Friday, October 12, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Mental Health


Sometimes I wonder if my readers get sick of hearing about mental health from me.

I'm focusing on it again because October 7-13 is Mental Health Awareness Week.

I hope you'll stick with me for a few minutes and think about this important topic.

Even if you have never been diagnosed with a mental illness, your mental health is worth contemplating. 

When our brains are functioning well, our mental health is good and life is manageable and satisfying. When we have problems in the ways our brains function, life can rapidly deteriorate into something overwhelming and hopeless.

So it's good for all of us to think about mental health this week.

If you have good mental health, thank the Lord for that.

If you are struggling, ask for help. You don't have to go for years and years feeling bad and missing out on the happiness that's possible.

If you love or know someone with a mental health challenge, try to be supportive and understanding. Learn all you can about their illness and don't expect them to just "snap out of it." But you can't let them wallow in their illness, either. It's tough to find that balance, but you need to do it.

If all of us work on having good mental health and get more comfortable talking about it, the world can be a better place.

People will be more aware of how their brains function and they'll take steps to get healthy as soon as they notice any movement toward a downward spiral. 

People won't hide their feelings and stubbornly keep their "happy masks" on. They'll drop their guard and get support when they need it.


People won't ignore the symptoms they see in a friend or loved one's life. They'll ask questions and help get that person back to a healthier place.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and I pray that all of you do all that you can to enjoy good mental health.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27 NIV)

Do you struggle with a mental health diagnosis? Do you know someone who does? How can focusing on God help you (or that person) get to a healthy place again?

Friday, October 5, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on What We're Thinking


Have you ever noticed that when you focus on something, you seem to see it show up everywhere?

It's often that way for me. I become aware of a certain idea or concept and suddenly I see it on TV, read about it in books, and hear people talking about it randomly.

This time it's the idea that our thoughts create our moods.

In recent months I had been introduced to that idea on The Life Coach School Podcast by Brooke Castillo. It was kind of a hard concept to accept, but as she talked about it over and over I began to understand what she was saying and I could see it happening in my own life.

We don't just get angry or sad or happy automatically when something happens. How we feel is determined by what we're thinking about the situation.


That's why the exact same situation (like getting cut off in traffic) can make us furious one day (That jerk! He saw me but he just pulled right in front of me!) and on another day it might not upset us at all (Okay, he's sure in a hurry. I guess he didn't see me!).

I bought several books on depression recently (for research) and I cracked open Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns a couple of days ago. Imagine my surprise when one of the first thoughts in the book was this: "You feel the way you do right now because of the thoughts you are thinking at this moment."

When someone is depressed, they nearly always have distorted thoughts. It's been fascinating to read about those thoughts and recognize the ones that I tend to think often. I've improved so much in recent years, but I still have some work to do to combat that distorted thinking.

Maybe you're not depressed, but I hope you can see how your thoughts influence your entire life. If you're focused on the negatives (about yourself or others) then you're not going to be much fun to be around. If you're focused, instead, on the positives then you can't help but enjoy life at least a little bit more.

As I've been pondering this idea in recent weeks, I was also reminded that it is a concept mentioned in the Bible. Proverbs 23:7 in the NKJV says, "For as he [or she] thinks in his [or her] heart, so is he [or she].

So, friends, I'll just ask it straight out: What are you thinking? Next time you're extremely upset about something, try to find the troublesome thought that is behind the feeling. By changing that thought you just might be able to change how you're feeling about a situation.

It's not easy, and I'm sure it takes lots of practice. I've built up over fifty years of feeling certain ways without giving much thought to what's going on in my head, but it's time to change that.

I hope it doesn't take me another fifty years to learn to apply all of this! 

"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)

Can you catch the thoughts that lead to bad feelings for you? How can focusing on God help you to replace those with more positive and true thoughts that will improve your mood and your life?

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Super Saturday: Let's Focus on the Messy Middle


I spent some time working on my book proposal this week. 

As I wrote, I soon realized something disturbing. It wasn't good. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it sucked.

This realization made me want to close the file, shut the laptop, and go eat a handful of chocolate chips.

I'm in the messy middle, and it's not fun.

The messy middle is where we're tempted to give up on a dream or goal because we are faced with the reality of what it will actually take to accomplish what we want to do.

