Charis

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– Paul, Ephesians 2:8

Grace. Short word, but not easy to define. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about grace this past week. If you read the last blog or listened from the podcast, then you’ll know I mentioned grace at the last part of the blog. As promised I’m going to talk about grace. Last time we looked into placing blame on others and considered several examples of shifting the blame on others, when we ourselves often overlook our own responsibilities. What we need is grace.

To be honest, I have a difficult time narrowing down a definition of grace. I know for some of you who might have grown up around Christian circles there is an acrostic for grace using each letter of the word. But, I think it needs a bit further example. It is true we do experience the grace of God because of Christ’s expense on the cross, but what does it mean to live in this life of grace? How does it play out? Like I said, I’ve been trying to find a good example to give you and have been reminded that grace is the right topic for me to write about this week. It has been literally everywhere. Have you ever noticed that when God has something for you to meditate upon, He keeps bring it up in the simplest and strangest of places? For me, it was in a podcast I listened to,my devotional this week, and in my reading through the letter to the Ephesians, written by the apostle Paul. If you haven’t read it, or it has been awhile, let me encourage you to do so. Paul has a lot to say about grace.

One of the strangest reminders of grace this week, was finding grace written on the side of a building. Well, let me be specific, it was a sign on a church building in a very small city, near where two of my adult children live. Can I call them that? It does seem a strange contradiction of terms. Anyway, I almost overlooked this prime example of what grace can be defined as, since I was familiar with this church. I had visited once, when it was located in a smaller building and was aware they had moved down the street.

But, what is remarkable is not a church moving, or that they are called “grace” church, but what bigger picture I think they represent. Let me explain. I am a big fan of revitalizing old down town areas. Not with large condos, that push out the people living there, so they are not able to afford to stay put, but restore, reuse, remodel and reawaken dead, historical business districts. Many times the architecture found in these older buildings is amazing. Great care was put into the design and expert workmanship. They were not simply quick, cookie cutter buildings. But they had history and design. They often reflect the time period in which they were built.

But, sadly, as my husband and I have discovered traveling across the United States, so many of these classic, historical down towns are neglected, falling into ruin and boarded up. Interstate travel moved the business districts too far from the traveling public, subdivisions created commuters and fast food restaurants to be accessed by cars. Drive- thru’s took the places of sit down diners. No one ventured off the bigger roads to visit these small towns anymore, factories on the fringes of the towns closed and businesses shuttered their doors.

Often as I drive through these towns, I wonder what they must have been like in their hey day. Before the faded paint, broken windows, and darkened interiors. I close my eyes for a minute and imagine it. People strolling down the streets, shop keepers displaying their goods in the window, the smell of food drifting from the restaurants and the faint sound of music coming from inside. As it got dark, the street lights would come on and the lights inside, welcoming and beckoning the shoppers and those looking for a meal.

As I opened my eyes, it was still there. The brightly lit shops, the food smells from the restaurants, and the music. There was even the sound of saws and hammers as another building was being rebuilt inside. This wasn’t my imagination, but a reality in which I found myself this past weekend in a revitalized down town. The streets have been all repaved in bricks, the restaurants open their doors to tables and benches on the sidewalks, special events and event spaces now frequent these once broken down and silent areas of town. As I ascended a staircase leading to a newly opened photography studio, I noted the decorative welded iron work on the stairs. This was definitely not cookie cutter, but the work of a skilled craftsman from years ago.

I visited this same town three years ago, as it began to revitalize when there were only a few new businesses in these graceful old buildings. It has taken those willing to step out of the cookie cutter strip mall worlds, invest in the broken down and old. The abandoned and forgotten. To see how it can be. It took someone to see past the inside of the buildings, past the darkness of broken street lights, and broken windows to offer this town a second chance. To imagine what this town could be like once again. Full of life, and full of light and joy once again as people were welcomed to visit it. It took grace. And not just the church that decided to revitalize an entire city building for its new church, rather than build in a large suburban area, it took looking past the broken parts to what it could be.

