Happy Birthday to Me

Birthday Cupcake with CandleMiddle age struck three years ago, and I muffled through the passing as quietly as possible. Since then, I prefer not to even talk about my age most of the time. (Okay, not at all, actually.)

Approaching my last day in this life doesn’t really bother me. The steady decline of my physical state between now and then bothers me. My body already shows signs of it happening, and I hate feeling helpless knowing it’s going to happen no matter how much I resist. Exercise. Healthy eating. Adequate rest. Anti-wrinkle cream. And still the signs of aging multiply.

The forehead crease between my eyebrows bothers me the most of all the signs of aging, probably because of its prominence. Without major intervention via Botox or going under the knife, the crease will likely continue to stop conversations. “What’s up with that crease in your forehead?” (Seriously happened.)

When I focus on my physical aging, a gaze that happens in August more than any other month, the mental and spiritual aspects of my self seem get wrapped up in the obsession too. And this all-inclusiveness of the aging process bothers me more than the forehead crease.

Anti-Aging Scripture

One portion of Scripture brings me not only amazing peace within my struggle over my physical aging but also tremendous encouragement and even guidance.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

What’s that about “eternal glory”? Just this…

“…because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.” (2 Corinthians 4:14)

As I celebrate (which basically means pretending it doesn’t happen) my third year past what many consider life’s halfway point, I am drawn to focus on the part of me that isn’t “wasting away” but is “being renewed day by day” (means I’m actually not aging, right?)… the part that gets to experience this “eternal glory.” I’m definitely up for that!

This change in focus certainly gives the physical decline (and I may be exaggerating its severity only slightly) less attention, which then allows my attentions to find their way toward God’s desires. And that renewed focus — the one bent toward eternity — completely changes my perspective by helping me to…

  1. Refuse to give up and become a couch potato.
  2. Focus on renewal instead of on that which will continue to fade.
  3. Look past the physical of this life and toward the reality of eternity.
  4. Maintain a forward focus instead of a downhill one.
  5. Seek eternal joy in place of temporary happiness.

And while I now feel motivated to continue making progress because of the truth of the Scripture given above, what follows in the next chapter of Corinthians ices the cake (and I don’t even eat cake, not even for my birthday). We’ll look at that portion of Scripture — at the new body we’re promised — in next week’s post.

DISCUSSION: Where does your focus lie?

Lessons from a Blind Man

Bartimaeus

Blind Bartimaeus

Somehow, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) knew about Jesus. Knew enough to call out to Him even when those around him discouraged his doing so. In fact, their urgings to “Be quiet!” met only louder pleadings on his part. He wanted to be healed, he knew Jesus could heal him, and he probably realized this chance may not pass by him again. So Bartimaeus cried out for mercy, and Jesus heard him, saw his faith, and healed him. In Jesus’ response, we get a picture of how He handled — and how we should handle — interruptions.

But that’s not the end of their interaction because Bartimaeus then followed Jesus. We don’t know how far he went with Him, but Bartimaeus’ immediate response involved following Jesus. In Bartimaeus’ response, we receive a poignant view of how to respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives.

Responding to the Presence of the Lord

The presence of the Lord compels us to recognize our desperate need for Him. And in that need, we hopefully cry out to Jesus as Bartimaeus did. When we do, our lives become profoundly altered. Our perspectives change. The way we think changes. As a result, our actions change. When we respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives, we…

  1. Refuse to let circumstances stop us from calling out to Him.
  2. Refuse to let others deter us from calling out to Him.
  3. Realize that Jesus welcomes our interruptions.
  4. Realize that Jesus often asks us to play an active role in His ministry to us.
  5. Become willing to throw aside whatever might hinder our going to Him.
  6. Learn that interruptions often bring the most effective ministry opportunities.
  7. Learn to speak honestly to Him about our needs.
  8. Continue to respond by following Him even after He meets our most immediate needs.

As the way we think changes, our approach to loving others — to ministry — changes too. In essence, we become more like Jesus in attitude, action and word. One way that becomes evident is in how we deal with the unexpected happenings in our daily lives.

