Beat the holiday blues before they get here

The holidays are fast approaching. Seems too soon to say it, but it’s true. On one hand, it’s exciting. Christmas is my favorite time of year. Sure the days are darker, and the weather is cold. But there are lights and decorations and presents and songs! But for some folks, that’s not enough to cheer them up. There’s a whole population of people who just can’t escape the winter blues.

A part of me understands that. Long cold stretches of time without sunlight can bring people down. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Maybe you lost a job. Maybe you can’t make Christmas what it was last year for whatever reason, and you just don’t see much to look forward to.

Well, this past weekend, I remembered something, and I thought I ought to pass it on.

The Christmas Tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The Christmas Tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 15:58.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

When the days are long and cold or dark and dreary, it can be easy to feel like nothing you do is actually accomplishing anything. It might feel like you’re just spinning your wheels, or it might feel like you never see any results from all your investments.

How can you be cheerful about doing anything if everything feels useless?

The problem with that mentality is that it keeps you in one place. That attitude is a paralytic. If you let yourself feel that way, you’ll never try to do anything. You’ll never crawl out of your shell. You’ll never take a risk on anything or anyone.

So instead of sitting around thinking about everything that’s going wrong, get up and go do something. And I don’t mean busywork. The world is full of busywork. I mean do something for someone else. Make cookies for someone who’s having a bad day. Make soup for someone who’s sick. Go clean house for an exhausted mom. Send an encouraging email or a funny card to a friend.

Do something that takes your eyes off your own trouble, and you might be surprised how your trouble looks when you come back to it. No, it probably won’t have disappeared, but it won’t look so dark and dire.

There’s something about serving others that always brightens my mood. And the beauty about serving is that it’s not complicated. Just show up. Be available. Someone will put you to work, and if you do that work for God, He’ll bless it and you.

Don’t get out and do something just for the sake of doing it. Do it in Jesus’ name. Love others in Jesus’ name. Serve people in Jesus’ name. And when you get back to your life inside your little shell, you won’t be satisfied there any more, because you will have seen the great big world outside your walls and all the awesome things God is doing.

You may be in a dark place in your life right now. I get that. Everyone has been there. But you don’t have to stay there. And getting out of it for a little while might actually help you see your situation clearer.

So get off the couch, friends. Your situation won’t fix itself. God will take care of it, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit still the whole time.

Go find someone to be kind to. It will revolutionize the way you look at your own problems. And if you get into the habit of serving others now, you might even find that you miss the holiday blues entirely. The Christmas spirit might find you in spite of yourself.

Stress is my comfort zone

When you’re carrying a heavy bag, it’s a bad time to try climbing a mountain. Even if you’re in great shape, hauling a heavy backpack around when you’re trying to find good footholds and solid rocks to step on is difficult. It’s slow going. And it’s exhausting. So why do we expect mental stress to affect us differently?

I do. Because, I mean, I’m just thinking. Or I’m just organizing. Or I’m sorting through emotions and expectations and deadlines. It’s not “real” work, so it shouldn’t make me tired. It shouldn’t exhaust me. Well, that’s not true. Mental exhaustion is a real thing, and it’s something people need to take seriously (especially creatives… you know who you are).

I always end up there. Always. It doesn’t matter what job I’m working or where I’m living, eventually I end up in the place where I’m stressed out and exhausted and still pushing forward even though I’ve got nothing left. And frankly, I’m tired of it.

sky-ditch-eye-holeToday’s verse is Proverbs 12:25.

Worry weighs a person down;
    an encouraging word cheers a person up.

Anxiety is heavy. It weighs you down much more than you think, but it’s also one of those burdens that’s really difficult to drop. I don’t know why that is. My worry and my anxiety are the burdens I despise yet can’t seem to let go of.

My anxiety and my worry are actually the reasons why I end up over-stressed and over-worked, because I fall back into my same old habits of performing. Because if I perform above expectations, God will bless me above expectations. But I take it to the next level and run myself into the ground and then despair because my situation hasn’t changed. Some take that as a sign that God isn’t listening. I take it as a sign I’m not working hard enough.

So guess what I do? That’s right. I work even harder.

God is teaching me–yet again, seriously because this is the same lesson He’s been trying to teach me for 20 years–that I have convinced myself I need to feel stretched thin. I yearn for that stressed-out, busy feeling to make me feel like I’m accomplishing something, to help me feel like I’m doing something important. And that’s just foolish. God never intended for us to live that way. It’s not healthy, physically or mentally. And it’s not the best for us. Maybe we feel better, but it’s not actually better.

Stress is my comfort zone, my own personal ditch where I can fall down and stay put. And while I worry and fret until my hair turns gray and my insides twist all up, I convince myself that I’m doing good work. I must be. Because I’m so stressed out!

