My 2012 Resolutions

Goals setting, or creating resolutions, is a habit for many people as one year ends and another begins. This is a habit I’ve practiced personally for many years, but I didn’t do it this year. The main reason I abstained from creating New Year’s resolutions this year is because next year I have what some would say is a monumental birthday, and I’ve set some goals that I want to reach before that date. That list is called my “40 by 40 Bucket List.”

The “40 by 40 Bucket List” began last August, and is really a focus on the “11th anniversary of my 29th birthday” rather than on the year 2012. Since I still wanted to give 2012 definition of its own, I decided to focus on five prayers for 2012, meaning five topics that I will focus on in prayer for the entire year. These five prayers were born out of the exercise I completed for the blog post “How to… End 2011 with a Victory”.

My prayers are generally based on people, events and struggles involved in my everyday life. While that focus will continue, added to them will be these five 2012 prayers that focus on patterns of struggle in my life. What’s more is that I’m hoping they will refresh and renew my prayer life, which seems to be growing too routine.

  1. I pray that I will find more ways to regularly connect with my boys. For whatever reason (and probably for a variety of reasons), my boys (age 13 and 11) and I have not connected much lately. That needs to change before they find girlfriends and mom isn’t the number one woman in their lives anymore.
  2. I pray that I will nag my boys less. While I haven’t quite figured out the source, though I suspect that it has to do with a control issue on my part, I need to nag less. Realizing that I need to fill the void, I will intentionally purpose to be more encouraging. I will teach where possible and also give guidance, but I will also allow them to make and learn from their own mistakes. Time for mother hen to be less protective. Nagging wasn’t working anyway, except to increase my frustration level.
  3. I pray that I will become a better listener. Clearly, this will go a long way in making number one and two happen. Being a better listener will also help me learn more and to generally be a better companion and friend.
  4. I pray for new ways to exercise my brain regularly and for the motivation to actually do them. I just feel like I have too many ruts in my life, and ruts lead to comfort zones. Plus, I’ve read a lot lately about how using your brain in new ways can help stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s. So, this fits with my desire to age gracefully.
  5. I pray that I can rediscover and then further develop my sense of humor. I’m not sure where my sense of humor went, but I have a feeling that it’s one of the main reasons I have been nagging too much and not listening very well. This is going to require some research, and there will most likely be blog postings on my discoveries.

So as I look forward to 2012, I am choosing to focus on making the most of every opportunity in the coming year. I also am intentionally focusing on areas that have been personal battles for me for longer than I care to admit. These patterns of struggle have limited my life for too long. While I have prayed about them periodically in the past, I have not committed them to prayer on any regular basis. What’s humbling about this process is realizing that while I may be on track with many aspects of my life, some that should have been obvious to me remained elusive… until now.

Question: What humbling personal change are you being led to address in 2012? How will you go about making that change happen?

How to… End 2011 with a Victory

As 2012 is set to begin in just a few short days, many of us are thinking over this past year and just how quickly it seems to have past. Reviewing a time gone by often involves celebrating victories and successes as well as grieving over lost opportunity. It is with this sense of loss that I would like to focus for this post. While I don’t believe in dwelling on the negative (at least I attempt not to), I do believe that being successful in the future requires considering why opportunities were lost and now considered failures or regrets and making a deliberate attempt to learn from them and then move on.

So let’s take just a few minutes to look at the regrets of 2011 and to consider how we might be able to each end 2011 with one last victory to help propel us positively into 2012.

First, deliberately and carefully review the past year. Looking over your calendar or reading through journal entries might help bring back the events that made up the year. Look specifically for areas that stand out as regrets, things you wish you would have done differently. Again, this is not an exercise in dwelling on failure or the negative; instead, it is an intentional effort to deliberately learn from the regrets and failures of the past and to move forward instead of letting them hold you back.

Second, make a quick list of those failures and regrets. Don’t berate yourself for them. Just let them be what they are without being critical of the person you are. Simply make the list and don’t dwell on any one item. Also, don’t get so overly detailed that you make a mountainous list. That will most certainly be depressing. Just generally list the areas of failure you experienced in the past year. My list contains 11 items that I consider failures or regrets of 2011.

Next, take a closer look at each of the items on your list and cross out the ones that simply need to be buried. They are failures and regrets that cannot be revisited. Take a minute to let each one of those go. If there is a lesson to be learned (and there almost always is), note that lesson and then move on. Vow to not let it weigh you down. There are two items I’ve crossed off that simply need to be left alone. To a great extent, the circumstances surrounding these regrets were beyond my control. I did my best at the time, and I choose now to let those regrets live only in my past.

