Posted in focus on faith, need a laugh?

We Laugh Here

IMG_1003The first thing people see as they enter my home, besides me that is, is the framed photo of Nancy. Nancy’s afro draws the first curious glance but the tiny caption which calls visitors to lean in close is what gets the laugh: Nancy always had thick ankles, but no one really noticed.  

Originally a Thank You card from a friend, “Nancy” so encapsulated the quirky sense of humour I enjoy, I had it framed and hung it strategically across from our front door. Why? I want people to know we laugh here. 

And just in case they miss Nancy, there are two more hints in the guest bathroom. Directly across from the throne is a pristine starched white hand towel — the kind nobody ever actually dries their hands on. On it are these words: I’m afraid there is no PMS and this is my personality. This was a gift from a sister years ago and I’ve always wondered if she was trying to tell me something. Ah well, if the shoe fits….

And finally, when the guest washes up, there is the colourful metalwork plaque behind the faucet: Mirror, mirror on the wall…what the heck happened?! 

We laugh here! And I want people to know it.

What about God? The Word? Our faith? Do people know we are believers when they come to our home. They’d have to be blind and deaf to miss it! The place is littered with Bibles, Christian books, framed Scripture. I think it is important to let people know I am a Christ follower. But before they get scared that I will beat them over the head with my faith, I want them to know, we laugh here.

Not everybody does, you know. Laugh, that is.

We have been in homes where they don’t. We have had people come to our home and thank us for the laughter. Some confide that they rarely laugh at their home. They wish they did, they add wistfully.

I’ve met many believers who talk about the joy of the Lord but they forgot to send the memo to their face.

George McDonald says: It is the Heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence.

Not everybody is born with a sense of humour. I wasn’t. Just ask my sister, 10 years my senior. She shared briefly about our family of origin at my Birthday Bash last Spring and finished with this: Connie was a beautiful little girl with her wavy blond hair and blue eyes. But she wasn’t happy. Mmm-hmm, she was an unhappy child…. Then she sat down. She wasn’t kidding. I thought it was hilarious! And I am really glad she set the record straight because, obviously something changed!

I am so glad God taught me how to laugh. It involved following Him into some real suffering and challenges. But I am thrilled to report that the things that made me the maddest, that frustrated me the most, and that scared the p_ _p right out of me are the very stories I have been telling audiences for years. And we laugh. I laugh so hard I can barely get to the punch line!

Still not convinced? Here’s what the Bible says:

A feast is prepared for laughter,
and wine makes life happy,
and money is the answer for everything. Ecclesiastes 10:19

Words to live by…grin.

If your home is laugh-starved, ask God to help you set a new tone. Just follow Him, one laugh at a time. Laughter is attractive. It’s contagious. It’s healing and comforting. It releases tension. It’s a gift from God and it guarantees that when you grow up,  you’ll have wrinkles in all the right places.

Posted in minimal moments

Friendships: Pour into or prune?

funeral-20clipart-clipart-rip-512x512-b846If you were to die tonight, how many friends would come to your funeral? These are the opening words to Chapter Seven in Simplify by Bill Hybels, a chapter about friendships. So, how many would come to your funeral? Or mine? According to Hybels, a lot fewer than we think! The number of people we know does not equal the number of true friends we have. 

Hybels defines friendship like this: to know and be known. He expands this definition of true friendship to include accepting and being accepted, serving and being served, celebrating and being celebrated. Then he advises us to evaluate our friendships regularly so we can prune or strengthen them.

Yup, he said prune. As in, lop off. Why? Simply put: stupid rubs off. Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm (Proverbs 13:20). Hybels describes seven warning lights to look for in friends who may need to be pruned:

  1. arrogance
  2. dishonesty
  3. mean-spiritedness
  4. corner cutting
  5. integrity lapses
  6. spreading gossip or slander
  7. divisive

Then he lists nine welcome signs to be on the lookout for because just as “stupid” rubs off, so does “smart.” The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5: 22, 23). Count ’em. That’s nine.

There are three levels of friends: Having a clear understanding of where each person fits in your life helps you clarify your expectations. 

1. Circumstantial friends: these are people we share portions of our life with — we work together, work out at the same gym, live nearby, volunteer together, attend the same church — but if circumstances changed we wouldn’t see each other any more. Hybels says be radically loving and kind in every exchange you have with your circumstantial friends. But know this: they’re not coming to your funeral.

