How to… Enjoy Family Vacation & Come Back Closer Than Ever

As soon, and often before, our family vacations are over, our boys usually are planning our next vacation. Even at 11 and 13, they prefer being with their parents on vacation than at home with their friends. Not sure if that’s normal or not, but I love it. We work very hard as a family to make sure our times away strengthen and bond us, and the following tips are the building blocks of how we structure our vacations for this purpose. These points also help make vacations relaxing, which for me, needs to happen in order for the bonding to happen too.

  1. Know everyone’s priority. Depending on how long you will be on vacation, have each person prioritize activities. Then, do your best to make sure at least one of the tope items on every person’s list gets done. (Keep in mind that having several options is important.) We often spend time prior to leaving on vacation researching options while we plan our vacation as well as most of the first day of vacation deciding activities.
  2. Look at free/ low cost options. We love to visit state parks, national monuments and other free/low cost activities when on vacation. This gets us outside more and allows us to learn about the area we are visiting. On our last vacation, we spent a day hiking in a state park, visiting the fish hatchery and touring the DNR facility. These were all free activities and a lot of fun. Don’t forget to check out the local coupons for tourists too to help keep costs down.
  3. Immerse in local culture. We enjoy reading about the culture of our destination and then visiting some of the places we read about. We learn a lot about history and have fun quizzing each other on it. Local culture activities not only are usually the least expensive but are also often free.
  4. Have a flexible budget. My husband sets a budget for us and then monitors it as we plan activities. Utilizing the coupons that most destinations offer for tourists helps a lot in sticking to our budget. We also can enjoy activities without feeling guilty and wondering how we’ll pay for the vacation after it’s over.
  5. Schedule down time. My ideal vacation involves lots of reading and coffee time. Down time for reading and relaxing is my top priority on vacation, and my family knows this. They’ve also come to enjoy these times for themselves as well. We schedule plenty of time to rest, so the times spent out and about can be more enjoyable (i.e. no sore feet for me). We take movies to watch and games to play as a family for our down time, which usually makes up half of our vacation time.
  6. Avoid time. While I don’t wear a watch as a general rule, my husband also ditches his on vacation. Our oldest son enjoys being our “time keeper,” so we always know we can ask him if needed. Most of the time, though, we avoid worrying about the time. Having a week where time doesn’t matter is very refreshing. We eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired.
  7. Consider a kitchen. We stay in a time-share condominium on most vacations. Having a kitchen is a huge money saver, and it helps avoid unwanted weight gain that often comes with vacation. Many hotels have rooms with kitchens or kitchenettes, and they are well worth the extra money.

I know I don’t have all the answers when it comes to vacations, and know everyone’s situation is unique. But, I do know that what I have suggested here as well as in the rest of the series has made family vacations into great bonding times as well as low stress times for my family. All I can do is offer what works for me, and I pray that it stimulates you to explore what works for you to have vacations that draws you closer together as a family. Being deliberate about the structure of your vacation really will you to grow closer together as a family and to truly relax at the same time.

DISCUSSION: What are your suggestions for enjoying vacation and growing closer as a family?


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Happy Anniversary!

This past Tuesday, my husband and I celebrated 19 years of marriage. (Our wedding anniversary also marks 25 years of officially being a couple.) Tomorrow marks the 6-month anniversary of Struggle to Victory. As I thought about these two anniversaries, I realized how many of the same principles that made my marriage successful will also make my blog successful as well.