Viewing Interruptions as Ministry

The story of Blind Bartimaeus, as with many of Jesus’ interactions during His 3-year ministry, also shows how to handle interruptions as we live in ministry. When they came from people who sincerely sought Him, Jesus always stopped and gave his time and attention to the interruption. Actually, I’m not sure He even saw these interactions as interruptions. Others certainly did, but Jesus seemed to view them as part of ministry. Should we view them any differently?

With this thinking, the interruptions of life take on completely different meanings as they change from interruption or irritation or even frustration to ministry:

  • My teenage boys wanting to talk while I’m working
  • My husband wanting to go for a walk while I’m studying
  • A friend asking to meet for coffee when a project deadline looms
  • An extra trip to the grocery store when the food pantry needs stocked

Interruptions turned ministry create some of the most powerful interactions of love in a person’s life. Had Jesus not viewed interruptions this way, a large part of His earthly ministry — and some of the stories with the most impact for us still today — would not have happened.

The lessons in the story of Blind Bartimaeus not only indicate a counter-cultural path but also a forget-the-flesh path if we are truly to benefit from the presence of Jesus in our lives. Hearing and obeying His voice, letting it take precedence over what others say and do and even over our own circumstances not only gets us closer to Him, but it also creates an increasing desire to remain in His presence and to live ministry in the everyday events — planned and unplanned — of our lives.

DISCUSSION: How do you respond to the presence of the Lord? How do you respond to interruptions?

Don’t Sleep Through the Storm

Gifted Sleepers

My husband has a gift for sleeping. He falls asleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow, and he’s perfected the art of the power nap. He can also sleep on airplanes, even during turbulence. In fact, I’ve witnessed him fall asleep prior to takeoff and not wake until landing for shorter flights. I’m jealous. I do not have that gift.

I think Jonah had a gift for sleeping too. After choosing to deliberately disobey God, Jonah heads in the opposite direction of God’s leading. He boards a ship to Tarshish (the most remote location he could think of) and promptly falls asleep in the ships belly. In fact, Jonah sleeps so soundly that he fails to wake even when the storm hits.

“But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him, ‘What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.’” (Jonah 1:5-6)

In other words, “How in the world can you sleep in this storm?”

Now, maybe Jonah was just a good sleeper like my husband. Or, maybe he’s like so many of us who sleep (literally and figuratively) in order to avoid God-given responsibility (or responsibility of any kind for that matter). Regardless, it took a serious storm plus another person shaking him awake to finally get Jonah moving.

What can we learn from this single scene in the rather short story of Jonah?1100938_57493317

  1. Storms are sometimes from God. Whether he allows or sends them, storms (trials) are sometimes God’s tools for shaping our lives.
  2. God sometimes uses others to shake us into action. We often fail to have the right perspective during our own trials and need to hear another’s perspective to help us get moving.
  3. God sometimes uses unbelievers to direct believers. The captain was not a believer (yet), but he still implored Jonah to call on his God because the captain’s god (or gods) wasn’t getting the job done.
  4. God uses storms to get us moving in the right direction. The more determined the disobedience, likely the more powerful the storm. If there’s a raging storm in your life, consider how God might be using it to direct you.
  5. Even the best sleeper can’t ignore God forever. We can choose to dismiss Him, but no trick exists for completely and permanently avoiding Him. We will one day have to face Him (Galatians 6:7).

Try as we might, whether by literally sleeping or by “sleeping” in the form of busyness and distractions, we cannot avoid storms meant to set us on the right track. Over time, however, we may put our awareness of God to sleep and become less and less able to see and hear His directing. Let us each determine first not to be deliberately disobedient and to secondly not “sleep” during God’s redirecting.

DISCUSSION: How can we be sure to avoid “sleeping” and missing God’s directives?

Consider reading the following posts for helping answer this question:

Be Prepared

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

“Yep.”

“What about your spikes?”

“Yep.”

