The Challenge of Unanswered Prayer Part 2

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Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

Psalm 27:14

My last post ended on a bit of cliffhanger – one that unfortunately lasted about 5 months! I won’t spend a lot of time trying to explain myself, except to say that life (and in my case health) truly did get in the way of doing something I love so much. But I am sorry for letting so much time slip by. I’ve missed writing and sharing, and hope those of you who have so faithfully followed me in my journey will join back up with me now. And so, onward!

As I pointed out in Part 1, the issue of unanswered prayer is thorny for Christians. It certainly has been for me. It’s hard not to get something that I really want, or to be saddled long-term with something I don’t want. And I’ll admit that many times I haven’t been gracious about being in either situation, uttering lots of “God, where are You?” kinds of prayers. Continue reading “The Challenge of Unanswered Prayer Part 2”

Prepping for 2016 Pt 2

new-years-resolutionsYesterday, I wrote about my usual approach to planning for the new year. In a nutshell, it’s usually been an intense process that leaves me saddled with a big To Do list. Until recently, I’ve enjoyed the work involved. And when I’ve looked over a finished list, a sense of excitement has taken hold.

So many possibilities for the coming 12 months!! But possibility wasn’t enough to keep me going, and most of my great ideas would soon fizzle out.

But this December I’m going about this differently. It’s more than shortening my list, though. Inspired by Michael Hyatt, a gifted teacher in the area of time-management, I’m looking at the “why” of my goals. In doing that, I’ve uncovered some values – like gaining worldly success and pleasing others – that have driven my planning.

My next list was of the results that living by those values: frustration, discouragement and anger, among other things. The obvious question that came to mind was, “Do I really want to live like that anymore?”

The answer was a resounding “No”, so I set out to create a new set of values.

First, I had to admit that those old values showed a lack of connection and obedience to God. But, as a believer, I’m called to follow my Heavenly Father, not my own desires. Look at what He says in the Book of Isaiah,  “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go.”

That’s more than a commandment – it’s a promise that He will always be there, providing for me.

Comforted by that truth, I was able to see a need to change from focusing on myself to thinking more about others. Paul’s words in Romans 12 capture this mindset beautifully, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

A new sense of possibility and excitement stirred up in me as I wrote two new lists:

What do I want my values to be from here on?

  • Having a view of myself (including my identity, my worth, measuring my success, etc) based on what God says
  • Using my talents and gifts to build God’s kingdom and to build others up
  • Taking personal responsibility in areas like finances, health, household spending, etc
  • Showing care for other people each day
  • Using my time well each day
  • Spending time in God’s Word, reading, studying and memorizing it

The results of living by those values:

  • Deeper sense of purpose
  • More peace
  • More joy each day
  • Better relationships

Here’s to a truly New Year!

Prepping for 2016

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Value – “a principle or quality (that is) intrinsically valuable or desirable” Merriam-Webster Dictionary   

In honor of it being the last week of December, I am joining the “year-end review” crowd. That is, I’m reviewing how last year went for me and thinking how next year can be better. I’ve done this in a big way other years, starting with detailed descriptions of my dreams and my ideal day. After that would come the systematic breaking down of elements of that day into bigger then smaller chunks that would be accomplished each month, week or day.

Depending on your personality, that process could sound very interesting or very exhausting. I used to really enjoy giving myself the freedom to daydream – I actually came up with some pretty cool ideal days! And being able to reduce a big idea into achievable tasks was satisfying. I liked having end a map for the year ahead, full of action points.

Sounds good, right? But after the initial burst of energy, which ran out sometime in February, I’d look at my giant flowchart with a mix of fatigue and discouragement. Turned out, imagining what I wanted was much easier than the day-to-day work involved…

I’ve been reading Michael Hyatt’s articles recently. He writes a lot about goal-setting and time management, and one of the great points he makes is this – Know Your Why. In other words, we need to have a strong reason for each goal we set, one we can refer back to when doubt, confusion or just plain boredom sets in. Hyatt’s idea led me to approach my year-end review in a different way this time around.