  1. Consistency. Consistently forgiving, striving to meet each other’s needs and making God the focal point of our marriage. Choosing to focus consistently on these and other areas creates a strong marriage. When I started blogging, I remember the experts recommending posting consistently. Consistency creates a sense of reliability and trust, elements essential for any relationship, whether face-to-face or virtual.
  2. Commitment. No matter what, my husband and I remain committed to each other. This held true when we struggled through my chronic depression, the colic of our first child, and the journey that comes with adopting an older child. Never give up! Commitment to blogging also means not giving up. I have read more than once that many bloggers give up just before they would have hit the success for which they have been working. Simply never giving up helps ensure success in a marriage as well as in blogging.
  3. Courage. In marriage, courage comes into play with trusting your spouse. This is built and grows over time, and having the courage to keep working toward trust (both giving and receiving) goes a long way in strengthening a marriage. Courage with blogging involves putting your thoughts and ideas on the internet for all to see. It also means risking controversy and offense. Without courage, can one truly be a successful blogger that connects with readers?
  4. Connection. Connecting on a regular basis provides the glue that allows consistency, commitment and courage to truly create a strong marriage. My husband and I make a point to connect every night after the kids are in bed. (We explained to our now teenage son that this was why we insisted on an earlier bedtime than most of his friends, and he now cheerfully goes up to his room at the designated time). We also take a weekend trip together quarterly. This is the minimum, and usually we connect more than that. Connection is also essential in blogging. Connect with readers. Connect with other bloggers. Use the various avenues of comment streams and social networking to connect with others. Connection is the glue to any long-term relationship.
  5. Communication. Certainly a part of connection, communication also involves making sure goals and objectives line up as much as possible. This can mean coordinating weekly activities or focusing on larger goals such as reducing debt or making a large purchase. Communicating needs, wants, desires, etc. and being honest when doing so creates a culture of growth in a marriage. Communication for a blog means creating clear content that shows understanding of reader’s needs, wants and desires. Communication of any sort requires deliberate and intentional focus on a consistent basis.

Following in the steps of other godly marriages, my husband and I employ the above elements to make our marriage healthy and strong. Following in the steps of successful bloggers does the same for my blog. When I first began blogging, two resources provided the bulk of the information I needed. Ghostwriter Dad and ProBlogger got me started with the tips mentioned in this post as well as many others tips and ideas. I recommend them highly as resources for any blogger.

My marriage is by far more successful than my blog, and I hope it always remains as such. Yet, I know that if I employ the same principles in blogging as my husband and I do in our marriage, Struggle to Victory will be close to its 19th Anniversary when my husband and I celebrate our 39th Anniversary.

How to… Enjoy Travelling

Airport security. Traffic. Hungry children. Bored children. Hungry and bored spouse. General all around stupidity and rudeness. All of these factors can play into a miserable trip, whether flying or driving. In the past two years, realizing I can prevent much of this type of frustration has made traveling not only bearable but actually enjoyable to the point that I look forward to it just as much (well almost anyway) as the actual vacation itself.

Unfortunately, that realization came after 18 years of dreading travel time. (I’m sure many other people figure it out a lot sooner.) Combined with what I discovered about How to… Plan for a Vacation without Going Crazy, the following 5 tips truly make the actual travel time a positive contribution to the vacation experience as a whole.

  1. Take snacks and activities. Hunger and boredom usually lead to poor choices, and I’m not just talking about behavior of children. Carry-on bags should hold everyone’s favorite snacks as well as activities for those who don’t sleep while traveling (like me and my kids… my husband can sleep anywhere, anytime.) Don’t be that person whose kids are unruly on the airplane simple because they are bored and hungry. For car travel, keep snacks within arm’s reach and have lots of activities, perhaps even planning them out for every state entered or miles driven.
  2. Keep hydrated. Almost put this with #1 but really felt like staying hydrated needed emphasis all its own. Ask my kids, “What’s the first thing you do if you have a headache or start feeling off or grumpy all of a sudden?”” They’ll tell you, “Drink water.” Staying hydrated prevents a whole host of uncomfortable symptoms and just makes everyone much more pleasant. When traveling, never be without water nearby to sip from regularly.
  3. Keep other travelers’ in mind. This especially comes into play with airplane travel. People will seem rude (yes, that means you too), and people will do stupid things (yes, you too) like have too big or too many carry ones and get a little to “cozy” at times. In addition to these 5 tips (and the others many of you are going to leave in the comments), two words will make airplane travel bearable and, dare I say, even pleasant. Ready, here they are: Patience and flexibility.
  4. Utilize electronics but don’t depend on them. We take a DVD player and movies when we travel, but we don’t use them constantly. We also take phones and iPods that really get used very little because of the other activities (travel games, books with fun questions, reading to each other, etc.) that take up a lot of our travel time. Electronics bring a much-needed break on especially long trips, but the certainly don’t provide a large percentage of our entertainment. We’ve found too many other enjoyable activities to pass the time.
  5. Focus on bonding. When our focus for travel switched from getting from point A to point B to connecting as a couple and as a family, traveling became enjoyable. This is why we keep electronics to a minimum and choose travel activities we can do together. This is why we surprise each other with favorite snacks and why we try to learn as much as possible about the places we see. Find ways to bond as a family when you travel, and you’ll look forward to and truly enjoy every second you are together.

