Friday, October 31, 2014

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Enjoying the Process

Since I've been feeling better, I've been trying to get back to some activities that I enjoy so I keep feeling good. I've had this pile sitting in various places around the house for years:

This is a project that my grandma gave me a long time ago. She gave me the instruction book, fabric, needles, and every color of embroidery floss so I could create a beautiful counted cross stitch picture.

So I got it out last Sunday afternoon and this is what I found:
Quite a bit was done, but as I worked I realized that there were many, many, many tiny stitches left before the picture would be complete. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should just cut it up and throw it away. I didn't know if it was worth my time just for a cute picture.

I kept stitching, but I pondered that unwelcome, destructive thought for a while. Here's what I realized: sometimes I approach life this way, too. I want to see that perfect, completed picture and know that my life turns out beautiful, but I dread the work it takes to get there. I want instant progress and answers, but life seldom works that way. Usually we have many hours, days, weeks, and years of seemingly thankless, painstaking work before we see the finished product.
With counted cross stitch, you don't do it because it is less expensive and easier than buying a finished picture. You do it because it can be relaxing and fun to see your tiny stitches add up until you finally see a picture taking shape. You enjoy the process and then you enjoy the final product.

I think that's something we can focus on this week. Let's all try to enjoy the process. Enjoy this life that God has given us. Stop wishing that the "picture" was complete and instead take delight in each criss and cross of the lives we lead. Sure, sometimes the thread will get tangled or we may have miscounted and have to rip out a little section and try again to get it right, but we can enjoy even those moments as we slow down and look at the big picture more closely.

I will keep plugging away at my counted cross stitch project, and I pray that all of us can keep plugging away at the lives we each lead. Enjoy the different colors that we get to work with and marvel at the different picture that God has designed for each of us.

We won't see those life pictures completed until we reach heaven someday, but here's a picture of what my project will look like when I finally get it done: 

I'm going to keep working on it, and I'm going to keep trying to enjoy every moment of this life I've been given. I don't have to just wish for the final results; I can enjoy the process each step of the way.

Do you get frustrated when you think there's too much work involved before you see the results you desire? Can you see how focusing on God can help you to really enjoy the process as you go through life?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Delayed Gratification

First of all, I'm happy (yes, really happy) to report that I am feeling very good lately. The medicine is working and I am enjoying life again. That said, I know that I have some work to do as I talk with my psychiatrist and counselor in upcoming weeks.

I can feel anxiety rising when I think too much about how I let the teaching job go. I can feel worry start to nibble at me when I sense that someone may be getting angry at me (and I don't even wait to see if they're really angry, I just assume they are because of the conversation I start having with myself in my head). Yes, I have work to do.

I asked my psychiatrist about dropping one of the medicines I'm on last week and she explained that she wouldn't do that until I'm on it for a month or two. "You're just newly well" she cautioned. She didn't want to mess with anything as long as I was feeling good. In the office I nodded my head, but I'm afraid of what it says about me when I went home thinking about just going off it for a few days to see if it really would make a difference. I stayed on it. I'm learning to trust my doctors.

As I think about all of that, I've become aware of a tendency I have. A tendency many of us have if we're willing to admit it. I don't like to practice delayed gratification. I want things to happen in my life NOW. Not six months from now, not six weeks from now, not six days from now. Today, please God.

I look around my house and see things that need to be cleaned and organized and I want it done right away. I forget that it accumulated over several months or years, so it may take a little time to sort through it and have it looking clean and orderly.

I look at extra pounds I'm carrying around and I want them gone soon. I know they crept on little by little as I made some poor choices with diet and exercise. It's going to take some time to make better choices and get more fit.

I look at the various writing projects I have started and I want them published this year. This is where most of my frustration lies, because I have lots of things in my life like that. I have big ideas, but I don't get some things accomplished because I don't put the time in now that will make those ideas become a reality somewhere down the road.

These are the things I need to work on with my counselor in the next few months. I already feel like I have a little more focus now that I'm feeling better, so I'm hoping I can make some headway in those areas of my life.

