Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Wisdom of a Coach

Tonight I met with the local running group for our weekly 5K training at the local track. At first I thought we might get stormed out...rain doesn't stop us but lightning certainly will! But no such luck....all the clouds did was dump a few gallons of cooling water on us before clearing up so that we could run. This time I was soaking wet to start with...not from sweat, but from rain.

We all chatted for a moment and then our "coach" read off what each of us was to do tonight according to our level of training. I fell somewhere between a beginner and an intermediate so she gave me my goals and I was off. Tonight's goal was to run 6 - "400's" with a short walk in between. As I completed my 5th lap, it occurred to me that I had run faster tonight than I thought possible and because of the short walk breaks I wasn't completely spent. That's when I started thinking about the wisdom of our coach.

I had to marvel that she consistently monitors our progress and can give me just enough of a challenge to push a little further than before, but not so far that I can't see success. It's those little challenges and successes that keep me running. If it were left up to me to set my goals, I'd either shoot so high that I would get discouraged, or I'd fail to push myself to go a little farther than before. Okay, here it comes...the random thought. Coaches aren't just for sports. In other areas of our lives, sometimes we all need those "coaches."

What is a coach? Sometimes it's simply someone who has traveled this road before. They've made mistakes and made it to the other side. These coaches can be moms who have children who are older than yours, husbands and wives who've learned to love through the difficult times, business people who have held on despite hard times....like I said, people who have traveled this road before.

Coaches are encouragers. They see where you are, but they believe you can be more. They know it's tough, but they also know that you are a lot tougher than anything that comes your way. They are also very practical. While they see your desire to conquer mountains, they help you first conquer the mole hill in your own back yard.

I want to live my life in such a way that I can find these "coaches", and I want to be one myself. Some people call them "mentors", but whatever you call them, I want to be one of them! I want to have that quality that sees beyond the struggles and believes that great things can still come from them. I want to be able to challenge those around me to push a little farther than before, and help them see enough small victories that they get excited about what can be. I want to have that wisdom that is worth more than gold.

So, I'd like to thank "Coach Becky" for helping so many believe that they can succeed, for challenging us beyond where we are today, and mostly for her wisdom. Coach, you are a rare gift indeed.

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord..." Ps. 19:14

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him." James 1:5

Monday, July 27, 2009

Back on Track - Part 2

I returned to the local track this week to continue "getting back on track" as far as my running is concerned. I've already written about some of the emotional benefits from these runs, but I think I gained some very practical benefits as well.

For one thing, as I ran at the local track, I realized I didn't have to keep an eye out for things that could possibly cause me harm, like cars or crazy dogs. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other...and not run into someone who might be walking. This freedom from distractions allowed me to concentrate on my form as I ran. When I did this, I discovered I had fallen back into some bad patterns as far as my running was concerned. I was leaning forward and forgetting to pull my head up so I could breathe! When you're running, breathing is a good thing! My coach had to remind me to lift my head! (You'd think the wheezing would have been reminder enough!)

The point is, sometimes in the hectic pace of life, we all can fall back into old patterns. We know they don't work, but we do them anyway. Maybe we get careless or tired, or we simply forget. I'm not necessarily talking about some huge sin or failing...more like the little things. I skip reading my Bible cause it's late. I forget to show my family how much I love them because it's been such a hard day. I don't take time to worship because I don't "feel" like it. There are hundreds of little things that I neglect to do that keep me from really "breathing". I know they are important, but I forget. Getting back on track helps me check my form in a way. I can look at myself and see what I'm forgetting....or a trusted "coach" can help point out the obvious when I'm too dense to see it for myself.

I look forward now to my weekly runs with the group at our local track. This doesn't mean I won't ever run the hills or wide open spaces again...but when I do, I'll be a better runner simply because I took the time to get "back on track". I want to find those "back on track" moments in other areas of my life as well. I need those times when I "check my form' and see if I've fallen into doing something that not only doesn't help me, but can keep me from running the race set before me. Oh yes, and I want to remember to breathe!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Getting Back on Track - Part 1

This past week I went to a weekly training run at a nearby track put on by a local running group. This is the first time I had been in a while and it felt good to get "back on track". Now I know some people really hate running at a track, just going around in circles, but for me training at a track has some real benefits - mainly because that is where I first began really running.

As I slowly made my way around the track, I started to remember again why I loved running. I guess I kind of went back to the reasons I first fell "in love" with the sport. Each lap took me one step closer to becoming a runner again.

One of the things I love about running is the other runners. Every time I go to a local meet or training session, I run into some of the most encouraging people I've ever met. No matter where I am in my training, they spur me on to do better or lift me up when I feel like I'm failing. Although we "compete" against each other, it is a competition that brings out the best in each of us. I love finding that someone at a run that can be my "rabbit" so I can follow behind trying to keep up. Once in a rare while, I actually get to be the "rabbit" myself.

