Be Prepared

Prepared 1“Got your food bar and water bottle?”

“Yep.”

“What about your spikes?”

“Yep.”

So went the conversation just before my son left for school the day of his first track meet of the season. I wanted him to be prepared to do his best, and that meant not having to stress over forgetting something. This conversation really just represents one of the many I’ve had with my boys.

My husband, knowing I’m not a morning person, has told me more than once that he’ll see the boys off to school in the mornings while I get a bit more sleep. But, I just can’t release the need to make sure my boys are prepared for the day ahead. I remind them often to prepare the night before, but being teenagers and also boys, they usually don’t. While my husband is a terrific father, and good at many things, planning ahead is not his strong suit. Plus, he just doesn’t have mom radar.

Being unprepared can be frustrating and embarrassing. It can turn an ordinary day into a bad one very quickly. And too many unprepared days usually lead to an overwhelmed life as getting by consumes any best that might otherwise exist. A habit of unpreparedness eventually creates a reactionary, drama-filled life. And that sort of life comes characterized by relentless stress and exhausting overhwelm.

The Value of Preparedness

Prepared 2I want my boys to learn the value of being prepared because I know this habit sets them up for an effective and successful life. Vastly more important, though, is them knowing the concept of preparedness as it relates to their spiritual states. I want them to know that their heavenly Father also values being prepared and wants them to always stand ready.

Matthew 24 conveys God’s preparedness message aptly. In it, we have Jesus’ words telling us to not panic and to instead prepare to endure to the end. The idea of panic and endurance tells us the situation will be dire and feel desperate at times.

Jesus also tells us what to pay attention to and what not to let steal our focus. In that, he directs us to…

  • Know the Truth (His words, Scripture, prophecy, etc.)
  • Know what’s coming
  • Know what you don’t know (the exact timing)
  • Know your responsibility as these events unfold

This chapter in Matthew ends with a call to preparedness, to

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

Jesus gave us what we need to be prepared, and called us to a continual state of preparedness.

A Habit of Preparedness

Living with a habit of preparedness based on the information you have creates the mindset necessary to be ready for THE event of all time — Jesus’ return. This is ultimately why I teach my boys the mindset of preparedness. My hope is that doing so will create a way of thinking that flows into every area of their lives, from the small events like track meets to the big ones later in life, but most importantly to the only thing that ultimately matters — their individual relationship with their Savior.

Seeing the connection of everyday habits to our eternal perspective helps us better see the truth in how all we do can truly be to His glory.

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Preparedness is, for me, one of the most powerful examples of this principle.

DISCUSSION: How would you describe your level of preparedness, both in life and eternally?

You Can’t Lie to Yourself

TruthA college professor of mine, intrapersonal communication I think, told us the first day of class, “You can’t lie to yourself.” He explained that when we tell ourselves something long enough, we eventually accept it and then live it as truth.

We do this when we try to show satisfactory reasons or give excuses for doing something. Doing so brings us to the dangerous side of justification.

When we justify, we shape our thinking to avoid having to change our behavior. We create a reality in our minds that allows us to avoid the discomfort of growth, which involves admitting mistakes, preferring others, and being teachable, among other things. And the longer we do this, the more deaf we become to hearing the actual truth because we’ve created our own alternate reality, our own version of the truth, for so long.

The Pharisees did something of this sort when they refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.

“But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, ‘No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.’” (Matthew 12:24)

Of course, Jesus easily refuted their claims created to justify their unbelief, but they remained stubbornly in their own, self-created realities, ones that would allow them to stay deceptively secure in their comfort zones.

unrealityChange or Justify?

The more I read about the Pharisees, the more I dislike doing so because I’m usually reminded of some way of thinking of my own that’s too much like theirs. And this leads me to either needing to change or add another level of justification to avoid having to change.

When I don’t want to do something, say reach out to someone or admit I’m wrong, I’m very creative about why doing so isn’t necessary and even how it’s possibly detrimental in some way. In reality, these things just make me uncomfortable, so I want to find reasons — I want to justify — why I don’t need to do them. It’s really a control issue at heart, if I’m to be brutally honest with myself.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking also happens often when it comes to deciding about Jesus. Alternate realities are created where he either isn’t seen as who he is, he’s seen as a big disappointment in some way, or we just keep too busy to truly make him Lord of our lives or even think about how we might need to change our thinking.