All my life I’ve been told God doesn’t want us in a comfort zone. He doesn’t want us comfortable. He wants us obedient. So those of us who are hiding in our stressed-out ruts, lying to ourselves and everyone else, we’re not doing what God says to do. God says get up. God says get out. And trust Him. Don’t just talk like you trust Him. Actually trust Him.

But I’m practical. It’s one thing to know you’ve got a problem. It’s something else to work out a way to solve it. That’s where those encouraging friends come in. If you haven’t got them, you need them. Go to church. Or go to a friend’s house, someone you know is close to God, and be brave enough to be honest about where you are. Because the longer you stay in your stress pit, the lower you’re going get. And the lower you get, the harder it is to climb out.

Listen to wisdom. Do wisdom. That’s one way you can tell the difference between wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom is active and real. It’s something you can take with you and use everyday. So don’t just hear words someone says to you. If they’re wise, listen and do it.

It’s not easy. But you don’t have to do it alone. You have a lot of people around you who love you. Maybe you don’t feel like it, but at times like that, don’t trust what you feel. Trust what you know. Ask for help. Then get up and do something about it. And don’t worry what people will think. People will always think something. The people who matter won’t care.

Make a list. Make a schedule. Decide what you’re going to do and do it and then stop. Find someone to keep you accountable if you have to. Just stop killing yourself to please God. That’s not what He wants. And you know that. Running yourself into the ground to please Him is only to make you feel better. It’s not for Him.

What God wants from you is faith. Faith that what He asks you to do is enough, regardless of how you feel about it.

Don’t be afraid, even if you can’t see what’s coming

We’ve got a new batch of kittens at Safe Haven Farm–seven of them! And other than several of them having some issues with runny eyes, they’re all healthy and hilarious. Yesterday I went out to play with them, and I had to laugh. It was a particularly windy day, and every time a gust of wind would come along, all seven would scurry into the shadows of the garage again. When the wind would stop blowing, they’d creep out to play some more, until the wind gusted again. Then they’d scatter.

Being afraid of the wind in Kansas is going to limit their experiences, because it’s always windy here. Eventually they’ll learn not to run in fear when the wind blows, but I couldn’t help but think about how strange it must be. If you’d never felt wind before, it would be pretty scary. You can’t see it, but it can knock you clean over if you aren’t paying attention.

Jethro, one of the new kittens at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Jethro, one of the new kittens at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Deuteronomy 3:22.

Do not be afraid of the nations there, for the Lord your God will fight for you.

When the children of Israel were preparing to go into the land God had promised them, after they’d been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, God turned command of the army over to Joshua. Moses had done his job. And this was one of the messages God left with him: that the people shouldn’t be afraid of what they would encounter on the other side of the Jordan River because God would be there fighting for them.

And that’s a promise God kept over and over again.

We all face moments in our lives when we’re uncertain about what’s coming. In those moments, I always feel like I have some invisible enemy that’s going to sneak up on me when I least expect it. None of us knows what tomorrow is going to bring. It’s difficult to face a day sometimes when you don’t know where you’ll be at the end of it. Some people don’t know if they’ll still have a bed to sleep in. Some people don’t know where their next meal is going to come from.

None of us know what’s coming. Like the Children of Israel who’d never seen the land they were going into, we face troubles and frustrations on a daily basis that go above our heads. There are circumstances and situations that we’re not prepared for. There are confrontations and accusations we have to face that we don’t know how to respond to.

It’s all unknown and uncertain, and there’s nothing more terrifying than the unknown. But what God told the Children of Israel back then is the same thing He’s saying to us know. You may not know what’s coming, but He does. And He isn’t passively sitting on the sidelines judging our performance. God is actively involved in our lives and in our world, and He will fight for us.

Granted, if you want God to fight for you, you need to be on His side, which means you need to be doing what He says is right. If you’re there, then you have nothing to fear. If you’re not there? You might want to think about getting there.

Just because I can’t see what’s coming doesn’t mean I should fear it. Most of my future is completely uncertain, but I will choose not to be afraid for one reason and one reason alone–my God is certain. I belong to Him, and He will fight my battles for me.

Never underestimate the power in a kind word

Slogging along through life gets really old really fast, especially if you’re stuck in a period of waiting for God to act. You know He’s going to do something, and whatever it is will be amazing and wonderful and life-changing. But until you get there, you’re just stuck. And it’s everything you can do to just keep functioning.

So what happens if someone comes along and notices? What happens when they demonstrate that they care about you or about how hard you’ve been working? how does that make you feel?

