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Archive for January, 2012

Calm Among the Chaos

Psalms 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Dogs barking.  Kids fighting.  Baby crying.  TV blaring.  Work deadline looming.  Dinner burning.  The dreaded “To Do” list that sits on the table:  Taxes need to be organized, school papers need to be signed, the house needs to be cleaned, laundry is threatening to overtake the laundry room…”Calgon – take me away.” 

Do you ever feel like there is too much that needs your attention ‘right now’ when all you want to do is sit in your favorite chair with a good book or to watch a great movie?  How are you supposed to get the work of three people done in the amount of time that even one person’s tasks cannot honestly be accomplished? 

I have found when I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, that the best thing I can do is stop what I am doing and take some time to give it all to God.  That might sound counterproductive to some.  If I already need more hours in the day, why am I choosing to sit and be still before God when I could be crossing things off my To-Do list instead? 

From personal experience, on more than one occasion, when I choose to give God my time first and ask Him what His agenda for my day is, it inevitably works out much better than on the days I have tried to do it myself.  I find that even though my To-Do probably does not get completely crossed off, on either day, on the days that I ask God what He wants me to do, I have more peace, things get done faster, and there are less frustrations.  On the days I just plow ahead without consulting Him first, there are more mistakes, more time is wasted, and my day is far from smooth.

The key for me, to actually achieve calm among the chaos, is choosing to give God my time first and letting Him be in charge of my schedule.  I challenge you to try it once and see if it does not work for you as well. 

 

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Proverbs 22:6: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (NIV)

Children are very different, even if living in the same household.  Some are compliant, some are more challenging, and some are nice enough to meet their parents halfway in between.  Those are definitely stereotypes as each child is his own individual person, but generally, that would be a good description. 

Having said that, different parenting styles do greatly influence our children and their behaviors.  If we choose to be uninvolved parents, our children’s behaviors will reflect that, most likely in a negative way.  If we choose to be too controlling, again, their choices will generally demonstrate more negativity by acting out against the rigidity and too much pressure. 

While choosing the best parenting style and staying consistent is important, I have found that each child needs specific lessons, each taught a little differently.  The same lessons will not apply to all children.  A more challenging child might need more lessons on learning how to obey in order to be an effective leader, while a more passive child might need more practice in the art of compromise or standing up for herself.  The happy-go-lucky child might need more practice in discovering his own likes and dislikes instead of being easily influenced by those around him. 

It is the parent’s job to discover the uniqueness of their own children and then adjust their life lessons accordingly.  However, instead of seeing that as a negative, learn to embrace your children’s different personalities, remembering that each lesson they are needing to learn now might in turn become the gift they use in the future to fulfill their specific purpose in life.  Who knows, maybe as you are helping to develop specific traits in them, it might teach you something about yourself as well. 

 

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Who Gets the Praise?

My mother started a habit when I was a child.  Whenever anyone would compliment her on something my sister or I did well (whether it was a difficult task that we had completed or we behaved appropriately in public), she would make sure to pass the praise along to whichever of us it was intended for.  She showed by example that we were the ones in charge of our own behavior, not her.  Therefore, not only did we get the credit, but we also were the ones to have the responsibility when we made the wrong choice.

I have tried to do that with my children as well.  Whenever anyone compliments me and tells me that my children are well behaved, fun to be around, responsible – whatever the compliment might be, I am quick to say to that person that my children get the praise for their accomplishments and that I will pass it along to them. 

I think that is a really important habit to get into for two reasons.  The first being that our kids need to know that not only are we proud of them, but also that others take notice when they do a great job or use self restraint or practice good manners in public.  The second reason is just as important as the first:  Our children need to realize that when they make a bad choice, that negative reaction is a reflection on them, not on us as parents. 

In addition to the benefits our children get from that perspective, we as parents reap rewards as well.  It allows us to be let off the hook when our children are navigating their way in this world less than perfectly.  We did not get it right all the time when we were growing up and neither will our kids.  However, the flip side is true as well.  When our children do something praiseworthy, it is not our praise to keep.  They are the ones that made the right choice.  We might have provided the boundaries and structure for them to learn the good choices, but ultimately they made the decision to follow through. 