We are like that too. No, we are not the imagineers, or the visionaries. We are those broken buildings. Dark inside, without light and life. We were once full of light and life, but not now. We are full of strife and anger and hopelessness and sin. When we were created and designed by the ultimate designer and architect, God, we were designed to be welcoming, to be in perfect relationship with our creator and each other and full of life, His life, His Zoe that He breathed into the first man Adam. But then sin arrived and we found ourselves off the beaten path from God. The life and light was gone. We grew old and our bodies saw decay and death. But God offered us grace, right from the beginning, and He promised to send Jesus who would defeat our enemy and restore our life. God looks past the brokenness of our lives, the dark places we have been and that resides within us and offers to recreate us. To restore our relationship with Him, to give us life, not just like the world’s cookie- cutter version, but His life, and Himself, the Holy Spirit, who will change us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, what we were and should have been. God offers us grace. His grace. Nothing we have earned or deserved, but because He sees what is possible in us and loves us despite our shortcomings. God Bless- Nancy

Shifting Blame

Blame shifting holds us back. We simply cannot move forward while looking backward and assigning blame on another person.

I first learned how to drive a manual transmission while my husband and I were living in Spain. Many of you reading this blog or listening on the podcast, might be unfamiliar with manual transmissions. Here in the United States the stick shift is not that prevalent. but when we lived in Europe in the late 80’s and early 90’s there were very few cars that were automatic. So, it was quite out of necessity that I should learn to drive a ‘stick’. It was much trial, error and practice, but I finally got the hang of when to let out the clutch, move my foot from the brake to the gas pedal and boom! off I go. Timing is everything in shifting between gears. You could not move forward without shifting the gears to the next higher gear. To slow down and eventually come to a complete stop, you must reverse the process to down shift. shifting up to move forward and shifting down to stop.

I recently watched a parody intended to put shame on the Gen Z’s. It was designed to poke fun at their blaming everyone for the problems they are facing- like increased student loan debt, poor wages, a bleak economy and social and environmental injustice that they are left responsible for. It was light- hearted, but close to the truth as well. This is how many Gen Z’s see their world.

The truth is, we all have been guilty of shifting the blame for all of our problems on others. I recently came down with a cold, for which I blamed my husband- he had it first. And I became quite miserable. So, it was all his fault. Or so I concluded. But, honestly, I can never be completely sure. I might have picked it up just about anywhere. But, he was the easiest to blame, because he was the most logical source.

It is so easy to find others to blame, and some of that blame is justified. We are human beings. We are not human doings. and most of the time we really mess things up. Oh, we get it right sometimes, but we also make mistakes. We try to do something we shouldn’t be doing, and we fall short. We try to keep up with others and be like them, instead of being ourselves. Being the people God uniquely created us to be. We make decisions that aren’t the best for us or for others who we are responsible for.

If we look for the mistakes in others we will find them. If we look for the mistakes we ourselves make we will find them- and then point to the other person as the reason why we made the mistake in the first place. We really have a problem with admitting it could be our fault. We also shift the blame to others, because we don’t know how to fix our mistakes, or the mistakes of others. We want to move forward, but we get stuck looking back and placing blame, instead of shifting the focus on the solution to fix the mistake or shortcoming.

We blame others for our financial situation, rather than looking for a solution, by creating our own businesses, going back to school, or reducing our spending. We blame our parents- I did too!- for how we turned out, but do not try to learn who we are and how to grow and change- How to overcome the past- sometimes difficult and painful pasts- by learning from others who have walked a similar path before of restoration, healing and growth.

