Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Moving Mountains, One Day at a Time

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20

Have you ever had a dream that you knew God planted in your heart, but as time went on, you just didn’t see how in the world it was ever going to come to pass? Perhaps it was the dream of a career, sidetracked by a lack of education or lost opportunities. Or that of a happy marriage, dashed by divorce. Maybe it was a dream of motherhood, foiled by infertility.

I know what it is to question God when dreams get dashed. To ask, with tears in my eyes, “Why, God, why?” and “When, God, when?”

This is a story of learning to believe. In myself? No.

I’ve failed too many times when I counted on my own strength. 

Trying with all my might, gritting my teeth, doing all I could to be “good enough” didn’t work. I just couldn’t move that mountain. I couldn’t get pregnant. I was losing the marriage. My career was on shaky ground. Life as I imagined it just wasn’t happening. In addition to questioning God, I had to ask myself, “Is it circumstances, or is it me?” And just as I was about to give up, God stepped in.

I came to believe in a power greater than myself.

At my wits end, not knowing how to create any kind of life for myself, out of the mess I had made of it, I gave up. I had nowhere to turn to, except … UP.

I had read in the Bible that God granted wisdom to those who would seek it, and so I sought it with all my heart. I wanted – no, I needed – to know what the blind spot was in my life that was keeping me from the peace and joy I so desperately wanted to find.

With all of my circumstances whirling around me like a devastating tornado, I wasn’t in the mode of trusting anything or anyone. I came to realize I was propping myself up on a crutch that, while not the cause of the chaos in my life, certainly was contributing to it. Alcohol. Yes, the demon that had haunted my family for multiple generations back. Those three glasses of wine. The couple of beers. Not occasionally. No, now it was almost every night. It had become my daily companion, something to ease the pain. No more was it about having fun; instead it was about numbing those feelings of failure, of worthlessness … of hopelessness.

I don’t think it was any accident that at the same time I was asking God for wisdom, the same question came up over and over again in my Bible study booklet. “What is God leading you to do in order to join Him in what He is doing?” The answer that continually came to my mind was “Quit drinking.” But how? Business dinners, social happy hours, gourmet cooking … it seemed that most all of my activities involved drinking. Would I become a social pariah?  What would I do instead?

I turned my life and will over to the care of God.

It didn’t take too long for me to realize I was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Still trying to get pregnant, I tried to imagine life without alcohol for nine months or so and as hard as I tried, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Perhaps it was time to turn things over to something more powerful than myself. The day after a particularly bad hangover, at which time I swore I wasn’t going to drink again, I found myself back at happy hour. At 4 a.m. the next morning, I awoke to the stark reality. I have a real problem. And that evening, I walked into my first 12-step meeting. There I met people whose drinking had far surpassed mine, and whose life consequences showed it, but there was that one element of commonality: our lives had become unmanageable.

Many a friend didn’t think I was an alcoholic, and truthfully, from a physical standpoint, my doctor wouldn’t have considered me one either. But I knew that psychologically, I had become dependent. And I had also learned the hard way that there was no problem I had that a drink wouldn’t make worse. I had seen the path where alcohol had led others in my family, and I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps. I had also seen the dramatic turnaround in those who had traded in their dependence on booze for a complete dependence on God. I wanted what they had.

As I learned to trust, God moved the mountains.

There is a saying that time heals all wounds. What that saying doesn’t convey is how much time it takes. As of this writing, it’s been over 18 years since I took my last drink. This week, I will pick up a “chip” to celebrate that milestone. Looking back, I see how God has worked in my life. I can see how He was there to protect me and guide me into making that life-changing decision so many years ago, and I can see the mountains He has moved since that day. And as for my part, I see what I needed most was faith.

When I began to relax and accept God’s will for my life, a funny thing happened. I found the peace and joy I had been looking for. More than that, however, I found that the mountains I had been trying to move myself were moved in the most unexpected ways. Though I had struggled in the corporate world, I found success as an entrepreneur and consultant. While I never got pregnant, God gave me the gift of motherhood via adoption. My first marriage did in fact fail, but my new one – found only after seven hard years of single parenting – is everything I ever hoped for. And my lifelong dream of becoming a missionary, which I thought for sure all hope for was dashed by the “backslidden” life I had lived? As a priest at a 12-step retreat told me many years ago, “Don’t you see it? God has been qualifying you! Now you have a story to tell of His power.” 

In 18 years, I have learned the secret of a happy life: living life on life’s terms. We may not understand all of its ups and downs, twists and turns, and yet God does have a plan and it is good. What does it take for those mountains to be moved? Faith like a mustard seed, lived out one day at a time.

What is your dream? Can you see how it connects to what God is doing in the world? Is there anything you need to change in order to join Him? Just trust and obey, leaning on faith. You will get there … one day at a time.

