Sunday Reflections – Family Reunions

2006 Reunion

About 80 strong, my husband’s family gathers the last Sunday in July every year for a reunion. My father-in-law is one of 12 children, and the 11 brothers and sisters still alive along with their families gather to reconnect with 4 generations coming together for this one afternoon.

Every year the group changes, some gone through death and divorce and some simply absent because of other commitments. New arrive through marriage and birth. The group has certainly changed, grown mostly, over the 25 years I’ve been attending.

My husband and boys love these reunions. They love seeing cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. They love playing the games and eating the food. My family history does not include that of reuniting much, yet I am intrigued by this tradition and want to understand its draw.

As I watch my husband’s family at reunions, the purposes behind reunions themselves becomes clear. Those purposes are to keep in touch, rekindle relationships, preserve heritage and create intergenerational relationships.

Most people at my husband’s reunion see each other only once a year and this is their way of keeping in touch. With busy lives, not coming together intentionally every year means losing that connection. Many of these relationships would completely cease to exist if not for this yearly reunion, so reconnecting and rekindling relationship is a major reason for attending.

Preserving heritage at my husband’s reunions comes in the form of a prominently displayed family tree and a trivia game about the growing-up years of my father-in-law’s family. In today’s culture, hearing about the life of 12 children on a farm in Michigan during the depression fascinates all ages. I am amazed at how much the “original” group remembers of their childhood. The trivia game provides a unique way for the heritage of each individual present to be preserved.

2007 Reunion

Intergenerational relationships exist too with younger and older connecting for conversations, games and some even further connecting outside of the reunion. This unique setting creates an atmosphere for age to at least somewhat be ignored while generations connect and play together for one afternoon.

These reunions have provided a terrific way for my kids to not only connect with their paternal heritage, but they are also able to connect with my husband’s and my heritage (our beginnings as a couple). As we drove home from the reunion, we showed them where we went to school and the town where we grew up, and they were truly interested.

These yearly reunions have created a longing in my kids and myself to continue the tradition of family reunions as my boys grow and start families of their own (not for a while yet though). This greatly encourages me as the years with my kids seem to be fleeting away.

The Final Reunion

In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, Paul talks about a reunion that is meant to encourage those who will get to attend. This will be an event when all Christians throughout time are united together. Even more significant is that they will also be united with Christ. This reunion will have no ending. Relationships will be permanently rekindled. The heritage we have as sons and daughters of the Most High King will exist as a reality we live out as we each receive our inheritance. Age will cease to matter and perhaps to even exist.

As I struggle with the fact that my own family does not reunite regularly, I am able to find joy in a family that still clings to what Geneology.com says only about 45% of families still do every year. My joy increases when my kids catch excitement for experiencing their heritage more fully and for wanting to continue that tradition themselves. Finally, when I realize the picture of eternity that family reunions provide, a great anticipation for the ultimate family reunion comes alive in me.

DISCUSSION: Does your family meet yearly? How does this affect your sense of connection in general? What thoughts do you have of the final reunion in Heaven?

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Are You Adding to Others Busyness & Overload?

When working to reduce busyness and overload, we tend to focus on our personal schedules. We look at ways to reduce our own “to do” lists. How often do we look at how our actions or inactions create more work and load for others?

Consider the following elements and how they not only impact your own life but how they might be adding to busyness and overload in the lives of the people with whom you work, live, go to church and play.