When we first set a goal, it's exciting. We think about how great it will be to write that book, lose that weight, make that money, learn that skill, or achieve whatever dream we have.

When we accomplish the goal, it's thrilling. I wrote the book! I lost the weight! I made the money! I learned the skill! I achieved my dream!

We often forget about the messy middle. The hours and hours we have to sit and write, rewrite, and edit our words before they become a book that is ready for readers. The cravings we have to ignore, the choices we have to make, and the exercise we need to put in before those pesky pounds are shed. The calls we have to make, the hard work we have to put in, and the sacrifices we have to make before we make the money, learn the skill, or achieve the dream.

It's hard, but it's absolutely necessary.

I'd even say the accomplishment of our goal or dream wouldn't be nearly as sweet without the hard work we chose to put in during the messy middle.

So I'll keep writing that book proposal. It will suck at first, but each hour I spend at it will hopefully make it better and better. Someday, it might even lead to a finished book about depression that will be an encouragement to many people.

That will be sweet, and worth every second of the messy middle.
  
"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)

Are you tempted to give up when you're in the messy middle? How can focusing on God help you to work through that difficult time and accomplish your goals and dreams?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Focusing

Last Saturday I went to a Beth Moore simulcast event at another church in town.

As Beth had us flipping back and forth in our Bibles, exploring the theme, I realized that I had not done that for quite a while. We visited many verses throughout the day, and it felt good.

Toward the end, she said something I just had to write down in my notes: Maybe we don't know who we are because we've forgotten who He is.

"Bingo!" my heart cried. That's why I've been so restless and unsettled in recent months. (I suppose it could also be a six-hour move to a new city, but that's only part of it.) I've been listening to podcasts and reading books and watching YouTube videos, but I haven't been digging deep into the Bible on a regular basis. That's where my true guidance comes from. From God, through His word.

My brain has been jumping from one idea to another: Maybe I should become a full-time editor. No, maybe I should get busy writing those books I've been talking about. Should I write the book on anger? or the book on depression? I'm not angry or depressed anymore, maybe I need to pour my time into ministry at church. Oh, but faith is very important, I need to spend time growing spiritually!

And because I'm not focusing on any of those things, none of them get done.

As I looked for a verse about focus, I found this passage from Philippians 3:12-20 in The Message. Take a minute to read it and let it sink in (even better, go read the entire passage online, I left out bits and pieces here):

"I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But.... I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward--to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.

So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision-- you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it.

Stick with me, friends....There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them.....All they want is easy street. They hate Christ's Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street....all they can think of is their appetites.

But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven!"
                                                   (Philippians 3:12-20 The Message)

I think that's it. We need to keep focused on the goal, Jesus. It's not "easy street," but if we stay totally committed to Him I think the rest of life will fall into place more easily.

When our eyes (and our hearts) are darting around looking at every possibility and opportunity out there, we'll be confused, unfocused. But when we fix our eyes on Him (the author and perfecter of our faith) our path will become much more clear. We'll know which goals to focus on so that we get closer to Him and closer to the person He created us to be.

If I focus, maybe I'll even finish a book someday.

"Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you." (Proverbs 4:25 NIV)

Are you unfocused, looking around at way too many possibilities? How can focusing on God help you to see more clearly and know where to spend your time?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Suicide


I didn't realize that September 9-15, 2018 was National Suicide Prevention Week until I saw an article in our local paper on Thursday.

We don't like to think about things like suicide, do we?

It's so dark and scary and...depressing.

Even if your life hasn't been touched personally by a family member's suicide, most of us have been saddened to hear about someone's suicide in the towns where we live or by celebrities like actor Robin Williams, designer Kate Spade, and chef Anthony Bourdain.

And then there are those of us who have actually contemplated ending our own lives.

I got to that place back in 2014 when I became clinically depressed and could find absolutely no hope in life. I was still a Christian and I knew where my hope should be found, but I was too sick to grab hold of that hope and be happy.

Thankfully, I was able to talk to my husband about those frightening thoughts and he took me to the hospital where I could be safe until I felt better.

While I was there I met other patients, people who had actually attempted suicide. I'm so glad they didn't succeed. We talked and laughed and learned together about our illnesses during our stay. We all had families that loved us and wanted us healthy again.