Fourth, consider the remaining items on your list. Does any action need taken to bring closure to any of them? Do you need to forgive someone or ask for forgiveness from someone? Do you need to forgive yourself? In many cases, simply focusing on forgiveness can finalize a failure and make it one that can officially become a part of the past. This step will hopefully lead to more items being crossed off on your list. In fact, this was a big cross-off exercise for me. Mostly through forgiving myself, I drew a line through seven more items on my list. From these items, I have areas in which I will purpose to improve in this coming year, and many of them focus on my relationship with others. So, in general, I need to forgive myself for not being the best friend, mother and wife that I could be, and I choose to move forward endeavoring to improve in those areas.

Finally, consider the items remaining on your list. What action needs taken to bring value to those failures and regrets? Find at least one failure that you can act on in these last few remaining days of 2011, and then follow through with that action. Consider turning the actions needed on the remaining items into resolutions to carry into 2012. The remaining two items on my list are connected by one word: patience. Clearly, I feel like patience was a struggle for me, and to be completely honest, it always has been a struggle. So with the remaining days of 2011, I choose to focus on being as patient as possible. Hopefully, I will be able to carry this endeavor into 2012 and beyond, but for now I will start with the small step of being more patient through the end of 2011. (Can I be fully patient for four days? That depends on other drivers… no, I can do it!)

This exercise will not undo the failures and regrets of this past year, but it will allow one last victory with which to close out 2011. With this victory, move into the next year understanding the regrets of the past but not letting them define you. Consider the following quotes as you close out the year and choose to learn from your mistakes and regrets:

“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” (Zig Ziglar)

“Go to the effort. Invest the time. Write the letter. Make the apology. Take the trip. Purchase the gift. Do it.
The seized opportunity renders joy. The neglected brings regret.”
(Max Lucado)

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” (Abraham Lincoln)

DISCUSSION QUESTION: Was this exercise helpful? Why or why not?

Sunday Reflections – No Room? Make Room!

The Christmas story is one I’ve heard pretty much every year since I was born. I’m might even be able to recite the story from the book of Matthew by memory for the most part. Yet as routine as this story has become for me, it never fails to awaken some spark deep within my spirit each year. This year was no different, but I do hope it’s different in the way that I allow my life to be shaped by that spark. Rather than being a reminder each year, perhaps this year it can be a catalyst that leads to my best year yet with the Lord.

Having heard the Christmas story so many times in my life, I think I’ve heard it from every perspective possible – the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, the wise men, and even the innkeeper. I think I’ve even heard it from the point of view of the star in the sky and the animals in the stable too. There are uncountable modern telling focusing on the meaning of Christmas, and there are tellings that use favorite Christmas carols such as Joy to the World and Silent Night to illustrate the impact of that night.

While hearing the story again this year, the idea of “no room” stood out to me more than any other. For whatever reason, the inn had no room for Mary and Joseph and essentially for the Christ child. Even before He was born, people failed to make room for Him amidst busyness and rush. Still today, the hurry and bustle of the holiday season distracts so many from making room for Him. To be honest, busyness seems to prevent a focus on Christ pretty much all year. From before His birth to Christmas 2011, there seems to be “no room” for Jesus.

The only solution is a deliberate effort to make room. That starts with hearing the Lord speak through the holiday noise. It’s seeking His peace amidst all-consuming busyness not just during the holidays but during everyday life as well. But how?

A change of focus begins when you ask God to speak to you and then you make yourself willing to listen for his voice. That may mean stopping physically and mentally. It may mean stopping electronically too. Making room for Jesus is simply not a passive activity. Sometimes, hearing God through the noise involves removing yourself from the intense volume. Maybe you can’t turn it off completely, but perhaps you can decrease the volume. Sometimes, we need to spend some time reorganizing to make room, and often we need to de-clutter by letting getting rid of that which we no longer use and even that which we do use sometimes.

Do you long to hear the voice of the Lord speak to you? Intentionally reduce or remove that which drowns out His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:11 & 12). Do what is necessary to allow you to hear him through the holiday noise, and then keep with those habits that make His voice audible in the midst of the everyday noise of life. He does speak to us. He does give peace. He does speak truth. Our part is to hear His voice, and we must rearrange our lives to enable ourselves to do our part.  For in doing so, we can then better understand the perspective of all those in the original Christmas story who allowed their lives to be rearranged by the birth of the Christ child.

