Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Do I have any regrets?

Forty will be here in a few days.

Something happens when you start approaching a milestone birthday like this one. You spend a lot of time in quiet introspection, contemplating where you’ve been and where you’re headed. True, it happens at other times, too. But as I conclude the final days of my 30’s I’ve been feeling a surge of what I can only describe as equal parts nostalgic joy and quiet anticipation.

I take great pleasure in sentimental remembrance of all I’ve experienced and witnessed in the last 40 years, knowing there’s been far more good even in the midst of pain. But I also feel a measure of satisfaction when I evaluate where I’ve fallen short and made mistakes. Because I can only regret something once I’ve learned there’s a better way.

One of the things that has never sat well with me is the idea that to live a happy and full life you need to live without regrets…that looking back and wishing we’d made some different choices somehow keeps us locked in the past and prevents us from being happy and healthy in our present. This, coupled with the sentiment that we reach a point where we’re suddenly “too old to change”, leaves me baffled. Being dissatisfied, disappointed even, in certain decisions is an essential part of the gift of life experience that shapes us and our relationships. To refuse to live with any regrets is terribly short-sighted.

Looking back on the last 39 years I can tell you without hesitation I absolutely have regrets.

I regret I spent so much time worrying about what other people thought of me.

I regret the years spent dissatisfied with my younger, stronger, more flexible body, because it did not fit into a size 8 pair of jeans.

I regret being quick to lose my temper and slow to forgive.

I regret holding myself and my loved ones to such impossibly high standards and expectations that disappointment and failure were inevitable.

I regret all the times I lost my temper with my kids, especially over the little things, instead of keeping my cool and some perspective.

I regret not spending more time actively seeking God, and instead waiting for things to fall apart before seeking comfort in His word and love.

I regret all of the time spent looking ahead to what was next instead of just being content and fully present in the here and now.

“Because I can only regret something once I’ve learned there’s a better way.”

 

I look back on the past 39 years and there is so much that I wish I did more or less of, did differently.  But I’m thankful for that view of the past because it has led to a much healthier, more content person in the present. One who has learned a lot about what’s most important in life and where to focus her time and energies. She’s not perfect, but I like this me more than any previous version.

Forty will be here in a few days. And I look forward to entering this next decade with a little more patience, a little more grace for myself and others, a little more content to be here and present, and little more reliant on God.

I expect that by the time I hit 60, 80, (maybe even) 100 I will look back on the previous decades and see the things I should have, could have done differently, because God’s not done with me yet.

Isaiah 64:8

No matter how old I get I hope I never close myself off to allowing Him to change and mold me into the person He’s created me to be. I know this body — this life — is not my final destination, but I’d like to make the most of it while I’m here.

Yes, forty will be here in a few days and I’m quite alright with that.

 

photo credit: Big Grey Mare In Love With Clay via photopin (license)

photo credit: David Grandmougin Valentine via photopin (license)

The Greatest Love Story of All Time

Who enjoys a good love story? I know I do. Whether it’s in a book or movie, I love the experience of watching a love story unfold, it just feels good to witness that love.

When I think about some of the best love stories I’ve read or watched, there are a couple of things they have in common. And as it turns out there is actually a formula that authors and screen writers use to create the perfect love story. According to Writer’s Digest there are four crucial basics that every love story must have:

  1. A hero and a heroine to fall in love
  2. A problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart
  3. A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime
  4. A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united

Today is Easter, a day that makes up a key chapter in the greatest love story of all time. The story of a Father’s love that knew no limits.

If we look at those four basics of the perfect love story we can find each of them in the story of God’s love for us.

Number one: A hero and heroine fall in love. Of course, the hero in our story isn’t your average hero. It’s God. You might say He’s the hero of heroes. And before each of us was even born, He had already fallen in love with us. God created us specifically to be in relationship with Him and He has loved us from the beginning. Now, unfortunately we took a bit longer to recognize and accept this love. But if you are a believer, I want you to think back to when you first discovered God’s love and how you felt when you first accepted Him into your heart. And if you aren’t sure you’ve gotten there yet, that’s OK, it just means your love story is waiting to happen.

