Finding Peace Amongst the Chaos

I’ve had the opportunity to visit New York City several times and I am amazed each time. The towering buildings, bustling streets and endless nightlife make the city very unique. I love to watch the people who appear to be locals and wonder what it must be like to live or work in such a busy city. I marvel at the beautiful women walking quickly on 5th Avenue in their high  heels and wonder if their feet hurt. I watch the men in business suits hustling from cabs into buildings and wonder how they keep the pace. The noise and lights of Times Square is exhilarating to the senses. Restaurants, shops and entertainment line the streets of this “city that never sleeps.” It’s full of so many distractions, I wonder how anyone gets anything accomplished!

But nothing amazes me as much as Central Park. An oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle, it offers green grass, water, and peace to those who visit. Each time I visit I wonder how often the people who live in the city visit the beautiful refuge. People jog, walk their dogs and relax in the grass and if you didn’t know it, you could easily forget that you are in New York City.

This sense of tranquility among the chaos of the busy city reminds me of the peace and comfort that the Bible can offer us when life gets crazy. We are faced with tough decisions, demanding schedules and families to provide for and life can be very overwhelming. We need to remember to take advantage of the stories and examples that are offered to us. The Bible should be the first place we turn to when we need help or advice. God sent His only son to be an example for generations to follow. We can look at the stories in the Bible for guidance and direction when life gets as noisy and messy as a crowded city.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. Joshua 1:8 (NLT).

The Bible answers the questions that we all want to know: What is the purpose to life? Where did I come from? Is there life after death? How do I get to heaven? Why is the world full of evil? Why do I struggle with making good choices?

In addition to these “big” questions, the Bible gives much practical advice in areas such as: How can I have a successful marriage? How can I be a good parent? What is success and how do I achieve it? What really matters in life? How can I live so that I do not look back with regret? How can I handle the unfair circumstances and bad events of life?

Christians are so lucky to have this valuable resource to help us navigate the storms and busy pace of life. The question is this:

Will you remember to use it when everything around us presents a distraction?

Finding Balance

Do you ever wake up and wonder how you are going to get everything done on your to-do list?

Laundry, groceries, kids, meals, work, time with your spouse, exercise, rest… It can be an overwhelming feeling!

How can we juggle our different roles as parents, spouses, employees, friend, and children to our own parents all while being a child of God?

We must remember that everything we do reflects our love for Him — even when it seems mundane. God sent Jesus to live as one of us. He experienced our life and its many demands. And although the life He lived was very different from ours today, we can look to the Bible for the importance of balance between life and work.

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” (Colossians 3:23–24 NLT) In other words, all our work is done on behalf of Christ.

A parallel verse occurs just a few verses earlier, “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17 NLT) Again, this says that whatever we do — in work or business — is to be done in the name of Jesus, to reflect His love for us.

As a child of God, we must take the time to set priorities to find balance in our lives. So how do we do this?

Make a Plan – Finding balance is about prioritizing, making a plan, and then getting it completed. Our priorities should include God being first, and then prioritizing family, time for ourselves, others, responsibilities, jobs, etc. Plan your work, and then work your plan!

Make Time for God – It sounds a little strange, but we must set aside time to spend with God each day. A constant relationship with God is the key to finding balance, and it sets the pace for everything else we do. Schedule a date with the one who loves you the most!

Make Time for Family – God has given us all a responsibility to be there for our families. This is not to be taken lightly. We need to teach our kids about God, invite Him to be present in our family life, and thank Him regularly for our gifts.

Make Time for yourself – We all have the same amount of time. It’s how we use our time that can make a difference. It’s important that we spend time doing enjoyable things with others, as well as alone. Exercise can help clear our minds and allow us to re-focus when we feel tired. Spending time for ourselves feeds our soul and spirit and makes us better friends, parents, employees, and spouses.

So what about stress? Stress has a familiar pattern: worry, strain, and nervous tension accompanied by a frenzy of rush and hurry. It is a feeling of having too much to do, too many problems, feeling driven and distraught. Stress causes us to become mentally and emotionally upset. When we feel stressed, we are out of balance. Handling stress allows us to find balance in our life.

