Focus On What You Already Have

Christmas is upon us, and here I am sitting on the floor, late at night, with only the glow of the Christmas tree lights and the screen of my laptop illuminating the room.  It is quiet in my home, yet somehow music keeps rolling through my head.  It isn’t a song of the season, but rather the melodic cadence of a lifetime.  Maybe it’s the glow of the trees, or the silence around me, but moments like this have a way of pulling my gaze away from the noise and pace of everyday life and bringing my focus back to what really matters.

shutterstock_344854976As we continue through a season that is supposed to be filled with joy and love, I look around and see stress and frustration on the faces of people around me.  Drivers are out of control with anger; shoppers are pushing and shoving each other; some people are going into debt trying to meet their (or others’) expectations of gift-giving.  There are also some who are living with great losses and challenges that cause all the standard holiday activities to simply disappear into the background.  In a season that is so often labeled as “magical,” it becomes easy to feel everything but a sense of wonder.   Busyness and activity has a way of doing that before we even realize it.

I had a hard time this year thinking of things to put on my wish list for Christmas.  I honestly couldn’t think of a single thing for which I had a great desire.  It’s not that I have everything I want materially; it’s just that I found myself incredibly content for the first time in a long time.  Somehow in the midst of my incredibly difficult and distressing year filled with loss and change, I realized what I valued had shifted.  It was only when I sat staring at an empty Christmas list that I even recognized it.

It’s so easy to spend our lives focusing on what we don’t have or what we’ve lost.  This year my husband’s parents passed away just five days apart, and my own dad’s dementia escalated to the point where he had to move into a memory care community.  It was devastating for us all, and my mom had to sell their house to ensure dad could stay in his new community as long as possible, as most memory care facilities aren’t covered by insurance (don’t get me started on that).  Mom moved in with me and my husband, and we’ve been adjusting to our new rhythm as best we can.   Loss after loss, grief after grief with no end in sight.  Have you just ever had that kind of year?  If so, then you understand how quickly our perspective changes. All we see is loss, because loss is all that is visible to us.  Everywhere we look there is more grief and pain, more difficult circumstances, and more that is slipping (or has slipped) between our fingers.  It is a natural reaction, but it doesn’t remove the negative effect it can have on our lives.

shutterstock_711300070Dementia has a way of turning everything upside down.  One of the things I love about Teepa Snow, and her organization (www.teepasnow.com ), is that she continually stresses the importance of looking at what someone still has, instead of what they’ve lost.  Build and foster your relationship based on things they are still able to do instead of what you wish they could still do.  When you focus on the abilities someone still possesses, it frees you from the stress that comes from your skewed expectations.  You can expect all day long that your loved one with dementia still has the abilities they’ve always had, but you will just be frustrated and your relationship with that person will suffer.  It’s about living in the moment, taking them where they are and creating beautiful experiences for you both.  I can’t help but think how that concept applies in so many other ways in life.  When we try to build or foster relationships while continually focusing on what the other person has lost or is lacking, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and disappointment.  We will never be satisfied, because we will always be seeing the holes instead of the substance.  We keep trying to work with what isn’t there instead of what is.  What a frustrating endeavor, and even more so when the relationship we are struggling with is the one with ourselves.  It is impossible to build or maintain that internal relationship when we see nothing but what we’ve lost or can’t do anymore.   We can’t build a relationship with ourselves with that perspective, because it will always be skewed and will never be fulfilling.  From a spiritual standpoint, it becomes so easy to start blaming God when things haven’t gone right in our world, or at least what we think is “right,” and then our relationship with Him suffers also.  It’s a slippery slope for sure.

So many people talk about the art of letting go, and there is definitely something incredible about releasing things that hold you back.  But what about the art of holding on?  We spend a lot of time trying to identify our obstacles instead of our strengths.  We focus on what we need to purge from our lives instead of what we already have that needs to be fostered.  I remember a comedian once said about the Bible, “Everyone thinks the Bible is a book of don’ts, but it’s really a book of do-s.  And if we’d spend our time doing the do-s, we wouldn’t have time to do the don’ts.”  I heard that over 30 years ago, and it still sticks with me today just as strongly, because it also applies to how we look at ourselves and others.  If we would spend our time fostering (or appreciating) what we already have, it doesn’t leave much time or energy to focus on what we are lacking in skills, abilities, or even material possessions.  Ask yourself these questions: What do I have to work with? Do I have a special ability or skill?  Am I good at something?  What are those things?  If you ask people to name something they are good at, many (if not most) of them will say they don’t know.  Why?  Because we don’t stop to look at what we have; we look at what we don’t.  We see what we wish we were, wish we had, or wish we could do.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to be better people, become more skilled, get an education or go after something new.  And I’m certainly not saying you can’t change.  This year has been full of huge changes for me internally, and believe me, it is always possible to change.  It’s possible to be freed from things that chained you in the past, but you also need to focus on what you already possess.  Search your heart deeply for a moment, you know what they are.  They are those things you have forgotten as the cares of this world continually try to distract you from seeing your gifts.