It is easier to complain and blame than to ask God for wisdom in overcoming the past and how to move forward. Blaming can become comfortable to us. It keeps us from bearing any responsibility. We sometimes like to stay stuck in first gear, than risking letting out the clutch and pressing forward. I am not just speaking to Gen Z, as I am speaking for myself as well. I am a recent college graduate who, like Gen Z is facing mounting student loan payments and many employment application rejections. I, too, see the injustice in the world and want to do something about it, but not sure what to do. It is easy for me to blame the employers who won’t take the time to view my application because I am a woman, or I have been out of the workforce as a Stay at Home Mom, and lack experience. As my youngest says ” You can’t get experience until someone hires you and they won’t hire you without experience.” Yes, it is as much a dilemma for me as for a Gen Z. And that is my point here. We all can blame others- younger people or older people, but the truth is, if we work together, forget about differences in ages, economics, gender, stop labeling and stop blaming- we could do so much more.

Blame shifting is not new. Check out the Book of Genesis and you will find it started very early with the first married couple. And they didn’t have parents to blame. Or co-workers, or even children. They were Gen Alpha. Adam realized the mess he now found himself in- working crazy hours with hard work and thorns and thistles,a messed up, broken relationship with his wife, the realization he did not have clothes and needing to hide so God wouldn’t see him naked, and now he would die, like get old, get wrinkly and die. And he blamed his wife and then God. It was all their fault. Not his. He just stood back and was minding his own business when his wife brought the piece of fruit to him. I mean what is a husband to do? Make his wife mad and not take a bite? Or take a bite and take a chance, ’cause she wasn’t dead yet, right? So, yeah. According to Adam it was God’s and Eve’s fault. God because He gave Eve as his wife and Eve because she picked the fruit, took a bite, and talked him into following suit. But… Adam too was to blame. Where was he when Eve was confronted by the serpent? Did he really have to eat too? I mean God had told him not to eat. So. yeah the first default blame shifting happened right there in the first few pages of the Bible. It is not new. You can find other examples in the Bible, but you can also find a solution. It’s called grace. And that will be on next weeks blog- Stay tuned! God Bless- Nancy

For Him

For in him we live and move and have our being- Acts 17:28

So, Sometimes my attitude really stinks. I mean not all the time, just on occasion. Like when there is an AT&T salesperson at my door, or a phone call from a salesperson whom I did not reach out to, suddenly calls wanting to sell me something. Oh, I appreciate their tenacity. Their persistence, their drive to make the sale, close the deal, earn their commission. But, really? I mean can’t they see I’m busy? That if I really wanted to buy something, I would reach out to them? I would be visiting their store or place of business?

I like to think that I am generally optimistic, you know, the glass half- full kind of person. The one who tries to see the best in a bad situation. The one who glosses over issues and looks for a quick solution to fix it. But, the one thing that bothers me and puts me in a very judgmental state, is this. “Why are you trying to sell me on this?” “What is your real purpose?” or “What is your motivation?” I am a real skeptic when it comes to motivation. I don’t want to be told how this will benefit me, what I really want to know is how it will benefit them. Why are you doing this? Why are you convinced this is what I need? Do you really know what I need?

Of course, most of us know that the motivation for salespeople is to make money. It’s their job. It’s how they earn a living. And I give them credit for trying to do their jobs. But as I expand this idea of motivation out further, I often wonder what the motivation of Christians should be towards their lives, their faith, their witness to the world.

I recently was watching a video of a bright and cheerful Christian. They were certainly convinced what they were taking about was very important to me and anyone else who would care to watch. Their voice was raised to an excitable pitch and allowed for the occasional pause, and the lowering of tone for an emotional impact. They waived their hands- well, their whole arms- as every good communicator should do- thank you COMS 101 class notes for that insight– as I had been taught in college. Never just use your hands but make large movements with your whole forearm for affect, to seem sincere. I’ve never really remembered to do this when teaching, and I don’t really want to. Why? because I do not believe in manipulating others for my own benefit. Not when it comes to things like teaching the Bible or sharing the Gospel. Oh it works, it gets attention, but I am looking for God’s words to convince the person, not my theatrics. I’m not wanting to gain fame as a trained motivator, just an honest person, making an honest appeal.

