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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day 30: 31 Days Wrap-up

Dear Reader Friends,
Thank you for joining me on this 31 Day trek through my personal Pivot Points. I have enjoyed your visits and comments through this journey.

For me this has been an excursion through my past, through experiences, lessons, moments of sorrow, and of joy. Over the course of my life, each of these have changed who I am, each have been a step in the journey of transformation. The exciting thing is that the adventure continues. God persists with great patience and love to sand off my rough edges (though, I must confess, sometimes that hurts) and to shape and mold me into what He desires me to be.

I'd like to close this series with a key element of transformation - a renewed mind (changed thinking) through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

The beginning each step of transformation in my life, has been a change in thinking. God has brought me to a place where I have changed what I think about God, how I think, my value, my boundaries, authenticity, grief, relationships, and emotions.

1. What I think about God. I have learned to trust that God is good. His moral character is pure, righteous, holy. There is nothing in Him that is evil or bad and He cannot do anything that is evil, bad, or wrong. If He were even a tiny bit evil, He would not be trustworthy. However, I can trust a God who is good, even when I don't understand.

2. What I think about how I think. Lies must be replaced with truth, if I am to be able to steer a correct course. What I believe affects what I feel and how I act. Even a slight error in thinking can lead me off-course. Additionally, perspectives are as varied as the people who hold them, but God's perspective is true and right in the whirling cacophony of public opinion. The thoughts I allow to occupy my mind and the perspective I approach them with are equally important.

3. What I think about my value. I am loved . . . even when I don't FEEL it. I am created in God's image and that gives me and every human being inherent value. Knowing that I am a valuable person helps me to approach others with confidence and also with love. Knowing that I am valuable also empowers me to serve God as He made me and not try to be someone else.

4. What I think about my boundaries. Boundaries are important to defining who I am and to maintaining healthy self care. Good boundaries allow me to engage in healthy, satisfying relationships without losing myself in the process.

5. What I think about authenticity. Authenticity doesn't mean that I have to spill my yuck all over others. It means I guard my heart to keep it pure as "the wellspring of life". If my heart is what it should be, my actions will follow.

6. What I think about grief. Grief comes into all of our lives, it is unavoidable. It is painful . . . hard . . . and difficult! But, there is a path through grief and a path that can lead to hope, health, and fullness of life once more. Finding meaning in life again is possible.

7. What I think about relationships. Relationships are given by God and they are very important to our well-being. The one thing in all of creation that God declared "not good" was Adam's aloneness. We have been designed to live in relationship, yet many times those relationships become unhealthy and damaging. They don't have to stay that way. We don't have to stay in unhealthy relationships and we can learn how to connect with people in fulfilling and healthy ways.

8. What I think about emotions. Emotions are wonderful - they let us know we are alive. Emotions are confusing and sometimes overwhelming. Emotions tell us what is happening in our inner being. Our emotions can be managed and channeled to help us live more fully, to discern our inner spiritual health, and to connect more fully with God.

Over and over God has changed how I think - through experiences; through conversations with people; through great books; through prayer, Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Each change in my thinking has led to a change in how I approach life. The thinking changed, the feelings changed, and eventually the actions changed.
In the coming days, I hope to expand on these themes and I invite you to join me in this exciting, ongoing adventure of transformation.

What have been keys to transformation in your life? 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 30: Pruning

"Define what you are shooting for,
and then prune against that standard.
That is when vision, goals, and even teams
begin to take the shape that you desire."
~ Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings

Pruning . . . God prunes away what is good but not best, what is sick and not getting better, and what is dead. 

Pruning can apply to an organization, to relationships, and to communication. God has pruned my ministries, my relationships, and an organization I am part of. God prunes so that we can produce more fruit. What is the fruit God wants to produce? 

Pruning leads to having enough, to having what is needed, what is used, what is best . . . but no more.

Are there things that need to be pruned from your life 
so that you can see what is best, not merely what is good?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 29: Changed Thinking

Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed
by the renewal of your mind,
that by testing you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect. 
Romans 12:2 (ESV)

"by the renewal of your mind"

I have come to equate this with "changing the way you think." Changing the way you think may be changing what you think about (content) or it may be changing how you think about certain things (perspective).

Over the years I have had to redirect my thoughts many times. I have a tendency to be critical and negative especially about myself and I have had to become aware of times when my thoughts were leading me in a downward spiral. I learned I could control and change those thoughts and I learned how crucial that is to my emotional and mental well-being.

Thinking about things differently is important. One aspect of this is replacing lies with truth. This is thinking about things in a radically different way. This is identifying beliefs that you hold, perhaps deeply, that are in reality lies, then tearing down those lies and replacing them with truth. Finally turning toward that truth and living in accordance to it.

Another aspect of thinking differently comes from exposure to other perspectives whether through reading, hearing, or conversation and bringing with you an openness to be influenced by new data and input. It requires a willingness to hold one's own perspective loosely and to accept another's point of view with an open, yet evaluating, mind, taking what is good and leaving behind what is not.

Renewing of the mind leads to new ways of behaving and feeling, and is profoundly important to the process of transformation.

What has been the ripple effect of changing the way you think about something?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 28: Dependent on God and Connected to People

Dependent = unable to exist or function satisfactorily without the aid of another
Connect = to join, link, or unite

First of all, it seems like we hear a lot of terms bounced around - dependence, co-dependence, interdependence, and independence. In our culture independence is valued and dependency is equated with weakness. But what is God's view of this whole thing?

This is my theory. Infants are born totally dependent on their parents, unable to do anything for themselves. As parents (or other significant adults in their lives) our goal is to teach children to live independent lives . . . or so the view of the world goes. I would agree that we are to teach them to live in a way that is not dependent on people, however we need to train them to shift their dependence to God. We are not to live independently, for much of what is part of independence is also at the root of sin. We are to live depending on God and connected to people.