  1. Exhaustion. Our own busyness and overload adds to what others need to accomplish when we become too exhausted to keep commitments or fail to complete tasks satisfactorily. By continually working to keep busyness and overload in our own lives at bay, by default we reduce those for others as well. More importantly, living in constant fatigue, stress and overload fails to provide a picture of the freedom that Christ died to bring (Galatians 5:1). Instead, we appear trapped in and resigned to living out lives in the realm of too much.
  2. Ineffective Communication. Do you fully listen when someone talks, or do you think about all you have to do or want to say? Are your interactions (face-to-face, email, text, Facebook) uplifting and helpful or filled with confusion?  Develop the habit of truly listening, and learn to communicate effectively. Also, simply learning to Reduce Email Overload and Frustration goes a long way in promoting effective communication. Pick an area of communication and focus on improving there if for no other reason than to ease the stress and overload another person is experiencing.
  3. Drama. Do you constantly tell stories about your busy and stressed life? Are your stories filled with exaggeration that stresses busyness?  Consider that constant drama may be exhausting to others. How long can you go without saying you’re busy? Can you have a conversation without telling a dramatic story of the events that make every moment of your life exhausting? Purpose to not be someone who brags about being too busy and stressed.
  4. Nosiness & Gossip. Often, hearing about the pit others find themselves in makes our own pits not seem so miry. When we talk about others problems, our own don’t seem so bad. While that can give a needed perspective switch, it can also backfire by leading us to feel like change in our own lives isn’t necessary. Consider how projection and magnification might exist in your life to the point of causing you to not see needed change in your own life.
  5. Neediness. Some people just need others to listen to them, and borrowing a friend’s ear certainly has its place and time. Unfortunately, some take this to an extreme and live in a constant state of neediness. Part of refusing to constantly add to others busyness and overload means avoiding being needy and always taking. It means choosing to give, whether by helping in a tangible way or simply by not staying too talk long when the person is obviously busy. Instead, schedule time to vent and talk when both parties can have the mental space to focus.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul gives advice for living that results in respect from others as well as lives that do not put unnecessary burdens on others. His advice? “Live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands.”

A quiet life means a simple life, however you define that, and a simple life comes in small, deliberate steps that add up over time. Not only does a simpler life reduce our own stress, busyness and overload, but it reduces those aspects in the lives of others too. When we are less stressed, busy and not as overloaded, we tend to have the energy to communicate more effectively and to be a source of peace to others, which then allows us and them to progress further along the path to victory over busyness and overload.

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Recommendation – 4 Must Watch Family Movies

In addition to playing games together, my family and I love to watch movies together. We have quite a collection of our favorites, and we like to venture into new ones when we get the chance too. The problem in finding movies comes with finding ones that don’t drip violence, harsh and inappropriate language as well as visual images that kids just don’t need, especially boys. The following 4 movies have risen to the top as must watch family movies because not only are they absent of these things, but they also strongly push messages that we emphasize daily as parents anyway. Know that you can watch these movies with your kids without any of the concerns a Christian parent should have when choosing what to watch on Family Movie Night.

These suggestions really fit best for older kids simply because of the understanding needed, but younger kids can benefit as well. What other suggestions do you have for family movies?

How to… Live an 80/20 Life, Part 2

Last week, How to Live an 80/20 Live, Part 1 detailed a philosophy for obtaining and maintaining simplicity and balance. This week, the following ideas are offered to help further integrate this approach into one’s life.

  1. Analyze schedule weekly. Make sure the down time you personally need gets scheduled.
  2. Schedule extra down town. This can mean days off and vacations, and it can mean a morning at the coffee shop. The point being to schedule regular chunks of time for extra relaxing.
  3. Learn to say “no.” You simply can’t do everything. Learn to be an expert in a few areas rather than a master of none.
  4. Keep commitments simple. We have three focus areas (God, family, work… in that order), and we keep those as priorities. My husband and I hold each other accountable to this.
  5. Do it voluntarily. Know that your body and mind will force down time eventually. Do it on your own terms before sickness or worse force you to on their terms.

Obviously, there’s a tremendous amount within each of these points that can be said, but I’m deliberately not pursuing that level of detail. A simple and balanced life exists very differently from one person to the next. Comparisons can be very dangerous.

Figure out what works for you. Get ideas from others, but make them your own. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. However you do it, find that place of balance and simplicity that works for you.