But, please don’t misunderstand me. I am a manipulator at times too. Just ask my husband! I have learned recently that I am a shock absorber- Thanks Dr. Caroline Leaf- for helping me understand how my quick fixes and glossing over the bad to keep the peace made me a shock absorber- someone who seeks to keep the peace- not so others will be happy- but so that I will be. Yup, convicted and guilty of that. So, while my motivation might appear great, it really is for me, about me, and not about others. If you haven’t heard of Dr. Leaf, I suggest you listen to her podcasts, or read some of her books. She is not an untrained self- help guru, but a Christian neuroscientist who understands how our minds work, both physically and spiritually. Her insights have been tremendously helpful to me as a navigate my own emotional health and spiritual journey.

So, back to motivation, I have been thinking quite a bit about it lately and have been reminded that our motivation should be focused not only for others, or towards ourselves, but towards God. We might have a great plan, a great idea that we really think is best for others, but what is our real motivation? I recall a lecture from college during which the professor gave an invaluable life lesson, one from his own college days. He was about to graduate and was praying and struggling over what God was calling him to do with his life. He had been a religion major- same as I was- and wondered what God was going to do, where He would send Him, what were his next steps, when he overheard a casual conversation in the cafeteria. His friends all had plans- plans to make it big- they were all going to join together and create a mega church after graduation. One was a great worship leader, another a great expositor of Scripture, another a great business leader. But the one word that kept repeating itself during the conversation was not “we” or “God”, but “I”. To the dismay of my professor, all he kept hearing was”I” am going to do this or that,”I” am starting a mega church- The lesson the professor was sharing is to not forget who we are doing this for- our education, our training, our presentations, our jobs, our lives- It’s for Him. Not us. Not me.

It’s not that God actually needs anything from us. He doesn’t, but when we think of what he has done and continues to do, giving and keeping our very existence going- then it is For Him. This is what our motivation should be. What my motivation should be. When we begin any new project, whether it is a new job, education, ministry, or outreach let us first ask ourselves, what is my motivation? Second let us ask God to direct us in how we should be doing it for Him. Third, let us not become proud of ourselves and try to do everything on our own. Reach out to others and let them help.- If its truly for Him- we won’t be bothered by their input and help. God bless

What Did You Say?

What? I’m sorry, I didn’t get that? Pardon? Excuse me? Huh? have you ever used one of these phrases in reply to another? You know when you are supposed to be listening? We all have from time to time. It is so easy to get distracted these days, between looking at our phones or tablets, or allowing the noises around us to distract our listening. Sometimes it is just that we are so busy, so rushed, so hurried, that we simply do not focus on the speaker. We all seem to be so preoccupied these days, in these days since the world started waking up from its pandemic slumber. We had been forced by the pandemic to slow down, stay home, work from home, teach our children from home, and we were force to stop and contemplate our lives. And listen.

At least that was my experience. My husband was shut down at his work and was able to spend time with me. As a student and writer, I am often home alone, working by myself, with just the dog and cat for company, so I enjoyed the pandemic shutdown. My husband and I had great conversations over breakfast, we enjoyed morning walks in our neighborhood, and tackling home improvement projects together. Life was good. And then everything started back up again this year, and now I barely see my neighbors, the walks have given way to keeping up with schedules. Traffic has become hectic again, and people are stressed out and angry. We as a society have seem to have forgotten our vows made during our pandemic pause to slow down and enjoy life and the people in our lives.

Recently, I had the opportunity- finally– to visit some older family members. And what has struck me is how important enjoying a good visit can be. Slowing down, listening to the stories from the past, trying to understand who my family really was, and where there had really come from. We miss so much when we fail to slow down and listen to others.

