Archive for the ‘real Christianity’ Category

Present Perfect Chapter 4

September 5, 2017

I don’t know about you, but last week was a blur. I didn’t do as well as I would have liked at practicing the presence of God moment by moment. I’m not beating myself up because those moments are gone. The moment I am in right now is the one I’m enjoying and being reminded of the great love of God and His kindness to me! I hope you will do the same!

Chapter 4 is entitled Single-Mindedness. In it Boyd explains our predicament in a way that is very helpful. When we are born, and our brain is developing, everything we are exposed to is building our awareness of and influences our interpretation of our world. Our parents, our culture, the media, our friends, our varied experiences play a part in the programming of our brains. Boyd writes, “Unless you’ve taken intentional steps to change, the way you presently experience yourself and the world around you was mostly chosen for you, not by you.” Most likely this programming didn’t include the awareness of God and His love being present moment by moment. This brain function void of God is called the flesh mindset. It is what keeps us from enjoying the life that is truly Life that God intends for us.

The thing is, we aren’t even aware of this! Our brain runs on auto-pilot on the software which was programmed into it unbeknownst to us!  Boyd says, “To the extent that the way we experience ourselves and the world is determined by our flesh – mind-set, we live as semiconscious slaves to whomever or whatever programmed us.” Oh wow!!! Read that again. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live that way!

Now, when we become followers of Christ we are forgiven of our sins and are given a new nature instead of our former sinful nature. We are “in principle set free to enjoy God’s abundant Life.” The thing is, we have to do something about that programmed flesh – mind-set. It just doesn’t disappear into thin air. “Our brain continues to operate with the same autopilot programs it inherited before we surrendered.” That is the challenge of the Christian life. Not living from the flesh mindset but living by the new mindset of Christ which we have access to in God’s Word and through the Spirit of Christ who now lives in us! God will never force us to think a certain way. We choose to follow Him moment by moment which is why this practice is so vital to our lives!

Boyd then talks about double-mindedness which is knowing what we should do, how we should live, but doing and living otherwise. “As we noted in chapter 2, what we consciously believe has little impact on the operation of our flesh mind . . . Once activated, our automatic programming bypasses our conscious awareness – including all the things we consciously believe. This is why acquiring information in and of itself isn’t able to bring about lasting transformation. The truest and most insightful information in the world won’t change us so long as our moment-by-moment experience of our self and interaction with the world is dictated by our programmed flesh-mind. We’ll simply become a slightly more informed slave to whomever or whatever programmed us.”

Boyd explains that this is why:                                                                                                         ~we can know we’re loved by God yet feel unloved                                                                   ~we can be forgiven of being greedy but still spend too much money on ourselves     ~people can know adultery is wrong but find themselves cheating on their spouse

Boyd doesn’t say this, but this is why I believe that Christians have the reputation of being hypocrites. We are loved and forgiven by God and we know the truth, but we are still living by the preprogrammed flesh mindset. We haven’t reprogrammed our brains and this is done moment by moment day after day for the rest of our lives.

Boyd says, “No amount of resolutions, sermons, Bible studies, self-help books, or conferences will rectify this situation if they just provide us with more information. There is only one thing to be done, as James says, and that is to submit ourselves to God – not just intellectually, theoretically, or abstractly, but truly. Which means, submitting ourselves in the now – for the only actual life we have to submit is the one we have this moment.”

The answer to double-mindedness is to become single-minded! The way we do that is to live our life “against the backdrop of God’s ever-present love, moment-by-moment . . . .”

We can do this! If you can chew gum and walk, you can do this! If you can talk on the phone while you wash dishes, you can do this! If you can listen to the news while fixing dinner, you can do this! It’s not that we stop what we’re doing, but that we’re mindful of the presence of Christ in all we do!

Boyd gives three ways to practice this. One is committing each task we do to God. It’s one of the most reliable ways to “stay awake to God’s presence and ensure our thoughts remain captive to Christ. . . . As you engage in any task, commit to doing it for God. It helps to vocalize your thoughts and intentions. As you carry out your task, you might say things like, ‘I offer this task up to you Lord’ or ‘This present moment is all that matters, and I offer it up to you.”

Another exercise is to think in terms of “We”.  I think most of us talk to ourselves in one way or another. This practice transforms that behavior. Boyd quotes Frank Laubach, “Instead of talking to yourself, form the habit of talking to Christ . . . . Make all thought a conversation with the Lord.” Even when reading a book, “keep a running conversation with Him about the pages you are reading.”

Boyd says, “No aspect of our flesh – mind-set is more deeply embedded in our consciousness than our proclivity to be self-absorbed. Our fallen ‘I’ is at the center of the universe. Cultivating the habit of thinking as a conversation with God rather than merely talking to ourselves is thus challenging to say the least. Ask God to help you think of creative reminders. For example, before reading a book you might insert little sticky notes throughout the book that say things like, ‘Remember, Jesus longs to read this book with you.’ With persistence, you’ll find that over time thinking in terms of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ gradually becomes more natural, which indicates that your very identity is being shaped in relation to God rather than merely in relation to yourself.”

I can’t wait to try these this week!

Once again, I’ll close this post with Boyd’s prayer:

“Ever-present and ever-loving God, we confess that we have often been conformed to the pattern of this world instead of being conformed to the image of your Son. Free us to be wholly yours in this moment and in every moment.”

Amen

 

 

 

 

Present Perfect – Chasing the Sun

August 29, 2017

This is the real chapter 3. Somehow I messed that up last post. Sorry about that!

Boyd starts this chapter with the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s song, “Time”. The gist of it is the problem common to man, time flying by and what have we done when time is gone? It’s a very sobering song.

In the culture we live in, worshipping youth, and beauty, the laws of nature still have the final say, age and gravity! Boyd points out that we are in a “perpetual, relentless process of decay.” I know that sounds depressing, but it doesn’t have to be!

