Children & Stress

stress boysJonathan, an independent worker, gets easily frustrated, struggles with change, tends to over-analyze, and operates with a lot of “What if…” scenarios. Richard, a very social person, procrastinates, rushes through work, sacrifices quality for completion, and struggles focusing.

At least, when overwhelmed or not managing stress well, these descriptions fit my boys aptly. But when they manage their stress and keep balanced, they are very productive and positive.

I often forget to consider my kids’ stress. They are “just kids” and seem to handle stress way better than I do, after all. But when I see the signs and do nothing, I miss out on a valuable parenting opportunity.

Biblical Parenting_scriptureSpecific Kid-Sources of Stress

Based on the lives of my two boys (age 15 & 13), both their own stress as well as what they describe as stress in their friends’ lives, the top areas of stress for kids include: School (grades, homework, tests, etc.); peer pressure; sports; parent pressures (chores, behavior, attitude, etc.); consequences of stupid choices; wanting to relax; thinking about the future; and divorced parents.

An Immediate Response

Realizing that most kids, and many adults for that matter, tend to react to stress without first thinking, a stress-management approach for kids must be sort of programmed into their brains (in the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7). Keeping this in mind, I always ask them the following questions when they struggle with a stressful situation:

What can you do about it?
What can’t you do about it?
Who/what can you control/not control?
Who/what can you change/not change?

We also usually address the “fairness” issue, since kids often dwell here. They need to know that life isn’t always fair.

In addition to getting our boys to realize they can only control themselves and their reactions, we also try to provide stress-relieving activities or approaches for managing stress. Those include giving them a venue to talk out what’s on their minds and making sure they have enough physical activity and leisure time. We also make sure to have lots of family time as well as to provide structure that suits the child. And of course, consistency blankets all of these.

A Biblical ResponseTitus 2

Advice on teaching our kids anything lies incomplete and ineffective without integrating what Scripture says about  preventing, managing and eliminating stress for our kids. With that in mind, lets make a somewhat unique application of some very familiar parenting verses.

  1. Don’t exasperate & discourage them. (Colossians 3:21) So often, my kids’ stress comes from or is made worse by my own poor stress management.
  2. Give them skills to deal with their feelings. (Proverbs 1:8-9) Be available to listen & to talk.
  3. Teach them ways to relieve stress. (Proverbs 22:6) Include them in your own stress relievers when possible.
  4. Tell them why managing stress is important. (1 Peter 5:3) Use yourself as an example.
  5. Model positive stress management. (Titus 2:7-8) Make sure what you say matches what you do.

I want my kids to realize that stress is not always bad. In fact, we need stress to grow and thrive. Take the amoeba – the most basic of life forms – for example. Scientists introduced it into a completely stress-free environment in a petri dish. What happened? The amoeba died. But when placed in a “normal” environment with all its challenges, the amoeba multiplied and thrived.

The same happens, essentially, with us. Without stress, we fail to thrive and grow. Plus, a stress-free life isn’t possible anyway.

Doesn’t good parenting, then, involve teaching our kids how to prevent, manage and relieve stress? Aren’t we living out what Scripture says when we train our kids to handle the inevitable in life to allow them to truly be not only productive and positive but to do so in a way that honors God and points others to Him?

Loving Others AS Yourself

Back to the Beginning

While immediately associated with romantic love, Valentine’s Day’s ties to romantic love actually did not take place until Chaucer’s poetry in the 14th Century. Instead, Valentine’s Day originated in commemoration of at least one early Christian saint named Valentinus, martyred between AD 197 and AD 496 for their acts of sacrificial love.

This focus on sacrificial love – of focusing on others over self - ties with what Jesus said that ALL scripture hangs on (is summed up in and depends on):

Valentine 1

Paul amplifies Jesus’ words by connecting them specifically with new life activity in our relationships:

Valentine 2

So, loving God above all and then loving others AS yourself not only provide THE most important principles for our lives, but also THE most important article of clothing for our new natures in Christ.

A long-time struggle for me in living this principle lies with fulfilling the second of these commands, loving others AS yourself.

What if you don’t love yourself?