Image-1Dealing with someone who has dementia has brought so many lessons for dealing with life in general.  When someone has dementia, you have to meet them where they are in order to develop and maintain a relationship with them.  My dad isn’t who he used to be, and yet he is still exactly who he always was.  I just have to find those things that he can still do and live in that place with him.  This relationship is not exactly as I wished or hoped it would be at this stage in both our lives, but it can still be something amazing.  Embracing, celebrating and being thankful for all he can still do, allows me to be open to riding this roller coaster with him instead of watching him ride alone.  It allows me to live life with him now, in this moment, instead of continually seeing nothing but what has faded into the fabric of our journey.  If we want to fully live, we must live in the NOW.

Work with what you have.  Meet people where they are.  Meet YOURSELF where you are.  There are so many other abilities you may have, but those are above and beyond the fact you have been gifted with life itself.  Even the ability to breathe and communicate are gifts.  Trust me, you can always do something and then work from there.  If you will start seeing and nurturing what you already have, you’ll be amazed at what else will suddenly appear.  When you are willing to meet a dementia patient where they are, and work with what they have, it’s AMAZING how that tightly closed shell opens up to reveal the pearls within.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  If we could just do that with ourselves, what greatness might we unlock?  What goals might we achieve?  What dreams might come true if we will just stop jumping ahead (or backwards) and look at what we’ve lost and simply develop what we still have?

shutterstock_341963009So as we celebrate this Christmas that is upon us, let us first remember the greatest gift God gave us by coming to earth to sacrifice Himself so we can have eternal life.  But let us also remember He didn’t have much from a material standpoint, but He always worked with what He had.  When He called others to join Him, He worked with what they had and compelled them to do the same.  Let us celebrate not just the life of Christ, but the life He wants for each of us.  He’s gifted every single one of us with abilities, even when we feel we don’t have anything on which we can build.  Stop for a moment.  Look within and stop focusing on what you’ve lost or wish you had.  Look deeply and start recognizing all you still have, every single thing you have or are able to do is a gift.  No matter your circumstances or what you might see as your deficiencies, you have way more “gifts” than you can imagine.

To quote the Grinch, “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Merry Christmas and may you all be blessed with moments in which to live a lifetime!

Disappointed By God?

What a week! How many times have you reached the end of a weekend and though that to yourself?  This past week really had me up, down and sideways, which always makes me step back and look at things differently.

shutterstock_1196187574I’ve thought a lot this week about hoping and wishing for things.  There was a situation in my personal life that looked like it was going to work out better than we had expected, but then it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped or wished.  It seems to be the way of life for us, and you’d think we would learn to not expect anything at all.  After all, it would be easier to not hope for anything and be pleasantly surprised, than it would be to think something is going to work out and have it fall through.  Does this sound like days, weeks, or even years you have experienced in your own life?  When I consider the possibility of abandoning hope or expectations that things will work out, it flies in the face of what I have believed.  I’ve always believed God is working everything out for my ultimate good, but what happens when you feel let down over and over until you stop asking for things?

There are a lot of televangelists who tell us we can ask for anything from our Heavenly Father, and I agree that’s true.  We have every right and privilege to ask, but we must remember that sometimes the answer is wait, and sometimes the answer is no.  Just because we ask for it, doesn’t mean it is best for us.  Sometimes what is best for us is something totally opposite of what we ask.  In theory, and as people of faith, we know this to be true but it can be so incredibly defeating and discouraging when it happens over and over.  It is certainly easy for me to start looking at things differently and question why I even ask in the first place.  I start becoming a spiritual “realist” and soon I’m not asking for anything anymore because I’d rather not be disappointed…again.

shutterstock_137512043When my situation came up this past week, it looked like God was doing something above and beyond for us, but then it didn’t happen.  Do you know what that made me think?  I started thinking “here we go again; God must be disappointed in us to dangle this out there and then yank it away.”  I was totally disappointed in God and it temporarily undermined my trust in Him.  Yep, my so‑called faith took a tumble into the abyss for a little while.  But why?  Because my perspective was out of whack on two points:

  1. Our initial problem had actually been resolved far better than we thought possible, and I was thrilled, but then came the possibility for even greater things. When those things didn’t happen, I developed “spiritual amnesia!”  I no longer felt the same gratitude and excitement when my initial prayers were answered. Once a possibility for more existed, it shifted my mindset into hoping and wishing for what I believed was greater or better.
  2. The possibility of greater things was something I attributed to my impression that God was going above and beyond, instead of realizing the enemy could be using this extra aspect to distract me from being grateful for already answered prayers. And it worked.

