Voting My Conscience

ballot-1440045-1599x1068For the past 26 years, my voting choices revolved mostly around what the two main parties offered. My husband and I did venture outside of those one presidential election, but we ended up feeling like our votes were completely wasted.

Research for my voting choices has up to this point involved listening to a few individuals I respect and knew did their research along with reading one or two seemingly objective sources that placed the candidates side by side.

My point is that while I voted my conscience all those years, I didn’t really base it on much information. I’m not proud of that, by the way.

Honestly, I’ve never felt inclined to do much more than I did. Until now.

For months now, I’ve believed my choice involved horrible or not quite as horrible. Two choices. That’s it. Turns out, there are other choices. Actually, the choices are boundless when you consider write-in votes.

ballot-box-1519379-1599x1068I still don’t know who will get my vote for president in a few weeks, though I do know one for sure who will not. However, I do feel as though I’m not forced into voting just to keep someone else out of office.

Never before have I posted anything political on this blog, but I am bothered by this election like none before it. With that, I offer some information I’ve found quite helpful, and it comes from a blogging friend of mine.

The full post is reprinted below, but I encourage you to also visit Wisdom of a Fool and leave a comment there. Also, there are several links within the post I encourage you to visit. If you aren’t yet, won’t you join me in becoming an informed voter?

Who are McMullin, Stein, and Johnson: and what could they mean to you?

If you’re like many American’s today you value your right to vote but feel trapped between a rock and a hard place—you don’t like either of the primary political party candidates.

And if you’re like many others (on both sides), you might be tempted to simply vote for your affiliated party even if you don’t like that candidate simply because you REALLY don’t like the opposition.

But what if you had another option?

What if a third party candidate better represented your beliefs?

Now, you might be thinking that’s a wasted vote (after all, that’s what the media is trying to make you believe).

History (and our constitution) disagree.

4 Times in American History neither candidate reached the needed 270 electoral votes to become president. If you’d like information on that please click here.

So what happens if neither candidate reaches the needed 270 electoral votes?

The National Achieves and Records Administration: US Electoral College says:

“If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.”

Here are 3 other options:

Evan McMullin– Is a constitutional conservative. For 10 years he worked for the CIA spearheading counterterrorism in places such as the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Later he used his Master’s in Business to help industries such as energy, biotech, technology and more.

Here are a few of the issues he is focused on.

  1. Military- “…we will rebuild the military and give our service members the tools they need to defend our freedoms and our way of life—while also protecting Americans’ hard-earned dollars.”
  2. Economy-“…make the tax code fairer and simpler, helping to spur business innovation, especially the growth of small businesses… Small businesses should pay closer to 25 percent of their profits in taxes, whereas now there are many that must pay almost 40 percent. Right now America also has the highest corporate tax rate – 35 percent – of any advanced economy.”
  3. Healthcare– “…repeal Obamacare as soon as possible, replacing it with a more streamlined, pro-market approach to insurance…encourage competition and innovation by putting patients, families, and doctors for first.”
  4. Government Accountability– “…support House Joint Resolution 100, a proposed constitutional amendment for the re-empowerment of the states. This amendment would enable a two-thirds majority of the states to repeal any Executive Order, regulation, or administrative ruling issued by the executive branch.”
  5. Immigration– “The path to reform begins with securing our borders. Once they are secured, there should be a process of earned legalization for the illegal immigrants who are already here. There is simply no efficient way to deport 11 million individuals; doing so would break apart families and likely cost $100 billion. Furthermore, legalization is not amnesty.”
  6. Trade- “…supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement recently signed by 12 countries, including Japan, Australia, and Vietnam. The TPP will eliminate tariffs for all the countries that sign, but it will not go into effect until ratified by Congress.” SIDE NOTE-This is NAFTA on steroids. While there are many benefits of NAFTA, the disadvantage of it includes “…destroying half a million American jobs and lowering U.S. wages. In addition, NAFTA increases the S. trade deficit.”To learn more about NAFTA (pros and cons) click here.
  7. National Debt– “…enact reforms that make these essential programs more efficient while fighting pervasive fraud and abuse…simple truth that you can’t keep spending money you never had.”