For me, years of chronic depression involved a great deal of self hate. Outside of that struggle, failures in relationships led to significant self dislike, while comparisons showed even more reason for wishing I was anyone but me. And this selfish focus blocked my ability to love others.

Over time, the impact of Jesus’ sacrificial love changed how I viewed myself. As my focus went from feelings, emotions and comparisons to how He saw me, I began to realize not only the importance of self love but that it must be rooted in God’s view of me and how He exercises His love.

Valentine 3

Focusing on AS

Realizing God’s sacrificial love for me helped bring me to a point of self love that allowed a focus outside of myself, one intent on love God and others AS I am loved.

The commands to love others and to love self are not two separate commands. Rather, they are two parts of one command to live out love for God, a love that consumes the heart, soul and mind.

Love for self does not include selfish pursuits that make us feel good or happy, and self love does not justify fulfilling the flesh’s wants and desires. This selfishness provides only a temporary emotional happiness fix.

Instead, self love involves accepting ourselves – personality, physical appearance, even weaknesses and faults – because our own identity lies grounded in Christ’s unconditional love for us exactly AS we are right now. Out of this flows a love for others that comes through in our attitudes, actions and words as we live in relationship with them.

When our identity exists grounded in Christ, in His love for and acceptance of us, we discover a self love that gives us the capacity to love others AS Jesus exhorted. To help grasp this, think about what’s at the heart of you feeling loved, of your feeling genuine acceptance of who you are AS a person. Gifts and even kind acts mean very little in the absence of genuine acceptance of who you are AS a person.

Something significant happens in how we view ourselves when our our Christian identity involves being accepted by Christ and is not earned by works or moral standing. This creates a love for self that transfers to how we love others; it serves as an example of HOW we are to love others.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day

With the idea of Valentine’s Day’s original intent in mind along with understanding the tie between loving others and loving self, celebrate Valentine’s Day with fresh perspective. Celebrate the sacrificial love that seeks for the greatest good, that accepts how God made you and others. Celebrate a love that sacrifices any focus on self and instead embraces personalities and makes allowances for faults. Live love that comes only through complete focus on God’s love for us.

DISCUSSION: How does loving yourself change how you love others, and, ultimately, how God’s love exists in your life?

3 Ways to Reduce Busyness & Discover Simplicity

busyToo busy?

Recently, I overheard a friend say, “I am done with holidays.” She explained that holidays were just too stressful and gave her too much to do along with having to deal with the drama that often accompanies family gatherings.

Since I know this person well, I also know that these words really characterize her whole life. She always has too much to do, and she’s always stressed. Which basically means that the holiday (Thanksgiving in this case) undeservedly received the blame for her stress.

Why are you so busy?busyness

Our culture is one of busyness, and I truly feel burdened for those I know and love who are simply too busy. This burden comes from living in that reality, being broken by it, and rebuilding a simple life without the weight of busyness. In other words, I’ve been there and know the way out. More importantly, I know that there IS a way out.

Much of this busyness comes from the seasons of life. Kids need attention, loved ones are sick, work is overloaded and ministry calls. This busyness, to a large extent, is simply the inevitable busyness of life itself.

But busyness reaches toxic levels when we, by deliberate choice, choose to do more than we are capable of doing. These are the things we say “yes” to because we “should” or because “someone has to do it.” They are the things born out of perfectionism and long-standing habits. This toxic level reaches epic proportions when we pile on “things to do” as a way to avoid doing the hard work of creating a balanced life focused on true priorities. Instead, we get lost in the multitude of activities, obligations and commitments.

When we’re too busy, we don’t have time for deepening relationships. We don’t have time to work through issues that created rifts. We don’t have time to read that which would deepen our character. We don’t have time to get the rest we need. We don’t have time to make healthy choices. And, worst of all, we don’t have time to spend one-on-one with God.

But my friend who said, “I am done with holidays” actually got at a very important point. Busyness and overload seem amplified during the holidays. We may casually notice at other times, but busyness suddenly jumps out as out of control during the holidays. The time between Thanksgiving and New Years seems to magnify the need to slow down and enjoy friends and family. It emphasizes the crucial need to worship God made flesh, which has a way of making us realize our desperate need for a simpler life.

