Friday, April 13, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Jumping In


I'm in Michigan as I write this week. I've been enjoying Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing. It's a wonderful conference for anyone who loves words. I've met lots of writers here, but there are also many people who just love reading and come to hear some of their favorite authors speak.

This morning I decided to swim some laps in the hotel pool before breakfast. I made a grave error, though. I sat in the hot tub with Gary for about ten minutes before I went in the big pool. 

He went back to the room and I stood on the top step in the shallow end. Boy, it felt chilly! 

I stood there for a couple of minutes, then stepped down one more step. Yep, definitely cold.

Did I really want to exercise? Maybe I should just go back to the room. No, I did want to swim laps.

I stepped down again. Brrr!

I knew I was being silly. There really was only one way to get in the water. I had to do it fast or I wouldn't do it at all.

By standing on the step, all I was doing was wasting time. 

If I honestly wanted to swim laps, I just had to get wet all at once. I would get over the shock and the cool water would feel good once I started swimming.

I took a few deep breaths and plunged into the water.

Finally, I was in and I could get started on what I had set out to do.

Even as I stood on the steps, my mind couldn't help but compare that situation to my writing.

I know I want to write more. I know I'll feel good once I do it, but I stand in the "shallows" and ease in an inch at a time. It's a little hard getting started. I wonder if it's worth the discomfort. 

Of course, it is. Lots of things that are worth doing are uncomfortable at first. Maybe you have something that you've been putting off because you're afraid or uncertain. Jump in! You'll be so glad you did.

Oh, and please try to ignore the fact that I wrote something very similar to this about a year ago.

I've been standing on the step, easing into this writing thing for far too long. I really mean it this time, I'm going to jump in and do it. 

Maybe I just need someone to push me in. Any volunteers?


"As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will send you out to fish for people.' At once they left their nets and followed him." (Mark 1:16-18 NIV)

Have you been hesitating to start something God has called you to? How can focusing on God help you to jump in and get it done?

Friday, April 6, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Doing Things Badly

Lately I've become very aware of something I'm going to call "indecision paralysis." I just made that up. I don't know if it's a thing, but it puts words to what I've been doing in recent days (...months...years?).

You all know I have lots to do, right?

We're moving at the end of May (I blogged about that last week). Dylan graduates from high school on May 20. I still help out a few hours a week at the daycare. I have meals to cook and things to clean and writing projects galore.

So why don't I get very much done each day?

I get the urgent things done. I pay the bills before the deadline (usually). I prepare for meetings and show up for my scheduled shifts at the daycare. I do the easy things like loading the dishwasher, doing the wash, and setting the table.

But the rest of it often doesn't get done because of my "indecision paralysis." 

I'm not sure what to do first, so I don't do anything.

Or I'm not sure if I can do something as well as I would like, so I put it off, reasoning that I'll do it better when I have a huge block of time for it.

Or I don't know exactly how to do something, so I procrastinate.

I watched another TED talk on Youtube the other day. I found one by Olivia Remes called How to Cope With Anxiety (You can read an article that summarizes her points here).

I don't deal with a ton of anxiety, but I could relate when she talked about wasting lots of time deciding what to do and never getting anything done. That's me, I'm afraid.

Her solution: Do it badly.

Just jump in and do whatever you've been putting off. Don't worry about it being perfect or doing it well. You can always come back and fix it after it's finished, or do it better in the future as you practice and learn.

I think I'm going to try this in the days ahead. 

Dylan's party might not be absolutely perfect, but we'll have fun and I won't feel as much stress if I start working on it soon (instead of at the last minute).

There are a couple of tasks I've been putting off because I'm not sure I can do them well. It's time to get started and get them done. It's silly to keep thinking of them with dread and not work on them.

The move...well, that will happen whether I'm ready for it or not, but there's no reason I can't work on packing a little at a time so it doesn't all have to be done in the final few days.

I've been sitting here for a few minutes trying to decide how to end this week's post. I guess I'm just going to jump in and do it...even if I do it badly.

