How to Survive ‘Perfect’ at Christmas: Part Four

photoPanicky thoughts and feelings are hovering over me today about finishing up everything for Christmas. It’s what happens to me each time I approach a deadline about anything. And even though I’ve planned well and organized my time, those moments still come. It’s a mystery. I can so easily get caught up in the frenzy and the rush around me.

I am working right now to practice what I’ve been preaching to you about in this series, embracing the gifts of imperfection this Christmas. I’ve had so many ‘aha’ moments surrounding this phrase I’ve learned recently from Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. It has put language to the emotions that swirl madly around  my head and heart. These are the questions I am asking myself as I ponder the why’s and the how’s, I invite you to ask them too….

Can we embrace the fact this Christmas that our lives are messy, our families aren’t perfect, there are problems, money, relationships, jobs? Can we stay out of the pit of denial and just get it, that life is messy?

Can we let go of the need for perfection in giving gifts? What is the perfect gift anyway? Who needs anything? Does it really matter if we unintentionally get the wrong gift for them? If you and I can shop for our loved ones embracing that attitude we can actually enjoy the process.

Can we let go of the need for perfection in our relationships? Can we release the expectation to have that uncle or mom, dad, brother, sister, child to act appropriately so we can all enjoy Christmas? Can we just accept the fact that our family is messy and just not let it rob our joy? Can we give extra grace and let that relative be cranky and set a boundary? I know it’s harder than we can imagine, but if we can embrace the imperfection, we won’t be disappointed as much.

Can we let go of the need for perfection of having the perfect house at Christmas and that it’s not going to even look close to the  commercials we see on television?

Can we embrace the imperfection of what we have to be festive with, our own DIY creativity for our home? AND call it simply beautiful? If we can do that, we will see Christmas through a whole new lens.

Can we let go of the perfection of expecting strangers in our world to act with kindness and joy when we are out and about? Instead, can we embrace the imperfection of our society and seek to offer a smile or a kind word when someone is being crabby because they think we stole their place in line, or picked up the last toy they wanted?

Can we be kind to ourselves and be self-compassionate so we don’t have to like my grandkids (remember the milkshake and the straw?) suck the daylights out of the straw to get what we want? Can we remember that we don’t have to suck it up to feel good about ourselves or guilty because we can’t seem to find the joy and peace we need? If we choose to embrace the imperfections, we will experience the joy, peace and love we strive for during Christmas, even if it isn’t perfect! In fact, right now, let me tell you, it won’t be perfect!!

Jesus mother Mary, had no choice, there was imperfection screaming all around her in every way. Mary was probably only about 14 years old and yet she was a young girl wise beyond her years. Can we follow her example and with humility ask for help when we need it this year? Can we accept what happens even if it isn’t in the plan? Can we keep our hope and believe God for the future no matter now messy our lives are? Can we practice self-compassion? Can we treat ourselves the way we love to treat others?

Lastly, can we receive and accept the Jesus that was born in an imperfect barn and died on a rough imperfect wood hewn cross for us? Can we receive the gift of His love for us this Christmas?

God came near.

That is what Christmas is all about.

He is Immanuel, God with us.

God reaching down into our messy, unruly and broken lives to touch our weary soul with the kiss of His love.

Receiving the gift is so easy. And yet, at times I make it impossible. I should know better, I am supposed to be a mature godly woman and yet I still struggle with independence, pride and a host of other sins that keep me from needing Jesus. It comes down to you and me acknowledging our desire for him, that we are imperfect, that we’ve made mistakes, we’ve failed, we’ve sinned and we just plain are inadequate without him, every waking moment!

At this moment, my heart chooses to slow down and rest. The view from my window speaks of a winter wonderland covered with a blanket of peace. It beckons me to change my attitude and enter into the holy place of Christmas. Jesus. No noise, no shoppers, no presents, no rush. It is a peaceful scene that calls to me to remember that phrase from an old song~”Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” It starts with my heart, inviting God to bring rest to my busyness. It calls me to unwrap the gift of choosing joy and peace in the midst of how hard I try to keep up with expectations for Christmas. Let go, let God and walk into the story of Christmas with my whole heart and receive what God so desperately wants me to understand, the gift of His love for me.

What about you? The invitation is open to walk into Christmas 2013 differently, more intentionally and embracing the gift designed just perfectly for your life, your circumstances and what your heart is longing for.

Jesus, the manger, the gift,

His mercy,

His grace,

His Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Survive ‘Perfect’ at Christmas: Part Three

IMG_0141I’ve always wished I could witness first hand the angel coming to bring the news to Mary. Here was an ordinary teenage girl experiencing the supernatural phenomena of a messenger from God Himself. I can’t hardly wrap my brain around it let alone conceive how I would respond if I were her.

And yet Mary’s response captivates me. When she got over the shock of the news Gabriel delivered and her heart most likely full of questions, her reply was simply, “I am the Lord’s servant and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true. Then the angel left.” (Luke 2:38)

Brilliant response. Faith-filled and a heart that held trust as a core value. She didn’t cower or run in fear, she believed and pressed into the experience. That alone speaks of her immense faith. Is that why God chose her, because of the strength of character and belief demonstrated by her life?

