Easter Memories

Easter Memories

Easter Sunday holds a prominent place in my childhood, church-going memories. The smell of Lilies. New clothes. The Easter bonnet my mom wanted me to wear and that I hated. Easter breakfast after a sunrise service. Traditional church service. All good memories.

As an adult, Easter memories still rest strongly in my mind. Same smell of Lilies. Spring colors. Easter hymns like “Crown Him with Many Crowns” that I’ve never not known. Easter dinner followed by a rather competitive egg hunt at the in-laws.

Outside of the usual Easter routine are several Easters spent away from home, including one on a mountaintop at sunrise in Vermont. Another involved the first half of the day riding in a car traveling home to Michigan from Missouri. No Lilies. No Sunday best attire. Worship via the radio (one of the songs was “Crown Him with Many Crowns), and McDonalds for Easter dinner. We did make the annual hunt though.

As I grew and matured, Easter eventually evolved from a once-a-year Sunday celebration to a year-round sense of purpose. Celebrating the risen Christ exists now as a way of life, a year-long state of mind rather than a capstone day in the church year.

Ticket to Heaven

A lot of the same elements still exist, but my view of the reason behind the celebration itself evolved away from simply a focus on the objects that represented it. I no longer only saw Easter as just a day to acknowledge that a far-away God sent his Son to die for my sins. I began to see beyond simply having a ticket to heaven.

Today, Easter now represents a relationship with Jesus.

Reasons for Change

Over the years, experiencing struggles and letting Christ lead me to victory in and through them matured my faith. Faith remains a simple but crucial act of the spirit. However, it now lives in a maturing state as the Holy Spirit’s leads and guides into the relationship that now permeates my existence.

My view changed also because worship changed. Some songs stayed the same, yet my participation exists very differently today than in my childhood and even early adulthood. Increased involvement in worship somehow increased the depth of the Easter message.

My understanding of God’s love for His Son also grew when I became a parent. Would I sacrifice one of my sons to save another person’s life? No, I wouldn’t. Yet, God did just that. Being a parent gives some inclination of how much He loved me to give up His only Son. Something I would never do.

My Best Friend

Somewhere within all this change, I realized Jesus also wanted to be my friend in addition to being my Savior. In other words, Jesus became a real person in my life.

Jesus became my best friend as my view of Easter grew. This satisfied a deep longing I remember having even as a young child.

I’m not sure I can adequately express what Easter now means to me or how it exists as a state of mind rather than a yearly holiday. All I can do is share this testimony and invite others to open their hearts to the transforming power of the Easter story too.

Full Commitment

Cultural Commitment

Ask almost anyone over the age of 60 about commitment, and they’ll tell of a time when, “Your word was your bond.” If asked, they’ll explain that if a person said he would do something, he could be counted on to do it. Sure, there were those who did not follow through, but they were the exception.

Today’s culture looks very different. A person’s word is rarely fully trusted even when it is actually fully trustworthy.

In a culture where selfishness and greed seem to dominate, a fog of mistrust covers almost every relationship at least to some degree. Unfortunately, that’s because not keeping a commitment is almost acceptable, or at least not protested much.

Instead of accepting this cultural trend, let’s build trust in a way that can be a catalyst for change. Let’s be examples of trustworthy commitment with regard to work, family and faith.

Work Commitment

For children and teens, work means their effort in sports and school. For adults, commitment to work may involve a job, but it includes other areas like volunteering too.

Commitment to work, really, means fully giving the effort needed to accomplish a task to the best of one’s ability. It involves the following core principles:

  • Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.
  • Do what you know is right. You only control yourself and no one else.

Be someone others can depend upon regardless of whether or not others are reliable.

Family Commitment

Family commitment revolves more around connection than activity. In fact, over-commitment to activity actually works against connection.

Commitment to family involves letting go of self and entering into a habitual preferring of others not out of obligation but out of love. It also means bringing the best of yourself to every situation.

Commitment to family also involves placing a spouse above others (yes, even kids). Remember, this is the one earthly relationship that most closely relates to the relationship we are to have with Christ.

Faith Commitment

Commitment to faith in Christ surrounds and permeates all other areas of commitment. How a person commits to the call of Christ on their life determines how commitment exists in every other area, including family and work.

