Discovering Strength Through Brokenness

broken In 2009, I discovered my allergy to dairy and my intolerance to gluten. Sensitivities to several other foods (crab, eggs and cashews) also came to light. As I changed my diet to eliminate these foods, I began to feel dramatically better. In fact, I felt better physically and mentally than I had my whole life.

Then I reached a plateau about two years later. I felt a tremendous sense of isolation as well as frustration as I watched others enjoy any food they desired. I saw only limits. I saw a cage that separated me from others. My frustration increased as I realized that my body is also tremendously sensitive to a lot of stimulation.

In fact, inflammation rises at the slightest chemical imbalance. Too much of any food causes distress, but any of certain foods causes setback. In addition, a lot of noise bothers me, and too much information in too small space of time easily impedes my ability to think. I also struggle being in groups of people for very long, sometimes even at all.

At times, I’m simply at odds with understanding why I am so physically and mentally sensitive. Some days, I just feel very alone. But, this journey also brings to light my many physical and mental limitations and weaknesses and gives greater understanding of how God’s strength flow in a practical way through my weaknesses.

In this struggle, I learned a valuable lesson: Freedom comes through brokenness revealed by weaknesses.

Realizing utter helplessness to be healthy on my own truly set me free. The process began with salvation and seeing my inability to escape the grip of sin. And it grew when I finally understood that every weakness I have presents an opportunity for increased freedom from the flesh.

My weaknesses humble me. They force me to understand my inability to control. They lead me to increased reliance upon the only One who truly has control. They present a choice between letting those weaknesses define and control me or allowing them to direct me toward His strength.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My weaknesses constantly remind me of my need for Christ. They remind me every day of my lack of self-control and of my tendency toward acting based on feelings and emotion. Without Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit producing the fruit of self-control within me, I fall prey to the consequences of my weaknesses.

Brokenness opens the floodgates for His power to work perfection in spite of me. It allows for a Holy-Spirit-led life that does not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), desires that most clearly show through in my weaknesses. And this by nothing in and of myself but instead only through His strength filling in the spaces left by brokenness.

DISCUSSION: How has weakness led to brokenness in your life? What difference does God’s strength make in your struggle with weakness?

Depression Series

DEPRESSIONRecently, 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, the conversation is divided into five conversations. Here’s the link to the first one, the second one and the third one. I believe Bill’s plans are to publish the remaining to in the next two weeks.

Please take a few minutes to visit Cycle Guy’s Spin to read my depression series along with Bill’s others posts which are always thought-provoking. Thank you, Bill, for this opportunity to share a very personal story. I believe God will do amazing things with our connection!

Guest Post: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

Today’s guest post comes from Chris Peek. Chris blogs at Trail Reflections where he offers content that encourages leaders to discover their life mission, live with intention, pursue adventure, and become fully alive. Chris’ posts offer creative insights and new ways of examining life, our callings, the Christian journey, and relationships. 

Also be sure to check out Chris’ new book Blaze Your Own Trail.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

Back in October, my wife and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary by taking a cruise to the Bahamas. During the final moments before departure, I took a photo of the ship’s main deck and posted it to Facebook with the caption, “Let’s go cruisin’!”

no phoneIt was the last time I would be connected to the outside world for six days. Sure, I could have paid the cruise line’s exorbitant fee just to check email, Facebook, and the web, but why did I need to? We were sailing in the open seas surrounded by crystal blue waters, headed toward magnificent tropical destinations.

Since most of my fellow cruisers were also unwilling to undergo voluntary highway robbery in order to stay connected, a most unusual thing happened. People stayed present in the moment. Strangers spoke to strangers. In turn, strangers quickly became friends.

Nearly every night at dinner, my wife and I made conversation with the new faces at surrounding tables. While lounging on the deck, we engaged with people. In addition, we made a point to nightly stop by the photography area just to talk with our new photographer friends cruise line employees from all over the globe, including South Africa, India, and Serbia.

Even today, we’ve maintained contact with a few of our cruise friends through the magic of Facebook.

After a week at sea, it hit me. This is way life is supposed to be. God designed us for community and to experience life right in front of us.

Social media cannot replace in-person interactions and the deep satisfaction we receive by being in the company of friends and family. When kept in proper balance, social media offers a number of incredible opportunities. Unfortunately, our constant connection with the outside world has a dark side, as well.