2. True friends — for a season: Occasionally, circumstantial friends become true friends. But we live in a highly mobile world. The first time a close friendship is interrupted by a move it can be painful to accept and you might expend much effort trying to maintain those ties. Eventually you learn that time and energy is precious and limited, and while you never forget those friends, you may need to let them go. Hybels doesn’t say this, but I imagine that these people aren’t coming to your funeral either.

3. Lifelong friends: Some friendships really do last a lifetime. I have some of those and you do too. Whether near or far, these relationships are worth protecting and developing. Be aware, lifelong friendships are a treasured blessing and you might have only a few. They will make the effort to be at your funeral!

Hybels recommends that you look at your existing friendships and decide which ones need some adjustment — remember, the overall goal is to unclutter your soul by simplifying every aspect of your life. There are some friends you invite to get more involved with you in new ways. If they are interested, bring them along. There are others who hold back and you might have to let them go. And some friendships are toxic or harmful to you. These “frenemies” beat you down, hold you back, and worse still, rub off on you. In this case, say goodbye.

Now that you have sorted out your friendships — as if it’s ever that easy! — Hybels suggests ways to deepen your inner circle:

1. take small steps — moving too fast alarms people and true friendship takes time.

2. invest time

3. create shared experiences

4. wait for the volley — if you have initiated and nothing is coming back at you, don’t just move on, first ask the person if they want to develop a friendship. If they say yes but still don’t reciprocate, their actions speak the loudest. However, the exception is if one person in a friendship really does want to be friends but has a hard time initiating (like me) but is very quick to say yes when asked. This can be discussed and accepted and a great friendship can develop.

5. take off your mask (first) — be real. This is not code for “dump all your junk on them” but simply be who you really are, warts and all.

6. in a crisis, show up — this will always be one of my most painful memories. When my true friend Kathy had a flood at her house from a dysfunctional toilet, I did nothing. No mopping, no lugging. no hot meals. Nothing. I am ashamed, astounded and incredibly grateful that we remain friends today. True friends show up. If they don’t, you may need to honestly share your disappointment and hurt and then choose to graciously forgive.

Action Step: Identify your current relationship circles (for obvious reasons I am not going to make my lists public).

Using the Biblical model of Jesus’ relationships (3 close disciples, 12 apostles, 72 acquaintances), Hybels says create five columns on a page or spreadsheet:

Column One: 72 — list all acquaintance-level friendships. These are people you don’t know well. You’ve never socialized one-on-one or shared a significant conversation. Workmates. Neighbours. Gym class.

Column Two: 12 — list your current friends. you know them a little better, socialize occasionally, and consider a friend.

Column Three: 3 — list your current inner circle. Can include spouse, adult children, or best friends. Doesn’t have to be exactly three but should be a small number.

Column Four: Distant — list significant relationships with faraway fiends who, if they lived nearby, would be in the 12 or the 3 groups.

Column Five: Potential — list people you would like to get to know better. Be realistic. Don’t put Oprah or Beth Moore (unless you are neighbours) on your list.

Once your lists are made, save them. Come back to these lists to make adjustments as you think and pray. You can move people from one column to another or prune them altogether (this sounds horrible but what it really means is that perhaps that friendship has already died but you haven’t let it go yet; now is the time to accept and recognize it’s over). Knowing where people fit in your relational world simplifies your life by clarifying your expectations.

Posted in focus on faith

When Good Traits Aren’t So Good: guest post by Kathy Collard Miller and Larry Miller

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Have you ever tried to turn over a new leaf only to discover that before long “something” flipped that leaf back to the way it was? 

Keep reading and see what my guests, co-authors Kathy Collard Miller and her husband, Larry Miller, have to say about a new you:

It may seem strange but a good quality or behavior can actually become a means of leaving God out of our lives. We have recognized that in ourselves.

I, Kathy, love being seen as dependable. Early in life, to try to protect me from some painful things, I decided, “I will never be seen as a liar, so I will be dependable. I’ll protect my image.” Did I say those actual words? No, but that was the motive of my heart and my behavior followed suite. Many years later as a Christian, I would sacrifice obeying God if it meant appearing undependable to others.

I, Larry, had my own self-protective plan of being seen as knowledgeable. Could be a good idea except that my motive was to appear persuasive because then I seemed powerful. I tried to prevent anyone seeing me as weak because I appeared weak as a teenager. But making sure I’m seen as knowledgable doesn’t look to God to provide my value. It disregards my inheritance in Christ and tries to control other people’s opinions of me.