Employing the above tips really makes travelling fun for me and my family. Not only that, but because we focus on bonding and connecting with each other, travelling with my family has become a part of the vacation itself and not just a means to an end.

I’m sure there are a ton more tips that I did not think of or have the time to cover, such as those found in How To Reduce the Stress of Traveling by Elizabeth Scott, M.S.. What suggestions and tips do you have for enjoyable travel to and from your vacation destination?

DISCUSSION: How can traveling be a time to “make the most of every opportunity” to strengthen relationships?

Sunday Reflections – What’s Your Status?

Does your Facebook status accurately reflect all of who you are? Or, are you only posting about the dramatic parts of your life? Are you hoping people will think you are clever by what you post? Are you displaying only what you feel is socially acceptable? If all someone knew about you was from your Facebook status, how would they describe you? Would they have well-rounded view of who you are?

What about how people would describe you as a Christian? Are you genuine and appropriately transparent? Are you putting up a front and only showing what you think others want to see? Or, are you willing to be vulnerable when necessary? Are you the same person in private and in public, or do you act like a Christian only when others are watching? If people were to describe Christians based on only you, what would that description look like? Would it accurately reflect Christ?

As Christians, our goal is to show the world what Christ is like. This does not mean we need to be perfect. That’s not possible this side of Heaven anyway. It does mean that we need to continually improve, which comes when we pursue holiness. (Holiness means to be set apart.)

Pursuing holiness means doing our best to apply scripture – all of it – to our lives. (We don’t get to pick and choose what to apply and what to ignore.) Pursuing holiness means having a Christ-like attitude that is contagious. In today’s technological age, contagious means viral. Do you have a Christ-like attitude that’s going viral? Or, do you have a negative and critical attitude that others are catching?

Compared to the Facebook status of many people, my life is quite boring nor do I eat enough. Yet, my guess is that what I’m seeing doesn’t present the whole picture of their lives and who they fully are. But I find myself wondering if I am similarly guilty of presenting an incomplete picture of my life as a Christian.

I am certainly not advocating that people air every detail of their lives on Facebook. Some topics and details are simply meant for face-to-face conversations, IF they should be shared at all. (Some things should simply be kept between you and God.) But I’m also not advocating an in-your-face Christian who forces his beliefs on others. Instead, I am promoting that we purposefully decide to present who we are accurately and honestly by the lives that we live, whether virtually or face-to-face.

In other words, do your best to be real. As a Christian, that means letting the character of Christ in you be your status as a Christian. Let the Holy Spirit present opportunities to be real – flaws and all – in a way that shows the grace and mercy of Christ. That means that in being perfected, the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness and self-control) continually increase in our lives. No, not perfectly, just as no one’s Facebook status can accurately present a perfect life. Instead, with a sincere heart, do your “best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) A worthy status whether on Facebook or as a Christian. Come to think of it, shouldn’t these two status’ be one in the same anyway?

DISCUSSION: What adjustments can you make in your status starting today?

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Related Posts:

Are you an “All-In Oddball” Christian?

