When You Are Facing a Perfect Storm: Part Two

They were terrified as the waves of the storm tossed them around violently.

Their heart stood still for a moment and they lost it screaming for the one they thought cared about them, but who was sleeping.

Jesus, their friend, the Son of God and Creator of the Universe.

They woke Jesus up desperate to save them.

Their eyes were on the waves and they lost perspective.

They had seen him perform miracle after miracle. And even though He was physically in the boat with them, they still doubted and lost perspective because they kept their eyes on the obstacles. They didn’t truly understand who was in their midst. It was Jesus, God in the flesh, with all power, all knowing and they still couldn’t get it.

Isn’t that what happens to us as well? Our eyes stay on the obstacles and the gigantic waves and we can’t see the bigger picture. In other words, the disciples forgot their story and what they had experienced in Jesus presence moments if not hours earlier and their perspective became cloudy.

Hearts failed, nearly like a heart attack. Unbelief screamed believing they were being abandoned to capsize and drown. Many of them were fisherman and they had been on this body of water many times. They knew the sea like the back of their hands and had been in all kinds of conditions on the Sea of Galilee. But this time was different, they had Jesus with them.

They knew what the sea was capable of and yet they followed Jesus. Right into the boat anyway.  Isn’t that what you and I do? Isn’t that what trust is all about? But what about when the waves seem to rise up like skyscrapers, over everything, then what? Trust and faith all get thrown overboard.

This is where our story comes in. Remembering our story and how God has written the pieces of His faithfulness from each season of my life and yours, helps us to keep perspective and not lose it totally. I’ve lost it many times more than I’d like to admit. Jesus seems silent, asleep, distant in my storm as the boat rocks and I lose my footing and bang myself against the side of the boat. My perspective gets skewed being tossed and torn from the wind and waves.  Although at times I may lose my grip in a storm, remembering that God is the author of my story helps me to calm down and take a breath. God is writing my story and He always has the final word.

What three words at this moment describe the waves that are sweeping over the boat in your life? Words like….

Anxiety

Fear

Hopelessness

Despair

Discouragement

Disappointment

Insecurity

Failure

This reveals your heart and what’s happening inside. It’s important to know this, verbalize it and surrender it to Jesus so you and I can keep perspective as we replace the noise of lies that build with each mounting wave.

Hear Jesus ask you the question as He did His disciples, Why are you afraid? This is your moment and the turning point in the storm to verbalize your fears so God can reassure you with His love and peace.

What is the miracle of God rescuing and drawing you in a past season? These are the spiritual markers of remembrance to anchor your emotions and soul when the storm threatens the foundation of your faith.

Your story. My story. The author is God. When we follow Him into the boat and an unexpected storm rises up all around us, we can be assured that He is bigger than the waves, more powerful than the wind and He will bring us through.

So name the fears that paralyze and those doubts that turn your eyes from Jesus to the obstacles.  You and I will get wet, we might be whipped up from the salty wind of the storm, but we can overcome and we can believe that God has the final word. Yes, He does, the very last word.

 

When You are Facing the Perfect Storm: Part One

A few months ago I had the amazing privilege of speaking to an incredible audience of Chinese young adults at the 53rd Chinese Winter Conference. They were hungry to engage and learn about how their lives could stay anchored in the midst of a life storm. I was overwhelmed by their response and so blessed to share three days with them teaching and interacting.

They took copious notes, asked questions that challenged their own cultural battles of admitting weakness when life is uncertain. I had many wonderful conversations and I really think that I was touched more deeply than the impact I may have had on them.

These next few blog posts are excerpts from the time I had at the conference. My prayer is that it will bless you and help infuse your life with hope as you face your own “perfect storm.”

On September 20, 1991, six fishermen in Gloucester, Mass. kissed their families and said goodbye to friends and boarded the 72 foot steel hulled swordfish vessel, The Andrea Gail. Towards the end of the fishing venture in late October they encountered what even the most daring sailors would hesitate to want to relive.

A storm stronger than any in recorded history hit the coast off of Gloucester, Massachusetts. “The Perfect Storm” it was called because it was three storms combined into one and it created an almost apocalyptic situation in the Atlantic Ocean. Boats encountered waves the equivalent of a ten story building or 100 feet. Three pieces of separate energy came together in one system that wreaked havoc up and down the East Coast of North America.

If you watched the movie, what the producer speculated is that the Andrea Gail and its crew headed straight into the center of the storm unknowingly due to lost radio contact. Six brave men headed deeper and deeper into the center of the storm not realizing that this was a storm greater than anything they had experienced before, all while trying to get back to their community of Gloucester.

In his book Junger wrote of the fate of the Andrea Gail that was caught in the storm southeast of Nova Scotia.

