Friday, December 30, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Setting Up For a New Year

I have a list of 10 things I wanted to do in 2016.

I completely accomplished three of my ten goals: I finished Italian on Duolingo, I itemized my credit card bills monthly, and I read the Bible all the way through.

I partly completed four of my other goals: I submitted some devotionals to Keys for Kids (and they were accepted!), I lost some of the pounds I wanted to shed, I worked on a nonfiction project, and I got a little better at push-ups.

I didn't do anything on the other three goals: I wanted to read The Power of a Praying Wife by March 1, I planned to make homemade Christmas cards by August 1, and I wanted to fast and pray for my family members one time a month.

I didn't do those three things because I never went back and looked at my list after I made it in January. I got into some habits that let me get some of my goals done, but I could have accomplished more if I had just reminded myself of what I wanted to do.

So, as we get ready to begin a new year, I want to remind all of us to take some time to set ourselves up for success. Know what you want to accomplish and review those goals often.

As for me, I think I'm cutting my list down to five for next year and I'm going to keep my list in front of me in January, February, March, and all through the year.

I'm going to set some goals, but be open to changing them or letting them go if God prompts me to focus on something else.

Most of all, I'm going to make sure I'm set up to focus completely on God as I live each day. With Him at the center, I'll accomplish everything He wants me to do. I'll be the woman He has made me to be.

That should make for a pretty good year.

"If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name," says the LORD Almighty, "I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me." (Malachi 2:2 NIV)

Did you accomplish all you wanted to do in 2016? How can focusing on God help you to set good goals and work toward them in 2017?

I promise I'll tell you more about the Grand Canyon trip one of these weeks!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Christmas

It's almost Christmas. Are you ready?

You'll be happy to know that we finally decorated our tree last weekend:

I finally got online and ordered some presents for the kids, but they're not wrapped yet.

Our Christmas letters are not done (I can partly blame a broken printer for that). They'll wait until next week when we get a new printer.

My depression has flared up a bit over the last week or so, but I'm doing what I can to stay on top of it and not let it get worse. Part of the reason I'm feeling down, I think, is that my knees have been bothering me since our hiking trip in the Grand Canyon, so I haven't been exercising very much. It really makes a difference!

As you've probably figured out by Focus Friday posts usually contain things that I'm thinking about or struggling with. I wish I could just write a cheerful entry about the joys of Christmas, but I have to acknowledge that it can be a stressful time of year and many people may struggle with emotional problems around the holidays.

If you are experiencing any of that, try to lower your expectations and focus on the real reason for this season: Jesus Christ. 

God came to earth as a tiny baby. It's almost too much for our human brains to comprehend, but if we stop and really think about what that means it can help us get our perspective back. 

Jesus lived and died here on earth for us. And it all started in that stable many years ago.

So, I have one more day to get ready for Christmas, but as I wrap presents and bake cookies and write my Christmas letter I'm going to think about that baby and how thankful I am for his birth, his life, and his death. He did all of that for me, and that gives me hope

Merry Christmas, everyone!

"She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21 NIV)

Do you get too stressed out around the holidays? How can focusing on God help you to feel more peace and remember the real reason we celebrate Christmas?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on...Something!

It's December 16 and our Christmas tree looks like this:

I finally got it set up on Monday and put lights on it on Tuesday. The plan was for the three kids at home to put the decorations on this week, but they all seem to be finding other things they'd rather do. Maybe we'll all decorate the tree on Christmas Eve (didn't they do stuff like that in the Little House books?).

Truth is, I've been having a little trouble focusing now that we're back from our trip last week. 

My knees are still bothering me and I'm wondering if I did more damage than I thought on our hiking adventure. Time will tell.

I wanted to share a nice post full of pictures and wisdom from our experience at the Grand Canyon, but I didn't work on it and it's getting a little late now. (Maybe next week!)

I've been piddling away the week...I did the dishes and some laundry, I helped at the daycare a couple of times, and I sorted through some paperwork in one of my desk drawers. Those were the productive times! Much of the rest of the week was spent watching lots of Fuller House episodes (I'm caught up now so I can move on to something else) and snacking way too much.

Maybe I can blame the weather. It has been so, so, so cold here.

Maybe I can cut myself some slack and just acknowledge that it's been one of those weeks where I needed some rest and diversion. What a concept! Showing myself grace instead of wallowing in the shame and guilt of not doing enough, not being enough, not accomplishing enough.

It's never too late to start over, figure out where our focus needs to be, and move in that direction. Perhaps that means digging into a project you've been putting off for way too long, or maybe it means giving yourself permission to relax and watch one of your favorite shows or a good movie.