Jesus knew about stress. “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life — whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:25–26, NLT) He is saying, don’t worry about the stresses of life, I will help you!

So next time you wake up burdened by your list of things to-do, ask God to help you remember to focus on Him and to find balance as you go through your day.

Faith Can Be Scary

“Why would you share something so personal with complete strangers?” This is what the voice inside my head was saying as I contemplated writing my book. I was 41 years old and not who people thought I was. I had a secret and was about to go public; and even though I had a sick feeling every time I thought about it, I knew that God wanted me to do this. I had been called.

It all started about a year and a half earlier… I was struggling with the guilt, shame, and doubt that accompanied a life of abuse. I was an only child and had survived a life with an alcoholic mother and sexually abusive father. After being estranged from my parents for many years, I began to worry. I would be unable to sleep at night thinking about what I would do if something happened to my dad. My mom was a stroke victim and he took care of her. As much as I tried to ignore my conscience, the thoughts wouldn’t go away. My sons wanted to know why they couldn’t go visit their other grandparents. As I wrestled with this, God knew it was time for me to face my past and spoke to me very clearly one morning.

It started out as any other Sunday as my family headed to church. Our four sons went to their respective classes, and my husband and I sat next to each other enjoying the worship music. When our pastor began to speak, I froze. He started talking about forgiveness. I knew he was talking to me. The message hit my core, and I was confused and angry as I thought that forgiving my parents would release them from their actions. I talked to my husband and he suggested that I talk to our pastor. Scared to open up about my past, I was hesitant to talk to my pastor but I knew that I needed to. After telling him about my past, he told me the truth about forgiveness. By forgiving my parents, I was not excusing them from their behavior. Rather, I was releasing myself from the pain of the past.

Six months later, my father died and I was left to care for my mother. During this trial, I sought the advice of a Christian counselor. As I unpacked my complicated, messy past and current situation, she smiled and said, “You are a perfect example of God’s grace.” I thought about it and realized that I was. During our next session together, she said it again and then asked me a question that changed my life, “Would you ever consider sharing your story to help others?”

I left her office feeling scared, excited, and nauseous. I immediately made a list of all the reasons that I wasn’t qualified. I tried to forget about it but I’ve learned that when God wants to get your attention, He will keep trying until you respond. I had spent most of my life trying to avoid and deny my past for fear of being judged by others and was fearful of how the people in my life would respond when they learned the truth. I prayed and asked for wisdom and as scary as it was, I knew that I needed to trust God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5–6 (NLT)

As I timidly told my closest friends about my past and that I was going to write about it to help others who may be hurting, I received overwhelming support.

As I reflect on my journey to writing this book and speaking to groups, I am amazed by what God has done with my life. By sharing our stories, we allow God’s good works to shine and give Him the glory that He deserves.

Is it scary? ABSOLUTELY! But God calls us out of our comfort zone so that we can show others what true faith looks like. Are you willing to take the risk to show God that you fully trust Him?

Your Body Is a Temple

I was shocked when I saw a report by the CDC recently that stated that 80% of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of exercise per week. The U.S. government recommends adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination of both. Adults should also engage in muscle-strengthening activities like lifting weights or doing push-ups at least twice per week. That’s it?!

I have been involved in some sort of exercise my entire life. It began when I was young and I started swimming. I was on a summer swim team from age 5 until I graduated from high school, and competed for my high school team. Was I always a winner? NO! But what I loved about it was the feeling that I was moving my body; and as I was under the water, my mind was free to think about whatever. During my high school years, I began to take up running and found that same feeling of peace as the miles passed and my mind wandered. As I have gotten older, I have kept up with my exercise regimen because it makes me feel good. But I look around and see that even some of my closest friends don’t.

As I reflected on this, I wondered why more people aren’t exercising. Why isn’t it a priority? I turned to the Bible to see what I could find:

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 NLT)

I read this as a wake-up call. Are you honoring God with your body? If not, why?

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice — the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (Romans 12:1 NLT)

If the Bible tells us to let our bodies be a living and holy sacrifice to God, shouldn’t we do our best to take care of them?