QUESTION: What do you need to remove or rearrange to make room for Christ now and in the coming year?

A Tree in the Forest

Several years ago, I visited Muir Woods near San Francisco, California. This is a beautiful place filled with some of the tallest trees in the world. The root systems of these trees can extend over 100’ from the base, intertwining with the roots of other Redwoods. This increases their stability during strong winds and floods. New Redwoods grow most successfully from sprouts, rather than seeds, that form around the base of the tree. These sprouts utilize the nutrients and root system of the mature tree from which they came. When the parent tree dies, a new generation of trees rises and creates a circle of trees around the dead tree.

Recently, a friend shared with me a memorial video for her father who died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Christmas Eve a few years ago. One person who spoke at her father’s funeral described her dad Wally as “a tree in the forest.” This description immediately reminded me of the California Redwoods. As the video went on, I saw more and more how Wally truly was “a tree in the forest,” and how his legacy reflects that of the Redwoods.

While I did not know Wally, I do know his family and especially my friend who showed me the video. Clearly, Wally had a strong root system intertwined with so many others as was evident in the huge showing of people to pay respects to him at his funeral. He was strongly intertwined not only with others in his community but especially with his family whom he clearly loved and around whom his life revolved. The number of people he touched and impacted and with whom is life was intertwined is a legacy that will far outlive anyone who knew him.

Wally’s family clearly has circled their lives around and been strengthened by his life. The memories they have of him truly give them “nutrients” and strength that they now use to positively impact others lives in a way that reflects how he impacted their lives.

At his funeral, Wally was also described as a person with “passion and purpose.” He was passionate about his family, passionate about the outdoors, passionate about his work as a fireman and policeman… simply passionate about living a full life. His purpose included not only giving people second chances but also giving them instruction on how to best make those second chances happen in a positive way.

Another aspect of Wally’s life that stood out to me is the fact that while he did so much for others, he was also a very humble man. He didn’t like the limelight or attention, and he was often found working behind the scenes at church events. This stuck out to me because I see that trait reflected in his daughter, who is one of my dearest friends. She may not realize it, but her dad is visible in her in some very powerful ways. I feel like I know Wally, even though I never met him, simply because I know his daughter. In this way, Wally’s impact is going beyond those who knew him into lives that know those who knew and loved him. His legacy is going beyond the circle of trees that surrounded him and into a new circle of “saplings.”

And so on the anniversary of his death (He died on Christmas Eve.), I pay tribute to Wallace “Wally” Simmons. Thank you for being a person who strengthened and nurtured others in a way that will go far beyond what you could have imagined. Thank you for being an awesome dad to my friend who now carries on your legacy in humble and passionate ways.

Sunday Reflections – Just a Baby in a Manger?

Both of my children were born within two weeks of Christmas. While this makes the month busier and more expensive, it also makes it more blessed. I’m thankful for the lives of both my boys and the tremendous blessing they are to me. As I reflect on the stages of their lives – past, present and future – I also begin reflecting on how those stages remind me so much of what the Christmas season is all about in the first place.

When children are young, every parent dreams of what their child will one day grow to be. I was no different with my boys. What career will they choose? What about sports? More than anything, I wanted them to love Jesus. Parents have such hopes and dreams for their kids, but they have no way of knowing what will be for sure. When Jesus was a baby, his mother did not have to wonder what He would grow up to be. Isaiah made very clear what this baby King would one day do and be for countless numbers of people.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

I’m guessing no mother before or since had this in mind when she considered what her child would do and be in life.

My kids’ birthday also lead me to think about who they are today. They are funny, athletic, smart  & sweet. They love the Lord, and they want to make others happy. My kids play an integral role in my life today, and I can’t imagine living without either one of them. Being their mom is truly a blessing and an honor. Even as I consider how big of an impact their lives have on mine every day, I can’t help but also think about the role that Jesus plays in my life. And that role is tremendously larger than the ones that my kids play.  This baby in the manger that we worship at Christmas was then and is now the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He is everything we need, and he can change our destiny because of who He is.