Another thing I love about running is the feeling of accomplishment. With each lap I complete I prove to myself once again that I CAN do it. On a day filled with frustration and failure and unfinished goals, being able to count off another round makes me feel like I still have it in me to see things to their end...no matter how long it takes me to get there.

Each lap I run around that track reminds me that I do love running - even on the days when I swear I don't want to do it. Getting back on track reminds me of the days when I first fell in love with the sport. I remember struggling to complete that first lap, and I remind myself that I did it once; I can do it again.

What other things in my life to I need to "get back on track" with? Are there other areas of my life where I have forgotten what gave me joy in them in the first place? Have I forgotten why I fell in love with my husband in the first place? Have I forgotten the joy that caused my heart to swell when I first looked into the faces of my children and the hopes I had for my family? In my career, have I forgotten the struggling first steps as I became a teacher and the excitement of sharing something new with my students? On a more personal level, have I forgotten the joy of worship and learning from He who created me?

Time has a way of fading things and making us forget why we do the things we do. Sometimes it's good to go back to the beginning, "get back on track" and remember why.

"But you walked away from your first love - why? What's going on with you anyway?... Turn back. Recover your dear early love." (Rev. 2:4-5 Message translation)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wearing out your welcome

Today was cleaning day at my house. As always happens, I start one project and it's a domino effect...one leads to another to another....never ending. Today my "dominoes" fell to the carport. As I was taking out the trash, I noticed that the carport was a real mess. My husband had been doing a bit of carpentry and there was sawdust everywhere. So back into the house I went to get the broom.

The first thing that needed sweeping was right at the door, so I of course moved my welcome mat. After dusting it off, I started to put it back into place but I had trouble figuring out which way to turn it...the word "Welcome" could barely be seen. I had literally "worn out my welcome."

That of course got the random thoughts going. I wonder how long my "welcome" has been gone? It must have happened over time, because the rug is pretty old. I don't have a ton of visitors at my home - unless of course kids count. However it happened, the words had just faded away. Does that happen in my life as well, I wondered. Has it even happened with my family?

When you first move into a home, you make sure that everything is "just right". But over time, you get comfortable with routine and maybe forget to make home a place where everyone, especially your own family, feels welcome. I don't want to be like the husband who never told his wife he loved her. When she asked about it, he replied he'd told her he loved her when they got married and if anything changed, he'd let her know. We assume that those around us know they are "welcome" or loved, but often neglect making sure they know it.

What about my friends? I tend to be somewhat of a loner at times. I love my friends, but I often neglect making time to spend with them. I let the "welcome" just fade away without meaning to. Hospitality doesn't come naturally to me, probably due to insecurity and from the way I was raised. Still, I can't use that as an excuse. I need to make sure that the "welcome" in my life is always evident....that my door is always open. I may never be the "come over for coffee" kind of person, but I can make sure that the door to my heart is always open to a friend.

So, I guess it's time to go and buy another rug. I think I'll look for one with the word "WELCOME" in big, bold letters....then I'll work on wearing them out by making sure my home is a place where my family feels loved and where we can all invite our friends in. This time I want to "wear out my welcome" on purpose.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Crossing the finish line

Today I ran in a local 5k, the first race I've run in a really long time. I'd love to say my "time" was unbelievably fast, but to be honest it wasn't. Still, I crossed the finish line...and that's where today's blog comes from.

There was a time when I ran much faster. I still wasn't as fast as some others, but I wasn't ashamed to tell anyone my "time". After a layoff from running of about two years, however, I'm finding it really hard to make a "come back." To be honest, it can be discouraging at times and I feel like quitting...until today.

As I watched others run past me, I found a great joy in cheering them on. When we made the turn at the half-way point, I began to cheer for all those who were behind me...okay, so there weren't that many behind me, but that's beside the point. I started thinking, this isn't just about running the fastest...it's about doing my best as I run toward the finish line and encouraging all who come after me. Yep, there it is...the random thought.

This race is a lot like life. In life, I'm running....the question is am I running from something or am I running TO something? Proverbs 18:10 says that the Lord is a strong tower and the righteous run to it and are safe. In my life, I want to run TO the Lord.

I may not finish the race as fast as someone else, and I may look a little funny as I run along, but as long as I don't stop and keep going toward that finish line - I've won! That's the key...don't stop! Don't take a side road. Don't get discouraged because others seem to be doing a better job with their "run" than you are. Look at those who have "gone before" and learn from them. Then look at those who come after you and encourage them. Run along side others and motivate them to keep going. In all of it, keep that finish line in mind....it is what we are running to. Maybe I should say, it is WHO we are running to.