Moving Mountains, One Day at a Time originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Intentionally Pursuing Intentional Tuesday   

Holly Barrett

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dreams and Reality - Bridging the Great Divide

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being revived every day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16

I looked intently at the woman in the picture. Perhaps the photo was airbrushed, I thought. Or maybe the camera flash makes it invisible to the naked eye. But I could swear that the person I was looking at didn’t have an ounce of sweat on her, pretty remarkable for a 92-year-old who had just run a marathon. Pretty inspirational too, considering not only her age, but that she was a cancer survivor who had also recently lost her husband. Wow. She certainly deserved all the accolades she was receiving in the press.

If I am really honest, though, I have to admit that my reactions to stories come with a mixed bag of emotions. Yes, there is the warrior side of me that cries out, “Well, if SHE can do THAT, then I can certainly do what I want to do!” The courageous, determined inner me lines up with the famous Nike slogan Just do it, and I momentarily I believe I can, in fact, do anything! In my mind’s eye, I envision myself hiking across the Peruvian landscape to the top of Machu Picchu, high in the Andes Mountains. Next, I’m seeing myself white water rafting and kayaking the famous Snake River in Idaho. Oh, the exhilaration! Yes, with that extra bit of inspiration provided by someone else’s remarkable achievement, I’m ready to take on the world!

For a moment.

The problem comes after that first moment. It’s when reality sets in. Oftentimes, there is a gulf between what my mind wants to do and what my body is able to do. While I still have all the same dreams I had in my 20’s, and I certainly am willing to work hard at making many of them come true, I have to wrestle with the fact that a 50-year-old body with an autoimmune disease may not be able to keep up with all of those youthful fantasies created during a much fitter time of my life.

I know I am not the only one facing this situation. Age and experience takes its toll on everyone. A world-class athlete is faced with adjusting his dreams after a diving accident renders him paralyzed. A ballerina’s arthritis makes it too painful to dance, much less landing the starring role. A recovering alcoholic wonders how to rekindle the romance in her marriage now that the days of “red wine and candlelight” are over.

So how do we bridge the divide?

God’s word doesn’t pull any punches. Every day, we are one day closer to death. Our bodies age and there is not a thing we can do about it. Yes, we may be able to delay the effects a bit, with healthy habits, or perhaps we can try to cover them up with makeup or plastic surgery. God says there is an upside, however.

Today’s verse in 2 Corinthians that reminds us that while our bodies may not be what they used to, our spirits are being revived every day. And tied to that verse is the admonition to never give up! 

I had shoulder surgery recently and honestly wondered if I would ever be able to use my right arm again in the same way I used to. The pain of recovery and physical therapy was excruciating and my range of motion was extremely limited. Yet, every day, I would do the exercises with that far-off dream of being able to kayak again. Scripture-based Christian songs kept my spirits up, encouraging me to “press on” and reminding me that I was an “overcomer.” Progress was slow, sometimes just detectible in centimeters. But one day at a time, I grew stronger and more capable…and finally did it! The joy of being in a kayak again, four months to the day from my surgery, was immeasurable. It wasn’t the same level of kayaking I did before – my husband and I decided that going “tandem” on a calm lake, for just 45 minutes, was the best I could do for now – but just being in the boat with a paddle in my hands felt wonderful. The thrill of that small moment in time made the slow-going, painful process all worth it.

So it is with any of our goals. They seem far off and unreachable at times. Perhaps we have to modify them a bit or scale them down, and be content in celebrating just small victories. For me, that may be a short paddle on a lake. For someone else, it might be crossing the room without a walker. For another, it might be taking that first step to fight an addiction. For you, it may be something different altogether.

Tweet: No matter how small or lofty our dreams are, in the midst of our pursuit, God is our ultimate cheerleader. http://ctt.ec/957v3+ No matter how small or lofty our dreams are, in the midst of our pursuit, God is our ultimate cheerleader.

No matter how small or lofty our dreams are, in the midst of our pursuit, God is our ultimate cheerleader. That doesn’t mean He is going to grant us every wish. He sees the big picture and knows how to work everything for good, even when we don’t see it. But He has promised this: When we [first] delight in Him, [then] He will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4). As we spend time with Him, He becomes our delight and plants new desires for us to pursue, right where we are at. And step by step, as we commit our way to Him, He charts out a path that leads to life abundant. Each day, He is there to revive our spirits and to give us the strength to go on, and out of that perseverance comes peace, patience and ultimately joy.

What are your dreams today, and how have they been affected by your present reality? Have you taken them to God? How has spending time with Him changed your dreams and how you pursue them?

Dreams and Reality - Bridging the Great Divide originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Intentionally Pursuing Intentional Tuesday   

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

You're Not Alone: Five Ways Out of Loneliness

You may feel lonely, but you are never alone... SpringSight.net

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” - Genesis 2:18

Everyone gets lonely sometimes. Some of us are better at it than others. When life gets stressful, I can find a million and one reasons for being lonely, and I bet you can too.

In my previous marriage to someone prone to workaholism, I frequently felt lonely as I waited indefinitely for him to get off the phone or the computer. After our divorce, when I was simultaneously crushed with grief, struggling as a single parent, and no longer a part of my married-couple social circle, I felt a new level of loneliness. Then illness came, with its various flavors of isolating effects. From not being able to drive at times, to not being physically able to participate in planned activities, it has driven me even further away from the vibrant social life I used to know.