Once I began thinking negative thoughts about who God is and who I am as His child, everything started to tumble down the rabbit hole right behind it.  I didn’t stop with being disappointed over the present circumstance, but rather continued ruminating on every disappointing circumstance in my life – now or in the past.  I became overwhelmed and depressed.  I told myself I was going to become ambivalent in my prayers and requests to God.  You can imagine the thought process: “If I just ask for things but then don’t expect anything in the answer, I won’t be disappointed.”  I started thinking maybe that’s how God actually wants me to view things – unexpectant and ambivalent.  I have to admit, it was simply another depressing thought, because I couldn’t see past the darkness in which I was tumbling.   The truth is “unexpectant and ambivalent” are the opposite of “trust and certainty,” but in my darkness I could not tell the difference.

shutterstock_401236261Gratitude does not come easy in the storms of life.  When we start jumping to conclusions about what God is or isn’t doing in any given situation, instead of leaving things in His hands and trusting Him to do what is best for us, we often end up disappointed.  The majority of our issues, however, come from thinking that the “best” means the most lucrative or easiest.  Our definition of “good” and “bad” are based on what we can see with our own eyes, or ideas, but God has the vision and perspective of eternity and knows every aspect of our situations.   My uncle used to say, “We don’t really want to trust God to take care of us because what if He doesn’t take care of us like we want to be taken care of?”  I think that is more accurate than most of us would like to admit.  God doesn’t want us to get so conditioned by life that we lose our passion, joy and peace.  He doesn’t want us to ask Him for things and not care what the answer is.  He wants us to be content in the outcome of our requests as a result of understanding who He is and how much He loves us, not because we simply stopped expecting anything from Him.

Look, God knows we are human and that we are going to experience disappointment, hurt, betrayal and many other emotions.  He also knows it is our tendency to let it overwhelm us.  The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35 and it simply says, “Jesus wept.”  Lazarus had died and when Jesus got to the tomb and saw his sisters and other friends weeping, it moved Him to the point of tears as well.  Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and yet He still wept.   He also understood that death here is temporary.  He knew, better than anyone, that life continues for His children in Heaven, and yet He still cried.  Why?  Because knowing the outcome of the story doesn’t mean you don’t cry at the sad parts.

shutterstock_563555992 As people of faith, we know that eventually everything works out for our good, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have to deal with tears, discouragement, anger or depression along the way.  What matters is how we keep walking in spite of it.  It doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we are so tired or discouraged that we curl up into a ball to try and catch our breath; what matters is what we do with that breath when it returns.  Will we use it to perpetuate the darkness around or within us, or will we lift our voice like Paul and Silas in prison and praise the One who loves us and has promised to take care of us?

For me, I don’t want to be blinded to all the good God is doing (or allowing) in my life because of my inability to let go of what I think is “best” for me or my loved ones.  I’m not saying it will be an easy thing to do or a perspective that will be easy to maintain.  I’m just saying, there is no other way to truly experience the peace that passes all understanding and to live the abundant life He offers us.  It’s time to change our definition of what “abundance” truly means.

Blessings!

Mothering Is More Than You Think

shutterstock_600936479Mother’s Day is once again upon us, and with it comes all sorts of emotions for all kinds of people.  Some are celebrating their wonderful moms, while others are mourning the loss of their mother, and still others may be cringing at the memory of a mother who wasn’t there for them.  Some women are relishing their own role as a mother, while others are just trying to make it through a day that reminds them only of the void that comes with never having been able to have children of their own, or worse, having lost one to miscarriages or other tragedies.  My point is this day can be beautiful and wonderful, or it could bring heartache and pain, and no matter where you or I fall on that spectrum, we all have to walk through this day somehow.