First, the bad and the ugly. Social media…

  1. Tends to dominate our time when we fail to place boundaries around its usage.
  2. Harms the relationships right in front of us when we lose sight of its importance. We dishonor those in our presence when we are consumed with checking our phones instead of engaging in conversation.
  3. Lends itself toward shallow connections. Many of the online discussions center around mundane topics, such as conversation about tonight’s dinner menu or the latest bathroom mirror selfie.
  4. Morphs into junior high all over again. People claiming over 2,000 “friends?!” Anthropologist Robin Dunbar of the famed Dunbar’s number has spent countless years researching human relationships. His work has consistently shown that we are designed to maintain about 150 meaningful relationships, a far cry from the thousands of people many boast as “friends” and “followers” on social media channels.
  5. Is often poorly utilized as a marketing tool. Some folks are simply in the social media game to promote themselves and their products without first taking time to develop relationships.

Now, the good. Social media…

  1. Offers a bridge to real relationship. While it is difficult to get to know friends at the heart level through social media, we are often able to obtain a glimpse of who they are. Hopefully, we take some of those friendships beyond Facebook and Twitter. One of the greatest pleasures I have had in recent years has been connecting with several online friends in the real world.
  2. Provides a convenient means to permanently maintain established relationships. Never before have we had such an incredible opportunity to stay connected and build lifelong friendships, even through the shifting seasons of life.
  3. Allows us to build connections around shared ideas, values, and passions. We live in extraordinary technological days. As a result, we have the opportunity to connect with people we likely would have never met otherwise. In fact, I originally connected with some of my closest friends through social media.
  4. Leads to the deepening of a few friendships. I have held some of the most meaningful conversations of my life online, especially through commenting on blogs. The key is to find people who are also out to build real friendships and virtually surround yourself with positive influences.

No matter how ingrained social media becomes in our culture, the medium can never replace the handshake between business associates, the eye contact across the dinner table, a shoulder to cry on, and the bear hug between best friends. However, if we engage it properly, our use of social media can lead us into an ongoing season of developing and enriching our relationships.

DISCUSSION: What other good, bad, and ugly aspects have you found within the world of social media?

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on my virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

Children & Stress

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

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

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

Biblical Parenting_scriptureSpecific Kid-Sources of Stress

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

An Immediate Response

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

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

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

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

A Biblical ResponseTitus 2

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

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

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

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

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

Dress for Success in Relationships

494936_88709934While my13-year-old may not always, hopefully most of us put on clean clothing regularly. Feeling clean and fresh often motivates in a positive direction for the day ahead. In fact, one of the main suggestions for recovery from depression involves showering and putting on clean clothes every day.

Wearing clothing appropriate for the situation is also important. I won’t exercise in a dress, and I don’t wear my exercise clothes to church. Also, consider the fact that students often perform better on tests when they dress up. Appropriateness in what we wear impacts how we feel about ourselves and shows the importance we place on an activity.

Another example involves getting new clothes, which often revives a stale season of life. Most women (along with their husbands) understand that a new piece of clothing can brighten a woman’s day.

While these changes of clothing are temporary, many seek long-term happiness in changing what they wear physically. In reality, though, our physical clothing has limited impact on our long-term reality.

New Nature Clothing

Our spiritual clothing works in similar ways to our physical clothing, but it holds far greater and more long-term impact. In fact, when our internal clothing reflects that of our new nature in Christ, we discover an eternal perspective that transforms our living, growing and connecting.

Consider how, based on Colossians 3, our new nature clothing impacts us not only individually but also in every relationship.

  • New nature clothing represents a growing knowledge of Christ. (v. 10)
  • The right spiritual clothing creates peace that rules the heart. (v. 15)
  • Style and social position don’t matter with new nature clothing. (v. 11)
  • Continued thankfulness renews & refreshes the “outfit.” (vv. 15-17)
  • Love completes the “look,” bringing unity to the whole “outfit.” (v. 14)

We don’t make our own clothing much anymore but instead have to purchase what we want to wear. Our new nature clothing was also purchased and not something we make on our own. Only through Christ do we have this “clothing” to wear. And not only did He purchase this clothing for us, it never wears out… it never needs replaced.

Renewed

Renewal & Relationships

So how does this continued renewal of our new natures by the spiritual clothing we put on impact our relationships? Our new nature clothing affects the atmosphere of the inner self which then creates the pervading mood that others see and that governs our relationships. In other words, how we dress our hearts determines how we live out love through our relationships.

Relationships provide the opportunity to express the love that our relationship with Christ generates. Only when we clothe ourselves in the new nature clothing of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, forgiveness, thankfulness and love that only come through knowing Jesus do we then have a demeanor that serves to positively cultivate New Nature Relationships.