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

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

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

The Value of Preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Habit of Preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever felt that way? Ever said those very words?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Socialize Your Blues Away

Defeating the Winter Blues

social interaction 1In the post “Defeating the Winter Blues,” tip #7 mentioned the importance of socializing for the purpose of helping defeat the winter blues. This post delves into that point a bit more and gets at what the very obvious social nature of extroverts can teach those of us who struggle with and even avoid socializing.

I’m an introvert by nature who has occasional bouts of shyness too. Plus, I’m a writer and love to read. In other words, my natural tendencies and interests gear me toward social isolation. Balancing this area of myself, which I realize is both a strength and a weakness, requires a lot of deliberate effort.

Antisocial Tendencies and Depression

The journal of Clinical Psychology says, “Social isolation puts you at greater risk for mental health problems.”

My own experience confirms this research. The more antisocial I am, the more I struggle with mood and the easier I become depressed. On the other hand, the more consistently I engage in social interaction, the easier it is to maintain an optimistic and hopeful perspective. This truth also exists infused into my Christian walk.

The Socially Interactive Christian

Even though the words “though shalt interact with others” do not exist in Scripture, you don’t have to read very far into the Bible to realize that it’s a book about relationships. The 10 Commandments start with directives in our relationship to God and end with commands regarding our relationship to others. Paul’s statement in Romans 13:9 takes these commands and connects them with all we are to be and do as God’s children.

social interaction 2

Love requires action, which requires interaction with others. I’ve yet to find a way to truly love another person without human interaction. In my mind, and experience again supports this realization, I need social interaction in order to truly and fully live out God’s Word to love Him and others.

The Extrovert Example

In my experiences with social interaction along with my studies of personality styles, I wondered if extroverts, who seem to actually need social interaction, struggle much with depression. I even researched the topic and found little specifically – and nothing truly helpful – regarding extroverts and depression.

While I’m certain that some extroverts do struggle with depression, I don’t personally know any. Or, more accurately, I have not seen a true extrovert show visible signs of depression. Maybe extroverts are just better at hiding depression. Or, perhaps, they truly get depressed a lot less frequently or possibly just less severely than do introverts.

Since research yielded little information on the topic, I decided to look more closely at my extroverted friends to figure out how they ward off melancholy moods of any severity from a funk to the winder blues or doldrums, which everyone gets from time to time, to depression. Before I get to the two points about how extroverts seem to avoid any lengthy down moods of much severity, let me share two related observations.

First, I’m surrounded dominantly in my social circles (starting with my husband and youngest son with my oldest son being in the middle and then moving into my close circle of friends) by extroverts, though I’m not sure if this was subconsciously intentional or not. Second, my extroverted friends help me tremendously in what is one of my greatest weaknesses, the desire to be alone and the growth of social isolation, by nudging me toward regular, meaningful interaction with others.

As I asked myself why my social circles are dominated by extroverts, though my few introverted friends do hold a special place in my life, I discovered two tendencies my extroverted friends ALL have in common.

  1. They’re active.
  2. They’re interactive.

Extroverts tend to be more active in general than introverts, sitting less and needing activity more. They also maintain a very interactive social life and in fact gain energy from being around others.

Since my extrovert friends seem to have more consistent victory over depression or any other sort of mood struggle or disorder and since they ALL have these two points in common, I make a deliberate decision to apply their example and incorporate consistent activity and social interaction into my life.

While I will always need more alone time than my extroverted friends and while I will always get my energy from being alone and getting more rest than them, I am constantly reminded by their consistently upbeat moods that I must also maintain a certain level of activity and interaction on a regular basis. While the amount varies from one introvert to the next, it likely exists as a greater need than most will admit.

DISCUSSION: What are your experiences with extroverts and introverts regarding activity and social interaction as well as mood?

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Spiritually Healthy During the Holidays & Beyond

Light 1Focus Determines Reality

In previous years when the holidays approached, my thoughts immediately went toward negative memories. The cat using the presents under the tree as a litter box. My parents telling me they were divorcing. No decorating or celebrating the first Christmas after the divorce.