Family is such an important part of our society.  Our families shape us and often mold us into the adults we become.  If we are blessed to have been raised in a family where love and faith were a continual thread, it is easy to forget that there are those who have not shared our same experiences.  While we might have great memories upon which to reflect, there are others who are doing everything they can to not remember their own.   Such is the complicated nature of family relationships, and such is the complicated nature for so many women when it comes to motherhood.

Most of you know that my husband, and I were not able to have children of our own.  We looked into all the other possibilities, but none of them worked out for us.   Over time, the grief of our situation shifted and morphed, as it does with any other type of grief.  Not only that, but this year is the first Mother’s Day my husband and I have shared where one of our mother’s is no longer with us.  My mother-in-law was an amazing woman who never met a stranger or gave up on anyone.  She loved unconditionally and losing her has changed the palette of feelings that we share individually and as a family at this time of year.

IMG_0469This year, in spite of all of life’s challenges and the complications that can come with this day for so many women (and men), there is something different on my heart and mind. This year, I am thanking God not only for my own godly mother who raised me in deep love and faith, or the children in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to influence in one way or another, but I am also thanking God for the three children my husband and I sponsor through Compassion International.  It’s been a number of years now, and although it took a while to become comfortable with our communications back and forth, we have settled into beautiful relationships with three children who live across the world from us.  We have watched them grow, and have been blessed to be able to support, encourage and be connected to these kids and their families, and I am unspeakably grateful as I reflect on it today.

Mother’s Day is a day that we set aside to honor first our own mothers, and then all mothers.  As Prince Harry recently said after the birth of his first child, “How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension!”   What women go through to bring new human beings into this world really IS beyond comprehension to those of us who have not experienced it, male or female!  That being said, it takes far more to make a true “mother” than just giving birth.  It involves a deep and lasting love, a sacrificial love that seeks the well-being of her children first, even when it demands more than she thinks she can give.  It is about understanding the responsibility you have to raise and nurture the human beings God has entrusted to your care.  It is about being there.  It’s putting your phone down and listening to them.  It involves so much more, but you get my point.

shutterstock_723877837When you consider what it truly means to “mother” another human being, you are able to step back and see a broader group of women than you might have before.  All the characteristics, traits and actions that make a woman a true mother, are the same ones that make us all mothers to the world around us.  I’m not discounting mothers in any way, in fact, I am doing the exact opposite.  I am elevating the aspects of mothers that we all celebrate on this day each year.  We celebrate the love and care.  We celebrate the sacrifices.  We celebrate these amazing women who took their jobs seriously and refused to give up even when their children may have disappointed them or caused them pain.  These are the things we celebrate, and as people of faith, THIS is how we are supposed to love the world!

I mentioned earlier about the children my husband and I have sponsored for a number of years.  Although I did not give birth to them, nor are we raising them, I love them with all my heart and feel a great responsibility toward them.  My heart desires the very best for them.   I cheer their accomplishments and share in their difficulties and sorrows.  I worry when I hear of events going on in their countries, cities or villages.  They are embedded into my heart, and I am so grateful to have yet another area to channel that mothering gene God put in my heart.   I have found Compassion International to be an incredible organization with which to partner, and I could not be more blessed to have three beautiful children to love and care for as a result of their efforts.

shutterstock_1257354151So on this Mother’s Day, by all means, honor your mother and the other women in your lives that are worthy of that honor.  Thank God for all the women who mothered you throughout the course of your life.  Honor them by doing the same for others around you.  Don’t reserve your nurturing just for your children, but also for those children without mothers, and for adults who are wounded and hurting.  Over and over again, Jesus tells us to love one another.  He tells us that everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).  He tells us to go the extra mile when we don’t have to do so (Matt 5:41).  He tells us to love our enemies (Matt 4:43-48).  Jesus made it perfectly clear that we are commanded to love!  He told us,“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:34-35)

Reach out to this world full of struggling people.  Nurture them, love them, and never be afraid of getting your hands dirty.  After all, isn’t that what mothering is all about?

Happy Mother’s Day and blessings to you all!