Here are some other examples of mixed motives. Someone might turn generosity into a self-protective strategy to earn the applause from others—rather than God. Another person could love to give compliments (which seems positive) but she turns it into a sinful strategy because in her heart of hearts she wants to hear a compliment about herself.

Only God knows a person’s heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). That’s also why we can’t judge another person’s behavior. We don’t know their heart condition and motive. And we must seek the Spirit’s enlightenment to recognize our own motives.

To get to the core of what motivates us, we must recognize the way each behavior choice diminishes—or even destroys—our dependence upon God. Then we can get to the root of our own sinful plans and turn to God. Paul warns the Corinthians believers, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:11). The NASB even uses the word “schemes” for the word “designs.” We must heed the Apostle Paul’s warning in order to strengthen our hearts to recognize the ways we are deceived by Satan’s schemes.

How about you? Can you see any way that what you value about yourself is actually a means to receive what you believe you need? And as a result, you don’t look to God to provide or protect you?

God wants to be your everything. Ask Him to reveal anything that isn’t as pure as you think. Your heart will feel like a fresh breeze has swept through it cleansing and purifying.

This article is excerpted from Never Ever Be the Same (Leafwood Publishers) which offers Christians hope that they can change their ungodly reactions through identifying their self-protective strategies and trusting God instead. The authors are Kathy Collard Miller and Larry Miller and includes biblical principles, insightful stories, and helpful instruction. It has individual and group discussion questions.

Kathy Collard Miller and Larry Miller are speakers and authors. They have been married 44 years and Larry is a retired police lieutenant. The Millers live in Southern California, and have two grown children and one grandson. Visit them at www.LarryAndKathy.com. Kathy blogs at www.KathyCollardMiller.com.

Never Ever Be the Same is available at your local Christian bookstore and in both print and digital versions at:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1ITmLfy

CBD: http://bit.ly/1AuJZSX

Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1BJz3lC

Posted in focus on faith

Pancreatic Cancer as God’s Canvas

IMG_2724“There’s a mass on my kidney,” our daughter Christine said shakily into the phone. Her dad took the call on my cell because I was paying for some shoes at the mall. He stepped into the hallway, pacing and murmuring, while I tried not to show my impatience with the chatty associate who was handling the transaction. I hurried over to where Gerry was in time to hear him say, “Stay there. We are on our way.”I could tell by the look on Gerry’s face that the report of our daughter’s ultrasound was not good. When he said “mass” and “kidney” I stopped breathing. My mother died from kidney cancer. I was shaking so badly I had to lean on the wall while Gerry said all the smart things: we don’t have all the facts yet; it’s too soon to panic; blah blah blah. Of course he was right but he needed to knock the monster off my chest so I could breathe!

That was almost exactly two years ago and yesterday our daughter had her second surgery to remove tumours from her pancreas — the “kidney” diagnosis turned out to be inaccurate. It has been a difficult and beautiful season in our family’s life. “Difficult” because no mother wants her child (grown or otherwise) to suffer. Every mother wishes to take the suffering on her own shoulders and let her child live in glorious freedom. But trading places is not an option. “Beautiful” because God uses our suffering as the canvas on which to paint Himself. Every time you look at that canvas you see Him and you know He cares, He knows, He is with you, He was ready for this, He’s in control, and so much more as the canvas takes on colour and pattern and depth.

There’s hardly a family that hasn’t been touched by cancer so you know what I mean when I say that the early days of waiting for the right diagnosis, the treatment options, the prognosis, the side effects (and so on) seem to drag on forever. You want answers. But you only want good answers, hopeful answers, dodged-a-bullet answers. If the cancer is rare, as Christine’s is, the answers are even slower in coming. Meanwhile, swatches of colour began to appear. The first was when we realized that the tumours on Christine’s pancreas had no symptoms and would never have been discovered until they had done irreparable damage. However a separate minor medical problem required ultrasound. And in the search for something else, the technician noticed a golfball sized mass and other smaller ones in Christine’s abdomen. The touch of God’s hand was obvious right from the start.

After Christine’s first surgery where they removed the tail of her pancreas that held seven cancerous tumours of various sizes she suffered hideously with uncontrollable pain and severe nausea. On her darkest night when she could not stop herself from crying out a young nurse came alongside her bed, took her hand and began to pray. Christine opened her eyes and saw Robyn Booth, the daughter-in-law of my dear friend Susan. Robyn’s comforting presence and heartfelt prayers as well as her subsequent search for better pain control was a giant swath of colour onto God’s canvas.