As we focus on delayed gratification today, we all need to remember that the choices we make today will affect things in the future. Choosing to sort through a pile of papers for a few minutes every day will lead to less chaos in our home. Choosing water instead of Pepsi and fruit instead of candy will lead to healthier habits and possible weight loss (if only I can avoid buying candy corn during this season!). Choosing to write for an hour instead of watching a mindless TV show may lead to a finished book eventually.

We need to say no to some things now so that we can enjoy wonderful benefits someday. Mostly, we need to keep our focus on God. He's the one who will show us where we are now and will lead us to where He wants us in the future.

Now that is worth some delayed gratification.

(I just have to thank for teaching me to make this awesome graphic.)

Do you find it difficult to say "no" to something now because you don't want to wait? Can you see how focusing on God can help you say no and enjoy some wonderful results in the future?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Failure

It's Friday again. Time to focus...on failure? That doesn't seem very productive, does it? Stick with me. I think we'll all learn something if we focus on failure for a while and then move on.

That's the key, I think. Moving on. When I got home from the hospital I felt great for a couple of days and then I started to feel worse as I started to worry a little bit about people's reactions to letting my teaching job go. 

I felt much less stress because I didn't have the job to worry about anymore, but I also felt a different kind of mild anxiety because I had to admit to myself that I had failed at something. This is not a comfortable feeling for me. I've never liked to fail. Usually when I put my mind to doing something, I get it done and I do it quite well. Teaching was a big commitment and I didn't go into it flippantly. I fully intended to do a good job, be a great teacher, and succeed.

It didn't work out. I did the best I could at the time but finally decided that the job wasn't for me after it led to too much anxiety and depression.

Failing doesn't feel good. I can remember being with a group of people in a store once a long time ago and we were looking at those Magic Eye posters that have a 3D image hidden in the picture. I couldn't see it. Someone else in our group stared at the poster for a few seconds and announced with delight, "Oh, I can see it! That is so cool!" I felt extremely frustrated and upset because I considered myself smarter than this person and I couldn't figure out why she could see it and I couldn't. 

I realize how petty that sounds. I know it related to my pride and I still get in trouble with that when I compare myself with others. We can't do that! We have to stop judging others and just focus on the journey we are on as we go through life.

We are all going to fail at times. We will fail in big ways and we will fail in small ways. I think we get stuck emotionally when we focus on those failures and can't move on. 

How do we move on? By focusing on Grace. By forgiving ourselves for our failures - big and small. By learning from our failures and determining to do our best in the future. 

I was puttering around in my craft area one day and I had a CD playing in the background. I stopped and really listened as one song caught my attention: Daughter of Grace by Twila Paris. The second verse seemed to resonate deeply with me and I had to play the song again to let it soak in:

     She spent half her life working hard to be someone you had to admire
     Met the expectations and added something of her own
     So proud of all that she had done
     (Where was the glory?)
     So proud of all that she had not done
     'Til she knelt beneath a wall that will could never scale
     Broken and discovering that she could fail
     There she found the end of herself
     Heard her own voice crying for help
     And she was

     Carried in the arms of love and mercy
     Breathing in a second wind
     Shining with the light of each new morning
     Looking into hope again
     Unable to take another step
     Finally ready to begin
     Born for a second time in a brand new place
     Daughter of Grace

Grace is there for our failures. We can move on, secure in the knowledge that God loves us unconditionally and we can feel hope and joy and peace as we begin again after failure.

Do you have any failures that are holding you back right now? Do you see how focusing on God's Grace can get you "unstuck" and let you move on with hope? 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Mental Health

Today and tomorrow I'm in Michigan attending the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. I look forward to this event every October and I learn so much as I sit in on different workshops, plenary sessions, and talk to lots of people who love to write as much as I do.

This is good for my mental health. I'm feeling so much better than I did just a few weeks ago. The medicine I'm taking is helping and I've also been talking to a counselor and I'm starting to get to the bottom of some of the stinking thinking that got me depressed recently. A friend recommended a great book called "Fresh Hope." I just got my copy, but it looks like a very helpful resource for people diagnosed with depression and other mood disorders. We don't have to live life constantly struggling. We can live well, with joy and hope. I'm glad I finally feel hope again and I've been feeling more joy, too.

Today is World Mental Health Day 2014. Saddleback Church hosted a 24 hour online event on mental illness. I know I'm writing at 10:30 p.m. so the event is almost over, but I hope the conversation continues even after this special day.

