Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Or, maybe I should ask, “What do you perceive that you see?” The difference is that we don’t always see our reflections clearly.  Too often, we wage an internal war with our self-perception. We look at the image staring back at us and fixate on our mistakes, our shortcomings, our flaws, and the things that we just don’t like. That slightly crooked nose, that blemish, those few extra pounds, or the hair that just doesn’t quite do what you want it to. We look at the features that make us unique and beautiful with dissatisfaction.  We may not like the shape or color of our eyes, or our lips aren’t full enough, our cheeks are too puffy, or even the shade of our skin can make us unhappy.

What is that all about? Why do we have such a difficult time seeing our true beauty? Has the fake, airbrushed society we live in caused insecurity to override our self-acceptance?  Have we bought into the lie that if we don’t look like a Victoria Secret model than we might as well just crawl under a rock and hide? Have we placed our worth solely on our external selves and ignored who we really are? Have our expectations become shallow or unreasonable?

Many of our insecurities were left behind with our adolescence. Most of us have come to terms with who we are, for the most part, and have learned to love the woman that God made us to be. However, from time to time, a nagging remnant of self-criticism, comparison, and inadequacy tends to rear its head up in defiance, toppling our fragile confidence. Most of us will admit that at times, we still have a difficult time shaking off those negative comparisons or self-destructive thoughts. The enemy would have it no other way!  He knows that if he can sway us to believe anything that is untrue about ourselves or about the God who created us, He can halt our effectiveness as women. What is so crazy is that we know better, yet we keep buying into his malicious lies!

It is time to saturate our hearts with the truth of who we really are. It is time that we stand up, look into the mirror, and allow ourselves to see the image that God sees. We are His daughters, real princesses!  We were created in His image, exactly as we were meant to be. He designed our bodies and our outward appearance to be exactly as He wanted it to be, and we can learn to make the best of what He has given us. He gave us our hearts and has made the most valuable part to Him as beautiful as can be. He has given us unique gifts, talents, personalities, dreams, ambitions, and passions that all come together to make us who we are. He looks at us and is enthralled by our beauty!  It is time that we see that too!

No longer should feelings of low self-worth or self-loathing be entertained by God’s daughters. That will certainly not be a part of me anymore!  No longer are we to listen to Satan’s lies about us and to allow Him to rob us of our peace, our sense of value, or our productivity. No more shame, fear, or hiding behind insecurity!

Internalize these truths:  “I am significant.  I am so very loved. I am beautiful.  I am accepted.  I have a purpose, and I am equipped to fulfill that purpose.”  For more Biblical affirmations to help reestablish your thinking, please print and use these Power Thoughts for Women.  When you make it a daily habit, and you internalize these truths, they can transform your life!
You are beautiful!
Beautiful, by Mercy Me:
 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:13-16 NLT

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Have You Ever Hugged a Porcupine? Reaching Beyond the Superficial to Build Satisfying Relationships

Have you ever hugged a porcupine?  Ouch!  I can only imagine how badly that would hurt!  Those quills were not intended to make porcupines cuddly or inviting; rather, they were given to them by God to protect them from predators. 

I have known some people who were very much like porcupines, with their “quills” poised and ready to poke anyone who tries to get close.  One can only approach to a point, but the barriers that many people erect in their defense become almost impenetrable.   

What causes us to keep others at a distance?  Why do we draw a line in the sand and allow people to come only so far before we jump to a posture of defense?  It is as if we feel threatened by relationships that breach our shallow limits of trust.

Often, our busy and self-centered lifestyles fuel this sheltered position to which we have too easily become accustomed, and we often settle for unsatisfying surface-level relationships instead of the deep and fulfilling friendships that God intended for us to develop.

Relationships take time and effort, as well as vulnerability.  As long as we are unwilling to let down our guard a bit to allow someone into our inner circle, and as long as we are unwilling to invest in positive, healthy relationships, we will never know the very best that God has planned for us. 

God never intended for us to be lonely or to journey through this life as porcupines who forcefully keep everyone at a distance.  God’s best for us is to share life and love with each other, and to experiences various levels of intimacy with our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Let us enjoy each other’s company and encourage each other in the faith.  Go ahead and let your hair hang down in front of somebody!  Have fun relating to others and laugh more. Let us allow ourselves to develop a few deeper friendships and learn to bear each other’s burdens.  Let us be there for each other.  Pray for each other often.  Reach out and make an effort to connect.  Allow the Holy Spirit to guide us to choose our friends wisely and to invest in quality relationships with each other.

Here I am enjoying life and being silly with two of my best friends

Above all, let us love one another, for love is of God.

I want to love as Jesus loves and to honor and esteem others by His example.  It is so easy to just keep to myself, talk about myself, do things by myself, and to live a self-focused life.  However, that is not the life God has planned for me.  He created us to live in relationship – with Him and with others. He established the church so that all together we would be His body, and He planned for us to do life together and to encourage and strengthen each other in the faith.