We also must remember that faith is not yet another commitment to be balanced. Instead, faith in Christ is the scale that balances all other areas.

Consider the following when evaluating your commitment to Christ. How do your answers reflect your commitment in all areas of life?

  • Are you willing and ready to arise and be His voice, whatever and wherever?
  • Has Christ won your heart? If He truly has, are you running after Him and following His lead?
  • Would you lay down your life for Christ? What are you willing to sacrifice for Him?
  • Have you committed fully to the Lord? Are you allowing Him to pour you out as He sees fit?
  • How has Christ’s love changed you? Will you go and be where He wants? Do what He wants?
  • Will you follow the path He chooses and leads you down?

Answering these questions not only determines how your commitment plays out in the areas of faith, work and family, but it also determines the character with which you live your whole life.

Complete Commitment

We live in a culture where keeping commitments seems optional more often than not. However, while we are in this culture, we don’t have to be of this culture.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

As we commit more fully to Christ and increasingly give our lives to Him, commitments in other areas of our lives become more complete too. While we may live in a culture where selfishness is rampant, we must continually remind ourselves that we do not belong to the world. We belong to a Savior who deserves our complete and total commitment.

 

Unbroken Perseverance

Unbroken

Toward the end of the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini is again being tortured by a Japanese prison camp officer. This man, known as “The Bird,” took a special interest in Louis.

Even after Louis broke his ankle, The Bird forces him to hold a railroad beam above his shoulders. The Bird ordered Louis shot if he dropped it.

When Louis’ strength waned after a half hour holding the beam, something clicked inside of him. His eyes gained a look of focused persistence, he took a new grip on the beam, and then he pushed it up as high as he could.

The rest of the POWs watched as The Bird falls to his knees with the realization that no matter what he does, he cannot break Louis.

Perseverance

This scene reminds me of the instructions the writer of Hebrews gives after talking about how God disciplines those He loves.

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12)

Scripture speaks in many places about perseverance. It even tells of the benefit believers gain from it.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

Perseverance also plays a significant role in our individual spiritual growth. It serves as critical in our progress toward what God promises.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Responsibility

Our perseverance isn’t only for our benefit though. After being told to take a new grip, stand firm and mark a straight path, the writer of Hebrews tells us our endurance also sets an example for others.

“Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.” (Hebrews 12:13)

We simply cannot live with just our own survival in mind. Others — our kids, spouses, friends, family, coworkers — see and follow our example. We have a responsibility to show them how to follow Christ.

This responsibility exists in our daily lives as we faithful serve Him. It exists when we refuse to let distractions consume us. And, it exists in the trials that would pull us into the muck and mire if we fail to take a new grip.

We fulfill that responsibility when we stand, even if on shaky legs, and focus our attention on Christ. We set an example when we follow that straight path regardless of what life sends our way. As we choose to persevere no matter what, others follow our example. In doing so, they discover new strength for their own efforts to persevere.

Awareness of Trust

Awareness of Trust

Seems like trust always stays in our awareness in some form. From trust with the media and politicians to trusting with friends and family, it’s something we don’t give a lot of thought to until it’s damaged in some way.

Paul J. Zak in The Neuroscience of Trust, says this regarding trust in the workplace:

“In my research I’ve found that building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference. Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.”

Zak’s assessment of trust in the workplace seems to fit well with trust everywhere else too. Trust increases the good in our lives, especially with regard to our relationships.

Over the years, I’ve given a good deal of attention to the topic of trust. I thought it was time to bring all of those posts together into one place for anyone wanting to delve into how trust exists in their own lives.

I trust these posts will help you in your efforts to increase the happiness and decrease the stress in your life as you work toward greater trust in your relationships.

Healthy Holidays & Beyond

For many people, the holidays mean overwhelm and overload. From shopping and family pressures to expectations of joy from self and others to eating too much and staying up too late, the holidays certainly can wear on a person.

Will this year be any different?

Or, will an underlying melancholy Blue JOY Ornamentonce 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.

I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays. Yet, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Focus Determines Reality

The holidays have aGreen JOY ornament way of reminding us of strained and failed relationships. We must face these while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink. 