I think that as long as we stay beside them to encourage,  provide wisdom, and use a healthy dose of sense of humor when needed, not to mention, most importantly, to pass along the praise that is rightly theirs, it is my belief that stronger families will be built.  Lastly, I think it will help your child’s self esteem as they start internalizing that they are in charge of themselves and good things happen when good choices are made. 

So, a special thank you goes out to my mom today for modeling such an important lesson while I was growing up so that I, in turn, can pass along that gift to my children.  Since I am more than willing to give the praise due to my children that they deserve, I am also willing to give the praise due to my mom as well. 

 

 

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Free To Be Me

Psalms 139: 14-17: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Throughout my life, there have been periods of time where I wish I was more like someone else and wondered why God made me the way I am.  I can be a mixture of opposites.  I am very shy in new situations but once comfortable, can be outgoing and sometimes too loud.  I tend to be a perfectionist in some areas of my life, but wish I was more like my sister and mom at keeping my house neat and organized. 

“Wishing to be something (I) am not is an insult to God.” (Joel Osteen).  That quote reminds me of a conversation I once had with a very good friend.  I was commenting to her how I wished that I was more like a coworker of ours than myself.  Our coworker was one of those people who was very deliberate in everything she did and I admired that.  She thought things out carefully before doing anything:  Whether eating, speaking, working, or even moving.  I was admiring that trait in her because I tend to be the complete opposite:  I eat fast, move fast, talk fast, work fast, drive fast (but not too fast)…I think you get the picture.  However, my friend’s answer was one that I still remind myself of often.  She told me that God has a specific purpose for everyone and He wants me to fulfill my own, one that requires a different personality and set of gifts from anyone else. 

And she was exactly right.  The jobs that God has used me the most in require multitasking, lots of energy, and quite a bit of a sense of humor (not to mention eating on the run).  If I was a more deliberate, carefully planned out person, I would not be as effective in the areas that God has designed me to fit best in. 

When I remind myself of those wise words, it frees up my thinking and I am able to relax my perfectionism in certain areas.  I will probably never have the neatest house and I may never learn the art of slowing down, but I have learned to enjoy running full speed ahead to my next adventure in some instances and appreciate the times life is calm.  In other words, I am learning how to be free to be the real me.

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“…understanding true joy by being more aware of the gifts inherent in our lives every day.  And in the turning of pages I am thinking of all the many gifts I am given that I simply take for granted……and often don’t even think of as a blessing or a gift.”  (Joanne Miller)

I was recently given the privilege of receiving a message from Joanne Miller, a truly inspiring woman, challenging me as well as many others, to consider the many blessings in my life.  She received as a gift the book titled One Thousand Gifts….A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,  by Ann Voskamp.  The challenge set forward was to write down and record the many little blessings, or gifts, that God gives to us each day, hoping to reach 1000 before the year is over. 

It only took a few days for me to realize that I wanted to accept this challenge, and also to pass it on to others who might want to take up the challenge for themselves.  I have a journal that I am going to begin writing down the many blessings that I have so often taken for granted:  My ability to exercise.  The privilege to hear my children play their drums, guitar, and sing, not to mention when they say, “I love you.”  The joy of seeing a different sunrise each and every morning, instead of focusing on the fact that I did not get to sleep in.  The feeling of satisfaction when I write a check to cover the mortgage this month, knowing that God has provided my job in order to write that check. 

Everyone’s list is going to look different.  Mrs. Miller even suggests taking our little notebook with us in our car or purse to catch the times we are blessed in the community.  But everyone, if we look hard enough, will see multiple blessings each and every day. 

And because Mrs. Miller says it best, “By keeping track in this physical way, I believe I will not only become more aware but I will also gain the blessing of saying “Thanks!” to God in a tangible way that is in line with living my life as a prayer.”

Thank you, Joanne, for challenging me to see life as a blessing. 