Compassion International – Sponsor a child

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 11-Day Journey

Murmuring, grumbling, complaining.   We are all guilty of it, and we really don’t stop to think about what it costs us.   Not only does it turn us into people that others don’t want to be around, it can actually change the course of our journeys.  We say it’s just harmless venting, and yes, there are times that we need to vent a little bit, but spending our time complaining or murmuring about our situations, or about other people in our lives, is something we should not be doing.  Period.

shutterstock_614595179When God delivered Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, He intended for them to inhabit the Promised Land.  The journey from where they were to where they were going was an 11-day journey (Deuteronomy 1:2), and yet it took them FORTY years to make it (Numbers chpt. 14).  They wandered around in the desert for 40 years because they did nothing but murmur and complain at almost every turn.  In Numbers chapter 14, God even said, “How long will these people treat me with contempt?  How long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?  How long will this wicked community grumble against me?”  God goes on to say He was going to destroy them, but Moses interceded and asked Him to spare them.  God agreed to spare them, but then said not one of those who murmured and complained against Him would see the Promised Land.  The consequences these people experienced as a result of their complaining cost them far more than they would have ever expected, and an 11-day journey became one of 40 years.  God still took care of them during their 40 years of wandering, but it could have all been over much sooner, if only for a change of perspective.

How many times have you or I extended the amount of time we had to spend in certain circumstances just because we refused to stop complaining, gossiping, or getting caught up in the opinions of those around us?  Sometimes we can be swayed by group complaining.  After all, negativity is far more contagious than anything positive.  We get into situations where we feel justified in talking bad about someone, because we feel they deserve it.  People who have mistreated us, or even made poor personal decisions that affect us, are easy targets of our complaining, but we better be careful.  The more we complain, the more we “wander” until we change our perspective.  Israel eventually stopped complaining and trusted God, but it was at such great expense.  A generation of people (and complainers) died in the wilderness and never actually got to enter the Promised Land.  They missed out on the most amazing blessings and stayed stuck in a difficult and discouraging situation, because they chose to complain about everything instead of being grateful and trusting God to work things out.  Again, I ask how many times do we extend our own challenges because we do the same thing?

shutterstock_1017742099God tells us over and over to be grateful, but He also tells us to stop complaining!  Philippians 2:14 says to do all things without grumbling or arguing.  Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  There are many other verses that tell us to speak words that lift up and encourage, not tear down and destroy, and even with all of this knowledge of what God expects from us, we just don’t seem to be able to stop the grumbling.   We can’t seem to let go of criticizing others around us for not responding to things like we think they should.  We walk around thinking our way is the best way, and eventually it diminishes our ability to actually listen to the people around us.   You’ve probably heard the saying, “God gave you two ears and only one mouth, because you should listen twice as much as you speak.”  We are losing the ability to listen for the purpose of truly hearing, and it is harming us and our society.

When we listen to others, we are able to discern far better the reason for their reactions and even emotions at times.  We learn each other and can read between the lines to the deeper meaning (or problem) behind the words someone is speaking.  But listening this way requires humility.  You cannot truly listen to someone else while being full of yourself.  Being so convinced we are right takes up all the space inside us that is needed for seeing things from another point of view, one that may actually be better than our own.  We have to humble ourselves in order to listen, and we need to listen as though we are trying to learn something.  When we have an interest in something, we listen to information and instruction about it completely differently.  We WANT to know all we can about the subject.  The same is, or should be, true about listening to others.  We should love each other in such a way that we want to know all we can about each other – not for the purpose of judging, but for understanding how to help and encourage each other more effectively.  Based on the way we listen, it’s obvious we aren’t nearly as interested in each other as we claim to be.  I recently came across a verse that has become a prayer for me, even though Isaiah 50:4 is actually a statement of something God has already done.  Two of the phrases struck me and have become this prayer: “Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught.”   I want to love and care for others in a way that causes me to humble my spirit and speak words of encouragement.  I want to set aside my expectations of who or what they should be and listen as they teach me who they are, because that kind of perspective can change the world one person at a time.

shutterstock_294695897We all have situations in life that are extremely difficult at times.  We deal with all kinds of problems and challenges, some that are gut-wrenching or heartbreaking, and it’s easy to see why we might fall into a perpetual state of complaining.  When we are hit with trouble from every side, it’s hard to keep pressing forward or even to hold to our faith while standing still.  Romans 4:8-9 reminds us, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”  That sounds encouraging, but the truth is, in the heat of our troubles, we don’t believe those words are true.  Not only that, it feels good to complain!  It really is true that misery loves company.  We’ve elevated complaining to an art in our society.  We’ve become a people who actually tries to “one-up” each other in the difficulty of our circumstances.  It’s like we wear our troubles as a badge of honor!  We’ve all known people who seem to only have words of negativity about themselves or others around them.  They are the ones always looking to gossip or share negative things about someone else, often in an attempt to make themselves look better or seem more important.  We’ve known people who complain or grumble in order to look more like a martyr for doing something.  We’ve known people who also live like Eeyore with a “poor, pitiful me” mentality.  As people of faith, when are we going to wake up?!  When are we going to admit that our complaining comes not just from a place of feeling slighted by others, but by believing we have been slighted by God (though we probably wouldn’t admit that out loud)?