To learn more about McMullins Platform click here.

Dr. Jill Stein– 2012 Green Party candidate for president. Wants to revitalize democracy. She’s a mother, physician, and an environmental-health advocate.

Snapshot of her platform:

  1. Jobs as a Right– “…replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Advance workers rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.”
  2. Health Care as a Right– “Establish an improved “Medicare For All” single-payer public health insurance program to provide everyone with quality health care, at huge savings.”
  3. Education as a Right– “…Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university. End high stakes testing and public school privatization.”
  4. A Just Economy– “Set a $15/hour federal minimum wage. Break up “too-big-to-fail” banks and democratize the Federal Reserve. Reject gentrification as a model of economic development. Support development of worker and community cooperatives and small businesses. Make Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes. Create democratically run public banks and utilities. Replace corporate trade agreements with fair trade agreements.”
  5. Protect Mother Earth– “Lead on a global treaty to halt climate change. End destructive energy extraction: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, and uranium mines. Protect our public lands, water supplies, biological diversity, parks, and pollinators. Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe. Protect the rights of future generations.”
  6. Freedom and Equality– “Expand women’s rights, protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination, defend indigenous rights and lands, and create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants. Protect the free Internet, legalize marijuana/hemp, and treat substance abuse as a public health problem, not a criminal problem.”
  7. Peace and Human Rights– “…End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases…”

To learn more about Stein click here.

Gary Johnson– Libertarian Candidate. Two term Republican Governor of New Mexico. A business owner who describes himself as “fiscally-conservative and socially-liberal.”

Here are a few of his beliefs:

  1. Taxes– “…elimination of special interest tax loopholes, to get rid of the double-taxation on small businesses, and ultimately, the replacement of all income and payroll taxes with a single consumption tax that determines your tax burden by how much you spend, not how much you earn.”
  2. Civil Liberties– Supports Same Sex Marriage and Abortion Rights
  3. Immigration– “we should focus on creating a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with our diverse society .Making it simpler and more efficient to enter the United States legally will provide greater security than a wall by allowing law enforcement to focus on those who threaten our country, not those who want to be a part of it.”
  4. Environment– Believes in Climate Change. “…believe that the federal government should prevent future harm by focusing on regulations that protect us from real harm, rather than needlessly costing American jobs and freedom in order to pursue a political agenda.”
  5. Education– “…believes that state and local governments should have more control over education policy. Decisions that affect our children should be made closer to home, not by bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C. That is why he believes we should eliminate the federal Department of Education. Common Core and other attempts to impose national standards and requirements on local schools are costly, overly bureaucratic, and actually compromise our ability to provide our children with a good education.”
  6. War on Drugs-“…remove cannabis (Marijuana) from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which will allow individual states to make their own decisions about both recreational and medical marijuana — just as they have done for decades with alcohol…do not support the legalization of other recreational drugs that are currently illegal. It is, however, their belief that drug rehabilitation and harm-reduction programs result in a more productive society than incarceration and arrests for drug use.”
  7. Wasteful Spending– “…pledged that his first major act as President will be to submit to Congress a truly balanced budget. No gimmicks, no imaginary cuts in the distant future. Real reductions to bring spending in line with revenues, without tax increases. No line in the budget will be immune from scrutiny and reduction. And he pledges to veto any legislation that will result in deficit spending, forcing Congress to override his veto in order to spend money we don’t have.”

To learn more about Johnson’s platform click here.

While no candidate is perfect, perhaps one of these lesser known candidates better represent your beliefs and concerns. If so, I encourage you to not buy into the lie that you must vote for either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. But if you like them, vote for them. It’s your choice.

You are given one vote and are free to vote however you choose.
And your vote matters.

Michelle Obama recently gave a powerful speech that highlighted how important each vote is. In 2012 Barack Obama won the election by a small number of votes in certain states. Hilary Clinton recently showed a few maps of just how powerful each vote is.