The world we live in is not the world for which we were created. It is not the world we are destined for either. But we live in the ‘meantime’ and how do we deal with the clash of this stay young forever culture with the feeling that we’re running out of time? Botox and exercise and diets don’t help, rather they perpetuate the problem – taking our gaze from God and focusing too much on our situation.

We live with the fear “not just that we’re going to die. The fear is that we’ll never really live.”

What this chapter is about is the truth that “freedom from fear and dread is one decision away, and it can be made in this moment. In fact it can only be made in this moment.” Freedom is in one single decision!

Boyd says it is vital to remind yourself of some truths:                                                                          ~right now is all you have, so savor this moment without thinking forward anxiously or looking back regretting (or longingly)                                                                                           ~right now you are surrounded, encased by God’s perfect, unconditional love                                  ~you cannot be more loved, more valuable, more significant than you are right now        ~it’s not because of anything you’ve done (which takes the pressure off of having to keep it up) but because of the astounding, lavish love of God.                                                    ~”this perfect love never began, never ends, is never threatened, and never wavers.”

“As you breathe your next breath, let it represent your decision to breathe in God’s loving presence and all these truths associated with it.”

Colossians 3:1-3  says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” 

This doesn’t mean that we don’t live in the ‘real world’ (except, ironically, that this world we live in is so NOT REAL in the eternal and spiritual sense, but I digress.)  When we set our hearts (our minds, thoughts, attentions and energy) on things above, our whole perspective of the here and now changes.  Our value and meaning don’t depend on our accomplishments or appearance. “The bottom line is that we were meant to live life as a celebration of a fullness of Life we get from God rather than as a desperate attempt to get fullness of Life on our own.” It’s where our identity is, hidden with Christ in God. So we can let go of clinging to the world, or chasing the sun as Pink Floyd put it, as a source of life, because that’s just an illusion.

To help us practice letting go and stop chasing the sun, Boyd gives a couple exercises to practice. One that I like a lot he has borrowed from Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline. You can do this anywhere at any time.

“Foster teaches that you should begin by holding your palms downward on your lap as ‘a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have over to God.’ Call to mind everything that is weighing on your heart and mind and give it to God. Let your downward facing palms represent letting cares and concerns fall from your grasp into the hands of the sovereign God of love who holds you in existence, moment-by-moment. Notice your breathing and envision every exhaled breath as a further release of weight in your life. . . .When you’ve finished this part of the prayer, Foster encourages you to turn your hands over in your lap so that your palms are facing upward ‘as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord.’ Remain in this posture with a receptive attitude as you wait for what the Lord would like to give you. With every breath you take in, receive the fullness of Life that comes from God. Breathe in his forgiveness, direction, peace, healing, or whatever else he has for you.”

I’ve found myself doing this several times this week when I felt overwhelmed and when my thoughts were racing. I took a moment to stop what I was doing and focus on God, reminding myself of His loving Presence and turning my palms down and breathing out then turning my palms up and breathing in thanking God for His love and peace and presence. Whether I felt anything or sensed any direction wasn’t even the point. Sometime I will I’m sure, but the point for me is that I redirect my attention to the One Who deserves it. I sense His peace. I sense His pleasure that I’m refocusing on Him and not what troubles me. As Brother Lawrence wrote: “I am in a calm so great that I fear nothing. What could I fear? I am with Him.”

Another exercise Boyd offers is using your imagination to place yourself in the middle of a vast virtual infinity. Putting yourself in context so to speak. So often we see our lives, our problems our little world as so big, but get above it and look down and gain perspective on just how small you are. Not insignificant, but small and finite in comparison to the galaxies. “The awe-inspiring vastness and smallness of created reality should be viewed as a symbolic pointer to the even more awe-inspiring magnitude and intensity of God’s love . . . . We might say that Calvary is to God’s love what the virtual infinitude of space is to God’s majesty. Though we are microscopic in size next to the vastness of the universe, the Creator loves each of us as if we were the only being he created. For a God of unlimited love, size does not matter.”

This is absolutely astounding! God, Your love is incomprehensible! Thank You for Your great love! Thank You for Your great sacrifice! I love You!!!

“Eternal, ever-present Creator, help us to see your love as the background against which we view all things. Free us to let go of the world that is fading away and to cling only to you. Keep us awake to your presence in this moment and in every moment.”

Amen.

 

Present Perfect Chapter 3

August 22, 2017

This chapter, Finding Home, is one of my favorites. In it Boyd discusses so beautifully what we all know, but still struggle with – the things we do to try to fill that longing we have, that insatiable hunger within us for significance and worth.

Boyd unpacks some common ways humanity tries to deal with this dilemma. He discusses the false gods of materialism, control, fame, religion, tribalism, and so on.  “Whatever we try to derive our core sense of worth and meaning from is our god.”

This is powerful. Take a moment and think about what gives you meaning and worth, and don’t be over-spiritual about it. For me, I’ve struggled horribly over my life to be thin. My value came from not being overweight. Maybe some time I’ll unpack this and its horrible effect on my life for so many years, but let me tell you that practicing the presence of God and becoming aware of His incredible love for me has begun to dissolve that shackle. It’s almost completely gone! All that matters is that I’m home in Him. I’m created by Him, I’m loved by Him, I’m rescued and healed by Him. I adore Him. That’s why I want you to take the time to think this through. What are you doing to try to feel valued and important and significant? What are you doing to try to fill the void and feel like you’re really alive?

What Boyd points out is the futility of chasing after anything other than God. “…our deepest hunger is only satisfied when we’re rightly related to God. Only our Creator can give us the fullness of Life we crave. Jesus’ death on the cross is proof that we could not possibly have more worth and significance to God. Despite our sin, our Creator thinks we are worth experiencing a hellish death for. In fact, it was for the joy of spending eternity with us that Jesus endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). In other words, Calvary reveals our unsurpassable worth and significance. At the core of our being, this is what we long for.”