 

Number two: There is a problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart. Boy does our love story have this. In fact it has thousands of years of problems and conflict. But it all started in the garden when Adam and Eve chose sin instead of love. Over and over God’s people have chosen something — or someone –over Him. Often that someone else we choose is ourselves. Our own selfish desires. And if this love story were a movie or book, I imagine even the most devoted hero would have given up and moved on. But not our Hero. He continues to pursue us. He continues to forgive us. He continues to love us.

 

Number three: A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime. Now this is the part of our story where we start to get closer to today’s chapter. Because while from the beginning God’s love for us could easily be categorized as “so special it comes only once in a lifetime”, it was really the day that God himself chose to walk on this earth in human form that changed everything. When our Hero decided that the best way to win our love was to meet us where we were, to become just like us, and tell us in His own words, from the lips of His own mouth just how much He loved us… I mean there had never been anything like it to come before, and there has been nothing like it to come since. Jesus Christ was that once-in-a-lifetime expression of love.

 

And so, that brings us to Number four: A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united. Now remember, our conflict, the thing keeping us apart from our Hero is our own sin. So what did God do to resolve this? He made the ultimate sacrifice. He took all of our sin, nailed it to a cross and died. On a day, nearly 2,000 years ago, when the skies turned black, God looked down from that cross and said: “I love you more.”

And let’s pause for a moment and talk about passion. It wasn’t in our list, but every good love story has an element of passion in it, right? That day that God said “I love you more” and took from us the very thing that was keeping us separated? The Bible tells us that in that moment the “curtain of the temple was torn in two, the earth shook and the rocks split, and tombs were broken open!” (Matthew 27:51-52). There was so much passion in God’s love for us that at the exact moment He took away the thing that was tearing us apart, the moment He took on our sin, the whole world shook.

As beautiful of an example of love as this story is, it would be kind of a sad ending to the greatest love story of all time if it just ended there at the cross. Of course God, our Hero, doesn’t leave anything unfinished. He doesn’t leave us lost and alone, weeping in the realization of what love did for us.

No. He came back. He was resurrected. He made sure we knew that He was not leaving us for good; that His death was truly a resolution to what had been keeping us apart and now we could be together forever. Our Hero was raised from the dead and got up and walked among us once again so that we could hear from his very own lips these words: “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

He doesn't leave us lost and alone, weeping in the realization of what love did for us.

Today we celebrate the greatest love story of all time. And you know what makes it even better? We are part of that story. We are not simply moviegoers or bystanders to this love story. We are the heroine, the bride of Christ. We have been united with our great love, with our Hero because of Easter. Because of His death and resurrection there is nothing, nothing we can ever do to make him stop loving us, to give up on us, to leave us.

Now, go and live that story, it’s the story of your life.

 

 

Image Copyright: halfpoint / 123RF Stock Photo

The gift of broken tear ducts

When I was 17 years old my aunt took me to see “Miss Saigon” at the Kennedy Center. I cried ugly, drippy tears throughout a good part of it and felt a gut-wrenching loss and sadness for the characters in the story. The next day I bought the soundtrack. I remember driving in my little blue Hyundai Excel, listening to that cassette tape over and over, just sobbing as I drove, even months after seeing the show. It was then that I knew I might have a problem.

Over the years I have struggled with a growing sensitivity and overtly emotional response to certain things. At first I didn’t think I was vastly different from others. In college my two best friends and I would watch “Touched By An Angel” every Sunday night and pass the tissues back and forth (or roll of toilet paper, whatever was handy). In the early days of my marriage I cried just as easily over a sweet, romantic gesture as I did over disagreements, but so did other wives, I reasoned. Weddings and funerals always required water-proof mascara and a pack of tissues, but there were always others with the same need. I didn’t feel like I was alone in these responses.