As I have gotten older, I have learned to appreciate more the struggles endured by my family of origin. I have learned of their incredible perseverance, despite the difficulties. I have always enjoyed listening to their stories, but in particular, as I too have faced difficulties in life, I can understand what they went through. As we get older we do tend to learn and respect our families more. I look back on my life and often I feel regret for my own failure to listen to them in the past. I was too busy with raising my own children, to really listen to their stories of how they raised my brothers and I or how my grandparents raised them. I was preoccupied with life. I was looking forward to the destination, instead enjoying the journey. Let us remember to slow down, enjoy this journey of life, taking time to be present and listen to those around us. – God Bless, Nancy

Beautiful People

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”- Paul, Romans 10:15

Have you ever met any beautiful people? No, I’m not talking about the good looks of some people, or of “the beautiful people” of privilege, or status, or of wealth, fame and education- but, the really beautiful people. Those whose heart’s are open, kind, loving and beautiful.

My grandmother was a beautiful person, full of kindness and of love. I remember her as always smiling. She seemed genuinely glad to see me when I visited. She would come sit beside me on my grandparents over sized couch and talk with me. She also made the most delicious meals and made it look so easy. She was giving and generous towards others and shared her love of painting and art with others as she taught me how to paint and other how to create their own works of art from clay.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that she was perfect. She and my grandfather fought sometimes and she never liked to visit my mom- her daughter- at her home. But, despite her imperfections, she was beautiful. See, its not being perfect all the time or looking perfect all the time that makes a person beautiful; it is something from within that makes us beautiful or ugly.

If someone would have seen my grandmother arguing with my grandad, they would have probably judged her as unkind and even mean. But they would have been wrong. Too often we judge from the outside and miss the beauty within. The beauty of a diamond is the result of intense pressure and of cutting to reveal the sparkling facets. Beauty is often only revealed after the pain suffered. I’m not sure of the reason for my grandmother’s beauty or if she had experienced pain or suffering- I never thought about it much until now to be honest, but I’m sure there was a story. We all have pain in this life that can leave us bitter or better. Beautiful or ugly.

Last time I shared the need to embrace our pain and move forward anyway. Our pain can help others in providing hope of getting through some of the same things we have experienced. I recently watched another beautiful person who had gone through so much share her incredible story of hope. She calls herself nightbirde, in case you’d like to read her story. She did not sugar coat her life, but laid it out for all to hear and to read. She could be bitter, but she chose to be better- to question God about what she was dealt, but realized she discovered the beauty of God in the midst of pain and suffering. The story she told through music was of good news, of hope, despite the odds stacked against her.

It is this message of hope, of Good News, that is so beautiful. We are lowly instruments that get bruised, battered and torn apart because of this life, yet we carry this message of hope; of life; of the beauty and goodness of God. We can share this message, or choose to keep it to ourselves. We can look at the world around us with contempt, or we can embrace it and share God’s love. We have this choice to be beautiful on the inside and reflect God, or remain bitter at life’s unfairness; it is a choice. Our choice. -God Bless Nancy

Embracing Pain

There isn’t anyone alive today that has not experienced pain. Physical pain, emotional pain, relationship pain, financial pain, even spiritual pain. We don’t like it, but yet it is something we will experience throughout the course of our life. We often attempt to avoid pain and hurt by avoiding conflict, finding medicines to dull our pain, and trying to not think about the negative. But, maybe instead of escaping the pain, we should instead embrace it. We will have troubles, the Bible even says we will have them in the Gospel of John (John 16:33). But we are also promised that Jesus has overcome the world. He has taken on our pain and hurt from this broken world and overcome it through His death and resurrection.

It is impossible to escape pain from a broken world, the world that was never designed to be this way in the first place. It wasn’t supposed to be so messed up. We weren’t meant to be so messed up, but it was our choice, at least it was Adam and Eve’s choice to follow their own way and lead us all down the path of brokenness, pain, hurt, suffering and ultimately death.