Wow. I had to stop and reread that and let it sink in. “Calvary reveals our unsurpassable worth and significance.”

Boyd then points out the difference between our beliefs and our reality. We can think we are living for Jesus and still be bowing to false gods. How can that be? This is his response:

“I’ve observed that we in the West – especially Christians – tend to attach great importance to what we believe. We treat beliefs almost as though they have magical power, as though merely believing something makes it so. For instance, many assume that believing Jesus is Lord of their life magically makes him Lord . . . The truth is, merely believing Jesus is Lord no more makes him Lord of my life than believing Kim Jong-il is the leader of North Korea makes me his follower.”

Wow again.

Just believing something doesn’t make it so. “. . . the belief is not itself the surrender.”

“The important question, therefore, is not what you believe. The important question is what you decide to do, moment-by-moment, on the basis of what you believe.” (emphasis mine)

Are we going to continue to ignore God’s wooing and keep trying to fill our “hole-in-the-soul” pretending we’re self-sufficient? The only outcomes to doing it our way are alienation, anger, anxiety, apathy, boredom, and depression, not to mention exhaustion! Trying to live as though real life “can be found outside a relationship with God” we continue in the “grand illusion” – life lived in the flesh, not the spirit. “Living as though God was not our only true source of Life forces us to live most of our life in the past or future,” not in the present moment, and all we have is the now, remember?

Boyd asks us to investigate our own soul. To examine how much time we spend thinking past and future thoughts. Where does our mind go when we aren’t focused on a specific task?

“Only a person who is no longer driven by an insatiable hunger can consistently live in the present moment, and only a person who has learned how to find Life in the present moment is no longer driven by this insatiable hunger.”

Home is our relationship with God, and our homing device is broken.

The life we search for is a poor substitute for the real Life God has for us. To give up the pursuit of the faux life is painful, for sure.  “As scary and as difficult as dying to the false way of living may initially be, nothing could be more liberating.” That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it,” and that’s why Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.

“As we are freed from the grand illusion that we can meet our own needs, our built-in homing device begins to work correctly. We’re on our way home . . . The moment we surrender, we are home.”

“Yet, while the belief that the love of God is our home can be embraced at one moment and then forgotten about, the actual decision to release the illusion and embrace the truth cannot. As with everything else that pertains to our actual life, this act can only be done one moment at a time.”

Boyd concludes this section with these words: “The only thing that matters is that we – right now – cease our striving after false gods and become aware of God’s ever-present, perfect love.”

Boyd then gives a few exercises to help us continue in this process of practicing God’s presence. The one I’ll share with you is physical – an awareness of our body and it’s contact with our surroundings – a chair, a sofa, our bed. “Allow yourself to rest in that support and realize that every point of contact reflects the truth that you are held in existence each and every moment by the perfect love of God (Hebrews 1:3). God is personally holding you securely in the world…Throughout your day, turn your attention over and over again to these physical points of contact and transform those physical sensations into a deeper awareness of the great love of God.”

I’ll close this post with the prayer Boyd offers:

“Our ever-present Creator, you alone can satisfy the hunger in our hearts, for you made us for yourself. Help us to relinquish all idols and to find our fulfillment solely in you in this moment and in every moment.”

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Present Perfect Chapter 2

August 14, 2017

Well, how did you do last week with staying awake to noticing the presence of God in your daily moments?

The Chapter I’ll review today is entitled “Mere Christianity” and begins with this encouragement and prayer:

“So begin . . .

make that resolution.

Now! . . . Be daring.

None of us have a long time to live . . .

what years we have,

let us live them with God.”

Brother Lawrence

“Our ever-present Father,

We pledged to surrender our life to you,

but we confess

that most of the moments that make up our actual life

are not surrendered to you.

Help us,

to remember you

and offer ourselves up to you

in this moment

and in every moment.”

Gregory Boyd

In this chapter, Boyd briefly unpacks the secular world view and its influence on our lives whether or not we are aware. He says that we live as functional atheists – we compartmentalize our lives into spiritual and secular moments. He says we isolate “the ‘spiritual’ from the rest of our experience.”

“The call to practice the presence of God is not a hyper-spiritual exercise. On the contrary, it’s the core of what it means to surrender our life to Christ.”

Those of us familiar with C.S. Lewis recognize the title of chapter 1, “Mere Christianity” as the title of a book Lewis wrote. This practicing the presence of God is so basic. It’s the core of what it means to be a Christian.

Boyd says that in Western Christianity so many have this idea that because on a certain date they surrendered to Christ and prayed a sinner’s prayer that somehow that means they have a relationship with Christ.

“I believe this is the most prevalent and tragic misunderstanding that afflicts Western Christianity. We make a vow to submit our life to Christ but then spend 99 percent of our time excluding him from our awareness. We make him Lord over our life in theory, but we do not make him Lord over most of the moments that make up our life.”

There are so many examples in the New Testament where Jesus’ disciples are reminded (and thus we are reminded) to be aware of God’s presence. Here are a few of the exhortations given and a few of the many scriptures followed by a brief commentary by Boyd:

Seek First the Kingdom of God  Matthew 6:33  “This implies remembering that God exists and that yielding to his will is our supreme objective, even as we strive for other, less important, goals.”

Live in the Spirit  Galatians 5:16-18 “…we submit to the Spirit in the present moment. . .”

Remain in Christ  John 15:4-5   “Branches don’t visit a vine once in a while on special occasions . . . [they] are permanently attached to their source of life.”

Take Every Thought Captive  2 Corinthians 10:5; Romans 12:2  “Invite him into your thought process, and turn your thoughts into a conversation with him.”

