My sun porch

My sun porch

Monday, January 26, 2015

Remembering to be POSITIVE!

It's Positive Monday!

" May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father encourage you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say." -- 2 Thessalonians 2:16

It is no secret that I TRY to be a pretty positive person. I am not always successful in this quest, but it is my every intention to be more positive than negative each day of my life. Lately, it has been a little bit harder. So, when someone invited me to participate in "Positive Monday", an attempt to encourage people to ditch their negative attitudes for at least one day of positivity, I jumped at the chance!

If anyone had the right to griping and complaining this morning, it was me (and everyone else in Southeastern Ohio!) as I woke up to an icy, snow-covered car and drive way. I started to grumble...but...I remembered that it was POSITIVE MONDAY and I took that negative attitude and scraped off my husband's car before I did my own!

The drive to work, which took twice as long as it normally does, was a little nerve-wracking and my knuckles had a slight white cast as they gripped the steering wheel. Again, I started to grumble...but...I remembered it was POSITIVE MONDAY and I turned up the radio and sang at the top of my lungs and smiled at my silliness! 

As I walked from one building to another on the campus where I work, I started to grumble about how the wind whipped the hood off my head and snow went down my shirt...but...I remembered it was POSITIVE MONDAY and I whipped out my phone and took some pictures of how lovely the Quad and the pond looked blanketed with a new coat of snow. Our Muskingum University campus IS really pretty, isn't it?

So...what have I re-discovered this morning as part of Positive Monday? Our attitude is a CHOICE! We shouldn't need a special day to remind us of that fact. We need to be more aware of our own attitudes and when we catch ourselves grumbling or griping, we need to remember that every day should be POSITIVE MONDAY! We can take the energy we would have used to find someone to vent to and do something positive instead. It really does help!

I am still not happy about the snow covered roads and the freezing cold wind that blows snow down my shirt, but I am amazed how much more content I am later this morning when I DECIDED to turn my negative thoughts into positive ones.

Do you want to give this way of life a try? Then join the other 17 thousand people who are participating in Positive Monday on Facebook. 

Then...remember it should be POSITIVE MONDAY every day and turn your own negatives into positives! #positivemonday

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Shake it off

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

It may be a bit trendy to use the phrase "shake it off" with the popularity of the Taylor Swift song, but I feel it is very appropriate.

I was reminded today of the old story about the farmer who had a donkey that fell into a deep well. While the donkey was braying and crying and wanting out, the farmer tried and tried to think of to get him out, but couldn't figure it out. He decided to give up and just fill in the hole...with the donkey still in it! He started shoveling in dirt and the donkey cried all the louder. But, after a few shovels, the  farmer noticed the donkey was doing something. As each shovel full hit his back he shook it off and stepped on the dirt. He kept this up and finally stepped right out of the hole!

This is a simple old story to teach a lesson, and it is easily forgotten. However, today I see the importance of doing just what the donkey did! I need to shake off the negative feelings I've been having. Shake off the behaviors that are weighing me down and trying to bury me. Shake off the feelings of doubt and fear that have been keeping me from being as productive and happy and content with my life.

Shaking off is not as easy as dancing around as Taylor Swift does, It takes a shift in my thinking. A state of mind that allows me to let go of the pain and hurts that are holding me back will require work on my part. Exercising those muscles in my mind is as difficult as excercising my out of shape leg and ab muscles. Practice and persistance is required.

I imagine I am not alone in the need to "shake it off." Are you with me? If so, share with me what you need to shake off and how you plan to do it. It's easier if we do it together. It's also easier if we allow God to help us. I pray we can do this! I know I will be better off! How about you?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A little discipline...

"Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus answered." -- John 6:43

A mother cares so much for the well being and the future of her child that she says things and does things to discipline her child. When the child is doing something that could harm her, or if her child is creating a habit that could be dangerous for her future, the mother explains to the child why she should stop...sometimes this explanation hurts the child's pride. Sometimes, if the behavior is bad enough, the mother's discipline hurts the child's behind.