When you feel distracted and unfocused, that's the time to stop and focus on...something!

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)

Do you ever have times where you feel restless and unfocused? How can focusing on God help you to feel peace as you either work hard or decide to enjoy some rest? 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on the Grand Canyon

Gary and I had a wonderful time at the Grand Canyon earlier this week.

We got there on Sunday and took a walk along the rim trail. 
Such a beautiful place!

(It was just a little too bright for pictures on Sunday evening)
 On Monday morning we took a shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trail and got ready to begin our descent into the Grand Canyon.

It was cold when we started out, but we were prepared.
 Lizzy, the plastic lizard, hitched a ride on my backpack. Some people in the dorm thought it was cute, but it really made my day when someone finally pointed it out on the trail on Wednesday and thought it was real for a few seconds. 

Sometimes I was almost too tired to lift my foot over these stones along the trail.
We hiked down on Monday (7.4 miles), then took a three-mile (round trip) hike to an overlook after we got settled in at Phantom Ranch.

On Tuesday we hiked to Ribbon Falls - about fourteen miles round trip.

On Wednesday we hiked up the Bright Angel trail (9.9 miles). It was covered with snow toward the rim.

Here we are after we made it all the way up on Wednesday. It was a beautiful trail but the last couple of miles are pretty grueling. Lots of switchbacks to get up to the Canyon rim. It took us eight hours.

We had such a good time! These few pictures cannot do it justice, and I am still a bit exhausted from all the hiking we did. (We also hiked at Arches National Park in Utah on Thursday and then drove through some snow and ice to get to Denver last night)

Now we're enjoying a little time at our daughter Erin's house in Shenandoah, Iowa before we go home tomorrow.

I think that's it for this week. I'll try to have a more coherent post next week showing some of the awesome sights we saw along the trails and some things I learned during our adventure.

We did it! We hiked the Grand Canyon and lived to tell the tale.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race [It wasn't a race out of the Canyon, but we finished!], I have kept the faith [We kept believing we would make it]." (2 Timothy 4:7 NIV)

Have you ever set out on an adventure and you weren't sure what the outcome would be? How can focusing on God help you to keep going and see it through even when it gets difficult?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on This and That

My mind is going in a hundred different directions tonight. 

Gary and I were going to leave today for a trip to the Grand Canyon. We didn't. 

Oh, don't worry, we're still going. We're just going to leave tomorrow at about 3 p.m. and drive pretty much straight through to the Grand Canyon. It wasn't what we were planning on, but friends from church lost their sixty year old daughter on Wednesday evening and Gary is going to do the funeral tomorrow. Sally was a very special woman and her parents will miss her so much. We love our congregation and we're glad we could make this work out and that she didn't pass away while we were already on our trip. 

That was a little bit of "this." Now here's a little bit of "that":

I didn't win NaNoWriMo this year. I admitted defeat on Tuesday with 25, 224 words. The story wasn't going anywhere and I had too much to do to justify writing furiously on Nov. 30 just to make the word count. I think I might be growing up because it didn't upset me too much to let it go and turn to other things on that last day of November.

I finally have a number for you in my project to go through all of my clothes: 363. Yes, that's right. Almost one item for every day of the year. I've filled two boxes with items for Goodwill, but I'm afraid I haven't been ruthless with my clothing choices. I have put some neatly into my drawers and closet, but way too many things stayed on Blake's bed for way too long. Tonight I put the last of the items on the bed into some boxes and stacked them by my bed to finish sorting through "later." (When is "later" for a procrastinator?)

I think I'd better call it a night and get to bed. I'm looking forward to enjoying time in the Grand Canyon with Gary on Monday to Wednesday of next week. God sure created a beautiful place when He made that! I'll be sure to post some pictures on Facebook after we make it out (no cell reception in the canyon).

Hopefully I can turn off my brain and get to sleep once I go to bed. Right now it's jumping from "what should I be packing?" to "what do I have to get done here at home just in case we fall over the edge at the Grand Canyon?" I'm kidding! Mostly.

Before I lay my head on my pillow tonight, I'm going to spend a few minutes meditating on this verse: 

"Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth [the Grand Canyon?], and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land." (Psalm 95:1-5 NIV)

Maybe that will help my thoughts stop bouncing around on so many things.

Are you busy with lots of projects and finding it hard to focus? How can taking a few minutes to focus on God help you calm down and decide what to do next? 