Within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will fade in the coming weeks. When it does, we’re once again left feeling lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different. At the same time, you know deep down it likely won’t.

Admitting these yearly struggles is the first step in obtaining victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year! This year, I’m going to change my focus.”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentLet’s journey toward moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year. Perhaps it will even butt up with these same confessions  and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them this time next year.

This journey requires addressing physical struggles. It involves setting goals.  The journey also traverses through relationships and takes a look at spiritual health.

The following posts are meant to help make that journey successful:

This year can be different than past years. Change begins with a single step and becomes increasingly secure with each additional step. These small steps add up over time to make a huge difference. Choose to take that first step today.

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Depression During the Winter Months

The Pain of Change

Depression used to be my standard operating system. It existed like an evil best friend I knew was bad for me but who also held together my destructive comfort zone. Strange how we’ll stay in poor habits just because they’re comfortable, isn’t it?

depression-1

Gradually, I divorced this evil friend and found freedom from depression. I’ve lived outside of the pit for many years now. Yet, I still find myself occasionally gazing back into its miry depths. More than other times of the year, battling depression during the winter months is especially difficult.

Why Depression Intensifies in Winter

Part of the reason for this occasional visit seems to be that depression impacts so many people. It’s simply impossible to avoid altogether.

depression-2

Another part of the reason is that many of the elements leading to depression seem to converge and intensify during the winter months. Here are just a few that make depression in the winter months intensify.

depresison-3

Then there’s the uniqueness of the holidays. They take us out of our normal routines. They present us with seemingly endless sweet and savory opportunities. We essentially let our guards down, and that’s all the opening depression needs to gain a foothold once again.

Refuse to Let Depression Win

The sooner you can reestablish that guard, the less damage depression can do during the winter months. In fact, you can actually more than just get through them — you can enjoy and celebrate them.

But this is so difficult to do all on your own. I know I simply cannot remain victorious over depression without help from others. A lot of others.

On Struggle to Victory, you’ll find a great deal written about depression. As hard as I’ve tried, I cannot separate myself from it because it played such a large role in shaping the person I am today. My prayer is that my experiences can help you or someone you love find victory too.

You can click on the Depression category along the right side of any page and find many posts related to overcoming depression. Also, I’ve listed several below that you may find especially helpful with depression during the winter months.

Refuse to give up the fight. Refuse to let depression win. The best tip I can give in that effort is to simply not quit. Persevere. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. I pray that the resources I offer here can help you or someone you love continue doing just that, especially when depression during the winter months seems inescapable.

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

waiting-lineWaiting in line. Waiting for dinner. Waiting for a train. Waiting for a package to arrive.

Waiting for test results. Waiting for your teen to get home. Waiting for guests to arrive.

Waiting for a phone call. Waiting for a headache to subside. Waiting for the storm to stop.

Waiting for coffee to brew. Waiting for an answer. Waiting for the light to turn green.

Waiting for your turn. Waiting for your flight. Waiting to hear about that job.

Growing impatience. Growing boredom. Time slows to a crawl. Sometimes fear sets in.

Maybe Tom Petty had it right when he sang…

“The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith; you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.”

Why is waiting so difficult for most people?

wait-2Because waiting feels like it serves no purpose.

Because it seems like a waste of time.

Because we hate that we can’t control the situation.

Because it often comes with an unknown outcome.

Because we don’t want to miss out on anything.

Because we really don’t have to wait for much anymore.

Our on-demand culture certainly emphasizes the futility of waiting, of having everything “Your Way Right Away.” After all, we run full tilts on instant messages, fast food and push notifications. Unfortunately, waiting and getting what we want right away all the time only hacks away at our ability for patience in every area of life.

“The need for round-the-clock connection not only makes people more impatient, it also robs them of time for quiet reflection or deeper, more critical thinking. They tend to want constant stimulation, have less impulse control and get distracted more easily.” (Instant Gratification & Its Dark Side by Ronald Aslop)

My family went on a Caribbean cruise last spring. We turned off our phones and locked them in our room safe for the 10-day cruise as soon as we got on board. Many cruisers did not but instead opted to pay the significant fees for limited cell phone access. If a Caribbean cruise can’t lure someone away from the always-connected pace of life, might there be a significant problem at play?