Seems silly, really, since those years represent far fewer Decembers than ones with neutral or even positive memories. But since my focus dwelt there, my holiday reality existed in the negative for many years. This meant that depression easily met me each holiday season as well.

Slowly, as I learned how to be Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond, I discovered a desire and ability to choose my focus rather than just allowing it to happen.Light 2

Jesus Changes Everything…

The biggest impact on my focus for lasting transformation and increasing joy during the holidays and beyond came when I truly met Jesus in the pages of Scripture and allowed His Holy Spirit to direct my focus. I’ve technically been a Christian my whole life, but it took almost 30 years for my faith to become a significant driving force.

This doesn’t mean my faith didn’t impact my life before that point, because it definitely did. However, when I finally realized and admitted my utter dependence upon Christ to work in me through His Holy Spirit for a joyful reality, my faith became so much more than mere fire insurance.

If You’ll Let Him!

Jesus always wants to change the focus of our lives toward one of living for God. But He doesn’t force Himself on us. His Holy Spirit doesn’t force its way in as the director of our focus. We must let Him change how we think, which changes our focus, which then changes our reality.

And often, our “letting” involves those activities we already know to be spiritually beneficial. In other words, “letting Christ” simply means doing that which Scripture extols as necessary habits for continually increasing spiritual health. What might those activities include?

  1. Not neglecting the basics. This is never a good idea but especially not during the holidays. Personally, I get knocked off kilter much easier during the holidays, so keeping to a routine of Bible study, prayer & worship proves immensely beneficial.
  2. Renewing the Christmas story. The longer you’ve been a Christian, the more difficult having a wonderment about the Christmas story may seem. Yet, seeing it with fresh perspective can help renew your spirit. I do this by reading a Christmas book every year. Can be fiction or nonfiction, but it must have the Gospel message.
  3. Try simple & minimal. Take this approach with everything from gift giving to party preparation. Consider it with clothing and schedules too. Allow yourself the mental space to enjoy the people in your life by keeping the material aspects as simple as possible.
  4. Pay attention to physical health. Staying Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond is so very difficult with all the parties and special family gatherings focused around food. While indulging may feel good in the moment, the later consequences usually outweigh any momentary, immediate pleasure. Consider the long-term impact of choices before you make them.
  5. Make relationships a priority. Choose relationships over doing and going  and accomplishing and impressing whenever possible. Make Romans 12:18 a goal for all of your relationships this holiday season.

Focusing more on Christ, the Christmas story and beyond, even when feelings or circumstances work to steal that focus, creates habits that work toward a purpose beyond ourselves. Deliberately considering what I allow to direct my focus, the thoughts I allow to dwell in my spirit, helps me continue making right choices that lead to a positive and joy-filled holiday season. And each year, living spiritually healthy during the holidays and beyond becomes a more natural part of who I am.

Establish your focus on the only person able to align all you are with with truth, light and hope. Let Jesus continually and increasingly direct your focus and shape your reality.

DISCUSSION: What activities help you obtain or maintain joy and stay spiritually healthy during the holidays and beyond?

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For another take on how to stay healthy during the holidays, check out the post “How to Keep Emotionally Healthy This Holiday” by Laurie Wallin. While you’re there, take some time to look at the rest of her blog where she writes about how to “live with joy and confidence no matter what life brings.”

The Impact of Other People & My Faith on Depression

The post below first appeared at Cycle Guy’s Spin as part of a series on depression with the focus of helping those who have loved ones struggling with depression but who have never themselves personally struggled with it. The depression series stemmed from my second chance story, which was part of a series on 2nd Chances on Cycle Guy’s Spin.

With depression coming even more to our attentions with the death of Robin Williams recently, I decided to repost the depression series here on Struggle to Victory.

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The Impact of Other People

Had I not had relationships that mattered to me or that I at least wanted to matter to me, I don’t think I would have had hope. The first was the hope of a relationship with God, but more on that in a minute. First, let’s address the other relationships mentioned in the question.