The Body of Christ  1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 1:18; 2:19  “… before we can function as the body part we are called to be, we must stay continually connected to the head, ready to respond when he tells us to do so.”

Boyd ends the chapter with several activities which we can implement to increase our awareness of God in every now moment we have.

1. Game with Minutes

Think about a time when your mind is least engaged – like when you’re mowing the lawn or jogging or doing dishes, then set your timer and see if you can remember Christ at least once a minute. Doing this changes something mundane into something sacred.

2. Waking Up to God

In your first waking moments, instead of jumping out and rushing on with your day, lay in bed awake for a few minutes. Before allowing yourself to think about the day ahead and your schedule, and so on, train yourself to think about God and his ever-present love. Boyd says, “I preview my day in my imagination and offer up everything to God. I typically follow this by praying for whatever people and needs that pop into my mind.”

3. Inviting Fellow Travelers

As in anything we commit to, (like a diet, running a 5K or marathon) having others who are like-minded increases the probability that we will succeed. Find a few friends who are interested in joining you and encourage one another as you embark on this journey of being awake to God.

4.  Strategically Placed Reminders

I already mentioned the sticky notes, but there are other means of reminding yourself to be mindful of the presence of God.  A piece of jewelry, a phone or computer alert or alarm, little notes tucked in various places. I’m sure you can come up with some others that I’d love for you to share with me!

I want to pray for you (and myself) as we face another moment to practice our awareness of our amazing God and His astounding love for us.

God, it boggles my mind that You, the Creator of the world are interested in us and love us so very much! Forgive us for giving you our lives but then living as if we haven’t. I pray that you’d awaken us from the subtle sleepiness that has settled into us. Our secular, compartmentalizing culture sings its siren song, dulling us to the reality of life in you, right now. Let your Son shine through and burn off the haze we are living in and awaken our hearts and minds to the reality of your loving presence now.

Amen.

exercise for now and later

October 20, 2011

I came across this verse today as I was reading my Bible. It arrested my attention and reminded me to keep my focus and my priority.

Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is valuable in every way, because it promises life both for the present and for the future.  (Good News Translation)

I’ve been working out at Fitness Together for about 22 months. I’ve seen some very encouraging changes in my body and my attitude! I feel stronger, healthier, enjoy better balance and stamina and am so very glad to be able to work out there twice a week!

Monday I went in to my workout appointment with Ashley armed with my eating/exercise journal and a new resolve. I told her I’ve got to get out of this slump and that I wanted to face the ‘Big 50’ next month with 10 fewer pounds! She said it’s possible but that I’ve gotta be willing to pay the price. (translation – I’ve gotta get my fat butt in there more often to do my cardio – more cardio – longer, more strenuous cardio!)

Even as I do pay that price, I’m still an almost 50 year-old middle-aged woman fighting the calendar and gravity! Working out won’t make me look like a 29 year-old fashionista model! (Dang!)  It will help me be a healthy, fit 50-year-old!  Ha!

It’s so typical to work hard at trying to get/stay fit but let’s face it, each day gravity gains more ground! We continue to fight fat, eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, drink enough water and yet natural law has the upper hand at least for now!

That’s where this verse comes in. Physical exercise is helping me live physically. But one day this body will give up/check out/sign off.  But my spirit is eternal. It will get a new, way better spiritual body to live in one day. I need to continue doing my spiritual exercises daily because it not only will strengthen me for living day-to-day right now, but it is also preparing me for my future forever-life! My spirit doesn’t have to fight gravity or age! It becomes stronger, more agile and beautiful and more alive the more I nurture and train it!

So, how do I exercise my spirit?

For starters, I spend a little time every morning reading my Bible. God’s Word. The words of God. Spoken to people and written down. Wow. I can know some of the thoughts of God! They’re here for me to read! I just have to open the book and read them and let them sink into my mind and heart. As I do that every day, it impacts my life – my thoughts, my actions, my relationships, etc.

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17 The Message Bible)

Another way I exercise my spirit is to pray. This, I have to admit is harder for me than reading. So, this is why I persevere, because I know it’s important. It is my lifeline to God. Talking to Him is vital. I mean, how can you grow a friendship with someone you never talk to? So, I mostly write my conversations with him. (At least my end of them, ha!) Although sometimes I just talk out loud. In my kitchen or in the car. I tell him what grabs my attention from what I’ve read in the Bible and how I want it to change me. I tell him about the concerns I have for my family and friends and myself. I ask him for help, for wisdom. I tell him how amazing I think he is. I marvel at the creation he designed. I tell him or I gasp or gawk! Like the time a huge hawk flew just above me. Or when there’s a gorgeous sunrise or sunset. I don’t use religious language – Thees and Thous. I just talk and write and marvel.

Another way I exercise my spirit is to go to church. It’s way too easy to sleep in! Waaaaaaaaaaaay too easy! Excuses abound – I don’t even have to go looking for them. They are ready and waiting! (Kinda like all those excuses to keep me from working out!)

Going to church isn’t some way of making myself feel better about myself. I don’t go to ease my conscience. Going there puts me in contact with other people who are in the same boat as me so to speak. We’re all on a spiritual journey. We’re all wanting to know God and grow spiritually. None of us are perfect, nor are we pretending to be. We are learning to leave our pretenses at the door.

Being at church encourages me. It lightens my load. I leave refreshed, and challenged and armed with knowledge to help me make changes in my life and trust God more.

So, there’s my beginning description of what it means to exercise my spirit. I hope it encourages you to exercise yours.

Here’s a bonus tip, no charge! Sometimes I “multi-task” and listen to worship music as I run/walk. I talk to God as I pant my way along the treadmill or trail. I could even start memorizing scripture as I run! But I always find something to shake my head at and tell God how astoundingly amazing he is!