Since that time, I have worked hard at making sure I do the things I need to do to stay healthy emotionally. If I feel myself starting to get into that downward spiral, I'm quick to reach out to my husband or a friend so I don't get too far away from hope.

That's why I want to focus on suicide this week.

Maybe you have a family member or friend who struggles with depression. Watch for the warning signs that their depression is getting worse and reach out to help them before it gets too bad.

Maybe you deal with depression at times. Don't settle for feeling bad most of the time. You may have gotten so used to it that you think it's just normal for you. It doesn't have to be! Medications, counseling, exercise, and changing the way you think and act can all lead to a happier, more fulfilling life. 

Please don't give up! Talk to someone, reach out to anyone. Hopefully you have a supportive friend or family member, but if you don't, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line

I'm not a professional, but you're also welcome to talk to me by email (robynmulder @ hotmail.com) or a private message on Facebook.

We can do this hard thing...this amazing thing called Life...if we just don't give up.

"The thief [Satan] comes only to kill and steal and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10 NIV - brackets added)

Have you ever had suicidal thoughts? How can focusing on God help you to get support and embrace life again? 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on our Goofy Goofy Brains

It's going to be close to midnight when I post this week's blog.

It didn't have to be. I could have gotten it done this afternoon or earlier this evening. It's all my sister-in-law's fault.

Last week Cheryl commented that I seemed to be getting my blog done earlier in the day since we had moved to Platte.

It was true. I've still had a few "Super Saturdays," but recently I had been finding time to write and post well before my usual late hours.

So what happened today? I guess I can't really blame it on Cheryl. It's my goofy goofy brain!

For some reason, even though I didn't give it too much thought last week, my brain remembered that comment today and I could actually feel the strong resistance to writing my blog earlier.

I'm not even sure exactly what my goofy brain was doing. Most of it was subconscious earlier in the day, but as it got later I actually had thoughts like these:

I don't really feel like writing my blog tonight.
I can wait until tomorrow, nobody will mind.
I'm not sure what to write about, so waiting will be better.

I filled my day with stuff that was worthwhile in my free time, but it certainly wasn't necessary. It was nothing getting me any closer to my goals of writing more and growing in my faith.

My goofy goofy brain has been bugging me in other ways, too, like when I set the alarm for six. When the alarm goes off my brain tells me all sorts of lies about why I should just stay in bed a little longer, even though I have a goal of exercising early and getting a good start on my day.

Sometimes my goofy brain suggests that I grab a handful of M&Ms or eat a bowl of ice cream when I'm not hungry, even though I've set a goal of losing some extra pounds in the weeks ahead.

Our goofy brains are amazing. So much goes on in our heads. Our bodies wouldn't function without everything happening just right in our brains. 

But we have to realize that our brains will sometimes lie to us. If we have gotten into certain bad habits or routines, our brains will try to keep us doing those same things over and over. They will protest if we attempt to do something new. Our goofy brains want to take the easy way.

"For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want." (Galatians 5:17 NIV)

The Holy Spirit can help us when our goofy goofy brains want to take us down a road that caters to our flesh. With some thought and prayer we can act in ways that are better for us than the things our goofy brains tell us.

So...take that, goofy brain! I'll do something else instead of grabbing that snack if I'm not hungry.

Wake up, goofy brain! I'm getting out of bed even though you're telling me I don't have to.

Well, what do you know, goofy brain! I just wrote my blog post even though you told me to wait until tomorrow.

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2 NIV)

Does your goofy brain ever lie to you and keep you from accomplishing your goals? How can focusing on God help you to ignore the lies and do what's right instead? 


Friday, August 31, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Keeping Our Word


Last week I told you that I was going to work on my website (robynmulder.com) and start working on a book proposal.

Because I told you that, I actually did those things, even though I was scared.

It didn't go perfectly. 

I made some changes on the website, but I also tried a new theme in WordPress. It was live for about five minutes, until I noticed a couple of things that looked funny and I didn't know how to fix them. I quickly reverted back to my old theme, the one I'm comfortable with.

I said I would work on my book proposal for three hours, but I didn't start working on it until Thursday. I think I worked on it for about an hour and a half.