It took a year for Christine to regain her strength. She went back to work, taking two casual nursing positions. Two months later an MRI revealed a new tumour on the pancreas. We didn’t see it coming. I was on my way back from speaking in Georgia, enjoying some quiet in the Denver airport’s United Club when I read the text telling me the news. I had to find a bathroom stall so I could weep unseen. I called Gerry, bawling, and told him to tell Christine I would talk to her in the morning since my arrival home would be too late. The truth was I didn’t trust my composure. I packed my computer and iPad into my carry-on and stumbled to my gate in a fog. Someone called my name. I turned to see Patsy Woodard, a friend and fellow ministry associate from BC. She was en route to visit grandkids in Texas(?) and she saw me pass by.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Not good,” I replied, eyes watering. I explained. Patsy wrapped her arms around me and prayed, right there in the crowded airport hallway as people flowed around us. Drops of colour shaped like tears fell onto the canvas. God was present.

There’s so much colour on God’s canvas, I can’t begin to put it into words in one oversized blog. Here are some snatches: Christine, Brad and the kids bought a house four doors down a year before the cancer struck. I have been able to rush over — in pjs! — many times when needed. The kids have come to my place — in cuter pjs — many times. Colour on canvas! Women all over Canada and the US are praying for Christine as I share her story in my speaking ministry and so many keep in touch and send encouragement. Splashes of colour! When Christine arrived in the Operating Room yesterday morning, a woman from her fitness class was a nurse in the adjoining OR. She spoke to Christine assuring her that her attending doctors were the best in the area. Colour!

Two years ago in July, when my husband Gerry had his burnout, I felt God whisper into my ear, “Gerry needs a wife.” Obviously, he had a wife but I was so busy with my speaking and writing that I was very distracted. I stopped writing immediately — look at my blog (or lack of) for evidence. I honoured my speaking engagements but did nothing to get more — newsletters rather scarce! You see, God knew that by the time Gerry had recovered (after our “summer of love”), we would get the call from Christine that changed everything.

Christine called us from her hospital bed last night. Her pain was under control. She had no nausea. The surgeon says everything went according to plan and her pancreas is clear. She is in good spirits and excitedly reported how God had so obviously been adding colour to His canvas all day long.

I booked half as many events as usual these past two years but my husband needed his wife and my daughter, her mom. I answered their call, His call. I am following God one yes at a time and have no regrets. His magnificent canvas, ever before me, is proof that I am on the right path.

What about you? Where has God led you in these last months? Can you see the colours on His canvas of love?

Posted in need a laugh?, tips for speakers

7 Compelling Reasons you need Laughter at your next Outreach Event

IMG_3324Did Jesus laugh? We know Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the bible says so. But there is no corresponding verse to John 11:35 that says, “Jesus laughed.” Or even grinned!

What then are to make of the fact that there are hundreds of biblical references to joy? Do joyful people laugh? You bet they do. And it’s contagious. Because I have made people laugh at hundreds of events since 1999, I have seen what laughter can bring to a group.

The typical checklist for what we want at an event includes prayer, sound biblical teaching, practical help for Christian living, encouragement, inspiration, and lots of chocolate. Here are seven compelling reasons why we need to add one more thing to our next Christian women’s outreach event checklist: guaranteed laughs.

  1. Laughter is inviting: You want people to come to your event. And you want people to come back next time. The primary purpose for most Christian events is to connect people to Jesus and to your Christian community. A guaranteed good time is a strong invitation.
  2. Laughter is attractive: Our best Christian witness is a happy life. Most people want to be happy. If they see the joy we have and the way we share that joy – often, but not always, in the form of laughter – then they want it too. (Note: a “happy life” is not free of tragedy, loss, betrayal or suffering. It is a life characterized by the joy of the Lord in the midst of difficulties and challenges)
  3. Laughter is the best medicine: A good laugh makes you feel better. Laughter might not cure what ails you but it certainly puts it out of your mind for a while. There is so much pain and suffering in real life, people need to get relief that doesn’t destroy their liver!
  4. Laughter is the “spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down”: Real healing often means we have to deal with our “stuff.” In order to help people, they need to be made aware of nasty things like selfishness, greed, jealousy, pride, in a word, sin. Tough love is easier to swallow if it is coated with a little sugar!
  5. Shared laughter builds trust: It is much easier to trust a friend than a stranger. People never laugh with their enemies but with their friends. A roomful of laughing people feels a lot friendlier to someone who might have come in the door hesitantly.
  6. Laughter builds bridges: People who might otherwise think they have nothing in common with “church people” can see that the Christian life can be rich and meaningful and joyful.
  7. Laughter can signal a new beginning: there will be people in every crowd who literally have not laughed since their most recent tragedy. I have often had people thank me after a hilarious talk with words like this: “You made me laugh. I didn’t realize how badly I needed that. I haven’t laughed since I lost my husband (child/mother/marriage) three weeks (months/years) ago. For the first time, I think there might be hope that I can live again.” The irony is, every single time this happens to me, it makes me cry! But they are tears of sympathy and joy.

