so self-focused on what we are doing for God that we can no longer hear how He asked us to do it.

shutterstock_137269457Ok, so back to Cain…  In my memory of this story, I somehow forgot that God actually talked to him twice, the first was BEFORE he killed his brother.  Gen 4:6-7: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  God loved Cain and knew he was upset, so He took a moment to remind him of something really important:  We have an enemy and it isn’t our families, friends, coworkers, church members or anyone else; it is something bigger.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the power of darkness.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober-minded because our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.   Cain’s emotions got the best of him and God knew it, so He basically said, “Look, if you simply do what I ask instead of what you think I want, you’ll have joy.  But if you lose focus and start trying to do things your way, sin is crouching down waiting to pounce on you.  It wants to take you down! It wants you!  If you let your anger and sadness take over, it is going to lead you down a path that will destroy you. You’ve got to learn how to let it go.”  God stepped in when He saw Cain upset and tried to help him regain his focus.

After God spoke to Cain, Gen 4:8, simply says that Cain “told his brother.”  What do you think that conversation was like?  I can see Cain venting to Abel about what happened and what God had said to him.  “Abel, I gave God the BEST of what I had and He didn’t even care!  And then do you know what He said to me??”  I can hear Cain going on about it and then Abel responding with something like, “Well, He’s right.  I know you think it was your best, but it’s not what He asked for.”  Cain was probably looking for an ally in his brother, someone to agree with him that God was unfair and mean.  When that didn’t happen, Cain fell into a fit of rage and killed his brother.  Cain didn’t purposely take Abel out to a field to murder him because he was jealous, it simply happened as a crime of passion.  Even the Bible says it just happened, “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up and killed his brother” (Gen 4:8).

On Wednesday last week, I was so angry at God for not doing things the way it originally LOOKED like He would.  I was distraught and felt like God was dangling carrots in front of me just to yank them back.  I told my dearest friend, “I just feel like I’m trying to do what God wants me to do, and He just keeps kicking me in the teeth!”  It’s so hard to stay focused when it feels like God has let you down.  It’s hard to not get sad and depressed when you thought you could see the path ahead only to find it collapse in front of you.  I wasn’t just angry; I was angry at God for having a different plan and not just accepting the one I had laid out. After all, I was giving up my best!   In that moment, my best friend lovingly reminded me of the truth of God’s word, and I knew she was right, even though my heart was crushed.

shutterstock_134516501As I sat in my chair the next morning, blown away by what God had just revealed to me, I said out loud, “Oh my God, I am CAIN!”   I realized my frustration that God’s plan was not what I thought it should be caused me to allow the enemy to leap from his crouching and pounce all over me.  And then I heard God speak to my heart the same thing he told Cain that day so long ago: “I have a plan, and if you will just trust me and follow it, everything will work out.  But if you let this disappointment you feel, as a result of me not doing things your way, just keep eating at you, it’s going to destroy you.  You’ve got to let it go and trust me.”  Talk about being humbled by something…God’s same words to Cain in his crisis of faith thousands of years ago became the same words He said to me in mine.  And just like Cain, I had a choice to make in how I moved forward, but instead of holding onto my anger as he did, I chose to unclench my hands and let it go.

It is amazing how God works and weaves so many little things together to shift our perspective.  He paints with brushstrokes we often don’t understand in order to create beautiful paintings we couldn’t even imagine.   He promised to work all things out for our ultimate good, but it’s hard for us to understand that when we are looking at a single stroke of His brush.

I guess sometimes we all need is a little “c(h)ain” reaction.

Blessings!