Friday, November 25, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Giving Thanks

Last week I told you I might tell you my final clothing number this week. Unfortunately, I don't have that number for you yet. Here is a visual, though:

That's pretty much my entire wardrobe in one place. I didn't think this through very well. The end of November may not have been the best time for a procrastinator to undertake this clothes counting/sorting project. It's NaNoWriMo, Thanksgiving was this week, and we're getting ready for our hike at the Grand Canyon. Yep, good intentions but poor timing.

The piles are still there, except for the stack of jeans on the corner of the bed (it's in Blake's room and he's at college so they can stay there at least until Christmas break). I'll keep picking away at the piles and try to give you a final tally sometime soon.

For this week, I think it's fitting to focus on thanks. Thanks for our clothing, thanks for the people in our lives, thanks for our family members and friends, thanks for our jobs, our hobbies, and our homes. But it also may be a good day to give thanks for the "bad" things in our lives. 

Thanks for the people that drive us crazy (whether it's a coworker, a child, a spouse, or a stranger we have to interact with at a store or on the phone). Thanks for the job that frustrates us. Thanks for the little things that irritate us about our homes, our vehicles, or our wardrobes. Thanks for the world situations that break our hearts and tempt us to worry.

We can be thankful for all of those things because each of them can push us closer to God and help us to develop the discipline of choosing a good attitude in the midst of difficult times. Life will be better if we can develop the habit of giving thanks in all circumstances.

Thankful for all of you today... ~Robyn

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)

Do you find it difficult to give thanks for the difficult things in your life? How can focusing on God help you to develop that important habit?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Enough

A while back I read a book called More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity by Jeff Shinabarger (DavidCCook, 2013). It was a great book that helped me to look at different areas of my life and see how I could live with less and give more to others. 

One section stuck with me: Enough Clothing. In that chapter, he told about a girl named Ashley who did a social experiment so she could relate to the people in her neighborhood who didn't have as much choice about the clothes they wore as she did. She decided to wear everything she owned one time. She figured she could maybe go for 70 days...but she ended up going for 156 days. It was interesting to see what she learned from her social experiment.

She owned 190 articles of clothing. In the months since then, I've been wondering how many articles of clothing I own. I'm a little scared to find out. You see, my clothes are all over the place...

In the four-drawer dresser in our bedroom:

Piled up on the floor next to our bed:

In half of our bedroom closet (and piled in front of it sometimes): 

 Two drawers in the hallway right outside our bedroom:

Two drawers in Blake's room:
I forgot I even owned the jeans I found here!

And in an upstairs closet:
The prom dresses aren't mine, but the rest of these clothes a box full underneath!

Do you see why I'm a little scared to start counting? 

As Thanksgiving approaches, I think I just might take some time and do a little inventory. I know there are many items of clothing that I never wear. I seem to have favorites that I grab most of the time for all sorts of reasons. I'm thankful for the clothes I have, but this may be a good time of year to take stock and give some away to those who need them and will wear them.

Just how much is enough? If I'm brave, I'll tell you next week what my final count was. Until then, I'm going to make sure I'm thanking God for all of His blessings. I take them for granted way too often.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving next week, everyone!

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever."                                                                             (Psalm 107:1 NIV)

Do you have too much of something? How can focusing on God help you to be grateful for what you have and decide to be content with enough?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Good Conduct

This has been a tough week for all of us. I don't feel like I can focus on anything but the current political situation in our country, but I don't feel smart enough or brave enough to attempt a detailed analysis of what has been going on.

My heart hurts over the division we are seeing in our country. No matter who you voted for on Tuesday, you're probably experiencing some uncertainty about what the future holds. I just want to remind you: If you're a Christian then you have many reasons to have hope for the future. God is sovereign and He has everything under control.

So for this week, I'd like to focus on good conduct. So many people are expressing their feelings with hurtful, hateful words toward those who don't agree with them. "My brothers and sisters, this should not be!" (James 3:9-10)

At Fresh Hope this week we talked about a topic called "The 4 Conducts" from Fresh Hope's topic cards (#302). Even if you don't deal with a mental health diagnosis, I think it might help all of us to take a look at them today.

1. Speak carefully. Words can hurt or heal. Use words for good. Say what you mean, mean what you say. 

"May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD." (Psalm 19:14 NIV)

2. Be humble. It really isn't all about you. Look at others as the Lord sees them.

"All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another..." (1 Peter 5:5 NIV)

3. Live in truth. Believe in the power of truth. Speak truth in love. Seek truth.

"Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth." (Psalm 86:11a NIV)

4. Always do your best. Do your best for whatever state you are in - good days or bad days. Live for an audience of one (for God).