Go Against the Flow

Attitude Upgrade

Do You Have Broad Shoulders?

Football players, especially running backs and linemen, usually have physically broad shoulders. They’re very strong and able to withstand a lot of force without moving much. Some of this ability comes via genetics, but most of it is developed through hard work, strength training and consistent practice. Their example gives us a framework for developing broad shoulders of our own, not physically, but in a way that allows us to better reach victory in life’s struggles.

What does having broad shoulders mean? It means not being easily offended or at least letting go of an offense easily. It means keeping short accounts and simply not letting offenses linger (Mark 11:25). Having broad shoulders means becoming increasingly aware of the grace and forgiveness freely given us (1 John 1:9) and then willingly extending that grace and forgiveness to others (Matthew 18:21-22; Colossians 3:13).

How do we develop broad shoulders? Developing broad shoulders involves using our strengths to stand up under and even prevent offenses as well as allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our weaknesses to help us struggle through offenses. Broad shoulders also come through disciplines similar to what football players use to become physically strong and skilled.

  1. Build on natural ability. Know your personality and temperament and build on the strengths that come naturally. If talking out a frustration helps you let go of offenses, find a safe person to listen. If writing them out helps, do that. Maybe physical activity such as running or tennis helps you let offenses go. Find what works to release tension, and then employ it regularly to ward off lingering offenses.
  2. Discipline your thought life. Deliberately choose where your thoughts dwell. Instead of thinking about a person’s intentions, consider that you may not know the whole story. Consider that you may be operating under false assumptions. And realize that a bad day, a headache or a poor night’s sleep might be all that’s at the root of the offense. Discipline yourself to give the benefit of the doubt and chose to dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” and anything that is “excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8).
  3. Strength train regularly. Becoming stronger only happens through challenge and initial breakdown, just like our muscles only become physically stronger when we break them down through exercise. Don’t avoid life for fear of confrontation and difficulty. Rely on the Holy Spirit to lead you through the struggle in a way that allows you to “live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18) as much as it is up to you to do so.
  4. Practice consistency. This step involves visualizing what may happen in an upcoming situation and then reviewing (debriefing) after a confrontation. Deliberately chose to learn from every situation and in this way “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
  5. Be a spotter. When lifting especially heavy weights, spotters need to be present to assure safety. In a non-physical sense, being a spotter means seeking to meet others needs rather than focusing on having your own needs met. Look for ways to serve rather than be served.

Within all of these steps, always rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We can develop broad shoulders only so far on our own to possibly achieve the world’s standards. Going beyond what the world considers acceptable and doing what pleases God rather than man requires supernatural intervention. This happens by moving forward even in fear and committing your way to the Lord. It happens by realizing weaknesses and allowing God to be glorified as He makes the impossible happen.

Jesus was all about relationships when He walked as a human being on this earth, and He is still all about relationships. Having broad shoulders strengthens relationships as we realize that we are all human, and we all make mistakes. No one truly deserves forgiveness, yet our Heavenly Father freely gives it to us anyway. This can motivate us to develop broad shoulders for the sake of fellowshipping with believers and witnessing to unbelievers.

DISCUSSION: What can you do to develop your “broad shoulders”?

Please take the time to read 15 Words That Will Change Your Relationships by Barb Raveling at Beyond the Sinner’s Prayer. This post relates well to the development of broad shoulders.

How to… Plan for a Family Vacation without Going Crazy

This is the first post in a 5-part series focusing on vacations. The first four posts focus on family vacations, and the fifth focuses on summer vacation in general.

The importance of vacations to our physical and mental health lies with every person’s need to break the stress cycle by taking time to relax and gain perspective. Additionally, The Importance of Vacations, for Stress Relief, Productivity and Health lies in their ability to promote creativity, prevent burnout, help keep us healthy, promote overall well-being and improve job performance. Specifically for families, vacations promote bonding, provide unique teaching opportunities, and teach the value of adventure and new experiences. Just as important, if not more, vacations allow for enjoying children while they are young, an ever-fleeting time of life.