What do I mean by that? We are to live in complete dependence on God. We trust God to meet our needs - emotional, physical, spiritual, relational, intellectual. We trust God and God alone, not our spouse, not a good friend, not our family, not our pets or church or coworkers. God may use each and everyone of those people and that's great, that's good, that's WONDERFUL!! But at the core of who we are, our trust, our dependence must be on God not on those people. If any of those people or things are taken away, we must know that God will continue to meet our needs. God will continue to care for us. That's the dependence part.

Yet, we are to be CONNECTED to people. God created us to connect and be part of relationships with people. He said it was not good for man to be alone. The Bible is full of relationships and instructions about relationships and how to love others, how to have great relationships with others. Relationships are very important and God made us in such a way that we have the capacity and find great joy and fulfillment in having deep, intimate relationships with other human beings. That is good. Our DEPENDENCE must remain on God. Even in the deepest, most intimate of relationships our dependence must be on God, so that if that relationship is taken away through death or other separation, we are still able to go on, we are still whole people. Hurt, wounded, grieving, yes, but still whole, still healthy, still able to go on.

The difficulty comes when we look at the gift instead of the Gift Giver, when we shift our focus away from God as the Meeter of Needs, to a person or group of people, to money, to position, to anything other than God. This is easy to do because God is intangible to our 5 senses and human beings and possessions are tangible and often readily available. Despite the fact that it is a normal human response and an easy trap to fall into, it is a trap.

God alone will walk beside us through every trial. God alone will endure consistently and faithfully in our lives until death and beyond. Human beings will fall and fail and falter. God will not. God is the only one on whom we can depend.

Yet, God commands us to enter into relationships with human beings. So the answer cannot be to shut ourselves off from people. There is a way to connect deeply with people, even to enter into the one-flesh relationship of marriage and still be dependent only on God.

The solution is two-fold. One half of the solution is our relationship with God, the other half is our relationship with people.

Our relationship with God must be the number one priority in our life. He has to be first. He has to be the first place we run. We have to recognize and acknowledge Him (continually) as the Meeter of our Need and run to Him to do that. We have to put the time and energy into our relationship with Him that's required to keep that relationship strong, healthy, and dynamic. We have to surrender ourselves to Him, let go of our pride, our rights, our desires, our everything and deliberately choose to be DEPENDENT on Him in everything and for everything.

In our relationships with people we need to be what one author calls "differentiated but close". The key to developing this kind of relationship is personal boundaries. When boundaries are vague, a person's individual identity is lost. This is not good. It leads to people living reactively to the other person's emotions. Because one or both people's well-being is influenced by the other's emotions, mechanisms to control the other's emotions develop. The opposite is also true. When boundaries are rigid and communication is severed the relationship becomes distant and cut off.

The "differentiated but close" relationship is the balance in the middle. Each person in the relationship has boundaries, but they are permeable enough to allow for free flowing communication (and that communication exists). They are able to be together without anxiety or emotional entanglement. They have a mutually supportive relationship while maintaining their own identities. They are able to have intimacy without control or dependence. Each person is comfortable with who they are and comfortable with who the other person is (or at least able to accept who the other person is and let them be who they are).

the "differentiated but close" model for relationships is the balance that God desires for relationships, for connections with people, even in the most intimate relationships. Only in that model can people have truly fulfilling, intimate, healthy, and connected relationships with other people. There is no dependence on people, just connection, love, and support. Meanwhile, we choose to DEPEND on God and God alone to meet our needs, while we connect with people.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Day 27: Accept Another's Essence

The pages of my journals and old pieces of correspondence often yield descriptions of my journeys through Pivot Points. Today I'm sharing an excerpt from my journal on February 6, 2004 while working through a study on forgiveness:

Lord, as I look at all these lists [lists of people I needed to forgive and the things I needed to forgive them for] I see character issues, actions flowing out of heart issues. I see things that without Your intervention will not change. I am not looking at single instances, single offenses, I'm looking a patterns of behavior, at character issues. I'm looking at human beings with character flaws. 

How do I forgive character flaws and patterns of behavior? I can understand how to forgive a single instance, a single behavior, but how about character flaws? How do you forgive a person for being who they are?

I think I can't. I think that's not my call to make. I cannot look at someone and say, "I forgive you for being the way you are." Only God has that right. 

I can forgive others for specific offenses against me that flow out of who they are. I can pray for God's work in their life. Above all, I need to accept their essence and love them as they are, where they are. 

God has created each person with a unique, priceless essence, an imprint of Himself and what He desires us to be. That essence is His gift. I need to see past the wounds, past the flaws, past the broken places to the essence of the other person. I need to see the image of God in others, forgive when necessary, and love at all times. And, in the process encourage their essence to grow in strength and beauty.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Day 26: Bubbles and Boundaries

I am myself. I move around in my little bubble. In my little bubble is me . . . my personality, my thoughts, my opinions, my feelings, my memories, my character, my knowledge, my ideas, my talents, my abilities, my skills, my strengths, my weaknesses, all that makes up me.

If I value what is me, if I see what is me as worthwhile, as God-given, as God-designed, as valuable, as worthy of nurture, growth and development, then defining and guarding it so that it can grow and develop becomes important. As my bubble comes into contact with another bubble, then I realize I have something worthwhile to share with them. I recognize that they are wonderful and valuable, so I don't need an agenda to change them or fix them. I recognize and live out of my dependence on God, os I don't have to try to control or manipulate them to meet my needs.

When I realize I am valuable and my bubble guards what is valuable, and when I realize you are valuable and your bubble guards what is valuable, then . . . 

  • I respect your boundaries
  • I am free to be who I am
  • I am free to connect with you and share with you parts of myself
  • I am able to be salt and light because I can allow God to shine through the person He desires me to be.
Sometimes what happens is we live inside our bubble and we don't see who and what we are as valuable and important. We look at other people's bubbles and think how much prettier or bigger they are and we try to get our bubble to look like their bubble. Perhaps we put up barriers so that no one will really know what's inside our bubble. Maybe we create a false bubble in an attempt to look like the other bubbles. Sometimes we try so hard to fit in with all the other bubbles that we lose the self that God intended us to be and the voice God intended us to have.