Knowing the ‘why’ for all my goals made a lot of sense. But I soon realized that I needed to first step back and explore the ‘why’ behind my bigger dreams. Because, what good is it for me to know what I want to accomplish if I don’t have a motivation that will truly inspire me over the long haul?

That’s when the thought of values came to mind (Michael Hyatt touches on this, too). As the definition states, values are qualities that we consider desirable. Each of us has a set of values that have great influence over how we think and act. The thing is, we aren’t always aware of what they are. Perhaps we’ve inherited the values our parents held, or, we’ve adopted the values of our peers.

I decided to take an honest look at what my strongest values have been over the years, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Here’s my short list:

  • Success = financial gain + notoriety + importance in the world
  • Being considered valuable and needed by others
  • Proving myself by what I do – impressing others to feel good about myself

Those were values that acurately defined how I thought about and lived out my life – ouch. They were self and others-centered, just like I was. And I listed the results of living by those values:

  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Lust
  • Anger
  • Resentment/envy
  • Self-centered thinking

In my next blog, I’ll share share how I’m trying to reshape those outdated values.

In the meantime, take a few minutes to write out your set of values. Be honest with yourself – do you like what you see?

 

Expect The Unexpected

I heard the conductor of our local orchestra use this phrase to promote an upcoming season: Expect the Unexpected. He was talking about concert pieces, of course. But I‘ve taken it to heart in terms of substitute teaching, and really, my overall mindset.

Flexibility is definitely one of the skills I’ve had to learn as a sub. And that trait is not part of my natural gift mix. I like being able to prepare in advance for an upcoming situation – that gives me a sense of confidence that I can handle whatever happens.

Luckily, my first couple of assignments matched up pretty well to what I imagined. But then I ventured into doing PPT days. A PPT is basically a teacher/parent meeting during the school day that lasts between 20 minutes and an hour. What that means for me is that I travel from room, going in “cold”. I have no idea of what activity or subject the class might be doing when I walk in. As you can imagine, I found that set-up nerve wracking at first. Every time I approached a new door my anxiety would spike.

The thing that finally helped my stress levels was to embrace the not knowing. Because the truth is that no matter how much prep I do, I can’t predict what will happen once I step into a school. I’m truly at their disposal. The only real way for me to get ready is to decide to stay focused on the present moment. Then I can respond effectively to any concern or need.

Sounds like a metaphor for life, doesn’t it? I sure think so. And the lesson has been as challenging to learn in my daily life as it’s been in subbing. Being a list maker and a planner, I can find my security in organization if I’m not careful. But that kind of security is fleeting.

Proverbs 3:26 says, “For the Lord shall be your confidence, and shall keep your foot from  being taken.” What a great reminder for me of what to lean on and where my security lies. I have no control, but God does. I don’t know what will happen once  any given day, but He’s already seen and prepared for everything.

So I’ll expect the unexpected from life. But I can expect God to walk with me through it all.

 

Still Letting Go…

Sunset Picture

“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day…”                                     Psalm 91:5

It’s been a few days since my daughter took off on her newest adventure – 13 hours on a bus on her own to visit family. She got there just fine and has been having a great time, which I’d been praying for. Though I stayed behind, this week is a journey of sorts for me as well – starting on the drive home from the station.

Before her bus even pulled into the station, my husband and I had taken the on-ramp to the highway. I tried hard not to keep looking at the dashboard clock, but my thoughts kept jumping back to her waiting at the station- Is the bus boarding yet? Is it heading out yet?

In the midst of all that fretting, I had a little out-of-body experience. What I mean is, I think God helped me step back enough to get a clear look at myself. And what I saw really troubled me. Not only because I was being an overprotective mom, but because I recognized this behavior as my default setting.