Happy exercising to you – physically and spiritually!

happy heart feasting

June 18, 2011

I was flipping through my journal and this bit caught my eye: “For the despondent, every day brings trouble; for the happy heart, life is a continual feast.” Proverbs 15:15

When our children were small, my husband and I would remind them to choose a happy heart. It was so easy for them to become frustrated and grumpy if something didn’t go their way.

The first several times I read that verse, I focused on the word ‘despondent’ and thought about what brought a person to the place of despondency. But over time, as I’ve pondered this, I’ve realized that any person has the capacity to become despondent or happy and hopeful. It is a matter of focus and choice. Not in the “let’s live in la-la land denial” sort of way, but in a very real acknowledging reality and choosing anyway sort of way.

I used to work with a woman who was a constant stream of complaints and grumbles. She whined and grumbled and complained so often that in my mind she became a grumble. No matter how I tried to point out positive things or show her the silver lining, she persisted to cling to her negative victim mindset.

These days I see this verse with new eyes. It’s as though it says: “For the person who chooses to be a victim and see life as always being against them, every day brings them trouble; but for the person who sees life as a gift from God full of surprises and challenges and new opportunities, life is a continual feast.”

The longer I live, I realize that life is hard! It is brimming with challenges and sorrows and joys and pain and loss and laughter alike. It is not life that makes us despondent. It is our mindset or perspective that influences our response to our situation and experiences.

What makes a happy heart? My perspective. My decision.

I was working out with a new trainer the other day and she asked me what I do and one thing led to another and I explained that I felt like I’d spent the better part of the last dozen years fighting or recovering from cancer.

Toward the end of our conversation she mentioned that I had a positive outlook on life which really blessed me. Her words were a gift!

With the experiences I’ve had these last 12 years, I could have easily become a grumble, but chose a happy heart. It wasn’t easy but it was the right thing to do. Consequently, I see each new day is a gracious gift from God, making every day a continual feast of beauty and joy in the midst of the speed bumps and pot holes of life!

There’s no need to be despondent and hopeless. I mean, if you want to be you can, but why would anyone want to be despondent when they can have a happy heart and a continual feast of delighting in the goodness of God?!

Bridal-shower-Barbie-doll

April 20, 2011

Saturday I had the privilege of hosting a bridal shower for my namesake niece. She’s absolutely precious and beautiful inside and out. I had a great time and it appeared that she did as well!

That afternoon, I was looking through the pictures and was taken aback in dismay. The reason being, the way I looked in them! (Quite selfish and narcissistic I know, but I’m being honest.) My thought process was something like this . . . ‘Ohmygosh, I look awful! You mean to tell me that I’ve been working out for 16 months and I still look this big?!’ Then, ‘I definitely shouldn’t have worn that sweater…makes my arms look like a sumo wrestler! Wear dark colors, Kris, dark colors!’

I have to say that I hit the wall of discouragement. I’ve been ‘bustin it’ and really trying hard and I still look like I need to go hire a personal trainer! Oh, wait, I already did, 16 months ago!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Then my thoughts went this direction . . . ‘So if I look like this now, after all this work, how awful must have I looked all those years prior? Les, you let me out of the house looking like a train wreck?!

Then I remembered (because my kind, loving, wise husband has reminded me of this hundreds of times) that I’ve been through several years of hell-on-earth and I reminded myself that I barely survived and whatdidIexpectanyway?! I’m alive. I’m happily married, to my very best friend. I’ve got two amazing-fantastic-incredible kids! What does it matter anyway that I don’t have a Barbie-doll body? And who set that up as the [insert expletive here] standard in the first place?! And why do I feel like I have to continue to explain to my imaginary audience (all skinny women of course) why I don’t measure up?!

You see, if you’re anything like me, you’re busy living life, going and doing and loving, and don’t really take the time to worry about such ‘petty matters.’ Then you get in a room full of women and the temptation to play the comparison game presses in. Well, I chose not to even think about any of that, after all, I’ve been working out and am feeling better than ever!

But, there were three women there, in particular, who looked like a million bucks. (They also had bodies, like Barbie, that I’ve been longing to look like and working at becoming on and off for basically my entire life.) I noticed them. Who wouldn’t have? They were not only lovely to behold, they were loads of fun to be around! They enjoyed a friendship with one another that was special to observe and fun to be included in for the moments we were together.

Then I got home and looked at the pics. Down, down, down my spirits went. After all, it is women like these I have striven all my life to look like. And now, it’s a proven fact (the pictures show it) that I am not that, and most likely shall never be. And should this desire to be like Barbie continue to be a lifelong goal of mine? I’m not thinking so. It is not a worthwhile or noble goal (for me) to spend the amount of time and energy it would take to get to that place. Not that I should give up working out, but working out to look like a certain body type that isn’t mine, therefore it isn’t even realistic for me. Unless I worked out hours a day, daily for years to get down to almost zero body fat, I’d still need surgery on my rounder parts! I don’t think it could ever be a practical reality. And then there’s the problem, how would I maintain that?  Is it worth giving up much of the living of life in order to look a certain way? (I don’t even see myself most of the time, it’s for others that I’m trying to look that way, if I’m really being honest. Although I do have this imaginary idea of how glorious it must be to pull up a pair of jeans and not have them tight at the hips and bagged out at the waist. Ahhhhhhhh, it must feel fabulous!)

So, as I furiously picked up around the house (my therapy for dealing with difficult emotions) I worked out my solution. I went downstairs and sat near my husband and verbalized it as such:

“I’m not going to deny myself for the rest of my life to be something I can never be.”

He repeated it back to me with an addendum: “I’m not going to deny myself for the rest of my life to be something I can never be (…nor was I ever meant to be.) Hmmmm. He’s right. [insert another expletive!]