Psalms 103:2: “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…”

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Colossians 3:23, ” Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,”

Attending a weekly Bible study, teaching a Sunday School class, acting as PTA President this school year, working on not one, not two, but three huge projects at work, chauffeuring your son to basketball practice, your daughter to gymnastics, and trying to fit in Story hour with your preschooler in addition to attending all plays, band performances, and school programs for your children while finishing up an online course to get your degree in your spare time.  Do you ever feel like your life is spinning out of control and you cannot stop the crazy pace, let alone seem to do anything right in any of the activities that you are involved in?  You are the poster child for stressed out, burned out, and maxed out. 

It is not that any one particular project or activity is bad.  In fact, looked at separately, each social function could have the potential to enhance your life and/or that of your family.  However, it is our duty as individuals to make sure that we do not overcommit ourselves, leaving no room for emergencies, accidents, or delays.  Worse yet, when we do not leave any room to breathe, to focus, or to do the job at hand well, we are not only hurting ourselves through harming our health, but we are hurting those that we are trying to serve. 

When you are so rundown from driving all over town to various sports events or extracurricular activities with your children, how much are you truly able to focus on writing that business proposal for work, making sure that careless errors are not occurring?  When you work on more projects that you can legitimately handle on the job, just how much energy will you have left over for the most important people in your lives – your family and friends?  When you scrimp on sleep months at a time, are you not really paying for it with your health in the long run? 

Superwoman is not the person who can supposedly juggle ten activities at the same time; the real Superwoman is the woman who stands up and says, ‘Enough is enough.’  Everyone’s schedule is going to look different because there are no two families out there that are exactly alike.  Some people thrive on activity; some people thrive on more peace.  Everyone, though, needs to learn balance so that the activities they choose to do are done well, with energy left over for the other important areas in their lives. 

Will there be seasons in life that are crazier than usual?  Sure – but recognize that is a season and not your life as a whole.  Adjustments are required even then to keep life in balance, to maintain boundaries, and to be able to always say you are giving your best to whatever job is before you, fully rested and ready to give your all. 

So, with that being said, I am still working on remembering that two jobs done well are much better than ten jobs done with 10,000 mistakes.

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What Test Are You Taking?

” Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Hebrews 11:1 

I’m reading a great book right now talking about various types of testing that occurs in our life.  The tests come from the enemy, Satan, but can be defeated with the help of God.  There is common testing, which occurs, for example, when we are stressed out about life in general.  Another type of testing is seasonal testing.  This one can easily be described as someone who has lost 20 pounds and finally feels like she has a handle on healthy eating habits. However, it is now Christmas season (you know, that period of time from Thanksgiving week through New Year’s week) and she is bombarded with a variety of delicacies that are only around once a year and so she has a choice to make.  The last type of testing is the hour of testing which usually happens at least once in everyone’s life, thanks to sin.  They are those monumental tests that occur, the ones that cause great suffering – a major car accident resulting in severe injury or death, divorce, major health crisis, separation from a child, etc.  (taken from Purging Your House, Pruning Your Family Tree).

The question is not will you be tested, but when.  Everyone will experience at least one of the above types of testing in their lives, sadly some more than their fair share, and others may have to repeat the same test several times until victory can be accomplished. 

“Each level of testing is initiated with darts and arrows sent to attack the mind and turn the heart from the Lord.  When trouble comes, we will either turn to God or turn away from Him.”

The real question is this: When the test comes, what are you going to choose? Will you take the chance and turn toward a Heavenly Father who loves you and only wants the best in your life, or will you choose to turn away from Him having to rely on your own strength to find victory during your greatest need?

I know, for myself personally, throughout the various tests I have faced in life so far, some of them being repeated because I have not yet found victory, without the ability to turn toward God, the testing process would be that much harder.  The more I rely on God’s help, the more peace I feel and the quicker the victory comes. 

Was it easy in the beginning? Absolutely not!  Faith is hard. Faith would not be faith if it was easy.  But was it worth it? Yes!

The tests that the enemy plans are personalized, individually created to target our own set of weaknesses, which is why, then, the choice of turning to God or away from Him is personal too.  I cannot pass your test for you, and you cannot pass my test for me.  But, there is a common denominator for all tests.  God is such a personal God that He wants to provide hope and individual help for all of us with each test that we are faced with.  However, He is such a gentleman that unless you ask, He will not force Himself into your life. 