Trapped in busyness?

Many people feel trapped in busyness. They realize that busyness creates an inner conflict that seems impossible to reconcile. This becomes amplified during the holidays and is really why my friend meant when she said, “I am done with holidays.” With that in mind, let’s explore three ways to reduce busyness and discover simplicity no matter the time of year.

busy 2Reduce Busyness and Discover Simplicity

1.) Make small changes. Small changes done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. Becoming instantly un-busy won’t happen, but making small adjustments will slowly reduce busyness. Taking your time with this process rather than trying to “quit cold turkey” increases its staying power.

2.) Accept the painful truth. You will have to say “no” to some good things. You will have to let things you really want to do go in order to do the things that are truly important.

3.) Commit busyness to prayer. Ask God to show you how to become less busy. Ask Him to show you how to simplify. And most importantly, ask Him to change your heart towards busyness and to help you realize that obedience to Him does not mean saying “yes” to every opportunity that passes through your awareness.

Transforming a busy life is really hard. It requires brokenness. It requires letting go of attachment to accomplishments. It means admitting that under our own strength, we try to do too much. And it means admitting that without some help and without deliberate choice, we will continue feeling the increasing weight of busyness.

5 Skills Everyone Should Have

Red and Gold Treble Clef Email ImageThink back over your life and the skills that proved especially helpful. Which ones rise to the top as musts? (Hint: These skills are ones you may be insisting that your kids get early in life.)

Now think back over your life and the skills you wish you would have had. What skills rise to the top? (Hint: These likely now exist as regrets.)

Sure, our individual lives and personalities impact the skills we need, but many skills remain universal too. Regardless, we certainly gain wisdom from learning about the skills others view as important. We can gain insight by going through the act of listing these skills, of taking the time to process the regrets and the successes both of ourselves and others

These are skills I think would benefit everyone.

  1. Fun Colorful NumbersHow to read and play music. I gave up learning music too early in life and have missed out on opportunities to serve through music because of my lack of skill. For this reason, I mightily encourage this skill in my son, who has an aptitude for and interest in music.
  2. How to outline thoughts & ideas. The ability to organize thoughts helps in seemingly unending ways. From giving a presentation to coworkers to discussing a problem with your spouse to giving your testimony, the ability to outline is invaluable. I’m so thankful this skill exists naturally in my repertoire.
  3. How to do math. Math does not come easily for me. I wish I would have pushed more in this area and further developed these skills. Maybe I wouldn’t need my fingers to add and multiply. Because of this gap in my life, I encourage my youngest all the more with his similar struggles.
  4. How to play sports. I would like to have developed this earlier in life. I see the confidence it gives both my boys (one naturally athletic, the other not), and I realize the benefit it could have also given me at their ages.
  5. How to be healthy. I call this an ability because it’s something everyone can develop. An ability to understand and apply health and wellness knowledge allows us to be our best physically, so we can be our best mentally and spiritually too.

Volleyball in Red and WhiteI realize these skills may not interest everyone, but being interested isn’t always that important. In fact, I wish someone would have pushed me as a kid to develop skills I wasn’t interested in at the time. Doing so helps develop us in ways that make our natural abilities stronger and amplify what we do enjoy.

For another point of view, the November 2013 issue of Real Simple lists the following 5 skills as ones everyone should have: (1.) How to be alone. (2.) How to take a compliment. (3.) How to keep a conversation going. (4.) How to ask for feedback. (5.) How to remember names.

All good skills to have! In fact, when I read the Real Simple list, I want to throw out my list and take theirs as my own. This shows the value of sharing these ideas. So, let’s do just that!

DISCUSSION: What 5 skills do you think everyone should have?

One more thing… As I over-analyze, which I can’t always stop from happening, I see how un-spiritual I am with my list and the ones I desire from the Real Simple list. Then I realize these skills – all our skills, really – exist for us to use as tools, tools to communicate and to connect with others. Aha! There’s the connection!

