Refocus

Sometimes we lose focus. It happens to all of us. We get distracted and lose sight of our goals. It happens.

I seem to have lost focus over the last couple of weeks — on just about everything. I have just been drifting through life doing whatever sounded good at the time. I didn’t get things accomplished. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t eat right. I did very little that actually mattered.

So how do we get out focus back?

Take Five. When you’ve lost your focus helps to stop floundering, take a step back, and regroup. For me, that means some extended journal time, a run, or some time on the yoga mat. Whatever it is, it’s a definite break from the meaningless activity that has gotten me off track. Having that time away will give an opportunity to think about what you’re doing and what you’d like to do differently.

Decide. It is essential that you know what you want to do and why. If it helps, write it down. Create a dream board. Get clear on what you want to do and the best way(s) to make that happen.

Get into the groove. I like structure. I function best when I have a rhythm to my life. For me that rhythm includes  work or study, writing, eating well and exercising. If I can get into that rhythm — instead of mindlessly floating from activity to activity — things go much more smoothly. I get more done, and getting things done decreases my anxiety level. Do you work well with a schedule? If so, make one and get into your rhythm that way.

Visual or musical cues. Several years go, I was preparing for a standardized test. One of the study books recommended that you take something or wear something in particular that you could look at to regain focus. I chose to wear a gold ring. Whenever I got distracted I would look at the ring to bring my mind back to the task at hand. These days, I put on my Janet Jackson playlist if I want to get things accomplished. It’s important to have a cue that tells you to focus.

Using these techniques I have been able to get back on track. I am getting things done and feeling good about the direction my life is heading.  How do your bring yourself back after losing focus?

Collecting Pieces of the Past

I recently discovered a new show called “American Pickers.” It is a really entertaining and engaging reality show that chronicles the adventures of two antique collectors, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, as they hunt for bargains.

I was amazed at their knowledge. They can tell you what a piece is, what era it comes from, how rare it is, and how much it’s worth. Clearly they are dedicated to their craft.

In this episode, the co-stars are driving around making unplanned stops at small roadside stores, repair shops and junk yards in search of signs, toys, and other collectables.

Their goal is to resell their purchases at their antique shop. After watching the show for only two minutes, it is immediately apparent that they love what they do. And, clearly, they make good money doing it. People pay hundreds of dollars for rusted out signs and old toys.

Why? Because people just want to have more junk around? I don’t think so. I honestly think that people collect things from bygone eras because they take us back to a place when life was better. We were younger, thiner, happier… They remind us of days that we want back.

The opposite side of that coin is that I think we are often weary of our current circumstances. Life is hard. We want to go to a better time. We can’t go to the future, but we can visit the past as often as we like. It is an escape from the trouble of our lives.

Of course, there is a historic element to antiques. Each piece tells a story. And there is certainly money to be made in the antique business. But I am convinced that the antiques are more about how the items make us feel rather than about the things themselves.

Having these reminders of the good old days brings us comfort in the face of life’s uncertainty. And the longer we spend looking at the old movie posters, the less time we have to think about what the future may hold for us.

It is hard when it looks like the good days are all behind you. I sometimes feel that way. But I don’t believe that antiques are the answer. There are three ways that we can respond to life’s uncertainty:

Give thanks where you are. When it seems like your best days are behind you, stop and think about what is good today. The old folks used to call it “counting your blessings.” When you find the good that is presently in your life, it gives you a little bit of hope for the future.

Pray about it. None of us can see the future. It’s easy to get anxious about it. But worry is not the answer. Prayer is (Philippians 4:6). Take your concerns to Jesus, and ask for his peace instead.

Take steps today that will make tomorrow better. You can’t control whether or not you get laid off next year, but you can start a savings plan. You can start exercising. You can start studying. You can update your resume. Think about what you can do today that may benefit you tomorrow. Often just taking some kind of action will alleviate some of the anxiety about the future.

It’s ok to admire a 19th century chest of drawers. It’s not ok to collect pieces of the past to ward off insecurity about the future. Be thankful. Pray. Take small steps that will help you later. Don’t be afraid. Just trust. Appreciate the past. But optimistically move forward the future.

One Day at a Time

Sometimes we are tempted to live in the future. We spend precious time contemplating and worrying about what may or may not happen in the future. We worry about money. We worry about our families. We worry about our health.

Jesus cautioned against this. “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). During the last section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about worry. At the end, he specifically mentions worrying about the future. We should not worry about the future. We should be taking life one day at a time.