 

Posted in need a laugh?, tips for speakers

Three Ways to Inject Laughter into your next Outreach Event

 IMG_1160We have all been to events that were so much fun we lingered later than we planned, laughed more than we expected, and left feeling glad we went even though hours earlier we had a hundred excuses why we should stay home.

Why did we have fun? It could have been a number of factors ranging from the logistics to the guest list to the program to the refreshments to how we felt in our new outfit. The common denominator if you were to poll the guests after the fact is probably something as simple as: “I had fun because it was fun – I laughed.”

Laughter brings a guaranteed return on the investment of time it takes to inject some humor into an event. If your guests laughed that is a pretty good indication that they had a good time and they will come to your next event. That is why I think it is so important for Christian event planners to make sure they include “laughter” on the checklist of things they need for their next outreach event.

We’ve all met fun-loving people – maybe you are one – who know how to have a good time and they bring laughter wherever they go. My sister Lisa is like that. The minute she walks in the door at a family get-together, she always announces: “I’m here! Let the fun begin!” And it does! She brings it with her in the form of games, contests, funny stories and family lore.

Sadly, my sister Lisa is not for hire. So let’s look at some sure-fire things you can do to include humor in your next outreach event.

  1. Personally invite fun-loving people to attend: You might even consider offering some of them scholarships or discounts! A board game that made me shriek with laughter with one group of friends felt like a funeral mass with a different group a week later. Obviously it wasn’t the game (or me!) that was funny it was the group of game players. Make an effort to find “gamers” who know how to have fun and pepper your audience with as many of these fun-loving people as you can. The value of what they have to give (shared laughter) is as important as what they can get by attending.
  2. Make sure at least one program personality is funny: It doesn’t matter whether it’s the emcee, a special guest who does fun music or sketch comedy, or the speaker as long as someone brings some levity from the platform. This is important because if it comes from the platform, it gives permission to the audience to relax and enjoy themselves. It sets a joyful, fun-loving tone for the whole event. This doesn’t mean there won’t be seriousness and even tears; just as you can set a tone for fun you can shift the tone into weightier concerns when the time is right.
  3. Include fun in your program: What about an un-fashion show? The more outlandish the outfit, the better. Or a demonstration of what not to do in home decor or home reno. Old standbys like skits, games, contests or short videos also work. Not every event needs these add-ons; because I am a comedic speaker, sometimes the program is simply “sweets and me”! They eat chocolate and laugh at my stories and go home happy. But maybe your next event doesn’t have a funny speaker and you still want people to laugh because you know laughter will help them relax and be more open to receiving whatever it is your wonderful speaker wants to impart. In that case, look for something people can either watch or participate in that will get them laughing. The Internet and fun-loving people you trust are your best resources.

One final thought for you to gnaw on: La Chapelle, a new church in Montreal Quebec, is attracting and winning people to Jesus by the hundreds. Last year they baptized 70 converts. Pastor David Pothier attributes their growth to their willingness to adapt their timeless message (the gospel) to a new methodology: “We are constantly driven and focused on reaching people. We do and think everything through that lens.” One of the items on a short list of essentials for Sunday Worship is humor. Pastor Pothier knows the value of shared laughter in building trust, breaking down barriers and establishing community. Humor is a valuable tool – don’t underestimate its importance.

 

Posted in focus on faith

What’s the “Fix” for Spiritual Dryness?

button-fix-it“My soul is so withered up I barely recognize it any more!” Comments like this come to me on a regular basis. I hear from people of both genders and all ages who feel frustrated, sad or even desperate because their faith has eroded. Most of them don’t know why or how it happened nor do they know how to rediscover the vibrant faith they once knew.

I understand! I was in a spiritual wilderness for at least 10 years. It was my Big Secret because I was married to a minister (and did not want to negatively impact his calling) and I was in ministry myself as a writer for religious publications. I kept asking God to fix me since I had no idea how to fix myself. 

Let me insult your intelligence by telling you something you probably already know: there is no quick fix.