When I see both my bubble and your bubble as absolutely beautiful, as unique, as having a calling from God that no one else can answer, as having a voice that no one else can duplicate, as being a grain of salt that can add a flavor as no one else can then . . . 
  • There is no need for comparison. (We are both equally valuable and amazing.)
  • There is no need for competition (or jealousy). (God has separate and specific work for us to do . . . and there's plenty to go around.)
  • I can accept you (and myself) exactly as you (we) are and enjoy the wonder of who you are. I can see you as a treasure box, full of wonderful surprises to be discovered. I can leave any fixing, any transforming work to God and God alone.
  • I can share your journey and enjoy those times we have together, especially as I depend on God and trust Him to meet my needs. I have no need to control or manipulate you, because there is nothing I am dependent on you to give me.
  • I am able to say, "I want you in my life" because I enjoy you and you add so much to my life, rather than say, "I need you" for what you give me.
  • When our bubbles come in contact with each other it brings genuine joy and pleasure and needs are genuinely met (not through contrivance or manipulation or control, but out of our love for each other and obedience to God), and the experience is one we want to have over and over again. However if or bubbles become too connected and we lose ourselves - the voice or person God's called us to be is stilled or eclipsed - or we demand the other person meet our needs - instead of allowing need meeting to flow out of love and obedience - or we begin to focus on doing what only God should do (pointing out faults and trying to fix the other person) then it becomes painful to have our bubbles connect and the more pain that's generated the less we want to have the connection, the further away we want to run.

In our relationships there are certain things that as a person we have the right to say or to ask. There are also things that by their very nature infringe on another person's bubble and we don't have the right to say or do.

  • I always have the right to disagree with you, but I don't have the right to belittle you or put down you or your idea. 
  • I always have the right to tell you if you've done something that hurts me, but I can only expect you to take responsibility for the obedience or disobedience of your actions, not for my feelings.
  • We have the right to disagree, even to argue but never to use the disagreement to purposely hurt the other.
  • I have the right to ask for your help, even the right to ask you to meet my need, but I never have the right to manipulate or try to control you into doing it.
  • I have the right to state and enforce my boundaries and I have an obligation/responsibility to respect yours.
  • I have the right to express my opinion, to voice my concerns, but never the right to trample on you, to disparage the person God has made you to be.
  • I have the right to ask for or, if necessary, to remove myself from relationship to create space and to preserve the bubble that is me. I also have the responsibility to do this in obedience and with love and compassion. 
  • I have the right to choose to love you, to choose to be a friend, but never the right to seek to force you to do the same.
  • I always have the responsibility to be the person that God has made me to be, to speak what God has asked me to say, to do what God has asked me to do and I have the right to ask that you allow me to do this, and if necessary I have to put whatever boundaries are necessary to create whatever space in the relationship necessary to insure that I am who God has made me to be and I do what God has called me to do. That is my highest priority and ultimately the purpose of my bubble. 

Boundaries are important 
to our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
How do you use boundaries to keep yourself healthy?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Day 25: Five Minute Friday and Pivot Point: Together

Late Thursday night each week, women gather on Twitter and at Lisa Jo Baker's site to join together for Five Minute Friday, a time to write without worrying about editing, without preparation, to just write for 5 minutes on the prompt that Lisa Jo leaves on her site at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning. I waited a long time to join this, timid and unsure, then one day I found the courage to try and now I enjoy it week after week.

Nester challenged us back in September to write about one topic for the 31 Days of October and this too took some courage, but I am so glad I tried. Her 31 Days Challenge has been fun (and tiring too!)

So today, Five Minute Friday and Pivot Points meet again on the topic of together.

Ready . . . set . . . write:

On May 8, 2011 I stood by my father as he stepped from earth to heaven. He and my mom had been together for over 65 years. My sisters and I had been together caring for him for the last couple of weeks. Now he was together with his Savior, the One he had longed to see.

Since that time, it has been a difficult adjustment for my mom. Grief and the aging process have made life difficult for her since my father's death. This is another pivot point for me too, a change, a period of transformation as I learn together with my sisters and brother how to care for an aging parent. Sometimes we have a sweet time together. Other times there are frustrations and feelings of uncertainty and not knowing what to do. Some days things are good and fairly easy. Other days are not easy and are, in fact, difficult.

However, we are facing this together as a family. Seeking to care for my mom and to keep her comfortable and safe in her own home as long as we can. Why? Because we love her and we are thankful that through the days of our lives she has been our mom who loved us. Together we face this difficult journey . . . together with each other and together with the God who gives us strength and wisdom.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Day 24: Created in God's Image

Genesis 1:26-27 states that human beings were created in the image of God. An image is a likeness that closely resembles and represents another. Human beings have the unique distinction in all of creation of having been made to be like God, to share some of His characteristics. This gives men and women value that is not shared by any other living creature. A proper understanding of this truth affects how we see ourselves.

Psychologists have identified three basic needs that all humans have: security (the need for safety), significance (the need for meaning), and belonging (the need for community). Understanding that we are made in God's image meets these needs at a core level. We are secure because we have value as an image-bearer, despite other’s opinions or our own failures. It is not something we have to earn. We have significance because we represent the God of the universe. Helping others see what God is like gives us meaning that having a job or not having a job, having a significant other or not having one, and whether we are beautiful or not so much cannot alter. We belong to God as His image-bearer and we are connected to the whole of humanity as fellow image-bearers. We belong. 

Knowing that we are secure, have meaning, and that we belong, gives confidence and helps us to overcome many of the doubts and insecurities common to the human experience. This confidence is particularly important for those who struggle with poor self-image. Understanding that we are made in God’s image infuses a person with value that does not depend at all on our circumstances, relationships, or accomplishments. Instead our value is God-give and inherent within us. Something that cannot be taken away.
"There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Essays

For a deeper understanding of this theological concept, see "Man - Made in the Image of God."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Day 23: Neither Offend Nor Be Offended

A colleague and I enjoyed engaging in deep conversations about a myriad of topics. He and I thought very differently and hearing his perspective often challenged my thinking. One particular conversation challenged not only my thinking, but also resulted in a lifestyle change.