“On the evening of October 28, the Andrea Gail managed radio contact with fellow fishing boats farther from the storm. Through a scream of wind and static, the captain gave a terse report: They were doing their best to get through a storm so strong that it was ripping away equipment attached to the deck with steel bolts.

The Andrea Gail gave her position and signed off. No one reported hearing from her again. Days later, rescue and search teams found a few of the boat’s fuel drums, but no trace of its six crew members.”

The crew was declared lost and the community of Gloucester was devastated.
The best guess is that the Andrea Gail went under within hours of last radio contact. It was most likely swamped by a gigantic wave.

Like the conditions that caused the perfect storm, life can sometimes create a “perfect storm” and unknowingly because of several conditions, we can lose perspective and find ourselves right in the middle of a deadly storm and feel like we are capsized by a giant wave, feeling almost unable to recover, keep perspective or see little or no hope. It’s hard to hang onto hope when you might feel like you are drowning. But hope is not intangible, it is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ and He is with you and with me. This truth is  found in the story of Matthew when the disciples were in the boat with Jesus and a great storm rose up on the sea.

Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!” Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass. Matthew 8:23-27 The Message Bible

I wonder how many of you at this moment, might just feel like the disciples and the waves in your life seem to be mounting into a perfect storm. But you aren’t able to quite see it because your perspective is clouded. And you aren’t sure if your radio contact so to speak with God is being heard, or processed.

So the doubts creep in, fear develops, anxiety begins to rule our thoughts and discouragement and depression can set in. These are all signs of a perfect storm that is seeking to converge on you and me to lure us away from our loving God and Savior.

I want to say up front that we have a very real enemy who wants to defeat us in the storm, in the test, in the trial. You see, Satan, our enemy desire is for us to get lost in the storm, get off course, distrust God and be fearful of the future. And if he can get those three things to line up and collide with each other, then BAM! We can be easily toppled by a wave of gigantic doubt and fear in the midst of the circumstances!

Here’s what I have learned new and fresh from this story….

First, Jesus got in the boat and the disciples followed him.

This is your story, my story, when we choose to follow Jesus.

It is the story that God is writing.

Our stories start when we were born, the events that lead right up to this moment and every moment after today. It is your unique story and mine of how God draws us to himself. When you and I choose to follow him, we walk in the same footsteps just different circumstances like each of the disciples when they chose to follow him.

Next, while they were following him it says….

Suddenly, a furious storm, came up on the lake so the waves swept over the boat. It was unannounced, it came up suddenly when the sky was perfectly clear.  Let me explain how this happens on the Sea of Galilee

To understand the causes of these sudden and violent tempests we must remember that the Galilee lies low — six hundred and eighty feet below the sea;  it is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, the squalls come down from Mt. Hermon with a terrific force. The word used is “seimsmos megas” like an earthquake (Bible Expository Commentary)

So there is no exaggeration that it was a violent, furious, tempest that came up suddenly.

Here is something else you might want to note.

The storm came in the midst of their obedience to Jesus.  I am still reflecting on this truth and it is changing the way I think about the storms that come in my own life.

They followed him into the boat.

It wasn’t a storm that happened like to Jonah, who disobeyed God and ran away and then God sent a storm.

Here’s the takeaway,  when you and I follow Jesus, we will encounters storms, unexpectantly AND we shouldn’t be surprised!

They will happen.

But our human nature thinks the opposite because it’s hard to comprehend unconditional love in our human framework, we might be tempted to think….

What have we done to cause this storm, what have I done wrong? 

I know my brain has gone there many times.

I am learning that God’s love over us isn’t conditional. The disciples hadn’t done anything wrong, they just followed Jesus in to the boat.

And that’s what we do when we follow Jesus and give our lives to him. We follow him right into the boat, and unknowingly sometimes right into a storm. But He doesn’t leave us alone, He is with us. We may think He is sleeping or not paying attention, but He is riding the storm with us and promises to never leave us, ever!!

Stay tuned for part two when we will look at the disciples reaction and how to keep perspective in the midst of a “perfect storm.”

Junger, Sebastian (2000). The Perfect Storm. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Pg.38

A Rejected Valentine

His name was Richard, he had strawberry blonde red hair and freckles and I was madly in love. I was 8 years old and experienced my first broken heart on Valentine’s Day in the third grade. I made a special paper Valentine just for him and he promptly told me he wasn’t interested and that girls were yucky! Those weren’t the exact words, but that is the memory I carry of my little heart being shattered. It didn’t matter that I received 24 other Valentines from my classmates, the one I gave to the one I loved was thrown back and rejected.