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it [even badly] with all your might..." (Ecclesiastes 9:10a NIV - brackets mine)

Do you get paralyzed by fear and indecision at times? How can focusing on God help you to get things done, even if you do them badly at first?


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Super Saturday: Let's Focus on Moving On

Gary made a big announcement in church last Sunday.

He's accepted a call to First Reformed Church in Platte, South Dakota.

Our time here at Trinity Reformed Church in Allison, Iowa is not over yet. We'll be here til the end of May, but we are definitely entering a time of transition.

It's time to start packing boxes. Time to give things away, sell a few things, and even throw away some stuff. It's time to move on.

Moving on is an expected part of being in ministry, but it's always difficult.

The excitement of going to a new church and community is tempered by some sadness about leaving a church and community we've grown to love.

So why do we do it? Why go through the hard work of moving and the pain of leaving friends behind?

It's because God leads us. He has plans for us and for the church we will be serving. None of us knows what those plans are yet, but we can trust Him.

The easiest thing would be to stay in one place for years and years (and I know some ministers do feel called to that), but the best thing is to stay open to moving on when God calls.

All of us can live that way. 

You may not be a pastor, but you can stay open to going where God wants you to go. 

Maybe that will mean a cross-country move to start a new job. 

Maybe it will mean a trip overseas to do mission work. 

Maybe it will mean staying right where you are physically, but you'll find it's time to move on from something that's been holding you back emotionally or spiritually.

Who knows? God does.

He loves you and He has great plans for your life. Think of the adventures you'll have as you stay open to moving on with Him.  

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you." (Psalm 32:8 NIV)

Are you open to moving on when God calls? How can focusing on God help you to follow Him wherever He leads?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Throwing Things


I did a children's message this past Sunday. (Click here to watch...at least the first few minutes.)

In case you couldn't watch the video, I'll try to explain. I showed the kids an egg carton and asked them what was in it. "Eggs!" they all chimed. "Yes!" I confirmed. I asked how their parents put eggs into the shopping cart. I raised the carton and asked if they threw them into the cart and proceeded to throw it with all my force toward the ground. 

Or so I thought. Evidently, empty egg cartons don't fall very well. This one flew through the air and bumped right into a nice young mom's head. 

Everyone laughed. I laughed as I retrieved the carton and apologized to poor Erin. I went on with the rest of the message, explaining that if the carton had been full of eggs they probably would have broken. I also had a single egg which we passed around gently and talked about how important it is to treat others gently, too, because we can "break" them when we are unkind.

I said things like "I hate you!" and "You're so stupid!" and then cracked the egg into a bowl and showed them the result. They seemed to understand as we talked about gentleness and how important it is to let others see that in our lives when we say we follow Christ.

I've thought often about throwing things this week.

Now, of course, I didn't mean to hit anyone with my egg carton, but it happened in spite of my good intentions. I needed to apologize and move on.

Sometimes our words or actions hurt someone, even though we were trying to do something good. We say things or do things and someone takes it the wrong way. People get hurt.

We need to apologize and move on.

Sometimes our words or actions hurt someone, even though we were just careless and didn't mean to do any harm. We tease or tell a joke. Our words fly around and hit someone the wrong way. People get hurt.

We need to apologize or ask forgiveness and make things right.

Sometimes, hopefully not very often, our words or actions hurt someone, and we meant for it to hurt. We take aim and throw with all our might. We know exactly what to say and how to say it so it does the most damage. People get hurt.

We need to ask forgiveness and make things right. 

Friends, we need to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

And never throw things during a children's message.     

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if anyone has any grievance against someone. Forgive as the LORD forgave you." (Colossians 3:12-13 NIV)

Do you ever throw around your words or actions and hurt people? How can focusing on God help you to be more gentle and careful?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Brene' Brown

I have been binge-watching Brene' Brown TED talks and other interviews with her on Youtube this week.

It all started when I was looking for something to show and discuss at Fresh Hope on Thursday night. I found a great video by Brene' called Why Your Critics Aren't the Ones Who Count.

I watched it several times and wrote up some questions for our discussion. It was so good, I just knew it would help those of us who were meeting to get support and encouragement for our mental health.