DISCUSSION: How does your new nature clothing impact your relationships?

3 Ways to Reduce Busyness & Discover Simplicity

busyToo busy?

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

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

Why are you so busy?busyness

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

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

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

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

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

Trapped in busyness?

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

busy 2Reduce Busyness and Discover Simplicity

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

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

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

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

Guest Post – Making the Most of Every Opportunity

Two exciting events are taking place today on Struggle to Victory.

First, the first guest post on this blog appears below and comes to us from Loren Pinilis at Life of a Steward. The mission of Life of a Steward is equipping God’s people to be good stewards of their time so that they may advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ and bring Him glory.” As this mission statement indicates, Life of a Steward focuses on Christian time management, and I encourage you to check out his blog posts and podcasts.

If you would like to guest post on Struggle to Victory, please read Recommendations and Guest Posts.

The second exciting event, is that this is the 100th POST on Struggle to Victory. The fact that Loren’s guest post happened to be the 100th post (and I did not schedule it that way… pure coincidence, if you believe in that sort of thing) is what I call a “God thing” because Loren truly got at why Struggle to Victory exists.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What images come to mind when you think about properly managing your time? How should a Christian view their time – and how should we live based on that view?

The scriptures speak of “redeeming the time” or, as other translations say, “making the most of every opportunity.”

It’s a familiar scriptural concept, taken from Ephesians 5:15-16: “Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

I wonder, though, if our modern culture misses much of what this verse is saying.

Our Thoughts

The popular view of time management is one of maximizing those precious seconds. It’s about prioritizing and planning. It’s about focusing and avoiding distractions. It’s about efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately cramming as much into our day as possible.

So we often think of redeeming the time in the same context. We think that redeeming the time is to take full advantage of calendars, schedules, and productivity apps in order to not waste a precious second of our lives.

To many, redeeming the time is about battling the clock.

Kairos and Chronos

That concept isn’t necessarily bad, but that’s not really what Paul has in mind in Ephesians 5.

The Greek language has two words for time – chronos and kairos. Chronos is what we think of when we tend to talk about time – measurable time divided up into minutes and seconds.

Kairos, on the other hand, was not about the quantity of time – it was about the right time, the appointed time, the opportune time.

“How much time is in a day?” uses the chronos concept of time. “Is now the time to celebrate?” uses the kairos concept.

Paul’s Words

When Paul speaks of redeeming our time in Ephesians 5, he uses the word kairos.

So Paul is not necessarily asking us to measure our minutes and seconds and maximize them. He’s telling us to be on the lookout for opportunities – and to make the best use of those.

Modern society says the way to manage your time is to get away from distractions and focus. Think of your goals and your passions – and then put your head down and work, work, work.

Paul says that the way we should manage our time is to be alert. Be conscious of the opportunities that you have right now – and don’t let those go to waste.

Seeing the Opportunities

It may sound like a subtle difference, but what if we thought like Paul instead of buying in to what our culture tells us?

If you have children at home, you have a unique opportunity today to raise them. They’re growing day by day, and this window of time will eventually pass you by. Are you making the most of that opportunity?

Do you have the opportunity right now to encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ? They may need it.

Do you have the opportunity to love your spouse?

To spend time with neighbors?

Do you have the opportunity to evangelize to a lost person?

To teach and disciple?

To feed the hungry or clothe the poor?

To visit the widows and protect the orphans?

Do you have the opportunity when you’re younger to exercise, eat right, and care for your body?

To read and grow?

To pray and fast?

DISCUSSION: What would happen to your life if you shifted your perspective from minutes and seconds to opportunities?

 

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Recommendations & Guest Posts

The purpose of this blog is to help Christians struggle to victory and age gracefully while living deliberate, determined & balanced lives that make the most of every opportunity. Within that goal come the goals of pursuing simplicity while remaining curious and unique at the same time. For more on the drive behind Struggle to Victory, please visit the Why? and About pages.

With that purpose and those goals in mind, I would like to announce that Thursdays will now feature either a guest post or a recommendation post. (Note that recommendation posts were previously on Tuesdays.) Anyone who would like to guest post on Struggle to Victory should read the Why? and About pages before expressing that interest. Guests posts published on this site must fit within the purpose and goals expressed on those pages. While I am under no obligation to publish any submitted guest posts, I will give everyone prayerful consideration. To put it even more bluntly, the Holy Spirit decides what is published on this blog, not me.

Suggestions and ideas for recommendations are also welcome and also must fit within the purposes and goals express on the Why? and About pages. See the following recommendations previously published on Struggle to Victory as examples.