Replenishment Over Resolutions

shutterstock_1148041004Happy New Year’s Eve!  Every new year brings with it the hope for positive changes and experiences ahead for us.  We reflect on the past year and consider what didn’t go as we expected or how we didn’t do the things we originally planned.  Maybe your year has been filled with more successes and joy than you even imagined, or maybe it was filled with changes that brought loss and pain to your heart.  Either way, we still seem to have this innate sense of reflection when a new year is about to begin, but why?  There is something so refreshing about newness in life.  It is why so many people love the season of spring so much, there is new life blooming all around us.   New life is exciting and reminds us that even when the ground is dark and cold, there is life beneath it just waiting to explode into view.  I guess it’s much the same sensation as we approach a new year.  Winter is raging, but it feels as though a newness of life is growing, waiting to burst forth into view.  New life represents a replenishment of hope.  It’s a burst of energy.  It’s a new focus or new commitment.  But mostly it is a new perspective or a new vision of what lies ahead.

For those who live by faith, we know that God promises us new life not just at the dawning of a new year, but in every moment and every breath.  We know we can start again and make positive changes in life, and if we fail, we can still get back up and keep going.  What I find interesting is how often we make our plans and then ask for God’s help in executing those plans.  We use our reasoning to determine the best course of action in our lives.  We reflect, refocus and set goals we believe will bring the positive changes we so desire.  It all seems so godly until we step back and look at things more objectively in the light of truth.  Things start to shift when we get out of religion and into Christ.  Suddenly our plans get shaken up, and, if we aren’t careful, we can start thinking that everything is going wrong when maybe it’s finally going right.  And as I say that, I just keep thinking about the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.”

shutterstock_134516501Sometimes God replenishes us and refreshes us through the difficult processes of letting go.  I recently took several months off from my official responsibilities at church, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I prayed about it over and over, as it is not my nature to take a break of any kind.  I always scheduled vacations and business trips around being able to be in my place of service, so to know God was leading me to take a break from what I’ve felt I needed to do really rattled my brain!  The key phrase to that last sentence is “what I’ve felt.”  When we insist on operating under what we feel instead of what God is asking of us, it creates the most challenging disjoints.  For one thing, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  If God wants us to walk by faith and not in what we can see with our own eyes, I’m certain He doesn’t want us walking by what we feel either!  Our emotions can wreak havoc on the direction God is leading us in any situation, because we want to feel like what we are doing makes sense.  I’ll speak for myself here:  I don’t want to feel like what I’m doing is stupid or that others may see me as making decisions that appear to be rash or thoughtless.  I don’t want to appear irresponsible or flaky.  I don’t want to follow God’s leading only to have others judging me to be things I am not.  Since it is the holiday season, it reminds me of how Joseph probably had many of those same thoughts when he realized that none of his friends or family were going to believe (or be privy to) all the details of his pregnant fiancee or why he didn’t “put her away.”  He knew how people would look at him or talk about him, but he walked the path God laid out for him and let God take care of the details.

So where is this going?  It is going to the heart of how you or I want to start this new year or live the rest of our lives.  Do we want to constantly be striving for all the things we think will make our lives better, or do we really want to walk where God is leading us?   Are we willing to lay back into His arms and (His will) and let Him refresh and replenish us, or are we determined to spin our wheels attempting to replenish ourselves through the execution of our well-thought out goals and plans?

shutterstock_699640600.jpgWe really need to remember that each new year doesn’t just begin on January 1st.  Every breath is the beginning of a new year.  Every heartbeat is the beginning of what our lives will become.  Living with that kind of refreshed perspective brings hope for a better future, but whether or not anything changes depends on how we view ourselves in comparison to our Savior.  Do I really think I’m smarter than Him or have more resources?  Do I really think I’m more enlightened or understand more?  He knows and sees what I am unable to, and He has already planned ways around or through the maze of my life.  I need to remember He is working things for my ultimate good.  I need to stop trying to cut openings in the dead ends just because I think I’m smart enough to see a better way and strong enough to create it.  I need to remember that I am replenished when I step back, breathe, and follow wherever He leads no matter how it appears to others.  I need to remember the depth of my Father’s love for me, and that everything He does or allows is is bathed in that pure and perfect love.