After soaking up that talk, I went on to watch lots of other talks and interviews with Brene'.

A thought that kept popping up was the fact that shame and other negative emotions can often keep us "small," afraid to face criticism and judgment.
(Image from theshamelady.com)
Maybe that's why I often go through my day avoiding difficult, but ultimately fulfilling, tasks like writing articles and books. I fill my hours with trivial pursuits instead of getting serious about reaching my goals.

I find myself thinking "One of these days, I'll _________," but those days never seem to arrive. I keep spinning my wheels and don't make progress on much of anything.

It seems kind of silly that I even use inspiring TED talks to avoid doing the good work that God has called me to. 

Brene' Brown and other speakers can teach us and inspire us to grow emotionally. 

Chris Freytag and other coaches can teach us and inspire us to grow (or shrink) physically.

Beth Moore and other speakers can teach us and inspire us to grow spiritually.

We have to remember, though, that Brene', Chris, and Beth aren't going to do the work for us. We are the ones that have to choose different ways of thinking. We are the ones that have to spend some time moving our bodies and making healthy food choices. We are the ones that have to open our Bibles and spend quality time with the maker of our souls.

I'm ready to quit spinning in place. It's time to move forward, emotionally, physically, and spiritually...maybe after one more TED talk.

"Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint [I'm determined], and I know I will not be put to shame." (Isaiah 50:7 NIV)

Do you sometimes do things that keep you from moving forward in life? How can focusing on God help you to quit avoiding hard work and begin facing it so you can move ahead? 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Birthdays

It was my birthday on Tuesday.

It was a nice day, but we didn't really do anything special. We got Little Caesars Pizza while we were out running some errands and going to appointments.

When I got home, I had this beautiful bouquet of flowers waiting for me - a gift from our women's group at Trinity.
I saw lots of Facebook greetings throughout the day, and I received some really nice cards (and a box of Peeps bunnies - I loved it but it was gone in less than a day!).

It wasn't a milestone birthday, so it passed pretty much like any other day.

I know some people who love to celebrate their birthdays, no matter what the number of candles there are on the cake. 

In the days since my birthday, I've given that a little thought. I think I need to make a bigger deal of that special day. I'm another year older and (hopefully) another year wiser. I've made it through bad days and I've enjoyed tons of good days. 

That's something to celebrate!

I was listening to some music by Chris Rice the other night and I got stuck on some lyrics. They keep running through my brain, so I think I'll share them here with you:

"Every day is a gift you've been given
Make the most of your life every minute you're living" 

You can google "Life Means So Much" by Chris Rice to see the entire song.

As someone who deals with depression at times, I haven't always seen my life as a gift. Sometimes I see it as a burden, something to be endured. 

Ever so slowly, I'm learning to change that. I don't let myself stay in that kind of mindset for very long. I'm trying to choose better ways of thinking.

Every day is a gift, especially birthdays.

"For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life." (Proverbs 9:11 NIV)

Do you enjoy celebrating birthdays? How can focusing on God help you to see each day as a gift and make the most of each day you're given?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Staying Hungry


I lost four pounds this week! (We won't talk about the five pounds I gained last week while I was on the mission trip)

I was pretty shocked when I weighed myself this morning and saw such a big loss. 

How did I do it? I added some extra walking to my morning exercise routine and I stayed hungry most of the week.

We don't like to feel hungry, do we? Usually, at the first rumble of our stomachs we run to the fridge or cupboard to find something to eat.

I have to admit, I haven't even felt hunger very much in recent months. I had gotten into the habit of grazing my way through the day. 

I went to the pantry for crackers, M&Ms, and whatever else caught my eye between meals.

I didn't feel hungry when it came time for a meal with my family, but I ate it anyway.

When I weighed myself on Sunday, I was finally disgusted enough with my bad habits to do something about it.

I thought back to my "Weigh Down Workshop" days (I took the class back in Rock Rapids, Iowa in the early 90s). I had lost weight easily and happily by applying the principle of "Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full."

So that's what I did this week. I tried to savor my food a little more instead of inhaling it. I was mindful of my hunger, but not bothered by it. I ignored it if it was close to a meal time, otherwise I ate a little something. It felt good to actually be hungry when I got to a meal. I stopped before I felt full.