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23-24 NIV)

Let's all try to put these 4 conducts into practice. They will help us in all of our relationships.

Do you have problems with communication? How can focusing on God and practicing these 4 conducts help you improve relationships and experience more peace?  

Friday, November 4, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on What's Really Going On

I was distressed for most of today. I felt sluggish and tired when I exercised this morning. After I showered and ate breakfast I took a nap for about an hour. I couldn't seem to get enough energy to get much of anything done around the house. I felt kind of foggy and couldn't concentrate. When Gary and I went to Waverly I dozed off in the car.

While all of this was going on, I started getting in a really down mood. You see, I decided to go back on my old medication for depression because the new one had me bouncing up and down emotionally a little too much. I talked to my doctor and asked about going back on the old med. I've been on it for a couple of weeks now, and today upset me because I thought I was going to have to try something different again. I didn't remember being so tired when I was on it before, but I figured it was just the medicine.

Shoot! Here we go again. I don't want to try something new! I was having all kinds of negative conversations in my head.

Then Gary asked me how I slept last night. "I didn't hear you snore at all," he commented. A light went on as I remembered that I had taken a Zyrtec before bed last night in hopes that it would keep me from snoring and bothering my poor hubby.

"I bet that's why I've been tired all day!" I exclaimed. What a relief. Hopefully I'll get my bearings back after it gets out of my system.

Don't we do that sometimes in other areas of life? 

Someone makes a careless comment or seems to ignore us and we jump to all sorts of conclusions. They don't like me. They're so stuck up. I must have done something to offend them. Our minds can tell us all kinds of things about why someone does the things they do.

Many times, what's really going on has nothing to do with us at all. Maybe the other person is having a terrible day and doesn't think about what they're saying. Maybe they don't see us when we think they're ignoring us.

We can look at the political scene or hear news of tragedies in our country and around the world and we get depressed because it seems so hopeless and scary.

What's really going on is that God is in control. We will never understand why He allows unthinkable things to happen in this world, but we can still trust Him.

We have to look past our circumstances to figure out what's really going on. God will help us discern where we might need to change our thoughts or actions and where we may need to show grace to someone else even if they have hurt us. 

Forgive me if none of this makes sense this week. My brain is still a bit foggy. I'm going to bed soon. Without Zyrtec. Hopefully poor Gary doesn't have to endure too much snoring tonight.

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8 NIV)

Do you get upset by circumstances? How can focusing on God help you to see what's really going on and change your actions or attitude about certain situations?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Herding Cats

On Sunday morning, a group of kids from our daycare is going to do special music in church. I'm not sure how many are coming. I'm not sure exactly who will be there. I do know it will be fun.

I've taken my guitar and my set of preschool handbells up to Allison Little Lambs a few times in the last couple of weeks and three times this week.

I'm thinking maybe we should have practiced much, much more for this little musical endeavor.

I've never had the same group of kids playing the handbells. Not once. Sometimes I've had eight kids playing them. Sometimes I've had six. Some kids have played them one time, others have played them multiple times.
The practice sessions are peppered with comments like: 
     "George*, don't touch the inside of the bell."
     "Fiona, try not to clang the bells together, honey."
     "Stop ringing, everybody! Wait for the music to start."
     "Sorry, Clyde, you can't play the red ones this time." (Clyde proceeds to pout and won't play the green ones I've put in front of him)    

It's not difficult to play these bells, but it does take a bit of concentration. The kids have to watch the cards I hold in front of them and play their bell when they see their number.

For four and five year olds, it can be a little tricky. I tried to make it easier by coloring the top of the oval, but there are light green and dark green bells, and light blue and dark blue bells. Mistakes are made. It happens.

While the music plays, some kids play their hearts out when they see their number/color. Others set their bells down and watch the kids around them. Some hold their bells expectantly, but they don't play when their card comes up. Others ring randomly when they get tired of waiting.

The two and three year old class has been practicing singing Jesus Loves Me and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for quite a while now. They sound great. I've been practicing with them the last couple of weeks with the guitar. Some of them sing along, but others stare in fascination at the wonderful instrument I'm holding and forget to sing.  

We decided to try adding sign language to the chorus, but I'm afraid we started that too late. Some of them try, but others just smile sweetly when I raise my eyebrows and try to cue them to start the motions (very difficult when you're playing the guitar).

We didn't practice walking up to the front of church, picking up the bells, where they put them afterward. It could be mass chaos that day. 