I read a great meme the other day that said, “Sometimes faith will make you look stupid until it starts to rain.  – Noah.”   New life most often springs from the most challenging circumstances IF we are willing to follow where our Father leads.  It may not always coincide with the way we would do things, and it may even look to some as though we have lost all sense of reasoning, but that’s the point!  If God is leading you to do (or not do) something, then follow that leading no matter how it looks to the rest of the world.  We tell each other things like, “Don’t let anyone distract you from your goals,” but the greatest danger or true distraction to achieving our goals is the manner in which we set them in the first place.

shutterstock_670208887If you are like me, we need to let go of what we think is best for us, or the worry and fear that comes with what others might think of us, and trust what our Father says to us in His word:  “For I know the plans I have for you,”says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)   His plans for our successes far exceed our ability to create our own, and His replenishment trumps our “resolutions.” Every. Single. Time.

Blessings!

Unexpected Gifts

shutterstock_148595204.jpgGifts.  It’s always a big topic of every holiday season.  We might be busy trying to buy things from a “wish list” of someone we know, or maybe we are thinking about what we ourselves might receive for Christmas.   But here’s a question:  Have you ever received an amazing gift you didn’t even know you wanted or would have ever imagined?  Unexpected gifts often bring unexpected blessings, and yet when it comes to circumstances in our lives, we don’t seem to have that reaction.

As people of faith, we know that God sees the big picture and has a plan for our lives.   We believe Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   We hold to Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”   We know what He has promised, but when things aren’t working like we think they should, we start looking at God like He is some kind of a spiritual grinch.  It’s easy to lose sight of the truth of God’s goodness when we are buried in our perspective on what we think that “goodness” should be.

shutterstock_755066917We want things to be good, prosperous, and somewhat easy, but we certainly don’t want and wouldn’t choose for ourselves things like pain, grief, loss, betrayal or being dismissed.  When we endure those things, it’s hard to see them as gifts.  Over the past year, I have been given many of those so-called “gifts,” and if I am being honest, I wasn’t too happy about it.  I have complained, been discouraged and even distraught at times.  I’ve definitely had moments of feeling like God is a grinch and that He just seems to want to take away everything good from us.  That being said, I have also learned that sometimes when we lose things or go through difficult times, it really does start to change our perspective.  It enables us, if we allow God to work, to see things differently.  It allows us to grow, and that is a gift.  I would dare say it is one of His greatest gifts to us – presenting us with situations that challenge us and force us to re-examine our lives, faith and service to Him and to others in whatever place we find ourselves. Sometimes He allows things to happen that force us to reach out to others, and in doing so we often find incredible people and incredible perspective.  When we open ourselves up to what God is doing rather than trying to explain it, we find love, compassion, care, and genuine concern.  We find His word speaking to us through channels we wouldn’t have previously considered, and all of these things we find coming from a source that we don’t expect.   When we stand back and truly see the goodness of God and His mercy in allowing difficult circumstances into our lives, we can become thankful for it.  It’s truly difficult for us to embrace our challenges, disappointments and discouragements or the people or things that cause them, but they truly are for our good.

shutterstock_243236653We have a good Father who loves us and wants the best for us always.  He has an amazing plan for our lives that includes our places of service.  He knows what’s coming, and while we are freaking out trying to see ahead, He is standing there patting us on the shoulder whispering, “I am the one who goes before you.  I’ll be with you, so don’t be afraid or dismayed.  I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”  (Deut. 31:8)  He knows that no matter what we are going through, that there is a PLAN!  Let that sink in for a moment.  I’ve been talking about “unexpected gifts” but they are only unexpected to us and not to God!  He is not only aware of what is happening, but He is working through all of it to bring us to the most amazing places in this life.  Remember, we see the messy threads underneath the tapestry that look jumbled and ugly, but when you flip it over, you see the beautiful image and artwork that God saw (and designed) all along.