I have to tell you the backstory, I don’t really blame Richard, because I was demanding that he choose me, like me, be my friend. I had cornered him on the playground and smothered him with kisses as he screamed for the playground teacher to come rescue him. She promptly ran over and told me that it was no way for a young lady to act with a boy. In my eight year old mind, I was uninhibited and I just had to let Richard know that I was in love with him and expected him to return the affection. Well he didn’t, and I traumatized him probably for the rest of his elementary school years.

I think that is where it all started for me, the people pleasing, wanting desperately to be understood as the little girl grew up to be an adult. It isn’t that I wasn’t loved well, I truly was, but I was a passionate person who loved life and everything in it and I don’t believe that era knew what to do with passionate people.  Little girls who had great passion were somehow made to believe that they needed to calm down, be more cautious and for crying out loud just get control of yourself. Those were the messages I received, well intentioned but yet no one showed me how to really navigate the great surges of passion that would overtake me when I felt strongly and wanted to make a difference. And so I kept it inside, tucked away quietly, neat and tidy and spoke of it at times in whispers with close friends I trusted. I fell into the rhythm that my beliefs and thoughts should remain neutral and so I did whatever it took to not make waves, sometimes even going against my own heart. Little by little my heart stopped speaking because I stopped listening. The saddest thing about that is, I believed it was the most spiritual path because those were the thread of messages woven in the Christian Culture I experienced. So I threw myself into music and drama for several seasons because those were the places it was safe to express what I was feeling and seemingly acceptable to others.

I have come to embrace that God created me to be a passionate person and I might just have a little bit more than some people are comfortable with. I’ve wrestled this out and come to believe that it’s actually wrong to deny who God made me. When I step back, people please and cover the voice of my heart, I am inauthentic, I’ve lost my voice, and rejected the path of influence I can carry to my world.

I believe that is what the writer in Proverbs is saying,

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

Be authentic.

Listen.

Observe.

Be aware.

I haven’t been very good at guarding my heart, I’ve let others talk me out of it instead of listening to God’s still small voice. But I am learning, my heart is awake and beginning to breathe again as I ask God to guide me in what it means to guard my heart. I am still figuring it out, and since it is Valentine’s Day I am reminded that my heart resides with God and he knows exactly what to do with my passionate thoughts and pursuits.

I am grateful.

I am content.

I am loved intensely by the God of the Universe and it is more than amazing.

Happy Valentine’s Day…

(image from www.thecraftycrow.net)

 

 

Pulling out Joy in the Drawer


How about a crazy just for fun blog post for the end of this week? I just need to know if anyone else thinks like this, or am I the only one?

Going to my top drawer in my dresser, I have my assortment of undergarments, or can I say panties? Of course, it’s the 21st century! But for those of you young things, we were raised to not speak of such things in public. I can remember my Dad remarking when I was a teenager of how nothing was sacred anymore because of the feminine commercials on TV and the stress of a woman’s cycle. He about threw-up, and left the room every time.

Here’s my dilemma. I have about 5-7 good-looking pair of panties, and if a bus hit me, I would feel okay about wearing. Then I have about 3-4 pairs of scraggly, not fit so well, uncomfortable ones. Of course I reach for the first 5-7 pair and leave the others to languish in the drawer until I am desperate for clean underwear. But when I get really busy and forget to throw the elite pairs in the washer I have to resort to choosing second best. Every time that happens, I hear my mother’s voice in my head, “Clean and neat underwear in case you get in a wreck.” Those weren’t her exact words, but the paraphrase of what I remember. Honestly, how do tapes like that stay in our head? And does it really matter? If I did get in a wreck, will it cause a hospital press conference because I have tattered ill-fitting panties on?

I guess it falls into the category of the saying “putting your best foot forward.” But what if it isn’t possible? That’s the dilemma. Can you hear the transition? For my faithful readers, I think you know me too well I can’t write a whole blog post without some kind of parallel to the crazy!

Here’s the deal, as I was mulling it over I thought to myself, how often do I do this in life, choosing from the elite category of my okay happy emotions to put on my best face when in reality, I’ve run out of clean and happy. What do I do then? Pretend? Yes, sad to say, many times I pretend when everything is not okay inside. This is where it gets sticky for me. I want to be transparent and want to be authentic but I don’t want to be a downer. Can we be real and still be encouraging? I’m just asking.

January, in particular it seems like I am reaching for the drawer and all I have left is second best. I try to garner up the strength and put on my game-face when in reality I am feeling a little tattered and ill fit. Mostly, I think because I am tired in the aftermath of a chaotic few months.

For me that looks like, backing up and withdrawing because I just don’t have it in me to pretend. If I am not making sense, bear with me as I process this out loud with you. Here is what I think I am learning.