Well, this morning, I can relate to the child's pride being hurt because...I have been disciplined! Not by my mother, but by my Father God. Two verses that I read today talked about complaining and grumbling. Ok, Dad...I get the message!

I have been struggling lately. I have been trying to solve problems in my life and when my solutions don't work, I get sad, a little depressed and then I...complain. I talk to friends, coworkers and anyone who will listen, really, about the things that are making my life difficult. My friends and coworkers are very sweet and they listen, give advice and lift my spirits during my complaining. I really appreciate these people in my life! However, this morning I really stopped to think about the grumbling and complaining I have been doing. Is it productive? Is it solving anything? Is it just a way for me to get attention from my friends and coworkers? Is it sin?????

When I think of my own behavior, I think I am doing a pretty good job living a good life. I try to do the right things, be helpful to others...all those things we tell ourselves when we want to think we are a good person. But...have I complained? Have I worried? Have I grumbled? Has my grumbling taken up so much of my thoughts I have missed opportunities to help others who are in need? The uncomfortable answer to all of those statements is yes. Since all of those statements describe me being focused on me, me, me, instead of focusing on the power of God in my can be considered sin.

Because of this sin in my life, I have snapped at people I love and argued with those that I cherish. That has made me feel ashamed, guilty and bitter. Because I feel this way, I complain even more! The vicious cycle continues.

THAT'S why I needed some firm discipline this morning. My loving Father sees my behavior and knows that calling attention to my bad behavior and giving me suggestions on how to right the wrong that I am doing, I CAN change the bad behavior.

Discipline is not fun for the giver or the receiver. However, it is a necessary part of life. Today I am thankful that I have a caring Father who sends me messages that I need to hear, even if I don't want to hear them. My goal for today is to stop grumbling and complaining. Not only will I be changing some bad behavior, but I think my friends and coworkers will appreciate it too!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Standing firm in the sifting...

"Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." -- Luke 22:31-32

In anticipation of the sifting
Here I stand.
A stalk of wheat in a huge field of my brothers and sisters.
I have grown from just a tiny sprout.
I fought my way through the soil
Stretching to feel the sun.
I let the rain, sun and soil nourish me.
Taller and taller I grew each day.
Green, though I was, I flourished.
Wind and storm came and tried to beat me down.
I reached up toward the sun and let it shine on me and in me.
Fruit developed at my top.
This is my purpose, to produce fruit.
That fruit will be nourishment for others.
It is the fruit that they search for.
As my color turns from green to tan, I know it's coming.

I feel the tremble of fear in my roots, but I reach for the sun again.
The cycle has been repeated again and again through time.
I will be ripped from the ground.
Violent shaking will happen to sift my fruit from my chaff.
The seeds at my top will be taken away, cleaned and processed.
Nutritious food will be made from the heart of me.
Bodies will be nourished and palates will be satisfied.
I know that is my purpose.
That is why the Father created me.
I know this, but I anticipate the pain and suffering I must endure.
I don't want to leave the comfort of this field.
I want to stand here and bask in the sun.
I stand tall and know that I can bear it.
My creator is in control and will be with me through it all.
He will make sure some of my seeds are planted so the cycle continues.
His wisdom ensures my future.
Here I stand...waiting.

A friend of mine brought this verse from Luke to my attention this week, and it struck such a chord in my heart. I looked up the verse. I looked for other people's interpretations of this verse. I looked at pictures of wheat and of the process of sifting wheat. It all inspired me to think a lot, write the poem from the perspective of the stalk of wheat, and REALLY take the words of Jesus into my mind and heart.

These words in Luke are the warnings of Jesus, preparing Peter, (and all of us, really) for the trials and tribulations that will inevitably occur in his life. How he explains about Satan demanding control of Peter's life is much like how Satan was given permission to work terror into the life of Job in the Old Testament. There were a few very comforting ideas to come out of these verses.