While the importance of vacations seems clear, Expedia considers the United States along with five other countries to be “vacation deprived.” Expedia also says that the top reasons for skipping vacations are money (38%), failure to plan (20%) and work being the priority (10%). Today’s post focuses on reducing the second top reason, failure to plan.

The following four tips for planning for a family vacations are ones my family uses when we vacation, which is usually two week-long trips a year as well as shorter trips (weekend or an overnight) periodically.

  1. Buy a travel book specific to your destination. Not only does this provide all the information on your destination that you need, it also saves time searching for the information on the internet. Additionally, a good travel book will highlight “must see” attractions and locations as well as “hidden” treasures. Tips in a good travel book include best time to go, money-saving tips and lists of what to bring. A travel book has proved to be an invaluable resource for my family, even beyond all of our electronics (iPod, tablet, iPhone and laptop).
  2. Involve the whole family in planning. While this proves easier as kids get older, even younger kids can be included in deciding what to do and what to bring. We often begin the planning with having a yard sale to “raise money” for the trip. This gets the kids excited and involved. We also allow them to research the destination and make lists of what they want to see and do. They also help pack their own suitcases and carry-ons and also help clean the house before we leave. Preparing for vacation is truly a family event, and making it so really takes a lot of stress and pressure off mom and dad.
  3. Make lists. Even at a very young age, kids can follow lists and usually enjoy doing so. We make lists on what needs done before leaving, what to bring, what to do when we get there as well as what to do as we travel. The lists are written down and accessible to everyone. My family really enjoys marking items off the lists. Doing so is like a count-down of sorts to when we leave.
  4. Pack minimally. We take or buy laundry detergent and do our laundry when we’re on vacation. This way, we can pack lightly and save the hassle of dealing with lots of luggage. Packing the essentials and favorites is the key.

These tips come after almost 20 years of trial and error and with the last two years of family vacations being the most restful and enjoyable. Intentionally being systematic about planning and preparing for vacations as brought me and my family to a place of not only looking forward to getting away but also to truly enjoying the time away and coming back closer as a family.

This rest of this series will also focus on how to enjoy traveling and family time while on vacation. The series will also look at how to not come back from vacation more stressed and needing another vacation and will end with how to enjoy time off with the kids in the summer.

DISCUSSION: Why is taking family vacations regularly so important? What tips do you have for planning a family vacation?

Sunday Reflections – Through Eyes of Perfection

As children, we view ourselves through our parents’ eyes, through their approval and disapproval. As teenagers, the opinion of our peers becomes a significant influence. And then as adults, we wrestle with comparisons as well as obtaining whatever view of success that creates. Because we live in an imperfect world, we are influenced by imperfect views of ourselves, both through the imperfect eyes of others as well as our own imperfect vision.

Fortunately, another factor can influence how we view ourselves. God fills the gaps of imperfection, gaps we all have in our self-esteem as we live this side of Heaven. As His children, we can see ourselves through the eyes of perfection. He is the perfect parent who dotes and lavishes love on His children (1 John 3:1), and a focus on that can give us a whole new way of viewing ourselves.

In the story of the widow in Luke 21:1-4, we read of a woman who put all the money she had into the temple treasury. Jesus recognized her great sacrifice. While others gave more money, Jesus said her sacrifice was greater even though the giving report seem to indicate otherwise. The widow gave out of her poverty, while the others gave out of their surplus.

So often, what we view as insignificant or lesser in value (such as the amount the widow gave), Jesus views as significant and having great value (giving in faith from her heart). That’s the difference between the view of imperfection (ours) and the view of perfection (Jesus’). Jesus sees intentions. We see actions and hear words. We can only see the tangible, while Jesus sees the state of the heart.