Now, I don’t want any of you to think that my trainers have failed me. I could never have gotten where I am without them. Nor am I giving up and throwing in the towel. Although, if you’d have watched me eat these last few days, you might have thought so! I’ve been eating cookies and Easter candy and chicken pot pie and all sorts of things in quantities that don’t match my fitness plan! It’s not very wise therapy, but it is yummy! But now that I’ve comforted my hurting emotions in an unhealthy way, it’s time to get back on the wagon and pump some iron and burn those calories! It’s time to get back to work, not to continue to chase after an illusive pipe dream, but to maintain my health and facilitate the accomplishment of my goals. What are they, anyway?

I need to take a good look at my reasons for working out and trying to lose weight as well as the motives behind them.

1. I want to look good for my husband. He loves the way I look. He’s not pressuring me to be Barbie.

2. I want to be strong and healthy. I’m there and am growing in strength week by week!

3. I want to be around to enjoy my grandkids someday, to be able to play with them, not just look at them.

4. I want to look like Barbie so that I can feel good about myself, look fabulous in my clothes and be happier! (ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ [alarm sound] Warning! Warning! That is a motive I need to ditch! It isn’t even true!)

I’m in this marathon (darn it, it is a marathon, not a sprint) to attain good health and to become my very best (not someone else’s) for my family and for myself. I need to train myself to enjoy the body God gave me, not to strive for achieving (or coveting) the one He’s given my neighbor.

(These are my personal and intimate thoughts from my own bumpy, rambling process. Please don’t feel badly for me or have the impression that I’m needing you to write and tell me how fabulous you think I look. You may be tempted to judge me or condemn me for my lack of spiritual maturity, and that’s ok. I’m just sharing with you, vulnerably, the inside workings of my mind and heart as they relate to the never-ending struggle with/fight against comparison, body-image, cultural values and longing.)

It would be so much simpler and far more enjoyable if I would just revel in who God made me to be. As I think about it, this is so like the issue in the Garden of Eden. I want that instead of what God said I could have. I don’t want to act that way! I want to choose contentment as I strive for good stewardship of my one and only body.

God, here I go again, comparing, longing for something that I don’t have and totally getting myself off track. Thank you for keeping me alive through a horrendous double-wide ride through cancer-hell. Thank you for keeping my marriage and family strong through trying times. Thank you for health and friends and strength to enjoy each day you’ve given me. Please help my blog-reader friends to learn and grow in this area as well, to delight in your creativity as you’ve made us all, differently, in Your image. Amen.

as it happened

August 27, 2010

I was reading the story of Esther last week and about wicked Haman and his hatred for Mordecai and all Jews in general. He had no idea that the King’s beloved Esther was a Jew. I’ve read this story dozens of times, yet something new stood out to me this time.

Haman wasn’t motivated by a love for the king, or loyalty to the throne or even by service of any kind. He wasn’t even concerned for the king’s well-being. He was motivated by his love of himself. “It” was all about Haman. He was working himself up in the ranks to get as high as possible on the status ladder and annihilate anyone that might get in his way. He wanted power, prestige, respect. He wanted to be feared. He was selfish, hateful, jealous and ambitious. UGLY.

I’ve always loved the part of the story where Mordecai tells his niece, Esther, that she needs to be courageous and risk her life for the lives of the Jews all over the kingdom because of Haman’s plan to murder the Jews. He tells her, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:4)

Esther goes before the king and he extends his scepter, meaning he’ll see her (and not kill her) and asks her what it is that she wants. She has a plan and invites her king and Haman to dinner that night. Haman thinks he’s really something. He brags to everyone about how he has been invited to dine with the king and queen! (He should have been asking himself why!)

As I was reading the story this time, I specifically noticed how God orchestrated things. His timing is breath-taking!

That night. . . That night after dinner with Esther, the night Haman was unable to fully appreciate his amazingly blessed life because of his raging hatred of Mordecai, that night the king had trouble sleeping.

God made the king sleepless. Either it was the king’s habit to have his attendant read to him from the book of history on nights like that, or maybe God gave him that idea right then, but either way, that’s what happened. Even the specific passage that was read to the king was significant, hand picked by God for King Xerxes! It was no coincidence.

The king learns, during his sleepless night, that Mordecai had saved the king’s life by exposing an assassination attempt. Xerxes asks his servant if anything has been done to honor Mordecai.  Nothing had been done. So Xerxes and the attendant begin talking about what should be done to thank Mordecai.

Of course you know the story, but what stood out to me this time is these three words:   “as it happened.”

There are no coincidences with God.  ‘As it happened,’ is really a way of saying, the joke was on Haman. It was no coincidence. You could move the ‘as’ to the end and say, “it happened as.” You see, it happened as God orchestrated! Wickedness was not going to prevail. It wasn’t going to have the final say.

God had had enough of Haman’s wicked schemes and arrogance. He orchestrated that Haman would humiliate himself – that he would walk in just in time for the king to ask him, “What should I do to honor a man who truly pleases me?”

Prideful, self-centered, conceited Haman wonders who the king would honor more than him, so he goes the whole nine yards.  He should wear the royal robe and ride a horse the king himself has ridden which had a royal emblem on its head, and be led by a noble official announcing, “This is what the king does for someone he wishes to honor!”

How Haman’s skin must have tingled with delight at the thought of being that man! Oh how it must have crawled with horror, shame, and disgust when he learned that it was Mordecai the king wanted to honor and that he himself was the noble official who had to lead Mordecai and proclaim the king’s favor! Insult on top of injury! (Oh, if only this kind of justice happened every time people were contriving nasty schemes!) At least that night Haman could look forward to dinner with King Xerxes and the beautiful Queen Esther again. No one else got invited to dine with them two nights in a row! He was still truly something (in his own mind).