Fear certainly can be a helpful emotion, reminding us to prepare for challenges and keep alert in certain situations. It can be a tool that helps us protect ourselves and those we care about. But there can be a point when we listen too much to our fear – when we give it too much power over our thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I let fear become dominant in my life. It’s whispered in my ear and colored my thinking. It’s entered into all my decision-making. The result? A small, timid approach to life that has held me back. How many adventures did I miss out on? And worse, how many have I kept my kids from having?

It was that last question that really haunted me on the way home from the bus station. And it’s the one I’ve been pondering all week. As a mom, I want my kids to be safe, to be aware and alert as they venture into the world. But I think instead of equipping them to soar, I may have been unintentionally clipping their wings…

 

Spreading The Drama

 

man with newspaper and drinking coffee

As I was standing at the checkout line at the grocery store yesterday, I caught sight of the magazine racks. I usually do a quick scan of the teasers listed on each one, and find they range from practical (“80 Ways to Make Chicken” ) to silly (“Couple Adopts Space Alien Baby”).

Seeing the newest OK and Star headlines, the writer in me started to wonder what it would be like to work at one of those magazines. I imagined being hired basically to produce juicy stories about people, and the more provocative the better.

For a moment I thought it could be kind of fun. After all, I find there’s a thrill in the hunt for a good story. And having worked for a newspaper in the past, I’d be familiar with the routine of putting out feelers, then validating the information that comes in as well as the sources. In a way you could call It detective work.

But then I considered what I’d really be doing day in day out. In essence, I’d be looking for someone else’s drama, and announcing it to the world. And if, as I’ve heard accused, some of those stories are made up by editors, I’d be fabricating a lie about a person that could actually do damage. But just as I was feeling good about not writing for one of those outfits, a question suddenly popped into my head:

How many times have I spread bad news about someone?

More than I’d like to admit. And why did I do that? Was my just to let others know about a prayer need? Or was there a thrill in telling a juicy story? Did I hope that being the messenger would be a way to gain some attention for myself? And, even more concerning, could I have used my words of concern as a way to cover some judgemental thoughts?

By the time I left the store I felt pretty convicted. Yes, struggles happen to best of us, and we all make mistakes. But my role is not to proclaim those bits of news unless I’m asked to. Instead, I need to take what I hear and lift up my prayers in quiet.

God’s Handiwork

Do you know how special you are? I hope so. You are unique, a one-of-a-kind creation. And you were put here on purpose – there’s nothing accidental about you. You were made to be exactly who you are.

God said to this to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart…” Wow. And if you think that only goes for Jeremiah, listen to what Paul wrote about all of us in Ephesians:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Paul understood the amazing truth that God designed him, you, me, everyone, by His own hand – individually and intentionally. And he not only accepted it, but embraced it.

That can be hard to do, though, can’t it? Most of us have gotten the message somewhere along the way that we’re not very special at all. Whether someone told us that directly or we’ve spent years comparing ourselves to other people, we can end up feeling that “different” equals “less than.”

Well, that is a lie. And I’ve seen too many wonderful, incredibly valuable people buy into it. I spent years doing the same thing, and I know the pain it causes: low self esteem, discouragement and even depression.

I think Jeremiah and Paul might have struggled with this, too. And how did God answer them? With reassurance and encouragement that they were crafted by His hand, and that He delighted in His work!

If you’re ever unsure about your value, these verses can start to change your attitude. Try lifting them up as prayers, and soon you’ll feel better about being exactly who you are – a beautiful example of God’s handiwork.

 

 

Christian Perfection

In my Bible study last night we talked about perfection – namely, how we will never be perfect here in this life. And then this morning I read a devotional by Oswald Chambers that said,

“Christian perfection is not, and never can be, human perfection.”

Being a recovering perfectionist myself, I find a lot of comfort in this idea. Because over the years I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to perform at the highest level in every area, all the time. As I’ve said before, I have a habit of making big plans that usually include a spectacular result.

The problem with goals like those, besides being exhausting, is that they are an illusion. For example, I based my dreams for housekeeping and physical attractiveness on pictures I saw in magazines. And those images have to be  airbrushed and enhanced themselves to look perfect!