Comparisons create a dangerous drama in this idea of significance. They steal our focus by creating an insatiable desire for the unobtainable more. Along with comparisons come unrealistic and/or too numerous of expectations, which create an even more distorted view and magnify our already imperfect view of ourselves. We compare ourselves and what we have or don’t have to what others have or don’t have, and we develop expectations about what we need to have, do or be in order to be successful. We often decide we are successful because we have done more than someone else. In other words, we base our value based on WHO we are rather than WHOSE we are.

Instead, through the eyes of perfection, we realize that Jesus only asks for what we have to give. Through our imperfect view, we compare ourselves to others and think we need to do and be more. Through the eyes of perfection, our Heavenly Father sees us as acceptable just as we are right now.

When you realize that your value and worth come from a Heavenly Father looking at you through the perfection of Jesus, all comparisons and expectations fall away as glorifying Him becomes your primary focus. The fact that “you are an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ” (Romans 8), that “you have a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:25) and that “you are a treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5) can be an infinitely more powerful motivator than any expectation or comparison.

In this culture where comparisons and expectations create an overloaded and unrealistic view of who you need to be to feel valued, deliberately choose to focus on He who gives you your value simply because He loves you. You need to do nothing but accept what He freely offers, and then you will be His child forever.

DISCUSSION: In 1 Samuel 15:29, we see that God is “the Glory of Israel” who “does not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man, that He should change His mind.” How does this scripture add to the significance of why we should get our value from Him and not from our own or other people’s perception?

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Do you ever feel invisible? I’m not talking literally, like superhero-ring-of-power-invisibility-cloak type of invisible. I’m talking the type of invisible you feel when others fail to notice you or at least acknowledge that they notice you. This happens when you’re driving, and someone lackadaisically pulls in front of you as if you aren’t even on the road in your vehicle. It happens when you’re at the grocery store and people walk in front of you as you’re walking down the aisle, and you have to stop abruptly to prevent yourself from running into them. The worst of all, though, is when two people you are talking with suddenly start having a conversation and make it quite obvious that you are not a part of that conversation. Come on. You’ve never had that happen? Feeling invisible in these ways frustrates me and is one of the quickest routes to a bad mood that I find difficult to shake. I mean, I’m sure all of these people overlooked me on purpose.

Do you ever wish you were invisible? Now I AM talking about the superhero-ring-of-power-invisibility-cloak type of invisible. (As an aside, scientists have discovered how to actually make something invisible See the video here. Gotta get me one of those!) Where would you go? What would you do? Maybe you would listen in on conversations to find out what people really think of you. Think about it. You could get someone all riled up, leave the room to put on whatever it is that makes you invisible, and then follow that person to find out if you become the topic of a conversation. Or maybe you would start messing with people. You could blow in someone’s ear, throw sunflower seeds at someone or even follow them around until they get the feeling that they are being watched. Just think of how helpful this would be if you’re the boss!

Really, much of what significantly impacts our lives is actually invisible. Sound waves. Heat waves. Wind. Oxygen. We could not continue to function or even exist without the invisible. On the other hand, we could function better in general if we made a point to not make others feel invisible. Interesting that the idea of invisibility, whether in fiction or real life and depending on its various forms and conditions, can both benefit as well as negatively impact our lives.

Taking this beyond the scientific and into the spiritual, consider that God – the creator of the universe… of sound, heat, wind & oxygen – is also invisible. (1 Timothy 1:17 & Colossians 1:15) We see that our faith is based on Him and “the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). As a result, our faith is based on “things which are not seen,” and our focus should be on the invisible because “the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18) Our faith and our hope are all based on the invisible, and even our true struggles take place in the unseen. (Ephesians 6:12)

We can choose to overlook the invisible God and the unseen forces that battle around us, and we can choose to not focus on that intangible unseen force of love, or we can choose to take in the reality of what the invisible means for our lives and let it consume and totally direct us. How do we do this?