After dinner the second night, Esther reveals the evil plan Haman had devised to slaughter and annihilate the Jewish people all over the land. The king is infuriated, and rushes out in a rage to the palace garden.  When he returns he finds Haman begging Esther for mercy, (oh the irony), falling on the couch with the queen. “Will he even assault the queen right here in the palace, before my very eyes?”

“And as soon as the king spoke, his attendants covered Haman’s face, signaling his doom.” (Esther 7:8)

Wow, that’s powerful!

Psalm 36:1-4 describes people like Haman. “Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts. They have no fear of God at all. In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are. Everything they say is crooked and deceitful. They refuse to act wisely or do good. They lie awake at night, hatching sinful plots. Their actions are never good. They make no attempt to turn from evil.”

But the rest of Psalm 36 describes God! “Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O Lord. How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. You feed them from the abundance of your own house, letting them drink from your river of delights. For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see. Pour out your unfailing love on those who love you; give justice to those with honest hearts. Don’t let the proud trample me or the wicked push me around. Look! Those who do evil have fallen! They are thrown down, never to rise again.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if justice, like that which was served to Haman, was meted out as quickly in our own lives? Wouldn’t it be great to see those people who behave like Haman ‘get what’s coming to them?’

So often it feels like God doesn’t see the evil schemes of others. It feels as if God is looking the other way. But we shouldn’t be fooled by the length of time it takes for God to bring about an ‘as it happened’ for us. God sees all things. He knows the contents of every person’s heart.

The Bible tells us that God is slow to anger and that fact often frustrates me when I’ve wanted him to shoot down a bolt of lightning and fry someone who hurt me really badly! But then when I think of myself and my imperfections and sin, I don’t want justice for myself! I want mercy! (Ouch, just like Haman! He cooked up a wicked scheme and when he was about to fall in his own pot, started pleading for mercy. Of course I was thinking as I read that, “No way! Haman, you deserve to die!”)

Am I ever glad God is patient and long-suffering with me. As I focus on loving God and others better, I can be assured that God will take care of the Hamans in my life in his own time, in his own way. Someday, the rest of my story will begin with, “As it happened,” which you and I will both know really means, “it happened as . . .”

acedia

August 25, 2010

I’ve been reading a small book I came across while browsing on Amazon.com. (I love browsing books there even more than at a bookstore, because I get instant feedback from others who have already read and reviewed them!)

The book is entitled, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” , by Kathleen Norris. (Paulist Press, 1998) It’s the type of book you read slowly and ponder. I haven’t finished it yet because I don’t want it to be over, so I’m slowing it down and savoring it bit by bit.

In it, Kathleen talks about acedia. I’d never heard that word before and thankfully, she gives the definition as found in the American Heritage Dictionary: acedia – spiritual torpor or apathy; ennui.

Don’t you just love it when the definition of a word you are trying to understand uses more words you don’t understand to explain it?! So, I pulled up the dictionary on my trusty battered iPhone (Dictionary.com, Random House, Inc. 2010) and looked up the words torpor and ennui.

Torpor means sluggish inactivity or inertia, lethargic indifference, dormancy. It comes from a Latin word that mean numbness, as if to be stiff or numb.

Ennui means a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety (being full) or lack of interest, boredom.

In this amazing little book, the author is showing the connection between boring, daily, mindless tasks (hence the name ‘quotidian’- see my post on January 11) and our spirituality.

We often think of spirituality in terms of ‘mountain-top experiences’ like retreats, conferences and deep or profound revelations, when in reality, true spirituality is how we live and love God in the every-day-ness of life, doing those things we do on a regular basis because we should, because we need to.

Acedia can slip in and mess with our minds (which then affects our behavior.) Kathleen asks the question if acedia could be the cause of depression and even suicide today. You see, the dailiness of life, the sometimes tedious repetition, can wear a person down. The thought of going to bed and waking up to the same day all over again, can be overwhelming. We can go to bed wishing we wouldn’t wake up in the morning.

For anyone who hasn’t felt that way, be sure to thank God, because it is a horrendous and loathsome way to feel.

When (during my second battle through cancer), I’d endured four months of chemotherapy and had a radical bilateral mastectomy a month later, and dealing with pneumonia, life became more of a drudgery than I’d ever imagined possible. I was so appallingly miserable every moment from weakness, inactivity, and months of dizziness. The person I was seeing in the mirror seemed like someone else – someone I didn’t know – someone I didn’t want to get to know.  I’d go to bed at night despising my life. I couldn’t see it ever improving; my body ever feeling better, or anything ever changing. Every day had become like the one before and I couldn’t bear the thought of waking up to the same day again over and over and over. . . .

I remember feeling a little bit like this after I had my first baby. My life was turned upside-down; the postpartum depression, the baby crying and projectile vomiting; the feeding and changing and crying and feeding and cleaning and cooking and feeding and changing and on it went. Tedium. Worthlessness crept in. It seemed as if everyone else was accomplishing meaningful things and I was changing diapers ad nauseam.

A certain ‘acedia of mothering’ can set in and cause one to think, why pick up the house today? It’ll just get messed up again. Why make the bed? I’ll just be getting back in it tonight. Although acedia is defined as spiritual torpor, isn’t mothering a spiritual behavior, a God-given task that, to perform well, causes us to grow spiritually?

Acedia also means ‘lack of care’ or the indifference to one’s welfare. (p. 40) It means getting to the point where we don’t bother to take care of others or ourselves any more, we’re just too weary of it all. We give up. We stop trying. We stop caring.