Then at 26 I had my first child and whatever emotional dam was still in place just disintegrated. I began to cry at everything! And I mean everything. I cried at movies and over news reports. I cried at church. I laid in bed at 2 a.m. sobbing over a book. I cried while praying over a sick or hurting friend. I cried in the shower as the previous night’s argument replayed in my mind. At first I tried to blame it on pregnancy hormones, but after 6 or 7 years people stop accepting that as an excuse.

It didn’t help that as time moved on, it got worse.

Over the years any ability to temper when, where, or in front of whom I cry has been lost. These days a kind, heartfelt word from a stranger in the check-out line can make my eyes brim with tears. I cry at parent-teacher conferences and sitting in bleachers watching my kids play basketball, run cross country or dance in a ballet recital. I have sat in restaurants talking with friends and wiping my eyes and nose with napkins as they share their life and I share mine. And here’s the thing: it’s not really the content or the words that make me cry, it’s the feelings.

I feel all of it. Everything.

When that stranger in Target says, “you have really polite kids” I feel all the many frustrating days spent reminding them over and over to use their manners and be kind to one another. When I see my daughter running across that finish line, I feel her pain and hard work and how much she wanted to beat her best time. When the teacher tells me how my son is improving, I feel every hard day he came home with a poor behavior note and every hard night spent working with him around the dining room table, encouraging him to stay focused and finish his homework. When my friend sits across from me at that restaurant and tells me how difficult things have been in her marriage, or how she feels God has abandoned her, I feel her hurt and suffering. And just this afternoon I read the good news that a Syrian refugee family my childhood church was sponsoring finally made it safely to the U.S. after many delays; and I just cried because I felt the relief, the exhaustion, and the hope this family must feel to finally be here, be safe, and have a roof over their heads.

I feel it all. And the tears flow without warning, without control.

It can be embarrassing, off-putting, and frustrating to not have any control over these emotions or my body’s response. I was lamenting about this to a friend, who suffers a similar affliction, a few months ago and she said: “it’s because you’re an empath.” A what? I had never heard this term, but after she explained it to me and I did some reading I realized the traits used to describe an empath were very similar to traits I had recently read about after completing a spiritual gifts assessment for my church.

I had been excited to take the assessment, eager to see my spiritual gifts in writing, and expecting a confirmation of where I already felt called to be working in ministry. But I confess I was underwhelmed and confused by the results. Three of my top rated gifts included Mercy, Exhortation, and Faith, and I thought: What do these mean? How are faith and mercy spiritual gifts? These are things you just do or have. And what the heck is exhortation anyway?

It was mercy that really stumped me, though. Aren’t we all called to show mercy? I didn’t see how that was a special God-given gift.

But after talking to my Pastor and later having this conversation with my friend, I started to see a connection between this spiritual gift and my deep emotions. I began to do more research on spiritual gifts and how God calls them out in scripture. As I put the pieces together, I realized the spiritual gift of mercy isn’t just the act of showing mercy, it is an ability to feel great empathy for others, to walk alongside them in their pain, suffering, or even joy and show Christ’s love through that deep understanding. As one author explained it, those with the gift of mercy are able to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way…fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

So I started to wonder if my intense feeling was actually a gift. If my broken, leaking tear ducts were not actually a burden or something to be embarrassed by after all, but rather part of a call on my life from God — a channel for Him to use me to fulfill His plans. And then do you know what happened?

I started to cry.

romans 12:15

If you want to learn more about Spiritual gifts, I recommend reading Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 28-30, and Ephesians 4:11. You can also go to this website and take a free Spiritual Gifts assessment: http://spiritualgiftstest.com/

photo credit: Stefano Montagner – The life around me Irish Museum of Modern Art via photopin (license)

The year of living 40

I’ve never been much into New Year’s resolutions. Maybe it’s because my A-type personality means I’m always looking ahead, making a plan, and setting personal goals, so I don’t feel the need to do it every January 1st. Or maybe it’s because I know that annual resolution to exercise more and eat better will be tossed out the window within 2 weeks.