As I read the story I focus in on three gifts she seemed to embrace. They are all imperfect, but yet they were the gifts that set her course.

The first gift was humility. She acknowledged that she was God’s servant and knew she couldn’t do this by herself, she couldn’t orchestrate how it would all happen, she had to rely on God, she had no choice. It was all faith or nothing.

The second was acceptance. She was willing to accept the imperfect process of how God was laying it all out. Her life changed forever that day the angel came. So many questions unanswered and yet she confirmed to the angel that she would trust and believe that God would indeed bring it about and let go of any control.

The last gift she embraced was the gift of faith. She had the faith to believe in something bigger than herself by hoping that everything the angel said would come true.

Mary embraced the gifts of her fragile humanness and her imperfections. Those around her, the heritage of her people the Jews, expected so much more.  In some ways they demanded their Messiah to come in pure perfection, royalty and splendidly. But Jesus trumped the expected and came unexpectedly. He arrived in a smelly barn, with dung and hay and poverty. He was perfect, but he came to an imperfect world. Jesus was a huge disappointment in his arrival to  the nation of Israel because he turned everything upside down. No wonder they had a hard time embracing who Christ was. His calling card was less than perfect.

In the same way, Christmas can come as a disappointment to us in its arrival because of our own expectations.  In the days leading up to Christmas, I don’t think that is our intention. It evolves because we have so many other voices and vices that dictate what it should look like. It snowballs and takes us by storm. For instance, we expect this time of the year for everyone to behave themselves and be holly and jolly. Why should they, really? Just because it’s Christmas? Why would all of a sudden those cranky relatives turn up at your door-step transformed? When will we get it? We are an imperfect people and when the stress elevates it heightens our behavior. Each and every one of us have a default switch when stress shows up in full force.

How do we avoid slipping into that mode and flipping that switch? We follow Mary’s example. We embrace the three gifts of humility, acceptance and faith. Here’s what I think it looks like.

We don’t try to do everything all by ourselves and our way.

We set limits.

We ask for help.

When we are tired, we readjust.

We practice humility by letting someone help us that might not do it ‘our way.’ I have a confession to make. I didn’t exercise humility when we put up our Christmas lights last Saturday. I got impatient. I had a vision in my head and expected my husband to read my mind. I was cranky and had to apologize later. Who wants to help a cranky person anyway? No one. Be humble, let go and share the diversity of making Christmas happen, together.

We accept the imperfect days leading up to Christmas.

We surrender to sitting and practicing ‘being still.’

We listen to that small still voice and remember that people are more important than anything. That includes the person who wants to steal your parking place at the crowded mall, or the person who cuts in line when you’ve waited and are next. We surrender unruly emotions and turn them into kind acts of service and words. We accept imperfect all around us.

Lastly, we believe.

We choose to believe that Christmas is bigger than us.

It isn’t about you or me, presents, lights, dinner, relatives, a clean house or a perfect Christmas program. It’s just about Jesus.

God coming near to our brokenness, our failure, our emptiness and offering His incredible love wrapped up in a song of hope and peace.

 

 

 

 

How to Survive ‘Perfect’ at Christmas: Part Two

18 days, 00 hour, 49 minutes and 37 seconds until Christmas arrives. How are you doing? Are you giving yourself room to be imperfect? Are you tuning out some of the bombarding messages that stores and media are sending? I am more aware of this since I wrote about it and had a twist of events that only helped me to check myself.

I ordered my Christmas cards this year for the first time with a new company. It was early, only November when I pushed the send button and I was so proud of myself! I was planning to get them out ‘perfectly’ by December 2nd or 3rd. The little orange package arrived. I ripped into it like a child opening a long awaited Christmas present. I couldn’t believe what I found. Perfect strangers on those cards, an adorable family, but not us! It was a mistake. Sigh…now I wouldn’t get my cards out when I wanted to. It wouldn’t be, are you ready for this? PERFECT! That thought actually crossed my mind! It actually made me laugh after I hung up the phone to correct the mistake because I had no choice but to adjust my expectation of getting those cards out. December was starting out imperfect already and I was faced with choosing to embrace it and let it go.

My grandkids have an expectation when I take them out for lunch. They have a favorite restaurant that have a tankful of fish that match those in the movie Finding Nemo and the best chocolate shakes in town. Each time we go, it’s comical to watch them as they try to get the shake up into the straw into their mouths. Their little cheeks suck in so hard like the fish they are watching in the tank as they work the straw. The shake is so thick it takes them awhile. Nearly every time I have to tell them to swirl it around, wait a little until it melts and be patient because then the goodness of what’s in the glass will come. They don’t realize that they wouldn’t have to suck it up so hard if they would wait.

Here’s what I think we do around the holidays. We get so overwhelmed by all the jam-packed things that need to happen that we push down all the goodness that is waiting for us in the glass. We keep sucking it up and sucking it up until we make ourselves crazy. We never get the good stuff like joy, peace and love because we are trying so hard to make the perfect holiday. Instead, we should be waiting with anticipation through Advent and embracing the imperfections.