One time we were discussing the common biblical teaching not to offend others. My colleague challenged me to consider the other side of the coin, how easily a person is offended. I had never considered the responsibility of the person being offended, only that of the person doing the offending. His challenge to me was to not only seek to avoid offending others, but to take care that I was not easily offended by others.

In the days and weeks, and even now years later, I think of this conversation. It changed my perspective and helped me to differentiate between what deserved to be considered offensive and what was merely annoying, what I disagreed with, what made me uncomfortable, or what hurt my feelings. I realized that most things are not worth being offended by.

Those things that were truly offensive (sex trafficking, children dying of hunger, discrimination, etc.) were things that needed to be removed from the human experience. They did not deserve an "I'm offended, I'll have nothing to do with that" reaction, but a "that's offensive to God and humanity and it needs to be stopped" response. Those things that I disagreed with, that made me uncomfortable, that were annoying, or that hurt my feelings required a whole different type of response and could range from just letting it go to addressing it in a healthy, responsible way.

When do you think it's appropriate to be offended and how would you respond?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Day 22: Captivating Woman - Part 2

Yesterday, I listed the first five characteristics that my discipleship group and I discovered by surveying men with the question, "Apart from physical appearance, what causes a woman to be captivating to you?" Each man's answer was different and unique, shaped by his own tastes.

The list is a compilation of all their answers and no one woman should seek to be all things on this list. Instead, let us enjoy who we are allow that to draw others to us.

Part 2:

6. True to Herself:
Consistent (not two-faced); unique; not like everyone else; not trying to look and act like all the other girls; comfortable with who she is

7. Enjoys Life:
Sense of humor (not just that she can tell a joke, but that she is comfortable enough to laugh and enjoy the funny things of life); passionate (really believes in something with all her heart); able to play along with jokes; able to joke around; has purpose, a sense of where she's going in life; has a sense of adventure; willing to take risks

8. Good Conversationalist:
Knows when to talk and when not to; listens well; able to speak her mind without being defensive or attacking and without putting others down; not afraid to fight or enter a battle of wits; able to have deep conversations about the stuff of life

9. Good Companion:
Someone who he feels comfortable with; he can be himself and be accepted; someone who's willing to do stuff he enjoys; who's interested in what he enjoys; who's willing to take a walk in the rain and not worry about her hair

10. Loyalty and Faithfulness:
Stand with you through think and thin; NOT A FLIRT; doesn't cheat on you

11. Oneness
The idea of being one not just physically, but emotionally as well; an indefinable link or connection; a sense of oneness; a sense of completion; more than a feeling; whenever you're together there's a sense of being home, of belonging, of completion (this is not planned, not contrived, it's either there or it's not; it just happens)

Since this is a month of Pivot Points in my life, I feel compelled to explain why this list was important.

I talked to men in their teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s, both single and married. I was fascinated and stunned by their answers, because they did not fit into my preconceived ideas of what attracted men to women. I remember one man I talked to said, "Just the fact that you are a woman makes you captivating." Wow!!! For real?

You see, I had enjoyed friendships with men since my teens. I had enjoyed interacting with men, talking with them, being with them. Yet, somehow the romance piece never fell into place for me. That did nothing to affirm my femininity in fact it undermined my confidence as a woman. Talking to these men, hearing what fascinated them, the things that attracted them to women, the things that made a woman captivating, was so affirming. Some of them were captivated by one thing, another by something different. They were not looking for perfect women or airbrushed models, but real women who they found fascinating in their own way. I walked away from these conversations with a deep respect and appreciation for these men and with profound affirmation of my value as a woman.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Day 21: Captivating Woman - Part 1

One spring I led a discipleship group of young women, all high school seniors. We met each Friday afternoon for a couple of hours. Together we studied various topics important to the young women in the group. Along with the subjects we studied, they learned to develop and present a lesson and to plan and teach at a mini-retreat.

One of the topics we studied was what makes a woman captivating to a man. Our assignment was to ask men (young and older) "Apart from physical appearance, what makes a woman captivating to you?" It was one of the most fascinating exercises I have ever participated in.

Based on our interviews we identified eleven characteristics that make a woman captivating. The first five are described today and the remaining six will be described tomorrow:

1.  Confidence
Self-assured, knows what's important and what's not, sense of balance in life stuff, doesn't overreact, emotional strength, independent, not clingy or consistently fearful; pursuing something with passion; out there where others want to be; able to handle the difficulties of life without being thrown by them.

2. Cares about Others
Not loud or self-centered; doesn't attract attention to herself; gentle; cares about what you do but without being a nag or controlling; not high maintenance (particularly financially); has a caregiver attitude

3. Passion for God
Loves God openly and passionately; willing to openly share her faith; loves and serves God above all else; passionately pursuing God

4. Acts Like a Woman/Comfortable with Her Sexuality
Cares about her appearance (but not consumed by it); she acts and looks like a girl, but isn't a girly-girl; she is modest; gentle; not overly competitive; willing to cuddle, to be affectionate, but not clingy, not constantly on him; not a flirt

5. Growing, which Leads to Mystery and Discovery
The idea that there is more to the person than I can see; or the idea that no matter how well I get to know her she still continues to surprise me; you can't know everything about her in a few meetings; there are always new things to discover about her; she's growing as a person; she's growing emotionally, spiritually, intellectually; breaks a man out of his routine; challenges him to pursue an adventure with her

What causes you to be captivated by another person?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Day 20: What to Do with Emotions?

Emotions have always been a big part of my life, but I have not always known how to handle them well . . . and to this day, I, at times, struggle to control them.

In April of 2002 I began a journey to understand and manage my emotions. I wanted to find the balance between acting on truth rather than emotion while at the same time acknowledging that emotions are real, valid, and valuable.

From a letter on April 16, 2002:

I realized the other day that emotions are a huge distraction for me. I think emotions cause me to become unfocused more than any other one thing. I respond out of what I FEEL. 

I'm realizing that I've tried two extremes - denying my emotions or giving them too much control. I'm beginning to try to learn to do neither. I'm trying to learn to acknowledge their validity, identify them, and then express them positively.