This new and exciting change to Struggle to Victory is meant to enhance your experience with this blog as well as to give you additional resources to help you make the most of every opportunity in your life.

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Discovering Joyful Simplicity

The more I simplify my life, the more I realize that a Relatively Simple life is intertwined with joy. The simpler my physical life and surroundings, the deeper and better quality my mental state and spiritual life. For me, this means the more organized my house, the fewer activities with which I and my family are involved, and the more I reduce the trivial choices like what to wear or eat, the more joy I feel.

Perhaps it’s having a sense of control over my life, and perhaps my mind simply has less to deal with and thus can concentrate on quality rather than quantity. Whatever the reason, increased simplicity certainly made me a more joyful person. I no longer feel trapped by a complexity that took my life spiraling out of control.

What does joyful simplicity look like to you?

The following are 5 suggestions to help stimulate ideas for a simpler life in a way that also brings more joy:

  1. Be a kid. Coloring and doing crafts with my boys takes me back to my childhood. At the same time, they present an opportunity for simple quality time with my kids too. Adults are too wrapped up in adult stuff sometimes that they forget the simple joys that come with being a kid. Get in touch with that joy again. Not sure what to do? Ask your kids… they’ll have lots of great ideas!
  2. Turn of technology. When we play family games, my husband and I turn off the sound on our phones. When we go camping, I deliberately leave my phone in the car and refuse to participate in technology. Turning off technology forces me to enjoy simple pleasures like reading and watching birds. This is an amazingly relaxing activity.
  3. Go on a fast. My husband and I decided to go on a financial fast for the first quarter of 2012. This simplified our lives in that we just didn’t give much thought to buying. We just knew we couldn’t spend any extra money, and we focused on activities that didn’t involve doing so. A fast in pretty much any area of life lends itself nicely to the process for one to pursue simplicity.
  4. Purge. The idea of getting rid of excess is exceedingly freeing. For me, when I start to purge, I struggle stopping myself once I start. A yearly garage sale makes purging a habit for my family. Taking a look at what is no longer needed provides a terrific avenue for simplifying belongings. Like fasting, purging can occur in a variety of areas. For example, consider purging your calendar or your Facebook friend list.
  5. Help others. Tutor kids. Minister at a community dinner. Teach a Sunday school class.  Pray with a friend. Help a friend clean. Run an errand for someone. Call your pastor and ask what needs done at the church. Helping others provides a simple way to not only bring joy to another but to also know the simple joy of making another person’s life easier.

Simple joy comes through a life free to answer the call of God. When life is simple and not overwhelming, the possibilities for simple joy seem to open up. Maybe this happens because life is no longer just happening to you. Maybe it happens because you finally have time to think and choose what you want to do with your time rather than letting time happen to you. Whatever the reason and whatever the path chosen, a simpler life equates to more joy.

DISCUSSION: What activities help you discover simple joy? If you need more simple joy in your life, what activities will you try today to make that happen?

Pursue Simplicity

We long for simplicity. In the chaos and confusion of an overwhelming and busy life, we instinctively know that this is not what our lives were meant to be like. Our bodies eventually tell us one way or another that they crave simplicity. They long to have simple (whole) foods and activities that keep them strong but also want space and time to rest and recharge. When our muscles tense and our stomachs ache from too much going and doing and being, they are telling us to simplify. When our minds whirl and our heads ache from too much thinking and decision making, that is our clue to slow down and Just Relax.

Unfortunately, most of us push through (in other words, ignore) the signals that our bodies and minds give us telling us our lives are too complicated. Even more unfortunate is the fact that we often fail to simplify until our bodies eventually force us to stop and reevaluate. When the signs are coming, we have the opportunity to simplify on our own terms, or we can choose to wait and be forced to simplify through the terms of a significant physical illness, depression or worse.

Pursuing simplicity means finding the balance that our Creator meant for each one of us. While every person’s balance is unique, we all do have limits and we all do need balance.  Simplicity must exist in every area of life from the physical to the mental to the spiritual. We must deliberately and intentionally choose to not let life become chaotic whenever we find it possible to prevent. Maintaining a lifestyle of simplicity allows for handling and growing through the complications that come with living life this side of Heaven.

Simplifying life does not happen accidentally. A simpler life happens deliberately and intentionally. At first, simplifying seems illusive. Yet, consistent and persistent pursuing of a simpler life will result in victory.

DISCUSSION: What deliberate steps are you going to take today to simplify your life? What steps have you taken than you can offer as advice and suggestion to others?