In all of my personal struggles this year, it has caused me to truly step back and search out what God is leading me to do rather than making plans of my own.  He has been stirring things in my heart through some painful circumstances.  Would I rather Him stir my heart by providing beautiful scenes in nature or other wonderful experiences?  Of course I would!  But by bringing me to a place where I became too tired to fight, I was finally able to start listening more closely to what HE wants, and not what I would choose for myself.   If I had my way, I’d choose status quo far more often than not.  I would choose to narrow my vision and settle for the “ok” when God wants me to soar into the amazing!  Letting go of my own expectations of what should be, and dropping the weight that comes with pressing forward when God is telling me to be still, has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  It has also been one of the most liberating!  When I get out of the way and step back so that I can listen, it is amazing what I am able to hear.

shutterstock_727967878So as we approach this season of celebration, I am thankful for unexpected gifts and unexpected paths.  I am grateful that God doesn’t just know exactly what we need, but also knows the desires of our hearts that we ourselves haven’t even realized!  I am thankful that He continually works in our lives so that we can change our perspective and come into alignment with HIS heart.  When we trust that He is good and is always working ALL things for our good, then we begin to desire what He desires.  We want what He wants instead of depending on our understanding of what is “good.”  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  He can do that because when we delight in HIS will and HIS plans, then it’s easy to give us the desires of our hearts because they are the same as His.

Unexpected gifts – things that weren’t even in the realm of our imagination or things we would have never wanted for ourselves, can truly be the greatest gifts we receive.  I guess I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what’s on my own “wish list” for God, because the gifts He has for me are truly “exceedingly, abundantly above all I could ask or think.”  All I need to do is be willing to accept His gifts even when I don’t understand them completely.   After all, when we think He is saying “no” to what we want, just remember that it’s because He has an even greater “yes.”

Merry Christmas and Blessing to you all!

The Eye Of The Storm

shutterstock_1182832180We’ve all heard, seen, or even experienced being in the eye of a violent storm.  We’ve watched hurricane coverage on the news and marveled at those broadcasts that occur while the “eye” is passing over.  Things change drastically in the eye of the storm.  Raging winds calm down, torrential rains stop, and the dark clouds break to reveal the warm light of the sun.  It really is a beautiful pause, but the reality is that the storm is far from over.

In life, we encounter all kinds of situations and circumstances that begin to beat relentlessly on us.  It could be in a relationship, job, health crisis, church or spiritual upheaval.  When we are faced with extreme storms in our lives, our behavior often resembles that of someone caught in the midst of a literal storm.  We battle and struggle to keep our footing in the raging wind and rain.  We learn the direction in which to lean so that we have less chance of getting knocked totally off our feet.  We adapt as the elements around us change so that we can survive with the least amount of damage to us or what we hold dear.   Survival instincts are heightened and our scope of priorities seems to become more focused, and then it happens; there is an eerie calm that comes over us and a peace that allows us to breathe.

IMG_3002I said earlier the eye of the storm is a “beautiful pause,” because that’s all it is – a pause.  This temporary period of peace and calm is simply a chance to take a breath, gather yourself back together and think clearly for a little while.  It’s a moment in time in which we are reminded that there IS life out there beyond the storm.  It reminds us the sun is still shining and takes us to a place of hope that can strengthen our resolve in the face of knowing there is nothing we can do but endure the impending return of the storm.  This eye is where I find myself right now.  Standing in a place of peace, being reminded of how beautiful life can be, and creating an even deeper appreciation for every other time of calm when the storms weren’t raging.  In this place of peace, it is easy to see clearly the path behind and to gain perspective on the path ahead, even though I cannot direct it.

Facing the second half of the storm is inevitable when standing in the eye.  The peace and calm can be deceiving until we consider what is headed straight for us.  Survival is not guaranteed, nor can we be certain we will come through unscathed.  We may lose many things we hold dear before the storm is past.  We may find ourselves faced with decisions that require us to let go of what we have in our hands in order to hold to the things that might literally save our lives.  It may not be what we want, but if God did not open up an “evacuation route” before the storm hit, then our only choice is to do our best to lean into Him no matter how scared, discouraged or depleted we may become in the process.  He promised He would never leave us and that all things will be worked together for our good.  He didn’t say “most things,” or “some things;” He said ALL things.