So why should we embrace this pain? Well, maybe we need to realize that as we are moving forward in this life, down our own paths, maybe, just maybe, we can find some redeeming quality to this pain. Maybe our pain will make us smarter, stronger, and more hopeful than we would be if we hadn’t experienced it. I know of a woman who is posting videos on her journey through cancer. She is creating this documentary, that if anything, inspires me to take each day as a blessing from God and to live each day intentionally, enjoying what I love to do. Her pain is joy to others. It inspires others. I’m sure she does not want this cancer journey filled with both physical and emotional pain. But she is finding peace and joy amidst her struggle as she allows her self to be vulnerable about her own fears, including death.

I have also considered my own journey through grief of losing my mom. This pain that I still feel has brought me much closer to God. And maybe that is the greatest reason to embrace pain. For when it is at its greatest, its most hurtful and bitter as if it is a knife plunging into the flesh, it is then that we cry out most earnestly to God. And He hears. When we are done trying to figure everything our for ourselves, and are completely undone, we fall at His feet and let Him pick us up as a parent scoops up their crying child. -God Bless Nancy

A Little Bit of Jesus

So, it’s been a while since I posted and while many of you might have been waiting with baited breath, you might not be after you read the post. You see it has taken me some time to wait to hear from God on what to write. Yes, I wait until there is something that He puts on my heart to write about. This will probably make some uncomfortable, but maybe that will be a good thing.

Early on in my undergrad degree I learned something called religious syncretism. It by definition is ” An amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.” (Google). In my coursework it generally referred to Christians in non -western areas that incorporated Christianity with their old religious beliefs. Generally, it might have involved the use of icons or fetishes with prayers to God. It could be a bit confusing for missionaries working with syncretisms biases.

But the question I want to pose for us all today is how much have we been affected by syncretism in our own faith? Do we pray and then consult a horoscope? Do we sing along to Hillsong praise and worship and seek out palm readers? This may or may not seem obvious to you, depending upon your knowledge of how God feels about occult practices, but are there others areas in which you have blended an eastern religious practice with a Christian one? Meditation is another example. meditating on God’s Word is scriptural, but emptying our minds to seek nirvana is not.

This is just a brief example and many will not agree with my observation, but if we truly want to grow in our faith we must leave the childish things behind as the Apostle Paul says;”When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”(1 Corinthians 13:11, NIV). We will only grow when we follow Christ with our whole hearts and minds. We do not need to blend Jesus in to our own beliefs but rather follow what He teaches in the Bible. Too often we add Jesus onto our lives, similarly to adding sprinkles on top of our ice cream. We want just enough to look good on the outside, or just enough so we can talk with other Christians in church, or maybe as a sort of good luck charm or last resort to get our prayers answered. But, No, Jesus want to be all, not just added in or sprinkled on the top of our lives. Faith might be small like a mustard seed, but Jesus should be greater in our lives.

Nothing New

Recently I came across an article describing the overnight phenomena of a woman who rose to the top of the music charts for her song that bashes the church. I would applaud her except for the fact it isn’t anything new, but she has been able to corner the market on criticism to her advantage.

It is easy to look at others and find fault with their lives, while overlooking our own and the church has always been a target. It is an easy target because of the expectations placed upon the church. While it is true the church is supposed to be the Body of Christ and certainly much of the New Testament addresses how Christians within the churches should behave, we sadly fall short of expectations. Why? Because we are frail, imperfect human beings who need God. The thing is those who are in churches realize this fact. We need God, we all need God. We all have our own brand of being messed up, if we’re honest. We are people. People who sometimes say unkind words, get jealous, get angry, refuse to forgive, lie, steal, hurt others, swear, drink too much, face addictions of many kinds. I’m sure you can think of more things to add to this list.

Not everyone is so messed up, but we have our stuff that God is working on in us. Maybe its fears or insecurities, mental illnesses, anxieties, relationship issues, marriage problems, grief, homelessness, unemployment, financial issues. The point is: there is stuff. We all have stuff. We go to church because we need to be reminded that through all of our stuff it is God who cares.