  1. Realize that troubles are opportunities that help us look beyond this life and to place our hope in the eternal God.
  2. Understand that our ultimate hope is that this life is not all there is and that there is life beyond what we can see.
  3. Believe that we will live with God in eternity to help us live above the pain of the present.
  4. Be directed by God’s Holy Spirit within us and protected by His armor around us. (Ephesians 6:11-17)

When my boys (11 & 13) talk about what kind of mythical beings we would be if we could and what powers or abilities we would have, invisibility is not one of my choices. (In case you’re curious, I would be a Jedi Elf. Think Obi Wan morphed with Legolas.) I have felt invisible before and hated it. Even more than my personal feelings, I just feel that the invisible really exists for that which is much higher than myself.

Ultimately for now, the unseen exists as a matter of faith. Without doubt, meaning being completely sure, faith would have no place in my life. For that reason, I choose to believe in an invisible God. I choose to focus on the unseen force of love and to bank my soul on the reality of an eternity in Heaven. In that way, really, the invisible consumes and directs me and exists as more of a reality than anything tangible I can verify with my five senses.

DISCUSSION #1: Do you focus on the tangible reality in front of you, or the invisible God and creator of the world? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how much you think about the seen vs. the unseen.

DISCUSSION #2: I gotta know… what mythical creature would you be?

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Sunday Reflections – Overwhelmed with God

Just over two years ago, a Christian counselor recommended I read the book of Isaiah. At that time in my life, I was overwhelmed by how badly I felt physically plus discouraged with my lack of focus and inability to find any passion and purpose. Reading through the book of Isaiah was the beginning of the end of that valley.

The book of Isaiah focuses on the message of rescue and restoration. Today, several passages from this Old Testament book serve as compass verses to encourage me whenever I sense that I am becoming overwhelmed with the maladies and even just the routine of life again. Even more importantly, they refocus my feelings and bring me to a place of being overwhelmed with God instead of with life.

The 2nd verse in chapter 12 is highlighted to help focus me on expressing praise for my salvation. The 3rd and 4th verses of chapter 6 speak to perfect peace. Don’t you love the idea of a peace that is perfect? There are several verses in chapter 30 and 33 highlighted that emphasize waiting. They remind me that when we truly wait on the Lord, we discover He was waiting for us to wait on Him. Chapter 40 has several verses highlighted focusing on the comfort that God offers His people.

While there are many verses I have highlighted in Isaiah, and really the entire book encourages and uplifts me, one verse serves as my “go to” verse for times of discouragement. When I first read the verse in the Spring of 2010, I truly felt like God was speaking directly to me. I mean, the Bible is one way God speaks to us, but this was definitely an “ah hah” moment like never before.

“Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the dessert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

At that time in my life, I felt lost in an endless forest and at the same time stranded in the middle of a dry desert. Those verses assured me that God had plans for me that I couldn’t even imagine. When I thought the way out and through was impossible, these verses reminded me that what God did for Israel, He would do for me too. He took my focus off the past and the way my life had been and focused me on the future He had planned. I became overwhelmed with Him once again.

God did and continues to make a path in the forest and a stream in the desert for me. He healed my body. He restored my marriage. He worked and continues to work in amazing way in my boys’ lives. He healed me from depression and continues to give me victory over that area of weakness in my life. And He gave me a passion for writing, and in that a purpose to do His will with a writing ministry. My imaginations never came close to what God did in my life these past two years. I love that about God. He always does way better than we can imagine.

When I am discouraged, reading through the verses I have highlighted in Isaiah never fails to encourage me, much like they encouraged Hezekiah when they were first spoken. They were encouraging in the 8th Century B.C., they encourage me today, and they speak to a very encouraging future for all Christians in Heaven.

DISCUSSION: What are your compass verses (or compass verse)? Why?

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions – Part 2

Learning to say “no” and prioritizing along with the other strategies discussed last week in Decisions, Decisions, Decisions – Part 1 will go a long way in helping streamline decision making. But they only take you so far. Decisions making their way through those particular strategies will still eventually overwhelm simply because of the sheer volume of choices our culture makes available to us daily.