Jesus mother Mary, had no choice but to embrace the imperfections while having the greatest favor ever to be bestowed on a woman. She had to embrace the imperfection of being ridiculed because she was pregnant knowing she was a virgin and not married. In Jewish times, it was cause for her to be taken outside the city and stoned.

She had to embrace the imperfection that she couldn’t even give birth in her home town, in the comfort of her own home, with her mom around or her family. Instead she had to travel miles away and not even know where she was going to lay her newborn son down to sleep for his first night on earth.

She had to embrace the imperfection of giving birth in a smelly dirty barn with strangers all around.

Mary had to embrace the imperfection of knowing she was the mother of the coming Messiah and Savior and not knowing what lie ahead, her future uncertain.

Did she know, her baby boy was to be the Savior of the whole world?

That one day he would actually be beaten, tortured and then suffer an agonizing death to bridge the gap of sinful man so we could live in freedom and have life eternal?

Did she know all of that?

Did she try to control the circumstances and make everything  perfect?

Did she know how hard it would be? I venture not.

She had no control, so she made a choice to embrace the gifts of imperfection so she could experience joy, peace and love that was offered to her in the gift of being Jesus mother.

As we continue to approach these coming days before Christmas, let me ask.

What ‘perfect’ do you need to let go of to receive all the divine goodness that God wants to give to you this season?

Like my Christmas card mistake, where do your expectations need to be adjusted? Do you have to send out cards this year? Is it necessary to bake 100 dozen cookies?

Where can you invite others to help you? Don’t try to do everything yourself.

Can you choose joy and gratitude right now this moment and revel in the wonder of anticipating the celebration of Jesus? Can you take time to sit, wait and soak up the wonder of the simple moments you find along the way?

It shouldn’t be that hard, so why do you and I make it that way? Just like those little boys with their chocolate shakes, choose to swirl the goodness around, be patient and wait in anticipation for the joy and peace to come!

(image from http://www.sheknows.com/health-and-wellness/articles/848961/is-perfectionism-ruining-your-holiday-happiness)

 

 

 

How to Survive ‘Perfect’ at Christmas: Part One

IMG_1432There are exactly 20 days, 14 hours, 12 minutes and 17 seconds left until Christmas, or as my grandkids would say 21 sleeps left! I don’t know about you but right now as that clock is clicking down it makes me go into a cold sweat and break out in hives.                        

How about you? Knowing that there are only 21 sleeps left before Christmas hits your doorstep. 

I asked a room full of women this question over a week ago and this is what they said.

Panic

Anxiety

I want it to be over

I don’t want to think about it

Rush

Relatives

What is it that happens at this time of the year that causes us to freak out and turn into women that we normally don’t seem to be the rest of the year?

I was trying to explain this to my husband and he said, “I don’t think people struggle with that as much as they used to, I think that it’s just a few people like you.” Now he wasn’t trying to be mean or heartless, I think it is because most men just don’t get everything that goes into Christmas. Not because they don’t want to, but for them, they pretty much just show up for the holidays like a guest. They might do a few things at our request like help clean, cook, wrap some gifts and wrangle the kids together but most of it seems to fall on us.  My husband has always been a tremendous help and asks frequently what he can do especially when my voice gets higher and stressed! Here’s a side tip, nothing to do with where I’m headed but it will help make Christmas smoother. Be sure and give your husband kudos of appreciation when he jumps to your side this Christmas in the prep. I know that sometimes they see us stressed and don’t know how to fix it, and when they jump in, be appreciative as much as you can without any cranky remarks. I am preaching to myself right now!

To help Kevin out a bit when we were having this discussion, I nonchalantly pointed out when we were watching a movie and there were several Christmas commercials. I said, “Look, look, see it’s all women!”  Most of the commercials were about women getting things ready for Christmas. The houses were perfect, the tree was spectacular, presents were wrapped exquisitely under the tree and everything looked like it was in perfect order. “There!” I sighed, as I moved my hands up and down towards the big screen to prove my point of helping him understand how we get caught up in the madness of perfection.

Now, before I set some of you on edge or sound like I am stereotyping or men bashing, I know this isn’t true for all men, I do know some men that actually take care of the whole meal for their families by shopping, prepping, cooking and everything. I have a friend whose husband wraps ALL their gifts. I know of another guy who actually decorates not only his house but also where he works and helps friends do the same. But generally speaking, Christmas does or doesn’t happen mostly because of the women. And then if you are a single parent, that’s a whole other story…everything falls on your shoulders to make Christmas happen!!

No matter how much we try and disconnect and tell ourselves it doesn’t have to be like what we visually see in the stores or on the television, we are thrust with images that portray perfection EVERYWHERE!!! Even the scripting of the commercials reinforces it with, “find the perfect gift” “set the perfect table” and to top it off everyone looks so happy together as relatives arrive and the warm sentiments of the Christmas season. Enjoy Christmas perfectly if you shop our stores and buy our stuff, that’s the underlying message. One of my favorite magazines had on the cover “395 Ways to Dazzle Your Friends and Family.” No wonder we struggle!

