Sunday, January 29, 2012

Five Creative Ways to Share the Love of God in February

When you think of Valentine's Day you probably have visions of cupid aiming his arrow, romantic dinners, bouquets of roses and candy hearts that say "I love you." But apart from all the hoopla and at the very center of it's message, February 14th is about showing someone you love them.

And since God IS LOVE, why not use the month of February to take extra time letting others know how much HE loves them?

Although there are countless numbers of ways to do this, I have listed five to help get the ideas flowing:
  1. Make scripture "love notes" to pass out. Leave them for your waiter along with your tip, hand them to the cashier as you go through your favorite fast food place, leave on a co-worker's desk, pass to a stranger, etc.
  2. Pay it forward. Do something nice for a stranger without expecting anything in return, only that they "pay it forward" and do something nice for someone else. Leave an encouraging note or scripture with your act of kindness.
  3. Invite someone to lunch for the purpose of exhorting and encouraging them (think of someone who has had a bad week).
  4. Send out a mass email offering to pray for any needs or requests for those who respond.
  5. Play "Secret Santa" and give God the credit. Bless someone with a gift and leave an anonymous note that says, "Jesus loves you or God's thoughts of you today are too many to count."
Notice how each of these is used as a tool to remind people of the love of God (or maybe let them know for the first time). The purpose is not to bring glory or recognition to ourselves, but to Him alone.

Do you have any creative outreach ideas you'd like to share?

"I give you a new commandment: that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too should love one another," (John 13:34).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Top Five Consequences of Over-planning

My last post, "Top Five Consequences of Poor Planning," has inevitably led me to this one.

On the flip side to poor planning lies over-planning.

Some of you know this side quite well, as noted in the comments on my previous post (not naming any names but hers starts with J).

And yes, even I, the sometimes poor planner, can work myself right into over-planning. Actually, I'm quite good at it. So good at, in fact, the title of my book I am currently working on is Over-planned & Unfulfilled. It has guided much of my life, right up there with busy-ness (again, not naming any names but someone else knows about this one, too).

I know this is a little odd, that I am affected by not just one but both of these. Call it split personality or what you may, God certainly has His hands full with the likes of me.

The Bible clearly recognizes this problem of over-planning so I'm certain I'm not alone.
  • Proverbs 16:9 says, "A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps."

  • And Proverbs 19:21 again exposes the issue, "There are many plans in a man’s heart," but reminds us that God is in control, "Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand."
God's call to surrender often requires that we let go of pre-made plans and ideas or solutions and remedies of our own making. If we hold on too tightly to those plans, trusting in our own ability and wisdom rather than relying fully on Him, we are certain to face some consequences.
  • We have more stress and anxiety. When we rely on our own efforts to handle a problem or issue, we create undue stress and anxiety. Trust that no matter how big the problem is, God is in control, "...we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You." 2 Chronicles 20:12.
  • Our lives cannot declare His good works. How can we declare His works when we are trying to do all the work in our own strength? Psalms 73:28 says, " is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works."
  • Our strength, hope, and faith become small. We can wear ourselves out physically, mentally, and emotionally trying to do it all, have it all, and fix it all. Sometimes we need to let go and trust. "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint," Isaiah 40:31.
  • We miss important instructions. God has given us wisdom and trusts us to make good decisions, but what if He wants to move in a different direction? What if He suddenly changes things up, opens a door, or interrupts your schedule? Can you lay down your plans for His? "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6.
  • Our problems and circumstances appear bigger than God. Without complete surrender, we are sending the message that our problems are too big for God. When we choose to surrender and recognize His authority and strength He is able to move.

There are a hundred other points I could list. Our inability to let go of our plans and embrace His truly affect every area of our lives (and not in a good way). We must remain flexible, willing to move, and surrendered.

Even when we don't want to.

Even when we don't understand.

Even when our idea is brilliant.

Even when His doesn't make sense.