Every parent wants success for their kids, but what that success will look like exactly, nobody knows. My youngest son is a natural at most sports. He’s every athletic, so it leads us to believe he will one day be a great athlete, maybe even a famous one. Our youngest is also very compassionate and sweet, wanting to constantly help others. Maybe that will turn into him being a gifted policeman or fireman, and possibly even both. Our oldest son is a fast runner, a talented musician, and a straight A student. He also seems to have possibilities for greatness. Maybe he’ll be a marathoner, symphony musician or an engineer like his daddy. He’s also very funny. The world certainly could use more Christian comedians. Whatever my children will one day be are only guesses teeming with possibilities for greatness. When Jesus was a baby and even over 700 years before he was born, his destiny was not one to be questioned and did not have to be guessed. Isaiah told us exactly what He would become, and He became exactly that.

This Christmas season, I am making a deliberate effort to focus not only on Jesus as a baby, but also on my current relationship to Him and how I am growing in that relationship toward a more abundant future. More importantly, I want to intentionally focus on the fact that this baby in the manger at Christmas is a worthy King. As such, I now ask myself, “Is Jesus getting my best?” He knows my past, present and future, and He loves me exactly as I am today. He deserves the best I have to give.

Question: What can you deliberately and intentionally change to make sure that Jesus is getting your best every day? What advice do you have for others who want to improve at doing their best?

The 11th Anniversary of My 29th Birthday

No, today is NOT my birthday. I’ve tried to stop having them, but my family insists. Aging is something I have always dreaded and desperately wished I could avoid. For much of my life, I never had a very hopeful image of an abundant life as an older person. I was too busy struggling with finding joy in everyday living, and I felt sure at times that there was no joy in the future.

As I watched my friends and family get older, I began to see people who were doing so gracefully (my husband being the most inspiring to me). These people helped me see that aging can be fun and blessed, especially when it is grace-filled. So, in an effort to tackle aging head on by taking what control I can, I decided to be more deliberate and intentional about how I lived my life. If I have to get older anyway, I might as well do so making the most of every opportunity that comes my way in the process.

I also realized one day that the only other option besides aging was simply not one I was ready to face yet. I mean, I want to see Jesus face-to-face one day, but I don’t think it’s quite time for that to happen. At that point, I found a determination to not only age gracefully but to also embrace aging and make it an inspiring process that my kids and others will look forward to in their own lives.

During my times in prayer (and during times whining to God about getting older), I felt a growing desire to make a determined effort for the second half of my life to be more fulfilling that the first half. I want to get to know my God more than ever before, and I want my relationship with Him to be reflected in the way that I live my life. Within that main focus, I felt like I needed to get outside of my comfort zone more often. I am a very private person and generally don’t share a lot of details about what I am experiencing and struggling with to many people, if anyone at all. The Holy Spirit has gently led me to a place where I realized that hiding all of myself from others made what I experienced and learned almost pointless. God gives us experiences and struggles in life often to help us relate to others and to help them through similar struggles and experiences. I was devaluing the work God was doing in my life by not sharing it with others. As a result, I am now making a deliberate effort to share how God has worked and continues to work in my life. If someone is inspired by this, then that is an extra blessing from the process.

As I purpose live out the year that will go down as the 12th anniversary of my 29th birthday, I pray that I will follow the Holy Spirit’s lead down the path that is the will of God for my life. God has given me many interests that bring me joy and happiness in life, and He is encouraging me to share those with as many people as possible. Thank You Lord for this wonderful work you are doing in my life. May it bring glory to You!

So, instead of creating my usual Resolutions Quick List this year, I am instead focusing on my “40 by 40 Bucket List.” I realize this only takes me through almost the end of August 2012, but I’m sure I’ll find more goals with which to finish out 2012. As I focus on these goals, my hope is that I will be aging gracefully and growing closer to Christ at the same time.

Please visit Age Gracefully in the Victory! section of Struggle to Victory.

How to… Make a resolution quick list

For many years now, I’ve used a quick list style for creating New Year’s resolutions. My kids (13 & 11) and my husband have also now adopted this technique with good success. There are more detailed methods for creating New Year’s resolutions, and I highly recommend them if you are so motivated. (See end of post for more information.) The problem is that many people are not motivated. They often feel like they need not bother making a list of goals since they probably won’t complete their resolutions anyway. Either that, or they are so overwhelmed with everyday life that the idea of creating another “to do” list is just not a task they can handle. The resolution quick list is a great solution to at least take a small step toward making goals that can add up to a big difference in the New Year.