It is not about fitting in and conforming ourselves to be carbon copies of others, it is because we desire to cry out to God in prayer, songs, and find support from others in church. We go to pray for others, and have others pray for us. We support each other in good times and bad. We are definitely not perfect. If we were, we wouldn’t be in church. We would be on some mountain top or starting our own religion and having people worship us and not God.

It is far too easy to point fingers at the people in church and declare they are messed up and harsh or judgmental, but really when you think about it, who is really being judgemental? Those who stand back and find reasons why Christianity is not for them because of its representatives? Or those who have reached out to God and fall at His feet as a broken people in need of a savior?

I do not deny that there are some pretty bad apples within Christianity. There always has been since the beginning. There are those who see it as a way to get rich and take advantage of others, There are those who exploit women, and children. There are those who lie and cheat in the name of God. This is never accepted by Christ, but it happens because this world is pretty messed up, inside and outside the church.

I hope no one would look at my life and judge Jesus by it. I am not perfect. Only Jesus is. I am a work in progress.

Last year I went on a very popular diet plan in order to lose weight before our son’s wedding. I had used this particular plan before, so I thought it would work great to shed a couple of pounds and fit into my wedding clothes easier. Well, if I had told you I had been on the plan and convinced you it would work for you, you might have questioned me. It didn’t work. Well, let me put it this way…. I didn’t do the work. I was lazy. The plan didn’t work, because I didn’t stop eating some of the foods I really liked, and I didn’t really exercise. The reality is that reading the plan, tracking the food, buying special foods, wasn’t going to work if I refused to realize my metabolism had changed as I got older, and that I needed to get rid of my bad habits- junk food and watching tv.

So, if someone wanted to look at me and judge the diet plan because of the way I looked to them, it would be easy. I would look like a failure, or more importantly the diet plan would look like a failure. Soon, word would spread to avoid this diet plan, because it was a fake, that it took your money, and did not produce the desired results. Examples would be found of others who were still overweight after joining the program. Photographs would flood social media and soon it would go viral. It would be called a scam, even if it did in fact work for some people.

We have become such a critical judgemental society, the very thing that Christianity is accused of being, without realizing the common thread in our criticism: we criticize ourselves when we criticize others about being judgemental. If we judge others for being judgmental, we are in fact being judgmental. We are all people. Imperfect people. All of us. Finding fault in others is easy. Blaming others for our own insecurities is easy. Humbling ourselves and admitting maybe we need God is hard.

De clutter

So, here in the United States, we have this tradition of allowing a small furry animal predict when Spring will arrive. Earlier this week that furry little animal decided for all of us here that we would in fact have six more weeks of winter. Which doesn’t really mean too much to me, except that I can put off my Spring cleaning. To be honest though, I am not really into that sort of thing. I admire people who do a thorough cleaning of their homes in the Spring, but I just try to avoid it altogether. Unless, there’s an upcoming get together, well then….. I will throw myself into high gear and deep clean my house……… Don’t want anyone to think we live like slobs or anything. But, most of the time I am quite happy to just de clutter everything…… It’s like my therapy or something…I really enjoy clearing off all the junk mail from my kitchen island and counters. I like to organize my drawers and clear out closets. I might have dirty windows and floors, but I will have clean counters and drawers. I just dislike clutter on counters and disorganized drawers and closets.

Whenever the counters get full of stuff, I find my thoughts get cluttered and jumbled as well. Anyone out there feel me? I like to have everything organized and in its place and then I can think clearly. But, sometimes, no matter how much I clean the surfaces and re- organize my closets or drawers, there is still a cluttered mind.

So, what happened? You maybe thinking,” I thought she just said, cleaning up your surroundings, makes you think clearly?” Well, yes it does help. But, sometimes….ok…… a lot of the time, its my thoughts and not my counters that need the de cluttering. There is so much going on these days for all of us.. the pandemic…the economy…our children….our parents…..our work….our education…our spouses. We can all get cluttered in our thought lives.