But there is a fix — or at least some points to consider to guide your steps as you seek answers and direction. (For a more complete study of this topic, check out these books.)

  • If your faith had worked for you, you wouldn’t have lost it. More to the point, if the practice of your faith was mature, growing and sustainable, you would still have it. The problem is that many of us, myself included, have heart issues, old wounds, new fears, hardships (and much worse) that our faith cannot adapt to. Our faith that has worked thus far runs into trouble and begins to erode as we subtly drift away from God.
  • God hasn’t left you even though you might feel abandoned. Because most of us in spiritual dryness drift away slowly, we are blind to what caused it and where it began. As a result, we feel like a victim rather than the pilot of our own faith. Ergo: God must have moved! It surely wasn’t me! We forget (or disbelieve) the myriad times God says: I will never leave you nor forsake you. He didn’t move. You did. If you moved away, you can move back.
  • Admit the truth out loud. Break the conspiracy of silence. Just say it: “I’ve lost my faith” or “My faith no longer works” or “I don’t believe in a personal God any more.” Use your own words to say the naked truth about the current state of your soul. God can take it! You will not shock Him or hurt His feelings. He may be waiting for you to come out of denial before His redemptive work can get some traction. “When our embarrassment level is exceeded by our desperation level we are a candidate for God’s grace” (Peter Lord) Your pastor and others in your church can probably take it too. Choose a few safe people to tell so that your “secret” loses it’s hold on you.
  • Ask Him to come after you. If you aren’t praying any more, this counts as your first prayer. It’s like saying sic ’em to a dog (no disrespect intended). In fact, He is already pursuing you but you are temporarily blinded by your unbelief. What this prayer really means is that you will now be on the lookout for the invisible God. God will begin to remove the scales from your spiritual eyes and the wax from your spiritual ears.
  • Risk saying yes. Spiritual dryness is the result of mistrust and disobedience. In other words, as we drift away from God we lose faith that He is trustworthy and we stop doing what He asks. We say no, not with our lips, but with our lives. But we never stop having a vague sense of spiritual nudging. Say yes to one of those nudges.
  • Get back into (or stay in) “God’s habitat”. When hunters want to bag a moose, they don’t dress up in camo gear and hike into downtown Chicago. They head for the forests and swamps — the places moose hang out! If you are looking for God, spend as much time as possible in His territory. You know what that means but for the sake of absolute clarity here are some suggestions: the Bible, Christian books (fiction and nonfiction), church, bible study groups (real and virtual), prayer groups, music (worship band, choir, solo listening), godly friends (old and new).
  • Never lose hope. Remember there is no quick fix but there is a fix. You did not drift away in a day, you won’t come back in a day. Take it one day at a time and follow God one yes at a time.
Posted in focus on faith

Generosity part 3: hope for the rest of us

hubcap-treeAs the Christmas season approaches does the word “generosity” make you nervous? If so, you’re in the majority. Many of us are in a constant state of donor fatigue, inundated with requests from our kids’ schools, our churches, the natural disaster of the day (tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, floods and fires), starving children, missions fundraisers, telemarketers, political parties, community initiatives, door to door campaigns, and on and on and on.

We aren’t just stretched financially but many of us also have a bulging calendar and a demanding clock. Maybe you are multi-talented and you don’t want to waste it. Or perhaps you can’t bear to see an unmet need. Or maybe you look at the staggering success of colleagues and, in comparison, you feel like you have to crank it up a notch so you don’t get left behind. Maybe, like me, you read Sheryl Sandberg’s blockbuster book, Lean In, and you think super-woman really does exist so you just need try a little harder.

303891 The truth is Superwoman is a mythological comic figure. And no matter how much we want to be her, we can’t. (I doubt the slinky get-up would be overly flattering for most of us anyway!) We can’t say yes to every request for our time, our talent or our treasure. We have limits. We are human.

Boy that really stinks doesn’t it?!

How are we supposed to “change our world” if we are limited human beings? Well, a few of you will do and are doing huge things that grab the attention of the multitudes. But most of us, the vast majority of us, are the multitude. What about us? We want to make a difference too! Is there any hope for the rest of us?

A resounding yes! Consider these four suggestions:

Get to know and then respect your limits. Even though I wince every time, I have learned to say “no” or “not at this time” with kindness, courtesy and respect.  I agonized for a month and finally replied to a request for support from a godly, gifted, impassioned young woman with “no.” I explained that I did believe in her and in her calling and I didn’t doubt she would do great things but I have limits and her request fell outside those limits at this time. It was tough. But right.