You and I both know how hard it is to actually find the perfect gift, keep a perfect house, tree, food and are you ready for this, really PERFECT relatives.

Now you might say,  do we have to talk about this? Can’t I stay in the cave of denial and just get it over with? I would say, let’s for once get gut honest and talk about this Christmas chaos and what it does to our psyche. We all to some degree struggle with this in our lives, whether or not we do a lot or a little for Christmas. It stirs up all kinds of emotions for us as women and seems to magnify the reality and heightens our awareness that we don’t have it all together no matter how much the media or retailers try to help us get it all together. AND we have messy families, cranky relatives who show up and that alone can create extra trauma around the season.

We buy into this ‘perfection’ whether consciously or unconsciously. We try so hard only to be utterly disappointed and exhausted at the end of the season eating ourselves into oblivion to cope with the stress that accompanies the holiday season. Then we feel worse because we’ve gained weight and our clothes don’t fit, we make New Year’s resolution we end up not keeping and we do the self-talk and the cycle continues. Is anyone out there that can relate? Whether it is a 15 on a scale of 1 to 100 or a 85 because of cranky relatives we all face it at some point.

I am hoping that this Christmas, the anticipation of what is to come, that we can embrace something that can’t be bought or given, and that can help ease the stress…..something that can’t be put on a credit/debit card and shopped for. I would like to give you the one gift you can give yourself~the gift of imperfection.  Brene Brown has written a book, The Gifts of Imperfection on this very subject and I have found it liberating and enlightening. She gives these definitions when talking about the need to put on the perfection.

Perfectionism is not the same things as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. 

Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.

It seems to be all about having to be perfect because we are worried about what other people are going to think more than striving to do the best. Who will raise their hand with me that we are of so guilty at times?

Here is what became my ‘aha’ moment when I was reading her book. She said that, Perfectionism hampers success, in fact it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis which mean we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.

 WOW! Having the need to be perfect at Christmas or any other time actually hinders my success, my ability to actually enjoy life, and especially to enjoy Christmas. This was huge for me. We all want to experience the love, joy and peace of the Christmas season, so here is what I think the solution is….receiving the gift of imperfection! We will continue on and discover what that looks like over the next few blog posts. So in the meantime, here’s a tip of what I am trying to practice for the next

20 days,13 hours, 52 minutes and 13 seconds left until Christmas~ANTICIPATION.

I am creating a space of anticipation that invites

slowing down,

being still,

enjoying the moments,

being present,

choosing gratitude and

speaking it out loud daily and writing in my journal.

Creating this space looks like intentionally sitting each day in my favorite cozy chair curled up with a cup of tea and the devotional “The Greatest Gift” by Ann Voskamp and my Bible. It’s only Day Four and my heart is making space for Advent, the true meaning of waiting to receive the greatest gift, celebrating Jesus. The noise, the fanfare, the chaos subsides within me as I am choosing to submit to a ritual of being still and pondering as Mary might of done when she received her news that she would be the mother of the Son of God. It is causing me to break out in worship.

It doesn’t come easy for me, it has come slowly and it is growing each day. Will you join me on this Advent journey?

My UnThanksgiving Memo for a Manifesto

Costco chaos, Fred Meyer frenzy and madness at the local mall is just another reminder to me of what I have dubbed as UnThanksgiving. Not to sound “unholidayish,” but the craziness and the rush is starting to create an anxiety level in me that does not lend itself to being grateful for tomorrow or the next 27 days 6 hours 49 minutes and 52 seconds left until Christmas arrives. Thanksgiving is a noble holiday in which President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” You can read the proclamation at the end of my blog post. It is quite moving.

The rush paralyzes and holds my productivity captive

No praise is found on my tongue only cranky thoughts and phrases.

I get an aversion to doing anything to move ahead for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

It robs my joy and I start complaining and become “unthankful.”

That’s what is happening on the inside although only those closest to me would know that my outside face doesn’t match what’s brewing underneath. I know it’s getting bad when I start to leak on strangers oozing unthankfulness. I am trying to live more honest and tell myself the truth. I want with my whole heart to be more grateful in the midst of the chaos.

I’ve learned something however rather significant this past week about gratitude from a course I’ve been taking by Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection. Let me see if I can summarize briefly how it has impacted me. I don’t always feel grateful, and so practicing gratitude is the key to joy being released in my life. It is the cornerstone of cultivating thankfulness in my heart and spirit, it is contagious! This has helped me so much and has created a pathway to understand more of what gratefulness actually looks like. Because I am more aware, even today, I had a stunning moment when an eagle flew so close outside the window carrying reeds of grass to build her nest. It was magnificent and I was in awe. It was a moment that caused me to worship! I realized that my “awe” was cultivating gratitude.