God is in control. Even though Satan is at work in our lives, shaking us, beating us, throwing difficulties at us, trying to separate us from our faith, he must ask permission. He asked to take things away from Job, as he was sure that when things were tough, Job would curse God. God allowed it. This is one of the toughest theological questions of history...WHY does God allow Satan to hurt us with his power? 

I do not claim to be learned enough to understand this difficult question or even try to answer it. My faith in God is strong enough to TRY to understand God's seek peace in my doubts. I believe that God knows our faith in Him is refined when we go through trials and suffering. If we did not have trials to bring us down, our flawed human hearts wouldn't feel the need for an all powerful Father God to have faith in. In my life journey, it has been in the difficult times that I sought out God the hardest and drew closer to Him. My faith was honed and refined when I needed Him the most.

Jesus' words to Peter also bring another comforting idea. Jesus said he has prayed for Peter, that his faith may not fail. Jesus prays for us! Jesus truly IS our friend as well as Savior! He supports us, loves us AND prays for us! He stands between our sinful selves and God so that all God sees when He looks at us is Jesus. Surely I can remain strong in my faith when I remember that Jesus is not just there, but He is battling for me and supporting me!

The last comforting idea I got by reading Luke 22:31-32 comes from the last line. Jesus told Peter when he turned again, (after his faith has been tested) he should strengthen his brothers. Could this be the most important thing that comes out of our trials? Jesus wants us to take lessons we learned during our hard times and love, support and strengthen others who are struggling. Pay it forward, right? 

My friend did that for me yesterday when she shared the "sifting verses" with me. She has been tested and sifted and learned lessons from it. She was sharing with me what she learned: that we need to remain faithful to God even when it is hard. We talked about how difficult it is to do that. When you are in the middle of hard times, it is so easy to get so wrapped up in the pain that you lose sight of Jesus. 

The thing we need to remember: even if we lose sight of Jesus for a time, He doesn't lose sight of us. He is there, praying for us. God IS in control, even when we can't see that at all.

I want to stand firm during the trials that I am facing. When I am struggling to hang on to that faith in God, I want to continue reaching toward the son and allow His light to nourish me and sustain me while I am weak. I want to push through those times and not run away from the problems. Then, when I have made it through, I can use that pain I experienced to reach out to others who might be going through their own hard time and support them. It's not an easy cycle to be in, but it's one that I WANT to be in. 

Wind and storm try to beat me down.
I reach for the Son.
Here I stand.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dealing with Disappointment...get REappointed!

God will always give what is right to his people who cry to him night and day, and he will not be slow to answer them. (From Luke 18:7 - taken from Grace for the Moment Journal by Max Lucado)

God always does what is best when it is best. But, I don't want to wait! When something doesn't happen when I think it should, or at all, I get disappointed and discouraged.

This has been a constant struggle for me, especially in the last few years. I don't know why I have such a hard time getting over disappointments...I think it may be because I am a bit of a perfectionist, and I hate when things don't look or feel the way I want them to, even if a good deal of the situation is out of my control.

Joyce Meyer says in her book New Day, New You, "When you get disappointed, you can always make the decision to get reappointed!"

Wow! There's a LOT of meat in that simple sentence! To be appointed means designated, or decided on beforehand, and it also can mean equipped or furnished in a specified way or to a specified standard.  I am appointed as one of God's chosen people...I have chosen to believe in God and in his plan of my salvation through Christ Jesus. God equips me to live to his standard. When I am disappointed...when my attitude about my situation causes my disappointment...does that mean that I am not living up to God's standards because I am not trusting his timing?  The words make the decision are key to Joyce Meyer's statement. We CHOOSE how we react to situations that cause us to be disappointed. When we are disappointed, are we choosing not to act as one of God's chosen people?

