The Mark of Love

Human Maturity

Human maturity involves independence and self care. It involves taking responsibility for commitments. It also means refusing to make excuses and to instead always strive for our best.

As a parent, one of my goals has always been to teach my boys to become independent. I want them to know how to take care of themselves and to be responsible in a well-rounded way. This is the essence of human maturity.

Recently, my husband had to remind me of this goal when I expressed discouragement over my boys needing me less and less every day. My sadness about their pulling away from me became quite heavy one day, and he said…

“Remember, that’s always been our goal.”

Like independence is important in our development as humans, learning dependence on Jesus and His Holy Spirit is even more so in our spiritual maturity.

Spiritual Maturity

Unfortunately, I don’t think I taught my boys the idea of spiritual maturity very well, probably because I’m still learning it myself. And largely because dependence goes against the human part of me that desires to be in control.

“Spiritual maturity is counter to human maturity.” (December 20th, Live Dead Joy by Dick Brogden)

Spiritual maturity involves dependence on God and allowing him to actively care for us. It involves waiting patiently for him to unfold his will and then moving fully into it. Spiritual maturity also means continually acknowledging our weaknesses and realizing we can only be our best under His grace and mercy.

“Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.” (Hebrews 6:1)

Moving forward in spiritual maturity brings growth that obviously lies beyond any we could obtain on our own.

The Mark of Love

Spiritual growth becomes obvious to ourselves and others through one indelible mark.

“Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)

If we only mature in a human sense, we become increasingly self-serving and defiantly independent. But, if we also mature spiritually, we live in humble obedience seen through the mark of love on our lives.

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.

Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

Playing to Win Instead of Playing to Not Lose

winPlaying to Not Lose

Sports commentators often discuss how teams need to decide to “play to win” instead of simply “playing to not lose.” In football, it’s the difference between going for a field goal or a touchdown. In a high school cross country race, it’s about racing the course and other competitors instead of focusing on running how you feel.

The difference between playing to win instead of playing to not lose? Usually, a mediocre and a winning record.

A playing-to-not-lose mindset involves being driven by fears and protecting what you have. It means reacting to others, essentially letting them decide your game plan, and not taking risks.

As Christians, playing to not lose looks like John’s description of the Laodicean church in Revelation as “lukewarm.” It’s the third worker in Matthew’s parable of the bags of gold. And it’s the person who refrains from the “don’ts” but neglects the “do’s” on Paul’s many lists in the New Testament.

Playing to not lose as a Christian involves just getting by. It strives to simply avoid any bad results. Eventually, the surrounding culture consumes such a person until no one can tell he is even a Christian.

winner

Playing to Win

Scripture directly addresses the idea of playing to win and connects it with our pursuit of righteousness.

“Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Many habits exist with the playing-to-win mindset. Three jump out as foundational.

Seize Opportunity

Over his high school cross country career, my oldest son learned to race smart. His coach taught him how to put himself in the best position to take advantage of opportunity. The result? My son reached most of his goals, including winning a race and receiving All County and All Region honors.

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Christians put themselves in the best position to seize opportunity when they first make sure the opportunity is God-ordained. Similar to training for a runner, this comes through daily habits. Prayer, Scripture and being Spirit-led set us up to know when God-ordained opportunity approaches and allows us to make the most of them without hesitation.

Also, we need to make sure not to miss God-ordained opportunity because we’re so focused on the forest we don’t see the trees. In other words, we too often miss everyday, small opportunities because we only look for the monumental ones.

Take a look at your daily habits and at whether or not you’ve set your vision too broad. If opportunity seems to regularly miss you, adjust your vision and your habits accordingly.

Work Hard & Stay Humble

A significant aspect of working hard, which sets us up to take advantage of God-ordained opportunity, involves humility. Without both hard work and humility, we’re likely to either not be ready for opportunity or be too self-focused to see it.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

Successful teams – the ones that win championships, not just games – consist of humble players. The victory is all that matters. Credit doesn’t. Who gets the ball doesn’t. At the same time, these humble players work hard to make sure the team as a whole wins. It’s the same as the “All In” mentality that won the New York Giants the 2012 Super Bowl.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

As Christians, working hard and staying humble means pleasing God over men. It means preferring others and pointing them to Christ. And it means rejoicing when others win victories over sin and Satan. That mentality involves whole-hearted service and valuing relationship.

