Thoughts. When I looked at the beauty all around me, I shook my head and sighed, thinking about how I might not have made it here to enjoy this part of God’s creation. I hiked up this hill located in a nearby state reserve and looked around in awe, grateful that God had found a way for me to be here. It wasn’t illness or a broken car that almost kept me from coming to the beautiful central coast of California ~ it was, and is, the fearful thoughts that seek to sabotage what God has planned for me.
You see, last week I was out of town, in the Midwest visiting family. It was a long week, and if truth be told, a bit of a stressful week. We arrived home on Sunday and my nerves were shot, my emotional basket drained but I didn’t have time to pause. Instead of unpacking, I began repacking to make the trip to Central California where I was scheduled to speak at three separate luncheons. The week in the San Luis Obispo area had been planned many months before, and when I think about it, was an answer to prayer from God for some quiet time to write and reflect. I was provided a lovely place to stay during the week, a refuge complete with a beautiful garden.
When my father heard that I was heading up here and had a place to stay, he decided to join me for the first few days of my trip. What a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with my Dad! And an added bonus was that I would only need to take the train to his house and he would drive the balance of the three hour trip. I would only need to take the train to his house…
That was the fearful thought that almost ruined it. If you can keep a secret, I will tell you something about myself. Sometimes I suffer from anxiety. Many years ago it was relentless and I was plagued with panic attacks. It hasn’t been that bad in a very long time, but there are times when I still struggle; especially when I am tired and emotionally drained and need to go outside my comfort zone. Like Sunday night.
At 1:30am I woke up. I can’t take the train, I thought. What if I have a panic attack on the train? What about transferring at Union Station? What if it happens there? What if? What if? What if? Until the alarm went off at 6am and it was time to continue packing so I could catch the train in a few hours; a train that my fearful thoughts had convinced me I couldn’t ride.
I ended up not taking the train and I am a little disappointed in myself for not, this time, pushing through the fear. Instead, my sweet husband made arrangements for a friend to drive me to my Dad’s. I’m not proud of this. I wish my story had a really great, dramatic paragraph about how I boarded that train with my luggage in tow and even shared my story of triumph with some other poor soul while we clackety-clack made our way to our destinations. But even so, God is so good and so gracious that He made a way for me to be here, in spite of my fearful thoughts.
I know I made it here on the prayers of friends and family. Their prayers brought me the peace and presence of mind to share my story with a sweet group of ladies at my speaking engagement yesterday; and their prayers will continue to carry me through the rest of the week.
I am feeling more rested, my time here with the Lord is refilling my basket. And that is why this morning I decided to walk up the street and hike up that mountain, in spite of fearful thoughts ~ mountain lions, the boogey man, my own anxiety. It was glorious! When a fearful thought emerged, I replaced it with a thought about the Lord. This thought thing is a process. It will take time and practice ~ and come Saturday I will have an opportunity to put the practice into play since I will be taking the train home. I am already imagining the dramatic and victorious paragraph I will write!
Focus. “Can I tell you something I learned from riding my motorcycle?” my co-worker asked from behind his cubicle.
I was curious to know what riding a motorcycle had to do with my marital crisis and separation. I had just been lamenting to my co-worker about my need for affirmation. After having been married for 19 years I now found myself separated at 40 and my insecurities were high. I shared with my friend that I wondered what it would be like to date again. Would anyone out there find me attractive? Is it possible for a nice Christian man to fall for a 40 year old woman with two kids? Should I start dating? What about online dating sites?
I wasn’t sure how motorcycles fit into all of this, but maybe it was a guy’s way of offering some dating advice and for that, I was all ears.
“Sure, I’m listening,” I said.
“You know, one of the first things I learned when I was riding a motorcycle was the power of focus and attention,” he went on, speaking with a slow Southern drawl. “If I were riding down the road, say, and I see a parked truck up ahead. Let’s say I just start to focus on the bumper of that truck. Well, you know what?” he asked with complete sincerity.
“No, what?” I asked.
“As sure as all get out, I will run right into that bumper. I will crash right into it, even though I know it’s there and I have the whole road around me. If I put my focus on that bumper, I will crash into it every time.”
“Hmmm…” I murmured, letting his words sink in and trying to see the correlation.
“You see, Lynne,” he continued, “you’re still married.”
“Separated,” I corrected.