I have emotions and at times they are overwhelming and seem bigger than I can handle. Sometimes, especially when they are overwhelming, I just don't know what to do with them.

I'm discovering that the first step is to identify them - to just say, "I feel angry," "I feel sad," "I feel ________" and be specific instead of saying I'm upset or overwhelmed or blue, rather to give the emotion a specific, descriptive name.

As I continued to process how to manage my emotions, I began a practice that was helpful to me. Not only did I need to identify what the emotion was, but I needed to discover why I felt that way. We have emotions so that we know what is going on in our inner being. Sensations of pain or pleasure tell us what is happening to our body. Emotions reveal whether our inner being is in a good or bad place. The practice I began was to write out a simple statement: "I FEEL _______________ BECAUSE _____________."

"I FEEL sad BECAUSE one of my students is leaving the school."

"I FEEL disappointed BECAUSE the plans I made fell through."

"I FEEL angry BECAUSE someone disrespected me."

"I FEEL hurt BECAUSE someone was rude to me."

As I began to identify not only how I felt, but also why I felt that way, I could move on to the next question. "What are my emotions telling me? What do I need to do to handle this?"

If I was hurt, sometimes a good cry or a venting session helped, at other times a conversation with the person who hurt me was necessary. If I felt sad, sometimes watching a sad movie and having a good cry or distracting myself with something funny helped. If I felt disappointed, finding something to do that I enjoyed might help.

As I practiced this exercise over and over, I became more aware of what I was feeling and why. Eventually I stopped writing it out and was able to identify it in my head and also much more quickly create a strategy to deal with difficult emotions. Over time, I gained the ability to manage my emotions and to use them to practice healthy self-care.

The most recent stage of understanding emotions has been that they can help me discern what God is directing me to do. The things I am excited about, the things I dread. The things I have peace about, the things that cause me to be unsettled. The things that bring joy or the things that bring discouragement. As I pay attention to what my inner being is telling me through my emotions, I begin to hear the heart of God as He speaks to me too.

What tips can you offer for managing one's emotions?

Picture Source: all faces from Microsoft Clip Art

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Day 19: I Am Loved

On March 27, 2002 I wrote in an e-mail to a friend:

I have been thinking a lot about friendship and love, trying to understand how I define them - not the "correct" biblical or philosophical definitions, but my definitions. How have I defined, perceived, and acted out friendship and love? It's been difficult to answer.

I believe my "love languages" are time and words of encouragement. That is old news. What was new for me was the realization that for all the years of my life, I believed that if I didn't FEEL loved, then I wasn't loved. What made me FEEL loved were actions from my love languages and many people didn't love me that way. I began to ask myself what if I were to believe, really believe and not doubt that people love me, especially when they say they do? What if I base being loved not on whether I FEEL loved, what if I base it on faith and trust? I began to seriously ask myself how my life would be different if I could do this.

So much of my life has been spent trying to earn other people's love, trying to FEEL loved, wanting other people to FEEL loved. What if I start with the belief that the people around me love me if they say they do, or even if they don't say they do outright, but communicate it using some other love language? What if I focus on believing I AM LOVED? What changes?

A few weeks later I wrote in my journal:
For the past 6 weeks or so God has done this incredible work of healing in me.

Now I'm starting with the premise that I am loved. When something happens, I can look at it as an event and then resolve it and move on . . . let it go. For so long, the deep burning question of my soul has been does anyone really love me, can anyone? Events that happened either affirmed love or negated love and everything was tied together to prove or disprove I was loved. Everything was tangled together in an attempt to answer this soul-deep question.

Now, I am saying, "I am loved." It's no longer based on a feeling. It's no longer based on what people do that communicates love in my language. It's based on Truth and on trust.

I'm no longer saying this person made me feel loved, therefore I am loved. I'm no longer looking at specific people and asking in my heart, "Do you love me?" I'm no longer expecting a handful of people to cause me to feel loved.

I am saying . . . no more than that . . . I am BELIEVING that I am loved. I believe God loves me and I believe the people around me - my family and close friends, even others - love me.

I'm no longer asking for proof. I'm no longer expecting human beings to meet my needs. I am accepting, believing, and acting on the fact that I am loved. I am trusting God to meet my every need - emotional, spiritual, social, and physical - through Himself and through whomever He chooses.

It is so freeing!!!!!

Did you always know you were loved or did you have an aha moment too?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Day 18: Five Minute Friday Meets Pivot Points - Laundry

Each Friday at 12:01 a.m. Lisa Jo Baker posts a topic and people write about it for 5 minutes and then link up with others who are also participating in Five Minute Friday. Nester has put out a challenge to write 31 posts on the same topic during the month of October. I enjoy doing both, so although it feels like it's going to be a stretch, lets see how I can combine pivot points and laundry . . .

Ready . . . set . . . write . . .

One of my pivot points was connectedness - developing deep relationships with others. Laundry has been a integral part of my deepest relationships.

As a young person I folded diapers, baby clothes, towels, and other clothes for my sisters when their
children were young. The connectedness of sisterhood.

In college a good friend of mine and I would head off to the laundromat with our dirty clothes and a box of donuts. Now many years later we remain friends. Later when I had access to a washer and dryer and friends of mine did not, they did their laundry at my house. Later still when I didn't have easy access to a washer and dryer another friend blessed me by letting me do my laundry at her house. The connectedness of friendship.

While my father was living his last days and being cared for by my sisters and I and by hospice, my job was to do the laundry. It was one way that I could love him by keeping his sheets and blankets clean and comfortable. The connectedness of the father daughter relationship.

Most recently when my mom's plumbing overflowed and my sister, brother-in-law and I were running around taking care of things, one of my nieces folded my laundry for me. The connectedness of family.

Joining together in the mundane task of doing laundry has been part of some of my closest relationships.

Stop! (whew . . . can't quite believe I did that!)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day 17: Lies v. Truth

One of my favorite grades to teach was 10th grade. The students had moved beyond the confusion and adjustments of their freshman year, were not in the difficult junior year facing regents and college applications, nor had the dreaded senioritis set it. My tenth grade students tended to be fun, responsive, willing to learn, and beginning to be able to think for themselves.