As I approached the finish line, I looked to those who had already finished (and were sitting around drinking sports drinks...I told you it took me a long time.) I called to them..."Come on! Cheer me on! I'm working hard here!" Of course they all cheered and I finished...maybe with a little more spring in my step than before. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses doing the same for us (Hebrews 11) and we don't even have to tell them to cheer! They've been cheering us on every step of the way.

When I saw my final "time", I was a bit discouraged. I realized if I had run just a little harder and shortened my "walk breaks" I could have finished in the time I wanted. Guess I could have used a bit of encouragement too. It makes me want to look around and see...who seems to be faltering in their run today. Maybe they haven't stopped, but they look as if they need that word of encouragement to keep "running" toward the Lord. Can I be that voice?

So let's keep running.....I want to hear that "Well done." from my Father God when I finally cross the finish line. How about you?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The unexpected running buddy....

This morning I once again forced myself out the door for an early run. It was already a challenge since mornings aren't my usual running time. I hadn't gone two steps when I was greeted by an unexpected, and somewhat unwelcome, running buddy. The neighbor's dog decided to join me for my morning run.

Now this is a sweet dog, but I didn't want him to run with me. To begin with, he's not even supposed to be out of the fence, but he is somewhat of a Houdini at getting out. Secondly, I just didn't want the responsibility of keeping him out of trouble as I ran. I tried to make him go home, but nothing I did seemed to sway his determination. I ran a different way, doubled back, ran faster - still he was following me whether I wanted him to or not.

I guess all of life is sort of like this. Whether we like it or not, we are leading the way for someone. It may be a child, a friend, even a co-worker...but wherever we go, someone is looking to us as a leader. I used to tell my students, someone is looking up to you - do the right thing. Now I was walking, or slowly running, out my own words. I kept thinking of the verse from Psalm 23 that says, "...lead me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake..." While I want to walk the right path because it brings glory to God, I have to realize someone else is following my lead. Someone else may be learning how to follow God by watching me. I may not want that responsibility, just like I didn't want the dog following me...but like it or not - we lead.

After about 20 minutes, I heard a car slow down near me. It was the dog's owner. She fussed at him a bit and put him in the car and took him home...and a funny thing happened. No matter what I did, my running became more difficult. True, I had already gone about 2 miles, but it was more than just that. I noticed that once the dog was gone, every step seemed to take more effort than it had before. I hadn't ever thought about the fact that having someone with you, even an unwelcome follower like this dog, makes the journey a little easier.

We tend to think if we are "leading" then we are doing all the work, but the truth is we gain from those who follow just as much as they gain from us. My mind wasn't on each step when the dog was with me, it was on watching out for him. I didn't realize how hot the sun was as I watched him chase a squirrel or stop to sniff every mailbox we passed. His antics distracted and made the journey more enjoyable. We traveled together.

I guess today's random thought is something we all know, but I had forgotten. Someone is looking to you and following your lead....and together the journey is a more pleasant one. Have fun on your "run" with others today.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reasons versus excuses

Okay, I finally did it. I went for my run in the morning instead of the afternoon. Can't say I was any faster, but now it's done and I can get on with the rest of my day....and I think I found the subject of today's blog in the process.

I've had people tell me for years that I needed to run in the mornings before other things stole away my day. I've always had reasons why I couldn't run in the mornings, but to be honest, they were just excuses. There is a difference you know. As a teacher, I've heard millions of excuses why something didn't get done, and even a few reasons. As I ran today, I had to be honest with myself about the difference in the two.

Some of my "reasons" for not running early in the day included: I'm not a morning person, I have to be at work early, running in the afternoon releases the stress of the day, etc, etc, etc. The truth is, all of these were more "excuse" than "reason." The truth is, I didn't WANT to get up and run. There, I said it. I didn't have an excuse.

Why didn't I want to run in the mornings? Laziness. I'd rather lay around in the bed pulling the pillow over my head than get up. I was tired...usually because I lacked the discipline to get my sorry self off the couch the night before and turn off the tv and go to bed! I can't even use the excuse that I couldn't sleep. I knew good and well if I'd get up earlier each day, soon my internal clock would reset and I'd be able to go to sleep earlier. So I'm not just lazy, the truth is I'm undisciplined as well!

I know I can get up early. When we go to camps with the kids, I'm usually the first one awake (my need for sleep is not as great as my need to get a hot shower before all the campers wake up!) I can work hard all day, stay awake as long as I need to and then get up early again the next day. So I guess that not being able to wake up is just another one of my excuses. I can get up when I want to.

Fear...that's right, fear. Now I'm starting to get personal with myself. Truthfully, I was a little afraid to run in the mornings. I know my neighbors and I wave at them as I run past in the afternoons...when I actually do go run that is. I was afraid of going out early into my neighborhood. Who would I see? What would I encounter? It was a big unknown to me. Yep, I'm a little scaredy cat.