Examples: If 13 people would have stayed home in Florida Obama wouldn’t have won that state. Likewise he won Ohio by 19 votes, Wisconsin by 34 votes. Breaking it down by precinct – If 7 Obama Voters in each precinct had chosen to vote for Romney in the state of Florida, Obama would have lost that state.

YOUR VOTE MATTERS- To see more click here.

If you do like one of these candidates and they are not on your state’s ballet you can WRITE IN YOUR VOTE. So just because you don’t see your preferred candidate on the ballet doesn’t mean he/she is not an option. It means you must WRITE in the name you want to vote for.

I encourage you- Vote your Conscience. 

SIDE NOTE- McMullin has a real shot at winning Utah. For more click here or here.

5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

athletic-2

The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part II

In Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I, we discussed how “busy” is the new “fine” and how stepping toward balance and away from busyness involves having actionable approaches that generate progress. In this post, we’ll explore three principles of balance that will help create the thinking necessary to leave busyness, overload and overwhelm behind. We’ll also consider a few essentials for maintaining balance for the long term.

Balance 2

Principles of Balance

In order to truly establish an overall balanced life, a person’s actions and thinking must align. Actions create steps, and thinking defines the path. We’ve already discussed the steps, so let’s now take a look at the principles that help shape right thinking with regard to balance.

  1. Balance is subjective. Balance is personal and individual. It looks different for every person and is impacted by personality, temperament, physical needs and more. When it comes to balance, to compare is to despair. Get ideas for how to live balanced from others, but create your own definition of balance. You’ll never find balance trying to make it exactly like someone else’s.
  2. Balance requires a long-term perspective. While balance involves a short-term element (small steps, as discussed in Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I), it also requires a long-term approach. This approach involves looking at finding balance like success in the stock market. Not every day will be balanced, and there will even be seasons where you are out of balance. The goal is an overall balance lifestyle, one where the periodic unbalance doesn’t derail you into the abyss of overwhelm and overload again.
  3. Balance and simplicity go hand-in-hand. A balanced life looks more like riding a bike or yoga than it does plate spinning. Simplicity involves a freedom from complexity and division into parts, and a balanced life is a relatively simpler one. As with balance, simplicity is also subjective and will look quite different from one person to the next. Balance and simplicity working together get at the idea that focus determines reality. If everything is a priority, the nothing really is a priority. Simplifying helps bring the reality of balance into focus.

Balance 3

Essentials of Balance

While balance exists as subjective, and the exact path to take to achieve it are unique to the person, some essentials do exist for every person hoping to obtain and maintain a balanced life. These essentials must be in the forefront of the mind of anyone looking for an authentically balanced life.

  • Balance is counter-cultural. You’ll likely feel like an outsider in your efforts to become less busy and especially if you truly manage to achieve a balanced life. To counteract this, I remind myself of how miserable I was when I was overwhelmed and overloaded, when busyness ran my life. This helps me stay true on my path to becoming excellent at doing fewer things rather than returning to a mediocre life at best.
  • Isolation is the quickest path to unbalance. We need others input because we can easily deceive ourselves. The benefits of accountability are unmeasurable. And while you’ll feel like an outsider amongst your overwhelmed and overloaded friends, you’ll discover there are those who desire a simpler and more balanced life too. Remember, you become who you most associate with on a regular basis.
  • Simplicity is trendy. Pursuing a minimalist lifestyle is cool these days. Yet doing so for the sake of the trend only leads to comparisons and a more fashionable busyness. And we all know fashion is impossible to keep up with. While a minimalist approach can be a balance life, for too many it can also be a fleeting fancy. Don’t get caught in the trap. Focus on the long-term perspective.

Start your journey of finding balance in a busy world by asking yourself two questions: What does balance mean to you? What would produce a more effective you?

Now take the approaches detailed in Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I and combine them with the principles of balance detailed above to not only find your balance but to also maintain it for the long term.

DISCUSSION: What are you going to do today to start your journey toward finding balance in a busy world?

Struggling with Pride

Pride

“The Great Sin”

In one episode of the Big Bang Theory, Raj accuses Sheldon of arrogance. While funny, the clip aptly illustrates the pride and arrogance constantly oozing out of Sheldon. Perhaps, like me, you find Sheldon’s arrogance amusing because, well, you can relate yet remain certain your own arrogance pales in comparison.