We all know someone like this, right? We get frustrated when they can’t seem to part with their phone, when they pause a face-to-face conversation to have a virtual one. We easily recognize the vanishing effort to slow down our fast-paced, ever-connected lives to spend time simply breathing and thinking and existing… in others anyway.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Do they really? If this is true, why don’t more people seek to develop patience and their ability to wait? Why do they allow their impatience to drive them? Why do they let technology constantly drive their gratification in every area of life? Why do they think they need success in short order rather than after hard work and long-term effort?

Can we admit that sometimes, this “they” we’re talking about could be our kids, our spouse and maybe even ourselves? Can we see that instant has tainted — maybe even ruined — our ability to patiently wait?

If we take just a few moments, better yet an afternoon or a day, to let go of instant, I think we’ll realize that when we get whatever it is we want right away, we’re never really satisfied because there’s always more to want and have. If we take longer, say a week or more of vacation — a slow-paced one, not a frantic, see-everything one — and limit or eliminate instant as much a possible in our lives, we might discover a part of ourselves longing to get out more.

Learning to Wait Again

manikin-1154431-1599x1832Read a book. Make meals from scratch. Take walks without your phone; let it play dead. Play games. Talk. Look people in the eye. Ask questions, then really listen.

At first you’ll likely feel the itch to get back to instant. Resist the urge. Refuse to give in. Your patience has been dormant a while and may need time to stretch before it can move about again. As time passes, you’ll discover that simplicity, quiet reflection and critical thinking offer something you’ve longed for unaware. You’ll see that real connection happens face-to-face. And you might even create a desire for a less-instant life, one that comes only when pursued.

Learn to slow down and wait again. Teach yourself how to enjoy every moment. Let life’s pace decrease, so you can discover the good that comes through waiting and patience.

What small steps can you take toward less instant life today? What results do you hope to see in the pursuit of learning to wait?

More Than Meets the Eye

handicappedThat driver in front of you going what you deem as too slow, taking what you think is too long at stop signs, the one you zipped around at that 4-way stop while honking your horn… He’s a 15-year-old who just got his learning permit and is out practicing his driving.

That boss who seems overly sensitive and picky, who never seems satisfied with your work… She’s overwhelmed by her own mounting workload, plus the pressures of family to be at every little event are just wearing on her. She’s also not sleeping well.

That man who parked in a handicapped spot… Sure, he has a handicapped sticker, but he looks basically healthy except for being somewhat overweight… His asthma gets so bad so quickly sometimes that he needs to keep his car and medications as close by as possible just in case.

When someone snaps at you to get moving, when someone “ignores” you at the store, even when someone doesn’t return a text, instead of reacting and being offended or hurt, consider that…

There’s often more to a situation than meets the eye. There’s usually so much more you do not – and will never – know about a person and their situation.

What appears as reality is often either not accurate or only part of the story. After all, not only is there much we don’t know, but we’re pretty good at infusing our assumptions into another person’s life, aren’t we? On the reverse of that, we’re also pretty good at covering up reality and painting a pretty picture over the decay. Selfishness and insecurity seem to always so cloud our vision that we simply cannot see accurately.

Since we just don’t know so much information, what can we do? How can we positively interact with others when they just seem against us at times?

  • Give the benefit of the doubt. There’s likely a lot more going on than you know.
  • Assume the best you can, not the worst that usually comes automatically.
  • Pray for them. You may not know, but God does.

What’s more, how can we overcome our assumptions and selfishness and instead see the good? Since we never fully know a situation — nor should we always know since some things are simply none of our business — let’s purpose to let Philippians 4:8 direct how we think about and view others.

“Whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

How does this verse and the three suggestions above change how you view others?

Anticipation

vacation-planning-1524450-1600x1200Pleasurable Anticipation

Anticipation can be pleasurable expectation or filled with apprehension. It involves contemplation and hope, and it serves to create a foresight or foretaste of future events. While anticipation can be positive or negative, let’s focus on the pleasurable side of anticipation today.

Just like memories allow reliving of events and the joy they brought, anticipation presents the opportunity for enjoying events even before they take place. Yet, too often, we get so caught up in the details of planning that we forget to enjoy the process. For anticipate to hold pleasure, we need to learn to enjoy the process.

