The choice you need to make this Thanksgiving

Every family has traditions. Even if you aren’t a traditional family or even if you don’t have a lot of traditions, you still have things you do as a family that nobody else does. It’s part of your family culture. And one of the biggest family days in the year happens tomorrow.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. Maybe that day doesn’t mean a lot to some, but if you come from an old-fashioned type family where you serve a great big meal (traditional or not) on Thanksgiving day, the Wednesday before is more than just a day. It’s the day you spend in the kitchen.

Some families do their cooking/baking on Thursday mornings, but in our family we usually eat pretty early on Thanksgiving day. So most of the prep work has to be done the day before. Even when we’re not serving a traditional meal, we still have quite a bit of preparation to do ahead of time.

But what happens when the prep work and the planning gets to be more important than the purpose for the day itself?

2EW0RA30JPToday’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.

This is one of those Bible stories you hear a lot, but it’s one I need to pay more attention to. I have a tendency to be like Martha, especially during the holidays. I get busy. I rush around, crazy and wild, trying to get as much done as I possibly can, and I do it because I want things to be perfect for guests and other family members. I love having people in my house. I love preparing meals for other people, whether it’s in my house or at their house, or just working together with someone to serve someone else. I love it. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of planning, and if nobody does it, it won’t get done.

So my busy little spirit can understand Martha’s irritation with her sister. And it’s not that Martha was wrong exactly. She just got her focus off of what really mattered. The meal wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. She had Jesus in her living room. And, yes, she wanted to serve Him. Yes, she wanted to use her gifts to bless Him. And that’s exactly what she should have done, but she let the stress of that amazing opportunity turn her into someone she wasn’t. She let the pressure to perform make her say things she didn’t mean.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but has anyone else ever been there during the holidays? You know it’s not about the food or the presents or the decorations, but you let the pressure of the holiday season wear on you until you get grumpy because things aren’t working out the way you want.

News flash. Things rarely ever work out the way you want. So you’ve got a choice to make.

Thanksgiving, and other holidays, are an important time to be together. Maybe you’re with family. Maybe you’re with friends. Regardless, it’s specific time set aside for a specific purpose–to be thankful, to recognize that there are things in life more important than work or money or possessions. More important than whether you have turkey or ham or if you get a slice of pumpkin pie or if have to sit at the kid’s table or not.

When you start feeling stressed out or irritated (and you probably will), ask yourself what’s really important. Don’t get so caught up in putting on a good show or providing a good meal that you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.

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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.

Barney the cat with his grumpy face in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Did you know you have permission to laugh?

When was the last time you had a bad day? I mean a really bad day. One of those days when everything goes wrong, when you can’t seem to do anything right, when all you want to do is go home and curl up with a cup of tea and a book and escape your life.

Ever had a day that bad? Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there. Everyone has. It’s not every day (if it is, you have bigger problems), but the days that you want to quit are sometimes just more than you think you can take.

What do you do on those days? Do you have a plan, a strategy for fighting back on days when you don’t want to fight anymore?

Barney the cat with his grumpy face in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Barney the cat with his grumpy face in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 26:1-6.

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,
    it was like a dream!
We were filled with laughter,
    and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
    “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
    What joy!

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
    will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
    but they sing as they return with the harvest.

People don’t laugh enough. That’s my personal opinion, but I think just about everyone will agree with me. People–God’s children included–don’t laugh often enough.

And I’m not talking about derisive laughter or about forced laughter. I’m talking about laughter that comes from joy, from the sheer mind-blowing joy of knowing God.

When was the last time you were stressed out about something? When was the last time you were ready to quit your job? Do you have answers for those?

Okay. So when was the last time you laughed like it didn’t matter who heard you? When was the last time you laughed until your sides hurt? When was the last time you had to wipe the tears out of your eyes because you’ve been laughing so hard you started crying?

And, no, that kind of laughter isn’t bad or irreverent or disrespectful. I mean, it can be. Of course, it can be. Anything good and pure can be corrupted. But laughter by itself isn’t wrong. Laughter is something more of us need to spend time doing.

Why?

Have you ever been down or depressed or sad? I have. And in those moments, everything feels so dark. I feel isolated. I feel like I’m the only person in the world. And then someone makes me laugh. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of laughter–just a chuckle. Just something that makes me smile. And it’s like the sun comes out, and all of a sudden I can remember that life doesn’t suck all the time. There are bright spots–more bright spots than dark spots if I’m being honest.

That’s what joy does. Joy helps us refocus, helps us clear the cobwebs of depression and sadness out of our brains for a little while and remember that we’ve actually got it pretty good.

Are you down today? Are you sad? Call someone. Or text someone. Someone you know will be happy or joyful or cheerful. Someone who has light in them. Maybe you don’t know that person well, but I’m sure you know someone like that. Just take a moment and talk. It’ll help. Let yourself laugh a little. Stop taking life and all its many issues so seriously, and give yourself permission to laugh.