By the way, if you hear yourself saying “I can’t…” that’s a sure sign that you need to.

DISCUSSION: What additional suggestions do you have for obtaining and maintaining balance and simplicity? What struggles have you experienced in this area?

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Sunday Reflections – 5 Reasons to Consider Camping

Dirt everywhere. Bugs too. Five minute walk to the bathroom. Very little privacy. Meals made over a campfire or on a propane stove. Cooler for “fridge.” Loud neighbors. Sleeping on a semi-comfortable air mattress. No air conditioning.

Personally, camping is not my thing. So, why? Why subject myself to two poor nights of sleep along with almost constant social interaction (not easy for an introvert)? Simply put, my husband and boys LOVE camping. On this past trip, the realization hit me that my efforts toward the camping experience were kind of pathetic. Just going did not seem like enough, especially with the words of 2 Corinthians 9:8 in mind.

“God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done.”

For this reason, I decided to consider the benefits of camping beyond the obvious of honoring my family. My Everyday God once again showed me more than I expected. I am realizing that if I get over myself and my expectations, camping can enhance other areas of life tremendously.

  1. Fellowship. We camp with friends, usually families from church. We have spent time together at church as well as church-related activities and even at each other’s houses. But something about spending two days together, talking at the campfire each night and seeing each other at our morning bests creates a deeper connection.
  2. Family. Take away video games, computers and phones. Take away toys and television. Minus housework and yard work. All excuses removed for why you can’t spend time together as a family. Camping returns a family back to the basic of enjoying each other in simple ways.
  3. Faith. Spending time in nature always increases my faith, and camping certainly is all about spending time outside. Walking trails. Enjoying sounds of animals. Watching the campfire. Something about camping brings out my introspective nature and opens me more to the voice of God.

These three crucial aspects of life seem to get a much-needed focus when camping. Maybe it’s the minimal distractions. Maybe it’s the simplicity of eating. Maybe both.

Not only does camping provide opportunity to strengthen fellowship, family and faith, it goes further into opportunity for

personal reflection and relaxation that few other settings can provide.

  1. Reflection. Think you’re doing pretty well in how you treat others and with humility? Feel like you do well with thinking of others before yourself? Camping gives a status check in these areas. How do you react when other campers are louder than seems appropriate? What about when people act as if they’re in their own back yard and seem to forget the existence of other campers? Do annoyances and small conflicts serve to separate or create greater bonds? Any expectation of personal privacy or routine must give way to flexibility. The only other options are unhappiness, irritation and even alienation. The choice comes down to being right or having relationship.
  2. Relaxation. In our nonstop world where so many people struggle to stop doing and just be, camping provides an essential break from the hustle and bustle of modern culture. The peaceful morning solitude. Simple, fun food. Congregating around the fire. With little effort, relaxing comes when the simpler life is allowed to simply run in course even if only for a weekend. Sure, everyone might relax differently, but simply being open to the idea of relaxing somehow allows it to flourish. Just one tiny step, maybe turning off the cell phone or putting down that file from work, and the relaxation that is camping easily consumes

This deeper look at camping has helped me realize that a change of venue to a simpler life allows perspective that only this simpler life can provide. Camping forces me to get outside of my silent, orderly world and into the world of interacting with others in a way that can strengthen and deepen bonds when flexibility and grace guide attitude, actions and words.

Maybe you don’t struggle with camping like I do. But you do have a “camping” issue in your life. Everyone does. How do you personally relate to my struggles with camping?

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How Being a Christian is Like Going to Disney

About 5 years ago, my oldest son (now 13) asked, “Mommy, what’s Heaven like?” My answer, though not very spiritual, had the intended impact. I asked him, “Well, nobody knows for sure, but what’s the best place you’ve ever visited?” Without hesitation, he said, “Disney World.” I then said, “Heaven is way better than Disney World.” He’s never forgotten that conversation.