Discern what your top one, two, at most three talents or areas of giftedness are rubber-glove-thumbs-up-20579179transparentand operate mainly from those strengths. This will require focus, discipline and, you guessed it, the ability to say no.  I know that I have two strong gifts: my hands and my humour. I use the gift of humour in lots of speaking and some writing. I use my (often rubber-gloved) hands helping my family, my friends, my community and my church.

Be ready, and willing, to scale back, take a break, or walk away from some or all of your world-changing activity if God asks for it. In July 2012, with a head full of plans and a briefcase full if solid ideas, I returned home from a professional development conference to find my husband Gerry near collapse from exhaustion. It was obvious to me he needed a wife! Being Gerry’s wife is my highest calling and greatest privilege. God didn’t have to ask me twice. I dropped the plans and ideas and quit some other things and embarked on a yearlong ministry to my dearest and best friend. During that year, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with and surgically cured  from pancreatic cancer. It was a rough road. Gerry is doing great, my daughter is almost fully recovered and I am getting back into the swing of my ministry. Did my “sabbatical” affect my work? Greatly! My invitations and influence are much reduced. But remember this: when we follow God one yes at a time, we trust Him, not our own efforts. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works (Hebrews 4:10). Either we trust He who calls us or we don’t.

Have some fun! Hug your kids or grandkids. Go for a walk on a snowy pathway. Sign snowy pathwayup for the Christmas choir. Paint a room. Curl up with a good book or your fav series on Netflix. Hop into bed early with your husband — check out this resource!

If generosity is a scary word for you right now, you are probably over-extended. Generosity flourishes in “margin” I meet very few truly stingy, selfish people. Christmas is still several weeks away, start now to create some margin–space around the edges of your life–and generosity will no longer be a scary word, but a joyful invitation to change the world one small act at a time. If the rest of us all do a little bit, it can make a huge impact. Now that gives me hope!

Posted in focus on faith

Worry Can’t Change Others

I worry. You worry. Most of us worry. Kathy Collard Miller has written a useful, practical book that can help you worry less and trust more. Read what she has to say:

Partly CloudyThere’s something deep inside of us that believes worry can change others. If someone we love has a different perspective than we do, we worry. If someone we love has a different belief about God, we worry. If someone we love has a character flaw, we worry. We just know their wrong thinking will mess up their lives.

Some of these worries may truly seem “worthy” of worry. Your mother may not know Christ as her Savior, and she has cancer. Your son may be on the street taking drugs. Your friend may demonstrate a lack of integrity at work. Another friend drives while intoxicated. You may have tried to reason, cajole, quote Scripture, even manipulate each person into changing their ideas and their behavior, but nothing has worked—not even prayer. God hasn’t changed them either. You fear something bad, really bad, is going to happen.

Even if it’s not a matter of something really bad occurring, we can easily take responsibility for someone else’s happiness and then try to change them.

A verse that has helped me in releasing that worry is:  “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15 NASB). If God has the ability to give you and me a different attitude, He can do it for anyone. He is powerful and creative. When we worry or feel like we have to change someone’s ideas, we are saying, “God, you aren’t effective enough. You aren’t creative enough to work in this person’s life. I’ve got to do it myself.”

When I think of how God creatively worked in our daughter Darcy’s life, I sense the tears coming. Darcy went to Denmark for a semester of college and requested to live in the home of a Danish family. At that time, Darcy was friendly with us, but distant emotionally.

But while in Denmark, our phone calls soon were centered on how badly her Danish “mother” was treating her— ignoring her and saying mean things to her. Larry and I were incensed, as most parents would be, and I began to worry about my daughter’s emotional health. Then my worry fueled anger toward this woman who had no right to treat my daughter like that. We suggested Darcy move to on-campus housing, but she wanted to stick it out. Since we couldn’t afford to go visit her (I would have loved to give that woman a piece of my mind), I had to stew over it … in the beginning.

Then I saw God’s work in Darcy’s life. Because of her circumstances, she began to appreciate our family as she never had before. In comparison to the way her Danish family treated her, we were looking pretty good. In fact, fabulous. I’d never heard as much love and warmth in Darcy’s voice as when we talked with her.

Shortly before she returned home, she sent a Christmas card and wrote in it:

Dear Dad, Mom, and Mark: Since I can’t be there with you for Christmas, I’m writing to tell you how much I’ll miss not being there and how much I love you all. Being away has really made me realize how awesome a family you are. I love and appreciate all of you so much! I can’t wait to come home to see you all. Give my love to the rest of the family. I’ll be seeing you on January 6. Love, Darcy.