You can find resources and more information at

Before I close, I just want to share an important statistic about mental illness:

One in four adults−approximately 61.5 million Americans−experiences mental illness in a given
year. One in 17−about 13.6 million−live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

One in four adults. That means that many people you interact with at school, work, church, and in your community may be dealing with the symptoms of a mental illness. Pray for your friends and family members and be ready to offer help or take them to get help if they need it.

Most of all, if you find yourself losing hope and thinking about ending your life - get help! Talk to your spouse or someone you trust* and go to the emergency room if you need to. Life is worth living and you can get better. Never give up hope!

Admitting you need help does not make you a bad Christian or a weak person. Getting help takes courage and will bring you to a new place in your spiritual life so that you can live a fulfilling life as you follow the Lord.

Praying a little prayer for everyone suffering from a mental illness tonight. ~Robyn

*National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

What are your thoughts about mental illness? Do you see it as a weakness or a sin? Can you see how focusing on God can give you the strength to get help and live a more fulfilling, healthy life? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Judging

This has been kind of a rough week. Last Friday and Saturday I felt pretty good. I was home from the hospital and everything looked different to me. Colors seemed brighter and it seemed like I looked at everything like I was seeing it for the first time. I was grateful to be alive and I felt so hopeful. Sunday morning I felt a little worse, but I decided to go to church and it felt so good to worship with our church family and feel their love and support. It seems like each day since then I have felt a little bit more down somehow. I think the medicine still needs some time to work, but it's also because of the negative thought patterns I've developed.

I thought I was doing so much better in recent years. God has been teaching me to think better thoughts, to trust Him more, and to live in more freedom than I did in my younger days. He's taught me using different Bible studies and life experiences over the years. I guess this situation with teaching, stress, and depression is just bringing me through an intensive time of learning. I'm realizing that I have more work to do on how I think about myself and about life. This week has been harder because I've been thinking about how I let people down: the students, the school system, and even myself. I can think myself into a bad place again when I focus on what I should have done differently or what other people may think about what happened.

I have to let all of that go. For some reason, teaching was not meant to be. I can't worry about other people's opinions. I just need to do my best with where I'm at right now and keep following God where He leads. I talked with a psychiatrist this week to make sure I'm on the right medication and start figuring out what led to this depression. Before I left, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "You will get better." She didn't sound the least bit doubtful and, somehow, I believe her. I'm not better yet, but I know I'll get there.

I want to leave you with an entry from a wonderful devotional that Gary brought me right after I went to the hospital. A friend from church also gave me a copy along with some encouraging verses she wrote out for me. This entry really encouraged me and reminded me that we can't judge each other. We just need to live our lives trusting God and trying to please Him.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (2004, Thomas Nelson)
September 25:    
     Pour all of your energy into trusting Me. It is through trust that you stay connected to Me, aware of My Presence. Every step on your life-journey can be a step of faith. Baby steps of trust are simple for you; you can take them with almost unconscious ease. Giant steps are another matter altogether: leaping across chasms in semidarkness, scaling cliffs of uncertainty, trudging through the valley of the shadow of death. These feats require sheer concentration, as well as utter commitment to Me.
     Each of My children is a unique blend of temperament, giftedness, and life experiences. Something that is a baby step for you may be a giant step for another person, and vice versa. Only I know the difficulty or ease of each segment of your journey. Beware of trying to impress others by acting as if your giant steps are only baby ones. Do not judge others who hesitate in trembling fear before an act that would be easy for you. If each of My children would seek to please Me above all else, fear of others' judgments would vanish, as would attempts to impress others. Focus your attention on the path just ahead of you and on the One who never leaves your side.

Isn't that a beautiful reminder? I need to remember those thoughts as I move forward. I'm not sure if I'll be taking baby steps for a while, or if God is asking me to take some giant steps during this time, but I know I can trust Him as I focus on Him and obey. I pray that each of you can trust and obey Him as you continue on your life-journey. Remember, "every step...can be a step of faith."

"Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe." (Proverbs 29:25)

Are you tempted to judge others as you look at their "trembling fear" when facing something that seems like a baby step to you? Do you feel pride when you've taken a giant step? How can focusing just on God and the path ahead of you help you to stop judging others and even yourself?