How do we do this? How do we avoid the trap of worry for the future? It is a challenge, but there are some ways in which we can escape worry for the future and take things one day at a time:

  • Focus on today. What needs to be done today? What are some tasks that you can tackle immediately? What actions can you take today that may help to decrease your anxiety? For example, someone anxious about their health can start exercising, or she can prepare a healthy meal.
  • Mind your thoughts. It is really easy to go from reasonable planning to obsessing about the future. Be mindful of your thoughts and emotions. Are you feeling anxiety? If so, you’ve probably crossed over into worry. If you find yourself worrying about the future, don’t beat yourself up. Just shift your focus back to the present.
  • Breathe. It’s amazing what a few deep breaths will do to bring you back to the moment.
  • Experience nature. A nice walk outdoors can really help to relieve stress and dissipate worry. Connecting to nature has a way of bringing us back to the present. We feel the sunshine and the breeze, we see the leaves, we hear children playing. These things ground us in the moment.
  • Give thanks. Take a look at your life present life. Find five things you are grateful for, and thank God for them. Finding the good in today will help to curb your worry about tomorrow.
  • Start smaller, if necessary. Sometimes even a day is too much. Sometimes I have to focus on just making it to lunch. If one day is too much , focus on only a portion of the day: an hour, the next five minutes, whatever will help to keep you focused on today.

 

It is so easy to get caught up in worry about tomorrow. Jesus does not want us to do that, though. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Let’s take it one day at a time.

Have vs. Have Not

Sometimes I get focused on what I don’t have. With advertisements extolling the virtues of products we don’t have, sometimes it’s easy to lose focus on what we do have.

In order to focus on one thing, we must exclude everything else.

Renowned life coach Anthony Robbins calls this “deleting.” In one of his talks he asks the audience to look around the room and find everything that was blue and then close their eyes. With eyes closed, he asked the audience to think of something that was green. As expected, the audience was so focused on blue things that they failed to notice things that were green. When focused on blue, the brain automatically deleted all other colors.

We do the same thing in our lives. Sometimes we are so consumed with what we don’t have that we miss what we do have. Every commercial presents us with something to buy; something that will improve our lives exponentially if only we would purchase it. Every store is filled with new things that will makes us happier, sexier, and more productive; or so they would have us believe. With images of what we don’t have constantly before us, it’s easy to delete all the good that’s present in our lives.

Trust me, I fall into the trap all the time. I spend far too much time lamenting all the things in life I don’t have. It’s depressing and it leads to unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. It is almost always a result of deleting all the good in my life and focusing on all the bad. That is no way to live.

My life is not perfect. I have plenty of problems, but I have plenty of blessings, too.

I do not have a full-time job, but I have a part time job that provides some income.

I do not have a BMW, but I have a car that runs well.

I do not have a sprawling 5 bedroom home but I have a place to sleep that is safe and comfortable.

I have food.

I have friends and family that love me.

I have a sense of destiny and purpose.

I have am in good health.

When I focus on these things it makes me feel full. Content. I don’t feel this sense of longing that I have so often tried to fill by buying more things. I don’t need more things. I only need to realize that I already have enough.

Strong and Courageous

I’m not feeling particularly courageous. Yes, I’ve done some courageous things, but when presented with a new challenge, sometimes I panic.

In the next couple of weeks I will be taking on some new roles in my church. These will take me way out of my comfort zone. I’m not sure if I’m ready. I feel so messed up, so unsure, so inadequate. I feel downright scared.

But why am I so scared? I’m scared because I will be doing things I’ve never done before. What if I’m not good at what I do? What if I mess up? What if I look like an idiot?

My fears reveal the real problem: I am worried about me — worried about how I’ll feel and how I’ll look. I seek to save myself embarrassment and discomfort. I seek to avoid difficult situations.

Note that my fear is not about whether or not this is what God wants. These next steps are consistent with what I know God wants me to do. I’m pretty sure he is behind this. But I’m so caught up in how I feel, that what God wants has actually become an afterthought.

My thought process should be something like this: I believe this is what God wants. He promises to be with me. Let his will be done.

In Exodus 3:12, God commissions Moses to go to Pharaoh to demand freedom for the Israelites. He promises to be with him. When Moses hesitates, God tells Moses that he will be with his mouth and that he would teach Moses what he should speak (Exodus 4:12).

As I discussed in my last post, God promised to be with Joshua, just as he was with Moses. Joshua was to be strong and courageous, knowing that God was with him.

Should I not do the same? As I take prepare to take on greater responsibility, should I not go forward with courage, knowing that God is with me? Is than not enough to calm my fears?