Jesus actually calls the Pharisees’ words “idle” (Matthew 12:36). In essence, he’s saying that their attempts — and ours — at creating a false reality where we get to stay in control is really “idle” (of no real worth, significance or importance) thinking. And of that thinking, Jesus uses justification in another way.

“The words you say now reflect your fate then, either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37)

In other words, the reality in which we choose to live either leads to the only authentic justification that exists — the kind that comes only through Jesus — or to eternal destruction. One day, every reality will be based on actual truth, God’s truth, and we’ll have no say in the creation of that reality. In fact, all our false truths will fall away. This motivates me to get my truth, the reality I choose to live by, as much in line with God’s truth as possible before time expires.

DISCUSSION: How have you lived within a false reality? How do we align the truth we live by with God’s truth?

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Trivial Frustration

2940147241851_p0_v1_s260x420 (2)My sons recently lured my husband and me into Trivia Crack addiction. In doing so, they brought out a deeply-buried emotion. At least, one I try to keep stuck in the most remote regions of my mind but suspect comes out more than I realize.

Years ago, frustration ruled and reigned in my life, usually in the form of hurtful words toward myself and others. In fact, my volatility became a point of humor at times. Nothing feels more frustrating than being teased over how easily you become frustrated.

Frustration brought out the worst in my temper, which did a nice job on its own too. At one point, I felt out of control. When I realized how easily frustration came and how anger almost always followed, I knew I needed to find a way to break frustration’s hold on me.

Overcoming Frustration

Until my recent descent into Trivia Crack mania, and discovering that my oldest son is way smarter than me, I thought frustration’s grip on my self esteem no longer existed. When I saw differently, I reached into my anti-frustration toolbox to again tame the animal before anger followed it its wake. Here’s what consistently works for me:

  1. Walk away. When the tension begins to build deep within my gut and the self-insults begin to fly carelessly out of my mouth, off goes the game. When I recognize the early signals of frustration and walk away, I begin the process of turning off my frustration.
  2. Find a distraction. Once I walk away from frustration, I must walk directly to a distraction. Reading. Watching a movie. Exercising. Cleaning. Anything to get my mind off of the cause of my frustration before I begin to stew and boil.
  3. Pray. When frustrated, my prayers resemble a “deliver me or I’m going to die or go to jail” sort of desperation. Of course, the preventative approach prevails in effectiveness, but I fail to always remember to pray for help with frustration until I’m deep in its throes.

Generally speaking, frustration visits my psyche much less today than in my younger days. Yet, it does still seem to sneak up on me from time to time in a cumulative, frog in the frying pan, sort of way. This process truly helps squelch the animal before the ugly really comes out. Staying well rested, healthy and prayed up makes the episodes flee sooner and stay relatively mild too.

Still, I cannot forget that frustration always exists as a struggle for me. Perhaps God gave me an insanely patient husband to balance me a bit in this area. For sure, a certain diligent awareness must always exist on my part to prevent frustration’s return to the throne. Lastly, great comfort comes in this struggle of mine through the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9.

2 Cor 12v9

In this battle with one of my greatest weaknesses, Christ’s power shows itself in the specific activity that counteracts frustration. Nothing mystical takes place. Just a simple “do this” kind of instruction that leads me away from frustration.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you have for overcoming frustration? What other areas have you seen or experienced God work in a similar way?

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Change Managementchange quote

Change happens in everyone’s life. Sometimes our first reaction to change is fear. Sometimes our first reaction is to buckle down and resist. Sometimes we dive completely into change and sometimes run from it.

How we ultimately decide to handle change determines our success or failure in life. Fortunately, we can decide to change how we handle change.

The best way I’ve personally found to handle change — both the change that comes whether I want it to or not and the change I take initiative to make — is to lean on that which does not change.

When Nehemiah was presented with an opportunity to bring about change, he could have simply ignored the internal tug. He could have continued as cup bearer to the king and lived a comfortable, safe life. He chose instead to lead change. Before he took any action, though, he anchored himself on the eternal God who never changes.

Nehemiah’s Example

Nehemiah is often studied for his obvious leadership characteristics such as integrity, humbleness, courage, compassion and focus. Nehemiah also provides a tremendous example of how to institute lasting change that endures through struggles.

Nehemiah traveled over 500 miles to lead change with a group of people who were stuck in brokenness for over a decade. He then motivates the people of Jerusalem to work toward significant and lasting change. Nehemiah’s example during this transformation gives several points to consider regarding how to institute lasting change in our own lives.

