Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Life Explained

As I sit here, all warm and cozy, at my desk computer I’m thinking about the time of year. People all around me are hustling about trying to still get the perfect gift and make all those fattening, but delicious, homemade cookies since Christmas will be here next week. A week from now I’ll have some extra time to spend with extended family and time to count our many blessings (something we should all do more often). Usually when I think about writing a January article, my mind turns to topics of new beginnings, New Year’s resolutions and plans for the upcoming year. I took a few minutes to review an article I wrote just 12 months ago called ‘A Season for Envisioning’. At that time, I suggested not making any new resolutions, but rather only promising that I would try harder to be true to myself. I would try to make quiet times for reflection and give myself more grace. I wrote of all seasons bringing questions and uncertainty. I still feel that we need to embrace the lessons and opportunities that every season proposes to us and know in our hearts that ‘God is our refuge and strength’ (Psalm 46:1). I don’t think any of us would say that we don’t know of someone who has had a rough time of it in 2009 (ourselves included).

For me, 2009 has been a year of good health, a job that I thoroughly enjoy, the experience of my first small group, and a lot of personal choices and decisions. Tomorrow night my husband and I will attend our last small group meeting for the current bible study we are participating in, ‘No Experience Necessary’. The study focused on mission and what is our role for carrying out God’s work. I’m thankful to each of my small group members for pushing me to participate more and for the group discussions that we shared. The study has left me with many questions to carry with me in to the upcoming year like ‘How would you describe the purpose of your life?’, ‘As the Spirit stirs in your heart, who are you being called to reach out to in love?’, and ‘Where [in what place, situation, or relationship] do you think God might be calling you to make a difference this week?’. One particular lesson asked the following:

Think for a minute about some “new beginning” God has given to you.
How has your response honored God?
How have you used “your” blessing to be a blessing to others?
Wow, talk about perspective. I guess it really isn’t all about us, is it? Let’s take a minute and look back on 2009 and remember all of the good things that happened … the good report from the doctor … the prospect of the new job that if it hasn’t already come, could come in 2010 … the birth of a new child … the mending of a relationship … or the crack in your heart that healed a bit more. I’ve always been a big advocate of positive attitude and optimism being choices and more productive than the alternative.

Following is a story that a church member shared with me. I think it makes a wonderful point.
A boat docked in a tiny Mexican fishing village. A tourist complimented the local fisherman on the quality of their fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
“Not very long,” they answered in unison.
“Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?”
The fisherman explained that their small catches were sufficient to meet their needs and those of their families.
“But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
“We sleep late, fish a little, play with our children, and take siestas with our wives. In the evenings, we go to the village to see our friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. We have a full life.”
The tourist interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”
“And after that?”
“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”
“How long will that take?”
“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the tourist.
“And after that?”
“Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting”, answered the tourist laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the fisherman.
“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings visiting and enjoying your friends.”
The moral of the story is to have your priorities in line and know where you’re going in life … you may already be there.

Let’s challenge ourselves for 2010 to perhaps reprioritize our lives, to all be a bit less judgmental, less critical, more giving, more active, and more positive. Let’s work on carrying out God’s mission in ways that would make Him proud.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thanks for Listening

‘Turn your ear to listen to me …
Be my rock of protection, a fortress where I will be safe.’
~ Psalm 31:2

Autumn is officially here. The trees are slowly displaying their brilliant shades of oranges, reds and yellows; and yes … I think it may be nearing the time to turn our furnaces on (if you haven’t already). Autumn is a good example of the changing seasons, but it can also be a reminder for us of how our lives (like the weather) also change throughout the year.

It used to be that there were lots of people who were older than me and who knew so much more than I did. Nowadays, it seems like there are so many more people younger than I am. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I have near as much wisdom as my elders seemed to have had when I was 10, 20, 30 or even 40. There is a small group of people that I do go to for advice – my husband, my sister, a co-worker, and a few select friends who will always remind me that they are merely ‘a phone call away’. In my current season (or this stage in my life) I often find myself just wanting to say what’s on my mind. I’ll convince myself that I’ve thought the situation through and the possible solutions. I’ll even convince myself that I have all the answers and don’t need anyone’s advice. The results, however, never seem to be what I thought they would. I find that what I really needed was the opportunity to talk with someone else … or better yet ‘VENT’. I’ve learned that most people will be willing to listen to your problems or concerns for a while, but eventually when your problems become repetitive they’ll unintentionally tune you out. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve known people in my life who when I saw them coming I would try to avoid them or discourage their conversations, because I either felt uncomfortable listening or just didn’t have the time or desire to listen to their newest variation of their woes. They are good reminders to me about keeping my own attitude and conversations positive.