I have to wonder how many "excuses" I've used with God...as if He can't see right through them. At the bottom of almost every excuse lies one of the two "reasons" listed above. Either I'm lazy, or I'm afraid. If it's lazy, I have to be honest and say "I just don't want to." I always seem to find the time, energy, money, etc to do the things I really WANT to do. It may mean giving up something else, but that which I really WANT, I make room for. It goes back to the "want" versus "really want" thing. The problem is that often I let my "wants" and laziness take up the energy and strength needed to achieve the "really wants". I'm the only one who can determine the difference and make sure the "really wants" win out.

The other "reason" I don't do what God wants is fear...what if I encounter something new? What if I fall? What if I get hurt? What if, what if, what if. Those "what ifs" were sapping my energy and keeping me from even trying to set my foot out the door. I guess in some ways I'm not much different than the "calf looking at the new gate"...it scares me and I'm afraid to walk through it.

I have plenty of excuses, but my reasons are all pretty lame. so, this morning, I ran. I did wake up. I got my lazy self out of the bed and took the first step. I won't lie...my body didn't really want to...or maybe it was my mind. Still, I got up and went out the door and found....my neighbors working in their garden, grandparents going to visit their grandkids, people already hard at work...everyday life...just a little earlier than before. I even had a conversation with my neighbor that helped me remember the faithfulness of God. I was encouraged as I listened to him tell how God was working things out for their family. We discussed planting "seeds" that will be here long after we're gone. I marveled at the faithfulness of God and thought about what it means to "step out in faith" when you don't know how it will end. Waiting till later to run would have meant missing all that.

This learning to run in the morning may take a bit of getting used to...after all, I've had 50 years of finding excuses why I couldn't. Still, I think maybe it's time to stretch myself a bit and get rid of the excuses...there's really no reason not to.

"God's loyal love couldn't have run out, His merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning. How great is Your faithfulness, O God." Lam. 3:22-23

(For a sobering look at excuses, check out Luke 14:15 - 34)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Running in Heaven

Yesterday was hot...nothing unusual for South Mississippi. Actually, it was much cooler than it had been in a couple of weeks, so I decided to ditch the treadmill plan and head outside...that's when I discovered that 10 degrees cooler than it had been was still plenty hot. So, as I ran around the local track, sweat dripping off of me with every step, I had to wonder why in the world was I doing this? I guess it's because I actually like it...and I used to love it.

So what changed? Well, after a 2 year layoff from running, I gained weight, got sluggish, and basically just lost my pace...and now I have a long way to go to get back to where I was when I started running in the spring of 2006. Each step is a challenge now. That's where the random thought came in. "I bet it won't be this hard to run in heaven. "

Well, now I'm on a major tangent. I'm thinking about running in heaven where my knees never hurt, the weather is perfect, my breathing is easy, (no pollen in the air), and there is a spring in my step that says "speed up if you want to." Of course, everyone else in heaven will be able to run just as well...so how could you have a race? I guess we'd all just run for the fun of it. I had to wonder...when was the last time I ran, "just for the fun of it?" Most of my running is so I can lose weight, get faster, win races. I had forgotten about the fun.

I wonder how many other things in life I do in "competition mode." I compete or compare myself to others...not as fast as her, doing better than him, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes I even compare with myself...I'm not as fast as I once was, or as young as I was or whatever. That's what takes the fun out of running and it takes the fun out of living. I can temporarily make myself feel better about myself by finding fault, or I can make myself feel worse about my self by seeing how others are "better than me". Either way, my focus is off and the race becomes a struggle. It is almost as if I pick the other person up and carry them along with me as I run. Trust me, I am plenty slow enough as it is...I really don't need to be carrying any extra weight to slow me down even more.

That's the problem with comparison. As long as I concentrate on doing what God has called me to do, I am just fine. I can grow and become what I am supposed to be...it's when I start comparing myself with others and what they can do that I have problems. When I try to keep up with someone else and run their race, I struggle and I lose my joy. What I am doing becomes stressful, tiring, and fruitless. However, when I am able to look to the One who has called me to "run", then the stress falls away and joy takes its place. I run MY race, taking each day as it comes. Living can actually become "fun" again. It becomes an adventure.

So back to running in heaven. In heaven I guess we won't run to see who can win, but we'll run for fun. Even if I am "racing" with someone else, it won't be so much competition as camaraderie. I have to wonder, why wait? Why not shift my focus now and start enjoying the "run?" Look at the beauty around me, feel my heart pump, or delight in the sweat that lets me know I am alive. I can enjoy the race with others simply because we are running together. My race is not their race...and theirs is not mine. The "Human Race" isn't really a "race" to see who wins....it's a run we can make together, encouraging each other and enjoying each step of the way.