So how then do we set aside our tendency to grumble and complain?  We do it by changing our focus.  I realize that is easier said than done, but some of the best advice on what we should be doing is found in God’s word.  Philippians 4:8 tells us exactly what we should be thinking about.  “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  This isn’t just advice for people of faith, but for all mankind.  How do we stop complaining?  By dwelling on THESE things!  I’m not saying it is easy to do, but we absolutely have the power to focus on whatever we choose.  We need to surround ourselves with friends and family who can listen to us vent for a bit, but then gently help us shift our focus.  Thinking on the things mentioned in Philippians 4:8 doesn’t mean we won’t feel the emotions that sometimes overwhelm us.  We will still get frustrated, sad or even angry, but we don’t have to continue ruminating on the difficulties we face day in and day out.  My great-grandma liked to say, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you don’t have to let it build a nest.”  We can’t keep thoughts from popping into our head at times, but it doesn’t mean we have to let them take up residence!  And by the way, we also don’t need to let everything that pops into our heads pop out of our mouths!

shutterstock_228591001This world is in need of joy; WE are in need of joy.  That means we also need each other!  We need to focus on loving each other and helping each other, rather than “wallerin’ around in our troubles” (and yes, I just used the word “wallerin’”).  When we complain, we end up cutting off support we would otherwise have, because people don’t usually want to be around a complainer.  More importantly, it grieves God to hear us continually complaining about our lives.  He loves us and has promised He is working everything out for our good.  He just wants us to trust Him because He sees a much bigger picture than what you or I can see.  So often, we are just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, complaining about where or how God is leading us.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk wandering around in my own personal wilderness for 40 years, when I could have walked through it in 11 days by trusting God, focusing on the good, and simply biting my tongue.  Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught!

Blessings!

 

Are You Parenting Your Gifts?

I wanted to write a post last week as we approached Mother’s Day, but life’s circumstances kept me from it.  Life isn’t what it used to be and it seems to be crowding out my passions more and more, but maybe the delay was there to give me time to think a little differently.  Maybe this post needed a “twist”

shutterstock_129320129Many of you who know me or have read my blog for the past few years know that I did not give birth to children of my own.  I used to say I was not “blessed” with children of my own, but I have tried to change the way I look at it.  Children are certainly a blessing from God, but so is every other gift with which God blesses us.  And just like it is the responsibility of a mother or father to nurture, grow and raise his/her child, it is our job to nurture, grow and raise our appointed gifts.  One gift from God is not greater than another and if we are living as we should, we will not treat them as such – in ourselves or in looking at those around us.  God entrusts all of us with specific gifts that require sacrifice, patience, responsibility, passion, love in order to raise them.  Those gifts also often bring us disappointment, frustration, and heartaches as we see them not turning out the way we planned, or when we make mistakes in how we raise them.

We need to start looking at our lives differently.  We need to open our eyes to the world around us and recognize where we are being called to serve.  It’s just so incredibly easy to get lazy and not walk out the path for which we are chosen.  It’s easier to become a lazy parent of our gifts.  It’s easy to feel those gifts tugging at us for attention but simply offer up something to keep them occupied so that we can go on living the lives WE want instead of realizing the importance of doing the hard work that comes with nurturing and growing that which God placed within us.  I admit, I have often found myself the lazy parent of my gifts.  This blog has many times reminded me of it.  The intentions are good but the execution is lacking.  I have made excuses in my mind for all the reasons that keep me from my writing, or working on my books, or doing something with my music, or reaching out to find opportunities to speak.  I’m not saying the distractions aren’t valid, because most of them are, but I am saying that it is easy to give up and stop trying whenever life gets too complicated or too busy.  Just like a parent with a child, sometimes I’m just too tired to put in the effort anymore.  In the long run, that not only makes me feel I’m failing as the parent/steward of my gifts, but it can also have lasting impacts on the effectiveness of those gifts or what they turn out to be.

shutterstock_782571799We really are all gifted in certain ways.  God has given to each of us the abilities and interests we need in order to fulfill what we are called to do.  He has equipped us to walk whatever paths are before us, and He has promised to go with us wherever we go, but there are times those paths (or those gifts) feel like a burden.  I don’t know a parent who hasn’t had times of feeling burdened by the responsibility of raising his/her children.  It doesn’t mean they don’t love their kids, but the reality of day-to-day living is far more challenging than anticipated.  There are discouragements and frustrations that come along that make them question if they are doing the right things or dealing with their kids in the best ways to ensure they grow up to be good people.  The same is true of our other gifts and talents.  We know what we are called to do, or we recognize the gifts within us, but it is a continual learning process as to how we need to nurture them.  We make decisions that involve our gifts and then second guess if that was really the best use of them.  Other times we make obvious mistakes in the direction we go and then beat ourselves up for it.