One of the things we studied during 10th grade Bible class was Romans 12:2 and particularly the idea of "renewing the mind." As I taught my students, I became increasingly aware that one aspect of renewing the mind has to do with replacing lies with the truth.

As we grow and mature, as we experience life we learn some things that are true and we learn some things that are lies. Some things we learn may be from what others teach us either by their words or their example. Some things we learn are based on how we have processed what we have experienced and what we have learned from others. We can learn both lies and truth from any of these sources.

One lie I learned was always defend the underdog, but don't defend yourself. Well, it's a partial truth. It IS good to defend those who cannot defend themselves, those who are weaker for one reason or another. However, there are times it is appropriate to defend ourselves, to take care of ourselves. The lie needed to be replaced with truth.

Why? What difference does it make? Dr. Eric Scalise has identified a pattern that results from false beliefs:

False beliefs lead to
Distorted thinking, which leads to
Damaging emotions, which leads to
Self-defeating behaviors, which leads to
Broken or dysfunctional relationships. 

Our beliefs help to define who we are, how we think, feel, act, and relate to others. When we believe a lie, it has a ripple effect in our lives. 

Rooting out the lies can be something like pulling weeds. It is an ongoing labor that produces greater fruit.

Jesus said, "The truth will set you free."

What lies have you been believing?
What is the truth that will set you free? 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day 16: Grieving the Loss

As I wrote earlier in "Why? The Question", by the time I was in my mid-twenties I had seen enough traumatic death and loss to understand that death, loss, pain, and suffering were an unpleasant, but real part of life. What I had not learned was how to face the grief in a healthy way.

Then, I read a life-changing book, a true story of two young people deeply in love. Sheldon VanAuken tells the love story of himself and his wife Davey in the book A Severe Mercy. (Spoiler Alert) When Davey dies, Sheldon is bereft. He describes what he does to cope with the loss of his beloved Davey.

As I read their story, for the first time in my life I encountered a man deep in the pain of loss who processed his grief with intentionality and purpose. Growing up I had seen the pain of losses, but no one talked about it, no one processed what had happened. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, I saw people debilitated for years by their grief.

A Severe Mercy started me on a journey to learn how to handle grief, when it came my way, in a way that would honor the person I had lost as well as heal the terrible hole in my life where that person had been.

Everyone grieves differently, so the way Sheldon grieved for Davey would look different from how I would grieve or how someone else would grieve. Sheldon's method was not important. The fact that he was intentional, that he honored his wife, and acknowledged and processed his own pain were the important lessons.

What has helped you to process your grief?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Day 15: Working together for Good

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible contains several of my favorite verses. One of those verses is Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things 
God works for the good 
of those who love him, 
who have been called 
according to his purpose.

  • "And we know . . . " we can have confidence and an unwavering faith.

  • "that in all things God works for the good . . . " ALL THINGS, the things we don't like, the things we question, the things we absolutely cannot make sense from . . . God does not call all things good, but He promises to bring good from even the worst of circumstances.

  • "of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." God's children can rest in the truth that God will bring good out of even the worst of circumstances. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Day 14: Invincible Faith

As I became more and more involved in ministry, there were times I felt tossed about like a leaf in the wind. People's expectations, tragic losses at our church, and difficult relationships swirled around me and I longed for an anchor. I verbalized my dream this way,

"I want to live a life of invincible faith where I am so focused on God and obeying Him, 
I am unshaken and unruffled by the people and circumstances around me."

However, I AM sometimes shaken and ruffled by the things that happen around me. Last year about 90% of my support system (in the city where I live, thankfully not in my whole life!!) collapsed due to one circumstance or another and I was shaken and ruffled - yet the anchor held. My focus was blurred at times, but God was neither shaken, ruffled, nor was His vision blurry.

A few lines from a Ray Boltz song come to mind:

The anchor holds
Though the ship is battered
The anchor holds
Though the sails are torn

I have fallen on my knees
As I faced the raging sea
The anchor holds
In spite of the storm

So thankful that Christ remains stable, an anchor even when I am shaken.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Day 13: Level of Commitment

"Level of Commitment" . . . I coined this term in the middle of a difficult relationship. This relationship seemed to run hot and cold with unpredictable frequency. At times all was well, great even, with a deeply satisfying connection and truly enjoyable. At other times the relationship bordered on abusive and was very difficult. Yet, unless I made radical changes to my life, I could not avoid relationship with this person. How was I to cope with this constantly fluctuating drama?

At the same time, I was involved in more activities, had more commitments that I could juggle and do well. I was looking for a solution. I came across this idea of "Level of Commitment" and it gave me hope for balance.

The idea behind "Level of Commitment" is to choose a level of commitment that is healthy, safe, and reasonable, either to another person or to involvement in an activity and then stick to it.

With the relationship, I could be a friend, but I could not be a savior, a "dog to kick", or run interference for them. I could be a friend. I could be a friend who loved and expressed compassion, yet who had distinct boundaries in the context of this relationship. I could move away to a safe point, still accessible, but not in the midst of the daily emotional whirl that accompanied this relationship.

In the area of too many commitments, I could choose what I had to offer to each one. In some cases it meant withdrawing from the commitment so I had energy to give to something else I valued more. In other cases it involved modifying my level of involvement such as instead of going to every home game, going to a few each season.

What suggestions would you offer to someone feeling frustrated in a relationship 
or who is overcommitted?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Day 12: Path of Transformation

"And we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory
are being transformed into His likeness 
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit."
2 Corinthians 3:18

When I began to become more aware of the transformation that should be a normal part of a believer's life, I began to ponder what transformation looks like, how it works. I realized first that it is a journey that takes time. As I studied Scripture, read books, and talked with others, a few things began to become clearer about a path to transformation.

1. God is the one doing the work of transformation in us. He knows more fully than anyone our potential and He knows what is blocking our way. He also knows better than anyone what we need so that we can change and grow. Our part of the process is to cooperate with Him, to follow His lead and accept the work of His Spirit in us.