God promises that he will always give us what is right (to HIS standards) and in HIS time. Most times, we have to WAIT for our prayers or cries to God to be answered. Sometimes, we are waiting a LONG time. Sometimes, we wait our whole lives and what we have been praying for never seems to happen. Does that mean God didn't hear us or didn't keep his promises to us? No. It's all about HIS timing and what HE deems right for us. So...we pray...and we wait.

What should our attitude be like while we wait? I want to wait with patience and continue to worship God. With the help of the Holy Spirit living inside me, I can make the decision to get reappointed instead of disappointed. It doesn't matter that I constantly feel not good enough...God will get me through those times of discouragement and lead me to what he wants for me...which may be different than what I want for me. I want to learn to be more patient with God and have faith while I am waiting!

Do you get disappointed? How to you deal with those feelings?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The purpose of living a WWJD life...

"In your lives you must think and act like Jesus." --Philippians 2:5

I love it when Bible verses I have read hundreds of times over the years suddenly mean something new to me! I read the verse above this morning, and also Mark 8:34-35 where Jesus tells his disciples and followers to take up their cross and follow him. I had a new thought...God doesn't want us to act like Jesus so we can get into heaven.  Well, that's not so new, is it? I know we can't EARN our way into heaven. However, I guess I always understood that if I wanted to go to heaven, I needed to act like Jesus. If I believe, and I do, that if you BELIEVE that Jesus is the Son of God and take him as your personal Savior, THEN you will have eternal life. (John 3:16) So, why then is it so important for us to think and act like Jesus?

Everyone who knows me well knows that I am a people pleaser. I like to make people happy and I hate disappointing anyone, even people I don't really know. The results of this character trait have been both positive and negative.

One the plus side, I am a peace-loving person and often find myself working very hard to bring peaceful solutions to most problems, whether they are my problems or not. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peace makers," right? I also find joy in making people's day, either by saying or doing something special for them or by doing a task that would help them. Because I don't want to let anyone down, I find myself trying very hard at most things I attempt. This has made me very proficient at many things. Hard work and effort can make even someone with limited talent successful.

However, on the negative side, if the motivation for doing these things is purely to make others happy, it becomes more about me, my pride, vanity and self-esteem. I want to be liked by everyone so I work hard to succeed so people will like me. That's kind of a messed up way of thinking. While being a peace maker is a good thing, I seem to have developed a "savior complex," thinking it is my responsibility to solve everyone's problems. Who am I to think I can do that for everyone around me?

All of this self-assessment is a good thing and it is making me realize that God loves me just the way I am! I don't have to please him to CAUSE or MAKE him love me. It doesn't matter if I am the best Christian or the worst sinner, God loves me anyway!

The thing is, while he loves me any way that I am, he cares about me too much to leave me the way that I am. That's why he encourages us to be like Jesus! That's why Jesus said we are to take up our cross and follow him. He is perfect; he is our example. Even though we will never reach his level of perfection, if we are striving to be like him and living the way he would, especially when we remember how important LOVING OTHERS was to him, we are bound to live a better life.

Living a WWJD life is not about earning our way to heaven. It's about living this crazy, exciting, difficult and sometimes disappointing life on earth the way Jesus would so we are happier and the world is a better place. There will always be problems and difficulties in this life, but if we try to handle those problems the way Jesus would, God will bless our efforts. he knows that living a Christ-like life will make us better.

This way of thinking reassures me and gives me hope and gives me a desire to be more like Jesus - not because I don't want to disappoint God, but because I want to give back to the God who loves me so!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

An Afternoon "God-incidents."

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." -- Jeremiah 29:13

It happened to me again...the moment when I am feeling low and discouraged, God sends someone to me to reassure me and make me feel that feeling of peace that alludes me sometimes.

Jim Burson, beloved former basketball and Emeritus professor at Muskingum University stopped in my office this afternoon to touch base about his Author Talk coming up for our library on Thursday. He only stayed for a few minutes, but he made an impact. After our official business was over we discussed the writing process, his book, my book and what writing has done in our lives. He also spoke about how a recent phone call from a mentor of his reassured him and made him feel better. It's funny how we both had experienced that same phenomenon.