Steps to Creating a Resolution Quick List

  1. Get a piece of paper. Just regular notebook paper or even a piece from a scratch pad will do.
  2. Title the list, so it looks important. The title can be something as simple as “2012 Goals.”
  3. With a goal of 10 total, start listing what you’d like to accomplish in the next year. For ideas, see my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions listed at the end of this post.
  4. Keep the list visible and where you’ll see it often until you have 10 items on it.
  5. Once you’ve hit 10 goals, put the paper away somewhere that you’ll come across it periodically in the next year. For example, I sometimes put my list in my Bible. My kids keep theirs on the computer, and my husband keeps his on his iPhone.

That’s it. Chances are, creating the list won’t take but a couple of days, if that. Then, just review the list once in a while. I’ve been using this method for probably 10 years now, and I’m always amazed at how much of my list I accomplish.

Why does this work? I think that the simple act of writing a goal down creates some sort of subconscious commitment that drives people to reach it even if they aren’t thinking about it. I’m sure there’s some scientific research behind it. What I know for sure is that I with this method, I accomplish at least half of the goals I wrote down.

Essential Parts of Creating Goals

There are some aspects of goal creating that will go a long way in helping you achieve your goals. The ones that I have found to be crucial are as follows.

  1. Have to be written down. If it’s not written down, you’re not even close to committing to achieving it.
  2. Honesty is required. Goals need to be ones you honestly care about; otherwise, you won’t work toward achieving them. I choose goals that fit my interests as well as ones that will help me become a better person.
  3. Need to be realistic. Goals have to be achievable, or you’re dooming yourself before you even begin. For example, I knew that running a marathon was very unlikely for me, so I cut it into two parts instead.
  4. Being specific is very helpful. The more specific you are, the better. For example, instead of saying “run regularly,” say, “run three times a week.”

While this method for setting goals is not necessarily foolproof, it certainly is better than nothing and can at least be one deliberate step in the direction of being more intentional about your life. For a more comprehensive and more effective method for setting goals, see “How to Finish What you Start: 5 Steps for Getting Things Done in 2012” and “17 Ways to Be Happier in 2012” at Abundance Blog @ Marelissa Online.

My 2011 New Year’s Resolutions

As promised, here is my 2011 quick list. Hope it gives you some ideas! (Note: Completed goals are crossed off.)

  1. Write 40 devotions
  2. Pray regularly with my husband (do often, but not daily)
  3. Run two half marathons (ran one, then got an injury)
  4. Eliminate endometriosis health problems (progress but not gone)
  5. Read 50 books
  6. Have daily, personal worship time (still working on this habit)
  7. Sleep well every night (better but not victorious yet)
  8. Complete office redecorating
  9. Complete photo organizing
  10. Contribute monthly to the food pantry

Sunday Reflections – What is your fear doing?

What does fear look like in your life? I’m afraid of being buried alive or being tortured, but luckily the chances of that happening are slim to none. The books I read and the movies I watch (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars and The Inheritance Series for example) have cultivated some of those fears. Not sure I would have thought of them otherwise. Hollywood also shows us that we need to be afraid of ghosts, people coming back from the dead, vampires, evil witches (as opposed to the good ones), and even zombies. Not sure about you, but even though many of those types of movies and shows scare me (I make a point to not watch some of them… the ones that freak me out and go beyond a PG-13 rating), I’m not really afraid of encountering a zombie or vampire as I go about my day. Some fears like these exist but don’t really change the way we live our lives.

But then there are those fears that affect the way we live life. For example, I know many people who are afraid of heights. That does present some limits, but not really life-altering ones for the most part. So you hand the light bulbs up the ladder rather than be the one on the top changing them. I mean, if I don’t ever go skydiving, I don’t think I will feel like I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to in life. There are others who are afraid of spiders. Again, not life-altering but definitely somewhat entertaining at times. But, I also know someone who is afraid of crossing bridges. Now that seriously limits where she can go and what she can do, and it has. These fears have an impact on our choices but not usually to the point where we feel like we can’t go out of the house. (I said usually. I realize there are those who live in the extreme with these types of fears.)

If fears only stopped at those already mentioned, most of us would find that our fears are not really limiting our lives. Unfortunately, they most common fears are the ones that limit the impact and effectiveness of our lives. Fear makes us do strange things. Fear of failure makes us not even try. Fear of what others think leads us to dangerous conformity. Fear of rejection prevents relationships from blossoming.