And why was I trying so hard to be perfect, anyway? Well, honestly, a lot of my motivation was impressing other people. I wanted to earn their attention and praise – the struggle would be worthwhile if I heard “oohs” and “ahs.” The funny thing was, I never felt satisfied even if I got them.

That’s one of the terrible things about reaching for worldly perfection. No amount of achievement or positive feedback ever really feels like enough. There’s always another room to straighten up, or another workout to do. And the cheers that you hear from others fade pretty quickly.

I’ve tried many times to simply ignore the drive to be perfect. I’ve told myself to be content with doing “my best.” But I think the drive is just part of who I am. The cure is to change what I’m driving for. And that’s where my faith comes in.

Chambers goes on to clarify what perfectionism should be for believers:

“Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship to God…”

Do you see the shift? I need to give up striving to impress people (or myself), and reach for a deeper connection to God. And even that is not all up to me – God meets me where I am, and does the work to bring me closer to Him, to make me perfect in Christ. The more I take hold of that truth, the less my human perfection matters!

Stories 1

I love hearing other people’s stories. On visits to my mom’s relatives when I was little, I’d sit around various dining room tables just to listen to them swap memories. Being shy, I savored the chance to sit and quietly soak in a part of their history.

As an adult, I often start conversations by asking other people how they are. And I really want to know. Sometimes they’ll go beyond the quick answer and share what’s going on in their lives. Whether I hear more of the up-to-date or of the past, I feel blessed to be allowed into their world for that moment.

I’ve worked on writing my own personal history. It’s a lot of work, both mentally and emotionally. But I think it’s really important to acknowledge even some of our own stories.

Why? For a few reasons:

  • To understand ourselves: why we do what we do
  • To realize the uniqueness & value of what we’ve gone through
  • To acknowledge all that we’ve survived!
  • To be able to bond with others

Once we have those stories ready, there’s great power in telling them. Think about how sharing our experiences:

  • Forges and fosters relationships that add to our mental, emotional and spiritual health
  • Encourages, teaches and challenges others to grow
  • Offers support to others who might feel alone in their struggles, problems, and fears

Have you written out any of your story yet? If not, think about it – your history could actually improve someone’s future! More on this coming up soon…

Thinking With My Heart

Do you ever wake up in a blue mood? I’ve been fighting one this morning myself. Why? Well, it’s Monday…and cloudy…the breeze has a late November chill to it…all the stuffing and pie has been eaten up… you get the idea.

The thing is, I can bring to mind lots of pretty decent reasons to be down without much effort. I’m sure you can, too. And one issue often leads to another if I’m not careful.

Yesterday I was wishing my husband and I could get more “fun” time together. Within a few hours, I was convinced he didn’t like being with me and that we had no romance in our relationship anymore. No wonder I woke up discouraged today!

Thankfully, this time I didn’t get too far down that road. And I’m sure it was the  Holy Spirit’s doing. I was sitting at the kitchen table on the verge of tears, when a scripture verse popped into my head:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?                                Jeremiah 17:9

The words brought my thoughts to a screeching halt. And it occurred to me to wonder if all those negative thoughts were from my brain or my heart. Because I have to admit that I’ve had a history of listening to my feelings first, using rational thought as a back-up. That habit has led to some bad decisions – words spoken and actions taken that were based on faulty beliefs.

So I dared to ask this morning:

  • What do I think is true right now?

My marriage is struggling – we’re falling out of love, etc…

  • Is that based on feelings or reality?

Well

I reminded myself that we’ve both been in a busy, demanding season, which is both a blessing and a challenge. There’s work, of course. And we’re trying to be available for our kids to help them navigate life as older teens. New opportunities have opened up for both of us in ministry. We’re tired and a bit stressed by life. But that doesn’t mean we’re in trouble – it means we need some sleep and a good date night!

For me, emotions can have a lot of power. So when they come on especially strong, I need to take a step back and do a reality check. It sure worked for me today – my outlook has improved a lot already.