Obviously, I never forgot it either. During our last visit to Disney this past November, God showed His presence at “the happiest place on earth” by revealing several ways that being a Christian is like going to Disney.

Unending Sights

A week is not enough. I’m not sure how many visits would be enough to see all there is to see at Disney. A lifetime is not enough as a Christian to see all that God has for us to experience. I’ve been a Christian my whole life, and God still shows me something new daily. Thank God for eternity where we can see it all!

Variety

If you find Disney boring, let me just say that you’re missing out. Find that inner child and just enjoy! Just like Disney is anything but boring, so too is being a Christian. If you’re a Christian and you’re bored, can I gently say, “You’re missing something”? Have faith like a child, and let the Holy Spirit lead you to a place of excitement and variety like nothing earthly can offer.

Something for All Ages

Watching people of all ages experience Disney is one of my favorite parts of going there. Adults become like kids again, and kids welcome them with a “what took you so long” and “there’s so much to do” enthusiasm. It’s also one of my favorite parts of being a Christian. Young learning from old, old connecting with young, and fellowship with all ages. Cliques and favorites can lead to disunity. Being open to the mingling of all ages can open the door to tremendous variety and joy in the family of God.

Fast Pass Available

For the more-popular rides at Disney, there is what’s called a Fast Pass available. This allows you to schedule a time to come back to the ride, skip the long line, and get right on. So what do you do in the meantime? Go on rides with shorter lines. Get something to eat. Rest. Whatever. Personally, I don’t know why people don’t use the Fast Past more. Jesus is the Fast Pass to Heaven. No waiting. No lines. No scheduling. No requirements or expectations save one: Believe on Him as Savior and Lord.

Hidden Mickeys

By far, finding the Hidden Mickeys is my favorite part of going to Disney. My oldest son and I stay away from rides that aggravate our motion sickness. So while my husband and youngest son go on the more rigorous rides, my oldest and I search for Hidden Mickeys. You need a guide to find them, and finding them brings renewed enthusiasm and excitement for finding more. (Note: The Hidden Mickey in this picture was in the cement, on the ground, next to a ride in Magic Kingdom. To give you an idea of its size, you could sit a pop can on it and hide it.)

God’s Word is filled with hidden truths in the sense that you need to spend time reading the Bible to find them. Even connections to Him in the world come through knowledge of Him through His Word. Even more than with Hidden Mickeys, discovering the truths found in God’s Word brings renewed excitement and enthusiasm for being a Christian. And like the guides showing where to find the Hidden Mickeys at Disney, God’s Word guides us to His truths when we take the time to follow the directions.

Are you expecting to hear from God in any place and at any time?

This post may not seem very spiritual to some people, but I hold tightly to my belief that God is an Everyday God who can and does speak to us in every aspect and detail of our lives. Even a trip to Disney can stimulate the imagination and bring renewed excitement to living life as a Christian.

Are you looking for God everywhere you go and in everything you do?

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Recommendation – New Hope Ladies Bible Study

At the beginning of this summer, I began a new venture by starting a Bible study blog for my home church. That blog is called New Hope Ladies. While getting the ladies in my church family to venture into the world of blogs and online studies has been somewhat of a struggle, I am certainly blessed by the process of creating the blog. My hope is that featuring this blog as a “recommendation” will bring some input into how the blog can be improved as well as what is good about it from people more comfortable in the world of blogs and online Bible study.

Features of the site include:

Thank you for taking the time to view this aspect of my blogging life.

 

How to… Live an 80/20 Life, Part 1

If 20 years of marriage taught me nothing else, it showed me that people view and handle stress uniquely. My husband and I sit on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to how we handle stress. Simply put, he can handle a lot more than me. About 10 years into our marriage, I finally became okay with sitting and reading while he worked around the house. I realized that we were both dealing with the stress in our lives, just in very different ways.

Managing busyness also looks very different from one person to the next. My husband takes a “handle it as it comes” approach, while I tend to limit how much comes at me in the first place. While I can see how he handles stress and busyness, I don’t really understand it. I have come to accept it simply because it works well for him.