In some ways, I have come to appreciate my slower lifestyle, as it gives me more time for introspection and contemplation. This blog would never have come to be without a lifestyle change. I just would have been too busy! And don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fairly busy person and my day-to-day responsibilities are hardly drudgery. I enjoy my work and the time I spend caring for my daughter, husband and other family members. I also take time for my church, which I wouldn’t trade for anything. But even in the midst of this, I sometimes get that longing for something…more. It’s a feeling of being disconnected, which seems strange in an era when we are SO “connected” via cell phones, email and social media. Yet, there it is. When I’m home alone and the phone doesn’t ring, I check my email and it’s all business, or the holiday passes and I didn’t get invited to the party…I start feeling a little lonely inside.

I suspect I am not alone in my loneliness. Yes, I bet you feel that way too. The good news is that neither of us have to stay that way. I’ve now experienced loneliness enough in my life to know how to effectively deal with it. Here is what I have found to be five ways out of it.

1. Give a smile and get one back. It seems simple, doesn’t it? Yes, it is! Really and truly, one of the best ways I have found to get myself out of a “funk” is to be as friendly as possible to those around me, especially with people who expect it least. Long line at the store, with frustrated customers and a frazzled checkout clerk? Smile and wish everyone a great day, and you’ll be amazed to see what happens. As the tension lifts and you get smiles of appreciation back, you’ll start to feel better too! Suddenly, the world will feel like a happier place. And it all started with you.

2. Get on – or off – social media. This is a tough one, but I know you can do it! I didn’t spend much time on Facebook until I found myself both working from home and unable to drive (for medical reasons) for six months. Talk about isolating! Facebook became my hero, my vehicle for staying connected to the rest of the world. Online communication has done wonders for many others with physical disabilities as well. Sometimes I check Facebook to see what’s going on in friends’ lives so I can ask them about it when we talk, and to enjoy their vacation pics. But there’s another side to social media that can actually make you feel worse, especially if you’re prone to envy. When everyone else is having a good time and you’re stuck at home, does seeing the posts bring you up or down? Do you feel happy to simply be a part of their life by observing it, or does it make you feel left out? Take an honest look at social media and how it makes you feel. It may be time to use it for greater connection, or it may be time to give it a break. Which leads me to my next point…

3. Pick up the 1,000-pound telephone. OK, so this is my number one weakness. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? If you’re lonely, call someone! And yet, in the midst of deadlines and other responsibilities, this is one area of my self-care that I tend to neglect. Perhaps it’s fear of rejection. Maybe it’s that I have been stuck at home ill and don’t have great stories to share, so I figure I have nothing to contribute to the conversation other than “woe is me.” Whatever the reason for your hesitation, mustering up the courage to pick up the phone is one of the best ways of tackling your isolation. Take the focus off your insecurities by asking your friend how they are doing. Then end it with an invitation for a next step – whether it’s another call sometime, coffee or lunch. You may feel alone before the call, but it’s a good chance you won’t afterwards.

4. Become a part of something bigger. Usually, when I am feeling the loneliest, it is because I am focused on ME. My wants, my needs, my desires. What is the best cure? Focusing on something bigger than me. Psychologists have found a need for belonging is one of man’s greatest needs. So it’s no wonder we feel lonely when we set ourselves up to be all alone. Community is important, and teaming up with others for a good cause is a great way to get it. Get involved with your church or a non-profit and spend time helping others. If you can’t do it in person, do it online, even if it means just chiming in with some positive support for people who are struggling with similar health or life issues. You’ll feel connected, less lonely, and good about being able to help those less fortunate than you.

5. Make time for the One who loves you most. This may be last on my list here, but it’s my personal first go-to when I’m feeling lonely. The fact is, we can’t ease the deepest sense of our longings and heal our loneliness ourselves, or even with other people. You see, there is a God-shaped hole in our hearts that can only be filled with Him. Believe me, I have tried filling that hole with everything else, and it just doesn’t work. The Bible is full of reassurances that God loves me, and reading those can often help me realize that I am never really alone in this world. I can also feel Him in my spirit when I am in prayer, or out in nature, seeing all the beauty He has created. But while God says He will never leave me (Deut. 31:6), I have to make time to recognize Him and to embrace the great love He offers. It is only then that I can find true inner peace and fulfillment.

God does not want you to feel lonely, my friend. In Genesis, God said of the first human being, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will give him a helper,” and created woman. That is why we were given the gift of marriage and of community with others. We are in this together. With Him. You may feel lonely sometimes, but you are never alone.

When do you feel the loneliest? Which of these five ways out of loneliness have you tried, and which have worked the best for you? When you feel lonely, God is there! Cry out to Him and let Him show you how to feel less alone.

You're Not Alone: Five Ways Out of Loneliness originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Today I am linking up with:

Intentionally Pursuing Intentional Tuesday