So…what test are you taking in your life currently, and do you want the help of the One who has the answer sheet?

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Fill ‘Er Up, Please

Isaiah 40: 29-31: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those that hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagle; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to reach a point in life where you have arrived?  Where, say after you had sacrificed and lost 20 pounds, you could then eat whatever you wanted and stay thin?  Or, after having trained for months to run a marathon have the opportunity to sit on the couch relaxing, but still be able to run 12 miles whenever you felt like it without being winded? 

I know that when I sit around being lazy or if I eat a bunch of junk a few days in a row, I start to feel listless, lethargic, and become a very ineffective person.  When I fail to start my day asking God to be in control and give me what I need, I am crabbier and snap more easily at people about circumstances I have no control over.  I have no motivation, no energy, and no oomph in life. 

I think God planned it to work that way for a reason.  On the days that I get up early to spend time in God’s word before my family wakes up, I am happier and the common annoyances of living seem to bother me less.  I am more apt to hug my children, spread kind words to strangers, and look for opportunities to be a blessing in others’ lives.  On days I move my body at least 20 minutes first thing, I find myself consciously choosing to eat healthier, wanting to get off the couch and spend time in physical activities with my kids, and enjoy working around the house more.  I feel energized, motivated, and am actually able to accomplish much more. 

I think God purposefully made our bodies to need to refuel for one specific reason; if we were self sufficient, we would miss out on learning to depend on God first and foremost and we would also miss out on building strong connections with others.  We would turn our focus inward – becoming selfish, preoccupied with our own interests, and failing to reach the potential that God has planned for our lives. 

By constantly needing to be replenished, whether with physical exercise, nutritional food, or a one-on-one relationship with God, we learn to keep our focus where it needs to be; relying on God first, connecting with our families second, and then having the energy and motivation to turn outward and help fill a need in someone else’s life. 

Having come to that conclusion, there is just one thing I want to say: Fill ‘er up, please!

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Wipe Your Slate Clean

Psalm 103:12:  “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”  (NIV)

I do not know about you, but it is heavy to carry around the weight of self regret; especially the regret of not measuring up to the person I think I should be.  I see myself one particular way in my mind, as someone who should exhibit all the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) all the time: In stopped traffic on a Friday afternoon when I’m already late, or a crowded grocery store with a hungry, tired two-year-old on the verge of a meltdown, or when all three kids have to talk to me at once and I am on an important phone call with my boss and five hours of work looming ahead of me at 8:00 p.m.  I envision being that someone who has endless patience even in high humidity and bad hair days, when there are too many things to do and not enough time to do them, when I am buried so deeply that I cannot even see the bottom line. 

They say that is when a person’s true character shines through – in stressful situations and painful life events.  Therefore, I feel like I have to measure up to perfection all the time in order to allow Christ to shine through me, showing His example to others.  My biggest fear is that people will judge my God based on my imperfections. 

However, I think I have been thinking about this all wrong.  I shine the most for Christ when I sit back, relax, and ask Him for a clean slate every day.  When I put my priorities in their correct order, asking God what His plan is for me today and not worrying about my own agenda.  Those are the days that more gets done, I show more “fruit” from above, and I go to bed at night with a clear conscious, not having completed my own checklist, but listening and watching and be willing to accomplish what God had in store for me instead.  I find, too, that the more I think in terms of what God wants to do in my life today, the happier I am.  Not because I now have an excuse for slacking off; no, instead, I tend to be more vigilant, not wanting to disappoint the God of the universe by failing to complete a task He set before me.  But, it is His agenda and He is a much nicer Judge of me than I ever will be of myself.  He does not hold a grudge if I fail to accomplish all He asks.  He cares more about my heart and my desire to obey than whether or not I completed each task perfectly.  If only I was that forgiving of myself. 

My job is to remember that more often.  I am thankful that God holds my slate and that He wipes it clean for me on a daily basis.

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