What I’m learning is that It’s not about capturing gratefulness in the big events in life, it really is about the little things.The little things that lead up to the big things. To keep my awareness moving ahead I’ve decided that I am going to create a Thanksgiving Manifesto to defeat my “unthanksgiving” attitude. I know I am not alone in this, will you take a few moments and write your own manifesto in your journal and then share it with me? I’d love to hear!

MY THANKSGIVING MANIFESTO

I am reclaiming gratitude in my life. I will no longer allow circumstances, disappointments and sadness over things I can’t change to rob my joy. I choose to practice gratitude daily even if I don’t “feel” like it. I will embrace the gift of confessing the incredible blessings that come to me from the moment I open my eyes each morning to the time I lay my tired head on my pillow each night. 

I choose to proclaim the creed of thankfulness from God’s word;

“I will come into His presence with thankfulness (Ps. 95:2)

And I will “Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Ps. 100:1-5).

In all that I do, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col.3:17)

This is my manifesto of thanks so I can flourish and restore my joy and peace in the midst of all that would speak otherwise!

AMEN

 

ABRAHAM LINCOLN PROCLAMATION

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

Stepping Out into the Unknown, Out of My Comfort Zone

photoWhen you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. Franklin Roosevelt

I was tingling with an adrenaline rush as I sent a text to my youngest son Jason. “I did it Jason.” I simply stated. I had just taken a step to overcome a grand physical feat. Moments before I had just been released out of a secure harness after experiencing what is supposed to be the longest hipline in North America in Rock Ridge Canyon, BC.  I had allowed myself to be strapped into a hefty harness and zipped down hundreds of feet over a lake and tall trees on a steel wire that probably was no more than an inch in diameter. I have to confess I screamed the whole three minutes I was zipping through the sky. I am not sure if I screamed because of sheer terror or the exhilaration of conquering a very great fear of heights.

I can’t tell you what a surreal feeling it is to be standing on a platform hundreds of feet up in the air with a little gate in front of you, knowing that when that gate opens you will have lost total control your feet leaving solid ground. Before I landed I was crying, because I had stepped out of my comfort zone and experienced the thrill of adventure into the unknown.

Being a grown up is leaving our warm comfortable place of familiarity and being willing to venture out into the unknown. Shattering the myth of THIS IS OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE challenges us to think outside the box in where God is leading us on our journey. It’s time to wake up instead of nuzzling deeper into what’s comfortable or what feels good to us.

As I look back over several years of being in ministry, I have been involved in many different of roles as a leader and there have been times I have felt way out of my comfort zone. There is one common thread I can point to. God has most often used what is already in my hand, meaning my life experiences, my gifts and talents. It doesn’t mean however that I am fully confident in accessing those resources, it just means they are resources God has provided for me to equip me for the assignment, it is what is in my hand at the moment. I think of the story of Jael in the book of Judges who single handedly brought down the commander of the enemy army  with a tent peg and a hammer. She used what was in her hands to step out of her comfort zone and fulfill her God-given assignment to help rescue the nation of Israel from their oppressive captors.

One of the most astonishing things I notice in this story is the fact that God used the tools and resources that were available to Jael to carry out His plan. He didn’t ask her to use something that she wasn’t skilled at or completely unfamiliar with. She had most likely used that hammer several times and probably had pounded tent pegs in more times than she could count. She knew how to use them with precision and accuracy. How else could she have been brave enough to do the horrific deed? I bet she hadn’t ever thought that she would wake up that day and take down the commander of the army with her common ordinary tools.

Here is the point. When God nudges us to step out of our comfort zone and do something out of the box, he will most likely use the tools that are already in your hand. It will just be different in the way you have used them before.

My hammer and tent pegs that I have been working with already are my qualifications to do the job He has called me to. That is how I know I can trust Him to step outside the lines of what I think I am most comfortable in doing. I just have to look at what’s in my hand and call on God to empower me to do the rest. I often don’t even know the outcome, or even the final steps before the assignment is over, but God always seems to give me exactly what I need with what he has already provided for me. To be honest, I find it both exhilarating and frightening as I approach a God-sized mission.

Now to be extremely truthful…

Many times it has me panic-stricken and feeling anxious.

I am learning to just do it afraid

And trust God for that first plunge into uncharted territory.

It is kind of like that first step off the platform of the zip line. My stomach bottomed out and my heart was in my throat, but after that it was a thrilling ride that matched no other I had experienced.

I was out of my comfort zone for sure!

How do you respond when God asks you do accomplish something that is uncharacteristic?  I challenge you to be faithful in what matters today and be watching and ready as God may call you to the frontline when you least expect it. Be confident that he has already given you exactly what you need to accomplish the assignment he has destined for you, even if it is out of your comfort zone.

(Adapted and excerpt from Unlocked: 5 Myths Holding Your Influence Captive, to order or find out more details go to: http://cynthiacavanaugh.com/unlocked-5-myths-holding-your-influence-captive/)

When You Need Someone To Fight For You

I’ve decided I don’t want to listen to the news anymore. It makes me want to tear my hair out and vomit. It makes me grieve, my heart ache for the injustice that happens daily in our world, especially to children. Innocent children who suddenly are robbed of their childhood and receive heartless wounds that no human being should ever have to endure.