Last but not least:

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NLT)

This is my favorite verse, and it reminds me of the time my sons helped judge a fitness competition for wounded warriors. They came home from that event very humble and in awe of what the men and women were able to do, even though their bodies were compromised. Nothing is impossible with God! Set a goal for yourself and pray for guidance as you make a plan to meet that goal.

So as Christians who want to honor and please God, I encourage you to take this as a challenge. Reflect on these words and statistics, and ask yourself if you are one of the 80% of Americans who isn’t exercising enough. If so, make a plan. Start small if you need to; promise to take the stairs instead of an elevator or park farther away from your office each day. Set a long term goal and figure out what you need to do to meet it. Remember, no one wakes up and decides to run a marathon that day!

God will help you and reward your fitness efforts if they are done in His service and not out of vanity or selfishness. Put your trust in God, and He will guide you… just do it!

Living From The Inside Out

I have a friend who is a wonderfully talented singer. She leads worship at our church and every time she opens her mouth, it is amazing. I often find myself wishing that I could sing as well as she can. I have another friend who has a high powered job and is very successful in the business world and travels a lot. I think about how great it would be to have a job like hers.

Isn’t that typical? We compare ourselves to others wishing that we had their job, voice, hair, skin or talents. Our culture encourages us to do this, and it leads us to feelings of inadequacy. We find that we feel worthy when others say you are. For example, if you work really hard on a project and no one says that it was well done, you start to wonder if it really was any good; if you’re any good. Also, our culture demands attention. If you measure your worth according to Facebook and Twitter, then attention equals worthiness. But God disagrees. He says that we are worthy because of our faith. We don’t have to try to be the biggest or the best. We don’t have to impress anyone. We only need to be faithful. That takes all the pressure off!

The challenge is learning to live by faith, not by sight. When we look to the outside world for praise and worth, we are left feeling inadequate. The good news is that who you are and what you do already pleases God! He has given each of us unique gifts and abilities and wants us to use these gifts to show our love for Him.

“If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” (Romans 12:7–9)

The verses above present the argument that it’s not about us, it’s about Him. But, it’s easy for us to allow the world’s values to impact our life. We focus on material things to make us happy; believing that our self-image comes from the outside, and often think that it’s ok to bend the rules sometimes. God has an opinion about this…

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

In other words, to counter the tendency to let the world’s values direct what we do and how we live, we must intentionally choose to live so that we let God’s callings determine how we use our gifts. Using God’s word as a guide will allow you to stay on the right path and focus on His calling for you. The best way that we can show our love to God is to use the special gifts that He has given us. Remember that we are all designed to have different talents and that is what makes us unique. (After all, the world would be a pretty boring place if we all had the same talents.)

So the next time you find yourself in the trap of comparison or feeling less than adequate, remind yourself that we each have our own special gifts. Do what you do best and do it without comparison, for it brings Him much joy, and will make you feel great as well!

Forgiveness Leads to Love

Think back to a time when someone hurt you. Remember how that person’s words or actions made you feel? Remember that feeling in your stomach? Remember the anger? Maybe you are still affected by it today.

The Bible says that we are to forgive, no matter how hard it may be.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

God is saying that it is in our own best interest to forgive, and He has given us the perfect example of forgiveness. He knew that we needed to be forgiven for our sins so He sent Jesus to save us from the consequences of our sin. If God was strong enough to allow his son to die on a cross to prove to us how much He loves us, shouldn’t we trust Him when He says, “forgive?”

Colossians 3:13 says: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

For me, forgiveness took a long time. I survived a childhood of physical and emotional abuse from the two people who were supposed to love me the most. My coping mechanism was to avoid (the memories) and deny (that anything was wrong). I didn’t tell anyone for many years because I didn’t want anyone to judge me. I had feelings of anger, shame, and guilt from my past. I struggled with the idea of forgiveness for a long time. I didn’t want to forgive my parents because I believed that they didn’t deserve it.