Living with purpose isn’t easy in the chaos of our busy lives.  Just like parents can become so distracted by everything that is continually pulling at them, we can get distracted by so many things the enemy devises to keep us from nurturing what God has given us.  We can become so overwhelmed by our lives that we no longer even see our gifts, let alone know how to use them.  We end up lost in a sea of fear, doubt, depression or anxiety and then feel like giving up.  Being overloaded with life makes us want to just zone out and not have to consider our never-ending responsibilities.

shutterstock_760829524There is another aspect of parenting that also applies greatly to our gifts: protection.  Parents must protect their children, and we must also protect our gifts.  Our talents, abilities and callings must be protected.  People can be so mean and so incredibly judgmental of what we do with our lives.  They can discourage us, or even try to forbid us from using our gifts when it doesn’t fit their ideas or beliefs about what we should be doing.  People may even belittle the gifts themselves, making them seem meaningless or trivial when compared to the gifts or talents of others.  For example, someone with the ability to be a great musician, speaker, athlete or business-man/woman are often lauded to have great gifts.  It is “respectable” or “honorable” to be a doctor, lawyer, singer, athlete, etc.   On the other hand, the man or woman who is gifted to understand people with disabilities, or to clean homes/buildings, drive a bus, or anything else that isn’t as “shiny,” are viewed as having lesser gifts.  What about people who have the gift of praying or service?  You know them, the ones who are quietly faithful to do whatever it is God has given to them to do, without accolades or applause.  Are their gifts any less valuable?  On the contrary, I’d say they have the greatest gifts of all!   My point is that we don’t know each other’s children as well as know our own, and the moment we start thinking our gifts are better than someone else’s just because they look different, we are treading on very thin ice.

Maybe we don’t think we received the gifts we should have, or the gifts we wanted, but they are chosen for us by the God who spoke the worlds into order and knows everything ahead in our journeys.  That’s a pretty impressive and special thing to consider.  God doesn’t expect us to all be able to do the same things because He didn’t equip us to do the same things.  We need to stop looking at other people’s “children” and comparing them to our own.  What matters is how you raise YOUR gifts!  If you are called to serve, then serve with all your heart.  If you are called to pray, then pray mightily without doubting (as James 1 tells us).  If you are called to encourage, then do it.  If you are called to be a doctor, then be the best doctor you can be!  Whatever it is that you do, it is important because God chose you to do it.  Your prayers, service, cleaning, listening, forgiving, helping are equally as important as the brain or heart surgeries, arguing court cases, landing planes, or anything else.

shutterstock_217599499So today, I hope we will all step back and consider the gravity of parenting our respective gifts.  It is a responsibility, and it can be difficult and disappointing at times, but it can also be a source of great joy!  You are not here by chance, and you are not here to just take up space.  We are here “for such a time as this,” and we need to turn our focus upward.  We need to live according to the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness that has been given to us by our Heavenly Father and extend those things to the world around us.  We need to encourage each other’s gifts, not envy them. We need to support each other, not tear each other down.  We need to recognize the specialness of our own gifts from God and feel honored to be entrusted with raising them.  There may not be a holiday here on earth to commemorate or honor us for the raising of our gifts, but if we do it humbly as we are called to do, there is coming day where we will be honored by our Heavenly Father when we hear the words, “Well done.”

Blessings!

Liquid Courage

shutterstock_101290495For years, California has been in a historic drought.  This week we have been hit with torrential rains which have caused all kinds of issues, including flash floods in many areas.  Weather events can bring all kinds of challenges and even destruction, but that’s not the point of this particular post.  Instead, I want to talk about an idea I call “spiritual irrigation.”

There is a great difference between something being watered by irrigation or by rain.  Deuteronomy 11:10-11 makes a contrast between the Promised Land as being one that “drinks water of the rain of Heaven,” whereas the land of Egypt being a land that is “watered with your foot.”  In other words, Egypt required irrigation, and the irrigation was achieved by fetching water and dispersing it, and partly by digging trenches with the foot.  Mechanisms were also used that were powered by men sitting on the side of the machine using their feet to create the power.  It was a predecessor to our modern (and amazing) irrigation processes today.