Focus

Inherent within every element involved in playing to win is focus.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui Gon-Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

In sports, commentators and analysts regularly talk about the importance of focus, whether because of its absence or its role in victory. In everyday life, focus plays an essential role as well, but we often don’t realize it until it’s absent. Simply consider The Toxic Impact of Multitasking to understand how significant loss of focus has become for most people.

The Old Testament as a whole gives us a poignant picture of focus too. It shows a steady and passionate God juxtaposed with wandering and fickle men. Story after story shows men losing focus and God drawing them back to Him.

As Christians, we are either God focused, or we’re not. There is no gray area. No other options.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Choosing simplicity helps us regain our focus. When we let go of the things of this life and focus on the eternal God, we gain a laser focus on that which lasts forever.

These three foundation habits – sizing opportunity, working hard and staying humble, and focusing – found in every person who plays to win, create A Higher Standard that sets a person apart.

Struggle to Victory by Crushing Doubts

Note: I am participating in the writing contest “Writers Crushing Doubt,” hosted by Positive Writer.” This post is my entry for that contest.

Crushing doubts

Overwhelmed. Overlooked. Taken for granted. Words that defined how I saw myself. A reality I accepted all too easily as truth.

In this reality, I blamed myself for failed dreams, fear and nonexistent motivation. The struggle simply weighed too heavily, and I looked for reasons to quit.

This struggle describes two areas that define so much of who I am. Chronic depression exists as a lens through which I see the world, and writing serves to give that perspective an outlet that heals rather than destroys.

Depression almost ended me on more than one occasion. Writing served as a deterrent, an outlet and escape, almost every time. Until one day it didn’t. On that day, they merged into a mental monster that almost wrote the end of the story.

When depression became the reason I wrote and and writing rarely existed outside of it, the struggle with overwhelm, lost motivation and self doubt consumed me. Feeling constantly outside of others’ reality increased my fears of rejection and became my operating system.

When adding more activity and looking to please others failed to bring any relief, the weight of each step grew even heavier. Alone in a crowd. Looking for respite of any sort. None came until I made a choice to see it.

Refusing to be consumed by this reality comes as a daily choice. A choice to allow my struggles to be a part of who I am but to not let them direct my steps. Instead of fear over what others might think of me because of my struggle with depression or how they judge what I write outside of what feels comfortable, I decided to let the desire to cage the monster through writing be my focus.

Coupled with encouragement from those who struggle with me, writing became the medium through which I could not only defeat depression but help others do the same. Likewise, defeating depression has become the focus leading me through the procrastination and fear that too often come with writing.

Overwhelmed. Overlooked. Taken for granted. Real struggles with depression and writing alike. Pushing through. Persevering. Doing so because it matters to me. This allows me to overcome the daily struggle that would otherwise consume me. I determine the path to take because the struggle to victory means goals come within reach and doubts are crushed.

DISCUSSION: What doubts do you crush as you struggle toward victory in your life?

10 Character Building Lessons from Baseball

20160330_184712Baseball never fell on my radar let alone my schedule until my youngest son started playing little league. Since then, he’s played several years of travel baseball and now finds himself on the high school stage with JV baseball.

Regardless of the level of play, basic character building principles are inherent in the game of baseball. Advice shouted by coaches and parents on how to best play the game correlate well with how to live a life of excellence.