While we can laugh at others prideful antics on television, we also must admit to the reality of pride’s severe impact on culture. And it’s not at all funny.

Consider the following all-to-real examples of pride:

  • Politicians pursuing personal agendas.
  • Business and financial catastrophes like WorldCom and Enron.
  • Attention-seeking TV & music entertainers.

Pride exists abundantly within Christianity too. Stories of pastors living in extravagance and debauchery along with the many examples throughout Scripture tell the tale well.

Pride touches every aspect of life and culture throughout history. And while the widespread preoccupation with self continues making light of pride and even seemingly promoting it, as Christians we cannot consider pride humorous at all. In fact, we must consider it, as C.S. Lewis did, “the great sin.”

An “Anti-God State of Mind”

Seeing pride in others is easy, but seeing it in ourselves… not so much. Consider what Lewis says to ask yourself to find out if pride is a problem for you:

“How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?”

Our annoyance and frustration with others too often points to our own problem with pride by revealing a desire to elevate ourselves in some way above others. Pride is very much a struggle of the competitive nature within every one of us.

Lewis describes the struggle it this way:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.”

Pride, as Lewis describes it, creates an “anti-God state of mind,” living within us as a “spiritual cancer.”

The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

The story Jesus told about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector proves Lewis’ point well. Please take a minute to reacquaint yourself with the passage found in Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisees words and actions show that pride involves:

  1. Thinking we have any merit in our own abilities.
  2. Seeing others with contempt and disrespect.
  3. Placing ourselves above others.

Lewis’s describes this “anti-God state of mind” with these words:

“In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know your-self as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

The words and actions of the tax collector, however, give us a needed view of humility. The tax collector stands at a distance and shows that he knows he is a sinner and in need of God’s mercy and grace. He can’t even look at God because of the contrast between God’s holiness and the man’s own sin.

Identifying Pride

Fortunately, Scripture provides the necessary instruction for identifying pride in our lives.

  1. Ask God to reveal your pride. We must ask God to show us our pride, because we likely won’t see it otherwise.
  2. Earnestly seek God. And remember, eradicating pride is not a one and done deal.
  3. Seek accountability. God encourages us to seek others help in eliminating sin.
  4. View humility as essential. Christ’s example of humility sets the standard.
  5. Look in the mirror of Scripture. The Redeemer Church of Dubai offers a list of “30 Biblical Indicators of Pride in Our Lives” and gives a great way to use Scripture as a mirror for identifying pride.

Pride blocks our ability to see God (Deuteronomy 8:14). Humbleness, on the other hand, involves awareness of the heart’s true condition, one of sinfulness, hopelessness and utter depravity without the redeeming work of Christ. We’ll look at humility in detail In a couple of weeks.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on pride?

Two resources in addition to Scripture played a tremendous role in this very personal study on pride: Pride & Humility by Thomas A Tarrants & The Great Sin by C.S. Lewis.

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How to Have Consistent Focus Even When No One Is Watching

how-to-focus-hacks-infographicFocus Determines Reality

The object of focus as well as the existence or absence of focus itself determines the reality of a person’s life. Do you believe this?

The truth that focus determines reality drives me. I believe it to the point of frustration when focus remains elusive. When my mind continually engages distraction, anxiety and frustration set in and depression approaches.