You may have heard of the importance of clearing your mind of thoughts.. To empty your mind and relax. But, actually…. an empty mind is a space for negative thoughts to enter and take up residency. You simply cannot empty your thoughts and think of nothing. You actually need to think about what you are thinking about. Replacing the clutter with real thoughts. Good thoughts… Healthy thoughts.

I have found that when my thoughts are cluttered, they are generally thoughts about worry and anxiety. I am thinking about things which have not really happened or if they were related to some event, I was probably just second guessing myself. I did not need empty space in my mind, just positive truth. A fact checker if you will. If I am worried that I should or should not have done or said something for fear I offended another person, I am not thinking clearly. I will not know if I did any harm unless I speak to the other person. So why worry about it and clutter my thoughts? Or if I am worried about what the future holds. I do not know the future and anything I might imagine- like defaulting to the negative- will probably not actually happen. So why am I worrying about what I cannot control?

So, the solution is to replace these thoughts with truth thoughts. By now you are wondering where do I find truth thoughts? Well, the best place is to find them in God’s word. Yes, the Bible. See, there is a bunch of truth thoughts in the Bible that are just as good today as they were when they were written down by a group of people who were worried and stressed just like we are. Human nature has not changed. If you are looking for a place to start try the psalms. David often struggled with his thoughts and fears. Some were justified fears, people were chasing him, he felt really bad for some of the actions he had taken, he felt abandoned by God, he had issues with his father in law, and his kids,had an affair, tried to cover it up, got a woman pregnant who was not his wife, lost a baby, and he mixed some politics in there, yep, he definitely had some issues going on.

One of the Psalms that I sometimes think about to de clutter my mind is Psalm 23. It’s usually saved for funerals but I find comfort in it now. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” Reminds me that God is in control. He is guiding me and providing my needs, I do not have to be anxious. This reminder might be small, but it can stop my anxious thoughts, and get rid of the clutter or worry in my mind.

As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, giving them advice on living out their Christian walk, may we find the same advice helpful;”We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2Cor.10:5, NIV). Or also in his letter to the church in Rome;”Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NLT).

We can control our thoughts by basing them on the truth of the Bible. By replacing our negative thoughts with the truth thoughts, we can de clutter our minds. It’s about time for some Spring cleaning of our brains, don’t you think? God Bless -Nancy

Default

What kind of person are you? I mean really! What kind of person are you? Are you positive, or negative? Do you look for the silver lining in the clouds, or see just the storm and rains? We all seem to have a default setting. The setting we have allowed to program our thinking and reactions to our circumstances. But, can we change our defaults? I believe so, but it will take effort on our part.

Recently, my husband and I have been reading through a couples communication study. The author, who is a respected psychologist, offers questions for couples to consider to aid in their understanding of their communication styles. Yes, we all have different styles of communicating. And it doesn’t just refer to how much or how little we talk, but what words we choose. It is also based upon our preferred learning styles. My husband is primarily an auditory learner, while I am a visual learner.

One of the recent topics we have read about is the need to focus on what works in our communication over what needs improvement. It might seem counter- intuitive, but it is what athletes do in order to regain ground after a slump in their performance. Focus on what you are doing right and not what you’re not doing so right.

I believe this can be true of our communication with others as well, not just with our spouses. It is way too easy to look only at the problems we see in society- in our neighbors, co-workers, schools, communities, etc. and not see what IS working. To find the good in others, and not default to the negative aspects. Anyone can find faults to complain about. Commentators and critiques have found ways to make their judgements on the failures of others into jobs. Whether in sports, business or politics, finding fault is an industry. We even sometimes refer to these critics as analysts. But, in our striving to find faults and solutions, we really need to look at what is being done right. What works. Work on strengths, not weaknesses. God Bless- Nancy