Did I fail? No. 

I kept my word to my readers, even though it didn't go exactly as planned.

I played around with my website theme and now I want to spend a little more time learning how to change the look and have things work the way I want them to.

I spent an hour and a half on my proposal and now my brain is working on ideas for the book even when I'm not at my desk.

Keeping our word is important.

We've all been disappointed by someone who said they would do something, but they blew it off and didn't get it done.

People understand when there are emergencies that come up, but they lose faith in us when we fail to show up or complete a task just because we didn't feel like it.

I think that includes the promises we make to ourselves.

We lose faith in ourselves when we say we're going to do something, but then we let it go just because we're afraid or we don't feel like it.

Friends, we need to practice keeping our word, to others, of course, but even to ourselves.

When you say, "I'm going to get up at seven o'clock tomorrow morning," make sure you get up at seven o'clock.

When you say, "I'm going to eat healthier," make sure you fill your fridge with healthy choices and stay away from too many sweets.

When you say, "I'm going to get closer to God," make sure you spend time in the Bible and talk to Him often as you go about your day.

When you say, "I'm going to __________," make sure you take the steps necessary to get that accomplished.

It will help if you tell someone about these promises you're making. Give someone permission to ask you, "Hey, how's it going? Are you doing what you said you'd do?"

Don't lose hope if you don't always keep your promises to yourself and others. We're human and we can't do it all perfectly. But do your best to keep your word. Others will see you are a person of integrity and you will feel great as you accomplish the things you've always said you were going to do. 

"God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" (Numbers 23:19 NIV)

Are you good at keeping your word to yourself and others? How can focusing on God help you to get even better at keeping your word?

Friday, August 24, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Doing It Scared


To make the time pass more quickly while I take my morning walks, I often listen to some great podcasts. 

Sometimes I listen to podcasts by Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School. 
Click here to find Brooke's podcasts.
She's super positive and has lots of advice for accomplishing the goals and dreams we all have.

After some of those, I click over to the Do It Scared podcast with Ruth Soukup.
 These really resonate with me and I listen to episode after episode, even after I get done walking. 

I've listened to quite a few this week as I've sat at my desk and thought about how I ought to be writing. 

Sure, the podcasts are inspiring. I've jotted down thoughts and ideas to spur me on toward my goals. I've listened as super-successful Ruth and her guests who have accomplished amazing things all admit that they are often scared, but they do it anyway.

I don't like to hear that, to be honest.

I'd like to think that once you become successful and accomplished at something, those scared feelings go away. To a certain extent, that may be true. When you do something over and over again, it gets easier, less scary. But Ruth and her guests all said that as they learned to do something and started out, they were scared.

I'm scared. Scared to write a book proposal. Scared to update my website. Scared to get to know new people. Scared to do lots of things.

And so I buffer (as Brooke Castillo would say). I grab a snack from the freezer or cupboard. I grab the ipad and play some games. I stare into space and worry about why I'm not getting anything done. I watch funny cat videos on YouTube. 

None of that gets me any closer to my dreams.

I have to do it scared

I have to break my goals into bite-sized pieces and work on completing them instead of buffering.

Maybe you have something you've been putting off because you're just so scared of the unknown. Write it down. Stare at that goal or dream. Write down some steps you can take to get a little closer to completing it. Put those steps on your calendar. Talk to a friend and ask her to check and see if you've done something to get you closer to your goal by the next time you talk.

I'm going to tell all of you a couple of steps I plan to take this week. 

I'm going to work on updating my website (at least the first page). You can hop over to robynmulder.com and check it out this weekend so you can see how much it changes by next Friday. Feel free to email if you have any comments or suggestions for content. (Are moms even angry anymore? I started the website back in 1997 - maybe I need to drop that tagline)
(Here's what my first page looks like today)
I'm also going to start working on a book proposal for the book about depression that has been in my head and on my heart for years now. I don't know how long that will take, so I'm going to schedule three hours for it into my week and see how far that gets me.

What are you going to do? Are you afraid? Let's do it anyway. 

Let's do it scared.

"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 there things you've been putting off because you're afraid? How can focusing on God help you to do it scared?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Empty Nests

Well, it has finally happened. Our nest is empty. We dropped Dylan off at Northwestern College in Orange City today.