Establishing & Keeping Focus

When I transitioned from working in an office where others held me accountable for my productivity to working for myself at home where only I truly knew my level of accomplishment, the discipline of focus taunted me while at the same time taught me a great deal about establishing and keeping focus. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Know your purpose. This requires regular (daily) Scripture study & prayer before moving on to the specific tasks of the day.
  2. Eliminate distraction. Leave your phone in the other room. Work in a room without a television. Go for a walk or bike ride to brainstorm and plan. Find ways to reduce the temptations of distraction.
  3. Simplify. Reduce possessions to regularly-used items. Keep calendars simple and clutter free. Focus on simple, healthy meals. Establish routines to reduce decision-making. When overwhelmed, this one word – “simplify” – works wonders for refocusing.
  4. Talk. Working alone means I’m in my head a lot. Regularly scheduling exercise time or coffee with a friend gives opportunity to get out of my head and process thoughts in more tangible ways. Evenings with my husband and time with my boys also help me cultivate and process ideas.
  5. Follow the Spirit’s leading. Put yourself in a position to regularly hear the wisdom God regularly offers.
  6. Take small steps. Staying focused happens through small steps (choices) that over time add up to make a huge difference.
  7. Establish accountability. Voicing my goals creates one level of accountability. Partnering with others creates another. Creating deadlines takes accountability up another notch. Make accountability a reality and not just a good idea.

Learning to Focus

When talking to others struggling with focus, I hear excuses like, “I’m not just good at focusing,” or “I just get distracted easily,” as if they lack the ability to focus like some lack musical ability. In this ADD-culture, many seem to believe focus comes only for those blessed with unique ability or at the very least live absent of attention deficit.

My personal success in achieving a focused life convinced me that focus is not a special talent like athleticism but is instead a learned ability. If you’re not yet convinced, consider the story of a young boy diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD & FAS at age 8.

All three of these disorders rip apart one’s ability to focus. Yet, in the past six years through the avenues listed above done in a consistent manner and in a stable environment, this boy went from being several years behind in reading to reading just above grade level. He also gets As and Bs in school and stays out of trouble as much as any other teenage boy.

My youngest son taught me anyone can learn to focus. While it may exist as more of a struggle more for some people than for others, anyone can improve their ability to focus.

A Biblical Formula for Focus

Let’s look at one more element involved in one’s ability to focus. Scripture provides a great deal of help on the topic, but let’s look at two passage in particular to finish our discussion on focus.

Focus all energy on one thing: Forget the past, look forward toward the goal, and work to reach the end and receive the prize. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Refuse to focus on the temporary and instead fix your focus on the unseen, the eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Focusing where God tells us to focus results in an extraordinary ability to hone our effectiveness. Keeping eternity in mind as we plan our lives results in living productive and meaningful lives. No longer do we wonder if our daily activity matters because we know we’re connected with the eternal, with what matters most to God, so all we do matters.

Remember the question in the beginning of this post? Go ahead, take a look again.

When we truly believe – because we know for certain – that focus involves choosing to have it as well as placing God as the object of that focus, we find that our ability to focus grows in supernatural ways. We discover that an inability to focus may simply mean a wrong focus. We realize that an overwhelmed life often means a life focused on the wrong or too many different things.

No one can convince me that consistent focus ever exists as impossible for anyone. Learning to focus without being under constant watch by others taught me about the possibility, and my youngest son’s progress over the past 6 years further confirmed the truth. And both leave me excited to live a future focused on God and pleasing Him.

DISCUSSION: What struggles do you have with focus? How does the above advice provide hope for learning to focus?

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Pursuing Unity

Be at peaceWhile studying unity, see “Struggling for Unity” for details on that effort, I could not escape the role of individual responsibility for the creation, growth and continual existence of unity. I did not necessarily like (in my flesh) what I found either because it requires significant change on my part both in action and in mindset.

Paul addressed unity a lot within the early church, and the issue remains a constant struggle still today for most (all?) churches. While there are numerous Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testaments touting the importance and even the absolute necessity of unity, one portion in particular strikes me as a sort of mantra for unity. Ephesians 3 provides the motivation for unity (because we’re called, saved & equipped with God’s power), and Ephesians 4 gets into the details of what unity in the body looks like. I encourage you to read all of both chapters now, but at the very least meditate on these key phrases from Ephesians 4 while considering your individual role in creating and maintaining unity.

“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each others faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.”

“One body… one Spirit… on glorious future… one Lord… one faith… one baptism… one God and Father…”

“… hold to the truth in love…”

“Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life…”

“So put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth’ because we belong to each other.”

“…be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

With those verses in mind, consider the following statements as you contemplate your own role in the unity of the body. These statements simply reflect my personal agenda for positively impacting the unity of my family and my church.

