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?