Over the past 2 ½ years, learning to better mitigate the stress in my life and to keep busyness in balance has brought what a friend of mine called “a peace” about me. And I feel more peaceful too. With that being said, the following two approaches largely shape how busyness and stress stay minimal and margin stays optimal in my life.

Schedule Only 80% of My Calendar

This leaves a 20% margin for surprises that pop up and for extra opportunities to minister. I’m not naturally spontaneous, but this 20% at least gives spontaneity (often initiated by my husband) a good chance for success upon occasion.

Mostly, though, the 20% is for the down time that my laid back personality needs. Some days and even weeks go over 80%, but that’s okay when I have margin in sight. I make sure it’s always in sight too. Yes, this means saying “no” to some good people and activities. But, I have found that saying “no” actually allows me to more fully say “yes.”

Say Only 20% of What I’m Thinking

As an introvert, there’s a lot going on in my head. My husband loves me, but he doesn’t want to hear it all. (He actually gets more than 20% anyway.) No one but God wants to hear it all, and saying too much detracts from listening, which is more important anyway.

This 80/20 “rule” also keeps sarcasm at bay, which also comes a bit too naturally for me. Not only that, but my melancholy personality also gravitates toward the negative initially. So keeping those thoughts to myself really does benefit everyone.

My point in saying this really goes toward balance. Keeping much of my thoughts to myself brings more value to what I do say. I feel like it also shows more value for what others have to say. At least that is my intention. To me, that helps bring balance to my relationships.

You Decide!

These two 80/20 “rules” do not exist like rigid accounting principles. They simply provide guidance and help keep life simple. After crashing 2 ½ years ago, I was forced to rethink my approach to balance. These two rules are the result.

If one take-away exists from this post, let it be the importance of managing overload and maintaining balance. Overload happens when you do nothing to stop it, while balance and simplicity must be deliberately and uniquely pursued.  Decide now which state of mind will get the victory in your life.

Next week’s “How to…Live an 80/20 Life, Part 2” will discuss some specific tactics for living an 80/20 life.

DISCUSSION: What approach do you take to achieve and maintain balance & simplicity in your life?

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Sunday Reflections – Signs! Signs! Everywhere are signs!

NOTE: This post was originally published in December 2011 and is one of the first posts on this blog. I am republishing it for two reasons. First, it has a great message. Second, I have been sick in bed for the last 30 hours and not able to write a new Sunday Reflections (nor do I want to reflect on this past Sunday). But, I am finally on the mend, I think. Hope you enjoy this post from the archives. I will be back with a new post on Wednesday.

Signs! Signs! Everywhere are Signs!

When traveling from one place to another, there are a variety of signs instructing us where to go, where not to go and how fast we should or should not get there. The road of life has a lot of signs too with much the same purposes. Sometimes we ignore signs and hope we’ll never get caught, but sometimes we actually use them to help us get and stay healthy and productive. Quite often, the signs that help us the most are the ones that at first seem the most inconvenient or even downright disruptive.

A job change. A child getting in trouble in school. A failing grade. A disgruntled spouse. A grumpy coworker. Our kids give us signs. So do our spouses, coworkers and even our pets. They let us know when they need our attention and when they need our help. Some signs are more obvious than others. Some are more critical and demand immediate attention, while others can wait. Sometimes, one sign in itself is not enough to cause us to alter our paths, but often many small signs added together can bring us to the crux of significant change.

An illness. A sports injury. Even just a headache. Our bodies give us signs too. They tell us when we’re tired and hungry. They give us signs to tell us when we’re too stressed and when we need physical activity. Ignore the signs, and we end up overtired, overweight and overwhelmed.