For the sake of building unity in the groups of which I am a part, I commit to…

  1. Preferring others by not insisting and arguing for my own way, wants & desires.
  2. Allowing others to make mistakes without receiving criticism from me and to instead offer encouragement and sometimes instruction.
  3. Refusing to assume because I know that assumptions (always? often? usually?) lead to foolish behavior.
  4. Avoid operating on misinformation while at the same time realizing that some things are simply none of my business.
  5. Treating others with respect even when I don’t agree with them.
  6. Focusing on facts over feelings.
  7. Realizing there is often more than one right way to accomplish a goal.
  8. Accepting people where they are and encouraging them to always be growing.
  9. Making sure I’m always growing spiritually since no one is responsible for my growth but me.
  10. Refusing to give up on unity by continually praying for and working toward peace with others regardless of their efforts.

Consider taking time to write your own plan for building, promoting and protecting unity. Ephesians 3 and 4 were used as guides for my own statements, but really the entire book of Ephesians provides tremendous help toward playing an active role in making sure unity thrives in your relationships. Other Scripture driving home the point include 1 Peter 3:8-9, Psalm 34 and Psalm 133. I encourage you to make unity a priority in your life and to “do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

DISCUSSION: What are you doing regularly to build and protect unity?

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How to Maintain Balance

bicycle quoteAs I consider the times I’ve found myself out of balance, which is more than I like to admit, I realize that I only become imbalanced when I fail to adjust. When I neglect making adjustments as my life changes and as struggles arise, I lose my balance and fall over.

The answer, then, to how to maintain balance, involves making constant adjustments, to continually finding a new normal as circumstances change with the seasons of life. This requires honesty with yourself along with humility to admit the need to adjust. As we learn to live in this constant state of adjustment, which is really what balance is all about, we’ll find that we continually improve in our ability to balance.

Adjusting for Balance

Making the following adjustments on a regular basis helps me stay consistently balanced. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am always balanced… but I certainly live there more frequently the more I consistently practice these habits:

  1. cyclists dismountSlow but don’t stop. Refuse to give up and quit. Take time to slow down and rest if necessary, but keep moving forward.
  2. Maintain focus. Establish core values and align focus daily.
  3. Be a team player. Don’t attempt balance alone. Have regular accountability.
  4. Evaluate regularly. From work commitments to relationships, make sure priorities stay properly ordered.
  5. Find ways to simplify. Life is chaotic enough on its own; refuse to add complication.
  6. Be yourself. Balance and simplicity are unique to the individual. Find your balance. Find your simple. Find your normal.
  7. Know yourself. Find your niche, not someone else’s. Dan Erickson’s post “why you can’t have what your neighbor has” can help shed light on this idea.
  8. Avoid comparisons. I can always find someone better and worse at balance, but neither does anything to help me stay balanced.

All too often, I go from simply trying to balance the various elements in my life to juggling them. Trying to balance and juggle at the same time is hard; in fact, I can’t do it. Can you? Yet all too often that’s exactly where we live. It’s a place where I’m not just trying to keep my life balanced, but I’m also tossing appointments and commitments and projects and people around like juggling balls. In this place, I’m losing the strength and ability, the margin I need, to adjust for consistent balance.

But when I continually adjust for balance, I’m better able to discover and live a harmonious life. And in that harmony exists the margin of peace amidst chaos. Try it… I know you’ll like it there.

DISCUSSION: How do you adjust for balance? If you feel like a circus act both juggling and balancing, what can you change to move toward less chaos?

Recently, Bill Grandi at Cycle Guy’s Spin ran a series called Second Chances. In it, I wrote about my struggle with depression. Through a series of questions and emails, Bill asked if I would consider writing more about my struggle and how I (with God’s help) overcame it. He sent me some questions, and we decided to run it as sort of an interview. Due to length, it is divided into five conversations. Here’s the link to the first one and the second one. The third will come next week.

The Role of Accountability in Balance

AccountabilityFor over 20 years, running partners made sure I regularly completed the miles needed for my goals. In recent years, I meet with a Godly woman from church for Biblical accountability. In writing, accountability comes through my critique partner as well as through Godly people I interact with online. And of course, my spouse provides accountability like no other person in my life.