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Far more than just a city, Jerusalem represented an identity for the Jewish nation. The city and its wall told of the Jews connection (or lack of it) to God. When Nehemiah heard that the city walls and the people’s connection to God were in shambles, he chose to take action. God then used Nehemiah to transform His people.

Nehemiah’s approach to change, as directed by God through prayer, can teach us a tremendous amount about how to make change in our own lives.

  1. Stay organized. Nehemiah always had a plan in place, but he was also flexible as needed. Staying organized allows progress to continue even when chaos surrounds. In fact, reorganizing even when chaos seems in control can be extremely helpful.
  2. Be resourceful. Nehemiah asked the king for help, he asked the people and leaders of Jerusalem for help, and he found creative ways to continue the work even while opposition threatened. You’ll find resourcefulness present in the lives of all great leaders and heroes because change rarely happens in its absence.
  3. Persevere. Nehemiah had a plan, a specific purpose, and a steady persistence through difficulties, obstacles and discouragement. He kept moving forward regardless of what the opposition said or did. He persevered because he was centered on God’s will.
  4. Be consistent. Nehemiah consistently prayed, stayed organized and remained resourceful. Consistency shows reliable character, a necessary element for lasting change, and that’s the type of person others will follow through change.
  5. Be reliant. Above all, Nehemiah’s example shows the importance of relying on God. Nehemiah prayed regularly, even spending months praying and fasting before taking action. Because he relied on God, his approach to lasting change took hold in a powerful way.

Whether we are in need of complete rebuilding like the walls and people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time or we recognize the call of God in our hearts to institute change in some way, these key provide a solid approach for managing that change. Most importantly, Nehemiah’s example of anchoring himself in an unchanging God provides the single most important key for change to truly endure.

DISCUSSION: What other keys do you find essential for lasting change, either by way of experience or through another’s example?

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

God's way 1One spouse quits a marriage. A child rebells. A friend refuses to reconcile differences. A boss pushes productivity levels.

We all – likely too often – find ourselves in situations like these where we feel stunned, frozen and helpless, and we hear these words come out of our mouths in desperation, “I don’t know what to do.”

Ever felt that way? Ever said those very words?

When this happens, I must admit that what I initially want to do is turn on the television or open a book and get lost in a made-up world. You know, pretend my life — and especially my problem — doesn’t exist. I’ve chosen that path many times before, and it works… but only temporarily. Eventually, panic comes back.

Recently when I said the words “I don’t know what to do,” I actually received a helpful answer, one that changed my way of thinking about situations that leave a person feeling at a loss, especially when that person is a Christian. That response? “Do what you can. Do what you know to do.”

My pastor gave me this advice and then elaborated a bit and reminded me that as Christians, we have some very specific activity we always know to do even when a situation seems impossible.

  1. God's Way_scripturePray. From short, spontaneous prayers like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4) prayed when King Artexerses gave him opportunity to share his troubles to lengthy sessions such as the one recorded in Psalm 88, prayer always exists as an option.
  2. Ask for prayer. Quit thinking you have to go through troubles alone… God wants us to pray for and with each other (James 5:16).
  3. Read Scripture. Get God’s thoughts on situations from the everyday ones to the impossible ones. Psalm 119:105 says God’s Word is a light for our path, so turn on the light!
  4. Watch where you lean. My own understanding when in a struggle, at least initially, is usually wrought with emotion. And when I’m emotional, I don’t think clearly and can’t see anything but the problem. Getting God’s perspective, through Godly counsel and Scripture, gives us a place of strength on which to lean. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  5. Give thanks. So many examples of prayer in Scripture involve spending time thanking God. If you’re not sure why this is, spend a few minutes simply giving thanks for all He’s done for you and all He promises for His people, and you’ll soon realize why giving thanks is such an important activity during a struggle. (Philippians 4:6-7)
  6. Guard your thoughts. Doubt and loneliness rise up at their strongest during a crisis. Don’t allow your thoughts to dwell in the pit. Instead, focus on God’s promises recorded in Scripture. (Philippians 4:8-9)
  7. Wait. Looking again to Nehemiah, we know he waited four months from the time he felt a burden for his people in Jerusalem until the opportunity to ask for the King’s help. Nehemiah didn’t force the issue; instead, he kept doing his job (what he knew to do) and trusted that God would give him the opportunity to act. (Nehemiah 1-2)

Unfortunately, my quality of thinking easily goes down the drain when the emotions of a helplessness hit (especially if I’m tired or hungry and definitely if I’m both). I need reminded of right thinking, which then makes way for the peace of God.