For this reason, taking decision making to a deeper level becomes invaluable. Additional defense strategies can get at our character and who we are as individuals (what defines us) rather than just how we do things or the techniques we use. With that, below are 10 additional strategies to put in your decision-making arsenal.

  1. Beware of perfectionism. Barb Raveling indicated frustration over making decisions because she wants to make perfect decisions, so she often puts off making any decisions. As a perfectionist myself, I understand Barb’s frustration. Voltaire said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” In other words, good is often effective enough to get the job done. Insisting on perfection sometimes impairs progress.
  2. Avoid second guessing yourself. As Mark Allman so aptly said, “Trust that you have done your best and not look back.” Make the best decision with the information available and move forward. Constantly second guessing yourself leads to stagnation.
  3. Take emotions out of decision making. Emotions function like gauges on a car. They indicate a need to fill up, replenish and repair. However, they cannot actually drive the car. Decisions based on emotion often lead to regret and embarrassment.
  4. Develop positive habits. Loren Pinilis notes that, “Once a decision gets to be a habit, it takes less of our mental resources. It doesn’t drain us.”  An example might be exercising. When my husband wants to run in the evenings, he comes home, changes and heads out right away. He knows that putting it off decreases the chance it will happen. He’s developed this positive habit to ensure he gets mid-week runs in regularly.
  5. Embrace the process. Decision making is a part of life. While some people are better at it than others and some people enjoy it more than others, everyone has to make decisions. For this reason, learn to make the best decisions possible. By combination of trial and error and learning from others, strive to generally become better at making decisions.
  6. Consider the impact of personality. Some people are naturally better decision makers than others, and some people enjoy and can tolerate making a larger number of decisions. As Tim Van Milligan pointed out, personality can have a big impact on an individual’s approach to decision making. For me, a melancholy introvert, I keep decisions to a minimum since I can easily get overwhelmed. I also spend a lot of time planning, so as to minimize on-the-spot decision making. My husband, on the other hand, is an extrovert who actually has almost an even amount of each personality type and is able to pull from each as the situation dictates. He is not only much better at making decisions, but he is able to handle a much larger number of decisions without breaking down.
  7. Realize that not deciding is sometimes appropriate. All too often, we force decisions. I know I have made a decision before I should have many times and then faced regret and unwelcomed consequences. From these experiences, I have learned to listen to my internal gauge. If I don’t have to make a decision yet and if I am completely unsure of the direction I should take, I simply wait. The Bible actually says we receive a blessing when we wait for Him to help us (Isaiah 30:18).
  8. Let your calling guide you. In response to Why Covey’s Big Rocks Illustration Is Wrong, Jason Vana articulates this point well. He said that “when we understand our purpose and calling in life, it’s easier to say no to the things that just aren’t important, or that try to steal time away from our calling. I’ve heard it said that you can’t say no to anything until you’ve first said yes to something greater.” He also noted that saying “no” isn’t always easy, but that when he looks at the purpose of his life and sees something that doesn’t fit, he can then “say no with confidence.”
  9. Establish your values. In the grip of a big decision is not the time to decide moral views. Establish convictions and values before you need them, hopefully basing them on the Truth of God’s Word. They can help guide decisions of any size.
  10. Stick with what works. When a process or procedure works well, consider leaving it alone. This is an especially helpful approach when multiple priorities and goals within priorities vie for your time and energy. This is not to say room for improvement ceases to exist, but sometimes good enough really can be okay.

With the increasingly rapid pace of our information culture, the need to make a lot of decisions doesn’t seem to be dissipating in any way. Having a solid arsenal helps sort, prioritize and eliminate decisions. For Christians, one more tool must be used with and above all others. God’s Word provides Truth that allows for clarity in decision making not found elsewhere. Be sure to consult God’s guidebook for life regularly.

Additional Resources:

DISCUSSION: How do you feel right now about the number of decisions you have to make regularly? What do you plan to try to hopefully make that process more efficient?