Even when it hurts.

Even when _________________.

I am praying today you (and I) have the courage to kneel and the power to surrender. His plans are so much greater than ours, friends. love, Shelly

"Lead me in Your truth and teach me,

For You are the God of my salvation;

On You I wait all the day,"

Psalms 25:5.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Top Five Consequences of Poor Planning

Poor planning can lead to all sorts of problems. And if you're anything like me, you have your own Top Five list from personal experience. These are mine:

  • Missed Opportunities. Many times I have come across great opportunities with every intention of participating. But if I don't write them down or put them on my calendar, guess what? I miss out. Dates are forgotten and deadlines are missed. Who knows what could have happened?

  • Miscommunication. I have found when everyone in our household knows exactly what is going on, what is planned for the week, and what is expected of them, things tend to run much smoother. Just because I think something doesn't mean everyone can read my mind and know my thoughts. If I make my plans known and each person is aware of the details (in other words, if I communicate), miscommunication can be avoided or lessened.

  • Stress/Frustration/Anxiety. This could probably be a subpoint under any of the other four, but it is a biggee so I decided to give it it's own bullet. Having a plan eliminates a lot of mishaps and the stress, frustration, and anxiety that come with them. Simple.

  • Unfinished projects. Part of good planning involves scheduling time to finish projects. I have started many days with the intention of completing an assignment but not having a plan or designated time to do such. When this happens, I find myself at the end of the day with a lot of wasted time and a project still needing attention.

  • Financial Hardship. There is an notable difference in how far my money stretches on the weeks I plan meals and expenses verses the weeks I don't. Poor planning can leave one at the end of a pay period with no money for gas, not enough groceries, and an overdrawn bank account.
As I said, these are my top five from personal experience. There are many more I could add to the list and expand on including regrets, overbooking, disappointments, discouragement, etc.

The Bible says in Proverbs 21:5, "The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty." The word diligent is defined as constant in effort to accomplish something; attentive and persistent in doing anything. A commentary describes "everyone who is hasty" as someone who manages his affairs rashly (acting or tending to act too hastily or without due consideration).

My Top Five list sounds less like plenty and more like poverty.

It seems it would be wise for us to take note of the instructions found in our life manual. We should be constantly attentive and persistent in our planning, not doing anything hastily or without due consideration.

(I am preaching to myself here, in case you were wondering.) 

Have you suffered any consequences from poor planning (or no planning at all)?

A flip side to this post is: Top Five Consequences of Over-planning.

Today's post is linked with Jen and the Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Still Persevering, Still Learning, Still Overcoming

Things have been a little quiet on my blog this week.

My apologies.

I have stepped back to get some things in order at home and in ME.

It's good to do that sometimes.
  • Remind yourself where you're going and why you booked the trip.
  • Make sure your laundry is washed, folded, and put away before you go.
  • Reorganize your suitcase to make sure you have all you need.
I'm not talking about an actual trip, of course (unless someone wants to send me on a paid vacation).  I'm talking about this life journey once again.

Have I stayed the course?

Have I been sidetracked by detours, bad weather, or road hazards?

Does my car need to be serviced?

Does my GPS display the correct destination?

One of the things I am doing is reading more (still writing, but just not posting everything yet). I am doing two book/Bible studies, decluttering and organizing my home, working on a companion study guide for my Pastor, continuing to learn the craft of writing, and still working on two projects of my own (my book for traditional publishing and a short ebook).

One of the studies I have joined is an online study for A Confident Heart by Renee Swope (I actually met Renee at a conference last year where I picked up a copy of her book). I've read part of it before but I could read it over and over again. It speaks to the very center of me. It challenges me, reminds me, and encourages me. We are just on Chapter One this week, so if you'd like to join, there is still time.

Today, she asked us to reread Chapter One: Discovering the Shadow of My Doubts. In it, she compares self-doubt and uncertainty to an actual shadow on the wall.