You know what? I'm not worried. I've enjoyed singing with these kids. I've sung the words to Amazing Grace (our bell song) and tried to explain what that means in words they can understand. I hope they've caught at least a little bit of that awesome gift of God. I hope they smile and play and sing with as much enthusiasm as they have at Allison Little Lambs. I hope the congregation is blessed as they watch their smiling faces and realize how much these kids are learning about God and His grace.

As I've led music and helped at the daycare, I've been reminded more than once of a friend back in Chandler, Minnesota who compared leading our kids choir to "herding cats" and "trying to nail jello to a tree." It is crazy at times, but it's so worth it. God loves these kids and so do I.

Great things can happen when we relax and enjoy a little chaos once in a while. (You can see how it goes on Sunday if you click here - live at 9 a.m. central or on demand later)

"Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing." (Psalm 100:1-2 KJV)

Do you get uptight when you don't think things are going to go perfectly? How can focusing on God help you to relax and do your best, not worrying about every little detail? 

*(The names were changed in this post so I don't embarrass any of my little musicians.)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's (Not) Focus on Deceptive Words

I was reading in Jeremiah 7 this morning, and a couple of verses struck me:

"Do not trust in deceptive words and say, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!'" (verse 4)

"But look, you are trusting in deceptive words, that are worthless." (verse 8)

In this context, Jeremiah was supposed to proclaim a message to the people of Judah, warning them about how far they were straying from the LORD. The triple "temple of the LORD" reference above alludes to their vain and repetitious babbling. God talked to them again and again, but they refused to listen.

These verses in Jeremiah got me thinking about my own deceptive words. I very seldom lie to other people, but I'm afraid the words rattling around in my own head are often deceptive words.

I hear lots of vain and repetitious babbling going on up there:

"I'm so stupid, I'm so stupid, I'm so stupid." I know it's not true, but mistakes and failures often trigger thoughts like those.

"I never get anything done, I never get anything done, I never get anything done." Those deceptive words can keep me stuck and I really don't get things done when I believe them.

"Nobody likes me, nobody likes me, nobody likes me." This is the biggest lie of all. I know people like me, love me even, but insecurities can jump in and try to mess up my thoughts.

The only thing we can do is replace those deceptive words with the truth instead:

"I am blessed with a good brain and I can use it."
"I can't get everything done, but God will help me accomplish many things."
"God loves me with an everlasting love."

It's difficult, but we can learn to turn deceptive words around and focus on the truth instead.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

Are there any deceptive words rolling around in your head? How can focusing on God help you to turn them around and focus instead on the truth?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on What We're Moving Toward

Gary and I attended an event in Omaha on Thursday about Mental Health and the Church. It was put on by Fresh Hope (we facilitate a small group in Allison). It was a good day of hearing talks from Amy Simpson, Joe Padilla, and Pastor Brad Hoefs.

I enjoyed the day so much, but I was surprised to find myself getting kind of emotional toward the end of the event. Tears filled my eyes and I had to brush them away. I tried to figure out what was going on that was making me cry, but I was kind of stumped. 

I think it had to do with medicine at first. I started wondering if I should try going off my medicine (even though Fresh Hope strongly advocates for working with your doctors and staying on the medicines they prescribe), and then that kind of turned into negative feelings about the future. 

How silly to sit in the middle of an event focused on hope for those with a mental health challenge and start to lose that same hope. 

The Bible mentions hope over 120 times - that's a lot of hope!

Finally, my thoughts started to come back around when I heard Pastor Brad say something like this: "Focus on what you're moving toward, not what you're moving away from."

As you know, I love that word "focus." I realized what was going wrong in my thinking. I was focusing on the depression, the uncertainties of my mental health, the challenges of each day and what could go wrong.

Instead, I had to get my focus back where it belonged. I had to think about moving toward hope and a thriving life because Christ lives in me. 
We're more likely to hit the target if we're actually looking toward it instead of  behind us.

Maybe you're dealing with similar challenges as you read this. Can I urge you to focus on what you're moving toward instead of what you're moving away from?

Focus on little acts of kindness you can show toward your spouse that will bring you closer instead of focusing on how he (or she) has offended you or your own mistakes in communicating and relating.

Focus on small changes that will move you closer to a healthier, slimmer body instead of focusing on your tendency to overeat or what you look like in the mirror.

Focus on how much God loves you instead of focusing on how many times you've failed Him. (Another great quote from Thursday's event: "You're safe and you're enough.")

Focus on what you're moving toward instead of what you're moving away from. As for me, I'm going to keep moving toward hope.

" thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal...." (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

Are you focused too much on what you're moving away from? How can focusing on God help you to move steadily ahead toward your goal?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on How Things Used to Be

I'm in Michigan as I write this week. I had a great day today at Breathe Christian Writers Conference and I'm looking forward to more great info and conversation with fellow writers tomorrow.

I grew up in Michigan, but we live in Iowa now. Breathe gives me a chance to get back to my old stomping grounds. In my mind, everything looks just like it did when I lived there, but whenever I get back here and drive past old familiar places, I'm reminded that time does not stand still. My old elementary school, East Elementary, was torn down several years ago. Jackson Park Pool was also torn down, and the Wyoming Public Library where I worked looks nothing like it did back in my high school days.

Gary and I stayed in Holland on Wednesday night and did some bike riding on Thursday morning. We rode to the State Park and walked out on the pier, rode up to Tunnel Park, then rode a little farther to Camp Geneva. I went to church camp there many times as I was growing up. I thought it was great when I attended, but it looks even better now. They have nice new modern cabins, but I was pleased to see some of the old cabins where I stayed tucked way in the back. 
The old cabins are not visible in this pic, but they still exist!
 After our bike ride, we thought we deserved a treat, so we stopped at Captain Sundae out by the lake.

We were surprised to see that a mini golf course and other improvements had been made to one of our favorite ice cream shops. (Seriously, if you haven't had one of their Tommy Turtle sundaes, you must try one!) 

Seeing all of these changes got me thinking about the changes we go through. Hopefully, we do not stay exactly the same as the years go by. We learn and we grow from the experiences we have, the people we meet, and the choices we make.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and reintroduce myself to people who knew me when I was younger. I was so shy in high school. I had a few close friends and I was scared to talk to almost everyone else. I started to open up in college, but I was still awkward and afraid to be myself. Our years on the farm, then at Northwestern College and Western Seminary for Gary, five years at Chandler Reformed Church in Minnesota, and now seven years in Allison, Iowa...each year seems to bring a little more growth, making me a new and improved version of myself. It's exciting to see where God is leading me and how He's changing me, but I can look back with regret if I'm not careful. 

I need to let go of that. I was the best person I could be at every stage of my life. I will continue to grow and change as the years go by. How sad it would be if I were exactly the same now as I was in high school. I'm going to forget about my past deficiencies and keep moving forward, embracing the changes God makes in me.

I'm also going to pray that they keep the Tommy Turtles delicious for many years to come.

"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal...." (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

Can you see how you've changed over the years? How can focusing on God help you to let go of disappointments about your past and embrace future changes that make you more like Christ?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Stranger Things

I started watching a show on Netflix recently. It kept popping up in my suggested shows and my daughter Allison kept asking, "Have you watched Stranger Things yet?" I usually hate scary movies and shows, but I decided to give it a try.

I'm only three episodes into it, and I probably won't ever be able to dump the dehumidifier at church again without turning on the light in the boiler room, but I have to say I really like it.

We don't have too many scary things happening at our house, unless you count the strange way just my right shoes keep getting a hole in the toe: 

Three, count 'em, three pairs of shoes ruined!
Maybe there's a tiny Demogorgon hiding in my shoes. (That's one of the monsters they mention a lot in the first few episodes of Stranger Things.)

Anyway, I've been kind of surprised at how much I like this show in spite of the creepy, scary aspects of it. There's just enough humor, mystery, and sweetness to keep me watching. It's interesting to see Winona Ryder playing a distraught mother who desperately tries to connect with her missing son by...well, I won't tell you that. Maybe you want to find out for yourself.

I've spent quite a bit of time pondering the first few episodes. (Is so-and-so really dead? What happened to Barb? Will Nancy ever wake up and realize her love interest is a total jerk? Sorry, I didn't want to have any spoilers in this post.) I'm looking forward to continuing as soon as I can get back to another episode. What will happen next? 

I've also found myself comparing Stranger Things to life. We never know what's going to happen next. There are plenty of scary things that happen to us, but there are also so many joyful, humorous, and sweet things that happen, too.

We need to move through life expectantly, thoughtfully. Not with fear (as so many characters in Stranger Things do), but with faith that God has us right where He wants us and He'll be right there with us, no matter what happens. The good and the bad are all a part of life. It's all part of our story.

If we strive to keep our thoughts positive and hopeful it will make such a difference in how we respond to every situation. Negative thinking will just ensure that we stay miserable and fearful. It's hard some days, but let's try to focus on the positive and choose happiness whenever we can.