What is Accountability?

Being accountable means being responsible & answerable. Accountability means not simply acting according to feelings, wants and desires but basing actions on what we believe is honorable and truthful.

Accountability keeps us from hurting ourselves and others by making us liable, responsible and answerable for our actions or lack of action. Without accountability, the door remains open for saying and doing just about anything we want.

Accountability and Balance

Accountability to God and to other Christians exists as a Biblical principle (see Galatians 6:1-5, Luke 17:3, James 5:16, Romans 14:12 & Hebrews 4:13.) It also serves to strengthen us in ways we could not discover on our own.

Accountability 2

But how does accountability help specifically with balance?

Accountability provides a source of wisdom for the adjustments needed to maintain balance and keep from toppling over under the pressure and stress of our overloaded and drama-filled lives. Simply put, allowing accountability to function properly makes balance easier to maintain. When I neglect and/or ignore accountability, my life quickly becomes unstable.

Accountability helps maintain balance because it…

  1. Encourages us. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Accountability helps us know what we’re doing right and gives direction for decisions. It also helps us know we’re not alone in our struggles.
  2. Improves us. (Proverbs 17:17) We need others to alert us to improvements as well as how to go about making them. Attempting to stay balanced alone just isn’t possible because we simply cannot accurately see everything about ourselves.
  3. Makes us think about our words. The Bible says we’ll be held accountable for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36-37). Accountability forces us to not only think about what we say but also about what influences exist at the heart of our words.
  4. Builds trust. (Luke 16:10-12) Letting Godly people speak into our lives exercises humbleness. It practices our willingness to open ourselves up to necessary change, and this stretches us in a way that allows for bigger responsibility as we gain a reputation for honesty and transparency.
  5. Realigns us when we mess up. (1 John 2:1-29 & James 5:16) We’re expected to mess up. That’s part of life this side of Heaven. So, the real test of solid character shows with how a person reacts after messing up. A willingness to be reshaped by the Godly wisdom of another goes a long way in getting back on track after making mistakes.

Establishing Accountability

Accountability only comes when we deliberately pursue it. This happens by being…

  • Open to it. This means not being defensive and instead being teachable. Accountability requires humbleness.
  • Transparent & honest. I need to share my weaknesses and struggles in order for another to truly be able to help me. The protective bubble surrounding my ego has to go.
  • Willing to receive it. Too many times, I’ve appeared open to accountability and then proceeded to ignore all wisdom coming my way. Be willing to apply and adjust using the wisdom gained through accountability.

Before I can be someone to whom another becomes accountable, I must make sure I am first willing to be accountable to another person. This in itself is another aspect of balance that accountability brings into a person’s life.

I wish I could say that I’ve always had this level of accountability in my life, but that would be a lie. Because I’ve been on the other end of the extreme, living a life completely absent of accountability, I can say with certainty that it is a necessity for maintaining a balanced life.

DISCUSSION: What role does accountability play in helping you maintain balance? If you’re out of balance, how can accountability help you find balance again?

Loren Pinilis at Life of a Steward offers additional insight into the topic of accountability in his recent post “The Key to Making Accountability Work.
Definitely worth taking the time to read!

Struggling for Balance

Every area of life requires and continually struggles for balance. We’ll look at that struggle at play in a variety of rolls throughout this month, but first let’s develop an understanding of what balance is and what it requires.

7 Principles of Balance

In thinking about balance, several principles stand out as universal in our struggle. As we work to obtain and maintain balance, we must always keep in mind that balance…