One story has been haunting me since I first heard it when I was driving home the other day.  The radio news announcer matter of fact read the story of an 11-year old foster child boy that had been found handcuffed to a porch shivering in the cold with a dead chicken tied around his neck. I gasped, and screamed out loud in the car. I could in that moment only pound heaven’s doors with my question of, really God? Why so much hurt?

The worst of it is, one of his caretakers was a supervisor for social services. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Isn’t she the one who is supposed to help rescue these children from harm and then insure protection, not be the one who commits the crime? It is utterly disgusting. And to be honest, it’s hard to give grace to someone who administers that type of cruelty to children.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this story has impacted me on such a deep level. I can’t stop thinking about it.

I can’t stop thinking about the fear and terror that little boy was experiencing.

The smell of that dead chicken around his neck.

The decaying and attraction of pesky flies flying around his body.

His inability to shield his face or plug his nose because he was handcuffed to the porch.

I can’t stop thinking about the enormous humiliation he faced.

I can’t stop thinking about his confusion of trying to understand why the people that are supposed to love and protect him would subject him to such harsh cruelty.

I can’t stop thinking about the tears staining his little cheek and his cries that were silenced and made to endure this torture.

It makes me weep and rage at the same time. What is his future? Will he ever know what it is like to be really loved? To have a normal childhood? Who will fight for him? These questions are all unanswered and all I can do right now is pray for him and the other children that were in that house.

As I reflected on why this particular story has triggered me, I came to this conclusion. I think it bothers me so much because it is a story about humiliation, tragic and horrific humiliation. This should never happen to anyone. No one deserves that experience no matter what they might have said or done. The punishment outweighs the offense by a million miles whatever it might have been. It is plain unjust.

Have you ever been misunderstood and humiliated by someone in authority who was supposed to protect you? Someone whose power was misused to heap shame on you to make themselves feel better? We may not have such an extreme experience as this little boy has had, but each of us probably could retell a story or two of feeling like we’ve been handcuffed to a porch with a dead chicken around our neck.

It hurts.

The smell and memory still lingers.

The pesky flies remind us of the shame that has been draped around us screaming, “Because of what you did, you are a bad person.”

And we wonder, “Really God? I was trying to do the right thing. I not only got the handcuffs slapped on, but humiliation on top of it. It’s not fair, it sucks and I’m having a hard time not being paralyzed because of it.”

It is in that moment God comes in the picture and fights for us. Joseph, Job, Hagar, Paul, and many others found in the pages of the Bible experienced being handcuffed to a porch wrought with humiliation. God showed up and became the deliverer and set things straight. He promises to fight for us in the midst of injustice.

We might be in so much pain it’s hard to hope, but God won’t fail.

We may fail or make mistakes but God doesn’t shame us.

Others may deem us unlovable, but God loves us, unconditionally and extravagantly.

We might be judged unfairly but God’s grace is outrageous.

Others may break their promises but God’s promises are true, always.

We might have a hard time trusting others because we’ve been hurt, but God, He has proven to be trustworthy.

If you ever find yourself handcuffed to a porch and experiencing being misunderstood and humiliated because of someone else’s actions, take heart. God is working in the background. It doesn’t go unnoticed. He will fight for you and be your defense just as a little boys cries finally attracted the attention of a neighbor and he was rescued.

“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble.?I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me.?Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.?I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!” Psalm 91:14-16 (Message)

 

(picture taken from http://insideevs.com/electric-to-the-rescue/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth of Where I Belong

Picture 327Even the wife of a pastor can at times feel lost and struggle with what it means to belong even in her own church. Does that surprise you? I was talking with a friend today and she affirmed to me that it was okay to just be myself. What a relief! I am opening up the vault of vulnerability to say that even leaders can’t live up to their own expectations and at times can feel displaced, not enough, and wonder how they fit, especially after a wilderness season.

I shared in my last blog I’ve been ruminating and reflecting a bit more lately and so bear with me as I continue with this theme. As I went to sleep last night and confessed my jumbled emotions to God, I asked him to sort them out for me because I can’t. I learned a long time ago that my emotions unlike my heart can’t be trusted. They seek to lead me astray with lies and can cause me to slip into a state that doesn’t choose to trust and believe God.

This morning I carried this baggage into church with me stuffing the lies and overriding my hidden emotions with a smile. That’s what leaders do isn’t it? I am not saying that I was faking it 100% but I was determined to practice what I had surrendered the night before hoping that my tattered emotions would follow my obedience. And God surprised me this morning in a way I didn’t expect.

But isn’t that just like him?

We surrender.

We trust.

We believe.

And He surprises us again with His extravagant love.

I was standing and chatting with another woman when one of our staff joined the conversation. With a big smile he asked us to give him a word, any word. At first, I wanted to laugh because it reminded me of the father in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding who claims he can trace any word you could give him to Greek origin, of which he was of course proudly Greek! I thought for a moment and blurted out the word believe. After my heart-felt conversation with God last night, it was the first word that popped into my brain.