"All the days of the desponding and afflicted are made evil [by anxious thoughts and forebodings], but he who has a glad heart has a continual feast [regardless of circumstances]." (Proverbs 15:15 Amplified Bible)

Do you look forward in life with hope and joy, or do you find yourself more negative and fearful? How can focusing on God help you to expect wonderful things from life, even if that includes difficult situations?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sorry Saturday: Let's Focus on Not Forgetting

I got up this morning and realized all of a sudden that I had completely forgotten my Focus Friday. I had thought of it several times yesterday, but I kept pondering what I would write about: the flooding in our area, my success at staying away from too many snacks this week and actually making a little progress on my weight loss, the energy and good mood I've been enjoying with my new medication...

I put it off until the evening and then I got busy with other things and never gave it another thought.

With this 50-year-old brain, I tend to forget other things, too. Due dates for bills (only once in a while), deadlines for possible writing projects, cleaning the bathroom, writing to my two children who live pretty far away...all of these things get forgotten, especially if I don't have it on the calendar or write myself a huge note and put it somewhere along my daily path.

Focus Friday is a little thing, but there are things in our lives that we need to make sure we aren't forgetting. Our relationships with God, our spouse, our children, our relatives, and our friends are so important. Sadly, those relationships can often be what we set aside when we get busy with the urgent tasks in our life. Friends, we can't do that. We need to be conscious of those relationships and be deliberate about the things we do to deepen and sustain those connections. 

Let's write a few notes today and put them where we'll see them so that we don't forget to do some things that will make life even sweeter as we interact with the ones God has given us.

Maybe we can even start by spending a little time with Him today.

"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." (Deuteronomy 8:10-12 NIV)

Is there anything or anyone important that you have been forgetting? How can focusing on God help you to not forget and do the things that will get things done and strengthen those relationships?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Getting Serious

I had a bad day this week. I needed a couple of things at the store. I was pretty stressed out, but I felt proud of myself as I passed by the Candy Corn, Junior Mints, and Mild Duds without putting them in my cart. But then this happened:

It was full when I got it, of course, but in my stressed state I popped the lid and began eating as I left the parking lot. One, two, three...I lost count. Around Shell Rock (about halfway home) I began to feel ashamed of myself, but I also had a dilemma. Should I eat them all to get rid of the evidence? I seriously considered it. Then reason kicked in and I shut the box and stopped eating. I put them on the counter when I got home (even though I wanted to hide them!).

I heard about it later. Gary said, "Why did you buy half a box of donuts? You know they sell full boxes, don't you?" (He's hilarious, isn't he?) I encouraged him and the kids to eat as many as they wanted before I had a chance to get back into them (I did have a few more before they were completely gone).

This little situation was a wake up call for me. I've been saying I want to lose X number of pounds for months (or is it years now?). I've been exercising, but I haven't been watching what I eat very carefully. It's way too easy to grab a handful of something sweet and snack mindlessly when I'm bored or stressed. The scale stays right where it's at (and sometimes creeps up a bit).

It's time to get serious! Gary and I are going to hike the Grand Canyon in December, so it would be especially good to shed those extra pounds and not drag them down and up the trails. 

I had finally decided to get serious about my weight loss goals and then I got an email from our insurance company about a new program they're offering for free to all participants: RealAppeal. It's a year-long program focused on nutrition, fitness, and motivation. Sounds like just what I need at just the right time. Look at everything I'll get:
I kind of wish they had just lowered our premiums, but I guess I'll take this since they're offering it.
 I'm kind of excited. I can log my activity and foods I eat, plus I get to talk with a transformation coach and chat with other people to get motivated. My friends at Holy Fitness (my exercise group) have already been doing this for exercise, but maybe this will help with the poor eating habits I've developed.

I fear I'm rambling (and please excuse the many sets of parentheses this week) so I'll wrap this up.

As I think about getting serious about my weight, I find myself thinking about how we need to get serious about so many things in life. We can say we want to change X, Y, or Z in our life, but until we get serious and start doing something, we'll often stay stuck right where we're at.

"I want to read my Bible more." (As we sit in front of the TV)

"I want to have a better relationship with my spouse." (But we keep going on the way it's always been because it's easier and change is scary)

"I want to get more exercise." (As we sleep in and don't make time for healthy activities)

"I want to..." (You fill in the blank and what you're doing instead)

There is room for relaxation and rest and even donuts in our lives, but there is also a need to get serious about our health, our relationships, and our careers. In all of these areas, it takes small changes and the decision to get serious. Then, we'll really see great results.