The Bible talks about being joyful in the midst of trials, suffering, burn-out etc. (For reference look at James 1:2-12, Psalm 107:22, Psalm 119:43) I don’t think it means pretending and putting on a game face. I think the writers are encouraging us to be mindful that in the process of experiencing life and especially more difficult seasons, we can’t forget about joy and hope. They just don’t come to us in truckloads.

We have to….

Cultivate grateful thoughts

Confess joy

Diligently turn ugly thoughts into positive

Bury ourselves in His promises

Practice contentment.

I think at times I have bought into the myth that if I am doing the right thing in hard times, that joy will automatically come to me. But according to the over 300 verses in the Bible surrounding joy, it seems to me that joy comes as a result of something that I have to practice in both my mind and heart. A big one is just being grateful. It’s funny how gratitude can shift our focus. I can be awakened to joy as I practice daily contentment and gratitude. Robert Louis Stevenson said once, “The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.”

The motto of this blog posting is this, if I go to the drawer of my heart and I am at the end of clean and happy, I can choose joy by practicing gratitude. I don’t have to walk around tattered and empty. When I am empty that attitude of gratitude even in the midst of difficulties can bring joy to others in spite of my own circumstances and I don’t have to feel like I am a downer with others.  Let’s face it, life can be hard, it’s unpredictable and it is disappointing more times than we’d like to admit.  But through the eyes of gratitude, life is wondrous and an amazing gift of joy.

What will you pull out of your drawer today?

P.S. Okay, I know that some of you reading won’t be able to get past the, “Why doesn’t she just get rid of those the few pair of panties that cause her grief.” I promise, I’ll think about it and let you know….

 

(picture from http://www.dailygood.org/story/578/the-neuroscience-of-why-gratitude-makes-us-healthier-ocean-robbins/)

 

 

 

One Word for 2014

photo

I was just about ready to fall asleep the other night, and as my routine dictates, my eyes briefed over my bible reading I have on my iPhone.

Romans 12:1-3 came on the screen…

 So here is what I want you to do

GOD HELPING YOU

Take your everyday

Ordinary life

Your sleeping, eating, going to work

And walking around life

And place it before God

As an OFFERING….

The word OFFERING jumped out and captured my heart, I could hardly go further. It reverberated over and over in my head as I fell asleep. I had been thinking about what my ONE WORD for 2014 should be and hadn’t had anything resonate just yet. The more I ruminated over it the next few days, the more reluctant I was. I tried to embrace more comfortable words like peace, joy, adventure and more, but “offering” wouldn’t go away.

I took a drastic step. I prayed over it. After about two days, a peace settled over my heart, my fears of what the word COULD mean calmed and I knew that God had chosen this word for me for 2014. My fear was, what if God would ask me something I couldn’t deliver? I know that sounds like lack of faith and trust, but honestly, that is where the trail of my thinking takes me lately on some days.

The interchange of the word offering is sacrifice. I was afraid that God was asking me to sacrifice more than I could give right now. Not in the physical sense, but rather in the emotional sense~because I am feeling weary from the past few years and a bit like the warrior who needs a change of scenery.

I dug out my commentaries (on my desktop-LOGOS) and delved into a study traveling throughout the Old and New Testament grasping what God would have me understand in this little word. What I discovered was nothing short of a miracle in facing my fears. It’s funny how when God whispers something over your heart how the fear can come in and twist what God intends for us to grasp. This was one of those times.

In my initial journey here is what I’ve found. I knew there were several types of offerings in the Old Testament but had no clue that they each had such unique meanings. I never really paid too much attention because we live under the new covenant and we don’t bring these physical offering acts before God as the Old Testament people once did.

I am still unpacking all of this, so bear with me as I think out-loud. I learned that the sin offering is different from the guilt offering. Sin offerings were brought because of sin unintentionally committed but still needed cleansing. Guilt offerings came as a result of individual sins that impacted not only the person but hurting God and others so it required a different process.

Burnt offerings expressed commitment and surrender to God.

Peace offerings implied joyful thanksgiving and symbol of communion with God.

I learned that in bringing the offering brings the blessing and favor of God in our lives.

The miracle happened as my heart opened up to receive ways that my life could be an offering in 2014. Not only what I could bring to God but the expressed communion he desires to have with me alone in the inner sanctuary of my soul.

The word offering can mean both, what I bring to God in my commitment and surrender and the offering that God gives to me in exchange,

A soul at rest,

At peace,

Communion with my God

Renewal

Restoration

Blessing…

Here is how Romans 12:1-3 finishes,

…embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He want from you and quickly respond to it. 

This is my hope and prayer for 2014.

What is your ONE WORD?

 

 

 

 

 

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 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?

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 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.