He proceeded to hand me an enormous bar of chocolate, the kind that comes in a brick and looks like an oversized postcard. On the wrapper it had a warm cozy picture of a room with a fireplace. It actually said, Merry Christmas! In his broken English (it is his second language) he told me with enthusiasm that the word believe meant that I was to be a light, just like the fire in the picture that was lighting up the room. I am not sure all the way of the connection between the word believe and the light, as I was trying to follow him as he excitedly shared with me. He was determined to help me understand that he wanted me to hear that I was to “be a light” as he repeatedly pointed to the fireplace in the picture.

I do know that God was speaking to me directly in that shared encounter. It was a link of something that happened last month around the word “light” when I was at a retreat. God reminded me in a room full of women standing in a circle with candles lit that despite the dark wilderness that I have found myself in at times over the past few years, his plan for me is to not forget that he has called me to be a light. He is the reason that I have life and light and His desire is for me to live out what I told this man this morning, that the origin of my name Cynthia, actually means, reflector of light.

It may sound simple, but it was profound to me and resonated in my weary soul. God gently reminded me through an act of kindness that whenever I feel displaced or not enough, His love is my home. His love is where I belong no matter what’s happening in the back story of my life. It is His love that keeps me sheltered and because of that I choose to believe, I can trust and I can be His light to the world.

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 (Message Bible)

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You Aren’t Sure You Are Enough

Coming home from sunny California to the grey cloudy days we know so well in the Pacific Northwest has stopped me in my tracks. It has sent me into a tail spin of walking around in a daze of just how to jump back into my life. When Summer transitions to Autumn, I’ve noticed each year that I go into a kind of depressive, hard to get motivated moody confusion. I don’t like myself when it happens and I am trying to sort out the pattern. I start obsessively evaluating my life, whether or not I am accomplishing what I believe God is asking of me. Or… whether I am enough, even though I know in my head, that yes, God says I am enough, because He is enough. I make myself crazy overthinking and am trying to learn how to breathe and hand over those confusing emotions.

This is the conclusion I’ve come to in my overthinking today. I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning and organizing in my home the past few months and have stumbled on old journals, pictures, and cards. This has triggered these thoughts and feelings of asking God to help me focus on the most important parts of my life for the days ahead. And so, I found this journal entry (below) and it reminded me of what my life is really about…

Being faithful.

Loving well, my friends, my family and those in my sphere of influence.

Offering a smile often.

Practicing kindness, generosity and compassionate mercy.

These are the things in life that matter compared to my list of “accomplishments.”  Here are the words written in my journal several years ago of another time I was obsessively reflective and the conclusion I came to.

I stood on the cold cement floor barefoot and waved goodbye to my son and my brand- new daughter-in-law as they drove away to start their life together.  It was early dawn and all I could think of is how did this happen so fast? When did my little boy grow up to be a man? Why doesn’t life just stay the same? These questions and others plagued my tired brain. Now don’t get me wrong, I joyously entered into the marriage celebration of our son to his beautiful wife  just a week earlier.  But once again life seemed to be dictating more changes, a windfall of emotions to tramp through and a whole new set of rules to live by as a mother.

Days beforehand, I found myself in a similar mood waking up to the feeling like I was watching my life move too quickly on the big screen. I have been accused at times of being over reflective, well today was one of those days.  I found myself talking to God about all the “stuff” and so called “accomplishments” I had contributed through the years specifically in the roles that I had served as a leader.  In the process of mental sorting, an arrow of pessimism slammed into the core of my soul. Have I managed through all these years of serving God to produce any lasting fruit?  Have I really influenced others and been a catalyst for godly transformation?

As I padded around the house in my morning routine, grabbing a cup of tea and my Bible, I sensed God leading me to encourage my wilting spirits. I walked into my office and went to the bottom shelf of the bookcase and pulled out a decorated photo box full of cards I had saved through the years. I had assured my partners in leadership many times that they would need to keep a box of cards for days like today.

Since I had no pressing appointments, I grabbed my now semi-warm cup of tea, crawled back into my rumpled unmade bed and began to read. Soon I was reaching for something to wipe my tears as my heart began to take in words and scriptures inscribed with ink on the several gracious notes I had received. Some spoke in well-versed sentences of how I had ministered through writing and speaking. Others ministered thoughtful comments expressing gratitude to serve together in leadership.  I found myself being pulled up out of the pit I had fallen into that morning as I lingered over the words of each card and page. God gently moved me in the direction of realizing that “yes” I was bearing fruit for His kingdom but more than that I saw that I had been faithful.  My soul began to soar and dance with anticipation as I recognized the many wonderful opportunities that God had spread out before me. My feelings of inadequacy, feeling overwhelmed and emotional tiredness began to dissipate.

You see I had been doing a lot of reflecting lately and in my own contemplation of closing the chapter of being a hands-on full-time mom, ministry opportunities, it has caused me to do a lot of thinking…and as I was mulling over the words of this verse from John 15:16.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last!