My husband joined this journey with me when I was only 5 years into it. Since I was about 10 years old when depression hit, you’ll realize we got together pretty young. I could never do justice to the junk (the kindest word I can think of to describe it) I put him through over the past 25ish years or to the patience he continually doled out. Simply put, he never gave up on me and refused to leave me. He looked me straight in the eye on more than one occasion and said, “I will never leave you.” I get choked up thinking about it. I realize today that him never giving up on me made me unable to give up either.

I grew up in a very rules-oriented church culture, one where God was this distant being who seemed more like a master chess player than like anyone who wanted me to know Him personally. So, the first 28 years of my faith life included what I “should” do, including believing in God. Around age 28, that changed. I began to discover who I was in Christ, and I learned that Jesus not only wanted a relationship with me but that He gave me His Holy Spirit to comfort and help me. I learned that the Bible was a guide for life and not simply a book of rules. This process of correcting my wrong views about God and seeing life from a full-Gospel perspective truly gave me a new foundation to build upon as I began to live more and more outside of the pit.

Not sure how to characterize my family’s role, so I’ll just dive in to some specific examples. My dad was absent a lot and pretty self-focused, which does not bode well for the self-esteem of a little girl. My mom always loved and accepted me no matter my emotional state, but she had struggles of her own to contend with at the time.

My extended family was a factor only through two people. One individual told me, “You’re average and will always be average,” and another said, “You’re just not as smart as the others.”  Those statements took years to be undone as truth in my mind and still haunt me during times of weakness still today.

My journey out of the pit really began after I had my oldest son. When he was a toddler, I realized that I did not want his memories of me to be ones of a depressed an unhappy person. So, I began the journey for him. My youngest son entered this journey only about 4 years ago, but it too was a pivotal experience in that he needed me to live fully and completely outside of the pit in order for him to not live in one himself. For him, I took steps to fill in the pit of depression that had been my dwelling place for so many years, making it no longer an option.

Faith

The Impact of My Faith

I don’t remember not believing in God. However, I do remember not really knowing who Jesus was and what role the Holy Spirit played. Learning about relationship with Christ changed everything. My growth in faith coincides directly with my progression through depression and out of the pit forever. Depression was the trial of my life that drew me always closer to Him; it was either that or end my life. Realizing my inability to overcome on my own led me to realize my desperate need for Him.

(Note: If we had time and space, I would also discuss the role of Christian counseling as well as of the books I read during the journey.)

DISCUSSION: How do you see your role in the life of those you love who struggle with depression? What questions do you have regarding living out those roles?

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When Dreams Feel Just Out of Reach

The following is a guest post from Dave Arnold. Dave is an an author, speaker, and coach who loves helping people thrive in life and be all that God has called them to be.

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dreamsFor years I’ve had the dream of becoming a full-time public speaker. As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved to speak. As a young child, people would tell my mom, “Wow, your son is so verbal.” – a polite way of saying I talk too much.

After I gave my first speech in college, my world changed.

My professor confirmed this and said, “Dave, I think you have a real gift.” From that day on, I loved speaking. In fact, I had many opportunities to speak in college: at chapel, on mission trips, at a summer camp – and I loved it.

In 2002, just two years after my wife and I married, I got a job at a big church as the College and Young Adult Pastor, and I spoke every Saturday night to about 200 twenty-something’s. As great as this was, my sights were set on the big stage – the weekend services where about 10,000 people attended.

My goal was to speak in the main church auditorium, and I was certain the lead pastor, once he discovered my gift, would be knocking on my door for me to speak. After a couple of years, I began to wonder what was taking so long.

That knock never came. Only silence. And then one day I heard a knock on the office door next to mine. It was the lead pastor and he was there to see John, the new Singles Pastor, who started two months back.

I overheard the conversation, and my heart sank when I heard the pastor say, “John, I would like you to speak at a weekend service.”

What!?” I thought. “s only been here two months and I have been here four years!”

And then my chest tightened, I gritted my teeth, and the tears started to flow… I mean, it was Niagara Falls. I couldn’t control it.

Although I was devastated, this experience taught me some valuable lessons. Here’s what I learned.