But while it may be important to try and keep a positive outlook, it can also be just as important to have that safe opportunity to talk to someone you trust and be able to vent (without the fear of being judged over how you might be feeling). Venting, however, should NEVER be used as a ploy to try to persuade your ‘listener’ to go along with your argument or way of thinking. There should always be mutual respect. My favorite listeners are my husband and a few special friends. If God gave out gold stars for good deeds, these people would have plenty.

I came across a health website this week where a woman’s blog was being featured. She was a fibromyalgia patient who talked about the need to be able to vent when she wasn’t feeling well. She needed to be able to openly admit that she hurt and was in constant pain, without someone telling her that she was complaining.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that this past year has been a rough one for many people. We all know someone (if not ourselves) who has had to deal with something big this year. For some it’s been their health, losing or trying to hold on to their job, personal family struggles, finances, or yes … even their faith.

Each of us needs to be able to vent when we need it. More importantly we all need to have someone who is willing to listen; someone who won’t judge us, try to tell us what is right or wrong, how we should be feeling, how we should act or what we should say. A good listener won’t give you preachy advice. They won’t say ‘I know how you feel’. Mostly they will just listen, really listen. They will ask you just enough questions to get you to open up about what’s really on your mind, and then they’ll let you do all the talking. In return, when they really need to talk, we can try to do a good job in the reversed role and be just as good and patient at listening, always remembering the mutual respect.

My advice to you … find a few good listeners with whom you can feel safe to let things out. Have a private conversation. Then, return the favor. I certainly don’t mean to sound like Pollyanna, but if I’ve learned one thing as I’ve gotten older it’s how to be a better listener. When you really stop to think about it, isn’t that what every human being wants … to be listened to and affirmed?

Thanks for listening.

‘Fools think their own way is right,
but the wise listen to others.’
~ Proverbs 12:15

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Be a People Builder

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up ..."

~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Summer is nearly over ... the new school year will be starting soon ... the kids' backpacks are ready ... but the grass is still green and flowers are still blooming in brilliant shades of red, yellow and purple ... we look around and see that things are still growing. Relationships can be looked at with the same perspective. They are something that needs nurturing. There needs to be support just the same as a plant needs to be watered or the grass needs to be cut in order for them to not only look their best, but be the best they can be.

God designed us to be in relationships with other people and I think He would want us to help each other grow. Not one of us can reach our highest potential by ourselves. We all need people in our lives that can encourage us, just as we have a responsibility to encourage others and help them to reach their potential. The word “encourage” translates to “give courage, hope, or confidence to; embolden; hearten; to give support to; inspirit”.

I’ve heard it said many times that we see in other people what they can’t see in themselves. We are able to be objective and see their strengths and their talents, as well as their weaknesses and barriers. We often see that God has a very definite plan for them using the gifts and specific talents He gave them. Yet sometimes because of difficult situations and lack of support, some people don’t see that same picture. Never assume that they see or believe the same things about themselves that you do. Take a moment and encourage someone today. It could be with a nice word on the phone, a hand-written note, or even a pat on the back the next time you see them. It might be something as simple as cutting out an article from a magazine and passing it along, but it might be just the thing that reminds them of a hope or a dream they had lost sight of.

It’s way too easy for any of us to give up on a goal. An important part of achieving one’s goals, hopes and dreams is attitude. I once received the following quote in a card from an acquaintance I have in South Carolina. I believe it’s worth sharing. “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, gift or skill. … The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past … The only thing we can do is play on the string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you … we are in charge of our attitudes.” ~ Charles Swindoll

Take the time today to encourage the people in your life to not give up, to know the importance of a healthy and positive attitude and to keep moving forward. Let them know that the faith you have in them is unlimited and unconditional. Be a people builder and support them in their hopes and dreams, perhaps enabling them to reach their potential and be who God intended for them to be.