That was in 1994. After Darcy returned, her appreciation for our family continued to rise to great heights, and it all started with something I was worried about. It’s every mother’s longing to have her child value their family. But in our case, God accomplished this through mistreatment, something I would have changed if I could. But if I had, the good results God intended would not have occurred. Even today, when we talk about that situation, Darcy remarks, “Oh, yes, God really used that in my life.”

We don’t want to thwart God’s changes in those we love, do we? We need to make sure worry doesn’t prevent His work. Let’s live like we believe Philippians 3:15: God can change others.

 BOOK SUMMARY AND BIOGRAPHY:

It is possible to worry less through trusting God more. Regardless of the storms of trials, temptations, worry, uncertainty, confusion, or regrets that you’re facing, you can trust God more. Partly Cloudy with Scattered Worries offers a conversational style, personal testimonies, practical illustrations, and solid biblical teaching for breaking anxiety and the devastating effects of worry. Each chapter includes Discussion Questions for individuals or groups, along with a “Letter from God.” In addition, a profile of a woman in the Bible who struggled with or experienced victory over worry is featured in each chapter to inspire every reader to see God’s hand in her life.

Kathy Collard Miller is a speaker and author. Her passion is to inspire women to trust God more. She has spoken in 30 states and 7 foreign countries. Kathy has 49 published books including Women of the Bible: Smart Guide to the Bible (Thomas Nelson) and she blogs at www.KathyCollardMiller.blogspot.com. Kathy lives in Southern California with her husband of 43 years, Larry, and is the proud grandma of Raphael. Kathy and Larry often speak together at marriage events and retreats.

Watch book trailer here

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Posted in focus on faith

Majestic and Wild

Majestic and WildWhen you love stories and nature like I do a subtitle like TRUE STORIES OF FAITH AND ADVENTURE IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS is almost irresistible. I have read several of Murray Pura’s books, mostly fiction, and have been carried away by his storytelling mastery. So when I got my hands on this book, a non-fiction, I was eager to read it because this was the author’s real life, not his imaginings. Like most avid readers I am always a bit curious about an author’s real life.

Each chapter stands alone and has an un-preachy devotional feel. I could see the sunsets, hear the elk’s call, feel the cold shock of river water and smell the campfires in Pura’s backcountry adventures. I fell in love with his loyal dogs and I don’t even like dogs! I read this book slowly, over several weeks; savouring it like fine chocolate that I will squirrel away and nibble on over several months.

While the chapter that blew the cover on Pura’s wife Linda’s nocturnal imaginings was amusing, without a doubt, my favorite chapter was the second to last where he describes encountering a bear in Waterton National Park. My husband Gerry and I have holidayed in that very place for more than a dozen years. I have been on the hike he described and several others and his description of the breathtaking beauty there is entirely accurate.

But it was Pura’s final anecdote in the final chapter that touched my soul. Because I was once in spiritual wilderness for a long time, his description of walking into the real wilderness to heal his hurting soul was particularly poignant:

Once, I went into the wild a dead man. Death had broken my heart and I grieved. I had nothing left for wife or family or the church where I pastored. I sat among the trees and read the Bible and gave God my pain and anger and hopelessness. One by one the stars came out. At dawn, the sun rose clear of the mountains and hills. The birds moved swiftly from branch to branch. Whitetail drank at the green river. I walked with the dogs to a marshland and jumped when a bull moose with a full rack roared and splashed through the water away from us. The sun set in red and purple, the moon came back with the stars, fire warmed my face and hands, stew bubbled in a cast-iron pot. I slept in a dark as thick as a wool blanket. In the morning a breeze stirred the ashes of my fire pit and a flame shot up.

God’s words in God’s pages made more sense to me in God’s wild. After a few days I was a new man. God was as close to me as the sweet air I took into my lungs. In fact, he had never left my heart. Or left me without strength. It was just that I knew that better now. And lived again. (pp 234, 235)

If you feel like the walking dead, like God is no nearer than the Milky Way, I encourage you to step outside and take a look at the night sky — get out on your balcony or walk to a nearby park on a starry night. Just drink in the majesty of God’s handiwork. He has never left you. Let the breeze on your face be the feel of His gentle touch, let the sound of wind in the trees be His whisper as He says, “I’m right here. Call out to Me in your time of trouble and I will heal your soul.” When you step back inside, pick up His Word and read Psalm 139 as if you had written it yourself. Let the truth of His Word comfort you and give you hope.