“Still, is dating where you want to put your focus right now? Cause if you keep focusing there, you will go there, and I don’t think you’re ready to go there just yet. I don’t want to see you crash.” Of course he was right and I have never forgotten his words or the genuine care and sincerity with which he shared the truth.
During this time in my life, my focus was beginning to shift more and more to God, to His desires for my life, for my children, my family. It was a process and it wasn’t always easy. There were many times when I focused on the emotional pain I was in, the hopelessness I felt for my future, the sins of my past, the failings of my present. It was a dark time and if I had kept my focus there, well, I am not sure where I would be today.
Instead, I learned to shift my focus to God. I would go to His words to us in the Bible and read His promises. They reassured me that no matter what I went through here, He was with me. That no matter what anyone said, He could transform me. That no matter how bleak things looked, through Jesus, I had an eternity in paradise with Him to look forward to.
Though I will probably never ride a motorcycle, I have kept this safety tip tucked in my heart. God only knows how many crashes I have avoided by putting my focus back on Him! How about you? Where are you putting your focus?
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Beginnings. “I love how you just go for it! Look at all the stuff you’re doing,” my friend said during our girl time the other night.
“Humph,” I grunted. “Don’t let me fool you, Sharon. I am a great starter, not so great finisher. I am more easily distracted than Narcissi in a room full of mirrors.”
It’s true. It’s not that I don’t finish anything~ incredibly, in spite of many false starts, I do manage to see the finish line on some projects. But I still start and stop more things than I should. Websites. Blogs. Business ideas. Stories. Diets. Exercise plans. You get the idea. It is a character issue I am continually working on and I believe I am seeing improvement. It’s just that I really love beginning!
If you look at my side of the bed you will find no less than ten books scattered around. How many started? Ten. How many finished? I’m still working on it. Each one sounded so good that I had to take a peek, give it a start…until the next one caught my attention. And so it goes…
That is probably one of the reasons I love celebrating New Year’s Day ~ it’s a beginning, the start of a new year. Never one to look back, I am much happier leaping forward. It’s so exhilarating to dream and plan all the great things I am going to do ~ that is, if God is willing (see my previous post!).
But this year I think it would be wise to pause before I begin, take a minute to reflect on the last year and how it went. What went right? What could have been better? Am I a better person today than I was a year ago? Did I finish well?
I still can’t wait to begin 2013, with my dreams and plans in tow; though I hope to begin with a little more intentionality, a little more focus. What about you? Do you embrace beginnings or do you find it hard to start? Is there something you need to start this year or is there something you need to finish?
An excerpt from my reading this morning was ever so timely, written in a letter by Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk, in 1685:
He (God) knows what we can do, so let us then begin. Perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on your part. Have courage. We have little time to live (you are near sixty-four, and I am almost eighty.) Let us live and die with God.
Oh, Brother Lawrence, how relevant your words are today! Friends, as we turn the calendar page to 2013, let us remember to number our days and let us begin!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
Days. It’s that time of year. I reached the end of my calendar and it was time to get my new Zig Ziglar performance planner ready for the new year. I spent an hour writing the number of the day in the little boxes for the weekly and monthly views. I went through and marked out the major holidays. It felt weird to write in the year as “2013” and then I got to the end of the planner and found it included a thirteenth month to get you started on the next year ~ and so I wrote “2014”. 2014? I can barely grasp that 2012 is nothing more than a memory; it’s hard to imagine that one day I will be writing 2014 on checks ~ assuming we still use checks in 2014!
I love this time of year. I love thinking about a new year, a fresh start, new goals, revising my bucket list. There’s nothing like a fresh, clean calendar just waiting to be filled with things to do, goals, and plans. But as I pulled out my new calendar and numbered my days, I had a sobering thought. My days ARE numbered. There is no guarantee I will live to see the date so neatly written in the little box. Even as I reread the first paragraph of this post, I realize how presumptuous I am to say that one day I will be writing 2014 on checks; in fact, what I should have said was, one day I may do this or that. Recent events, both nationally and personally, have made this realization very clear to me. It’s a realization I hope I think about often in 2013, not to bring me down, but to remind me that every day is a gift and an opportunity.