When planning events gets in the way of the pleasurable anticipation, it’s time to step back. Maybe feeling uptight and anxious about an upcoming event means over-planning and considering every contingency have added unnecessary complexity and simplifying your approach is needed.

I’m certainly not suggesting a lack of planning. Anyone who knows me much at all knows I would never say such a thing. What I am saying is that I do know that failure to enjoy the process not only results in missing out on a lot of joy but also creates a lot of tension and stress.

For me, truly anticipating means not doing everything myself. When my family prepares for a vacation together — or any other event, really — the joy of the event multiplies. We get to enjoy planning the event, connecting during it, and reliving the memories for years afterward.

Involving others has truly allowed me to enjoy planning and thus enjoy anticipating many of life’s events. If only I’d have had this mindset before planning my wedding many years ago, before so many of my kids’ birthday parties and even during times spent planning for something as simple as a cookout with a few friends.

As I considered how my over-planning and worrying about “what ifs” use to constantly impede pleasurable anticipation, the Holy Spirit led me to also ask how anticipation exists in my relationship with the Lord. My discoveries revealed yet another area needing some pruning.

A Christian’s Anticipation

The Bible says Christians should anticipate the day of the Lord’s coming by choosing to live for him now.

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say and prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed (compensated) for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

It also tells us to praise God in our anticipation of what He will do because of what He has already done.

“It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation…” (1 Peter 1:3)

Unfortunately, my walk with the Lord has not always been one of pleasurable anticipation. Rather, it has been one of “hold me up, Lord,” “please fix this,” and “I can’t take it anymore.” While those are not bad pleas in and of themselves and the Lord wants us to cry out to Him in our need, they only just skim the surface of what having a relationship with Christ means.

That relationship doesn’t just mean leaning on Him for help in troubled and stressful times, but it also means soaring with Him in victory and anticipation of His fulfilled promises yet to come because of what He has already done through Christ.

No matter what happens this side of Heaven, we can expect greater things to come when we enter eternity. No matter how low the valley or high the mountaintop, a Christian’s future exists as one of pleasurable anticipation for greater things to come both in this life and in the next.

Living with this anticipation of the Lord should alter our daily lives because we know what God has done, can see what He’s doing, and have promises to hold on to that tell us what to anticipate from Him in the future.

DISCUSSION: Do you eagerly anticipate events such as vacations? Or, do you dread them because of all the work and planning involved? How can you learn to enjoy the process? Do you anticipate the Lord’s activity in your life? If not, how can you better enjoy the process He’s leading you through?

The Best Lessons from a Track Meet

track 1Track meets provide a unique perspective on being the best. At one meet, a runner can get the best time and win a race only to find himself less than the best at the next meet even if he runs the same time as in the previous meet.

Then there’s the idea of a personal best. Regardless of time in comparison to other runners, running a personal record (PR) trumps overall place and time. Even the slowest runner at a meet relishes the idea of a personal best.

Also consider the idea that the best in one race, say a 400 meter (once around the track) may very well fail to be the best in a sprint (shorter than a 400 meter) or in a 3,200 meter (8 times around track). In other words, the best in one race usually won’t be the best in every race.

track 2We tell our son, “We’re happy when you do your best,” whatever that might be on any given day. We remind him that his best will vary from day to day too. If he gets a personal record, we need not remind him of this. But when he struggles, like all of us do, he needs reminded of how best fluctuates but always remains the goal of the day.

The best involves giving all you have to the task at hand. It doesn’t mean living for chance but combining chance with preparation. Weather can impact your best, other runners can impact your best, even the crowd may impact your best. But your preparation, good or bad and sufficient or not, exists as an element you can control, and it also significantly impacts your best.

Best also never means that better isn’t possible, first because best varies from day to day and second because the element of growth always leaves open the possibility of a new best. The key, then, lies in progress over perfection.

Strive for the best.

Be your best.

Prepare for the best.

Appreciate the best.

Push beyond the best.

Progress over perfection.

DISCUSSION: Do you always strive for your best, whatever that is on any given day? If not, what needs to change for this to happen?