Gary and I even went to Texas Roadhouse one night. I ate delicious Tater Skins, rolls with butter, most of a salad (I made sure I ate the eggs, croutons, etc. that I love and I left some of the lettuce so I had room for the rest of my meal), my whole sweet potato with butter and brown sugar, and a few bites of my barbecued chicken (I took most of it home like I usually do).

It felt great to walk out of there full, but not uncomfortably stuffed.

Now, I don't think four pounds in one week is going to be happening very often (I don't even think it's healthy to lose too much weight too fast), but it was encouraging for me to see that kind of progress today. It reminds me that how much I move and what I put in my mouth matters.

Another thing that helped, I think, is that I've been spending a little bit of time every morning reading the Bible before I go over to exercise.

I think it has made a big difference in how I'm thinking. My mind is set more on what God wants for me instead of just what I want. I know He wants me to have a healthy body, so it's been a little easier to make better choices about when and how much I eat.

Another thing that's been helping is that I'm reading a great book by Amy Simpson called, "Blessed Are the Unsatisfied." It has reminded me that we'll never be completely satisfied here in this world. We can be content with what we have, but we'll always have that sense of lacking something until we get to heaven someday.

When we run to the cupboard but we aren't truly hungry, it's time to stop and think. Maybe what we're craving is not chocolate chip cookies at all. Maybe we feel that void inside and we need to spend some time filling it with God instead. Grab your Bible and chew on that for a while (Gwen Shamblin says something like that in "Weigh Down Workshop.")

I think I'm going to have another great week, unless someone buys me a box of Peeps. 

"God - you're my God! I can't get enough of you! I've worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts." (Psalm 63:1 The Message)

Do you feel hungry when you eat? How can focusing on God help you to get more comfortable with physical hunger and concentrate more on relieving your spiritual hunger?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Mission Trips


On April 30, 2017, the town of Van Buren, Missouri experienced a flood. The Current River crested at 37 feet (8 feet above the record set in 1904). 

The water ran through town and into about 185 houses, destroying 55 of them. Many businesses were lost.

A group of us from Allison drove down on Sunday to help with repairs in two houses. We worked with World Renew (who partnered with Catholic Charities) and did as much as we could to help two homeowners this week.

Here's most of our group with Kathy (front, in white) on the first day. Three more workers came on Wednesday night.
Some of us worked mostly in Kathy's house. She only had ten minutes to get out of her house once she became aware of the danger. She grabbed a few things and left, thinking it wouldn't be too bad...but her house ended up filling with at least five feet of water on the main floor (about eight feet in the garage). 

We worked hard all week, putting mud on the walls and taping some spots, putting up drywall in some spots, sanding, and cleaning up messes. Some of our group did plumbing and electrical work. Whatever Billy Moses (our supervisor) told us to do, we did. He was right in there working with us all week long.

Gary and I worked together to put in a new bathtub.
The girls learned to mud, too - they worked so hard and did a great job!
Rosemary stopped mudding for a second to humor me with a smile. She also lined up
(and cooked) delicious meals for us all week long.
I learned to tape corners. What do you think?
Gary never expected to be mudding this week - but he did lots of it!
Some of our group worked next door in Dale Brown's house. It was farther along. He was living in it already, but the group completed putting in flooring and did some painting and trim work (among other things). 
Some of our group put in flooring and painted in Dale Brown's house.
It was so rewarding to talk with these homeowners and see their gratefulness for the work we did. We, in turn, were blessed by hearing their stories and seeing their faith in action.

Of course, the work was only part of the trip. We also ate delicious meals, played games together, had devotions each evening and sang together, and laughed a ton.

To be honest, I was a little nervous before we left on Sunday. I didn't know if I was ready to get out of my comfort zone and leave all of the things I "should" be doing back in Allison.

I'm so glad I came. I've hardly thought about the things back at home (it will all be waiting for me tomorrow). 

It was wonderful to get to know the people in our group better.

It was refreshing to spend a little time in the Bible most mornings and listen to what God had to say to me.