I don't want to wait till I get to heaven to enjoy the "run". We are surrounded by all those who have "run" before us. They blazed the trail and now they are cheering us on. It's time to lay aside the extra weight that so easily attaches itself to us (when we compare ourselves to others) and run the race that God has planned for us. (Reference Hebrews 12:1) This is our time to run. Let's enjoy the adventure on the way.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Want Versus Really Want

Today I learned the difference between what I want and what I "really want". Mind you, I thought I already understood this, but today something happened that put a new spin on things.

Today I got ready to go work out at the gym and climbed on the scale before putting on my running shoes....to my horror, the number had climbed back up to a place I thought I had left behind. I have been working out everyday but still the scale is STUCK. The entire time I was working out, I kept thinking about that stupid number. It was mocking me with every sweaty step that I took....so I had to give myself a good talking to.

Maybe you don't talk to yourself, but there are times when I find that the only person I will listen to is me. Maybe it's because I don't pull any punches when I talk to myself...I just tell it like it is. (Please don't call the funny farm on me....this will make sense, I promise.)

I had to ask myself what was it that I really wanted. I had to remind myself WHY I was going to the gym and pushing myself....it wasn't for some number on the scale but so that I could be healthy enough to enjoy life. I run so that I can later play with my children...and hopefully their children one day. I exercise because I of what I really want...that's where the random thought came in.

You see, I WANT to lose weight...and since everything that I am doing isn't getting me to that goal, it doesn't make sense to keep trying. I could pitch myself a two year old fit and just quit. It's not getting me what I want, so why do it? The answer is simple...I'm not doing it because it gets me what I want; I'm doing it because it gets me what I "really want" and need, and that is far more important.

What I WANT is to be thin...what I "really want" is to be healthy. What I WANT is chocolate and potato chips...what my body "really wants" is fresh fruit and vegetables. What I WANT is to be 15 years younger again...what I "really want" is to learn to love and appreciate the person I am right now. I can be easily tricked into thinking that what I crave is what I want...maybe that's because my two year old self screams out what it "wants" so loudly it's all I seem to hear. Fortunately, the "non two year old" me is a little more reasonable and works toward what I "really want".

For example, there are things that I do because what I "really want" is to be healthy. I recently started taking an Omega 3 supplement because I know it is good for me. Trust me, this is NOT something I want to do...to begin with, whoever thought that adding strawberry flavored coating to the pill would help was crazy. Imagine eating strawberries dipped in tuna fish oil. Still, I take them because I know they are good for me...(plus the sooner I finish off this bottle, the sooner I can get some that don't taste so bad.)

The funny thing is, after a while of doing what I need to do to achieve the "really wants", I find that I WANT to do it as well. For example, after eating good foods for a while, I find that my body actually craves them more than chocolate. (I'm as shocked as you are.) Once I get my body used to exercising on a regular basis, I find that I actually miss lacing up my shoes and hitting the roads for a run. (I'm not sure I will ever "really want" to take those strawberry fish pills however.)

So as I drove down the road, still soaking wet from sweat from my workout, I reminded myself that while I may WANT a lot of things, it's the "really wants" in life that deserve my attention and determine my destiny. This is not something that I will be able to do on my own. I empathize with the writer of Romans:

Romans 7 (Message translation): I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
25The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

"Want" versus "Really Want"....the battle has begun.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hundreds of fat burning promises

There are hundreds of fat-burning products on the market today. There's "Grassy Tea", "Slim-in-a-hurry", "Mega-life", "Stacked up", "Zan-away your weight", (all names changed to protect ME!) There are pills, patches, liquids, and powders. All promise a quick fix to your weight loss problem and I have to admit, they all sound good. After all, who wouldn't like to "lose weight while you sleep"? We'd all be taking two or three naps a day and waking up looking like a super-model! Many of us have fallen for these promises only to find that few of these "fat-burners" actually work and worse, some are down-right dangerous! And, in all these products there seems to be one element lacking (I mean other than the fact that they don't work for most people.) None of these products build muscle. The only way I know to do that is to get out there and move....yes, you actually have to exercise in order to "burn fat" and at the same time build much needed muscle.

This morning as I forced myself to take my morning run, I passed an empty box for one of those weight loss products. I had to shake my head at all the times I'd fallen for the same empty promises until I finally began to realize that this was a battle I could fight better "on my feet". Still, it's human nature to want life to be easy. We want to follow some simple formula and never have to face a single difficulty or trial. We forget that it is resistance that builds muscle, both physically, mentally, and spiritually. Without that resistance, we never build any real spiritual muscle, and without muscle, we really can't accomplish all that God has for us to do. It's sort of like those weight loss products that say they make things easy, but easy isn't what helps us get healthy and strong...it is pushing against that which resists that makes us stronger. (I know that every time I push my resistant self out the door for a run, I get a little stronger!)

