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Archive for September, 2012

Presentation Is Everything

I Corinthians 13:2: “…and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (NIV) 

I had the opportunity recently for another personal growth experience.  After being convicted that our family needed to eat healthier, I chose to “tighten up” our food.  I replaced unhealthy, processed food with more fresh fruits and vegetables.  While that is a noble thing to accomplish, my attempt was a disaster.  Instead of dinner being a time where we could come together and regroup after a long, hard day, it was filled with sullen attitudes, silence, and bad dispositions.  Much later, in a quiet and calm environment, my husband very lovingly pointed out to me that even though what I was trying to accomplish was good, the way I went about it didn’t work.  Even though I had good intentions, the presentation was all wrong.

How many times have I set out to do something positive, make changes, or have a positive impact on someone’s life and it has flopped?  Maybe during those times I need to look less at my intention and more at my presentation.  When we cushion the “growing times” in layers of love sprinkled with some empathy and compassion, the goal is more easily accomplished.

I started thinking back to times I have done a better job.  For instance, at the beginning of the summer, I explained to my kids that they had to clean their rooms before their summer fun would begin. No friends over, no special outings, etc. until everything in their room had a place and the trash was tossed.  I let them know I believed in them, that if they worked hard it wouldn’t take as long as they thought, and scheduled breaks of “free-for-all fun” outside in between blocks of work time.  I presented my expectations to them with a loving, compassionate, “you-can-do-it” attitude…and the result was much different.  Within a matter of two days, their rooms were spotless, they were proud of their accomplishments, and they even thanked me for making what could have been drudgery somewhat fun.

My challenge today is this, both to myself as well as to you.  When you pursue a goal with good intentions, don’t forget the importance of the presentation.  When cushioned with love, empathy, and compassion, the final result might be better than you imagined.  And, you might find that you have learned something in the process as well.

In the scenario that started out my “growth experience,” it wasn’t a coincidence that while my husband cared enough about me to help me see my faults, his presentation matched his good intentions.  He waited for the right timing, used the right words, and cushioned what he had to say in a way that built me up instead of tore me down.  As a result, our conversation ended much more positively than my disastrous attempt at dinner that particular night.

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Do You Like Rain?

“Life isn’t about waiting for the showers to pass.  It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” (Vivian Greene)

I read this quote and fell in love with it.  It got me thinking…there are so many times in my life that were showers I wished would pass (my husband’s illness, our miscarriage, broken relationships), but if they hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be who I am today.  Then I wondered…have I truly learned to dance in the rain?

I think the answer is yes…and no.  I’m getting better…I dance sooner…I recognize that good can come from heartbreak, but sometimes I still need to be reminded to see the beauty that comes along with the rain when it starts to fall…the rainbow that appears directly from God as the storm begins to subside.

In I Thessalonians 5:16-18, God instructs us to, “Rejoice always,  pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  That means that as the showers begin, I am to get out there and dance.  I am to praise God despite the circumstances, knowing with confidence that He is in control, He will figure it out, and He will take care of me as long as I put my trust in Him.  The answer may not be what I expected, but I can have confidence that it will be the right answer.

What about you?  What showers are occurring in your life?  Is it a steady rain that drips down, leaving you exhausted or a downpour that catches you off guard?  Are you seeing the rainbow yet as God shows you the blessings in the midst of the heartache or are the clouds still surrounding you, black as night?

Today I don’t leave with you a challenge so much as a heartfelt prayer.  I pray that at the beginning of your next shower, instead of hiding in the house or under an umbrella, you will boldly walk out into the rain and begin your own unique dance.  God doesn’t care what the steps look like, how fast, slow, long, or short the choreography is….He is more concerned with the fact that you boldly stepped out in the middle of the thunder and lightning, trusting Him to take care of you, to guide you, and to see you through until the sun shines again.  Now let me see you dance!

 

 

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Philippians 2:4: “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Do you ever sometimes just feel blah?  Does the weight of the world make you feel heavy, tired, or sad for no reason in particular?  I know that happens to me at times.  There doesn’t have to be any one major life event that is crushing me…sometimes it’s just the stress of everyday living and I desire to jump off the speeding train for a night or a weekend or even just an hour to relax, reflect, and regroup.

When that happens, I turn to God first and discuss whatever is bothering me.  But, since I’m human, that doesn’t always automatically change my attitude completely.  So…I have started to get into the habit of deliberating making the choice to turn outward instead of staying focused inward.