It was rewarding to help people who had lost almost everything.

It was fun to try new things (mudding, taping, and stilts).

My attempt at stilt walking didn't last too long. (Three steps forward and three steps back to the ladder!)
If you ever have the chance to go on a mission trip, I urge you to take advantage of it. We can all find a hundred excuses for not going, but there are lots of good reasons to go.

We found out that we didn't have to go very far to do some hard work for people who needed it. All of us are going to look around in our own communities and try to keep meeting needs once we get back home.

Sometimes you have to get away to be reminded of what's really important.

"Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples." (Psalm 96:3 NIV)

Have you ever gone on a mission trip? How can focusing on God help you to see the needs of others - both far away and close to home?






Friday, February 16, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Hidden Pandas


I worked at the daycare this afternoon (not the unhealthy helping I talked about last week - just a few hours this time). 

I got home and made supper. As I was walking around the kitchen, Allison asked, "Why is there a panda on your back?"

"A panda on my back?!" I exclaimed. "I have no idea!" Then I ran to get a mirror and see what she was talking about. Sure enough, I had been running around for hours with a panda sticker on my back.
Not the kitchen - I had Gary take a picture later.

 "Those kids!" I fumed. I wondered which one of those little stinkers had slapped a panda on my back when I wasn't suspecting it. 

Was it the one who had come up and given me a sweet little hug? I thought I noticed a smirk on her face as she went back to play.
A closer view of the hidden (from me) panda
Or was it the one who was running circles around me as I chanted "walking feet, walking feet!"

I wasn't really mad, of course, but it did get me thinking. 

What else do people see on (or in) me that I can't see?

Do they see pride? or laziness? or judgment? 

Do they see someone who is too worried about herself to truly care about and get to know others?

Do they see someone who says she'll do something, but then it takes forever to see the task get accomplished?

Do they see good things that I refuse to acknowledge most of the time - like creativity, talent, and potential?

I had no idea I had a panda on my back until my daughter pointed it out. 

We need to be willing to let people point out the "pandas" we can't see in our lives. Those may be bad habits or personality traits we need to change...or they could be wonderful things about ourselves that we need to embrace and develop.

If we ask, God will gently point out the "hidden pandas" on our backs. The Holy Spirit will either urge us to get rid of them or He'll encourage us to enjoy them and grow emotionally or spiritually.

I looked for an image to use for my graphic this week and was surprised to learn that "hidden panda" is a thing. Apparently at the end of 2015 someone drew a picture of snowmen with a hidden panda that frustrated people to no end.

Since then, there have been many other "hidden panda" pictures to challenge people's skills of observation.

Can you find the hidden panda in my title graphic? (I put the reveal picture at the end of this post in case you need it)

Let's all search for the hidden pandas in our own lives. And if you're ever around a group of preschoolers, remember to watch your back!

"Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)

Do you think you might have any "hidden pandas" in your life? How can focusing on God help you to see them clearly?


Scroll down to see the hidden panda reveal picture...










(Hidden Panda Images: HIZULKARNAIN/PLAYBUZZ)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Super Saturday: Let's Focus on Unhealthy Helping


This is a tough one to write.

I'm afraid I'll be misunderstood. (It's inevitable because I hardly understand it myself.)

"Normal" people will not understand this problem because they have healthy boundaries and a good sense of self-worth. They can stop reading right now because this week's post will not apply to them.

For the rest of you, I'm hoping this post will help all of us get to more healthy ways of helping others.

I had a long day yesterday.

I went down to our church daycare a little before 6:00 a.m. because we had gotten quite a bit of snow overnight. I wanted to be there to help get the day started and assess the situation with staff and kids.

I waded down there through the unplowed street and then up the unplowed parking lot. Our faithful opener had gotten a ride from her son, so she was already there getting ready for whatever the day held.

School was going to be two hours late, and later they cancelled it completely.

We didn't have many kids scheduled, so I called one staff person not to come and told another not to come when she called to check on the situation. Some kids didn't come at all, but we got a couple of extra ones because of the snow day.