God knows the number of my days here and I am very thankful I don’t. The Mayans sure didn’t. But I do know that my calendar does have an end date ~ every person born has an end date. In Southern California, where I live, there was a radio talk show host I used to listen to in the afternoons. When you listen to someone on the radio on a regular basis you begin to feel like you know them ~ you’re familiar with their quirky words, their laugh, their opinions. That’s how I felt about Frank Pastore. And then one day, a little over a month ago, I tuned in to hear an unfamiliar voice in Frank’s place. Frank had been in a serious motorcycle accident and lay in a coma in the hospital. I could hardly believe it. Sure, everyone who listened to Frank knew that he rode a motorcycle; but he was so vibrant, still so young, doing God’s work and influencing people in his world. How could this happen?
We prayed for him, my family and all his many listeners, family and friends. We prayed that God would heal him so that he could continue to be a part of our world and continue to spread the good news about God’s plan for His creation. But it wasn’t meant to be and December 17th was Frank’s last day here. God knew the exact number of Frank’s days.
Amazingly, Frank spoke of the dangers of riding his motorcycle on the air the very day he would suffer his deadly accident. You can read his testimony here and listen to his prophetic words here (scroll down to see the link). If you listen to this clip from his show, you will know that Frank’s concern wasn’t about his physical death, because he got it. He understood that his days here were numbered. And he didn’t seem at all concerned about spiritual death either, because he knew with all assurance that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior when his time here was done. His concern was for the souls of others, those who didn’t have a Savior to bridge the gap between an imperfect human being and a perfect, holy Creator.
Last time I checked, no one I know had an expiration date stamped on them. But don’t be mistaken, though we don’t know the time, we all have an end date. There’s a country song that says “I wish that you would live like you are dying…” Well, guess what? You are dying! I am dying! Will this realization cause you to live differently in 2013? Will it cause you to think about your priorities? And most importantly, will it give you reason to think about the relationship of your own soul with its Creator? I pray it does and, if you are interested, I would love to introduce you to my Savior. Frank knew Him. Zig Ziglar knew Him. In fact, you may have heard about Him ~ we celebrated His birthday on December 25th!
A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. Job 14:4-6
“Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” Psalm 39:3-5
Appearances – as in keeping up with.
“It looks like you are living your dreams, doing what you want,” my friend said. “I keep up on your life through Facebook.” Our families were having lunch together and I wasn’t in a position to go into a lengthy explanation with my friend about how things aren’t always as they seem and it has been bothering me ever since.
It took me a while to join the wave of people who were part of the Facebook social networking community. To me, it just seemed like one more thing to do that I didn’t have the time for. Plus, I wasn’t too excited about being contacted by people from my past. It surprises many people who know me that this curly girl has introverted tendencies, but I do. However, a speaking mentor insisted that I would need to get involved in social networking if I wanted more opportunities to speak, so I grabbed my boogie board and jumped on the wave.
Now I love Facebook ~ even the introvert in me! It has allowed me to remain in contact with people with whom I would otherwise lose touch. I can check in on family too far away to see on a regular basis, to see baby pictures, and share in the success of others. But I have felt a downside to social communities, too.
It can be a sea of temptation where undertows of discontentment and comparison are often stirred. Where, at times, friends are only seeing the pretty blue, calm surface of our lives and, if we are honest, appearances are not always what they seem.
I don’t think any of us do it intentionally. It’s not as though we say to ourselves, “I think I will go on Facebook today and make everyone else feel bad about themselves by sharing all the wonderful things that are going on in my life – my travels, my accomplishments, my picture perfect family.” It is certainly not at all what I think when I share ~ I just want to share the great waves I catch on this ride of life. It doesn’t seem right to share those times when I crashed on the ocean floor.
I don’t want to bring people down. I want to be positive. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I want to appear always grateful. Who wants to be a Debbie Downer? But maybe it’s really about not wanting to be that vulnerable. And I don’t think I am alone.
Sure, we will post when something really serious happens in our lives that is out of our control ~ an injury or illness. We will ask for prayer…and we should. But what about those days when I am feeling so insecure about myself because I haven’t heard anything back from publishers regarding the seven personal stories I sent out. What about the days I worry that I am getting old and less attractive, that my hair might be thinning and it is hard to be a curly girl for God if you don’t have any hair. What about the struggles I have with anxiety and the days my husband and I just can’t get along. Do I really want to be that vulnerable with my 154 friends?