There is another parallel. In exercise, you don't start out running marathons or swimming the English Channel. You start small...walking each day or actually getting into the pool. Spiritually, we face many small obstacles that ultimately build us up to the point we can deal with bigger ones. Remember David? He fought a lion and a bear before he ever faced Goliath. The "battles" we face aren't just random events. Each one strengthens us in some way, preparing us to do more. The good news is, God knows the battles you will face and He prepares you for every one if you will allow Him to.

I had a good friend once who told me something so wise, I put it on my refrigerator! He said, "I find that we don't often choose our battles, but that they are chosen for us...and if they are chosen for us, then God has made a way for us to win." I don't know about you, but to me this is VERY good news. There have been times when I wasn't too sure about whether God knew what He was doing in the battles I faced. I was sure he'd made a mistake this time and I couldn't handle what I was facing. But with each battle, I learned my limits and in the process also learned of His limitless love. With each battle I grew stronger. Even in the battles I felt I had lost, I grew in compassion, love, patience, and most of all, trust.

1 Cor. 10:13 (Message translation): "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it."

Now there is a promise you can "run" with...or even take a nap on.

Monday, July 6, 2009

What are you hanging on to?

I admit it...I love shows about cleaning, organizing, and general makeovers. My favorite is Clean Sweep, but more often I catch episodes of Clean House. Whichever the premise is the same. Come in, help people remove the junk, redecorate and organize and leave with everyone feeling happy...well, almost everyone. Sometimes they actually find people who just can't part with their clutter.

This past week, I watched an episode about "The Messiest Home". There were actually quite a few candidates for this...I probably could have been one, but that's for another blog. Anyway, the home that was ultimately chosen for this "makeover" looked so very normal on the outside. It had pretty plants hanging at the entrance, and a yard that looked taken care of. It would make one wonder why this home was chosen...until you walked in the door that is.

Now, I know lots of people who have a "junk room" in their home, but this was way beyond that. By the time they finished clearing out the stuff for the yard sale, they were able to almost fill a 7,000 foot store with STUFF! Then, thousands of people flocked to this yard sale in hopes of finding a treasure. Amazing.

What really set this episode apart from the rest, however, was the homeowners. Throughout the process, they seemed to be in denial that they had a problem. In their eyes, it was just stuff that had accumulated over 30 years. Now, maybe I shouldn't say anything. When we moved into our home, we left a house that had only 4 small closets into one with 10 closets plus storage cabinets. My husband told me we'd never be able to move again because after seeing what I had stuffed into 4 closets, he didn't want to even think about what I might fit into 10! Still, this family made my clutter look clean!

It was easy to see the problem...at least it was easy for others to see. These homeowners were holding onto stuff that in anyone else's eyes would be considered JUNK. What is crazy is that they were being offered a fresh, clean, organized new start...but they didn't want to let go of what they had. It was almost as though they preferred the junk.

I got the mental picture of myself doing this very thing with God. I wondered how many times I looked fine on the outside but inside I have hidden in the dark corners of myself, clutching some piece of junk or rubbish that I refused to let go of. I was being offered hope and freshness and a chance to begin again, but I wouldn't let go of that piece of trash I was holding on to. For those who have seen The Lord of the Rings, picture Gollum and his "precious"...only "precious" is nothing more than a piece of garbage. I know that's a pretty strong word picture, but somehow it seems to fit.

Back to our show. In some of the homes, the renovation crew actually unearths rats' nests. It is not a pleasant process, but in order to "clean house", sometimes you have to get rid of some really nasty junk. I once heard a pastor say that when God picks up the rocks in our lives and shows us what lies underneath, it's not so He can condemn us, but so that He can help us get rid of it. He wants so much more for us, but first some of the garbage has to go.

One of the things you can almost always see in an episode is the homeowner changing their mind during the yard sale. They see something they "just can't give up" and they try to sneak it back into the house. I wonder how many times I do this with God as well. In the process of God showing me just how yucky something is, instead of allowing Him to completely clean my life, I reach out and "take it back". Don't ask me why anyone would want to hold onto garbage, but we all do it. It's as if we don't trust Him to make it better...or maybe our "garbage" is sentimental and we just can't part with it no matter how gross it might be.

In the end, these shows reveal beautiful new homes, free of clutter and stuff that isn't really needed. The homeowners almost always say it's like a weight has been lifted. They feel truly free.