You aren’t doing yourself any favors by running yourself into the ground. You aren’t helping the people around you either when you stress yourself out just to get your work done. No, take the time to laugh. Take the time to enjoy your life and the people in it. And I would be willing to bet that your ratio of good days to bad days will change.

Your bad days won’t go away. Don’t expect that. But how you look at them will change.

We all have bad days. We all have sorrows. But God’s promised in so many ways that sorrow won’t last forever and bad days eventually end.

Make the choice to be joyful. Give yourself permission to laugh. And pretty soon you’ll be able to honestly proclaim what amazing things God has done for you.

The old house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Everybody needs a safe haven

I don’t like admitting that I need help. Admitting that I need help is showing weakness, and I never want people to think I’m weak. Similarly, I don’t like admitting when I need to rest. I’d rather live in denial and push forward until I collapse instead of being proactive and planning for the need to slow down every so often.

That’s probably my pride and my stubbornness showing through.

But realizing that you need to rest doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. No one has super powers. None of us can push forward through life without needing rest or at least a quiet place to recharge. If we try it, we’ll burn out. And once you burn out, lighting the fire again is ten times as difficult.

I’m just coming off one of the busiest weeks of my year, and as I lay awake in bed this morning, my brain was buzzing with everything else I have to do. April is so full, part of me is scared to even look at my calendar. And May is worse. It’s all great, wonderful things. Tremendous opportunities. Fun challenges. Exciting events. But it does take time and energy and emotion, and at the moment, not yet recovered from National Sales Meeting, I can’t imagine being ready for any of it.

The old house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The old house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Interlude

A river brings joy to the city of our God,
    the sacred home of the Most High.
God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
    From the very break of day, God will protect it.
The nations are in chaos,
    and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
    and the earth melts!
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
    the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
    See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
    He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.

 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I will be honored by every nation.
    I will be honored throughout the world.”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
    the God of Israel is our fortress.

I need to read this Psalm every day. I need to remember everything in this Psalm every moment of every day and maybe twice a day in the stressful times.

Needing a refuge isn’t weak. Everyone needs a refuge, a safe place to go when life gets too crazy.

I’d been away from home since very early Sunday morning, and I walked through my door last night where my roomie was waiting for me. She made dinner, and we watched The Desolation of Smaug and ate pasta. I could relax and not worry about tomorrow and just be.

I’m so fortunate to have a safe place I can go, but not everyone has that. So where do you go when you don’t have a comfortable couch with an awesome roomie?

Maybe it sounds clichéd to talk about resting in God, but that’s what we need to learn to do. That’s what I need to learn to do, especially in those moments when I’ve overworked myself and I don’t have time (or the ability) to run home and hide in my basement with a movie and a cup of tea.

Finding rest in God can be difficult because it requires a change of perspective, and when you’re exhausted anyway, expending the effort to change the way you see the world seems like too much trouble. But the truth is, my safe haven isn’t safe because of my movies and my hot tea and my comfy chair and my awesome roomie. My safe haven is a refuge because it helps me slow down and remember who God is.

That’s the key to resting. It’s not being lazy. It’s not being weak. It’s slowing down enough to regain the right perspective on God, and when you do that, you’ll get the right perspective on everything else.  Remember who God is. Recognize what He’s done for you. Realign your thinking to match His. And you’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel afterward.

So where is your safe place? Where can you go to slow down and remember who God is? If you don’t have a place like that, you really need to find one. Life won’t slow down, so you have to.

Giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Slow down!

Autumn is here, at long last, and we in south central Kansas are hovering on the line between the first hard freeze and the continued suffering of allergies. Fall is my favorite season. It’s not too hot; it’s not too cold; and you have the excuse to eat a warm pumpkin-something with every meal. But it’s also a difficult season because the chill in the air and the joy of being outside brings on this desire to hang out with people, to host parties, to attend get-togethers. Fall brings this strange need to commit to more than you can accomplish. Maybe no one else experiences this, but I do. Every fall. And I don’t really have any intention of changing that because … well … that’s fall.

But even though I will probably continue to bite off more than I can chew from late September through December, today’s verse (and last night’s message at church) reminded me that one thing I don’t have to do is worry about it.

Giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 64:4.

For since the world began,
    no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
    who works for those who wait for him!

Stress makes everything worse, especially when you’re busy. But stressing out over things you can’t control is a waste of time, energy and resources. Now … if I really have said yes to more commitments than are possible, it’s my responsibility to back out of one of them, if I were honest. But I haven’t hit saturation yet (wait til Christmas gets here!).

We shouldn’t worry or be anxious. It’s tempting. Oh boy, is it tempting. But when we feel the worry creeping up on us, we need to hand it off to God. Why?

