Saturday, July 30, 2016

Sorry Saturday: Let's Focus on Short and Sweet

It's Saturday morning and I have so many things I'd like to blog about: Ragbrai, Worlds of Fun, vacations, writing, facing fears.

I sat down to write last night at 11:30, but my portable keyboard wouldn't work right. Besides, I am in St. Paul, Minnesota with a group of 5 great middle school girls at Power Connection. We have a full day ahead of us today, so last night I decided to call it quits and get to bed. As it is, all of us slept longer than we had planned and now they're all scurrying to take showers before breakfast. I'm last.

So, I'm tapping out this blog post on my iPad mini. I'm keeping it short and sweet. Next week I can get back to my computer and include some pictures of some of the things I've been doing lately.

Life is good. Sometimes you just have to keep living it until you get a chance to rest and reflect. Hang on tight and enjoy the ride. Hmmm, maybe I rode too many roller coasters earlier this week.

Anyway, the verse going through my head today after worshiping with a bunch of middle schoolers last night is this:

"I love you, O LORD, my strength." (Psalm 18:1 NIV)

Short and sweet.

Is your summer flying by, full of fun and family? How can focusing on God help you to hang on and enjoy the ride, no matter what is going on?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Twinkies

Gary and I went to Kohls on Monday. With a 30% off coupon, we just had to take advantage of the savings, so we picked up shirts for Gary, shirts and shoes for Dylan, and shirts for me. After trying on a couple of mediums, I realized they weren't going to work, so I had Gary go back and get larges. They fit much better.

In the picture, the shirts in the back are larges. The two in front are mediums. I really liked them, but they didn't have them in a large. "I can get into them when I lose some weight," I said confidently to Gary. He looked a little dubious, but didn't argue with me. We left, happy with our purchases.

Two days later, I had a doctor's appointment in Waverly and I stopped at the store afterward. I had a few things on my list, but I also picked up a few things that weren't on my list. 
Do those look like good purchases for someone hoping to get into medium-sized shirts instead of large ones? No, I know they're not. I knew it the day I bought them, but I listened to my flesh instead of wisdom. I felt stressed and I felt like I could have eaten the whole box of Twinkies in one sitting. (I didn't, but I ate six in two days before I confessed to Gary and Dylan. Ahem, they didn't know about the candy.)

I exercise regularly, but I've also gotten into the very bad habit of snacking mindlessly when I'm stressed or bored. It's time to change those habits. If I say one thing (I'm going to fit into those medium shirts) but do another (Mmmm....Twinkies!) then I'm not really living out my beliefs.

I know it seems a little silly when we're talking about snack foods, but we can be in danger of doing the same kind of thing in other areas of our lives, too. 

We can say we believe in purity, but then we fill our minds with junk from trashy novels or questionable movies or TV shows.

We can say that love is important, but then we treat others badly when they upset us or disappoint us.

We can say we love God, but then we push him aside during the week and just give Him a few minutes on Sunday when we go to church instead of living for Him every day.

It's hard. We all fail at times. The important thing is to keep growing. We learn, we practice, we get back on track when we fall back into harmful old habits. 

A Twinkie once in a while won't hurt us. Six in two days just may get us into an extra-large instead of a medium. I know better. By the way, I shared three of the last four Twinkies...and I really enjoyed the very last one because I may not have one again for quite a while.

"Don't lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn't know any better then; you do now." (1 Peter 1:14 The Message)

Do you have any bad habits you fall back into when you're tired or stressed? How can focusing on God help you to stay strong and keep doing what is better for you?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Pushing Through

I've felt pretty blah the last couple of days.

This isn't me, but it very well could be...especially with the snack in hand.
I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it's the adjustment back to "normal" life after a nice week of vacation. Maybe it's the reminder that we live in an unstable world full of crazy people that drive trucks through happy crowds of people minding their own business. Maybe it's from letting some of my negative thoughts stick around too long and wreak havoc in my brain.

At our Fresh Hope support group last night we talked about challenging negative thinking. It's a tricky thing for people who suffer with a mood disorder: Is the depression causing the negative thoughts or is the negative thinking adding to the depression?

As someone who has dealt with depression, it's important for me to recognize negative thinking when it occurs. I thought I was getting pretty good at that, but our discussion last night helped me to see that I've been letting some negative thoughts influence my mood.

Here are some ideas to challenge thinking negatively:

  • Retrain your brain. Acknowledge the negative thought, but look at it logically and try to change how you are thinking.
  • Talk to a trained therapist who can help you learn strategies for replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Write your negative thoughts in a journal. If you like doing this, it can help you to evaluate whether your thoughts are true or not and also notice triggers that get you thinking negatively.
  • Relaxation. This can reduce "clutter" in your mind and short-circuit the urge to focus too much on your negative thoughts.
  • Work on your physical well-being. Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and being around other people can help you feel better about yourself and give you the energy you need to challenge those negative thoughts.