What I learned was that forgiving others spares us from the consequences of living out of an unforgiving heart. It’s important to keep in mind that forgiving someone doesn’t mean that everything is hunky-dory. Unfortunately, the old phrase of “forgive and forget” isn’t really beneficial in real life. You should remember what someone has done to you, even if it means you can no longer be a part of their life.

Remember, forgiveness does not justify or pardon the deed or the person. Likewise, it does not provide God’s forgiveness for their actions, because only God can do that. And while nothing can undo the past, we can do something about the condition of our own present and future. Forgiving others makes a way for our own healing to begin. That healing process will lead you to be able to love.

Listen to your heart. Is there someone who you need to forgive in order to move forward and truly love as God has commanded us? If so, I would encourage you to do the following:

  1. Pray about it and how the act of forgiveness can help you grow spiritually.
  2. Understand that negative feelings will occur when we are hurt and that’s normal.
  3. Talk to someone about what you are experiencing.
  4. Don’t rush. Forgiveness is a process.
  5. Honor the fact that you are becoming a different person by forgiving.

Experience: Raising Godly Kids Today – A Glimpse Into the Life of a 4 Boy Mom

When I meet someone for the first time and they hear that I have four sons I often hear one of the following comments… 

“Better you than me!’

“Wow, how do you manage it?”

“So, you’re the queen?”

Never in all my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be a mother of four boys. When the doctor placed my first born in my arms eighteen and a half years ago and announced that it was a boy, I actually panicked a little bit. I thought, “What am I going to do with him? I don’t know anything about dinosaurs or airplanes!” Seven years later, our fourth son was born. He was perfect and my husband and I were excited and proud. Then it hit me… this was our last child and I didn’t have a daughter. I must be honest and admit that I felt alone.

As I was raising my young sons, I’d find myself looking at clothes and toys that were targeted for girls. 

I’d walk through the aisles making comments in my head….

Pink tutu and blinking wand… maybe.

Purple sparkly bike with ribbons on the handles… definitely.

Yellow dress with matching daisy purse… absolutely.

Hair bows… buy them all!

And then I’d head back to the land of blue and red with many less options. Fortunately, boys don’t care as much. They’re fine with less options and don’t need matching accessories; which makes my life easier.

Being the only female in a house of males can be challenging. I quickly learned about dinosaurs, trains, and airplanes. I watch football, baseball, and hockey as I try to keep up with stats and scores so I can join in the dinner conversations. But I also do my best to point out things to my all male crew that might not be obvious to them. Things such as the beauty of flowers, the joy of shopping (I’m still working on that one), the happiness that dressing up can bring, and explaining why I need so many pairs of shoes. I still feel like a fish out of water at times, but I make it my mission to help my sons understand the unique differences between men and women. 

My husband and I have brought them up in a home full of love, and have made sure that they have a relationship with Christ. We are fair, but firm. I like the verse Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” This verse speaks to fathers, but I think it is easily applicable to mothers as well. 

As our sons have gotten older, I feel that I have an important role in making sure that they have stayed true to who they are and not the norms that society believes young men should be. If you’ve seen any of the video game covers or watched a commercial during a football game, you know what I’m talking about. I want them to be the type of man that I’d want my daughter to date. Through this, I realized that I had an opportunity to teach them about being a true gentleman. We talk about sex, drinking, drugs, and why certain images of women are offensive. 

Don’t get me wrong, my four are not perfect. They are loud, smelly at times, and argue with each other. They don’t always fold their laundry (even though I tell them several times) and don’t always want to share. But they have good hearts and have developed into God-loving young men. Two of our sons have been on mission trips to Africa and Guatemala. Our third son raised over $1,000 from a lemonade stand and donated it all to charity. Our youngest son helps his grandparents and refuses money.

Through our relationship with Christ, our sons see models for happy, healthy lives. They appreciate the relationship that all six of us have and want to maintain it. I’m sure that they will make some mistakes along the way, but will feel confident that they know they can ask us for help and forgiveness.

So my advice to young moms is this: do your best each day and apologize if necessary. Be honest with your kids and talk to them about your struggles. Pray with them. Be a model for them and let them know that they are loved by you and God. And don’t forget to do something nice for yourself every once in a while!