Today's blog ends with one of my most favorite verses that is also my prayer. Psalm 51:10: "Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Sounds like having a "clean house" to me.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cure for the blues

Have you ever had one of those days? You wake up, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and as you look out at this beautiful scene and all you can think is "Shut up you stupid bird!" Yep, you're having a bad day. There is no real reason for it. There's nothing wrong...it's just that something isn't quite right. Some people call it the blues, some attribute it to hormones, me....I just realize this is not my day.

I have learned over the years some things NOT to do on this day. Don't expect a good hair day...there is no way my hair is going to cooperate with me so just realize this and grab a baseball cap. Do not get a haircut on these days....it will not make me feel better, it will only make me feel older, less attractive, etc. Do not make any major decisions on these days - I'm a grump and none of my options look good....not even the great ones. Do not spend too much time watching the news....it will not be filled with encouraging news bites. Do not shop for groceries...contrary to my feelings on this day, chocolate is not a vegetable, ice cream isn't the best choice in dairy, and potato chips, although they are thin, will make me look more like the potato they came from...lumpy and round.

I've learned I need to be careful who I am around on these days. Moods are contagious and I don't really want to "infect" anyone with my grumbling and complaining. If I have friends whose "spiritual immune system" is strong, they can help me turn the day around. If I get around those who are weak, I may inadvertently cause them more problems...and that's not what I want to do.

I've also learned not to trust my feelings on days like this. They lie. They will tell me my friends do not love me, my spouse is less than the best, my children are ungrateful little brats and I am a perfect failure at life. (Come on, no one can be a PERFECT at anything.) This is definitely NOT a day to listen to my feelings.

Instead, I've learned to listen to and speak what I DO know is true and never failing...God's word.

Psalms 42 (Message translation) : "Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I'll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He's my God. When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you, From Jordan depths to Hermon heights, including Mount Mizar. Chaos calls to chaos, to the tune of whitewater rapids. Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers crash and crush me. Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night! My life is God's prayer. Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God, "Why did you let me down? Why am I walking around in tears, harassed by enemies?" They're out for the kill, these tormentors with their obscenities, Taunting day after day, "Where is this God of yours?" Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I'll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He's my God."

Yep, there is definitely a cure for the blues....keep rehearsing what you know is true. Say it out loud. Say what God says about you and the day, not what your lying, cheating feelings might tell you. Sing it if you have to! Make the decision, "This is the day the Lord has made...I WILL rejoice and be glad in it." Come what may...let's make this a better day!

Friday, July 3, 2009

The couch that ate my phone....

I'm beginning to think this is the week of having to find lost items. First it was that pesky onion that was smelling up the kitchen. This time, I had to find my phone. I knew it was here somewhere, but I couldn't seem to find it. I could hear that occasional "beep" that let me know I either had a message or my battery was low. I could hear it...but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't SEE it.

Finally, I got my son's phone and called my number. I could hear ringing coming from inside the couch! At first I was relieved...all I had to do was lift the cushions and retrieve my phone, at least that's all I thought I'd have to do. I lifted the cushions and absolutely nothing was there. I called again, and this time I could hear the ringing coming from deep inside the couch. My phone had somehow slipped INTO the couch.

I searched and searched for some small opening that would allow me to reach my phone, but there was none to be found. To make a long story short, after about an hour of digging through crumbs and hair barrettes and practically deconstructing one end of the couch, I found my phone! That's not all, I found my daughter's phone too....the one she lost two years ago. Yes, I did say two years ago.

I remember the night she lost that phone. We had gone to a big concert at the "Cow Palace" here in town and that was the last we remember seeing it. I thought she'd dropped it on the way back to the van that night. We got a refurbished one to replace her phone, but it definitely wasn't the same. She was so discouraged when she lost that phone and so excited when I found it today! It was like Christmas all over again.

I have to wonder how many other things I have lost that are right there, under our noses...or our rear ends as the case may be. What things in my life are "missing" that I don't even know are gone? This whole incident has gotten one of those songs stuck in my head too: "...You don't know what you've got till it's gone. They paved paradise and they put up a parking lot." The thing is, I knew it was gone, and I'd long ago given up on ever finding that phone. After a while, I just gave up and forgot about it.

I'm really glad God isn't as "forgetful" as me. He never gives up on us. He never leaves us or forsakes us...or loses us. He knows right where we are. He knows the plans he has for us. Even though we may feel like we're lost in the proverbial couch cushions of life, He hasn't forgotten us. "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it." That's good news for those who sometimes feel like the world has passed them by...or worse, sat on their dreams. Those dreams aren't lost forever....they're just hidden away, waiting to be rediscovered.

The good news is that the phone is working fine now...my daughter is extremely happy, my son got her other phone so he's happy, and me...well, I'm on my way to work on that couch. Who knows what treasures I might find.

The problem with those magic beans...