The most important reminder I got last night was when we read the Fresh Hope tenets. We read these basic principles weekly and one sentence really hit me: I choose the support of people who will urge me to "push through."

That's what I want to leave you with this week. If you're feeling blah from depression or just the everyday ups and downs of life, keep pushing throughThe negative thoughts, the tough situations, the challenges you think you can't succeed at...all of those will be behind you soon enough if you just push through. You may need help from a loved one or a professional, but it will be worth it. Please, don't give up.  

I didn't feel like writing tonight, but I'm so glad I "pushed through" and did it anyway. I hope you can push through, too, whatever your situation is.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9 NIV)

Do you struggle with negative thinking? How can focusing on God help you to keep pushing through in spite of your negative thoughts and emotions?

*Many of the practical ideas in this week's blog came from Fresh Hope's Topic Card #405 - Challenging Negative Thinking

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on VBS

Every year I say I'll help with Vacation Bible School.

Every year I regret that decision as VBS week gets closer. I start getting stressed out about getting ready (or not getting ready, since I'm a big procrastinator). I start thinking that the hassle is not worth it and I wish I would have let someone else do it instead of me.

Every year I'm so glad I helped with VBS after the week is over. This year was no exception. I've helped with Bible Stories for the preschool VBS for the last several years. This year I agreed to do the Puppets/Bible Story.

I hadn't done puppets before, but it was so much fun. The kids had a blast as they got to make the puppets talk and help tell the Bible story each day. We had stories about Creation, Angels telling the Good News to the shepherds, the Israelites being freed from captivity, and Jesus making a blind man see. 

The kids loved it, as you can see. What always surprises me about VBS is how much I learn. Oh, I've heard all of the stories before. I know them well. But when I have to tell them to preschoolers, it makes me understand and appreciate them so much more. God's love for us, Jesus' miracles, the way the Bible helps us live and love God...all of those things are reinforced in my own heart. I hope I can pass that along to the children, too.

One of my favorite parts of this year was talking about Jesus setting the captives free. I brought a big paper chain and spread it out in a circle in front of the kids. I explained that sin can sometimes hold us captive, just like the chain. I had the kids put their hands through the links in front of them and pretend they were being held captive.

The children listened carefully as I talked about how sin sometimes looks ugly, like some of the links in our chain. Sometimes it looks kind of good to us, and I pointed out some links made of pretty patterned papers from my stash at home. 

No matter how it starts out, sin always ends up holding us captive and getting us stuck.

After a while, we all said "Jesus sets us free!" and broke those chains. 

I hope it made sense to the kids, but it sure convicted me of some things I had been doing mindlessly and reminded me that Jesus can set me free from any sin that is holding me captive.

I also did the opening and closing times this year, and one of the special parts of the morning was having a few preschoolers come stand by me and help close in prayer. 

I keep praying that their week at VBS will stick with them and help them grow in their faith in God.

With faces like these, how could I not want to help with VBS every year? I'm pretty sure I'll be back again next summer...ready to learn right along with all of those preschoolers.

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."  (2 Timothy 3:14-15 NIV)

Do you dread teaching or leading a group at church or in the community? How can focusing on God help you to enjoy it as you learn just as much (or even more) than the people you are teaching?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Finding Dory

I helped teach preschoolers at VBS this week (more about that next Friday) so I'm going to stick with a childlike theme and focus on Finding Dory for this week's blog post. 

Gary and I headed down to Grundy Center with Allison and Dylan. They were considerably younger when they saw Finding Nemo, but I'm glad they still wanted to go see Finding Dory with us.

I was expecting a cute movie, and it didn't disappoint. There were lots of very funny moments and some that were so touching they almost made me cry.

This isn't a movie review, so I'll just jump to some spiritual lessons I was reminded of as I watched. Unconditional love, the importance of family, and dealing with a disability were all prominent themes in this story. 

I think the thing I came away with was the realization that we can do what we set our minds on doing. Sometimes it seems impossible, but with help from friends and a willingness to look at different ways to reach your goal, you can do it.

As someone who deals with depression, there are times when I succumb to the belief that "I won't ever be able to _________." You can fill in the blank with your own goals and aspirations here, but some of mine would be: "I won't ever be able to write a book...lose a little a push-up...get my house really organized."

None of those things are truly impossible. As I look at them I know what steps I need to take to accomplish them. My procrastination and anxiety might make it a little harder to do some of them, but with a little help from friends and family, I can do it. I also have the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit to urge me on and help me find my own way to accomplish those goals. I hope you have His help, too, as you seek to complete your own goals.

Oh, and if you go see Finding Dory, make sure you watch all the way through the ending credits. You'll be glad you did.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

Are there things in your life that seem impossible? Do you have problems that make it hard for you to get things done? How can focusing on God help you to find your own way to accomplish your goals, no matter how long it may take?