 In the days leading up to this special occasion, we talked and teased at home. 

"Are you going to cry when you drop me off?" he asked more than once. 

"Do you want me to?" I replied with a grin. "I don't think I will, but I can try to muster up a few tears if you want."

I wasn't really sure what would happen, to be honest. I didn't feel like crying at home, but I didn't know if it would hit me all of a sudden when we got to the dorm or after we headed for home.

I haven't shed any tears, but it has been a bittersweet experience. 

The last time we move a child into a college dorm for their freshman year. (We've done it three times before this)

The last time we sit through the new student orientation stuff.

The last time we meet a new roommate.
Dylan and his new roommate, Tanner
It's the last time for us, but I have to keep reminding myself that it's the first time for Dylan. For all of it.

I'm not crying (at least not yet) because I'm excited for all of the things he's going to learn and experience in college.

As I wander around campus, I remember how insecure and shy I was my freshman year. Northwestern played a big part in helping me mature socially, academically, and spiritually.

This week I've been thinking of all of the things I neglected to teach Dylan over the years. So many things! But then I remember that he has Google, and he'll be fine.

When we get back home it may hit me a little harder that all of the kids are gone. Gary and I are still adjusting to a new home, church, and community in Platte, and now we have to adjust to an empty nest as well.

I'm still not crying (at least not yet). We've developed a great relationship over the years and I think it can only get better with a little more time for just the two of us.

I'm praying for Dylan and for us during this time of transition...and I'm also saying a prayer for all the other parents adjusting to empty nests.

It can be a bit scary, but it's supposed to happen. It's what we hopefully want for our kids, the confidence and courage to leave the nest, spread their wings, and fly to new places.

I heard a speaker (I think it was Jill Savage) talk about how "first we hold, and then we fold." First we hold our newborn babies, our young children. Then, when they get old enough to go out on their own, we fold our hands in prayer for them.

I did lots of holding when our four children were young. Now it's time to do lots of folding as I pray often for each of them.

That should give me something useful to do as I get used to the empty nest. 

"Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)

Do you have an empty nest? How can focusing on God help you to adjust well to this big transition?
                                                                                                                                                                 
It's much easier to leave Dylan at Northwestern when Blake is there, too!
Blake is a Senior this year - and they're both in Hospers Hall.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Splendid Sunday: Let's Focus on Moving

We're barely settled in Platte, but it's time to focus on moving again for a couple of weeks.

On Friday and Saturday, Gary and I helped our daughter Allison move from one third-floor apartment to another third-floor apartment across town in Lincoln, Nebraska.

She has some unpacking to do!

Our other daughter Erin let Allison live with her for the summer, but she strongly encouraged her to find her own place once she got established in a new job.

She did that (the job and the apartment), so we took some furniture down that she had stored here, then helped get her stuff out of Erin's apartment and into her new place. 

Allison and Erin, in Allison's new apartment.
This week Friday we'll load up the trailer again and help Dylan move into Hospers Hall at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. He won't have nearly as many things to move as Allison did, and he's only on the second floor, so it should be a bit easier.

All of this moving has me thinking.

Thinking about all of the things we have and that we lug around from place to place.

Thinking about how quickly the years fly by and we have to help our children move into apartments and dorms.

Thinking about how out of shape I am as I huff my way up another flight of stairs.

Thinking about how important it is to keep moving as we go through life.

Whether it's moving to a new city, moving to a new school or job opportunity, moving our bodies to get in better shape, or moving the stuff we no longer use or need to the nearest Goodwill store, we need to keep moving.

If we stay in one place and never take advantage of educational opportunities or a chance to work somewhere new, we can limit ourselves and never realize our full potential. (I realize there are exceptions to this, but not for the majority of people.)

If we never move our bodies, we lose muscle mass and probably take on extra pounds, gradually losing our mobility and the freedom to enjoy the world around us.

If we never move our belongings, they'll eventually pile up around us, hindering our freedom to move around our homes and share life with those we love. 

It's always most comfortable to stay put, to not risk, to not let go of what we know.

Friends, we can't be content with comfortable. Eventually, comfortable becomes stifling, constricting, boring, unhealthy. Then, we must move.