Research shows that the number one fear is of public speaking. The size of the group doesn’t seem to matter too much either. Speaking in front of others (meaning more than three people) is a fear that stops so many people from sharing their stories. But, those stories can be told one on one, and therefore can still be an effective witness. After all, not everyone can be a public speaker nor is everyone called to be.

Other common fears include fear of the future and fear of death. Uh oh! Now we’re getting into some serious life-altering fears. Fear of the future causes people to sit staunchly in routine and vehemently resist change. Fear of what’s going to happen motivates so many to seek out whatever control over life is possible, and this so very often is the heart of conflict. Tied into fear of the future is fear of death. No one wants to die, not really. This is why we so often see people fighting for their lives and winning in the face of seemingly impossible odds. They face serious illness and win. They undergo tremendous grief and come out stronger. They go in as extreme underdogs and come out victorious. On the other hand, fear of death much like fear of the future, causes people to settle into comfortable routines and fail to take risks that could truly define and give their lives tremendous impact. Fear then becomes a brick wall made of an unbreakable material. (Yes, I read about this type of material in a book.)

To some extent, every fear holds the potential of limiting life and keeping us from following God’s will. But some fears certainly seem to have more power for doing so than do others. So, what can we do when fear grips us, and we simply want to hole up somewhere and live a safe, comfortable life? For me, overcoming my fears lies with the examples found in God’s word of how to handle fear.

The Bible says 365 times to not be afraid. As many have noted, that’s covers every day in a year. One of my favorite example is in a portion of scripture I just read this morning where Joshua has been declared leader of the Israelites upon Moses’ death, and he now faces the daunting task of leading them into and conquering Canaan. In Deuteronomy 31:7, 8 & 23 and in Joshua 1:5-9, God encourages Joshua by telling him to “not fear” and “be of good courage” multiple times. God does this at other times too, such as before Joshua is heading into battle. When I realize that the same God who encouraged Joshua and promised to never abandon him is the same God who will do the same for me today, I find courage to face my fears.

Benaiah is another of my favorite examples of courage in the face of fear. In 2 Samuel 23:20-23 and 1 Chronicles 11:22-25, we read how Benaiah was a very courageous man. He faced a lion, two great warriors, and a man with a spear when he himself had only a club, and he came out victorious. In fact, his bravery (as well as so many other positive characteristics) allowed him to move up the ranks in both David’s and Solomon’s workforce to lead many and to have great responsibility. Behaiah had to have felt tremendous fear in the situations he faced (who wouldn’t?), but he faced that fear and did what he knew he was supposed to do. That inspires me.

We can’t stop fear. We will face it, and it will grip us. And while we may not be able to control the circumstances or the existence of fear, we can control our reactions to fear. We can choose to accept the gift of freedom from fear as promised in Matthew 6:25, 32-34 and John 11:25-26. When our focus is on Christ, we can face our fears and push through to accomplish the will of God. Really, whether or not we conquer our fear depends on where we focus. We can focus on the object of our fear, or we can focus on the goal set before us. That choice will determine the impact fear has on our lives.

So ask yourself, what am I afraid of? How is that fear shaping my life? Am I focusing on the fear or on the one who calms my fears? Am I focusing on how tough life is and the things I cannot control (the future and death are going to happen no matter what we do)? Or, am I focusing on the goal set before me, better known as the will of God? Understanding our fears and knowing the role they play in our lives is important, but putting our focus elsewhere is the key to determining the role our fear will play. Our fear can either be what limits us or what motivates us. That we can control.

“Just be yourself, and people can’t help but like you.”

When I was growing up and even into my young adult years, my mom told me many times to “Just be yourself, and people can’t help but like you.” Since then, I’ve told my kids this too. Little did I know that my mom was getting at a truth, as only mom’s can, that was a message God wanted me to get very clearly and that would continually encourage me.

Jesus did not try to become what people thought He should become (an earthly king). He was simply Himself, the Son of God. If He, as fully human as you or me, can resist instant status, we can resist the pressures to be someone we’re not too. How?

  1. Know who you are in Christ.
  2. Know your giftings.
  3. Get as close to Jesus as possible.

If you do these three things, you won’t care what others think you should be because you’ll be residing in His will. Obedience will be your focus, and in that others will be drawn to you just for being who Christ made you to be.

Mom, thanks for teaching me a truth that has been a wonderful way for me to find guidance and direction in my life. In this small phrase said multiple times, you made a huge difference in cultivating my confidence.