Jesus actually prayed to the Father that we would be one and have genuine love for each other. His desire is for us to love each other, share life, cry and laugh together, celebrate and mourn together, have fun and enjoy each other, serve one another, and to strengthen and encourage each other.  His plan is for us to assemble together often so we can “spur” each other on to do good works.  We help each other be the best we can be for His glory.

We learn more about God, please Him, draw closer to Him, and become more like Him when we interact with His body.  It is His plan.  We must make it a priority and intentionally take the time to socialize, interact with, encourage, pray for and with, serve, bear each other’s burdens, help, rejoice with, and be affectionate toward each other.  When we love, honor, and serve others, we are loving, honoring, and serving Christ.  

 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.  But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

Monday, February 2, 2015

Have You Ever Felt Your Life Unraveling?

  We look at life from the back side of the tapestry. And most of the time, what we see is loose threads, tangled knots and the like. But occasionally, God's light shines through the tapestry, and we get a glimpse of the larger design with God weaving together the darks and lights of existence. John Piper

The whole life-is-a-tapestry analogy may not be new to you, but what a beautiful thought it is! The various hues, textures, and designs that represent the many intricacies of our life are woven together into a stunning, picturesque display called life. 

An up close perspective may not seem quite as impressive, especially while the tapestry is still in the process of development. One can hardly fathom the purpose of each seemingly out of place thread when seen out of context from the entire work of art. Rest assured, however, if you step back and behold the finished piece, you will see the threads of God’s love and grace intertwined through each and every life event represented. That is what holds the tapestry together and gives it its unique beauty.

What is most disheartening, however, is to snag the tapestry on a jagged edge and watch in horror as it unravels, seemingly out of control. All of the toil and pain involved in its creation is of no consequence as you watch the masterpiece shred into nothing more than a heap of tattered pieces.

Have you ever felt like that torn and tattered tapestry? You have invested a lifetime weaving together each precious fragment of your life into a marvelous work of art only to have it pulled out right from under you. The more you try to salvage any kind of remnant, the more the fragments unravel from your grip. 

This analogy absolutely makes sense if you have experienced any kind of loss in your life.  Perhaps you built the perfect life with your spouse only to have him walk out the door one day, grabbing on to one of the threads and unraveling it on his way out the door. Maybe you had invested years of your life establishing the career of your dreams only to have the economy rip your dreams out from under you like a wilted bath mat. Your sense of self-worth disintegrates along with the frayed fabric falling apart in your hands. These are only two examples, but insert your own personal scenario. 

What kind of loss has marred the masterpiece of your life? The death of a loved one? Financial devastation? An accident or injury? A natural disaster? The betrayal of a friend? A humiliating event? Perhaps your loss was your own doing, a string of foolish mistakes or even blatant sin. Regardless, the intensity of your loss is not diminished when it is self-perpetuated. God’s heart is touched by your grief nevertheless. If your life has unraveled by any cause or to any degree, you do not need to give up hope.    

The good news is that the Master Tapestry Artist is not finished with you yet! When all you have to offer Him is a tattered mess to work with, you need not fret. That is His specialty!  He will take the frazzled remnant of your unraveled life, all the shreds of pain, loneliness, failure, disappointment, and heartache, and He will create an even more spectacular masterpiece than before. He will intertwine threads of His healing, grace, and restoration, while incorporating His shimmering strands of love throughout. 

Go ahead. Give your disastrous fragments to God. See what He will do with your life. In time the dark threads of despair will be transformed into a magnificent tapestry revealing the goodness of God in even the darkest moments of your life.

Jesus came:
…to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:3

He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:4-5a

Friday, January 30, 2015

It's Time to Have Your I's Checked: The Four I's to Greater Living

It's time to have our "I's" checked!

“Umph – just three more reps!  I can do this!”  “Let’s go!  Just one more mile!”  “Nope, I’m not going to stuff my face with these cookies; I am going to munch on an apple instead.” 

Do these sound familiar?  We may not always succeed, but we sure do try!

I applaud you for choosing to go against your body’s yearning for what it thinks it wants, but rather to intentionally give it what will yield good health!  You have said no to laziness and yes to fitness!  No to consuming junk and yes to food that brings life and vibrancy!   Yay, you!

When it comes to disciplining our physical bodies, the consequences of our lifestyle and daily habits are obvious.  The way we feel, our stamina and strength, our energy, our weight, and our quality of health are directly connected to our habits, and the benefits far outweigh the sacrifice of discipline.

No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:11 HCSB

Just as we can easily succumb to mindless habits that sabotage our physical health, the same can also be said about our mental and emotional health.  Conversely, just as we must nourish, exercise, and rest our physical bodies for optimum health, we also must nourish, exercise, and rest our minds for optimum mental and emotional health.  I’ll even go one step farther to say that the two actually work together.  When we take care of one, and we are actually taking care of both.  The mind-body connection must not be underestimated because where the thoughts go, the whole person goes.  Therefore, it is my assertion that total body health as well as quality of life are directly influenced by our thoughts, attitudes, emotions, and beliefs as well as our physical habits. 