Perfect Peace

peaceMy circumstances all to often shadow my peace. One kid gets in trouble at school while the other won’t admit a mistake. My husband seems overloaded with work, leaving little time for family, and friends come to me with their problems but refuse to hear solutions. Hard to know peace, let alone “perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3) when struggle flourishes around you.

Knowing peace is not easy. Actually, I’m not sure how it’s even supposed to happen. Jesus says He gives peace not as the world gives it (John 14:27). The world’s peace depends on circumstances, which always change. Jesus’ peace depends on Him, and He’s consistent. He never changes.

I know others have more serious situations than me, but comparisons don’t create peace either. They give perspective that can help tremendously, sure, but they don’t remove the existence of that which challenges my peace.

The peace we so often pursue remains ever elusive under the shadow of life’s everyday struggles. Maybe we’re chasing after the wrong peace. Maybe we don’t need to chase peace at all.

So what about Jesus’ peace has staying power? His peace is freely given and exists independent of circumstances. He doesn’t expect anything in return for the peace He gives. And because of His peace, I can choose to not allow trouble and fear to create my heart’s condition (John 14:27).

Living in the Peace Jesus gives means to…

  1. Believe (John 14:1). Faith keeps trouble from taking root.
  2. Take heart (John 16:33). The world can’t beat you because it’s already been beaten.
  3. Go about your work (John 20:21). God’s sending means success is sure.
  4. Not force understanding (Philippians 4:7). His peace doesn’t make sense because we think in terms of temporal instead of eternal.
  5. Let peace rule (Colossians 3:15). In other words, focus on Him, and allow His peace to consume you. Don’t fight it.

Turns out, there’s no “how to” with regard to peace. Peace just “is” because it’s a gift. When we fully focus on Christ, we have peace because our focus determines our reality.

DISCUSSION: How does the peace of God exist in your life today?

How to Earn Trust

trust blocks (2)My youngest son struggles with honesty. This struggle results from feelings of instability, a state characterizing the first 8 years of his life. While he now lives in a consistently stable environment, that early programming still sticks with him especially when insecurity (grades, friendships, travel, etc.) hits.

So, a large part of our training and instructing with him involves earning trust. We tell him that he determines how much we trust him, that he gets to decide the level of trust that exists.

Then we give him practical ways to build that trust.

  1. Be faithful with small things. Small things done consistently over time add up to make a big difference. For our son, this means being responsible with his possessions and keeping his room clean.
  2. Do what’s right even when no one is looking. First off, we tell him someone (God) always sees and that while he may not get caught, he doesn’t get away with it. Secondly, we let him know that we almost always find out and that we have “spies” all over the place.
  3. Check your attitude. Eye rolls. Hand flings. Voice tone. All speak toward lack of receptiveness, and being receptive opens up your life to more teachable moments rather than undesirable consequences.
  4. Don’t get defensive. Fully listen first, which earns you the right to be heard. Defensiveness only alerts us to the presence of dishonesty even more.
  5. Stop excuses. Think first, and check your motives. Before giving excuses, ask yourself if you’re trying to hide something. Instead, try owning up to mistakes. Again, this reduces negative consequences because you’ve chosen to learn from your mistakes.
  6. Be honest. Seems like an obvious one, but simply deciding to be truthful in attitude, actions & words goes a long way in building trust. If you’re struggling with making right choices in these areas, be honest about that. Let others help you in this struggle
  7. Think of others. Putting others first often not only keeps you out of a lot of trouble, but it shows that you’re striving to not be selfish. Unselfishness goes a long way in building trust.
  8. Be dependable. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Keep your commitments. There’s no quitting a team when the coach is mean. You can even be an example to the adults in your life of not quitting.
  9. Admit mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Get out how you’re feeling, and let’s process those feelings together. But don’t let your feelings determine your actions. Let’s talk about what you could have done differently. Don’t get hung up on the mistakes either. That’s a bad habit to start so early in life.
  10. Stay positive. Yes, other kids (and many adults) are negative, mean and selfish. But that doesn’t mean you have to be. Don’t let your circumstances determine your reality. Stay positive and focus on what you know is right.