The only way for me to move forward is to shift the focus from myself and my own discomfort, to doing what God wants. This is the only way that I can be strong and courageous.

When I picked up and moved across the country for seminary, I wasn’t focused on myself. I was focused on the fact that if I didn’t go, I could miss out of God’s will. I wasn’t about to let that happen, and I really wasn’t going to let fear be the cause. My fear of regret was stronger than my fear of failure, so I went.

That required courage – more than I knew I had. I think that we all have more courage than we realize. But sometimes self-centered fear threatens to deactivate that courage.

In those times, remember that God is with you . He is bigger. He is greater. He is stronger. And just as he was with Moses, he will be with you.

Courage

What makes an elephant charge his tusk,

in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk?

What makes the muskrat guard his musk?

COURAGE!

– The Cowardly Lion

 

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies of all time. I love the characters. I love the music. And as a woman, I love the idea of having ruby slippers. I have practically memorized the entire movie, but I never tire of watching it again and again.

As I sit reflecting on some materials from a very talented and celebrated life coach, I am reminded of the Cowardly Lion. There is so much at stake in my life. I don’t really know what to do. Is it that I have no options? No, I have options (very few). What I need is courage try something.

If you know me, you probably know that I am shy. I have a hard time asking for things because I never want to interrupt or intrude. I don’t think of myself as particularly courageous, especially when the very thought of a job interview triggers a panic attack. Crazy, perhaps, but not courageous.

But then I think back to four years ago, when I packed up and moved across the country to go to seminary. I had no idea how things would turn out (that remains to be seen!), but I drove myself to Tulsa anyway. It was a huge risk, but I took it. I recently shared my thoughts about it here.

Since that time, I’ve been really scared. I’ve been scared about my health, my home, my sanity… And I am still scared. This is not my idea of courage. I identify with the Cowardly Lion, particularly the scene where he’s poised to ask the Wizard for some courage but he passes out instead.

When I think of courage, I think of people like Harriet Tubman. I think of soldiers in Afghanistan. I think of my mother as she battled breast cancer. I don’t think of the girl with the insect phobia.

I think of people like Abraham, and Moses, and Paul. I think of Joshua and Caleb, who were ready to go and claim the promised land in spite of the giants that were living there. Before he set out, God gave Joshua the ultimate pep talk in Joshua 1:6-9. Three times the he tells Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.”

Strength and courage. I don’t have strength or courage like Joshua. I also don’t have the challenge of warring peoples (thankfully). My challenges are different. While I don’t have the courage to battle Joshua’s giants, is it possible that I have enough to battle my own? If I do, then why do I feel so afraid? Much like the Cowardly Lion, I feel that my courage is inadequate.

Perhaps the thing I like most about the Wizard of Oz is the message: You already have what you need. The Scarecrow went to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard for some brains. But throughout the whole movie, he is constantly coming up with good ideas and solutions to problems. The Tin Man goes to ask the Wizard for a heart, but he’s the most emotional of all the characters. Then there’s the Lion. He longs for courage, but he accompanies Dorothy to the Emerald City, journeys to the Wicked Witch’s castle, beats up guards to steal their uniforms, and sneaks into the castle. And he does all this in spite of his fear. That is courage, my friends.

My guess is that like the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, we see ourselves as inadequate. We compare ourselves to other people, and we feel we come up short. But like our beloved movie characters, I’m sure that you are much smarter, more caring, and more courageous than you give yourself credit for.

Books That Rocked My World In 2012

As 2012 comes to a close, I can’t help looking back on the events of this last year. While things aren’t perfect, I do feel that I am in a better place than I was this time last year. I have grown a lot, and I believe that this is a direct result of all the reading I’ve been doing. In 2012, I read all kinds of works, from fantasy to classics to Christian. The books that I read in 2012 contributed greatly to my growth as a writer, as a Christian, and as a citizen of the world.

The Christian books I read really rocked my 2012. I’d like to share the books that I feel helped to shape my 2012, and will hopefully launch me into a great 2013.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

This book was a slap in the face and a shot in the arm. In his book, Francis Chan challenges Christians to take a hard look at their relationship with God. He addresses lukewarm Christianity (if there is such a thing), and he invites readers to see God for who he truly is: holy, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, fair, and just. He invites readers to be genuinely awestruck when thinking of the God of the universe, and the fact that we can have relationship with him. He then goes on to encourage readers to do more. Christianity isn’t about saying a prayer and going to church once a week thereafter. It is about a passionate pursuit of God and going wholeheartedly after his plan.