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

Is there some area of your life where you need to get serious and make some changes? How can focusing on God help you to be wise about what you need to do and give you the strength to get it done?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Story

I listened to an interview with Ted Dekker earlier this week, and then I listened to it again and took notes, and then I listened to it again while I took a walk this morning. 
You'll notice that the interview is part of a sales pitch for his new course called "The Creative Way." I can't vouch for the course (it looks great, but a little too expensive for my tastes), but the interview was really good.
My apologies if the link doesn't work after a week or so. It may be removed when the course begins.

The part that stuck with me the most? "Everything is story."

Since I'm a writer, this really intrigued me and I was fascinated by his explanation that each of us is living out our own story here on earth. We are spiritual beings living a physical life for a very short time. We are free to interpret everything that happens to us in any way we choose - good or bad. We are also free to write our own story - as long as it doesn't go against what God commands in the bible.

As we "write our story" we need to remember that we are in the world, but not of it. We aren't defined by success, other people's opinions, or even the things we do. We are complete in Christ.

I need to give this some more thought, but I wanted to share a little bit of it this week. Realizing that these bodies are just our "costumes" (as Ted Dekker says) can free us up to live well each day. Ted says you can't be who you are unless you first see who you are. We need to discover who we are beyond these earthen vessels we live in.

Now that's an exciting story!

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

Have you ever thought of your life as a "story"? How can focusing on God help you to interpret events that happen in your story in good ways and help you to write a life "story" that other people will want to read?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Understanding Ourselves

I don't understand myself sometimes. 

I say one thing (I want to lose weight) and then I do something else (I eat a whole Hershey bar).

I plan to get lots accomplished in the morning and then I "piddle" my way through the day without getting much of anything done.

Sometimes I make surprising purchases.

A couple of weeks ago I went shopping with my daughter Erin in Shenandoah, Iowa and this bracelet caught my eye:

I liked the crosses and the words on the back of the charms. I tried it on, put it down, watched Erin try on some clothes and then went back to it and picked it up again. Erin had a coupon that she let me use and that clinched it. I bought it and put it on as we left the store. I enjoyed seeing it on my wrist as we went out for supper and went back to her house.

I got home to Allison and showed it to the rest of the family. Gary seemed to like it, but he commented, "I thought about a month ago you told me to never buy you a charm bracelet."

He was right. I had said that, but I had not given it one single thought as I admired and bought my bracelet. Since then, when I see it on my dresser it's a reminder of my bad memory. I still love it and I will wear it, but it shocked me that I could say something and have no recollection of it such a short time later.

On this same trip to Shenandoah, Erin and I went out to eat and got a special Mediterranean pizza. It had pesto sauce, chicken, little tomatoes, feta cheese, and an unfamiliar dark sauce on it. It was so good. That mystery sauce had such a tangy, sweet flavor. I had to dip the last pieces of my crust in the drops left on the tray to get a little more. That flavor stayed with me and I just had to know what it was!

When I got home I thought about calling the restaurant to ask about it, but somehow I figured out that it must have been balsamic vinegar. I looked into it online and found out that it was a special vinegar from Italy made from grape must and aged for years in a series of wooden barrels. 

I found out that the true balsamic vinegar made in Modena, Italy could be very expensive, but I started to dream of visiting Modena someday and convincing Gary to let me buy a bottle of vinegar, even if it cost over a hundred dollars.

A little more research helped me figure out that you could buy less expensive versions of balsamic vinegar here in the U.S. and the quality was still very good. So when I was out shopping, I picked up a bottle of it...and then a second one.
Then I bought a bottle of pesto. And a container of feta cheese. And a loaf of Garlic Ciabatta bread. I shook my head when I got home. Two bottles of something I had never used before? Pesto and feta cheese? Who was I?  

I don't understand me at all. I have done similar things in the past and then never used the special ingredients, but this time, I dove in and tried it.  

I sliced the Ciabatta bread in half.

I spread the pesto on the bread and cooked up a chicken breast.

I sprinkled feta cheese on top.

I reduced the balsamic vinegar on the stove to thicken it and then I drizzled it over my "pizza" and broiled it 'til it seemed done.

Guess what. We liked it. It wasn't as good as the restaurant in Shenandoah, but for my first try, I was pleased. I'll try again and tweak it to make it better.

I still don't understand myself, but even some of the wacky things I do can turn out pretty good. 

Anybody need a little balsamic vinegar? 

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Romans 7:15 NIV)

Remember, God understands us completely, quirks and all:

"You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain." (Psalm 139:1-6 NIV) 

Do you have trouble understanding yourself sometimes? How can focusing on God help you to rest in His love, stay away from sin, and accept your own surprising actions?