God will prompt us. He'll show us how and He'll tell us when. Let's just hope it's not to a third-floor apartment on one of the hottest days of the summer.

"The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger." (Job 17:9 NLT)

Have you become comfortable? How can focusing on God help you to know when and how to move?

Friday, August 3, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Making Progress


This has been a productive week.

I've been going through old files and getting rid of papers I don't need anymore (I probably never did, but, you know, I filed them "just in case").

I'm close to completing a big editing project for an author I've worked with before.

I've been taking long walks most mornings and lifting some weights to get my body in better shape.

I've mailed out some things that had been sitting around for way too long (procrastination plagues me).

It feels good to make progress.

It doesn't feel so good to stay stuck in procrastination, laziness, and uncertainty. Those things inevitably lead to frustration as deadlines are missed, papers pile up, and projects remain incomplete.

Even a tiny bit of progress can bring joy and inspire us to keep going. 

Remember the cross stitch project I showed you back in 2014? I talked about enjoying the process and talked about finishing the project my grandma gave me. Here's what it looked like back then:

(A small section with lots of stitches missing)
Well, of course, life got in the way and I still haven't finished that project, but recently I pulled it out and started to spend a few minutes here and there on it. Here's where it is now:
(The box is filled and a pair of shoes has appeared)
Seeing this bit of progress reminds me that I can get it done someday if I just keep working at it. Even a few minutes every few days will get me closer to completion.

I've been pondering this idea often in the last couple of weeks. 

Moving ahead.
Working hard.
Doing something right away instead of setting it aside and forgetting about it.
"Progress, not perfection." (A quote I love, author unknown)

Making progress is important in our homes and in our jobs, but it is even more important spiritually.

It's too easy to stay stuck and frustrated because we don't want to spend any time talking to God about what's going on in our hearts. Sometimes we think it's just too hard to improve, so we don't even want to try. 

Instead, we need to focus on making progress. Moving ahead even a tiny bit can give us the encouragement we need to keep going and not give up. As we work hard on taking our thoughts captive and building our spiritual muscles, we'll make even more progress spiritually. "Progress, not perfection."

Let's do whatever it takes to keep making progress.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (Philippians 3:12 NIV)

Do you ever feel stuck, physically or spiritually? How can focusing on God help you to work hard and make progress in your home, at your job, and in your heart?

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Super Saturday: Let's Focus on Dreams

I don't try to find meaning in every dream I have.

Some are interesting and some are just plain goofy.

Half the time, I forget my dreams before I even get to the breakfast table.

But every once in a while, I have a dream that I remember vividly when I wake up, and I feel the need to record it so I can analyze it a little more and see if my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

That happened last night. 

I was dreaming some strange things, it's true (giant fish that were eating lots of things they weren't supposed to eat, children that were behaving badly, sightings of childhood friends and old crushes, among other things). All of that blurred together, but part of the dream got clearer. I saw a group of three glitzy singers. One of them suddenly announced that she was going to do something new, and she launched into a Francesca Battistelli song, giving it a new latino flair. She encouraged the other two singers to follow her lead and they wowed the crowd with their rendition.

I lost sight of the girls and dealt with the giant fish problem for a while, but then I saw them standing in a doorway. I went over and raved about how much I liked their version of the song, until I started to doubt myself and trailed off uncertainly. I looked around, then looked back at them and said, "Oh wait, you're not the singers, are you? Sorry, I must have gotten confused and you just look a little like them." I got all embarrassed and looked for a chance to escape.

One of the women, the one who started the spicy version of Francesca's song, stopped me and assured me that I had the right group. She put her hands on each side of my face and told me earnestly, "I'm not going to be someone who wandered out of her debut."

I uttered back, with tear-filled eyes, "That's who I've been so far."

That's it. The dream didn't go any further and I woke up. I almost went back to sleep, but I knew those words would be gone forever if I drifted back to dreamland.

So I started repeating them to myself, and I kept it up until I could get to a pad of paper in the kitchen. I scribbled the lines down and then went back to bed for a little while. 

I don't know exactly what that dream meant, but I have a feeling God will show me if I take some time to think about it.