  1. tree postRequires movement. To stay balanced, we must constantly move and adjust. Sometimes, the adjustments are small and invisible to others, but they always exist.
  2. Exists as a constant goal. Our physical bodies constantly work toward balance, toward homeostasis. The desire for balance exists as naturally as the function of our physical bodies. We can never escape this continual striving for balance.
  3. Needs focus. When doing a tree pose in yoga, focusing on a fixed point in front of you helps maintain balance. When your gaze wanders, balance becomes an increasing struggle.
  4. Can improve. The more you do the tree pose (along with a variety of other yoga poses), balance becomes easier. The more you consistently work at it, the better your ability to stay balanced.
  5. Keeps drama & chaos at bay. In some variety shows, acrobats show off their balancing skills by complicating the situation with people balanced upon people balancing a variety of objects. In real life, drama within balance only leads to chaos and overload.
  6. Looks different for every person. Everyone has unique limits. Every holds unique gifts and abilities. Because of these facts, our ability to balance looks different too. The basic principles stay the same, but we all obtain balance uniquely.
  7. Requires honesty & humility. We have to admit that we need to rest and readjust regularly. We have to admit our need for help in living a balanced life. Not admitting these means choosing the hard – and likely impossible – path to balance.

We’ll address the above principles later this month as we look at the role relationships, accountability, simplicity, commitments and faith all play in our constant struggle for balance. Before we can consider the activity of balance within the various aspects of our lives, though, we have to first realize the importance that having an accurate scale plays in achieving, maintaining and assessing balance.

An Accurate Scale

scale

The Bible talks about the importance of having a fair and just scale, one that accurately weighs and balances whatever it measures. That’s what we need for our lives too.

Comparisons are not accurate; neither are we able to accurately measure our own balance (2 Corinthians 10:12). God needs to be the scale. Only He knows what balances means for each individual, and He tells us through Scripture and through His Holy Spirit. The only way to obtain and maintain a balanced life is to have it continually weighed, measured and adjusted by the only accurate and just scale available to us.

DISCUSSION: Where do you feel you’re out of balance? What adjustments do you need to make?

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Filtering Thoughts

1430223_49148998 (2)Filters purify. They keep out the harmful and leave the beneficial. In any are of life, improvement comes through removing or keeping out bad and adding in good, through filtering.

A defective filter does little good. Only remove bad and fail to replace with good, and the bad comes back in full force (Luke 11:24-26). Only add in good and fail to remove the bad, and the good fails to have much – if any – benefit (Colossians 3).

Filters in our thought lives reduce overload by sifting through all the information and opportunities constantly coming at us. They allow for separating and removing what we don’t want and keeping what we do want. This filtering involves processing information received by placing it against truth, and with the Holy Spirit’s guiding choosing the appropriate response.

Filtering to Prevent & Reduce Overload

Applying filters involves creating habits and establishing priorities that help keep out negative and allow positive to shape us.

Habits go a long way in directing our thought lives. For example, I make a habit of considering the impact of whatever I choose to read. This means reading very little romance or horror and also flipping between fiction and nonfiction as a routine. I also regularly consider the benefit of the various blogs and articles I read. This habit keeps me balanced since my thoughts are easily influenced by the written word.

Filtering thoughts also involves prioritizing. This means realizing that sometimes we have to say “no” to good things simply because we cannot say “yes” to everything if we hope to avoid overload. Prioritizing includes everything from the what to read, what movies to watch, who to spend time with, and even what commitments to accept or reject at church.

My husband and I have created a filtering system that orders priorities within our schedules. This system works well in keeping my inner atmosphere from getting overwhelmed with too many details and lack of focus and my husband from getting out of balance by failing to relax and rest.

Our prioritizing filter involves keeping each other accountable and not adding any large and/or long-term commitment to our schedules without consulting one another. We ask if the added commitment will tax the margin in our lives because lack of margin almost always results in an overwhelmed thought life.

Creating Your Own Filters

Start by looking at what overwhelms you easily and finding specific ways to simplify and keep overload at bay. Remember that a good filter usually involves the following…

  1. An accountability system.
  2. Acknowledging and recognizing limits.
  3. Prioritizing to maintain healthy margins.
  4. The Holy Spirit’s guidance.
  5. Consistent time with God.
  6. Adjustments with the seasons of life.

The idea that focus determines reality is never more true than in our thinking. This is why we must deliberately choose a filtering system based on absolute truth, God’s truth, and not on the relative truth of man that changes like shifting shadows.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

DISCUSSION: What filters can you apply in your own life to prevent and/or reduce overload of any type?