Maybe not all of them. Maybe not always. But I do think I owe my friend a Facebook message with an explanation. Friend, things are not always as they appear. Best not to completely judge me by my Facebook posts. Sure, life is wonderful most of the time…but there are many times in between status updates when life is, frankly, just okay or not great. And that’s okay. That’s life. Maybe not Facebook life, but it is real life.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:15
Appearances. They aren’t always what they seem. Don’t judge a book by its cover. All that glitters is not gold. I don’t know why writers get so upset about clichés; after all, they do convey a message in an effective manner. I guess it’s because they are just so…well, cliché. But back to appearances, what I am trying to say is you don’t always get what you pay for and what you see is not always what you get.
Years ago I had an acquaintance who was a fairly wealthy young woman. She drove a very nice Mercedes but also liked to dress very casually. Sometimes she would run her errands wearing jean shorts with holes in them and an old t-shirt; sometimes she might not even wear make-up. One day her car broke down within walking distance of a Mercedes dealership, so she walked over to talk to them about getting her car fixed. Who knows? She might have even been interested in buying a new car.
On this particular day, this gal was dressed very casually, her hair might have been less than coiffed and she told me she was definitely wearing that old t-shirt and pair of jean shorts. By the time she got to the lot, she might have even been a little sweaty and disheveled. When she walked onto the lot she was appalled at the way she was treated. No one came rushing over to see if she needed assistance, the sales force wasn’t fighting to see who would get to show her the latest Mercedes model; in fact, she could barely get anyone to talk to her. Are you surprised that the dealership didn’t get any of her business?
It’s human nature to make assessments about life based on what we see or hear and that is not always a bad thing. In fact, this ability to make judgments based on our assessment of people and our surroundings has probably kept us safe in many situations. Even so, I believe this is an area of life that requires self-examination from time to time.
Am I treating someone differently because I believe they are wealthy? Or lazy?
Am I giving preferential treatment to someone who looks like me, assuming they are like me?
Am I avoiding those I perceive to be very different from me?
Am I ignoring the ones that might make me feel embarrassed?
Hard questions to ask; harder yet to answer. When I find myself making mental assessments about people based on their appearances, I am often reminded of my wealthy young acquaintance. It doesn’t always keep me from falling into the trap of faulty first impressions, but sometimes it does. Have you ever found yourself in that trap? If so, let’s remind each other of how God feels when we fall into this way of thinking.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4
Timing. It’s no wonder I am not good with hurdles ~ I have terrible timing. Not when it comes to music or dancing, I manage to keep time well enough in that arena. But in other areas of life I am often out of step.
I used to joke with people about the timing of my career choices.
“Hey, let me do you a favor,” I would say. “If you see me taking a job in the industry where you work, you might want to consider a career change.” I have seen whole industries tank not long after I decided to give it a go.
I have felt the financial pain of poorly timed investing.
“Yes, this should be a good investment! This town has no place else to go but up! Surely my timing is right on this one.” Who knew there was a whole new level below bottom?
My ideas for the latest and greatest invention have always come a day too late.
“Hey, that chia pet thing was my idea!”
Even my ideas for books seem to suffer from bad timing.
“What??? Kay Warren did a study on joy? Is my house bugged? How did she know? Guess I will put that project on hold.”
But the worst kind of bad timing for me concerns words. Even though it is not my intention to wound with my words, an ill-timed word still hurts. It isn’t that some things don’t need to be said, sometimes they do, but when they are said can make all the difference in how they are received.
For example, I don’t recommend trying to have a discussion on finances and the way to improve record keeping with one’s husband right after he has spent two days sick as a dog. My words were not well received. Bad timing.
Too many words too soon can create problems; but waiting too long to say a few words can also wound. Words like “I love you” and “I’m sorry” when not said in a timely fashion, or not said at all, hurt. Many times it is my intention to say those words but my anger, or busyness, or insecurities cause me to hesitate, to procrastinate, to convince myself that “they already know how I feel”, “what’s done is done”, or “I’ll tell them when the time is right”. Sometimes I run out of time and those precious words are never said. That’s really bad timing.
Do you ever suffer from bad timing like I do? I am praying for greater wisdom when it comes to timing, especially when it comes to my words. I am hopeful that God can take an often out of step person like me and teach me the art of good timing. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go tell someone I’m sorry for my bad timing and that I love them.