I have found the best way to get out of a bad mood is to focus on brightening someone else’s day.  If I’m sad…then I think of someone else who is suffering and see what I can do to make them smile. If I’m hurt…then I ask God to bring to mind someone else who is hurt and find a way to cheer them up.  If I’m angry…then I try to come up with one activity that will bring happiness to a friend, a neighbor, or a complete stranger.

And guess what?  I may not automatically be cured of the funk that I’m in, but it does help.  Sometimes it takes repeatedly finding ways to minister, encourage, or just unexpectedly surprise others to help me remember and appreciate all the blessings in my own life.

I want to challenge you…the next time you are sad or depressed and the reason may not seem very clear, instead of wallowing in those feelings…get out there and deliver some brownies.  Not only will you put a smile on someone else’s face, but you might actually start smiling yourself!

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Your Choice

“We always have a choice between fear and faith – no matter how bleak things look.” (Rachel Olsen).

Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The topic of fear versus faith comes up regularly on my blog. That’s because we are presented with many opportunities, sometimes multiple times a day – for fear or faith. I have found in my own life that it really boils down to a choice. I can either step out in faith or be overcome with fear. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a choice – sometimes it feels like I’m being hit so hard that the only “choice” is to duck and cover or run and hide. But, ultimately, the decision I make is in my control.

And, I find that, just like the other battles I fight in my life such as self-control in the area of eating balanced or overeating, choosing to exercise or sit on the couch, or working too hard versus balancing my life between work and play, the more times I succeed, the easier it is to fight the next time.

For instance, I started fighting the battle of fear versus faith 14 years ago when I chose a job that better fit my personality and talents versus making more money and being miserable. God not only covered all our bills, but we never went hungry either. Fast forward five years, and this time I chose to leave the career I was enjoying to be a stay-at-home/working mom by providing daycare in our home. I never lacked children and God supplied enough income to meet our needs (and some wants). Fast forward three years and with God’s prompting through life circumstances, I chose to leave the semi-consistent life of day care and pursued a full-time career in medical transcriptioning, which can be a feast or famine type job.

Throughout my five years in this field, God has allowed me to stretch my fear versus faith muscles quite often. I have been let go due to loss of work only to be hired by another company eight hours later. I have lost specific accounts only to be awarded better accounts two weeks or a month later. God has proven time after time how when I choose to trust Him and put my faith not in my paycheck or my employer or my abilities, not only does He provide, but He provides exactly what I need. Sometimes my needs are to learn something new and that particularly time period proves to be quite a challenge. Other times it offers a chance to rest and rejuvenate once I have learned the lesson that God so lovingly knew I needed in order to grow.

The best part – I’m not special. What God does for me, He wants to do for you too! He is waiting for you to stretch your faith muscle so He can show you what wonderful things He has planned for your life as well. All it takes is a little forward motion on your part and as your faith grows, it will naturally get stronger. The question is – Are you ready to start the journey and if not…what’s holding you back?

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Show, Don’t Tell

Matthew 7:16-17: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

 

I have a pet peeve.  When my children disobey me (and let’s be realistic, it’s going to happen), they try to apologize thinking that will make things all better.  That’s okay for minor infractions but for the tough stuff, I don’t want to hear a half-hearted, “I’m sorry,” with no action to back it up.  I want to see them really making an effort to change their behavior.  Everyone has something they have to work on.  When my kids blow off the hard work of making necessary changes in their life while thinking an appropriately placed, “I’m sorry” here or there will fix everything, they are mistaken.  I am much happier as their mom not hearing anything and instead seeing honest-to-goodness effort while they move in the right direction.

Does that mean I want perfection?  No.  I wouldn’t ask for mastery from them when I have daily, hourly, sometimes minute-to-minute struggles myself.  I just want to see progress.  So, in those instances when they try to get lazy and throw the old, “I’m sorry,” out there, my response is, “Show me, don’t tell me.”  I want to see a change, I don’t want to hear empty words.

What about my own life, though?  Do I put effort into making things right with my husband, my parents, my best friend, or the woman whose feelings I hurt from church?  An off-handed, “sorry” doesn’t cut it when they need to see honest-to-goodness effort from me.  It’s hard to expect that kind of action from my kids if I’m offhandedly saying, “sorry” to my husband about overdrawing the checking account for the third time this year without changing my spending habits.  Or what about the, “Oops” I gave to my parents when I walked in three hours later than planned, with no phone call, after they had graciously offered to watch my kids during some “me” time?  How about cancelling for the fifth time in a row on my best friend with only a cursory “something came up” as an explanation?