Either way, I did not feel compelled to make a list of resolutions this week just because it’s the start of a new year. However, I have been thinking about 2017 a lot lately. Actually I’ve been thinking about this year for most of 2016…because it’s going to be a bit of a milestone year for me.

This is the year I turn 40.

The gateway to middle-age.

Surprisingly, I’m not afraid of the number. I fully enjoyed my 30’s and every new life lesson and experience they brought. I did a lot of growing and discovering in my 30’s and I kind of like this 39 year old version of me…she’s definitely got a much better handle on what’s really important in life than the 29 year old version did. So I’m kinda looking forward to seeing what my 40’s will bring. However, I do see it as a milestone year and there are some things I would like to focus on as I leave one decade and pass through that gateway to the next.

So for the last month I’ve been compiling a list…a list of goals, habits, adventures, and achievements I wanted to reach by 40. It started as 10 items and quickly grew. By the time it hit 28 items I thought, “what the heck, might as well make it an even 40!” Of course, I turn 40 in May and once I finished my list I realized I can not realistically accomplish all of these things before said milestone; and I want this list to be achievable. So I’m giving myself the full year to get through the list. Making 2017 the year of living 40.

So here it is, in no particular order:

1. Get rid of 40 personal items
2. Bring total number of US states visited to 40
3. Write 40 blog posts
4. Write 40 letters/cards to friends and family
5. Lose 40 pounds
6. Read 40 books of the Bible
7. Read 40 other books
8. Serve/volunteer 40 hours
9. Run 40 miles (cumulative, not at one time)
10. Try 40 new things
11. Give up 40 minutes of TV per day
12. Add 40 minutes of sleep per night (11 and 12 go hand-in-hand)
13. Do 40 push-ups at one time
14. Make a list of my favorite 40 movies and watch them
15. Write my husband 40 love notes
16. Study scripture/pray for 40 minutes per day
17. Call my Grandma 40 times
18. Drink 40 cups of tea
19. Save $40 per week
20. Make a playlist of my favorite 40 songs and listen to it regularly
21. Limit social media to 40 minutes per week
22. Exercise for 40 minutes 3x per week
23. Take 40 naps
24. Count to 40 when I start to lose my patience
25. Do 40 nice things for myself
26. Write my kids 40 lunchbox notes
27. Hike 40 miles
28. Try 40 new recipes
29. Meet 40 new people
30. Minister to 40 different women via the women’s retreat
31. Go on 40 dates with my husband
32. Snuggle with my kids for 40 minutes every week
33. Read 40 poems
34. Spend 40 hours watching live music and/or theater
35. Get rid of another 40 items
36. Make at least 40 mistakes
37. Forgive myself at least 40 times
38. Write the first 40 pages of my book
39. Forgive others 40 times
40. Laugh, dance, and/or sing for 40 minutes per day

In addition to my list of goals/adventures/habits above, I’ve also decided to chose a Bible verse that represents where I want to keep my focus for the year. The last two years I’ve ended up with bible verses that sum up my year quite accidentally, and I’m sure God will bring a me a few this year that I don’t plan or expect. But in the meantime I’m going with “Peace I leave with you; my peace peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

I chose this verse because if there is one message God has been pursuing my heart with over the last year or so it’s that true peace comes only through Him and not the world. I’ve spent so much of my life looking for peace to come from relationships, jobs, vacations, things, etc. and always wondering why it was so fleeting. So for 2017 — and my 40’s — I plan to work on pursuing peace from my Creator and Savior, and doing so without fear or worry.

As you can see above, one of my year of living 40 goals is to write 40 blog posts — which if you do the math equates to roughly one post every nine days. So I’ll be keeping you updated on how it’s going and you can help me be accountable. I’ve already got the spreadsheet for keeping track of this stuff (remember, I did say I have an A-type personality). And no matter what age you’re turning this year, let me know what goals/habits/adventures/achievements you are pursuing in 2017.

Hello middle-age. Let’s do this.

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40 photo credit: Leo Reynolds East Of India House Number 40 via photopin (license)