For me, it’s energizing. I can have my head down, buried in Word documents, cranking out word count like a fiend, but if someone comes along and mentions how much they enjoy what I’m writing, suddenly it doesn’t feel like work anymore. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like my feet are stuck in the mud. The mud just becomes an obstacle to overcome, and it feels like it’s worth it.

person-woman-hand-rainyToday’s verses are Acts 4:36-37.

For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.

How would you like to have nickname like that? This guy Joseph, who the apostles nicknamed Barnabus, was such a cool, uplifting guy that they called him The Encourager. Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of reputation? The kind of vibe that just cheered people up wherever you went?

The thing people don’t always understand about encouragers is that they aren’t always obliging. They don’t always tell you what you want to hear. Instead, they tell you what you need to hear, whether it’s fun or not. They are kind people, overall, and they care about you, but they care enough about you not to lie to you or coddle you. They love you enough to tell you the truth.

Sometimes that’s not easy to swallow, as the Apostle Paul eventually discovered in his relationship with Barnabus, but it’s what you need to hear to get you back on track with God. If your perspective is off, you need someone to smack you upside the back of the head to help you get straight again.

Who are the encouragers in your life? Yes, there’s a place for the cuddlers and the caretakers. There’s a time when you need someone to hug you and feed you cookies, but those times should be few and far between. More often than not, we need our encouragers to come along and challenge us to pick up our sword and get back into the fight.

They’ll do it kindly. They’ll speak truth in love to you. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, it’s probably what you need to hear.

So are you feeling down? Are you tired and weary? Yes, rest, if you need to, but if you don’t? Find an encourager. It may not be the happiest conversation you’ve ever had, but I guarantee it will change you–or at least it will change the way you look at your situation. And really, that’s what most of us need anyway.

Do your loved ones know how much they matter?

I usually avoid a lot of current events when I’m putting a devotional together in the mornings before work. Mostly, news I hear about is so depressing it’s just not worth bringing up, but something happened this week that I just couldn’t stop thinking about.

Robin Williams died.

I know of many actors who have passed away. Many comedians who graced the stage and made people laugh, dramatists who made people cry, artists who brought the fantastic to life. But I really think this is the first time an actor who I really liked has died–not of old age, not of natural causes, but apparently by taking his own life.

I can’t even tell you how many Robin Williams movies I’ve seen. I own lots of them. The man just made me laugh. And it’s heartbreaking to think that someone who brought so many people so much joy couldn’t find enough meaning in his own life to keep living it.

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:14-16.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

I know it’s probably understood. I know it’s probably something that everyone has already thought of. But when was the last time you went out of your way to tell someone important to you what they mean to you?

I’m not talking about strangers on the street. I’m talking about people in your family. People in your home. People you go to church with. People you live life with.

Do they know what you feel?

Don’t just assume they know. Obviously, I can’t speak for Robin Williams or for anyone else who has taken his or her life. But I can speak from experience when it comes to feeling alone and isolated, like I can’t do anything right, like I’ve failed. I know what depression feels like.

And when somebody is so deep in depression that they would consider taking their own life, they need to know they matter. It’s not just love. It’s not just respect. It’s purpose.

We can have all the love and respect and success in the world, but it won’t give us purpose. God is the only one who can accomplish that. Sometimes God communicates purpose through Scripture. Sometimes He does it through the Holy Spirit. Other times, He does it through His children–us–who are called to love others.

So how are we doing on that one? Not with strangers on the street even. I mean in our own families.

Do you think someone you love is depressed? Do you suspect someone you care about is on the edge? Don’t assume they know how you feel.

When you’ve convinced yourself that you’re alone and isolated, you don’t know anything for sure. When you’ve talked yourself into believing that you can’t do anything right, a pat on the back isn’t enough.

Maybe you think it’s overkill. Maybe you don’t think they need it.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather annoy them than take the chance that they convince themselves the world would be better off without them.

It’s their choice. That decision is up to them. It’s between them and God, just like the condition of their heart is between them and God. But don’t leave it like that. Don’t just leave them alone to sort things out by themselves. People lost in depression think they want to be alone, but they don’t really. They don’t really know what they want.

It’s my experience that people lost in depression just need to know that they matter. And they need to hear more than just words. They need to remember that they’ve made a difference, and they need to see that the world really is a brighter place because they’re in it.

And I don’t know how to accomplish that. I think it’s different for every person. But it has to start somewhere. It has to start with someone. And it might as well be us, Christ-followers.

God didn’t give us His Light so we could use it to beat people up. He gave it to us so we could push back the darkness and the lies of our enemy and help the world see how much God treasures us and what God gave up so that we could have a purpose.

Wherever you go, wherever you are, whatever you do, keep your eyes open and recognize that our broken world is full of broken, hurting people who just need to know they aren’t alone. And remember that without Christ, we’d be right there with them.