Being in the eye of my current storms has provided both perspective and peace.  There is a shedding of things that don’t matter and a refocusing on the things that do.  Am I certain of what else is coming?  Not at all.  Am I certain the things I hold dear will be preserved or preserved in the way in which I wish them to be? No, I am not.  The storm is not over, but I am reminded that I know the Master of the wind.  I know the one who has the ability to say, “Peace, be still” to the raging storm and it will obey.  The best thing I can do is trust the One who is already working things out.  I know He will answer every question in His time and will sustain me through the remainder of this storm.

IMG_2995Sometimes we need the perspective that only the storm can bring.  We can become so complacent in our “ruts” in life, often assuming we will always be able to maintain the status quo.  We float through our days, almost mindlessly at times, and when the storms roll in, we are suddenly more alert.  We may be scared or disrupted by what is happening, but we are no longer able to be oblivious to what is going on around us.  We may endure the shakeup in our routines that come when the storm hits.  We may have seen it coming and tried to make preparations for riding it out, or it may have hit us without warning.  We struggle and react from a survival instinct, and it isn’t easy, but then the eye of the storm moves overhead.  It is then that we have that pocket of peace where we can take a deep breath and be reminded of what it feels like when there are no storms on the horizon.  We can be refreshed and even strengthened in these beautiful moments of perspective.

The eye of any storm is temporary.  It is wonderful and provides the much-needed calm we crave after battling everything that is bombarding us, but it is still temporary.  As a person of faith, the eye is a gift that reminds us God is truly in control.  It is a chance to turn our eyes back to Him and focus on everything good He has promised us.  It is a chance to reflect on what He has already brought us through and be grateful.  It is an opportunity for us to set in our hearts that He has not brought us this far to let us down.

Even if the storm causes you to lose things you wanted to keep, don’t give up.  No one said life was going to be easy.  As a matter of fact, our Father in Heaven told us trouble is a certainty!  “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)  This world is full of broken people, including you and me.  We are imperfect, and it doesn’t matter what positions we or others hold, what status we have in life or even the background from which we came; we all struggle.  You may be struggling with the stages of your own storms right now.  Don’t give up.  Even if the storm changes the landscape, don’t give up.  Most of us are creatures of habit and will do anything to keep from losing the stability of our routines.  We will go to great lengths to dig in our heels when God may be trying to move us forward.  This fight we put up internally is sometimes the exact reason we need the storms.  My grandpa always said, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.”  That’s great advice and we should never react out of fear or even being uncomfortable.  I read a quote earlier this week that said, “Sometimes God closes doors because it’s time to move forward.  He knows you won’t move unless your circumstances force you.  Trust the transition, God’s got you.”

shutterstock_319293815If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.  Be steady and listen for God’s direction, but then be willing to do what He leads you to do, even when you know He is leading you into an area you’d rather not go.  But if you are genuinely seeking God’s will for your life, don’t take any path off the table.  We cannot seek His will or clarity in direction but then tell Him which paths we will not take.  And if He is answering your prayer for clarity but you keep creating your own noise that is making it impossible to hear, then He may allow storms in to shake your priorities back into focus.  He will bring you through the first half of the storm into the eye where everything falls into place, and you gain the perspective you need in order to not only survive the storm, but to come out with gratitude for the clarity.  My prayer for you is the same as it is for me, that we breathe and press on with courage and total trust that all is already well, even though we can’t see it yet.  No matter what the landscape looks like when the storm is over, I pray we can find joy and peace in having made it through, and have a renewed sense of strength and clarity in learning what is truly important and what is not.

Blessings!

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!