Okay, I've about had it. I'm tired of battling this weight issue. I want to live in a fantasy world where I can eat chocolate and ice cream and chips and still be thin and athletic and beautiful. I'm ready for some magic pill that will allow me to make foolish choices and yet still come out smelling like a rose....I'm ready for something like Jack and the Beanstalk where I can just toss some magic beans out the window and suddenly all my problems would be solved. What I forget is that with the magic beans, came a giant....and that's my real problem. I want the treasure but I don't want to face the giant.

This problem isn't new...stories of giants have been around for centuries, and they almost always stand between you and a promise. I read where the original word for giant in Hebrew meant "fearful ones" or "ones who bring discouragement". Every time I step on the scale or try to fit into my jeans, I face one big ugly giant.

So how does one battle a "giant"? If this were a fairy tale, I would grab up the goose that laid the golden chocolate and steal the magic harp that made me young again. The giant would be easily fooled and I would escape into the clouds, chop down the giant's access into my world and live happily ever after. That sounds good, but life isn't a fairy tale. This isn't some battle I will win simply because I am the hero.

True heroes of old didn't run from their giants, they faced them. David recognized Goliath for what he was...a liar who dared to challenge the truth of God. Joshua took courage and faced the discouragement and opposition to God's plan by holding fast to the promises of God. Both men (one young, and one old) faced their giants and prepared to do battle.

In Ephesians 6 (Message translation), you can find the weapons for battling the giants: (13-18) Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Yes, there is a problem with the magic beans....they don't exist and even if they did, they would not prepare me for the giants that really stand between me and my "treasure." Sometimes you just have to turn and face the giants of discouragement and doubt and refuse to back down.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Drawing a blank...

This was what I was afraid of. I was afraid I would invite people to read my blog and then draw a blank...not a thought in my head. As I sat there, that was all that came to mind...I'm drawing a blank.

Actually, drawing a blank isn't all that unusual for me. I do it quite often, usually at the most inopportune times. Once on vacation this sweet lady came off the stage with the microphone and asked me for the names of those sitting with me. These people were my family...and I almost forgot their names! I could feel myself reaching into the dark recesses of my mind and grabbing nothing but thin air. It happened again when an interviewer from the local paper sat down to ask me questions. He asked, "If you could go anywhere and do anything and money was no object, where would you go?" There is was again...blank. Couldn't think of a thing! Now maybe that was because I'm so happy here doing what I am doing, but at that moment, I couldn't even think of that! Of course later I thought of all the things I "should have said", but for that moment, I just drew a blank.

Drawing a blank....the thought brings to mind those blanks on a test where you are required to fill in the correct answer...no multiple choices, no helpful hints...just fill in the answer or get it wrong. When you first look at that page full of blanks....your heart skips a beat and you hope that this time you will remember the words.

I guess the only time we would ever think of drawing a blank as a welcome thing might be if someone handed us a blank check and told us to fill in the amount with whatever we needed. Wow...wouldn't that be awesome! To know that no matter what amount we filled in, it would be covered. That thought reminded me of a story found in the 10th chapter of the book of Luke. Most of us know it as the parable of the good Samaritan. I'll pick it up in the middle of the story: "A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.' " The Samaritan wrote a "blank check" of sorts. He provided for the man's needs.

There are many instances of provision in the Bible....a sort of blank check to provide for needs. For example, in the Old Testament, the children of Israel were provided with manna while in the desert. They found plenty for each day....they could not gather extra and store it except for the Sabbath. Each day was provided for as it came. In addition, their shoes and clothes never wore out; (okay, so those of us who love to shop might not like that one too much.) In Lamentations, it says: "God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up.They're created new every morning. How great your faithfulness!" Philippians 4:19 puts it this way: "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

Notice it says NEEDS. It's funny what we think of as a need now days. My son was on his way to camp and as we headed out, he told me he "needed" new headphones...only one side of his worked. It's funny how insistent he was....that is until I told him he'd need to pay for them out of his own money....then all of a sudden, the old ones would do just fine. He didn't really "need" new ones anymore.

We all have an idea of what we need. In South Mississippi, it's reasonable to think we "need" air conditioning...but people lived here for hundreds of years without so much as a fan...so I guess that falls under the category of want. I "need" my computer...but I did without it for most of my life and somehow survived. I think I "need" a cup of coffee....okay, so maybe that one I do need. But seriously, what do I really "need"? Wisdom to face each day and its challenges? Done. Mercy for the many times I fail? Done. Strength to deal with "L.I.F.E - Living In a Fallen Environment"? Done. Joy, hope, faith? Done. Our Father God has written the "check" and signed His name to cover the needs of today.

Gee, I guess sometimes "drawing a blank" isn't so bad after all. Have a great day knowing that no matter what you face today....He's got it covered.