This approach to establishing trust works for any relationship. Imagine the bonds that would strengthen if you sought to amplify trust in your life. I’m imagining it for myself, and in doing so the parent becomes parented once again.

DISCUSSION: What additional suggestions do you have for building trust?

NOTE: For another approach to this topic, check out the podcast “How to Build (or Rebuild) Trust” at Michael Hyatt.

“Just being real!”

sf_Words_0001_Group 2“Just being real!” seems to be a license allowing people to say whatever they want when they want, regardless of its negative impact on others.

Authenticity involves open, honest, forthright and genuine communication. An authentic person is not counterfeit and is free from pretense (false show of something), affect action (effort to appear to have a quality not actually possessed) or hypocrisy (false showing of a virtuous character or morals that aren’t really possessed). Authenticity is sincerity (free of deceit, hypocrisy or falseness).

So, in the strict and very literal sense of the word, authenticity does allow for a carte blanche approach to saying what you want, when you want, and how you want.

But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

In the past, I used to say pretty much whatever I thought under the guise of sarcasm and joking. At some point, I implemented an 80/20 rule that allowed me to only say 20% of what I thought. Since I had to filter my words, I became more choosy of them. Plus, I just felt uncomfortable with the way I talked to other people.

Also, and more important than my feelings, Scriptures say to encourage one another. They say to be careful with our words and tell us why doing so is important.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. (Matthew 12:36)

Applying the 80/20 Rulesf_Words_0000_Group 2 copy 9

So what does authenticity look like through the filters of love and kindness?

Authenticity guided by love and kindness involves vulnerability and a willingness to risk being hurt. As we bear our honest thoughts to others in love, we risk rejection. We’re no longer trying to control others, and we open ourselves up to the words and thoughts of many who may not apply scripture to authenticity.

Authenticity in what we say includes an availability, which happens through the avenue of Godly conversations and a listening ear. It involve deliberately choosing words that fit the occasion as well as choosing to say nothing when appropriate. In that, authenticity also involves an awareness of what to say and when.

When authenticity revolves around building others up instead of trying to control them with our words, it changes not just what we say but what we want to say. It makes us intentionally filter our words and choose where to allow thoughts to dwell.

Authenticity based on scripture creates an atmosphere of healing and life. Choose the atmosphere you create with you words very carefully.

DISCUSSION: How else do you see authenticity playing out in our words or any other area of life?

5 Ways to Make Distractions Positive

distraction-cartoonThoughts About Distractions

Distractions often get a bad rap for stealing focus and decreasing productivity. At least, in my mind they existed only as plagues to avoid. Until recently. While I still believe distractions can negatively impact, I also now see they can be powerful tools for managing stress and increasing productivity.

As a very focused (and sometimes intense) person, I viewed distractions as always evil. I needed to stay on task, cross every item off my “to do” list and not let anyone or anything keep me from accomplishing my tasks. Even worse, I imposed this “no distractions” approach on my two boys as well. As you might guess, this led to some struggles. (On the positive side, continually pushing away distractions led to my being able to read and write with the television on and people talking.)

What I have learned through my inner debate over distractions is that sometimes we need to be distracted. Sometimes, we need to let our focus on work and accomplishing go and to live in the moment with the ones we love. And sometimes, focus itself provides much-needed distractions from relationship stress.

5 Ways to Make Distractions PositiveDistractions

As with most areas of life, distractions must exist in a balanced state in order to have positive impact. Too many distractions, and little gets accomplished. On the other hand, constantly staying focused often leads to higher stress levels not only within an individual but within relationships as well.