  1. Get dirty! While this may be a mother’s laundry nightmare, getting dirty in baseball generally means a player went “all out” to make a play. Sometimes in life, we need to “get dirty” in order to make a real difference.
  2. Make a play! Making a play can change the momentum of a game. When we find ourselves feeling stuck, sometimes the only way to break free is to do something out of the ordinary.
  3. Keep your eye on the ball! One of the most common mistakes in baseball comes when a player takes his eyes off the ball. When we lose focus, making progress and achieving goals becomes difficult at best and often impossible.
  4. Shake it off! While hopefully less common as the season progresses, mistakes do happen. Someone inevitably drops the ball or strikes out. The best approach when we make a mistake is to admit it, learn from it, and move on. Don’t let it snowball.
  5. 20160330_185001Down & ready! Some of the most embarrassing moments in a baseball game come when a player isn’t ready and sees a ball too late to stop it because he failed to pay attention. Life continually throws unexpected struggles at us, but many trials in life also come as surprises simply because we weren’t paying attention.
  6. Everybody moves! When the ball is hit, every player needs to move accordingly. Sometimes, just going in the right direction is all we need to do to move toward excellence.
  7. Put it in play! Hitting a baseball is probably the hardest task in all of sports, and a professional player who gets a hit half the time is considered productive. Simply putting the ball in play presents a solid chance at scoring. In life, some seasons are survived simply by putting yourself in play and seeing what happens.
  8. Get there! As fast as most players throw at higher levels of baseball, all out effort is required just to make it to first base. What would happen in your life if you gave all out effort?
  9. 20160423_122527Be a wall! One of the positions my son enjoys most is catcher. The catcher must stop every ball from getting by him to prevent base stealing. Hopefully, the mitt stops the ball, but often the catcher’s body must do it. Some seasons in life certainly require that we stand firm even as the hits of disappointment, fear and failure strike us one right after another.
  10. Smother it! Another phrase relating to catchers, this means covering the ball as it hits the ground in front of you. In life, some days come filled with needing to simply protect your time, your family and your faith. Some days, we just need to smother what’s important to keep it from getting away from us.

A teachable baseball player takes these foundational principles and builds on them in order to become a better player. Tommy Lasorda made the distinction this way…

“There are three types of baseball players. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.”

A person who realizes that baseball – actually, any sport – provides character building opportunity for a life of excellence, understands how watching or playing the sport really transcends the sport itself. The late, great Ernie Harwell brought the point home well when he said…

“Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”

Harwell’s quote brings Ephesians 5:16 to mind.

“Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.”

Opportunities such as the character building lessons discussed above exist in every sport and in many other activities. Are you making the most of them?

Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle?

5-15-13 cruise shipWhat is a cruise ship lifestyle?

Let’s look at the book of Isaiah for a succinct description.

“Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, nor do they consider the work of His hands.” (Isaiah 5:11-12)

The pursuit of strong drink? Check. Staying up late? Check. Lots of food and music? Yep, those too. Neglect of God? Unfortunately, seems prevalent. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you’ll recognize how Isaiah’ describes well what a cruise vacation looks like for most people.

Unfortunately, a cruise ship lifestyle seems to be becoming more commonplace as an overall lifestyle approach. But how might this look off a cruise ship? Since it would look different for every person, let me describe what it might look like in my own life if I did nothing to prevent it.

“Distress and affliction to she who gets up in the morning to pursue strong coffee because she stayed up too late the night before watching television. Her eating habits consist of potato chips and ice cream, and she does nothing but sit around and read novels all day long. She fails to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit wants her to do, and she completely ignores His direction on a regular basis. No exercise. No writing. No housework.”

Once I got rolling on how this lifestyle might look for me, I had to force myself to stop. And it was actually eye-opening for what could so easily happen should I fail to constantly renew my mind in a way that leads to a counter-cultural life directed by God’s Word.

While going on a cruise does not cause a permanent downward spiral away from a productive life, doing nothing to avoid this type of lifestyle will eventually lead one.

Preventing an Unproductive Life

Vacation Brain discusses the remedy of an unproductive life as being a renewing of the mind, and Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain helps create awareness of the power of these symptoms to disrupt life. And while renewing the mind certainly needs to be a refocusing tool, another approach involves preventing the symptoms in the first place.

Refocusing and preventing can help one live a productive life on a consistent, long-term basis.
Prior to going on our first cruise, my husband and I set several goals that, if achieved, would equal a successful vacation in our minds. Likewise, having life goals also helps prevent the cruise ship lifestyle from impacting our whole lives. At the same time, working consistently toward goals helps get the most out of every aspect of our lives.