Small things really do add up to make a huge difference!

How to… Find Your Christmas Cheer

Many people struggle being cheerful at Christmas even though decorations, singing and holiday music abound everywhere they go. For some, this struggle stems from past memories of unhappy Christmases that haunt them. For some, the Christmas spirit eludes them because of the hustle and bustle that can be so stressful when one is short on cash or time (and often both). And for some, the loss of a loved one just makes having a Christmas spirit take too much effort. There are so many reasons that people struggle with enjoying a cheerful Christmas season, but fortunately there are many ways to help find and nurture that spirit as well.

The following are eight tips for finding your Christmas cheer. Some I use every year, and they never fail to work for me. Others are new for me, but I feel confident in their ability to add to my Christmas cheer because I’ve seen them work for others.

  1. Watch Christmas movies: In my house, the Christmas movies start on Thanksgiving. We have some favorites on DVD that we watch every year (A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story), and we also enjoy finding new ones on television. While many of these movies do not directly reflect the Christian message of Christmas, they pretty much all get at the spirit of the holiday and work well for bringing Christmas cheer to the surface.
  2. Read a Christmas book: Every year I search for a book that is focused on Christmas somehow. One year I read “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, and another year I read a book full of stories of Christmas miracles. This year, I plan to read “The Case for Christmas” by Lee Strobel. For me, books are more powerful than movies, and they work their way into my thoughts and intentions in a significant way. I’m always amazed at the power of a book to change how a person thinks. (See “Our Life In Books” for more details on a life that is passionate about reading.)
  3. Go to church: While this is a semiweekly habit for me all year, going to church during the Christmas season is especially important because it focuses me outside of myself and on the reason for the holiday itself. The worship music as well as the message and the fellowship help me to center in more on Jesus and less on myself. Seems like whenever my focus is not on myself, I find more joy in life.
  4. Be deliberately thankful: Choose to say “Thank You” more often than you usually do. Go out of your way to show people that you appreciate them, even if it’s for a seemingly small act on their part. Showing appreciate is one of the best ways I know of to beat the doldrums.
  5. Give gifts: Yes, Christmas is a time when we give gifts to our loved ones. But with each gift you give, ask yourself if you are giving it because you should or because you truly want to. Also, ask yourself if you have chosen the gift with the intention of blessing the other person or making yourself feel good. In other words, would you give the gift if they receiver never found out it was from you? Focus on blessing others, and you’ll find that the best gifts are the ones that don’t really cost much, if any, money.
  6. Decorate: One year when I was a teenager, we didn’t decorate for Christmas. That year was just too painful, and we just couldn’t find a way through the feelings. I regret not decorating that year because I’ve since learned that decorating is a great way to cultivate a Christmas spirit. I enjoy getting out the ornaments that have stories behind them and actually taking the time to tell the stories again. I love putting up the decorations that were gifts from someone and thinking fondly of that person. For me, decorating tells the story of my relationships, and that brings my Christmas spirit to life since Christmas is all about restoring relationship. (Jesus came to do that, you know.)
  7. Listen to Christmas music: My oldest son has always enjoyed Christmas music, so much so that he’ll listen to it in the middle of the summer. From old favorites and new tunes to orchestral renditions and pop interpretations, Christmas music helps focus not only on the fun and festiveness of the holiday, but also on the true meaning as well. Music does something to bring even ordinary days to life, and a holiday like Christmas seems to take on an ethereal affect when filled with music.
  8. Sparkle: Nothing brings a more cheerful attitude like sparkle. So, don that sequenced shirt you never wear, or wear one of those sparkly Santa hats. You may feel slightly uncomfortable at first, but the sparkle will definitely bring more cheer. Trust me, this one works! If an introvert like me can do it, anyone can!

As I sit typing this drinking coffee from one of my favorite Christmas mugs, my holiday cheer is already starting to increase by simply coming up with ideas for finding more cheer. (Oh, there’s a bonus tip! I love using Christmas mugs during the holidays. Makes me feel instantly more cheerful. I don’t recommend the ones that play music though; they just get annoying, which is counterproductive.) The point is that simply doing nothing will not bring more cheer. In other words, do something. Find some way to add cheer to your holiday, even if it’s just a small something. If for no other reason, do it because your loved ones enjoy seeing you smile. In that way, you’ll be giving them a gift that is priceless.