Kathleen says in her book that care isn’t passive. The word care actually comes from an Indo-European word which means “‘to cry out’ as in a lament.” (p. 41)

I’m quoting her at the risk of being sued, and just hope she’ll be so glad I’m giving her publicity that she’ll extend grace!  She says: “Care asserts that as difficult and painful as life can be, it is worth something to be in the present, alive, doing one’s daily bit. It addresses and acts on the daily needs that acedia would have us suppress and deny.” (p. 41)

Though we don’t often enjoy the common, everyday bits of life, somehow repetition is still very important. It’s the air we breathe in and out continuously, the heart that beats without our acknowledgment or will, and it is the food we eat, daily, day in and day out. (“Give us this day our daily bread . . . .”) God values repetition. He planned it into our lives. He gives us weeks each starting with a sabbath, he planned the sunrise and sunset, the rotating, repeating seasons, the birth to death progression and so many other repetitious acts that compile our earthly lives. Those common practices, whether doing chores or flossing our teeth, are the stuff of life. Real life is the compilation of little ordinary, repetitive things. Real living is noticing and acknowledging God in the everyday. It isn’t wishing now away for later, for something better.

There is holiness, set-apart-ness, even in the everyday mundane tasks we do. Kathleen phrases it as “the sanctity of the everyday.” (p. 71) We can live holy (uncommon) lives even in the midst of commonplace life. Wow! That’s encouraging!

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “God is so great that all things give him glory if you mean that they should.”

There is much more to be said about acedia and it’s effect on our lives, and if you get and read Kathleen’s book you’ll realize I’m barely skimming the surface of her deep well. But she’s got me thinking.

I’ve realized how over the last five years or so, facing cancer and recovering from numerous surgeries; facing difficult issues and difficult people, these have all poked holes in my ‘hope bucket.’ Hopefulness drained out and acedia was happy to slip in and take residence.

Weariness and grief can be discouraging, overwhelming and incapacitating. Even being a neat-freak, living in real-time dealing with piles of the paper kind and the dog kind, can make a person want to give up! Piles, unfinished tasks, low energy, never enough time, we all face these challenges, daily!

After reading a portion of Kathleen’s book, this is what I wrote in my journal: “I’m learning about acedia and realizing I’m affected by it in my own life. Please give me insight into myself here – I don’t want to fall prey to it. I want to live above it – not be pulled down and made ineffective by it. Lord, would you breathe on me? Would you blow away the acedia that has clung to me? Would you invigorate me with hope and life and vitality?”

And then, to poke my finger in acedia’s eye, I went upstairs and made the bed!

clutter cure

April 12, 2010

Recently my husband and I have been watching a television show about people who hoard. It’s an enigma to me! I can’t relate. I’ve always been the one the family accuses of having thrown away whatever it is they are looking for! I’m the one who when cleaning out the refrigerator will toss the salad dressing if it’s the same month that they say to ‘use by’. I make regular trips to the local Goodwill store and donate all my cast-offs.

We watch the show where people can’t move around inside their homes, our eyes wide in amazement and disbelief. We hear people’s stories and ache with them at the losses incurred because of their hoarding. Boxes and bags and piles and clothing and trash, furniture and garage sale finds and who knows what else are all piled up so high it looks like the residue after a natural disaster. Family members refuse to visit. Friendships end because they can’t handle the truth that was kept hidden from them. Marriages are strained and even broken. It’s so very sad.

Some people never displayed the hoarding behavior until some grief happened in their life. Not knowing how to deal with it left them incapacitated or grasping for memories to hang on to. They felt safer when surrounded by stuff. Whatever the reason, they have found themselves in over their heads, literally and figuratively. They need help and have finally come face to face with it.

Every time I watch, I am moved to tears. Last night we watched one we’d taped earlier. Seeing the sorrow on the woman’s face and hearing her story of living in the same apartment she grew up in, her experience of starting projects and not finishing them but not wanting to part with them for whatever reason . . . oooooh, ouch, it started hitting a wee bit too close to home!

Maybe I can relate to her more than I’d like to admit!

I used to be the neatnik in the family. I was always cleaning up after everyone, which made my parents very happy, and my siblings irritated. Tidiness and order helped me feel good, secure, happy. I loved neatness and cleanliness; I still do. But children and busy lives, illness and grief, sorrow upon sorrow stack up much like the hoarders’ piles and who has the energy to clean? Who’s got the stamina to stick with a schedule of cleaning? Who wants more work when grief itself is more work than you or I have ever imagined? It’s absolutely draining.

I find now that I can understand how these people have gotten into such a situation. I can empathize.

I can understand grief. I can understand being overwhelmed with life. I can understand sorrow, depression, disappointment and wanting relief. I know what it is to want to ignore difficult things and anesthetize myself. My drug of choice is usually solitaire or other games to occupy my mind, but it could just as easily be shopping, collecting, hoarding….

So, I sit, watching someone else’s life and it helps me evaluate my own. It gently shows me how I have let certain things slip. It inspires me to not allow myself to fall into that black abyss of numbness and emotional hopelessness. I’ve teetered so close, and have even toppled over the side once, gripping the edge with everything I had, while others begged me desperately to hang on. So, I can relate after all.

I’m thankful that I have a relationship with God that gives me hope and encouragement even though I may be weary or discouraged. God is my security and provides help and comfort through his Word, and through people.  I’m very grateful to have the husband and children and friends that I do. They are such a support. They are love embodied. They are the ones who helped pull me out of the abyss.

I have to say, though, after watching that show last night, I got out of my chair and started tidying up!  This morning when I came downstairs, I tidied some more! I washed the trash can and wiped up the area under the sink that it occupies. I have a new resolve to put things away immediately instead of thinking to myself that I’ll do it later. I don’t want to end up picking my way through massive piles of belongings one day thinking, how on earth did I get here? How will I ever dig out?

I have more compassion, but I also have a heightened awareness and determination to never ‘go there.’ I will use this newfound resolve to my advantage! It will inspire me to stay on top of ‘things’ better!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go clean out a closet!