2. Every person's path is different. No two people will take exactly the same journey or travel exactly the same path. Each person will be influenced by different shaping experiences, knowledge, mentors, and spiritual disciplines. God leads each of us along a path that is distinct to us. Even people who are closely connected to each other will have differences in their journeys.

3. People need time, space, AND loving support as they travel their individual journey. At times I've wanted to speed up my own journey, to change more quickly, to grow more quickly. At times there have been others that I wanted to change faster. But we all need time and space to sort through our stuff and to hear God speaking to us in whatever way He chooses and then to make the changes in our lives. 

Yes, transformation takes time . . . it rarely happens overnight . . . but over time . . . 
a cross country trip rather than a day trip.  

What would you add to this list? What have your noticed about the process of transformation?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Day 11: Five Minute Friday and Pivot Points . . . Ordinary

I am participating in Nester's 31 Days Challenge and writing about Transformational Pivot Points in my life. I also like to participate in Lisa Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday. In Five Minute Friday, Lisa Jo gives us a prompt and then we write about it for 5 minutes, and then link up on her page. The biggest rule is to go to the post of the person before you and comment encouragingly on their post.

Well tonight the 31 Day Challenge Transformational Pivot Points will meet Five Minute Friday's prompt and we'll see what comes out. Ready . . . the prompt is ordinary. . .

Ordinary . . . Transformation . . . is there anything ordinary about transformation? In so many ways transformation seems like anything but ordinary. When I think of transformation, I think of metamorphosis, of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly and that seems most extraordinary to me . . . far from ordinary. The miracle that takes place when a plain little caterpillar wraps itself up and then later emerges totally changed into a delicate colorful creature with wings is amazing, extraordinary. When a person is changed from cranky to pleasant, from stingy to generous, from immature to mature, from selfish to unselfish those changes too are miraculous . . . extra-ordinary.

Yet, I think too that transformation should be ordinary in the sense that it is important for it to be an ongoing part of our lives. Changing, growing, learning, becoming something more this year than we were last year. Transformation should be an ordinary part of our lives, happening regularly.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Day 10: Blessing by Being

One of our favorite youth group retreats became Excel, however in 2001 we were newbies to this event. Five teens and two adults rode north in a church van, packed full of luggage and people. During the weekend I learned an important concept.

On our first trip to Belize in the summer of 2000, I had done something very stupid. I tried to lift a cement block. The result was a herniated disc and severe sciatic pain that lasted far too long. On our trip to Excel, I was several weeks into dealing with debilitating pain and the frustration of not being able to move freely or do things I enjoyed. Well, actually, I was tired of not being able to do things I DID'T enjoy, but that needed to be done.

Changing the sheets on my bed was impossible. Washing dishes caused great pain and left me wiped out. Getting dressed was difficult and putting on socks required a very specific set of maneuvers. Driving hurt. Standing for any length of time was agonizing. Sleep came in 2 hour on 2 hour off shifts.

I was blessed to have a dear friend who came in every week and cleaned my apartment (it has never been cleaned so thoroughly since!!) and did my laundry. She washed my dishes, changed my sheets, mopped and swept. I was so blessed, yet it was SO HARD to accept her help.

I had been a doer. That was how I blessed people, by doing things for them. Suddenly, I was in a position where I could barely do for myself, let alone help others. How would I bless them when I was so dependent?

On the Excel trip, I shared these feelings with our youth pastor. He encouraged me that I could bless people just by being. He said that blessing people wasn't about what I did for them, but who I was with them. He cheered me by telling me that people were blessed by my presence. (Although I wasn't sure I believed him.)

In the midst of this time when I couldn't DO for others, I began to focus on blessing people by the person I was - by enjoying them, by loving them, by laughing with them, by being present with them, by giving them myself. Slowly, over time, my focus changed from what I could do for others, to blessing them with my words, my love, my way of being with them.

As with each Pivot Point, I am still on the journey, sharing what I have learned so far and knowing that I still have more to learn.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to bless others by being rather than doing?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Day 9: Listening to God

Listening to God . . . another pivot point that began in the summer of 2000. Our youth pastor was challenged by a special speaker at our church and led the youth and mentors to begin a journey that we dubbed "Listening to God."

The premise was that God desires to speak to us to guide our actions and decisions both big and small, therefore we need to listen so that we are aware of His guidance.

Along the way we wrestled with questions such as:
  • How did God communicate to us?
  • How do we know if what we're hearing is God or something else?
These two questions are closely related and the answers are interwoven. Here are some of the lessons we learned as we hiked along this journey.

1.  The Bible is our starting point for knowing what God is saying to us. It is His written communication to us where He clearly tells us what to do and what not to do. As we obey what we read in the Bible, we begin to understand what God is like and have a sense of what He wants us to do.

The Bible also acts as a filter. As we think we've heard something from God, we can compare it to what the Bible says to discern whether this thing is of God or from ourselves.

2. As we develop an intimate relationship with God, we become familiar with what His voice sounds like. When I was in college, I was waiting for my parents to arrive to take me home. They were to arrive Sunday morning to attend church with me. I waited as long as I could outside of the campus church, but according to the rules it was time to be in my seat. Still they had not arrived and I was anxious. The auditorium was large with seating for 7,000 people. I searched for my parents, but in a room that size, I could not find them. I had difficulty focusing because my mind was on them, until I heard one small sound. I heard my mom's cough. A cough? really? In a room of several thousand people? Yes. I heard her cough. I knew her. I knew her cough and when I heard it, I knew they had arrived safely and I could focus on the service. Listening to God is like that. The more intimately we know God, the quicker we will be able to distinguish His voice and know what He is saying to us.

3. We will experience confirmation from others who are also seeking to follow God. When we believe that we sense God is telling us to do something, it is good to look for confirmation from others who we respect, who are also seeking God. It is easy to be influenced by our emotions, by our natural tendencies or appetites, and our friends and fellow sojourners can help us see pitfalls that we might not see. They can also confirm a thing is of God as they sense a distinct, yet separate and uninfluenced yearning toward the same thing we are feeling.