Follow these tips for turning distractions into positive forces:

  1. Allow your kids to distract you. Never forget that you only have them for a season, and that season goes by so very quickly. In just six years, both my boys will graduate and move out. I don’t want to miss a minute of their lives. When they want to talk, I stop what I’m doing and listen. The posts I want to write and the books I want to read will wait. If they won’t for some reason, they’re worth giving up for the moments I get to spend with my kids.
  2. Make sure electronics don’t take over your family. My kids, like most their age, want to listen to music, text friends and play games on their various electronic devices. I like my devices too (though for slightly different reasons), but electronics don’t eat dinner with us or entertain us constantly in the car. In fact, the license plate game still serves as a favorite and everyone still looks forward to eating dinner together as a family.
  3. Distract yourself when emotions get out of control. When I get a bad report from school about my son’s behavior or when I’m just in a grumpy mood, writing a blog post or reading a book serve as great distractions and help keep me from nagging my boys and husband. When an idea just isn’t flowing right, going for a run provides ample distraction to get my creativity back on track instead of allowing frustration to send me into a tailspin, ruining my (and usually my family’s) day.
  4. Apply balance to your distractions. Too much mindless television leads to a host of unhealthy issues, but some mindless television can help you relax, which then allows you to refocus. Flipping between fiction and non-fiction books keeps me grounded in reality balanced with escape from it at the same time. Whenever possible, deliberately decide the type and amount of distracts impacting your life.
  5. Get distracted alone and with others. While personality and temperament impact needs, learning to allow for individual and group distractions creates stability. Family games and movie nights provide great ways to escape together while reading allows for alone time. Variety seems to help varying personalities in a family find their unique source of energy for staying focused.

Certainly, the ways to allow distractions to live as a positive force equal the ways they can exist as negative ones. The key, as with so many areas of life, involves intentionality and deliberateness.

DISCUSSION: If you allow distractions to dictate your day, what changes can you make to decrease them? On the other hand, if constant focus drives you, how can distractions possibly help your relationships?

5 Ways to Show Appreciation

Appreciation Word Art

October is Minister Appreciation Month. Designating a month to show appreciate to church leadership is a great idea, but it is unfortunate if that’s the only time appreciation is shown. It’s sort of like telling your spouse you love them only on Valentine’s Day.

And really, showing appreciation extends well beyond leadership. Everyone likes to be appreciated. If you say you don’t need it, you’re wrong. Receiving appreciation fuels a fire that helps people continue through tough times and to be ever better in good.

Since October is Minister Appreciation month, let’s use the ministers in my church as a framework for discussing ways to show appreciation to anyone at anytime.

How to Show Appreciation

Showing appreciation effectively involves connecting with who a person is and how that person unique impacts your life. This list provides ways of thinking about appreciation that will hopefully trigger ideas for showing appreciation regularly.

1. Make a personal connection.

“Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.” ~ Booker T. Washington

Our Minister of Music also teaches choir at our Middle and High Schools. He’s a gifted vocal instructor for sure. Recently, he invited my oldest son to start playing keyboards on our church’s worship team. My son, a shy introvert, felt quite nervous and scared at first. But our worship leader helped him feel comfortable by giving him the level of responsibility that stretched him just a bit. And each time he plays, my son gets stretched a bit more. Slowly, our Minister of Music is increasing my son’s confidence. The patience he’s showing my son and the confidence he’s helping him gain means a tremendous amount to me, and I truly appreciate what he’s doing with and for my son.

Appreciate people for the ways they impact the areas that are most important to you.

2. Consider what you admire.

“I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot have than to have things I am not able to appreciate.” ~ Elbert Hubbard

Often, what I admire in others involves a skill, talent or ability that I simple don’t possess. Take working with kids under the age of 10. I’ve tried it, and I just am not very good at it. The PreSchool Director at our church is gifted at working with kids. She shows seemingly unending patience with anything from discipline problems to toilet training to disputes among the kids. I truly admire not only her patience with them but her ability to get them to focus and actually learn too. She amazes me.

Appreciate people for what they can do so well that you cannot.

3. Acknowledge what inspires you.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” ~ Voltaire

Some people simply inspire for having a servant’s heart. Our Missions Pastor is such a person. She always has a great attitude and is welcoming to anyone and everyone who walks through the doors of our church. She inspires me to be nicer and kinder and to have a better attitude toward serving.

Appreciate people for how they inspire you to be a better person.

4. Notice potential.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Our Youth Pastor holds tremendous leadership potential. He has grown so much over the past 5 years, and it’s exciting to see him becoming what God called him to be. Each time he preaches, he improves. Each time he organizes an event, it’s better than the last. He’s constantly learning and growing and improving. I appreciate his willingness to always be learning & growing.