While you're at it think about the goals and dreams you have (or had) for yourself. Give yourself permission to try doing something again that you always loved doing, but maybe forgot about or gave up on. What do you still dream about doing with your life? Because you'll wake up tomorrow means that there is still time to try again. Think about it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

My View On The 'Julie-Julia' Project

I took a break this weekend from my chaotic schedule and went to a movie with my nieces … it’s was a ‘girls only’ kind of thing. Not something I do very often … not just the ‘girls only’ part, but also the ‘going to a movie’ part. Going to a movie seems to be something I do once - maybe twice a year. I sure hope I haven’t met this year’s quota already.

We went to see ‘Julie-Julia’ starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The movie is a true story about a Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and a writer (Amy Adams) who decides to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook within the course of a year. It was something like 524 recipes in 365 days (but don’t quote me). Quite a challenge … she decides to not only cook every recipe, but also to write a daily blog about the experience. I got the gist that she felt like she’d never really been able to complete a project and was perhaps in a rut. Her husband kindly reminded her that she had previously written half of a novel, to which she replied “Until you’re actually published, you’re not really a writer.” That’s a real sad way to look at it, isn’t it? Kind of a ‘is the glass is half empty?’ approach, don’t you think? Her husband explained that that was the beauty of a blog. You can write whatever you want, whenever you want, and lots of different people can read your stuff and comment. It doesn’t really matter if you’re published or not (although I’m sure it’s nice).

Perhaps because I love watching the Food Network Channel or because I recently started my ‘Insights are Blooming’ blog – but I felt a very REAL connection to Amy Adams’ character in this movie. Someone asked her at one point why she even wanted to write the blog, especially for complete strangers. To which she replied ‘because it’s like a regiment … something you have to commit yourself to.’ Maybe strangers wouldn’t know or even care if she didn’t finish it, but she would … and that’s what really mattered.

So in spite of the fact that this is only my second blog entry to date I’m going to stay focused and keep plugging away. I guess, at least in my mind that will make me a WRITER. So stay tuned … I have LOTS to share.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Balancing Act

There’s something to be said for being in balance. We have to balance our checkbooks, our fun with our responsibilities, and our priorities. We even have to find a balance between living in the moment and planning for our futures (I find that to be a tough one).

Have you ever felt a bit out of balance? I don’t mean like when you have an inner ear infection and your equilibrium is unsteady … I mean when you feel like your ‘life’ is a bit lopsided? Feeling ‘out of balance’ can be caused by too much stress, your health, your marriage, your job, or often a schedule that’s just too demanding. Obviously some things we have control over and some we don’t. When that’s the case, it may be time to rethink things. We need to think of ways we can gain some of the balance back.

Young children often have big dreams for their future … growing up to be a fireman, an astronaut, a ballerina, or a doctor. But as we find ourselves getting older, we sometimes realize that our dreams have changed. Now many have desires to see their children grow and get married and start the next generation with kids of their own. There’s a lot of pleasure in seeing any of these dreams comes true.

Keeping something balanced, no matter what it is, will take effort and concentration – most things don’t just happen by chance. In Proverbs 16:11 it says “Honest scales and balances are from the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making.” I think the Lord wants us to have balanced, healthy and happy lives. We put our best foot forward and are most productive when we aren’t feeling overwhelmed or distracted. Some might say it’s about getting our priorities right, about determining what’s really important and what’s not. We can cross having an abundance of material things off our list. They’re just things. Maybe a good way to stay balanced and on course is to take a closer look at our current goals, as well as look back at some of the dreams we had when we were younger. Have you accomplished everything you set out to do? I know I haven’t and I’m sure I’m not alone. I seem to be drawn to the Proverbs lately. In Proverbs 16:9 it says “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Is there a more definite reason why some things don’t get completed when we want them to? Maybe it’s more about God’s timing.

Perhaps if you’re feeling a bit out of balance these days you need to take a closer look at the list of goals you have. Pick one you always wanted to achieve, but for whatever reason never did, and try again. Maybe it’s time to go back and finish the college degree you started many years ago, write a book, or be a mentor for someone. That’s the nice thing about goals – they come in many shapes and sizes and can be tweaked at any time to fit your current life. Maybe it is as simple as writing a letter or calling an old friend you haven’t talked to in ages or finally cleaning out and organizing your basement. Finishing something you started might be just the mental boost your life needs to get itself back on track.

Whatever is keeping your life off its steady axis these days, I hope you find the right combination and the support you need to get your sense of balance back.