My first thoughts go to my writing, as they often do. I'm afraid my subconscious may be pointing out that I'm continuing to "wander" away from my calling to write. God is giving me ideas and the desire to share things with a wider audience, but I find lots of activities and excuses that keep me from accomplishing any projects.

Wandering out of my debut...that's who I've been so far.

Sounds like a good wake-up call for this aspiring author. 

Either that or I ate too much right before bed. Who knows?

"The king asked Daniel..., "Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?" Daniel replied, "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries." (Daniel 2:26-28a NIV)

Have you ever had a dream that seemed to have a special message for you? How can focusing on God help you to discern what He wants to show you through the things you sometimes dream?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Gardening

(This is my actual backyard garden)

When Gary was candidating to come to Platte, some of the ladies asked me, "Do you garden?"

I stammered out an apologetic, "No, not really."

They recovered quickly and said that was fine. "Beth loved flowers," they explained.

My heart sank as I wondered how disappointed some would be if I didn't garden like the previous pastor's wife. I put it out of my mind and forgot about it until we moved in.

One of our new friends proudly showed me the garden spot out back that she and some other ladies had graciously weeded before we came. I smiled and thanked her, but honestly, I had no idea what was growing there. Nothing was blooming, and all I could think about was how I would disappoint her when I let it get overgrown with weeds.

Well, lo and behold, I started to spend a few minutes most days looking at those plants and pulling a few weeds. I could recognize grass and thistles. Gary pointed out a few trees that were started to grow, so I chopped those off.

We've gotten lots of moisture this spring and summer, so the garden has done well. Things started to get buds and then they bloomed:

And as they bloomed, I got more and more interested in my garden.
 I spent a little more time each day. I pulled off the wilted petals and watched to see when more would open,
The phlox is just starting to bloom!
 I asked a friend to come look at it and tell me for sure which plants were weeds. She pointed some out and I cleaned up my garden a little more.
I thought these tall plants might be weeds, but they started blooming and they're so pretty!
As we've done house visits, I've taken notice of people's flowers. I've admired them and asked questions. 

On Tuesday I went along with a new friend on a garden tour. I saw so many neat things that I could hardly sleep that night. My mind was racing with ideas for what I could plant in our yard!
We went to lots of homes on that tour, and it seems like almost every place had something they pointed out that had died. They talked about replanting trees or plants that just hadn't made it. I was reassured that I could garden even if I didn't do it perfectly.

I also heard lots of talk about "creeping jenny" and how it can threaten to take over a garden if you're not careful.
Don't let that cute little flower fool you - this is an annoying weed!
Several times I heard women murmur behind me, "They look happy." I thought that was so cute that they judged the plants with such a human emotion, but as I looked, I could see it. The healthy plants really did look happy.

Besides spending time in my garden, I also find myself wanting to reread some fiction books that deal with gardening. The Secret of the Rose series by Michael Phillips, Some Wildflower in My Heart by Jamie Langston Turner, and A Garden to Keep by Jamie Langston Turner are some of my favorites.

I remember these christian authors beautifully explaining many spiritual principles as they used flowers and gardening in their novels. I want to visit those stories again and take note of the little details I probably missed before, now that I have more of a gardener mindset.

I know I want to make sure I'm spending just as much time in the garden of my heart as I am out in my literal garden. I need to water it with a steady soaking of God's word. There are stubborn habits and negative thoughts to pull, and I need to ask for help when I'm not sure what's growing there. I need to take notice of the promising buds that appear out of nowhere, and enjoy the beauty when God allows something to finally bloom in my heart.

I hope I'll remember that every time I look at the flowers in my back yard. 

"The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever." (Isaiah 40:8 NIV)

Do you like to garden? How can focusing on God help you to grow the garden of your heart with as much care as a flower or vegetable garden?

(You can check out a few more of my garden pictures in my Facebook gardening album)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Being Real


Last night I went to Bible Study at church. Fourteen of us women gathered around some tables in the fellowship hall and discussed 2 Kings 6 and 7. 

I got to read from chapter 6 right away, then I listened as they talked about how God cares even about the small things in our lives (like borrowed axeheads).

Then we went on in chapter 6 and saw how God blinded the Arameans after they surrounded the city where Elisha was. 