Appreciate people for what you see them becoming.

5. Go with the obvious.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

There’s so much to appreciate about our Senior Pastor.  He’s funny & compassionate. He’s known as a “grace pastor.” On a personal level, he takes the time to acknowledge when I do something and to help me see areas where I need to grow. He loves His kids and his family. His continually sparks something in me to want to shine brighter.

Appreciate people for the obvious differences they make in your life.

Regular Appreciation

“At the very least, do the very best… pray for them.” ~ Pastor Steve Miller

Appreciation should happen regularly, not just when a month or day comes up declaring a focus on appreciating someone. Scripture tells us part of our duty as Christians involves encouraging one another, and appreciation certainly does that. Take time this month to encourage & appreciate your ministers, but don’t stop there. Look for ways to regularly appreciate all the people in your life.

“Encourage each other and build each other up.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you have for showing appreciation for others?

The Importance of Connection

connect1Who are the most important people in your life? Do you spend regular time and quality time with them? How do you make sure you stay connected to them?

When we are disconnected, we have less patience with one another. The less quality time we spend together, the more we get into the habit of living separate lives instead of living life together. Not a great feeling. Sort of lonely.

Connection takes deliberateness. It takes compromise and sacrifice. And, it also takes creativity.

By no means do I have this connection thing figured out. In fact, I write this post in hopes of finding ways to better connect. With that being said, consider the following ideas for connecting.

Books – My fiction reading revolves around what my 14-year-old reads. Basically, I read whatever he recommends. We talk about the books, watch and talk about associated movies, discuss actors/actresses good for playing certain characters, and look forward to new books coming out. I am willing to let my son choose my books indefinitely, even for the rest of my life. What if no matter where either of us goes, we connect through the books we read? Yeah, I would be okay with never choosing another fiction book to read.

Food – My youngest loves food. He’ll try just about anything. He also enjoys cooking. So we choose recipes and make meals together. I’m not a great cook, but he loves helping me. I’m not also very good at asking for help or accepting it when it’s offered, and that needs to change.

Coffee – I truly enjoy good coffee, and I love having coffee with my husband. We have it Saturday mornings together when possible and every day when on vacation. We even have coffee “together” when we’re apart. And usually, not always when we’re apart, we talk while we drink coffee. We need this to exist no matter what else is going on in our lives.

Mom – My mom & I text regularly, and she’s faithful about stopping by each week to say “hi.” We take a yearly weekend trip together in lieu of birthday, Christmas & Mother’s Day gifts. We sometimes exercise together, and we try to schedule family game nights often. Connecting with mom has always existed for me, and I need it to always be there.

Friends – Exercising together. Coffee together. Going to each other’s kids’ sporting events. Grocery shopping together. Finding ways to connect in the everyday events of life. A connecting text or email helps when face-to-face can’t happen. Online friendships involve commenting on blogs regularly and sometimes sending personal emails. And, even for those of us who don’t care for it, sometimes talking on the phone needs to happen to make sure friends stay connected. connect6

Why is connection so important? Scripture tells us to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and to stir one another up (Hebrews 10:24). It says we need each other to make us better (Proverbs 27:17). God’s presence becomes amplified when we’re with other believers (Matthew 18:20). We are also to have unity and brotherly love (1 Peter 3:8). None of this happens consistently and with much effectiveness without regular connection.

To better understand the importance of connection in your life, consider how you feel when you lack connection. Even though I’m an introvert and a loner, I need regular connection for encouragement, motivation, improvement, more of God’s presence, enjoyment of the blessings of unity and, most importantly, to truly give and receive love.

Sure, I can motivate and improve myself. Sure, I can experience God’s presence on my own. I can also say I love others easily. Yet, none of this quite measures up to the experience of connecting with others. Nothing can replace connecting. In fact, connecting with others amplifies my life in a way that isn’t otherwise possible. Without connecting, I am truly limited in virtually every area of life.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about the who, what, when, where & why of connecting?