Setting goals and constantly creating an awareness helps maintain focus. Goals provide a status check that helps prevent being sucked into culture and away from God.

cruise

Cruises Are Not Evil

Please know that I do not consider cruises to be evil. I have been on two of them and am currently planning a third. In fact, I believe cruises provide a great way to disconnect as a way to reconnect. They give dedicated time to completely relax and put life on hold for a while.

However, existing in an atmosphere where the desires of the flesh are catered to can be a dangerous place. This lifestyle can be so appealing that adapting at least parts of it into real life becomes increasingly easy the more one refuses to resist that culture.

One can adapt a cruise ship lifestyle without ever stepping foot on a boat. Our culture, on land or at sea, caters to the desires of the flesh. And if we do nothing to prevent it, those desires become our focus and will eventually derail us spiritually, mentally and physically.

DISCUSSION: What do you recommend to prevent drifting toward a cruise ship lifestyle?

Balanced Goal Setting

DiligentGoal setting has existed in a variety of shapes and sizes for me over the years. I’ve attempted what others have recommended, and some of it worked… sort of… for a little while anyway. In that, I’ve personally experienced great success as well as epic failures with goal setting.

Traditional goal setting— taught via books, classes and websites — has never worked well for me. Bits and pieces, have, but not any approach as a whole. Yet, I cannot give up trying. Something inside of me propels me toward backward and present assessment for the purpose of forward planning.

Scripture about being prepared like the ant (Proverbs 6:6-11), counting the cost (Luke 14:28) and preparing your field (Proverbs 24:27) dominate my thoughts when I think of goal setting. Scripture also touts the importance of diligence…

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5)

But there are also Scripture indicating a futility in goal setting.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:13-14)

Setting goals without a good dose of humility results in setting ourselves up not just for falling short of our goals but for not enjoying – not truly living in – the present process and moment.

The next verse in James 4 helps bring a balanced perspective to planning and goal setting.

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15)

Proverbs 16:9 further emphasizes this balance.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

This scripturally balanced perspective of goal setting gives me peace as I reflect backward and look forward because I can better see both the importance of setting goals and for leaving room for God to change my plans. Ultimately, this means His goals take precedence over mine.

To reach this balance, I find asking a couple questions to be quite helpful.

  • Do my goals make room for the unexpected?
  • Do I love God’s will more than my own?

The most effective mindset for goal setting involves having our own ideas and making our own plans but knowing God will ultimately accomplish His sovereign will.

DISCUSSION: Do you struggle with the idea of goal setting too? Does this more balanced way of thinking help in that struggle?

Are You Using A Broken Compass?

Compass 1In Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Jack Sparrow, and at times others too, uses what initially appears to be a broken compass to achieve his goals. Turns out, the compass points to what the holder wants most and not to true north, which means the person holding it must actually know what he wants in order for the compass to be of use.

At one point, the compass spins without fixing in one direction because Jack doesn’t know what he wants. The compass follows the holder’s heart, after all, so if the heart is confused, so too is the compass.

When I lose focus, I feel like I’m trying to follow a compass that spins in circles too. My path gets confused with too many options, and I don’t know which direction to take. Like Jack, I become lost in a vast, unending sea, sort of floating around in aimless frustration.

Lost and Wandering?

Compass 2“People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” (Amos 8:12)

“Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when he acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.” (Job 23:8-9)

“The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city.” (Ecclesiastes 10:15)

These Scriptures aptly describe life with a confused focus or “broken compass.” They also help us see why we remain unable to move forward in ways that matter for eternity when our compass spins uncontrollably.

  1. We never settle on God’s Word, and instead seek solutions elsewhere.
  2. We think God can’t see us just because we can’t see Him.
  3. We fail to fix our thoughts on Him and become increasingly confused.
  4. We get hung up on our ability to understand or figure God out.
  5. We become overwhelmed by the temporary cares of life this side of Heaven.