  • "...I turned around to put my makeup bag in my suitcase, which was on the floor. That's when I noticed a huge nine-foot shadow on the wall. I was surprised by how much bigger my shadow was than my five-foot-two-inch frame."
  • "It was distorting my image on the wall by making my body look bigger than it really was. All of a sudden, it dawned on me. My uncertainty had created a huge shadow of doubt. Just like my shadow on the wall was distorting my shape, my doubt was distorting my thoughts and overpowering my emotions with confusion and questions."
This makes perfect sense to me. I can look back and see times in my life (and even now) where the shadow created by my own self-doubt distorted my thoughts while confusing and discouraging me.

I remember last year when I signed up for my first Writer's Conference, She Speaks. Boy, was that a huge thing for me. Once upon a time I had a little more courage and gumption, but these years as a stay at mom have become quite the comfortable norm for me. Traveling many states away to a conference where I did not know anyone took a little effort.

As I reflect on my pre-conference jitters, I can recognize the distorted images in my head:
  • Why are YOU going? You are not qualified. Surely everyone there is a professional while you are just a stay at home mom.
  • No one wants to network with you. What do YOU have to offer?
  • You are not a writer, you are just a blogger who makes no difference.
  • You never even finished college. How do expect to write a book?
  • And speaking? That's funny. Don't embarrass yourself. Those girls at She Speaks are so much better.
  • Just don't get on the plane. You will be relieved you didn't.
Yes, those are some actual thoughts I had. And even as I am preparing to register for this year and continuing to write, I hear some of them trying to revisit.

I am reminding myself of this week's memory verse:

"But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the lord their hope and confidence" (Jeremiah 17:7).

I am reminding myself that these words DO make a difference and I AM a writer.

Is there an area where the shadow of doubt has distorted your thoughts, overpowered your emotions and caused confusion?

Remind yourself of God's word. Remind yourself of the gifts and talents He has placed within you. And remind yourself He chose to use you as a vessel to bring His glory to the earth.

As Renee said in Chapter One, "We will find our heart's confidence in Christ as we learn how to rely on the power of His promises in our everyday lives."

Put your hope and confidence in the One who won't let you down.

I am.

"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised" (Hebrews 10:35-36).

Confident Heart

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Place Called Wit's End

My Pastor preached a sermon last summer titled:  A Place Called Wit's End

Have you ever been there?

Psalm 107:23-27 speaks of a group of mariners who have found themselves in the middle of the ocean in a dangerous storm. Their ship is being tossed to and fro, carried up and down and pounded by the waves brought on by fierce winds.  Their courage is failing and they have no way of being rescued.  It appears they have met their fate as their death seems imminent.  The storm is unrelenting, powerful and shows no mercy.  I can imagine the feeling in the pit of their stomach.  In fact, I know the feeling. 

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a storm....tossed around and bruised by circumstances and negative, discouraging news that offers no hope? Have you been in a place so dark that you felt there was no way out? 

Maybe you're there now.

God is not surprised or caught off guard by our troubles.  In fact, verse 25 says it is God who commanded the storm and the wind and the waves.  He allowed the sailors to come to the end of vs. 27 says...they were at their wit's end.  All their wisdom had come to nothing and there was no way they could help themselves or each other.  The possibility for human intervention and deliverance did not exist.

The options were: surrender the circumstances to God or succumb to the storm.

In their desperation, the sailors cried out to God and He rescued them. He calmed the storm and the waves stood still (vs. 28-29).

This storm is all too familiar to me. No ship, no waves, no ocean, but I have known the storm. Maybe you have too? 

Though the circumstances and details of our storms may vary, they are the same. Financial difficulties. Cancer. An unfaithful husband. Divorce. Children in rebellion. Death of loved one.

Why would God cause or allow this storm to manifest and threaten the very lives of these sailors? Why would God allow us to go through something that threatens to leave us with no hope?