As today’s verse says, God works for those who for Him. It’s not our job to run around fixing all our own problems and trying to fix the problems that are beyond us anyway. It’s our job to wait on Him.

Our God wants to help us. Do you get that? Can you wrap your head around that concept? I can’t. It’s amazing. It’s huge. That the God who spun Jupiter in orbit, the One who filled up our oceans and invented the idea of seeds and harvest, would want to take His time and His resources and His energy and invest in my life? Wow.

There no other gods like Him.

What can our idols do? What can our petty little celebrities do? What can our vaunted politicians scrambling for national power do? What can our religious leaders do? What can you do? What can I do?

Nothing compared to Him.

So don’t be anxious. There’s no one like Him, and He works for those who wait for Him.

Don’t worry. Wait.

And while you’re waiting, enjoy life. I get so busy rushing rushing rushing that I forget to be thankful so many times. I forget to pay attention to the sun rise or the moon or the stars or the steam coming off my cup of tea or coffee. I forget to be thankful for all the awesome things He’s given me. I get so focused on what I think is important while I’m rushing that I forget to pay attention to what really matters: Him. And what He’s done for me. And being thankful.

Does waiting require that you slow down?

Yeah. But it’s worth it. Because when you slow down, life comes into perspective. And those of you who rush like crazy (like me) to accomplish things because you think you’ll run out of time, guess what? You won’t. Most of the time, if you slow down and do it right, you’ll actually accomplish more than you would have if you were rushing. Maybe when you rush through something, you’ll finish faster, but what for? So you can find something else to worry about or rush through?

No. Slow down. Stop and smell the roses. Or the coffee. Or the Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin candle from Bath & Body Works (ahhhhh!).

Stop. Wait. Be thankful.

We weren’t designed to rush through life. We are made to enjoy what God has given us. So let’s enjoy it and be thankful and let Him sort out the details.

Control Freak

Life is stressful. And no matter how I try, I always end up stressed out about something. I’m better than I used to be, but somehow all the stuff that makes life so crazy just keeps stacking up until I’m buried in a pile too big to climb out of.

I’m not a tightly wound person either. I’m not inclined to anxiety. But somedays anxiety seems inevitable.

Responsibilities. Duties. Family. Friends. Work. Hobbies that become work. House stuff. Car stuff. Bills. Paychecks. Paychecks in comparison to bills. The rising cost of gasoline. The rising cost of everything. If they were just individual concerns, they’d be easier to deal with. But they never come individually. They always come together, all seemingly united in the singular purpose of driving me out of my mind.

But when you get right down to it, being stressed out about anything is really a choice. It doesn’t always feel like a choice, but it is. This is something I really struggle with, especially lately.

When I run into a situation that I can’t control, my automatic reaction is to get stressed about it. I worry about it. I think about it all the time. And even though I can’t do a single thing to change it, I lay awake at night, staring at my ceiling and wondering what other ways I could solve it.  I guess in itself that’s not bad. But it’s not good either.

When I encounter a situation I can’t control — or a problem I can’t solve — the best response is to give it to God and not worry about it anymore.

But it’s so hard to do that when you’re a control freak . . . .

There’s a cartoon show that I love watching called Teen Titans. It’s a DC comic turned into a kid’s Saturday morning cartoon show. It’s not on television anymore, but I have the series on DVD. For being a kid’s show, it’s really quite witty. The Teen Titans are five teenage superheroes that basically run around saving a city from random bad guys and eating pizza on their off days. It’s a riot. One of their minor nemeses is a dude called “Control Freak” and he’s basically a geek in a trench coat with a magic remote control that can turn inanimate objects (TVs, candy bars, vending machines, etc.)  into monsters. He’s one of the fun bad guys because he’s always quoting Star Wars lines and things like that.

But to beat him, the Teen Titans have to take away his remote control because that’s where he gets his power. If he doesn’t have his remote control, he’s just an ordinary geek.

This is honestly what I thought of when I read Philippians 4:6-7 this morning.

 6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

We’re not supposed to worry. We all know that, but it’s hard to remember when worrying is so easy to do. We all feel like we have te have some kind of control over a situation, and we can’t rest until we get everything sorted out. But any control we think we have is an illusion.

There’s only one thing we can control and that is our reaction to the stresses of life.

We can choose to worry. Or we can choose to trust God about it and let Him lead the way. We can choose to hold on to the things that stress us out. Or we can give up the remote.

I’m working on my control freak tendencies. It’s funny because my inner control freak can be very helpful when I need her to be, but when I lose control of it that control freak inside me takes over me too. And when that happens, I’m not a very nice person anymore. And I’m so obsessed with getting something done the way I think it needs to be done, I tend to run over people. And that’s not the way we’re supposed to live.

So I’m going to do my best to turn over control of my remote, the tendencies that make me want to stress about the unsolveable problems of life. Because if I don’t turn it over, God might someday take it away to remind me that I really don’t control anything.