Though I stay in that wandering state less than I used too, it still happens way too often. Maybe you feel this same frustration too.

Only when we focus our hearts do we know the right direction to take. But how do we get that focus? Sometimes even more difficult, how do we keep that focus once we obtain it?

Healthy Goal Setting

 

New Years statsNew Year’s Resolution Statistics

All too often, setting goals or resolutions seem to set people up for failure and increased self-abasement. Consider the following statistics:

45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions.

8% of Americans succeed in keeping their resolutions.

24% never succeed in keeping their resolutions.

These statistics hold little encouragement or motivation for setting New Year’s resolutions. Now consider this related statistic:

People who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make them.

While the failure statistics speak loudly, a focus on the probability for success can determine the reality for meeting desired change. Increase your chances of success by setting resolutions that take steps toward a healthier you, that focus on whatever leads to more joy and that build and repair relationships.

Goal Setting Tips for A Healthier Year

Creating resolutions/goals significantly increases your chances for moving forward. But how you go about making and maintaining those goals has a huge impact on their chances for success.

Consider the following goal setting tips to help you move toward a healthier year.

  1. Pray first. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the goals that direct you down the path of God’s will for His glory. (Proverbs 16:9)
  2. Keep it simple. Simple may not necessarily mean easy, but it does mean more focused and true to who you are in Christ. Stay simple and specific with goal setting.
  3. Think small-steps. Never underestimate the power of small steps to add up over time to make a huge difference.
  4. Write them down. People are 42% more likely to achieve their goals just by writing them down.
  5. Pray often. Put your written goals somewhere you’re likely to run across them frequently. Pray over them every time you do.

Ask yourself what reality you want to struggle toward this next year. Remember too that a reality of true joy and one where truth determines focus lies at the heart of a struggle that truly leads to victory.

 Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

Recommendation: The Adrenal Fatigue Solution

Related to the post Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond, this “extra” post offers a terrific resource for achieving your health goals. With that…

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/09/07/how-to-combat-stress-from-adrenal-fatigue/Several years ago, I experienced a physical, mental and spiritual crash and burn. While I’d had mental and spiritual struggles in the past, this was my first significant battle with all three at once and, most significantly, with a severe physical crash. This “crash” included multiple medical issues, severe digestive problems, significant sleep struggles, and inability to cope with any level of stress. Adding the element of struggling physically to my mental and spiritual struggles nearly sent me to the point of no return.

AFS SymptomsAfter much research and study along with many, many doctor visits as well as no small amount of dead ends and frustration, I discovered a couple of diagnosis to contend with if I were to become healthy again. One of those diagnosis – and likely the most significant – was adrenal fatigue syndrome (AFS).

The Adrenal Fatigue SolutionAt the time, no single and easy-to-understand and use resource existed to give me advice on how to recover from this syndrome. My answers came through a large variety of resources, all of which came only after days and months of my own research and asking questions. I wish I had had a resource like “The Adrenal Fatigue Solution” by Fawne Hansen.

The Adrenal Fatigue Solution” gives solid information on what adrenal fatigue is and how to heal from it. The book starts by explaining some necessary medical terms and then moves into giving very practical advice for healing from AFS.

Don’t skip the first half even though the terms may be difficult to grasp initially. My experience has found that knowing these terms helps tremendously in healing because, over time, you develop a more detailed knowledge of what’s happening in your body. This comes in handy when doing follow-up research and talking with medical professionals. In this respect, knowledge truly is power.

I could go on about how the information in this book is helpful, but I’ll simply say this: If you suffer from constant fatigue, high levels of stress and sleep problems, The Adrenal Fatigue Solution will help you regardless of whether or not you receive an official AFS diagnosis. And at just $19, it’s well-worth the cost simply for the time it will save you in having to research this information on your own. In addition, the book’s web site and blog offer a tremendous amount of helpful information.

DISCUSSION: Feel free to ask any questions about AFS or any stress-related issues you may be having.

Note: I did receive a free PDF copy of The Adrenal Fatigue Solution but was not required, only requested, to provide a review.