So why does it matter, and where in the heck am I going with this?  Humankind has, from the beginning of time, searched for ways to rely more on themselves than on God.  That is a reality none of us want to consider, but it is true nonetheless.  We, as human beings, do not like the idea of having to trust God for our needs because we think He may not supply them on our timetable – and often He doesn’t.  We like security, safety and predictability.  Boy how we like predictability.  We want to have enough money in the bank so that we can take care of ourselves in the way WE want to be taken care of.   We won’t admit it openly but we, as people of faith, are afraid God is going to let us down.  Maybe it comes from the fact that we have been let down by others in life.  It’s hard to find someone who is true to their word, always and in every circumstance.  It is hard to trust someone implicitly and yet we are told over and over that God will “never leave us nor forsake us.”  We are told in His word that He will supply all our needs.  So why do we spend so much of our time trying to take care of ourselves?  Because we don’t like the rain, we like irrigation.

shutterstock_93784720Irrigation allows us to be more in control of our destiny.  We can plant crops where they wouldn’t normally thrive because we have found ways to transport water from one location to another in ways it wouldn’t occur naturally.  Irrigation certainly requires less reliance on God to provide the rain we need – or think we need.  We have gotten so used to doing things our way that we forget the source of our blessings.  We start thinking we are truly in control of something as basic as water itself.   Oh sure, we pray for God to bless us with rain but if we get too much, we start to complain.  After all, we’ve been watering our crops and now that it’s raining, there’s too much water!  We wring our hands and wonder what we are going to do.   We’ve all seen buildings (or cities) built in areas where there is little doubt they will be flooded or even washed away if there is a lot of rain.  We actually criticize people in these areas and say, “well what did they expect?  They built in the middle of a flood zone.”  But why?  Because the rains don’t always come and after a while, no one actually believes they will.

So today it struck me, this thought of spiritual irrigation.  As people of faith, we often build our lives on what we think is best.  We make our plans and if they don’t really fit with where God may be leading us, then we find ways to make it work.  We “irrigate.”  I’ve heard my own uncle speak of his call to the ministry and how he really didn’t want to be a pastor.  So instead of doing what God was leading him to do, he tried other ways to get the conviction to stop.  He taught Sunday School classes.  He led the choir.  He got involved, but in his heart, he could not escape his calling.   Most of us do the same thing.  We know what God wants us to do but we would rather do it OUR way than His.  It’s funny to think the Bible tells us “His ways are not our ways,” and yet we still can’t seem to get it!  God is rain and we keep trying to live by irrigation.  We not only want to create the path ahead, we want to control the flow of the water.  We live this way and then when God does exactly what He has promised to do, we often complain that it “isn’t the right time” or “it’s too much,” so we wring our hands and start looking for ways to minimize the effects.  We feel God leading us to something else and we find all kinds of reasons not to go.  Or we feel God calling us to stay right where we are and we find all kinds of reasons to still leave because staying isn’t what WE want.  Believe me, God is not only capable of bringing the rains, but taking care of the drainage when it’s necessary as well.  He knows how to control the flow!

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Waiting on the rain isn’t easy.  It is often terrifying.  To be honest, faith itself is terrifying!  Waiting for God to bring what we need, WHEN we need it takes a strength I sadly admit I do not often possess.  It’s hard not to start irrigating when the rains don’t come.  The more we rely on ourselves and our plans/abilities to make things work, the greater the chance we may build where we shouldn’t.  The more we irrigate spiritually, the less we appreciate the rain.  Just like the farmer who relies solely on irrigation, rain becomes a nuisance.  We want it to rain (or snow) somewhere else so that we can store up the water and then use it as we see fit.  Yes, we want the rain, but not necessarily directly.  Yes, we want God to work in our lives, but not directly.  We want Him to provide our needs in ways that allow us to control the flow.  Whatever happened to the truth of the Doxology?  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

shutterstock_73938031I am tired of being a “spiritual irrigator,” and my definition of a drought is probably much different than God’s.  I want to live with a faith that follows God’s leading and trusts Him to provide the rain.  When we shed our need for control and put on that cloak of trust, we get to experience the most amazing moments.  We get to dance in the rain because we know from where it came.  We start seeing God’s providence instead of looking at Him as if His ways are interrupting our great plans.  From our perspective, it is better to plan and execute rather than follow and trust.  But from God’s perspective, it is far better to simply trust Him for everything we need and then dance in the rain when it falls.

Blessings!