There are times when we all feel the waves and the wind and the uncertainty.

But we also all have a God who is unrelenting in His love for us.

Our hope can remain secure.

Our faith in the God who never changes can keep us from going under.

And we can be certain that He will calm the storm.

Sometimes our greatest victory comes at the end of our greatest challenge. Sometimes when we come to the end of ourselves, we find more of God than we've ever known.

Times like these cause us to draw nearer to Him. And the Bible says when we draw near to God, He draws near to us. Times like these make us desperate for the only One who can truly save us.

When we come to end of ourselves, when we surrender wholly and completely, when we finally trust that His plan is greater even when we don't understand, we find peace in whatever storm is brewing.  And we realize a greater knowing that He is God and He. is. still. good.

"God is life, and love, and blessing, and power, and infinite beauty, and God delights to communicate Himself to every child who is prepared to receive Him; but ah! this one lack of absolute surrender is just the thing that hinders God" (Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender).

Surrender all.

Surrender those hard, sometimes painful, often-don't-understand-why, difficult circumstances to God.

Surrender wholly.

And watch God prepare you as a vessel, as an instrument of His glory to be poured out on the earth.

Monday, January 2, 2012

No Brilliant, Guaranteed Plan Yet

It's natural at the end of every year and the beginning of the next to do a year-in-review of our life, highlighting the lows and highs, remembering moments that touched our hearts, and racking our brains to come up with a brilliant  plan sure to guarantee monumental success and achievements in the next 365 days.

I hate to disappoint, but no brilliant, guaranteed plan yet.

(In fact, I feel like my brain has been on vacation for a month and just writing this post is a little challenging.)

But, as I browsed through my posts from the beginning of 2011, I found myself in a similar place.

I also resolved to do something waaaay out of my comfort zone in 2011 and actually followed though:

The conference was amazing and I hope to attend again this year. I made a lot of new friends, gained confidence in my writing, had my first two publisher meetings, and downloaded a lot of valuable information that is helping to push me forward (still have lots to learn and apply).

In 2011, I also made a lot of plans that didn't happen and started some things I didn't finish. For 2012, I am resolving to finish some of those projects.

I am excited about new opportunities and what sometimes seems like a blank canvas before me. God is moving and I am choosing to move with Him. What about you?

There are some areas I am (still) working on and (by faith) changing in order to put my best foot forward.
  • Time Management
  • Discipline (which goes hand in hand with #1)
  • Organization (which goes hand in hand with #2)
  • Focus (which goes hand in hand with #3)
  • and Efficiency & Productivity (which will be a direct result of all of the above)
For Christmas, God answered a prayer by providing a new computer (free of charge) for my writing through the generosity of some sweet friends. And when Santa filled my stocking, he included the kitchen timer I've been needing (for my time management, ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique?) so I must get busy before the buzzer sounds.

With the kids going back to school tomorrow, I am hoping to finish a plan of action by the end of the week. Next week, the coffee breaks will be fewer and the alarm will ring early. I am ready for the challenge this New Year will surely bring (I am, really).

So, I don't really have a list of resolutions, just some things to finish and the desire to be better. As I said in my last post, "We are all on a journey to becoming." Becoming more like Him...becoming less of us. That doesn't take a list of impossible resolutions or unreachable goals. It takes acknowledging that we can't do this thing called life without the Life Giver Himself. It takes humility to recognize when and where we are wrong. And it takes willingness to change.

And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Father, Thank you for the gift of another year to serve You. A new beginning, a fresh slate, a blank canvas. Give us courage to trust You to write this chapter of our story. Open our eyes to see areas displeasing to You and give us a desire to change so that we might become more like Your Son, Jesus. Show us the tools you've already placed in our hands and teach us how to use them. Let everything we do this year bring glory and honor to You. Thank you for grace as we sit on this potter's wheel, being shaped and molded and transfigured into Your very own image. Amen.