My pastor spoke about those kind of events this past Sunday, calling them "God-incidents." God sees our moments of doubt and frustration and sometimes sends a messenger to lift our spirits. Thank you Lord, for my visitor this afternoon!

If you are interested in hearing Coach Burson speak about his book and his life experiences, you are welcome to come to Muskingum University this Thursday, January 15 at 3:30 p.m. in Boyd Science Center, room 336.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Searching for happiness in this land...

 "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts."  Zechariah 4:6 

My search for happiness is an up and down journey. There are moments when I feel happy and content. They are but brief moments. The rest of the time, I am left feeling lost, incomplete...lacking. Why does it have to be one way or the other?

In my devotional this morning, Max Lucado says "God graces us with dissatisfaction..." He graces us..He gives us....He allows dissatisfaction to occur in our lives? Why? We are not happy here because we are not SUPPOSED to be happy here! This is not our home. 

"Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world...” (John 18:36 NIV)

Why would God create us and place us in a world where we are never going to be happy? As a parent, I want my child to be happy...why wouldn't my Heavenly Father want that for me?

I believe God DOES want us to be happy, but knows that happiness and more will come to us when we reach His kingdom. Our goal in this life is to catch glimpses of that happiness beyond measure and to cultivate our hunger for that happiness. When we realize that happiness can be ours in heaven one day, then we spend our remaining time here on earth getting to know the provider of that heavenly happiness. 

Searching for happiness here on earth is pointless without putting God in the center of that search. If we could find the happiness we long for here on earth, we wouldn't need God. God knows that and allows our unhappiness and discontent so we keep searching.

Thinking about it that way makes my times of unhappiness and discontent more bearable. 

I am but a visitor in this land. My time here can be filled with joy, pain, delight and dispair. But, once my journey in this land is through and I reach my real, true home...I will find the elusive happiness that comes from being home sweet home. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Timely help...

"Let us boldly approach the throne of our Gracious God, where we may receive ,mercy and His grace to find timely help." Hebrews 4:16

Dear Lord,

I thank you with all my heart for bringing me back to you yet again. I didn't run away from you this time, as I have in the past. No, this time I drifted slowly away. I slowly let other things become the center of my life. I gradually left you behind and let laziness and selfish desires replace my daily quiet time and that special place for you in my heart. I felt the drift - saw it happening- but did nothing to stop it. Over time, I have become detached, unfocused, cold, empty and feeling alone. Problems have occurred, circumstances have come in to complicate my life and further cause me to feel lost and alone. Depression has crept in and made me sad and often my eyes are filled with tears for things lost and for things I don't even understand. Instead of leaning on you in this difficult time, I made obligatory prayers, but do not feel your comforting arms around me.

Last night was one of those nights sitting in front of my television set with tears streaming down my eyes and an aching in my heart. I cried out to you with a fervor I haven't felt in a long time. Help me! Take this emptiness out of my heart! I can't take it anymore!

I was suddenly motivated to go reach into my cedar chest for the journals that I wrote in several years ago. I dug deep in the pile to find the journal that began my daily devotional/journaling habit - Max Lucado's Grace for the Moment daily devotional journal from 12 years ago. I opened to the first page and from the first paragraph, I felt tears streaming down my cheeks and sobs wracking my body, but this time, they were tears of relief. You DID hear my cries and are answering me! Timely help!

I remember the journey I began 12 years ago when I began seriously reading your word, studying it and finding ways that you were listening to my needs and guiding me on how to heal. You brought me out of a dark time then, and I have faith that is what you are doing in my life right now. I must now do the work...change the bad habits that have developed in the last few years and return to the habit of daily quiet time with you. I will again work toward listening to you and learning from you so that I can let my heart be healed and restored once again by your words and your presence.

I ask that you continue to encourage me, nudge me and guide me on that right path that I have been dodging lately. I thank you again for drawing me closer to you!