Friday, January 30, 2015

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Runaway Thoughts

For the past several month I've been reading from the devotional "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young. I love the way she writes from Jesus' perspective and reminds us about getting our focus on Him so that we can enjoy peace in His presence. Lately the devotions have been mentioning how important it is to take our thoughts captive and worship only God. Anything else we focus on becomes an idol, even our anxious thoughts.

This resonated strongly with me because I continue to struggle with how I think. I'm sick of myself, quite frankly. My depression is getting better thanks to counseling and medication. I find myself humming around the house quite often, so you would think that means I'm happy, wouldn't you?

Well, apparently some part of me has not gotten that message because I still find myself often thinking in very negative ways. I think ahead to how things could go in the future and I feel fear. I think back to how things have gone in the past and I feel guilt and regret. I think about how things are going each moment of the day and I usually feel either pride or frustration (and then guilt for feeling either of those things). So much focus on those kinds of thoughts leads me right back to feeling hopeless and depressed.

On the other hand, when my focus is on God I really do feel more hope, joy, and peace. I've had a word picture in my head today that seems to relate to this idea. I'm picturing a large herd of wild horses, running together through a beautiful landscape. They are strong, sleek, and fearless. They move almost as one as their pounding hooves leave the miles behind. Then my mind imagined a dumb old mule running into the midst of all of these powerful animals. He lets out a bellowing "Hee haw" and stands stubbornly in the midst of the herd, kicking his hind legs out behind him, refusing to run where the herd is going.

I think this image just may help me to be a little more deliberate about how I'm thinking. I think my thoughts focused on God are more like the wild horses. There is power there, there is beauty, there is purpose. There is also a bit of fear because you never know exactly where God will take you, but you know the ride will be exciting. 

Random negative thoughts are like that dumb mule that gets in there and messes everything up. Those thoughts ruin our momentum, slow us down, keep us stuck, and often make us look like a fool. Maybe it will help if I try to recognize those "mule thoughts" and focus more on the thoughts that give me the beautiful power of those wild stallions.

I don't know if it will help, but I'm going to give it a try. 

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)

Do you ever have runaway thoughts? How can keeping your focus on God help you to feel more hope, peace, and joy?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Memories

I've been going through some old files full of pictures and letters in one of my file cabinets the last couple of days. (We won't talk about the many other things I should probably be doing.) It has been really fun to walk down memory lane and read letters from friends, look at pictures people have sent over the years, look at nice thank you notes and greeting cards people have given us, and find things I didn't even remember I had. Here's the inside of a Mother's Day card Erin made for me in 1999:

In case you can't read it, it says "If I had 3 moms because they kept dying, you would be the best one!" Isn't that sweet? :-) (She was only 7.)

If I hadn't gone through my files, I wouldn't have found that little gem. My heart was warmed by memories of friends that I've lost touch with and reminders of friends I've made in recent years, as well as friends I've corresponded with for years and years. Sure, I weeded out some letters that no longer meant much to me, but there were many that I read over and put right back in the file because they brought a smile to my face and warm feelings to my heart.

I remember when I was in college and I saw that one of my friends had ripped up a letter from her mom and thrown it in the trashcan. I was appalled because words meant so much to me. I kept every letter I received from home and treasured it. Now, looking back I realize that my friend and her mom wrote each other much more often than my parents and I did and she probably couldn't keep every letter. I've gotten a bit more selective about what I keep as well. Today I found myself tossing quite a few Christmas form letters from years ago. They were interesting to read at the time, but my friends and family are different now and I don't need all of the facts from 1995. I found it much more difficult to throw away a thoughtful, handwritten letter because it contained much more personal information and memories of times that person and I had shared. 

I can't keep everything anyone ever writes to me, but you can bet I'll keep most of them so I have something special to read when I'm old and gray (oops, starting to get there already!).

We can't live in the past, but memories are something we can treasure as we go through life. Our minds start to fail us as we get older, so it's good to have pictures, letters, and mementos to jog our memories and remind us of special people we've known and events we've lived through.

I'm so thankful for each and every person God has brought into my life in the last 48 years, and I can't wait to see who He will arrange for me to meet in whatever years I have left. Life sure is exciting, isn't it?

"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV)

Is it time to look through old letters and photos and relive some memories? How can focusing on memories give us the strength and confidence to move forward in life and make some new memories?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Trouble

I've been reminded this week that we never know exactly how life is going to go. We can be going happily along, busy with everything we have going on in our lives and things can change just like that.

Gary's sister Cheryl found that out the hard way last Saturday night. She was on her way home from helping her sister-in-law with funeral preparations for her husband and she got into a serious car accident. Stopping at a blinking red light, she didn't realize that the cross traffic didn't have to stop and she pulled out in front of a pickup. He tried to swerve but hit her mostly on the drivers side door and they both ended up side by side in a field. Cheryl is in intensive care and has many broken bones and lots of swelling. She has had a breathing tube in for most of the week and they don't want to take it out until more of the swelling goes down. She's in rough shape but we're all very hopeful that she will be able to recover completely, even though it may take some time.