More work Needed

The truth was, I felt entitled to speak, like I had earned it – or so I thought. But honestly that is pride, and pride is blinding and often isn’t exposed until we are forced to change.

We live in a culture of instants: instant pleasure, instant connections, instant information. And when things don’t work out the way we’d thought or hoped, we are prone to meltdown, or to cry (like I did).

Living out your dream is not instantaneous. It takes time and work and struggle. There are days we feel closer than ever, and other days like throwing in the towel.

Pain and Discomfort Are a Part of Dream-Chasing

dreams 2

“A general rule in creating stories,” writes Donald Miller, “is that characters don’t want to change. They must be forced to change.”

Ouch! But so true. I needed to change. My perspective was off. I needed a good ol’ dose of humility.

Just because we have a natural talent for something – writing, speaking, music, whatever – doesn’t mean we don’t need to work on it. And often working on it means having to face rejection and discomfort.

Great art, I believe, is often forged through pain and discomfort.

You’re Closer Than You Realize 

A closed door does not mean your dream won’t come true or is unattainable; it just means there’s more work to be done, more preparation, more transformation.

After I cried my face off for a bit in my office, I picked myself up and got back to work. And I can honestly say something changed within me that day. I no longer tried to prove myself and get noticed. I no longer measured my value in whether I would speak or not.

I decided to just be myself and do what I needed to do.

Ten years and two kids later, my dream is starting to take shape. I’ve made tons of mistakes, I’ve wanted to give up numerous times… but I’ve kept moving forward. I guess you could say I haven’t given up hope.

And isn’t that the point? To not give up, to keep moving, to keep hope alive. You’re closer than you think. Allow pain and discomfort to make you stronger. Keep believing.

DISCUSSION: How have you dealt with a closed door on your dream? Please share I the comments.

The Role of Simplicity in Balance

Are You a Circus Act?circus

Ever watched one of those circus-type shows where entertainers attempt to stay balanced while gradually adding items to balance? These professionals balance people on people carrying a variety of items from plates to balls to flaming sticks. They’re focused on balancing more items than any normal person can balance, and all their focus goes toward keeping those items balanced.

Unfortunately, too many of us live like circus entertainers focused on balancing, except we’re not making any money for the show we’re putting on for our friends, family and coworkers. We’re balancing an amazing amount, but that’s all we’re pretty much able to focus on… balancing.

When focused only on balancing, we’re unable to consider the quality of what we’re trying to balance. Simplicity allows for better balance in that it allows us to put our focus on quality over quantity.

Longfellow

What is Simplicity?

The dictionary says that simplicity is the freedom from complexity, intricacy or division into parts. It’s the absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.

The dictionary also says that simple means easy to understand, deal with, use, etc. Simple means not elaborate or artificial, not ornate or luxurious.

As I think about each of those words and their definitions, I realize that simplicity and the words to describe it looks very different from one person to another. Ask 10 people what simplicity, simple, intricacy, luxury, ornament, etc. mean to them, and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

Finding YOUR Simple

Like balance, simplicity exists uniquely for every person. We can get ideas, guidance, inspiration and direction from each other, but every one of us must individually discover simplicity. That being said, regardless of how simplicity looks in an individual’s life, it does play an important role in a balanced life for every person.

In my own journey toward a balanced life, simplicity plays a tremendous role in creating relationships with depth. But I find that I can only go deeper when I take the time to simplify myself first as an individual. When I do this, my relationships can then take a leading role in the activity of my life.

For me, simplifying myself involves the following 5 areas:

  1. What I think about… where I allow my thoughts to dwell.
  2. The words I speak… listen more and talk less.
  3. Appearance… comfortable but respectful.
  4. Focus… God. Family. Work. (In that order.)
  5. Commitments… not spread thin and having ample margin.

When I begin to feel overwhelmed and stop to consider why, the Holy Spirit without fail goes to one or more of these areas and says, “Simplify.” This is how simplicity works in my life for balance. How does it work in yours? What does simplicity mean for you?