4. Prayer is important to the process of listening to God. Prayer is the place we typically think of us talking TO God, however prayer can also be a space where we LISTEN to God - a place where we pause and allow God to speak to our spirit and give us direction.

5. What about the circumstances? Do the circumstances seem impossible and suddenly there is a shift and you are able to do what you've felt God telling you to? that's a confirmation. Do circumstances line up perfectly to allow you to follow what God's telling you? that's a confirmation. Several years ago, I had left my job and was leaving my ministry as a youth leader and I didn't know what was next for me. Over a period of a few months, I had felt compelled to pray for a church with a school that I had only been in once. I called a friend who attended this church to ask him to pray about a difficult situation. He invited me to visit. A couple days before I was to visit, he called and asked if I would be interested in a job teaching at the school . . . well, yes. That was part of my dream when I had quit my job. I filled out an application during my visit and talked with the administrator of the school. Things moved quickly. In less than a month, I had been interviewed and hired and found an apartment. The circumstances lined up perfectly with the thing that I had been sensing God wanted me to do.

Our journey of learning to listen to God was filled with experiments . . . and learning. Often we were not sure if what we heard was God, but obeyed when we were reasonably sure that it was. Sometimes our actions led to confirmation that we had indeed heard God, at other times we miserably decided that the voice we'd heard had been our own. Over time, we grew to recognize God's voice more and more and to develop a deep and intimate relationship with God.

How do you discern what God wants you to do?


If you would like to pursue Listening to God more, here are two books that have had a powerful impact on me:
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Day 8: Flowing from a Pure Heart

 One of the women on the Belize Team was an English teacher. She brought with her Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Rainer Maria Rilke. As she read his poems, she would share them with us, sometimes only a few lines, sometimes a whole poem. A few lines from one of these poems planted the seed for another change in my thinking that grew in the months following our trip to Belize.

I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving. . . .

May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

(from "Ich glaube an Alles noch nie Gesagte" by Rainer Maria Rilke)

In one season of my life, I had tried to appear as if I had everything together. I pushed my emotions down deep and pretended issues that were a problem weren't really a problem. However this approach to life left me feeling driven, lonely, and isolated, unable to be real with anyone.

The next season of my life, I focused on being authentic and genuine. However, in the context where I was learning this approach, being authentic translated into letting all one's yuck and poor behavior spill out all over others. As a teacher and youth mentor this was a formula for disaster, yet I still resonated with the idea that authenticity was important . . . but it shouldn't look like THIS.

The words of Rilke's poem combined with a quote by Amy Carmicheal ("A cup of sweet water, no matter how violently jarred, will never spill bitter water.") lead me into a new season of development - Flowing from a Pure Heart. Authenticity is important and so is not spilling one's own yuck all over others. To be authentic and appropriate required a transformation of the heart.

 I read a story once (although I don't remember where) of a small village in the Alps known for its crystal clear, delicious water. High up on the mountain was the spring, tended by an elderly man, that fed the village's water supply. The aged man kept it clean of debris and guarded it faithfully from anything that would contaminate the water. Eventually he died and there was no one to tend the spring, to guard against debris and over time the water became contaminated and unfit to drink.

This story captures the idea of flowing from a pure heart. A pure heart is one that is guarded against those things that would contaminate it. Beautiful, life-giving authenticity can flow from a heart that is filled with integrity and kept through self-control and the on-going work of God to transform and shape it. Transforming, growing, and guarding the heart are an ongoing process that requires cooperation between us and the Spirit of God in us.

For me, I have good days and bad. There are days where I can look back and say I lived the majority of this day with a heart that was well-guarded and exercising integrity and self-control. There are other days where I fail miserably and I have to clean out the spring again so that the water can run cool and clear. It is a process, a journey of becoming . . .

Do you resonate with Rilke's words? What about them strikes you?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Day 7: Simplicity and Substance

A group of about 20 of us ranging from young teen to mid-life adult stepped onto the tarmac in Belize City into the tropical heat of a blazing sun. We had come to work in a small village to build a hurricane shelter and to hold a Vacation Bible School (VBS). We hoped to make a difference. We accomplished our goals for that year, and we left with unexpected blessings from what we had seen and experienced.

 One of the most striking contrasts was between what Americans have and what most Belizeans do not have AND their attitude toward life.

None of us on the team would be considered wealthy by American standards. We were struggling to make ends meet and lived modestly. The trip to Belize was a financial stretch, even a sacrifice for most of us. However, comparatively we had so much.

The Belizean homes we visited ranged from dirt floors with walls made of sticks and mud to wooden structures to the nicest homes made of concrete. Yet we noticed that even in the nicest of homes, there was an absence of many of the "toys" we took for granted at home.

Despite the obvious poverty that abounded and an economic system that kept most people trapped in their poverty, we saw people who loved one another deeply and fiercely, who laughed, cried, gave generously, and played (especially soccer) together. We saw people who helped one another through the hardest of times. We saw people who were having a rich life experience despite their external poverty.

We were getting ready to leave, saying our good-byes and we were astonished. A young man that we had come to know well in our short time there had a sports trophy that he had won in high school. His family lived very modestly and this trophy was a treasured possession. He gave it to one of our fearless leaders, a man he had come to admire. This treasured, sacrificial gift meant so much to our leader and to us as a team as an expression of love and friendship. Others in turn gave each of us a gift, many sacrificially, many a special meaningful item and we were deeply touched by their generosity and the love that prompted it.

As I compared the American approach to life and the Belizean approach to life, what I saw reminded me of a dollar store gift lavishly wrapped beside a valuable, meaningful gift simply wrapped in plain paper. In American we had so much on the outside, so many things, so much that looked pretty and yet we were missing this rich life experience. We had exchanged substance for fancy frills.

I was drawn to the way the Belizeans we met lived simply, but with great substance. I was drawn to the way they gave themselves so fully to life. They drew from life so much - love, faith, family, friends, hard work, laughter, and generosity. They focused on the intangible things that give life meaning and substance. I was challenged to refocus on what had meaning rather than on the superficial.

Have you faced this challenge to add more substance and meaning to your life? 
What have you done to make that happen?