I just had to jump in and comment. "Did anyone else think of Star Wars when he says, 'This is not the road and this is not the city' in verse 19? You know, like 'These are not the droids you're looking for.'

Our poor leader didn't know what to say. She wasn't a big Star Wars fan. I got a few chuckles from some of the ladies, but someone else said they didn't know much about Star Wars, either.

We went on, but I got stuck for a few seconds in self-doubt. 

Oh no, why did that have to be the first comment I made tonight? They're going to think I'm strange. I'm just getting to know them. I should have kept my mouth shut and waited to say something more wise and thoughtful.

Thankfully, I didn't get too stuck in those thoughts. I shook them off and followed along with the study, even saying a few things that were a little more "normal."

We ended with some business and delicious desserts, then headed for home. I was offered a ride across the parking lot along with 2 other ladies since it was raining pretty hard out. 

I guess the Star Wars comment bothered me more than I even realized, because I couldn't seem to stop myself from saying something like, "I hope that wasn't too weird that I mentioned Star Wars tonight" as I got ready to open the car door.

"Oh no," the ladies assured me. "That was fine. We have lots of Star Wars fans around Platte." I dove for the garage door, and then kicked myself a little more as I went in the house.

You dummy, now they're going to think you're even more weird for asking about it! You should have just let it go. I'll bet they're going to tell the other women I was worried about it and they'll all think I'm strange.

Again, I had to be firm with myself to stop this train of thought. These are nice women. None of them were putting on a show just for Bible Study, and I shouldn't either. They might as well know right away that I have kind of a quirky sense of humor. (I really could have saved it for next month, though) 

Genuine, lasting relationships happen when people are real with each other. When women (and men) show each other grace and understanding, an atmosphere is created where people feel free to be who God created them to be. No judgement is felt, only love.


Just a couple of weeks ago, I sang the song "Free to Be Me" by Francesca Battistelli at a community service. I talked beforehand about how we're all free to be the unique person that God has made us. What a hypocrite I'd be if I didn't live that out as I start to do life with these new friends.

I'll be real, but I think I'll lay off the Star Wars quotes for a while.

"The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." (1 Timothy 1:5 NIV)

Do you worry too much about what people think of you? How can focusing on God help you to be real and focus more on loving others than impressing them?

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Super Saturday: Let's Focus on Hospitality

As we begin our time here in Platte, one of the goals Gary and I have is to visit with as many members as possible in these first months of ministry. 

Some people choose to come to the church office for a visit (and that is just fine), but most have been graciously allowing us to come to their homes so we can get to know them better.

There is something special about sitting down with someone in their living room or at their kitchen table as we converse. We find out about their families and past experiences and tell them a bit about us and our family. We talk about church and the community. We find out about past hurts and present concerns. We come away from the visit with a greater sense of connection.

Gary does most of the talking during these visits, but I enjoy them, too. As I listen, my eyes dart around the room and take in the decorations and design of each home. It's fun to see what people collect and what is special to them. Many display photos of their family members and point out their children and grandchildren to us. 

As we've made many visits the last couple of weeks, my mind has gone back to the visits we made in Chandler, MN and Allison, IA when we first started to serve there. I remember hearing people's stories and struggling to remember names at first...but it wasn't long before those unfamiliar names were very familiar and the faces that went with them were very dear to us.

That's what happens when people show hospitality. It can happen at church during fellowship time when someone takes the time to sit and connect with someone else, but I think it happens best when we open our homes to each other. Sitting down to chat over a cup of coffee, or conversing during a delicious meal can make stronger connections between friends.

I wish I had done more of that back in our other two churches. I loved the people, and I hope they felt that, but I'd like to be more deliberate about hospitality in the years ahead.

I was too worried about how clean the house looked or if I had enough energy to make an impressive meal for someone. I'm starting to realize that those things aren't as important. A relatively clean house and a simple meal served with love can bless someone and encourage them in whatever they're going through.

I hope we can be more deliberate about showing hospitality in the years ahead. I'm going to try to invite people over more often as we enjoy life here. 

Don't be afraid to invite yourself over, either. I'll try to do my housekeeping on time, but if you see a little dust, let's just agree not to mention it (and please don't write in it!).

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)

Do you enjoy showing hospitality? How can focusing on God help you to cheerfully invite people over and share life with them?