When we finally realize that the statement, “I don’t know what to do,” simply isn’t true for Christians, we see a whole new place of victory even during the struggles of life.

DISCUSSION: What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Defeating the Winter Blues

While debate exists over the cause and even the existence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), few doubt the impact of the dreary conditions of wintertime, especially those who live in areas with little sun in winter. For me, the term that best describes the blues that seem to hit in the dead of winter (December through February for the most part) is “doldrums.”

Doldrums

This term fits well for most who struggle with mood and energy during the winter months, about 12% of the population. Another 3% or so suffers true SAD , something I’ve also experienced. (Note: I migrated from SAD to the doldrums after finding victory over depression.)

10 Tips for Defeating the Winter Blues

Fortunately, much of what relieves the doldrums also helps with SAD (and depression too). So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s lump SAD and the doldrums into one category and call them the “winter blues.” However, realize that these exist along a continuum of severity. In most cases of SAD, there’s usually a significant biological reason (research shows that people with SAD produce significantly less seratonin in winter than in summer) that must be dealt with first with the help of a professional.

Based on my experience with the winter blues at almost every point along the continuum from SAD to a slight funk, I offer the following tips for defeating the winter blues.

  1. Move. Any activity beyond sitting or lying down positively impacts mood. This can mean a 10-minutes stretching routine, a 30-minute walk, cleaning the bathroom, or a quick trip to the grocery store. Just move!
  2. Budget. Money concerns, especially right after Christmas when the winter blues hit their peek, can drag even the most optimistic person down. Get some control by creating – and using – a budget.
  3. Breathe. I’m continually amazed at how just taking 10 deep breaths improves my outlook. Not only does it lessen my winter blues, but it helps me deal with stressful situations too.
  4. Eat. While eating your blues away is often a bad idea since it usually involves poor food choices, that doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, learn about healing foods that help lift mood and increase the “feel good” chemicals in your brain, and then purpose to get more of those consistently in your diet.
  5. Drink. Drinking more water is one of the two main activities that most quickly improve overall health. Whatever amount of water you’re drinking now, drink more. Hydration plays a huge role in virtually every bodily system.
  6. Sleep. Here’s the partner to drinking water. Establish a regular sleep/awake routine and stick to it year round. Figure out the amount of sleep that allows you to operate at your best, and get it consistently.
  7. Socialize. When I’m at a low point, I often avoid social interaction. Unfortunately, I avoid a terrific way to improve my mood when I do. We’ll cover this topic more in next week’s post, but let’s say for now that positive interaction with others does almost as much to improve mood as sleep and water.
  8. Simplify. This one took me years to truly establish as a life principle. Now, when I feel a funk setting in, which I know will grow into the doldrums if left unchecked, I look for ways to simplify.
  9. Supplement. Over the past 5 years, I’ve learned what supplements I need to operate optimally, especially mentally. A naturopath helped me get established, but now I do my own research & assessment. Start by learning the basic supplements everyone needs.
  10. Enjoy. Take time every day to enjoy simple pleasures from a hot bath and great music to a sunset and fresh air. Do this daily to help ward off the winter blues.

Hopefully you’ve gotten the idea there are a lot of ways to successfully battle the winter blues, and the more tools you have, the better. Yet, I have found that none truly help for the long term without the existence of one, specific focus always present in my life to motivate and drive me toward victory. I’ll let C.S. Lewis explain and close out this post.

Happiness quote

DISCUSSION: What tips do you have for gaining victory over the winter blues? What tips from the above list will you try this year? Any questions?

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Healthy Holidays & Beyond

Blue JOY OrnamentWith Thanksgiving and Black Friday safely behind us, we move forward now fully entrenched in the holiday season. Unfortunately, for many (most?) that means overwhelm from shopping, family pressures, and expectations of joy from self and others.

Could this year be any different? Or, will an underlying melancholy once again leave many people just getting through rather than celebrating and enjoying the season?

I’ve been to the place of feigning enjoyment while tension and depression cloud every interaction. I’ve felt sick and constantly tired during the holiday season. And I’ve struggled with the disappointing interactions and failed connections with friends and family alike. Even though I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will, not can but will, result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Green JOY ornamentFocus determines reality, especially during a season where many secretly live in depression and despair.