All of these events may seem simply like obstacles in the road we are traveling to our goals, but they are actually signs directing us to where we should place our energy and time. While God doesn’t cause bad events and circumstances to enter our lives, he does allow them as a way to direct our steps (Proverbs 16:9). They are signs directing us down a certain path. The path of compassion. The path of forgiveness. The path of time. The path of communication.

My challenge to you (and to myself) this week is to deliberately take time to assess the signs in your life. Is your body giving you signs signaling you to slow down, stop or even change directions? Are your kids giving you signs that are like rumble strips along the side of the road warning you to realign your relationship? Is your spouse or a friend giving you a yield sign indicating they need you to slow down and allow them to come along side of you to help you or to receive your help? Or maybe God is giving you a sign for a runaway ramp, a way out of a situation in which you feel trapped? (1 Corinthians 10:13) Whatever the signs and whatever their urgency, take time this week to assess them, pray about them and heed them.

There are often fines and other consequences for disobeying the signs when we are out traveling, and there are also “fines” of sorts and consequences for not heeding the signs in our lives as well. Make personal assessment a regular and intentional habit, and you’ll soon discover that when we focus on the journey rather than getting to the goal as quickly as possible that the ride is a lot less bumpy and a whole lot more productive and joy-filled.

DISCUSSION: What signs have you been ignoring that you know you need to follow?

The Old Will Become New

Garage sales. Yard Sales. Rummage sales. Whatever you call them, they represent one person’s junk becoming another’s treasure.

We recently bought a new (i.e. gently used) vehicle. As we cleaned out the old vehicle, I remembered when it was new to us. Now, it will move on and become new for someone else, stained seats and all.

If you watch any of the trendy decorating shows on television (see HGTV for examples), the word “repurpose” comes up a lot. This refers to taking a household item and finding a new use for it.

These examples illustrate that we are surrounded with the old becoming new again, and we are active participants in that process.

Scripture talks about the old becoming new again in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. Through Christ, Christians have been “made new” and become “ambassadors for Christ.”

What are the characteristics of someone who has been “made new” for Christ?

  1. Controlled by the love of Christ. In the old life, the flesh controlled. In this new life, the love of Christ now motivates. With new motivation comes new attitudes, actions and words that please Him.
  2. Live to please Christ. Our motivations change from pleasing self to pleasing God. What we say and do and the way that we say and do them now focus on glorifying Him and not ourselves.
  3. No longer evaluate others and Christ through the world’s eyes. Instead of looking at Christ and other people from a worldly point of view, we can look at them through the eyes of Scripture. Only in this way can we see others with grace, mercy and hope and know that He is the source of those things.
  4. Have the task of reconciling people to Him. Since we are now new creations in Christ, we have the task of encouraging others toward being made new in Him too.
  5. Speak to others about the Gospel. Encouraging others toward being repurposed or made new requires telling them about the Gospel.

Being repurposed as a Christian does not mean just being changed into something else. It means literally being re-created. It means beginning a brand new life in Christ. It means all the past sins are gone and completely under the blood of Christ.

Being made new in Christ requires letting go of the old life and stepping into the new one He has created for us through His death and resurrection. All the old stuff from our past (that means our sins) cease to exist in His eyes.

Unfortunately, I sometimes become a hoarder who for some reason finds herself unable to part with pretty much anything. Her house becomes impassable from being packed with items collected over years and years of hoarding. My hoarding involves holding on to old attitudes, actions and words that don’t reflect my being a new creation in Christ.

Christ calls us to let go of that which entangles or weighs us down and to “throw off [the] old evil nature and former way of life” and to instead allow for a “spiritual renewal of thoughts and attitudes” that shows itself in our attitudes, actions and words (Ephesians 4:20-24). In other words, we can’t be hoarders of our old way of life. Once we become Christians, we must allow ourselves to be transformed into new people. In this process, we get to be a part of the greatest victory ever achieved.

DISCUSSION: Ephesians 4:25-32 gives some very specific suggestions for transforming our old selves into new creatures. What suggestions can you begin to apply today?

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