The most challenging statement in this book is this one: “Jesus’ call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing. The thought of a person calling himself a ‘Christian’ without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd.” Throughout the book Francis Chan challenges the reader to make Jesus everything — absolutely everything — whatever it may look like.

This book really challenged me because I fit the profile of a lukewarm Christian perfectly. Truth be told, I am probably still not as passionate as I should be. However, this book did a great job of showing me my condition and starting me on the path to a passionate relationship with God.

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

The Pursuit of God is like a lens that focuses the reader’s attention on knowing and loving God. All of our attention should be focused on knowing God, apprehending God, seeing God. Early on Tozer states that we, too often, get caught up in “things” (perhaps Tozer was a minimalist) or even caught up in the good gifts that God gives. Tozer says that we must leave all the stuff behind and seek God wholeheartedly.

Like Chan, Tozer invites the reader to consider God in his majesty. He is eternal, immutable, and omniscient. He challenges the reader to seek God fervently. One of my favorite quotes from the book: “If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience God will manifest himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of his face.”

Greater by Steven Furtick

People often say that God’s plan for your life is always greater than your plan. Greater is all about seeking God’s greater plan. Steven Furtick walks the reader through the story of Elisha as he talks about the Greater life. The whole message of the book is that God can do greater things through us than we can imagine, and that nothing is impossible with him. A great quote: “God doesn’t do greater things exclusively through great people. He does them through anyone who is willing to trust him in greater ways.”

Steven Furtick encourages the reader to dream bigger, but start smaller. He urges the reader to get busy, even if it’s in a small way, and look to God for the next step. He talks about miracles and about trusting God to lead you, but he also addresses hard topics, like when the miracle doesn’t come.

For me, this book helped me to think differently about this phase of life. It offered encouragement during this time when it looks like nothing is happening for me. I have no idea what’s happening, but God expects me to show up anyway. Another great quote: “He will do the showing if you will do the going.” Greater reassured me that it’s ok to not know what’s going on, and that it is in these times that we need to trust God the most.

 

1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp

This was a hard one. The premise of this book is that you can live fully in the midst of the craziness of life. The secret lies in gratitude — giving thanks even when life is messed up.

Two things struck me really hard. First, ingratitude was the root of the first sin, and the fall of Lucifer before that. Lucifer wasn’t happy with his angelic position. Instead, he wanted to be God and revolted. He led Eve to sin by planting a seed of ingratitude in her heart. Ann Voskamp argues that ingratitude is at the base of every sin.

Second, Ann Voskamp demonstrates the thanksgiving always precedes the miracle. This was so with the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus gives thanks, breaks the bread, and then is crucified and raised from the dead. Similarly, when preparing to feed the multitudes with a few fishes and loaves, Jesus gives thanks first, and then the miraculous feeding takes place.

This book has challenged me to take my focus off all that is wrong with my life long enough to find what is right about my life. I have since started a gratitude journal, and like Ann Voskamp, I am on a mission to find 1,000 gifts from God in my own life.

 

Each of these books has challenged me in a different way. If you are looking for a challenge, pick up one of these books. Is there a book that has challenged you? I am looking to read 30 books in 2013, and I appreciate any recommendations. Please share in the comments.

Lessons From The Magi

In the spirit of Christmas I read Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ birth in my study bible. This is a very familiar story in which wise men from the East come to see Jesus and worship him, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Upon further reading, I learned that the wise men, or magi, traveled a great distance to see Jesus. Not only was their journey long, it was also very dangerous. Still, they came because they believed. When they found him, they gave precious gifts befitting a king.

What is our response to Jesus? Do we passionately and diligently seek him? What gifts do we offer him? The magi went on a long and dangerous journey to find Jesus so that they could worship him and offer their gifts — and they were pagan. Surely, we should show this kind of faith and devotion to Jesus.

In this busy holiday season, amid the shopping and the wrapping and the feasting, take time to seek him with the same passion that the wise men did. Go all out. Worship him as king, and live in his peace.

 Merry Christmas

Lessons From An Incredible Grandma

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths. 

Proverbs 3:5-6

The last few weeks have been difficult for my family. My grandmother became very ill and was confined to our home. She was battling breast cancer and started to have intense pain. It hurt to see her in so much pain. On December 4, 2012, she passed away.

When she passed we were immediately thrown into funeral preparations. We looked at caskets, flowers, and clothes. We sorted through pictures, wrote an obituary, and put together a funeral service. We moved through the tasks before us with heavy hearts and little sleep.