I called another staff member who lived in town and had her come to help our opener. I settled in with the two children we had in the infants room. 

At 2:00 both of my kids had gone home, so I moved over to the Lions room so our opener could go home. After helping with snack time, the other staff person and her son went home, leaving me with six kids for the rest of the day.

It never occurred to me to ask someone else to come in and close. I just figured they deserved a snow day and a nice day at home. I didn't mind staying. (I really didn't!) We played Uno for a while and found other things to play with until all of the kids went home. I cleaned up a few things after they left, but our daughter Erin called while I was still there and she expressed shock that I had worked almost twelve hours that day - for free!

When I hung up from talking to her, I realized how beat I was and I left a few things undone and headed for home. I made supper and watched part of the opening ceremony for the olympics until I started nodding off, so I headed for bed.

Of course, I went back to the daycare today for a little while and finished my cleaning because I'm a responsible person, you know.

(Are you "normal" people still reading? I beg you not to judge me or write me off as some crazy person. I swear I'm in my right mind...I just have some problems with boundaries and "unhealthy helping.")

I had already been thinking about this topic for the last couple of weeks.

I like volunteering at the daycare - most of the time. 

I started doing it because the daycare was a little shaky financially and I could help by volunteering some time in the office and the rooms.

I kept doing it even after they got more stable financially and I pushed aside the offer to start paying me. I wanted to keep doing what I could to make the daycare's finances work well and I didn't want the pressure of being a paid staff person.

As a volunteer, I wasn't locked into a certain number of hours on the schedule each week (even though I averaged about nineteen hours a week in 2017).

It felt good to be such a big help to the daycare. I felt needed and important because I could fill in when they needed me. It was really fun at first to organize things in the office and keep track of records and stuff.

As time went by, it wasn't as much fun. I saw myself not getting certain things done and I felt bad because the records weren't in perfect order and I made mistakes sometimes. In other people's eyes I was doing fine, but in my own I was falling short.

I kept doing the job, but my heart wasn't in it anymore. Sometimes I would feel resentful that I was putting in so many hours, even though I'm the one who scheduled myself or said yes when someone needed a day off.

I started using the daycare as an excuse for not getting other things done at home. (housework, my writing projects, etc.)

I still heard "thank you" from other staff members and the board, but I also heard a couple of people express concern about the number of hours I was working. I wondered how many people thought I was just a wimp for working so much as a volunteer.

Like I said, I hardly understand all of this myself, but this week's post is an attempt to start to unravel it. I want to help and serve from a healthy, truly generous heart (and most days I do!) but I'm realizing that I've gotten to an unhealthy level of giving that needs to change in the weeks ahead.

The other staff are competent, caring, and conscientious. They don't "need" me as much as I sometimes think they do. It's time to back out to a healthier level and make sure I'm caring for myself and other things God has called me to do.

I've listed (after this post) a couple of online articles and a book I think I'm going to read soon as I continue to explore this topic and learn to help in healthy ways.

Helping isn't bad - we just have to make sure it's coming from a healthy place.
  
"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)

Do you help in healthy or unhealthy ways? How can focusing on God help you to get to a healthier place if you tend to give too much?

"10 Signs That You Are Giving Too Much of Yourself" (from Amanda Itzkoff on www.linkedin.com)

"12 Signs That You're Giving Too Much" (from Shawn Burn, PhD on www.psychologytoday.com)

A book I plan to read soon: "Unhealthy Helping" by Shawn Burn, PhD

Friday, February 2, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Loving Ourselves


Loving ourselves.

As a Christian, I've been taught to love God, love others, and then love myself. (JOY = Jesus, Others, and You, right?)

I agree with that for the most part, especially loving God first. 

When it comes to loving others and loving ourselves, I think it can get a little confusing.

Some people have no problem at all loving themselves. They live selfish lives and think little of the people around them.

Some people love others in healthy ways and have a right attitude about themselves.

Other people can turn that around and be hyper-aware of others, constantly trying to serve and please the people around them. They live selfless lives and think very little of themselves.

Oh, I don't mean they don't think about themselves. If they're like me, they're probably thinking way too much about themselves.