The holidays have a way of reminding us of strained and even failed relationships, ones we must face while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink.  And within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will eventually fade in the coming weeks, leaving us once again lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different, all the while knowing deep down it likely won’t.

I apologize for this seemingly downer tone thus far, but I find this need to admit these yearly struggles in order to maintain – and for many to obtain – victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year!”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentI invite you into a journey I take every year to some extent to continue moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year, perhaps even butting up with these same confessions – and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them – again this time next year.

This journey will first address the physical struggle many face from Thanksgiving through the fading of New Year’s resolutions. Then we’ll look at ways to address our focus and how to align it with truth, light and hope as we explore the spiritual dimension of the holiday season.

The next step in the journey involves exploring the ways our relationships can actually grow and flourish during the holiday season instead of being increasingly and possibly irreparably strained. Finally, we’ll end with looking at the false hope often brought by New Year’s resolutions and how we can turn that potential failure into true change toward a more joyous and blessed life.

DISCUSSION: In what ways can you relate to the struggle described above? Perhaps you relate through your own experience of that of someone you love. How could this discussion benefit someone (you?) desperately seeking a joy-filled holiday season?

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Time for a Paradigm Shift?

milkFood Substitutions

Because of a dairy allergy, coconut milk substitutes for cow’s milk. Because of a gluten intolerance, rice-based products substitute for those made with wheat flour.

“That’s got to be hard,” many people say to me. “No, it’s really not,” I respond. “I’m used to it.”

But the comment always reminds me of the beginning of the journey when I constantly felt frustrated. I looked at store shelves and even my own cupboards and saw only what I couldn’t eat.

Over the past five years, my paradigm regarding food shifted dramatically. Through this process, God also taught me more about Himself.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui-Gon to Anakin, Star Wars, The Phantom Menace)

cookiesAfter diagnosis of a food allergy & several sensitivities, I slowly adjusted my eating habits. My attention now goes to what I can eat, and I think little about what’s not on my menu anymore. When I focused on what I couldn’t eat, I felt deprived. When I focused on what I could have, I discovered new and enjoyable experiences.

In the Christian life, focusing on what God offers brings exciting and eternally beneficial experiences well beyond anything the world offers. What you “can’t” have no longer becomes what you want.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Ice creamIf I eat dairy or gluten, my digestion immediately slows almost to a stop. If I keep eating them, my body fails to get needed nutrients, and eventually adrenal fatigue and depression set in along with other unpleasant reactions. The consequences range from immediate and uncomfortable to severe and debilitating. I must live with a zero-tolerance policy regarding gluten and dairy.

I must also have zero-tolerance in certain areas of my spiritual life if I want to remain spiritually healthy. Days need to begin with prayer. Regular fellowship and worship need to exist. Bible study must happen frequently & regularly. Compromising in any of these areas leads to consequences that are devastating.

“Simply the thing I am shall make me live.” (William Shakespeare)

Upon first discovery of my food allergy and sensitivities, I felt like my life was horribly complicated. I struggled to figure out what I could and could not eat and felt not only like a burden when eating with others but an outsider as well.

Now I realize my diet simplifies my life and makes me healthier because most unhealthy foods filling so many dinner tables don’t find their way into my house much. Restaurant choices are limited (cross-contamination), but these limitations also simplify choices and save time. Once I accepted myself physically with regard to food limitations, I realized that simplicity was a gift that helped me and my family lead healthier lives.

As I learn to accept who I am spiritually, my life becomes simpler and more focused. Instead of wishing I was someone else with different gifts, talents and abilities, I find peace and contentment with who I am. Accepting myself as God created me is having wide-reaching impact on my life.

“[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

The integration of so many substitutions into my life also leads me to be more aware of the life-giving power that substitutions can have. After all, they created a healthier me than has ever existed.

The biggest truth that these substitutions bring to light for me involves the substition of Jesus for my sins, for everyone’s sins. No, I don’t think of this every time I make a food substitution, but I do think of it often, especially when I reflect on the journey my health and eating have taken over the past five years.

The connection between my eating and spiritual journeys exists as one of the major reasons I truly believe God wants to be in every detail of our lives. He also wants to use every detail to shape spiritual paradigms too.

DISCUSSION: How has God used a situation or journey in your life to make a paradigm shift?