You see, if we believe what God’s Word says, then we are destined to live a life beyond belief.

This verse says it all.

We don’t choose our destiny or God’s favor, our assignments or even deciding whether our accomplishments are worthy.

God does.

It is in our everyday faithfulness to Him and His word that determines whether we bear fruit that will last. Not what we choose, but what he chooses for us as we are obedient and it erases my doubts of whether I think I am enough. Now just to chase those confusing emotions away!

I’ve packaged them up tonight and decided to not pay too much attention to them. It’s been a busy few weeks and too much thinking isn’t good for my soul. Besides, I am a little sleep deprived as well. Here’s to confessing I am enough because God is enough and I just need to rest in God’s extravagant love for me and trust He will lead me as I lean in and listen.

How about you? What do you need to confess in order to believe that you are enough in Christ?

(picture from webpage-http://iheartinspiration.com/quotes/note-to-self-i-am-enough/)

 

 

 

My Character Check: Passing Judgment “F”

IvyIt was a brilliantly sunny Beverly Hills, California day sitting at the famed Ivy Restaurant. I was enjoying a wonderful lunch with my visiting cousins from Russia. Not the ordinary experience for me.

To be clear, first of all I don’t eat lunch in Beverly Hills everyday and second, I was creating a memory with family I had just met and touring all the LA attractions with them. On my top ten, this was definitely a highlight. My California cousin had arranged for us to eat at this beautiful place in hopes that we might catch a celebrity or two. We learned the Ivy is a place for the local celebrities to gather and enjoy elegant food and the ambience of vases full of roses on every table and decor in an elegant vintage flare. Wouldn’t it be a blast if our  guests could catch a glimpse of a celebrity favorite?

It happened. Right next to us. At first, I had a hunch that someone famous was sitting next to us. She was perfectly put together and it made me feel small and insignificant. She was sitting so close to me, I could of touched her. The comparison game started, from her flawless make-up to her well-toned body to her beautiful dress, shoes and bag.  My cousin whispered to me, “That face doesn’t happen without plastic surgery.” I kept catching quick glances; you know the ones where you don’t want someone to know that you are staring at them?  How ridiculous, like I expected to see the tiny scars underneath her hairline? Hello?

I decided to get up and go use the little girls room and freshen up. After all, I was certain I was sitting next to a star. I looked in the mirror and thought, geez, I don’t look so bad today, so I stood up taller and threw my shoulders back and walked back to my table confidently. As we sat and ate we tried to think of where we had seen her.

I couldn’t place her.

Instead I judged her.

Her looks,

Her clothes,

Her shoes,

Her mannerisms as she talked.

And I am not proud to say, it went on and it wasn’t fair because I think she actually was a very lovely person having lunch with her friend. And she was minding her own business. This was not one of my finer character moments.

Why did I do that? Because, I felt insecure in the moment of who I was and what I do and I was not in my familiar territory, which by the way are just excuses for my bad attitude.

I felt insignificant compared to the fact that she was a recognized celebrity and I was not. How very childish and well plain STUPID!

Just as she was leaving a couple came up and asked to take a picture with her and gushed over how she was their favorite and all that. Out of nowhere the paparazzi showed up snapping pics as she got into her car. Now we were VERY curious so we asked our waiter. It turned out that she was Lisa Vanderpump from The Beverly Hills Housewives reality show.  That explained everything, or did it?

When we got back to our hotel we did our homework and read everything we could about her. The more I read, the smaller I felt, but different this time. Small in the way that I was totally ashamed of myself of how quick I jumped to conclusions and stereotyped a person because of my own insecurity.  YUCK…this part of my character I don’t like.

I read an overview of her book Simply Divine: A Guide to Easy, Elegant, and Affordable Entertainment and in the first few pages you get a glimpse of the very ordinary and loving person that she is. And you know what I found? A woman whose heart is committed to loving and serving her family, her friends and her community. A woman who desires to use her success to help others. A woman who says her secret is working hard, taking risks and never giving up. She’s been married to the same man for over 30 years a definite rare find in Hollywood.  I also found a kindred heart in her passion for writing, and I could relate when she talked about loving her family through the art of cooking. Really? And guess what, she freely admits she’s trying to grow older gracefully with no plastic surgery! How is that for the ultimate judgment card? Not a proud moment!

I don’t know if what drives her at her core, but what I do know is what I claim that my faith teaches. God says that I shouldn’t be quick to judge another person. It is wrong, it’s not my place, it is shameful and it only reveals the ugliness in my own heart. Sigh….I thought I was passed it, but guess I have some more work to do!

Time to dig a little deeper and next time be careful with my thoughts and my words of casting a judgment on someone I know nothing about.

Character check~passing judgment I get a definite big fat “F” on that day. But I am glad for the experience, it has made me think and reflect once again and I’m grateful that God ordained that moment for me. Tomorrow is another chance, another opportunity to pass the next test that comes my way. Jesus, help me to catch myself the next time and watch my thoughts as they form a web of words that seek to judge and not give the grace I need. Help me to see others through your eyes and believe the best in people.