If I’m not going to let my own kids off the hook for their actions but actually make them take responsibility, then I better be setting that same example in my own life.  Again, perfection isn’t required, but taking action steps in the right direction is.

Think about what your home life and friendships could look like if everyone took responsibility for their own actions and made a serious effort to change the things that needed attention.  That’s the kind of lifestyle I’m moving toward.

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God Knew

Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV)

The more I get to know God, the more verses in the Bible I fall in love with.  They are like a message written directly to me.  Lately, I have been able to share with several friends the reassurance I feel when I think about the fact that nothing can occur in my life that God didn’t already know was going to happen long before I was born.  That thought might not comfort others, but it does me, and this is why.

I might be going through some really rough stuff.  I might be experiencing what seems like problems from every angle, but ultimately, I can rest in the middle of it all because nothing is happening in my life that God didn’t already know would occur.  He saw the pain and suffering and heartache that I was going to experience years before I was even alive.  And, because of that, I can rest assure that He has also seen the ending.  That is the part that gives me peace.

I have a Heavenly Father who loves me so much (there are countless verses in the Bible that reassure me of His love, even when or maybe especially when, I fail the most) that He already has the outcome to my worst possible moments solved.  That might be why, especially within the last year, it’s been easier and easier for me to hand my problems over to God instead of keeping them tucked close.  My first response might still be to worry when presented with the challenge, but I am quicker to hand my circumstances over to God and take my hands off.  You see, He already knows the outcome.  He already has read the final chapter of the book of my life and He knows the ending.  God allows free will, but He definitely has a hand in orchestrating the ending of the book for me, especially if I ask.  I can have peace that, according to Romans 8:28, “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV).

Now, I’m no one special.  What He is willing to do for me, He wants to do for you too.  As I have said in the past, the God I serve is a gentleman and He is patient, so it’s up to you to take that first step.  It’s your choice to invite Him into your life and ask Him to help orchestrate the problems and trials and struggles that He already knew about, long before you were born.  What are you waiting for?  I know I for one would rather have the author of my life be the God of the Universe than just relying on myself.  I make too many typos and grammatical errors to want to be in charge.

 

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Celebrating Grandparents

II Timothy 1:5: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”

In honor of Grandparents Day, I wanted to take time to thank grandparents who invest in the lives of their grandchildren and help make the lives of their children easier with that investment.

When I was growing up, we moved frequently so I didn’t have the privilege of living by either set of grandparents. I was blessed to see them about once a year but otherwise, we had to make do with phone calls and snail mail. My sister and I were incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful family adopt us and I still consider them my grandparents today. They stepped in and filled a need in our lives, accepting us as one of their own. (Love you, Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop!)

My children, however, are blessed to have both sets of grandparents close by to spoil them. This includes taking them out to eat, playing games, doing crafts and messy art projects, marathon videogame sessions, rewards for reading, and of course, plenty of one-on-one attention.

Grandparents are unique because they help fill in the gaps since parents just can’t do it all. They usually have a little more time to go at a slower pace and have the wisdom of years to help positively influence the youngest generation.

My husband and I are doubly blessed because not only do our parents reach out to our kids, but they extend their love to us as well. We have received help with chores around our house, yummy meals, financial help at exactly the time it was needed, and most of all, prayer support. My mom volunteers her time and energy twice a week to come play with our littlest so I can have a few hours of uninterrupted time to work. My mother-in-law makes family dinners at least once a week so we all have a chance to slow down and catch up on each other’s lives. My father is known as the “Veggie Tale, Pop-Pop” as for years he kept our kids stocked with all the Veggie Tale movies. And, Papa is known for maintaining a pool he never swims in just so his grandkids can cool off on a hot summer day.

One of the biggest blessings my mother-in-law continues to give me is that she purposefully uses language when talking about my husband, her son, that honors my place as his wife. I have never felt like I had to compete for his affection or that we were in competition. We are team. I strive to pass on that same gift when our sons marry. Our family has never had to deal with the stereotypical “in-laws,” on either side. My mother has blessed me by providing a godly example while I was growing up so that I can in turn teach my children that the mother is the heart of the home. I know that I am not providing as good of an example as she did for me, but I keep trying.

So, today, I want to honor our parents, my children’s grandparents, as well as my biological and adopted grandparents. Without their love, support, and positive influence, our lives would not be as rich as they are today.   We love you Mom and Dad, and Mom and Dad!

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