A week later, it still seems surreal. Sleep still doesn’t come easy, but I suppose things are improving. I went back to work yesterday. Though I am going through the motions, my mind keeps coming back to the fact that she was just here. I was just giving her medicine. I was just washing her face. We miss her already, and it will be an adjustment going forward without her.

In honor of my grandma, I’d like to share some lessons I learned from her.

Be generous. My grandma was not a minimalist in any way. She had lots of stuff. But she was incredibly generous with her stuff. She gave clothes and jewelry away all the time. Though she had a lot, she didn’t hold it tightly. Her hands were always open to give.

Money isn’t everything. I remember when I was considering marrying my boyfriend at the time. He had no money. She told me that if I loved him, I should marry him — even if he didn’t have any money. She said to trust the Lord. He could make a way for us and provide for us. We might have to work harder. We might have to go without some things.  But if we trusted God, he would help. She encouraged me to follow my heart instead of chasing financial status.

Honor God and he will honor you. She said this to me regularly. She taught me not to be ashamed to tell people that I am a Christian and that I go to church. She taught me to honor God by serving him at my local church. She encouraged me to give God credit for what he has done — no matter who was listening. She lived out these principles, and she was incredibly blessed.

There are soooo many things I learned from my grandma. I learned about cooking and sewing and bargain shopping. I learned that “right is right.” I could write for hours about her, but I will simply end by saying that my grandma was an amazing woman of God. We already miss her. But we know that she is with Jesus, and we rejoice because this separation is only temporary.

How To Make A Change

My life is a work in progress. I have made some changes, but I’m not done yet. I am thinking of going deeper into minimalism. I’m thinking about becoming more aggressive about a healthier lifestyle. I want to pursue the life of my dreams.

These are the things that I have been giving my attention to for the last several weeks. There are a few blogs and books that I have been reading that inspired me to make these changes. But how does someone approach such a life change?

I believe that there are three phases that are necessary to making a change:

RESEARCH

Research is the initial phase. Reading is a essential — reading widely and reading critically. Gather as much information as you can, from as many sources and perspectives as you can. On which topics do the authorities agree? On which topics do they disagree? What do you consider to be an authority? Is an authority a Ph.D.? Is an authority a spiritual leader? Or is an authority someone who has successfully achieved your goal? You must determine what an authority is for you.

Read as much as you possibly can. Read every day. Take notes, if necessary. The goal is to arm yourself with the information you need to motivate you. Then set a goal for  yourself.

When it comes to simplifying my life, I read as many blogs as I could.  Having this diversity helped me to see that there are many different approaches to minimalism. Some people count things. Others feel that counting is unnecessary.

In recent months I have also been reading books and blogs about vegetarian and vegan living. The authors are knowledgeable and they cite various nutritionists, scientists, and doctors. While they do not agree on everything, most seem to agree that eating a plant-based diet is much healthier.

 

REFLECT

Research is of limited use if it is not applied. Reflection compares your research findings with your current life situation. It is asking yourself: how can this apply to my life? In what way can I implement this? Will this make my life better? How?

Of the things you read about, which would you like to see as a part of your life? Which ones aren’t right for you? Write these things down. On paper. Have a record of the changes you would like to see in your life.

I can benefit from unplugging from the consumerist culture in which we live.  I will benefit financially and mentally. It will also prove beneficial in the management of time. There will be much more time for writing, learning, and doing the things I love when I’m not constantly in the mall.

Similarly, I know that I can benefit from eating a plant-based diet. I am still in the process of implementing all the things I am learning, but I am making progress.

 

REALIZE

Now that you have conducted your research, and reflected upon your findings, what will you do about it? How will you realize your goal? Now is the time to make an action plan. The goals that were outlined in the reflection phase, what is required to realize those goals? Write down the actions necessary to make these ideals reality.

Living a simple life will require that I make some changes. I cannot purchase things mindlessly. I must donate, sell, or throw away things that I do not use. I have to focus my time and energy.

Pursuing a healthy lifestyle will require that I introduce new foods into my diet and eliminate some others. I’ll have to try some new recipes. I’ll have to plan my meals and try to keep healthy snacks on hand.

This is how I approach change. I go through these phases. Did you notice that I don’t call them steps? Steps are linear, and I find that the process of making life changes is not necessarily linear. It is more of a cycle. Even as you are realizing change, you may be research more. It’s the cycle of change, and it keeps going. I am moving through these phases now, and I can’t wait to see the changes that result.