What did she think about what I said in that meeting?

I should probably stay late today and finish the cleaning that he was supposed to do. 

Why doesn't anyone want to talk to me?

I wonder what I could do to help Harry and Sally get along better?

The thoughts can get worse than that:

I can't do anything right.

They must think I'm so stupid.

I'm so __________. (lazy, dumb, clumsy, fat, ugly, etc.)

People would be better off without me.

When our thought patterns echo with sentiments like these, we get into some very unhealthy places emotionally. We might do many things to help and serve other people, but too often it's coming from a place of desperate need, not a place of real love.

We need to learn to love ourselves as God loves us so that we can serve and love others from a healthy heart.

I've heard Susie Larson talk about how she went through a time when she felt like God was telling her to say, "God, you love me so much" whenever she started to say, "God, I love you so much."

It felt awkward at first, but as she kept repeating that phrase, she began to believe it.

I'm getting better, but I struggle with how I see myself. In fact, I really used to see myself kind of like this whenever I saw myself in a photograph: 
Everyone else looked fine, but I would see myself as this ugly stick figure person, usually hiding way in the back of a group.

Like I said, I'm getting better. I think I've trained myself to say, "Hey, I'm kind of cute" when I look at a picture of myself, instead of focusing on what I perceive as faults.

The Bible reminds us over and over again of how much God loves us. We need to believe that and accept ourselves as we are right now. God will keep changing and growing us in the years ahead, but there is no reason for us to punish, criticize, and hate ourselves right now for our mistakes and shortcomings.

We all add something beautiful to the pictures of life. Let's make sure we're loving ourselves so we can really love God and others.
Here I am, surrounded by my beautiful family

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!..." (1 John 3:1 NIV)

Do you have any trouble loving yourself? How can focusing on God help you to love yourself and love others?


Friday, January 26, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Doing It Afraid

I'm in one of those seasons when God seems to be bringing a theme to my attention over and over. 

In blog posts, books, and Bible verses...I keep encountering the word "fear" and the idea of doing something even if you're afraid.

It has been fascinating (and scary) to notice how many times the topic has come up. When things like that happen, you know God is trying to get your attention.

This week I read one of the books that addressed the topic: Fearless: Free in Christ in an Age of Anxiety by Rachel Starr Thomson, Carolyn Currey, and Mercy Hope (1:11 Publishing, 2017)

I highly recommend it if you have any trouble at all with fear and anxiety holding you back from accomplishing the things you want to do in life.

Rachel and her friends explore the Parable of the Talents, as well as Bible characters like Joshua, Esther, Peter, and Gideon.

They admit that the dangers in life are real. We have no guarantees that something bad won't happen to us, but it's worth the risk to step out in faith.

Fear can be displaced by trust in God and by His love.

Here are a couple of quotes toward the end of the book to inspire you:

"We've been trying to open your eyes to the value you bring to the world, the call upon your life to be consecrated wholly to God, and the love God has for you. These truths are the reason to overcome fear, the reason to 'do it afraid.' 

It's all worth it, because God's purposes for you are more significant than you can imagine."

I love that last line. Too often I hold back because I'm afraid of what might happen if I try something new, but God has great purposes for me. Purposes more significant than I can imagine. I have a pretty good imagination, so it's exciting to wonder what God really has in store!

"Fear will do everything it can to stop you from realizing God's promises. It will try to surround your life with walls that keep you shut down and shut in, with your talents buried and your view of yourself limited to 'I am nothing but a grasshopper, and everyone else must know it.' It will create an alternate reality and wear you out with cares and the exhaustion that is a divided mind."

Do you feel shut in and surrounded by walls that keep you doing the same old things every day? The comfortable things? The easy things? I often do.

It's time to break free from those walls built by fear and step out in faith to new places.

We need to remember the foundation of a fearless life: The Lord Will Be with You (as summarized by Rachel, Carolyn, and Mercy).

If we remember that He is with us, we can do pretty much anything, even if we're afraid.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9 NIV)

Are your fears holding you back from fulfilling God's purposes for your life? How can focusing on God and His love for you help you to move forward and "do it afraid"?