…and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5b NIV

I will not pretend to be an expert on psychology or neurology, but I have learned from experience that our thoughts and mindsets are usually controllable and habitual.  We do not have to entertain every single thought or feeling that floats into our minds, nor do we have to be enslaved by unhealthy emotions or beliefs.  We do not have to be stuck where we are, but we have the ability and opportunity to change our lives this very day by changing our thoughts and habits of the mind.  A great start is to train your brain by changing your I’s! 

1.   I Am… Start by changing your “I am” thoughts.  This is the center of your emotional health and well being.  Take notice of how you see yourself and how you interpret your feelings and emotions.  Insecurity and lack of self-confidence, for example, are negative, self-defeating mindsets that can be utterly paralyzing, yet they are a result of habitually internalizing lies about your identity and abilities. Learn to recognize all destructive “I am” statements or labels that you have accepted as fact, and break the habit by intentionally focusing on truthful “I am” statements in their place.  Know your real identity – someone who was created in the image of the Most High God and in whom His Spirit lives.  You are a person of value and purpose. Refuse to even consider anything less than that truth!  If you need some help in this area, you will be empowered by my post, Power Thoughts for Women.  Use it regularly and it will transform your life!

"I am” statements also include feelings and emotions.  Dwelling on feelings of depression, anger, awkwardness, stupidity, and such have no place within your mind.  Please do not misunderstand.  I am not saying to deny our God-given emotions or to suppress legitimate conditions; I am talking about not habitually dwelling on them until they become your identity.  For example, clinical depression is a real condition that must be recognized and professionally treated, but to make it a habit of mulling in a depressed state of mind will set your feet on a path to emotional prison.  Also, righteous anger is a God-given emotion that propels us to action to correct injustice.  However, to allow anger to stew in our hearts will cause poison to seep throughout our lives and relationships.  Regardless of your circumstances, focus on things that are true, honest, lovely, beautiful, cheerful, right, and good. These virtues will point you to a more positive and healthy life.

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7a NKJV

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.  Psalm 139:13-14 NLT

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.  Philippians 4:8 HCSB

2.   I Have…  Reformatting your “I have” thoughts can dramatically turn your life around.  Rather than focusing on what you do not have, capitalize on what you do have.  We can easily diminish our many blessings and strengths by continuously moping about our deficits.  Our gifts and assets can seem meager in comparison to someone else’s.  What a foolish game to play!  When our focus is on our lack, we miss out on the marvelous life God has planned for us.  Rather, let us fix our eyes on Jesus and trust that we have everything we need for the best life possible.  Let us practice being thankful and content in all situations, then we will be able to enjoy all the wonderful blessings in our lives.  Choose to enjoy life!

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.  Psalm 23:1 NLT

And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 2 Corinthian 9:8 NLT

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:6 NIV

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT

3.  I Can…  It is time to stop allowing “I can’t” to confine you to a constrictive and unfulfilling box.  It is a waste of time!  You are meant for more than that!  Granted, we all have reasonable limits, and we should recognize them.  Some take this mentality to the extreme, however, and then become discouraged when reality hits.  Let’s not be silly here!  I do not believe that the verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” means that we can do everything, even fly!  We must be very careful not to take this verse out of context or make it mean something it does not.  However, with Christ’s strength, we really can do all the things in life that we need to do.  We can overcome life’s difficulties.  Through Him, we have courage, wisdom, creativity, strength, and endurance to live victoriously no matter what our circumstances are.  He has equipped us with everything we need to do everything we need to do.  So, it is time to change your default mindset to “I can!”

For I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.  Philippians 4:13 LB

For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.  Philippians 2:13 HCSB

4.   I Give…  The final “I” to work on involves transferring focus away from self and on to others, “I give.”  When our thoughts are predominately self-focused, we will experience a rather dissatisfying and lonely life.  God did not design for us to live on an island all to ourselves, or to jump on the present-day narcissistic band wagon.  We actually find greater fulfillment in life when we help others have more fulfilling lives.  What a wonderful plan God has in store for us!  Make an effort to express love, show kindness, appreciate, encourage, and serve others.  Zig Ziglar states it so well, “You will get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”  He is not talking about manipulating others so that our selfish desires would be satisfied, but he is meaning that to live beyond ourselves and to serve others is the only way to be fulfilled ourselves.

 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Romans 12:10 NIV

And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.  Hebrews 10:24-25 HCSB

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  Matthew 16:4-25 NLT

The key to changing your habits, thoughts, mindsets, and beliefs is to replace them with something better.  We are always in a process of growth and must be willing to make changes as we learn.  Regularly have your “I’s” checked and replace damaging habits with life-empowering behaviors, thoughts, and practices.  The result will be a life well lived and enjoyed, and ultimately a life that glorifies God!