Cheryl and LeRoy and their family have seen quite a bit of trouble in their lives. It's inspiring to see how they stick together and support each other through the good and the bad times. We'll keep praying for all of them as they make it through another very difficult time.

Two ladies from our church may be nearing the end of their lives very soon. We are all praying for them and their families as they go through this time of trouble.

I don't really have very profound thoughts this week. I just want to remind all of us that trouble does come. It shouldn't surprise us and it shouldn't discourage us completely. The Bible tells us it will happen:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33 NIV)

Jesus said those words, and hopefully they can help us when times of trouble come. No matter what the situation, we can have peace and take heart because ultimately Jesus has overcome the world and its trouble.

Please pray for my sister-in-law Cheryl as she continues to recover. Pray for Helen and Darlene, the dear ladies who may be nearing the end of their days here on this earth. Pray for everyone who may be dealing with trouble right now. Do not dread trouble, but be ready to "take heart" when trouble comes. No matter what happens, Jesus will help us get through it.

Do you know someone who has trouble right now? Do you lose heart when trouble comes to you? Can you see how focusing on God can help you get through times of trouble?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Hope

By now, you probably realize that this blog comes from whatever I'm dealing with each week. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Yesterday I was dealing with some ugly stuff again. I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning and I kind of moped through my day. Several times I had the thought "This is hopeless." I don't feel as bad as I did, but I don't feel as good as I'd like, either. I looked around at all that I could and should be doing and had trouble deciding just what to do. So I did a whole lot of nothing.

That's not a good way to spend the day, my friends. A little before supper I decided to do my devotions from "Jesus Calling." I read the devotional for the day and looked up the verses and was amazed to once again have God meet me right where I'm at and remind me of things I'd forgotten.

Here's what I read:

I immediately felt so much better. Of course things are not hopeless because I have God. A God of hope! As a Christian I need to cling desperately to that hope and let it fill me with joy and peace.

Now, that being said, there are times when we can't find hope. Sometimes depression causes chemical changes in our brains and it's almost impossible to find any hope. That's when we need to reach out for help. Medications and good counseling can get us back to a more stable emotional condition where we can find hope again and that hope will get us back to a place where we can feel joy and peace instead of sadness, anxiety, and despair.

If we're just having a bad day we can remind ourselves of the hope we have in God. Hope makes all the difference when we're going through a hard time. We don't muster it up on our own. We need to let the power of the Holy Spirit give us that hope so that it can overflow and encourage everyone around us.

Do you ever lose hope? How can focusing on hope help us to get through difficult times?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on "Good Enough"

This week I went to see my counselor and toward the end of our time together she said something like this: "You know, I think you're going to be a lot happier when you finally get to the point where you believe you're good enough." That thought has stuck with me in the days since then. That is one of my biggest problems. I can't quite believe that I'm really good enough. I always think I should be better; a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better Christian. I'm never just "good enough."

Please don't misunderstand me. This blog post is not a ploy to get everyone to reassure me that I'm good enough. I realize that most people think I'm more than good enough. They compliment me often and I say thank you, but deep down inside I think I usually disagree with them. I have no problem accepting people as they are, but I don't extend that same grace to myself. So this blog post is for everyone who may also struggle with the disappointment of not being "good enough."

It's good to have goals for ourselves and try to improve if we lack certain skills or have character flaws, but we can't expect perfection. This is a lesson that I keep learning over and over again. Sometimes I get it and I go along happily, accepting myself as I am, but more often I focus on where I fall short and I get upset because I'm not "good enough."

I looked in my concordance and found two full pages with verses containing the word "love" or "loved." As I looked them over I could feel myself starting to really appreciate God's love for me, and I hadn't even looked up any verses yet. When I did look some up, I found some great ones:

Galatians 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

John 15:9 - As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

How do we remain in His love? Psalm 48:9b says, "we meditate on your unfailing love." We think about it often and let God's love wash over us until we really believe that we are loved and we are good enough.

I have heard writer and speaker Susie Larson recommend something that may help us. She says that God prompted her to change "God, I love you so much" to "God, you love me so much." If we keep repeating that to ourselves it just might help us to really believe that we are good enough.

Many of the verses in my concordance said "His love endures forever" and talked about "His unfailing love." That's what all of us want, don't we? God loves us right where we're at, so we really can believe that we are good enough. I'll keep working on that, and I hope you do, too.

Do you have trouble believing that you're "good enough?" Can you meditate on God's love for you and keep doing it until you really believe it?